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town. One old mosque we went into had a good painted ceiling, a quaint pulpit on antique classical columns, and very fine specimens of Damietta window-woodwork. Its courtyards, like the other Damietta mosques, were decorated with classical columns. The noble old mansions, of which the guide-books speak as bordering the bazar for a mile and a half, no longer exist, though Rosetta is so rich in them.
Damietta is a primitive place; it has no drains, but a ditch a foot wide running down each side of the street. It is such a very native place that nothing which would pass for a curio is sold in the whole bazar. Its principal industries are basket-weaving and silk-yarn making. It is in preparation for the former that half the houses in Damietta have great stacks of palm-leaves leaning against them ; the silkspinning establishments might be in Italy if it was not for the dress of the workmen, As we made our way through the city to see the great mosque of Abu'l-Ma'ata, in the suburb of El-Gebana, we were shocked at the ruins of fine old mansions, which showed what Damietta must have been in its glory. There was hardly anything perfect, except here and there a beautiful colonnade. The Abu'l-Ma'ata mosque looks as old as the days of the Crusades; it may well have been standing when Damietta was taken by King John of Jerusalem nearly seven hundred years ago, or, at all events, when St. Louis occupied it, exactly six hundred and sixty years ago. It belongs to the day when Damietta was famous for its leather and weaving and oil of sesame, as tasty to the Oriental as it is abominable to the Westerner : rancid butter is less objectionable.
Damietta fell as Rosetta fell, by the conquest of commerce, not of arms. Mehemet Ali killed it by diverting the produce of the Nile along the Mahmudiya Canal to Alexandria, The Abu'l-Ma'ata mosque has the appearance of being abandoned, though it is kept locked from beggars and children, a consideration for foreigners visiting the forgotten Damietta. They hammered at the door, as if they were thirsting for our blood, all the time that we were in the mosque. It has three excellent colonnades with perished classical columns of verde antico and other precious marbles, some of which are shored up with timber to prevent them falling. The pulpit is of old painted woodwork, the mihrab is unimportant. There are two Oriental alabaster columns in it, worn with tongues and the rubbing of lemons, used for the same purpose as their prototype in the mosque of Amr' at Cairo. I have forgotten what the exact purpose was, but I have an idea that the pillars were first rubbed with lemon, and then with new-born babies' tongues. The sour taste made the babies cry, and ensured them against spending their lives in dumbness. This did not seem to me so reasonable as women squeezing themselves between the pair of columns on the opposite side of Amr's mosque-to show what they would be expected to show; though some people say that both sexes did it to show that they were Mohammedans and not unbelievers. But that would have been preposterous in a country, where half of the Faithful become uncomfortably obese as they approach middle age. That is almost as difficult to believe in as the column, which transported itself through the air from Mecca at the command of the Caliph Omar, that successful Mohammedan Canute.
To turn to the Abu'l-Ma'ata mosque, I should have mentioned its picturesque old reading-desk on wooden columns, and its little old minaret. It was very venerablelooking, and had much beauty in its decay. As the most sacred spot in Damietta, it was surrounded with old tombs of the Faithful, some of them very odd old tombs. Near this mosque was a small bazar, much more ornamental and Oriental than the principal bazar, and a very busy fishmarket, where they really sold fish, unlike the Cairo Fishmarket.
Old Damietta was in such a very fragmentary condition, that we had to think what we should do with ourselves on the next day, to make up for the ordeal of passing the night in a Damietta hotel. We decided to go to the police station and ask the captain, who would be sure to talk English or French, what was the best way of going to the Damietta mouth of the Nile. We would get him to decide what we
were to pay the boatman, or coachman. Damietta seemed to possess a cab. Sailing down the river would doubtless be preferable, if we could be sure of getting back in time.
The police-captain was a very youthful-looking person, as spruce and elegant as an Italian officer.
