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Alexandria is not an engaging city to arrive at. The Egyptians who come down to the quay to meet a steamer do not array themselves like tropical birds, after the manner of the Tunisian. They look more like black-coated Neapolitans in tarbooshes, except Cook's porters, who have a uniform like a Chinese policeman, minus his pudding-basin helmet.
Alexandria has two ports divided by a spit of land, which was the Heptastadium of the Ptolemies. The eastern port is the beautiful circular bay round which a new Alexandria is growing up-another Bay of Naples. The western port, the Eunostos, or safe harbourage of the Greeks, is a busy commercial port after the style of Genoa, with hardly more Eastern life on its waters than an Italian port would have.
The streets between the harbour and the railway station might have been imported from Naples; they are not what you would expect of any part of the Golden East.
At the station Egypt asserts itself. The poor Egyptian hangs about railways as he hangs about police courts, and orientalises them. There is only one post on railways from which he is sternly excluded, and to which, indeed, he does not aspire, as it would prevent his fellow countrymen from using the railways at all that of engine-driver. No Egyptian would trust his life on a train with an Egyptian engine-driver; he knows the national irresponsibility too well for that.
But the railway has great fascinations for the Egyptian. His idea in being a railway guard is to wear a uniform without danger, and to be in a position of authority, even over foreigners to a certain extent. He does not reflect that he runs much greater risks with his life on the railway than he would in the army.
The porters do not have the glory of wearing uniforms. They adhere to the blue galabeahs which men of their profession that of human beast of burden-wear everywhere in Egypt, with brass badges on their arms like golf-caddies. The profession is popular, being a recognised avenue to bakshish. The carriage-duster is the understudy of the porter.
The poor Egyptian arrives hours before his train starts, or the train, on which he has friends to meet, comes in. He
sits on the ground outside the station until he is allowed to enter, and then sits on the ground inside ; he spends some of the time in saying his prayers with full ceremony, whenever the Muezzin, which sounds every three hours, calls him to pray. He carries a bundle of ridiculous possessions, and travels shut up in a luggage van, in which he sits on the floor. The better classes travel like Europeans, mostly in the second class, and the men mostly in European dress except for the tarboosh. Compartments for ladies only are a prominent feature, and smell very bad.
You want to get away from natives on a train : it is their nature to crowd. And you can have comfort if you can afford to pay for it. The Wagon-iits Company have admirable carriages and admirable food. You cannot reproach the environs of Alexandria with being unoriental, though the city is so European. Once out of the city and travelling south, you are back in the days of the Ptolemies, if not of the Pharaohs. You are in the land of mud; the crops are planted in it, the houses are built of it; they are more like ovens than houses, and there is very often a whole street of them under one roof, not by any means restricted to human beings.
The splendid masses of date-palms and fig-trees make a fine background; the pools of the drying-up inundation are rainbow-dyed at sunrise and sunset, and wear a cool, blue smile in the middle of the day; and there is always a procession of quaint inhabitants and animals. The desert, marshes, and cotton share the Delta between them, broken only by mud villages and saints' tombs, till you come to a town big enough to have a cemetery larger than itself. Then there may be a few mosques, even a bridge.
But I must not forget Alexandria. Alexandria is an Italian city: its vegetation is almost Italian ; it has wild flowers. Its climate is almost Italian; it has wind and rain as well as fierce blue skies. Its streets are almost entirely Italian; and Italian is its staple language. Even its ruins are Roman. If it was not for the mosque of Kait Bey, where the Pharos ought to be, and a few minarets in the strip of old Alexandria between the two forts, you would not believe that you were in a city of Islam. I never was in such a rebuilt place. When Mehemet Ali a century ago determined to restore Alexandria, so that his name might be coupled with Alexander the Great's, the city had dwindled down to a village of 5,000 inhabitants. The cutting of the Mahmûdiya Canal made Alexandria the Nile seaport, instead of Rosetta and Damietta. They have no commerce now. To-day Alexandria is a city of 350,000 inhabitants, and the accommodation for them all had to built. A few of the classical ruins are showing, most of the rest lie undisturbed under the mounds between Alexandria and Aboukir. Another Rome may await their investigator. Alexandria consists therefore of history and unhistorical buildings.
It is like the modern part of an Italian city; it has even an Italian watering-place at Ramleh, a few miles out, and it is surrounded by water, like Mantua-a welcome sight under the hot Egyptian sky, though most of the water is salt. The beauty of these lakes is enhanced by the numerous palms and fruit-trees round them.
