« PreviousContinue »
Before the broad veranda of the famous hostelry passes a shouting and gesticulating throng of native hucksters with all sorts of wares - - silver shawls of Assiut, beads, laces, scarabs, trinkets, and the omnipresent postcard. Dragomans in magnificent attire, some in rags and some in velvet gowns, solicit patronage right and left. A band of barbaric musicians accompanies the procession of one late returned from Mecca. A native funeral marches mournfully by, aged men wailing in front and black-veiled women carried in a cart behind. Tradition has even been mean enough to allege that Shepheard's has an arrangement with some local sheik whereby a satisfactory number of funerals and returning pilgrims may be guaranteed to pass every day!
For a first view of local life this does very well. Indeed, it accounts in some degree for the prestige of Shepheard's. To sit with all this motley world passing in review at one's feet is a delight. The bewildering variety of costumes — for your Egyptian is a born artist in effective color-schemes- enchants the eye. The street cries, the passing music, the wailing prayers of the funereal old men enthrall the ear.
For the real Cairo, the African Cairo, the Cairo that is living the simple life after its own interpretation of the same, you must cross the European zone that lies nearest the Nile running north and south,
dodge around the painfully modern bulk of the opera house, skirt the Ezbekiyeh Gardens, and cross the square where meet the various tram lines of the city. This marks the eastern boundary of Western civilization. Beyond that the city changes absolutely in its character. There are no more broad streets, no more fine buildings. It is one vast huddle of old structures, some of them rather fine examples of the architecture that prevailed in Cairo when the merchants were the kings. The mass of close-packed houses is threaded by a network of numberless alleys, deep and dark, yet as a rule surprisingly clean. One or two main thoroughfares cross through it - the famous Mouski, dear to the heart of all tourists, and the great artery named for Mohammed Ali, which, as we know, leads to the Citadel. But in the huge triangle that these two highways include there lies a tangle of labyrinthine by paths wherein one may be lost for hours if willing to give up to the delights of a ramble through the native quarter, surrounded on every hand by the unstudied life of the older town, jostled by donkeys, solicited by native merchants, delighted by the innumerable bits of ancient doorways, time-worn, latticed windows, dusky shops, wayside kitchens, venders of every sort and kind. Now and then a vista opens up- a vista down a gloomy alley lined with buildings that nearly meet overhead, but that make shift to give a glimpse of an incredibly blue sky into which soars a minaret.
Up and down the Mouski flows a tide of traffic that sadly congests the narrow street. There is no sidewalk worthy the name. Horse and foot, donkey and pushcart, men, women, and boys, natives and sowaheen, crowd to and fro without ceasing. Drivers urge their steeds through the press with warning shouts destined to become thoroughly familiar "Ah-riglak !” (Mind your foot !) “Al-yemenak! Alye-meen-ak !” (To your right !) — and such-like jargon. The way is lined with tiny shops, some of them celebrated. But it is to the bazaars that all the world turns its steps when it enters the Mouski, and to the bazaars let us go, pushing on through the traffic. Eventually, where you descry overhead the blue aerial signs pointing the way to the shop of one Cohen, you come to the entrance, –an entrance that might otherwise easily be overlooked.
A blessed haven of quiet is this bazaar, by comparison with the constant crowd of the Mouski. It is narrow and dark, roofed overhead with mattings and light boards. No carts are to be found in it. The shops along its marge vary from mere booths to deep and dusky warerooms. In it are sold trinkets, red shoes, brasses, rugs, silks, beads - general merchandise, in brief. One may spend hours there, and will