May 3, 2012

Women along the Banks of the Nile, 1819

Women along the Banks of the Nile, 1819 
John Fuller

Banks of Nile River
The groups of women going to fetch water form a striking feature in the scenery of the Nile.
Thirty or forty of them are frequently seen walking in single file, and at regular distances to and from the river, each with ajar on her head and another on the palm of her hand. From the necessity of preserving their balance in this mode of carrying burdens, to which they are from their childhood habituated, these Egyptian peasants acquire a firmness and grace of step which we scarcely see excelled in the saloons of polished cities. Their erect attitude, simple drapery, and slim figures increased in apparent height by the pitchers on their heads, give them at a distance a very classical appearance, but if you approach the Naiads, you find them pale, dingy, and emaciated. This opportunity, however, very seldom occurs; for whenever a turn in the river or any accidental circumstance brings you suddenly upon them, they muffle their faces in their dress, and retreat as hastily as possible.

Pleasures and Ennui, 1842 
W.H. Bartlett
I hastened on board [at Atfeh], the sun had sunk and given place to a rosy twilight, and the moon peeped up above the rich level of the Delta. And here I must notice, that what reconciles the traveller to this land of plagues of flies and beggars, of dogs and dust and vermin, is not alone the monumental wonders on the banks of the Nile, but the beauty of the climate, the lightness of the air, inspiring a genial luxury of sensation, the glorious unfailing sun-set and serene twilight, reflected in the noble river, and casting over the hoary remains of antiquity a glow and gorgeousness of hue which heightens their melancholy grandeur, and gilding over a mud village until even its filth and misery are forgotten. I mounted the roof of the little cabin as the broad lateen of the sail swelled smoothly under the pressure of the Etesian wind, which, at this season of the inundation, by a wonderful provision of nature, blows steadily from the north, thus alone enabling vessels to stem the powerful current of the rising Nile.

The boat, with her broad sails and her long wake whitening in the moon, and her Arab crew, lying upon deck, chanting their peculiar and plaintive songs, flew rapidly along through historic waters. I sat up to a late hour, so delightful was my impression of the patriarch of rivers.

But on the following morning the scene was wholly changed. On awaking, we were close to the alluvial chocolate-coloured bank, the rich deposit of countless inundations, and the crew on shore were engaged in the toilsome task of tracking or hauling the boat, (a process represented on the ancient sculptures) to the music of a monotonous chant, which they seemed scarce able to utter. There was not a breath of air, and the warm, soft, cloudless sky was reflected back from the glassy surface of the broad yellow river. The heat was close and overpowering. Hours like these, of which the traveller on the Nile must make up his mind to not a few, are indeed awfully wearisome. It is too hot to go on shore and walk through the deep dust of the unsheltered bank, and cooped up and panting for breath in the narrow cabin of your boat, you seem doomed, ere the ardours of noon abate, to be roasted alive, like a crab in its own shell. Every thing inspires listless, restless, irritable ennui, only to be alleviated, if haply at all, by the fumes of the consoling pipe.

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