May 4, 2012

The Ever-changing Streets, 1865

The Ever-changing Streets, 1865
Lady Herbert


The streets are a never-ending source of amusement and interest to the party not only from their intrinsic beauty, but from the indescribable variety and novelty of the bazaars and of the costumes of the people. Ladies of whom nothing is visible but the eyes, the rest of their bodies being enveloped in gorgeous-coloured silks, and over all a cloak of black silk called a habarah; dervishes with their long black robes, and green turbans; picturesque water-carriers, with their water-skins, and others with long sticks of sugar cane, the chewing of which is general amusement to people of all ages and classes; Arabs and fierce Bedouin in burnous, and Kaffirs with long guns; Syrians with red caps and flowing robes; fat Turks in flowered silk dressing-gowns and ample turbans; peasant women draped from head to foot in the blue dress and black veil which are their only covering, with a child generally sitting, monkey-like, on their shoulder; and in the midst of this motley crowd thronging the narrow streets, which are latticed over with matting to keep out the sun, strings of camels and donkeys beautifully caparisoned with crimson and emboroidered trappings, closely followed by their owners, screaming out ‘riglak’ (beware), ‘shimlak’ (to the left), ‘Ya Sitt’ (O Lady) etc., etc. (to warn the passengers out of the way), in every conceivable key and pitch of shrillness, the whole combining to form a picture unrivalled in any other Eastern town.

Now and then they came on a marriage procession; the bride, in crimson and covered with jewels, walking under a canopy, supported by four men, and preceded by musicians, producing the most wonderful melody out of the most curious instruments. This kind of procession was often immediately followed by a group of little boys, dressed in red, with gold-embroidered jackets, on horseback, going to be circumcised; or else a funeral would block the way; that is, a long string of hired mourners, men and women, veiled and howling, the coffin richly covered with silk trappings, and a diamond ‘aigrette’ at the head, testifying to the rank of the deceased.

Still, as ever, the bazaars of Cairo offer excitement and variety to citizen and visitor alike. The vendors’ cries that rose to the windows of Edward Lane’s house have changed but continue as has the coinage used in some transactions. James Capper, ‘Abd al-Latif, and many citizens and visitors enjoyed the pleasures of the Bagnio.

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