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AMIETTA is a town of forty-three thousand inhabi
tants, which has never seen a picturesque postcard. It is too poor even to have an Italian living there. The Governor of Damietta said that no one had ever been there sight-seeing before, except a man from Assuan who wanted to see rain, and heard that they had it at Damietta. It looks like Venice must have looked in the pre-Ruskin days, before it began to take a pride in its personal appearance. Damietta is called the Venice of Egypt, and the title fits it better than
any of the other towns described as Venices which I have seen. Osaka used to call itself the Venice of the East, but several miles of it have been burnt down. It had better claims than its rivals in Japan and China which I visited. But Damietta really is like Venice, the Venice of the Grand Canal, which is what most people mean when they say Venice. Damietta stands on one side of the Nile and its railway station on the other. Of course there is no bridge. Bridges on the Nile are as scarce as horses in Venice; and as foreigners are almost unknown, the boatmen have a free fight for them when they do come. In our case the railway guard arrogated the rights of patronage, and chose the gyassa, which was to have the honour of ferrying us and our baggage across for the sum of sevenpence halfpenny-three piastres. For this it sailed us to the quay of the Governor's palace. We were more or less flung on board, and the other gyassas raced us and barged into us all the way. But the mass of sails made such good photographs that we forgave them.
THE CITY OF DAMIETTA ON THE NILE, Which reminds one of the Grand Canal at Venice, and has old palaces in the Venetian style.
of Damietta is carried on.
We also had a view of the best bit of Damietta, the great curve of palace-bordered river which suggests the Grand Canal of Venice-a humble Venice tottering to decay. The houses, though built of wood, are distinctly Venetian in type ; they have the same arched and grouped windows, the same broad flights of steps leading down to the river ; the minarets of Damietta look passably like the campanili of the faded Queen of the Adriatic.
When we landed we realised what Nubia and the Sudan would have been like without Cook? Be it never so humble, there is no place like Cook's office in a country where you don't speak the language.
But in Egypt there is generally some poor man with a Pentecostal gift of tongues; and while we were shivering on the brink of the Damietta arm of the Nile, there arose, before us, as if by magic, a man following the apostolic profession of fisherman, who had the apostolic gift. His name was Shoukry Bey. Why he was a bey I can't imagine ; even Beys ought to have at least two piastres in their pockets to jingle against each other.
The Bey volunteered to place himself and his gift of tongues at our disposal for the rest of the day for one shilling Egyptian, and with him we went in search of a hotel. His "gift" consisted of six words of English, five of Italian, four of French, three of German, and, as he said, though we had only his word for it, “Many, yes, many of Greek."
He recommended the Hôtel Khedivieh. It sounded all right, so we allowed him to conduct us there. When we got there we could not see anything, but he dived down a passage and landed us in a large Egyptian house. The dirt rose in stacks, and the landlady, apparently a Greek, looked such a murderess that we decided not to go there, and said loftily that the accommodation would not do; and it wouldn't.
The Bey admitted that there was another inn, the Hôtel de France, and seemed to have no objection to our trying it. Its entrance was still more unpromising; we had, in fact, to go through a donkey-stable and up a ship's companion into another large Egyptian house, built of mud. The land.
lord was not in the city, and the landlady would not come out of the harem. But with fine illogic she allowed her daughters to come out, one of whom spoke a little German and the other a little French. We interviewed them in a large room surrounded by mastabas. The daughters were closely veiled, and sat, with their legs under them, on the mastabas while we discussed terms.
The Bey had to show us the rooms, and was bursting with pride because each had a toothcomb. The various drawbacks of that hotel I have dwelt on in my chapter on the humours of Egyptian hotels. It was no blow to us to be told that we could not have anything to eat or drink in the hotel.
There we left the various packages, which the Bey had been carrying for us, and went off to see Damietta. I never saw such a tumbly place. All the houses are being pulled down, or look as if they ought to be, though some of them are so picturesque that they might well be made national monuments to preserve the tradition of Damietta architecture. Damietta is all front, like the Palazzata of Messina after the earthquake. If you go behind the splendid sweep of Venetian-looking palaces fringing that elbow of the Nile, you see nothing but ruins and hovels.
The architecture of Damietta is as perishable as that of Rosetta is permanent. Instead of good fire-baked bricks to defy the moisture of the climate, and loggias of antique columns, Damietta houses are built of wood. At a glance one can see that woodwork is the speciality of Damietta. Instead of ordinary meshrebiya, some of the houses had massive lattices of carved hard-wood like the screens of the fourteenth century mosques in Cairo. And the ceilings and eaves, supported on heavy brackets under the harem windows, were of specially handsome appliqué wood-work. The other speciality, chiefly used in passages and under the arcades round courtyards, was a coarse plaster imitation of palmtrees, rather like the fanwork of our Perpendicular ceilings at Christ Church, Oxford, and elsewhere. There were some nice courtyards, and a few old mosques of no great size or richness, though they were decidedly picturesque, in the