Round About Cairo
BY GEORGE ADE IN THE IDLER
George Ade whose ability as a humorist has made him widely known throughout America is touring Egypt in company with his friend Mr. Beasely. In his own witty style he describes the places visited and gets off some very amusing jokes on his trave ing companion.
MR. PEASLEY is a secretive student of the guide-book.
He reads up beforehand and on the quiet. Then, when we come face to face with some “sight,” and are wondering about this or that, Mr. Peasley opens the floodgate of his newly acquired knowledge and deluges the whole party. He is seldom correct, and never accurate, but he knows that he is deailng with an ignorance more profound than his own, and that gives him confidence.
For instance, the first afternoon in Cairo we chartered an open conveyance, and rode out to the citadel and the mosque of Mohammed Ali, both of which are perched on a high limestone cliff overlooking the city. The mosque is modern and very gorgeous with alabaster columns, a profusion of gay rugs, stained windows and crystal chandeliers. We were rhapsodising over the interior, and were saying it was almost as swell and elegant as the new Ritz Hotel in London, when we happened to overhear one of our countrywomen reading aloud from a very entertaining book on Egypt written thirty years ago by Amelia B. Edwards. Miss Edwards allowed that the mosque of Mohammed Ali was a tawdry and hideous specimen of the most deaedeirt period of the mixed-up architectures imported from Araby and Turkey. When we heard that we made a quick
switch, and began to find fault with the decorations, and told the guide we had ha 1 enough.
On the way out to the parapet to enjoy the really wonderful view of the city and the Nile vailey, with the Pyramids lifting themselves dimly from the old-gold haze of the desert, Mr. Peasley wished to repay the lady who had read to us, so he paused, and, making a veiy indefinite and non-committal gesture said, “Near this very spot Mohammed Ali killed more than one hundred and fifty mamelukes in one day.”
Our fair countrywoman looked at Mr. Peasley with a puzzled frown on her brow, and then timidly asked, “What is a mameluke?”
We thought she had him, but not so. He wasn't even feazed. He replied promptly, “A mameluke is something like a mongoose, only larger. ' '
That is Mr. Peasley's way. If he doesn't know, at least he will make a stab at it. One evening at dinner we had anchovies as a curtain raiser, and a man sitting next to Mr. Peasley poked at the briny minnows with his fork and asked, “What are these 9 ”
“Those are anchorites,” replied Mr. Peasley, without the slightest hesitation.
As a rule he gets one syllable right, which is prety good for him. At
present he is much interested in the huge dams of masonry and iron gates that have been thrown across the Nile at Assiut and Assouan. Over here they are called i ‘ barrages. ’ ’ Mr. Peasley insists upon calling them “garages. ” We tried to explain to him that a garage was a place where motors were cared for, but he said that automobile and “dam” belonged to the same category, and often meant practically the same thing, so he continues to speak of the i ‘ garage. ’ ’
By the way, when a pious Englishman over here, say a bishop on a vacation, wishes to relieve his feelings without the actual use of profanity, he exclaims “Assouan!” If he falls off his donkey, ‘ i Assouan !; If his tea is served to him at Je:j> than 212 degrees Fahrenheit, “Assouan ! ’ ’
“Assouan” means the superlative of all dams, the biggest dam in the world. It takes the place of a whole
row of these :-----
Mr. Peasley uses the word, when he can think of it. If his memory fails him he falls back on the American equivalent.
Inasmuch as I reside in Indiana, where it is a social offence to crave a cigarette, a misdemeanor to keep one in the house, and a high crime to smoke one, Cairo during the first' day gave me many a shock. Cairo is unquestionably the cigarette headquarters of the universe. If the modern Egyptians followed the ancient method of loading the tomb with supplies for the lately departed, they would put in each sarcophagus about ten thousand cigarettes and a
few gallons of Turkish coffee. The food wouldn’t matter.
In Cairo, men, women and children smoke, only the camels and donkeys abstain.
Cigarettes are sold nearly everywhere—not only by tobacconists, but also by milliners, undertakers, real estate agents, etc. Those who do not sell them give them away.