He did speak English very well, and he was delighted to see us. If not a native of Damietta, he must have been ennuyé : he exhibited the usual incompetence of the Egyptian to take the smallest initiative. He said he should have to inquire. We did not know then that he meant to refer the question to the Governer of Damietta. At Damietta the arrival of English people is an event which needs the interposition of Jove. He asked us to come back at eight o'clock. We thought this meant that we were to go now, but that was not the policecaptain's idea. He was only speaking of the time at which we were to receive the official decision. In the interval he invited us to see the town with him and his very rich friend. The rich friend was there, and squinted horribly at the suggestion. It did not mean that he was displeased, but that he was paralysed with pleasure, for one member of our party was an uncommonly pretty and well-dressed girl. The very rich friend at once suggested that we should dine with him, but we felt that we could not accept such a invitation from a man we had only known for an instant, who did not look more than eighteen. He seemed knocked out for a few seconds, but came up from his corner before time with: Then may
I be allowed to have the young lady's photograph?” We thought the best thing to say was that the young lady had never been photographed in her life. But he produced a camera and asked if he might be allowed to take one. As it was now six o'clock, and it gets dusk pretty early in Egypt, we agreed to this. The camera was a Brownie No. I. He then invited us to go to his house, which the police-captain said was the only old mansion left perfect in Damietta. When we got there we found it had all been renewed except one room, and that room had not been unlocked for so long, that nobody knew where the key was : eventually he had the door forced. There was nothing to show but a fine old Damietta wood
erable : most
work ceiling which had had measures taken for its preservation. The best part of the house was its back, where there was a delightful porch in the Sicilian style (with mastabas broad Arab lounges--on each side, and terraced steps, with an antique iron gateway such as our own eighteenth-century mansions have to their high-walled gardens), commanding a view of the sunset, and the masts of old coasting craft outlined against it, and the palm groves across the Nile. “Damietta is the shape of an Arab ‘n,'” said the very rich young man with the squint, which the Arabs call “The eye of the needle.” The Arab “n” is nearly a crescent. The gate was artistically set just at the water-line.
We had already settled the question of the champagne dinner (goodness knows where we could have had it at Damietta except at the Governor's house), and the exchange of photographs which the ladies were unable to effect. Just as we were leaving, the very rich young man wanted to know of a magazine which arranges exchanges of postcards, while the police-captain murmured that the admired one was not like an English woman at all. She was a Greuze. It was no wonder that the Governor, as will be seen, prevented him from meeting us again. “That young man is becoming too forward," said the Governor of Damietta.
We looked about in vain for a place where we could get any kind of a dinner, till our dragoman, who had been rather shy of the police-captain, turned up and took us to a Greek restaurant. The proprietor, who was also the cook, could only speak Greek and Arab. His uncooked viands reposed in a sort of showcase containing tinned apricots, pâté de fois gras, sardines, cherry-brandy, cognac, Greek wine, and Levantine whisky. The meat looked so like leather imitations of itself that we were afraid to eat any. We ordered
soup and spaghetti. There were so many mang cats about scratching for food that we could hardly eat our broth—too many cats spoil the broth; but presently some Arabs came in, and the cats, despising the frugality of our meal, deserted to them. They were desert Arabs with striped head-shawls. We wondered what they would order--they went in for stuffed
tomatoes and tomato salad, and all dipped their bread into the salad. Then two Egyptians arrived in tarbooshes and frock-coats. One dined off sliced fennel and bread, and the other off sliced cream cheese. Then more Arabs came in -not in the desert dress--and ate mysterious things besides macaroni. We could not find anything further that invited our stomachs except mandarin oranges—I wished that I had brought my tin of potted meat with me. Our dragoman waited upon us with impressive politeness. I did wish that we could do something more worthy of his attentions. The restaurant itself was like the passage under Clapham Junction. It was imperfectly lighted, but had portraits of the Greek and Russian royal families and the allegorical Hellas. There was quite a nice-looking restaurant opposite, an upstairs affair consisting of a balcony with bamboos in pots, but the dragoman said that they never had any food there. It was like the hotel.
At eight-thirty we went back to the Governor to get the police-captain's answer. We supposed that he had given his orderly, who spoke no English, instructions. At all events, the orderly received us smilingly, and conducted us to a sort of selamlik, with pale green panelling and broad mastabas, luxuriously cushioned, all round it, and here we sat, and sat, but no police-captain came. Finally, however, a very dignified man, between forty and fifty, in a fine silk dressing. gown like a Norwich muffler, arrived. He spoke French and a little English, and invited us to sit down, and asked us what we would take, but seemed entirely at sea as to what we wanted. We concluded that he was the real policecaptain, and that the young man was only the lieutenant.
At that moment one of the most extraordinary individuals I ever ran across turned up. He was a Corsican, the son of some fancy kind of bishop in Constantinople, who had ended up with being an American Protestant missionary. He told us that he spoke fourteen languages with equal fluency. We wondered if he spoke them all with as strong an American accent as he spoke English. He was apparently the chief agent of the Standard Oil Company in Egypt, and was