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On the Most Interesting Things to Buy in Egypt
if you have not much to Spend E GYPT is one of those delightful places where, even if
you are not rich, you can always be buying something beautiful for your house or your wise to wear.
For pottery of the everyday life of the poor, it is certainly not to be compared to Tunis, where the pottery of the Bubsueka is extremely beautiful and extremely cheap: it does not indulge in the wild flights of fancy, form, and colour which make some of the water-bottles of Tunis look as if they had been brought by the djinn. But as a general store of second-hand objects of art Egypt rivals Italy, and its curios and draperies are intensely Oriental.
While on the subject of pottery I may mention that the shops have plenty of old Arabic and Persian pottery and imitations thereof. They are often of great beauty, and always of great price. If you have not much money, and are looking out for things which hold water and might hold flowers when you get back to your home, it is better to confine yourself to brass, which you can buy, covetable in form and absurdly cheap, at the Market of the Afternoon and on the slope up to the Beit-el-Kadi. For inexpensive baskets of richly blended colours and of any size, it is better to wait till you get to Upper Egypt--to Esna, where they are made, or Luxor, where they are chiefly sold to foreigners. They are most decorative-strong, soft baskets to delight the basket-fancier's heart. There are basket-trays, too, flat and round, which are almost as good for wall decorations as the appliqué work of the Arab tent-makers. Cairo is the place to buy this, which the Arabs use in enormous quantities for decorating the insides of the canvas pavilions, which they erect on any provocation, sometimes in the street for a wedding, or the return of a pilgrim from Mecca; sometimes in a regular encampment for an occasion like the birthday of the Prophet ; and which they use a great deal in mosques. The tent-makers affect texts from the Koran, and arabesques in brilliant colours, the red-white-andblue, which civilised nations use for battle-flags, being the favourite combination. These, even when they are new, do not look more than pleasantly garish. But when they are faded by fifty years of use—being dyed with good vegetable colours—their effect is adorable. The tent-makers' imitations of the wall pictures in the ancient Egyptian tombs are generally beneath contempt, except in price.
These are not the only unusual and Oriental draperies you pick up in Egypt. They are, in fact, about the only kind, except Sudanese wedding-shawls made of something white, with gay orange-and-red arabesques, which you don't pick up as bargains; there is such a steady demand for them.
A great thing to look out for in the bazars is Persian embroidery, of the patterns so well known to Paisley shawlmakers, worked with the needle, but finished off as closely as if they were woven, usually bound round the edges of pieces of scarlet silk or cloth the size of bed-spreads. The machinewoven shawls of Persian patterns, which are used so much for waist-cloths here, are sometimes really effective. You can often buy a handsome one second-hand for a shilling or so. You may get one of the bed-spreads, sound in its embroidery but tattered in its centre, for three to five shillings. A lady clever at remounting this kind of thing would get the chance of her lifetime in Cairo, which is quite a market of Persia. The shawls of rich Turkish silk, which will pass through a napkinring and are used by men as sashes, are charming in texture and sometimes charming in colour, but the Turk's ideas of patterns are limited to checks,
The transparent silk gauze shawls used by the Ghawazi dancers have far better patterns; and they can be picked up cheap, while the Turkish sashes maintain their prices.
The silk head-shawls of Bedawin chiefs are, when they are rich, of great beauty. They are of a white or yellow silk, striped with gold thread, and a very rich crimson predominating, and finished off with little tassels of silk fuff hanging from very fine cords. Some of the most pleasing draperies are the cheap, smooth towels of white, striped with red or yellow, a yard or so wide and rather less than two yards long, which the Turks use themselves. The soft, white woollen shawls of native manufacture, which the Arabs use so much, are charming to the eye and touch, and very cheap; their cottons of white, with fancy borders like a Roman toga, are pretty but not cheap. The bright blue cotton cloth which the fellahin use has almost the effect of a blue linen ; three pieces, costing half a crown each, will make a woman's summer frock, and the colour when new is a really beautiful one. It is this which makes the fellahin look like mummy beads in the sun-glare.
Of the charming old brass one can buy so advantageously at Cairo—the basins, the jugs, the water-vessels, the candlesticks, the coffee sets, the pipe sets, the trays, the censers, the lamps, the drinking-cups and the essence bottles, and so on -I have spoken at length elsewhere.
