May 9, 2012

Nile by Night and Dawn, 1845 | Luxor - Walking Through Egypt

Nile by Night and Dawn, 1845
Eliot Warburton

Nile River

This sailing on the moon-lit Nile has an inexpressible charm; every sight is softened, every sound is musical, every air breathes balm. The pyramids, silvered by the moon, tower over the dark palms, and the broken ridges of the Arabian hills stand clearly out from the star-spangled sky. Distant lights, gleaming faintly among the scarce seen minarets, mark the site of Cairo, whose voices come as the gargle of some huge fish as he wallows in the water, may disturb the silence for a moment, but it only makes the calm that follows more profound.

All nature seems so tranced, and all the world wound in such a dream, that we can scarcely realise our own identity: vainly we try to think of Europe and gas lamps and new police, and politics. Hark! to the jackal’s cry among the Moslem tombs! See where the swarthy pilot sits, statue-like with his turban and flowing beard; those plains before us have been trod by Pharaohs; these waters have borne Cleopatra; yonder citadel was the home of Saladin! We need not sleep to dream.

The night is gone gone like a passing shadow; the sun springs suddenly into the throne of purple and rose-coloured clouds that the mist has left for him. There is scarcely a dawn even now it was night then day suddenly as a cannon’s flash.

Our boat lay moored to the bank. Mahmoud started to his feet, and shouted Yallough! like a trumpet. Till then the deck seemed vacant; the crew were sleeping in grave-like apertures between the planks, wrapped in their white capotes. These were very shroud-like, and gave their resurrection a rather ghastly appearance. All nature seems to waken now; flocks of turtle-doves are rustling round the villages; dogs are barking the flocks to pasture; cocks are crowing; donkeys are braying; water wheels are creaking; and the Moslems prostrate themselves in prayer, with their forehead to the ground, or their hands crossed upon their bosoms, their eyes motionless, and their lips quivering with the first chapter of the Koran.

For my own part, a plunge into the Nile, constitutes the principal part of the toilette in which razor or looking-glass are unknown. Re-dressed, re-turbaned, and re-seated on my carpet, Abdallah, with a graceful obeisance, presents a chibouk of fragrant latakeea, as different from our coarse English tobacco as a pastille is from burnt feathers; and Mahmoud offers a little cup of coffee’s very essence. In the meantime the crew are pitching the tent upon a little lawn beneath some palm-trees, for yonder forest shadows the ruins of Memphis, and the gardens wherein Moses used to wander with Pharaoh’s daughter. Here then I shall wait for my good friend and fellow voyager, who lingers at Grand Cairo, while I haunt the ancient city of the Pharaohs, shooting quails, and questioning the past.

Travelers were struck above all with the monuments of ancient Egypt so huge and so beautiful but the people too were a significant part of their experience of Egypt.


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