A clever young American owns a usual preliminary to driving a bargain.
We certainly had a feeling of guilty pleasure when we sat in front Shepheard’s Hotel and smoked the wicked little things, and knew that the policeman standing a few feet away dare not raise a-hand against us.
A clever young American owns a shop near the hotel. He is a student of Egyptology, and a dealer in genuine antiquities, including mummies. While I was nosing through his collection of sciarabs, idols, coins and other time-worn thinkets, he suggested that I should purchase a mummy.
*1 Can I get one ?” I ' asked, in surprise.
“I can get you a gross if yon Avant them,” he replied.
“What would a man do with a gross of mummies?”
“You can give them away. They are very orniamental. Formerly my only customers were colleges and museums. Now I am selling to people who put them in private residences. Nothing sets off an Oriental apartment to better effect, or gives it more atmosphere, as you might say, than a decollated mummy ease,”
I followed liim into a large back room, and saw two beautifully preserved specimens in their rigid overcoats being packed away for shipment to America, while others leaned against the vuil in carelss attitudes.
What a grisly reflection ! Here was a local potentate, let us say, Ipekak II. of Ilewag—ruler of a province, boss of his paity, prend cv net v*f broad fields and grazing herds. When he died, 1400 B.C., and was
escorted to his rock tomb by all the local secret societies, the military company and a band of music, his friends lowered his embalmed remains into a deep pit, and then put in a rock filling, and cut hieroglyphics all over the place, telling of his wealth .and social importance, and. begging all future generations to regard the premises as sacred.
Some two thousand years later, lilong comes a vandal in a cheap store suit and a cork helmet, en-
gages Ipekak’s own descendants to open the grave and heave out the rock at seven-pence per day, hauls the mummy into daylight, and ships it by luggage van to Cairo, where it is sold to a St. Paul’s man for £25.
Until I talked to the dealer I had no idea that mummies were so plentiful. In some parts of Egypt people go out and dig them up just as they would dig potatoes. The prices vary greatly, somewhat depending upon the state of preserva-
tion of the party of the first part, land the character of the decorations on the case, but more particularly on account of the title or historical importance of the once lamented. For instance, a Rameses or Ptolemy cannot be touched for less than £200. A prince, a trust magnate, or a military commander brings £30, the governor of a city or the president of a theological seminary anywhere from £12 to £15. Within the last three years perfect specimens of hu-
morist have been offered for as low as £3 10s., and the dealer showed me one for £1 10s.—probably a tourist.
At Naples, proceeding eastward, one enters the land of Talk. The French are conversational and animated, but southern Italy begins to show the real Oriental luxuriance of gab. A Neapolitan trying to sell three pence worth of fish will make more noise than a whole Whiteley establishment. The most commonplace and every-day form of dialogue calls for flashing eyes, swaying body and frantic gesticulations.
In front of a cafe in Naples Mr. Peasley became deeply interested in a conversation between two welldressed men at a table near ours. At first we thought they were going to fight it out, but then we saw that there was no real anger exhibited, but that apparently one was describing to the other some very thrilling experience. He waved his arms, struck at imaginary objects, made pin-wheel movements with his fingers, and carried on generally in a most hysterical manner. Mr. Peasley, all worked up, beckoned the head waiter, who had been talking to us in English.
“Look here,” he said, confiden* tially, “I want you to listen and tell me what those fellows are talking about. I can’t catch a word they say, but as near as I can make out from the way they act that fellow with the 1 goatee’ beard is describing some new kind of torpedo boat. It goes through the water at about thirty miles an hour, having three or four screw propellers. When it comes within striking distance of E
the enemy—bang! they cut her loose and the projectile goes whizzing to the mark, and when it meets with any resistance there is a big explosion and everything within a quarter of a mile is blown to pieces. Now, that’s the plot as nearly as I can follow it from watching that short guy making motions. You listen to them, and tell me if I’m right.”
The head waiter listened and then translated to us as follows: “He is saying to his friend that he slept very well last evening and got up feeling good, but was somewhat annoyed at breakfast because the egg was not cooked to suit him.”