Another watery attraction of Alexandria is the old Mahmudiya Canal. It is not really old ; it was only constructed by Mehemet Ali, but it looks as old as the Bahr Yusuf, which the Egyptians say was cut by the Joseph of the Book of Genesis, while the banks and the villas which adorn them have obviously seen better days. If Egyptians could only leave well alone this would be an attraction. The cafés hanging over the waters have some of the picturesqueness of the tea-houses of Japan, while the decaying villas give the effect of one of those delightful back-canals of Venice, which have palaces with gardens, if Venice only had mosques.
Unfortunately, Alexandria is a commercial city, and the Mahmûdiya Canal gives, as it was designed to give, water carriage. So many an old villa has given way to a modern factory, though the factories, to do them justice, look as if they would soon enter into the general scheme of decay. You seldom see one human being at work in them.
As yet the old palm-gardens, mostly in the process of destruction, and the gyassas, crawling or beached along the canal, with tall brown wings or spidery masts and yards, keep the Mahmûdiya a picture, especially when the sunset is pouring through the stately sycamore avenue of the city bank. I have even seen a pasha's dahabeah on it, and there are charming seats round the spreading trees in belvederes over the water, commanding views of the great Lake Mareotis.
We went there one Sunday afternoon, so we saw Greek ladies, very smart--Greeks love finery, and at Alexandria they can afford to buy French clothes—promenading along the Mahmudiya. Our cabman witticised them; he was rather a comical person. Seeing a lot of little boys, walking along in pairs escorted by a master, he gave this terse definition : "School--no papa—no mama.” He was a Copt of kinds.
Occasionally we passed a splendid country-house still kept up like that of Prince Toosoon, the Khedive's speculative cousin. It had a beautiful garden in front of it, rather in the style of the Villa Lante, with copies of the famous Molossian dogs of Florence at the entrance. The cabman insisted on taking us on to Nogha, one of the gay gardens which are as numerous at Alexandria as they are lacking at Cairo. The principle of an Alexandrine garden is generally the same. There is a wall on one side, to keep the north wind off, I expect; from it stretches an expanse of refreshing turf broken with young trees, and a gorgeous display of flowers. At Nogha we found the inevitable police band you get in Italy, making a jumble-sale of the tune, and municipal 'buses drawn by mules which had lured Levantines to their fête. For some reason, I can hardly explain why, Levantines at a picnic always remind me of blue-bottles. The comic cabman, since he was driving us at so much an hour, suggested a few things we might take in on the way home. I did not understand what they were, but I let him have his head, and he proceeded to lose himself. As it turned out, it did not signify, because they gave us our regular dinner without a murmur, when we arrived at the hotel an hour and
a half late; and cabs in Alexandria, which we might never visit again, are absurdly cheap by the hour.
We saw some really delightful lake scenery, and a great collection of dust-heaps, which looked as if they had been evolved from a sulphur mine, but really contain ancient Alexandria, whenever the funds and energy are forthcoming to excavate it. This will never be till they want the earth to make another mole, or to turn more of the eastern harbour into a garden suburb. After long wanderings we entered a gate representing roughly the Canopic gate of the city of the Ptolemies, and trailed through endless streets, bordered with shops or restaurants, according to the success of the suburb.
Next morning we went to the Alexandrian Museum. It was small. Alexandrian millionaires do not try to immortalise themselves by exploiting the antiquities of such a favourable site as the rich retired Greeks-retired from Manchesterdo at Athens. The Alexandrian Museum has hardly any ancient Egyptian exhibits except a few misfits from the Cairo Museum. It is better off for Roman antiquities, found locally when they are digging foundations for insurance offices-one of real importance, the glorious life-sized basalt bull of the Emperor Hadrian, discovered in 1895. There is rather a charming collection of little gods and jewellery, including a net of gold fluff which once mingled with a young girl's hair, and a bracelet of matrix emeralds which reminded me of Swan & Edgar's jewellery bargains. There is a frescoed Roman tomb as fresh and vulgar as a modern Italian ceiling; another as impressionistic as the New English Art Club. There are Roman portraits, taken from tombs, painted in wax, which look like cheap oil colours, but are of high interest as showing us what the Levantine of that day looked like, when the artist flattered him.
When Tanagra, a hitherto obscure Bæotian city, commenced that series of nouveau-art statuettes, which tell us more about Greek domestic life and fashions than the marbles of Praxiteles—the most charming plastic portraits which the world has ever known in the era of Alexander the Great,