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ORIENTAL FEMALE COSTUME. round the ankles, made their beautiful little feet look still smaller; the loose, flowing robe of pink or white, and the short undergarment, were very becoming. In the east, the bosom is, however, much more exposed than in England, low as we have of late descended in that respect; indeed, it is generally stripped in front as low down as the waist, which is worn immediately under the arm-pits. The upper part of the person is clothed in a velvet spencer, broidered with gold, hanging below the waist, open in front, and the sleeves reaching half-way down to the elbow. Notwithstanding that there is much of beauty, taste, and elegance in the costume of the upper ranks of ladies, yet, according to our notions of form, they are wretched figures, and evidently made for the ottoman, and not the dance. Their hands, fingers, and nails, were stained with hemna, (lawsonia inermis, or Egyptian privet,) and the eye-lids were painted with the kohl, a black powder used by all classes of females to darken the edges of the lids, produced by burning a kind of liban, or aromatic resin, and sometimes shells of almonds ;-lead, and formerly antimony was much used for this purpose. This marking of the eyelids is, I confess, only seen in perfection in persons of very dark complexion, and natural depth of colour; in persons of light complexion, it is by no means pretty.
I here saw a style of head-dress peculiarly oriental, and surpassing every thing I could have conceived of its grace and beauty. The whole of the hair, which was of vast length and jetty blackness, was plaited in numberless small plaits, each about the size of a piece of whipcord, and at every inch or two of their length was fastened, or worked into the plait, a small gold coin. These spangled tresses, which hung down on the neck and shoulders far below the waist, when sparkling in the light of the ball-room, had quite the appearance of a delicately-embroidered veil;—this is called the safa. One or two large plaits of hair were brought round the head, and on the front was hung an ornament formed by a number of small thin coins, set in a kind of mail-work, that fell some way over the forehead, called a choors. Others wore the turboosh'; while the more elderly had their heads enveloped in the folds of broad and highly-ornamented turbans"; and all wore a profusion of gold and precious stones ; and costly shawls, that hung down behind to the very ground, were tied round the lower part of the body.
The room, which was small, was crowded to excess, and hot in proportion. The disagreeably loud and discordant music of Pandean pipes, harpsichords, guitars, and mandolins, was only orercome by the authoritative roar of the master of the ceremonies, who marshalled the dancers through the quadrille.
There cannot be much amusement in these balls, and I fear we must proceed into an adjoining apartment, where a certain stillness, and a dense crowd surrounding a long table, may offer some explanation. Here the collection of anxious faces, and the display of gold and cards, solve the mystery. Faro is, I believe, the true and only incentive to these meetings. Some Jews held the table, and although I understood they paid a large sum for having it in this gentleman's house, yet it seemed a thriving speculation. The rage for gambling, both here and at Alexandria, is almost incredible ; you cannot go into a Frank coffeehouse, or any place of public entertainment, without seeing cards and dice at every moment of the day. The Mooslims are proverbial gamblers, and meet ready companions in the Greek and Italian residents, and an occasional gull in some English seacaptain, trading to the Levant.
Presently an Arab servant entered, crying, “punch! punch!" and carrying a tray of half-and-half, composed of raw new rum or brandy, and boiling water ; by way of distinction, it was pressed upon the British who were present, and their polite refusal of the scalding liquid not a little astonished the Turks, who all imagine, and with some reason I confess, that spirits, in some shape or another, are necessary to the existence, or at least to the enjoyment, of these western islanders.
I left the assembly at an early hour, to prepare for an excursion I had purposed to the tombs and pyramids of Sackara and Dashoor, while my friends remained to share in the more social pleasures of the capital.
Jan. 28th. Having prepared provisions and other necessaries, I procured three donkeys and two Egyptian guides, and, accompanied by our Maltese servant Paulo, set out early in the morning. About an hour's ride cleared us of the city, and brought us to the ferry at Old Cairo; as soon as our approach was espied, we were assailed by a whole host of boatmen, several of whom made attempts to carry the donkeys on board by main force, and the koorbag alone prevented similar treatment of
THE FERRY OF OLD CAIRO.
ourselves. The foolish custom that prevails among Englishmen abroad, of paying double or treble for every thing, has in a great measure led to the various onslaughts made upon the modern traveller, unless habited in oriental costume. A Frank is invariably considered a prize, worth a dozen Turks, or five times as many natives.
