Page images
PDF
EPUB

constitutes a very curious sight and one which is well worth seeing more than once.

One other thing worthy of being sought out while one is in this portion of the city is the “Beit Gamâl ed-Din," or "House of Gamâl ed-Din.” It is only too easily overlooked, lying as it does in a very obscure side alley of the section beyond the mosque of El Ghouri. However, any small boy of the neighborhood will readily point it out, and a hundred usually offer their services, divining by that subtle instinct common to the gamin tribe everywhere, precisely what it is you wish to see. The house is a splendidly preserved old dwelling in the genuine Arabian Nights manner, rich in inlaid marbles, graceful arches, "mashrabiyehs,” or harem windows, of intricate tracery, and all the appurtenances of a palace worthy a merchant prince of the elder days. Here at last is something to satisfy one's dreams of Oriental architecture, dreams which, alas, are too often doomed to go unsatisfied in Cairo. For when all is said and done, Cairo is much less an Oriental city in its outward appearances than is Tangier. Its mosques are indeed noble. Its street life is of incomparable charm. But it is only in a few buildings like the obscure House of Gamâl ed-Din that one is allowed to hark back to the glorious days of Haroun al-Raschid.

Space and the reader's patience alike conspire against any further attempt to describe in detail the native part of Cairo, though much remains unsaid. Possibly enough has been written here to indicate that it is the native life in the deep byways of the eastern section which gives to Cairo its undying charm. Without it the city would be voted stale and unprofitable in a few days' time. Fine as its European quarter is, and magnificent as is its museum with its priceless store of antiquities, Cairo after all falls back on her native population for her chief power to attract and hold. The tombs of her Caliphs will hardly call the traveler to a second visit. The Citadel, with its glorious view, and the Mokhattam rising still higher above it and affording what is boasted to be the finest prospect in all Egypt, will probably demand but a single inspection of any but the visitor who makes Cairo the seat of a protracted stay. To the Mouski, with its teeming life, to the bazaars, and to the tortuous bypaths that wander so aimlessly through the dense mass of eastern Cairo, even the most casual will return again and again, finding always some new thing to haunt him, startle, and waylay.

Through it all one will find but little need of Arabic. Nevertheless there are a few words so useful that it may not be amiss to mention them here — that the reader may be so much the better equipped for dealing with the street venders who are sometimes unduly importunate, especially in the street that leads past Shepheard's. Everybody who comes to Egypt is fitted out with one word expressive of dismissal, —“Imshi !” Everybody makes indiscriminate use of it. Properly, however, it is to be employed only in the case of small boys, to whom one may with more appropriateness be impertinent. "Imshi” appears to mean something like “Go to the Devil”; and according to Arab etiquette such curtness is quite out of place in addressing a person of full age and dignity. A true regard for the tender sensibilities of the son of the desert will prompt the more precise voyager to say “Yalla !” in all cases where the addressee is more than a mere boy. And, by the way, even the term “mere boy” may require some qualification under a tropical sky, where youth matures quickly and the apparently young may be in actual fact the fathers of families. So it is doubtless more correct and rather less profane to stick to “Yalla” – which is the equivalent of “Get along with you l”

The Arabic “no” is shortly and simply “la” which, to be effective, must be sharp and staccato in its quality. Practice in its use, which is called for at almost every step in the frequented streets to repel peddlers and importunate dragomans, will speedily make perfect. But the most useful of all phrases, once you have acquired the hardihood to lie like a man, is, “Ana mush sowâh”—“I'm not a tourist !” This, when enunciated with a scornful and fluent utterance, will generally secure you immunity from further pursuit unless you happen to be careless enough to have a red Baedeker in your hand at the time. Under those conditions it is certain to provoke naught but derision.

Ordinary sowaheen will hesitate to handle the ruder sort of beggars with that rough-and-ready freedom peculiar to the British resident. A sound thrashing is what the occasional beggar sorely needs, and if he is so brazen as to press his entreaties unduly on a resident, that is very likely just what he gets. Even the knowledge that the most serious penalty enforced against a European in Egypt is said to be a fine of one hundred piastres (five dollars) will hardly produce that degree of familiarity in the case of the timorous.

There is one other familiar word, heard on every hand, and so expressive that it might with profit be taken over into various other languages. That is

ma-aleish,” according to the spelling of the books, but which you will find most serviceable simply as "ma-lish.” It seems almost as susceptible to various meanings as the German“ zug” which so entertained Mark Twain. It generally means something like "Never mind,” however, or possibly, “Excuse me." When in doubt, say “ma-lish!” It's a safe retort to warring cabbies, to importunate beggars, to crestfallen porters, to sheiks - doubtless to the Khedive himself. Farther than this one need hardly go. Still, it is interesting to learn that“al-yemenak"means "to the right,” because one emerging from Egypt always had to turn that way to go to Yemen; and that “al-shamarlak" means "to the left” - because it was to the left one turned to go to the land of Shem. But the chief use of those expletives is reserved for the drivers, who use them to warn pedestrians to turn out for them and give road. It is the prevailing note alike in the Mouski and in the highways of the more modern portions of the town. And it is probably the last articulate sound the weary sightseer, as he closes his eyes at night in his hotel, hears rising above the roar and tumult of the street.

« PreviousContinue »