“How about all those gymnastics'?” asked the surprised Mr. Peasley. Why does he hop up and down, side step and feint and wiggle Iris fingers and all that monkey business *? ’ ’
“Oh,” replied the head waiter, “he is describing the egg.”
What a people— to take cheap information and garland it with five pounds worth of rhetoric!
Talk is one of the few things of which there is a superabundance in the Levant. In early all particulars the Arab is economical and abstemious. He eats sparingly and cheaply, wears clothing just sufficient to keep from violating the municipal ordinances, smokes conservatively, so as to get the full value of his tobacco, and lives in a house which is furnished with three or four primitive utensils. But when it comes to language, he is the most reckless spendthrift in the world.
Endless disputes of a most vivid character rage among the donkey
boys and peddlers who assemble near the hotels and lie in wait for victims.
Aimless excursions are the best after all. It is more fun to drift round a new town and rub up against the people than to deliver yourself body and soul over to a guide. In Egypt the guide is called a dragoman. He puts on airs and has an inside pocket bulging with testimonials from people who were so glad to get out of
his clutches that they willingly perjured themselves by giving him halfhearted certificates of good character. While you are in the hands of the dragoman you feel like a dumb, driven cow. You follow the fluttering nightshirt and the tall red fez of this arch villain for hours at a time, not knowing where you are going or why. He takes absolute charge of you, either by making specious representations or boldly assuming authority, and when you start out to visit the
famous mosque or old Midullah Oblongahta or some other defunct celebrity you finish up in a junk shop for the sale of antiques, all of which are personally guaranteed by the dragoman, because he is a silent partner in the business.
In many countries, especially at times when the traveler must condense his itinerary, the guide is a necessary evil, but in Egypt he is supposed to be a sort of ornamental
bodyguard as well., We found that we could wander without being haltered and led, so we spent pleasant hours in the Mouski, which is the native shopping-street, and we went to race meetings and saw native horses and ponies saunter round a half-mile track while numbers of visitors in brilliant costumes drank gallons of tea and simulated a polite interest.
One afternoon we wandered into a market, and a man tried to sell me a
camel. Wherever we go, if a man has something he doesn’t want he tries to sell it to me, and sometimes he does it. But I refused to take the camel. I did not see how I could fold it up and secrete it so as to get it through the custom house.
Camels in the Cairo market are now steady, not literally speaking, but as regards their value. The older ones—spavined, hairless or pigeontoed—can be bought for as low as £10 each. The common or garden camel, trained to fold up like a pocket camera and carry from three to eight tons of cargo, can usually be bought at from £20 to £25.
We looked in at the howling Dervishes. These devout priests of the Mohammedan persuasion get as much enjoyment out of their religious services as if they were real Christians, and lived in the backwoods of America. They seem to think that an exhibition of religious frenzy is sure proof of a sanctified spirit. As Mr. Peasley put it, the};' can give our shouters at home points.
They bend themselves backward and forward in pocket-knife attitudes, hoarsely repeating over and over again the name of “Allah.”
They froth at the mouth, spin around like tops, shriek like delirious coyottes, and usually conclude by falling over in a convulsion and being carried out on a shutter. A good many tourists enjoy seeing it, but all of us had visited the Stock Exchange, and on the whole the performance seemed rather tame and spiritless.
Cairo, as a whole, was a big surprise to us. We knew that it was going to be cosmopolitan, but we were not prepared to find it so metropolitan. We had pictured it as one or two semi-European streets hedged in by a vast area of native quarter. But, unless you seek out the old parts of the town or the bazaars, each showing a distinct type of the Oriental shark, Cairo is outwardly quite modern, very attractive, and decidedly gay—that is, not real, wicked gaiety of the Parisian brand, but modified winter resort gaiety, the kind that is induced by the presence of money-spending tourists. There is no wild night life, and gambling, which flourished here for many seasons under the skilful directions of Mr. Pat Sheedy, an American. It has yielded to British reformation influence.
“There are some people who believe that the whole human race will be saved,” said an old lady, “buts for my part, I hope for better things,”