The width of the river here is about five hundred yards, and a few minutes transported us bag and baggage to the village of Geza, on the opposite bank, the site of a portion of the famous city of Memphis, and of all that remains of that once flourishing metropolis. It is a great thoroughfare, and at this early hour of the day, a scene of considerable interest. The grain and greenfeeding for the cattle of the capital, the latter of which consists, for the most part, of a small vetch, grown in the fertile country beyond the Nile, is every morning ferried across this part of the river. It is carried on camels to the bank, and the animal with its burden is then shipped on board a boat, just large enough to contain it and the boatman. I remained some time watching this novel scene ; and the instinct and dexterity of this noble animal, in placing itself in the frail vessel, were beyond conception. Arrived at the water's edge, the boat is brought as close as possible, and a plank laid from it to the shore; on this the camel steps, and cautiously, and without any conductor, feeling its way, plants itself in the centre, and going down upon its knees, adjusts its body and the load, so as to preserve the balance of the whole; here it sits with the greatest patience, and without a stir, till it is ferried across. In this crouching attitude, with the load of corn or vetches completely filling the boat, or projecting over the sides, and often dipping in the stream, and with their heads turned to the prow, they form curious pictures floating to the opposite side. :
Leaving the village, we entered upon one of the most picturesque and luxuriant plains I beheld in Egypt-perhaps, I might add, to be seen in the world. The soil is a rich brown mould, without the admixture of a single stone or pebble, and every inch of it is productive; no sort of fence or inclosure is to be seen for miles around, but one vast undulating line of green, which in our immediate vicinity sparkled with the diamond drops of morningdew that fringed the threads of the gossamer, gently undulating in the momentarily increasing sunbeams. I have so frequently
remarked this action of the spider's web, at times when there was not a breath of wind stirring, that we must suppose it to arise either from the action of the sun's rays, the vapour rising from the earth, or the vibrating motion caused by the falling of the drops of water. Occasional mounds formed the sites of villages, over-canopied by the tallest and most splendid date trees. Some of these superb groves, especially along the river side, are acknowledged to be the finest in the country; each of them bears a heavy tax, and once the view of the plantation is made, and the price fixed, the people are compelled to pay it, even though several of the trees should die ; but at the same time, care is taken to place every new plant on the tax-gatherer's book, even before it commences to bear. This duty is one loudly complained of by the people, and requires some better regulation.
There is much outcry made at present about the taxation of Egypt. It is, no doubt, over-taxed, and it is quite time that something should be done to inquire into, and remedy this defect. Great quantities of the crops are mortgaged long before they are cut; but although no excuse for such conduct here, it would be well for those who exclaim against it, to inquire into the oppressive duties imposed upon the natives of the interior of British India, and they may probably find not only a parallel for Egypt, but a solution of the question respecting the frequent famines that have of late years attracted so much attention in the former country. Whatever may be the rate, the payer now knows how much he has to pay, while heretofore, it was regulated by the daily wants of rapacious lords, and levied whenever luxury or ambition required it. But to return to our text. The crops were mostly beans and barley; the former, which were partly in blossom, were a small kind, but now form one of the principal articles of food for the people, though Herodotus informs us that the ancient Egyptians never ate beans. Great numbers of both men and women were in the fields, engaged with this crop; it is sown in drills, and the old stalks are made use of to support and protect the young, till they have acquired sufficient strength. There is a continual succession of bean-crops going forward, and in many places people were planting them in one part of a field, where the remaining part was in full bloom.
The great pyramids of Geza now came into the landscape, appearing on the extreme boundary of the cultivated plain, and
THE PLAINS OF MEMPHIS.
though still several miles distant, seemed as if within a mile or less. They raised their huge giant forms, and stood forth in solitary monumental grandeur-mountains, the effect of human toil, the magnitude of which thought may faintly conceive, but words cannot express. Our track lay obliquely across the country, towards the pyramids of Aboosier, which now became distinctly visible, leaving those of Geza on our right, to be visited on our return.
A raised narrow road traversed the noble plain of Memphis, which is intersected by numerous canals for admitting the inundations of the Nile, not unlike the dykes of Holland, and having several small lakes and ponds of stagnant water, left by the last overflow, and filled with fish of different kinds. Numbers of men were engaged in raising the water from these, either by the pole and bucket, or in what are termed sachs. The water, once brought to the proper level, is distributed to the different parts of the crop, as each may require it, in little furrow's made by the foot of the labourer, as described in Deuteronomy, xi. 10, 11where Moses, in depicting the beauties and fertility of Canaan, says, “It is not as the land of Egypt, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs.” Two crops are the ordinary return from the natural irrigation ; three, however, can be procured by artificial means; but the quantity of land so worked, must, in places distant from the river, be necessarily very limited. What wonders would not a few steamengines effect in this department ; with their aid, and a proper rotation of crops, no doubt four could be obtained yearly.
The sugar-cane is now grown in considerable quantity, and the manufacture is in a most flourishing condition. The colocynth, or bitter apple, has also become an article of considerable trade, and the opium I examined was fully as good in appearance, and as clean as any Turkish or East Indian ; but as it, too, has become a royal monopoly, it cannot be expected to be so productive as it would otherwise be.
Thousands of teal that sported in every pond and pool afforded us ample sport, and curlews were in such abundance as to shadow the earth over which they flew; they were, however, just as wary as their fraternity at home. The white egrets having become objects of interest from their exceeding familiarity, we gave up shooting at them. Larks were in great abundance, and buzzards of enormous size sailed over our heads.