If any one goes to the native markets for them she can get them preposterously cheap. To the native markets, too, a lady must go if she wants to buy herself a pair of anklets—SO universally worn by Egyptian women: they are sometimes to be picked up. When they are silver, not to say when they are of gold, they cost a great deal in the Jewellers' Bazar. I saw a rich young Foreigner once who had had her ankles fitted with the kind the better-class Egyptians wear, of heavy solid silver, covered with a kind of filagree pattern, which are riveted on through a kind of second hinge. I heard her ask the price. The man had just weighed a pair like the pair she had on her ankles. astonished at the price: they cost a great deal over two pounds each ; and as they are of fine silver, sold by weight, there is no bargaining to be done over them except over the small fee charged for workmanship. Almost
anything you buy first-hand in the Jewellers' Bazar is expensive, because, as the native women make a bank of their jewellery, and put as much value into it as they can, the more it costs by weight the better they like it.
Rings, on the other hand, earrings, charms, and other small objects, often of great beauty and quaintness, can be bought very cheaply second-hand, except in the Turkish Bazar, where they take advantage of the ignorance of tourists. The proper place to go for them is some shop like that kept by the Assuan Turk, at the end of the Tentmakers' Bazar, which is farthest away from the Bab-es-Zuweyla. At Assuan there are many Turks, descendants of a former garrison.
I need not say that one pays ten times as much for such rings, and so on, when one buys them in the shops opposite the Savoy Hotel, and a great deal too much in the more moderate shop opposite Shepheard's. These are not the class of things to buy from European experts. If you want to buy the necklace of an Egyptian queen, or a crystal mosque lamp of the Middle Ages, you must go to a man whose written guarantee is worth having, and who would very likely charge you less than the crafty native, rich enough and well enough trained to go in for this costly line of business.
Ordinary antiquities from the tombs of ancient Egypt little gods and other statuettes, amulets, mummy beads, canopic jars and pottery, mummy cases, various bronzes, and silver coins (and scarabs on the rare occasions when the authorities sell any), are best bought at the Cairo Museum. They are far cheaper there, and they have the guarantee of the authorities, which would be accepted anywhere.
If you are not well off, the best way of buying scarabs is not to buy any, unless you are with an expert who is examining a find. Then buy the scarabs which are beneath his lordly contempt at the price fixed by his withering scorn. They will at any rate be genuine; and you cannot expect to buy precious scarabs at reasonable prices, unless you have the requisite knowledge. In this requisite knowledge there are three items which take a very long time to acquire-a knowledge of hieroglyphics sufficient to read the scarabs, a knowledge from catalogues of the market price of the variety of scarab you have before you, and a hawk's eye to tell if it is genuine or a fake.
If you are not rich, and are not buying to sell again, it is a golden rule only to buy curios as ornaments for the house or the person. Then you do not launch out because you think you have a bargain, because you think you are taking advantage of the ignorance of the vendor, whereas it is ten to one that he is taking advantage of your ignorance with a deep-laid trap. Then you only say to yourself," Is that bit of blue worth three shillings to me as a joy for ever on the mantelpiece of my Moorish room? Would that cunningly wrought charm fascinate me to the extent of five shillings, whenever I saw it hanging from the slender gold chain around my wife's neck?”
As I have said, if you go the right way about it, certain precious stones, such as turquoises, can be bought very cheap in Cairo; and the Arabs make admirable perfumes, essences like otto of roses, but not equal to the essences of Tunis ; and the perfume-sellers are the greatest cheats in the whole bazar. You simply cannot buy scent without some one who knows the proper prices. You do not need to buy scent in the bazar, because, as there is only a very low duty on scents in Cairo, you can get the scents of the best English and French makers nearly fifty per cent. cheaper than in England.
While in Upper Egypt, Sudanese silverware, ancient Egyptian articles from tombs, and table lace, are the prizes to look out for.
The Indians who have shops in Assuan and Luxor have nice things and are content with a large fixed profit. But they keep nothing for the bargain-hunter. They sell things mostly new, like lace, embroideries, stuffs, and silverware. It is to the little shops in the bazars that you must go to find treasure-troves, and they are not easy to find. I have written about the Assuan Bazar in my chapters on the Winter City. The Luxor Bazar is neither so well known, so attractive, nor so picturesque. It has just two or three humble shops kept by genuine traders, as well as some clever dealers, who prey on the unsuspecting tourist, and one antiquity