An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids HTML version

An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids
In the happy days when we were young, no description conveyed to us so complete an
idea of mysterious reality as that of an Oriental city. We knew it was actually there, but
had such vague notions of its ways and looks! Let any one remember his early
impressions as to Bagdad or Grand Cairo, and then say if this was not so. It was probably
taken from the "Arabian Nights," and the picture produced was one of strange, fantastic,
luxurious houses; of women who were either very young and very beautiful, or else very
old and very cunning; but in either state exercising much more influence in life than
women in the East do now; of good-natured, capricious, though sometimes tyrannical
monarchs; and of life full of quaint mysteries, quite unintelligible in every phasis, and on
that account the more picturesque.
And perhaps Grand Cairo has thus filled us with more wonder even than Bagdad. We
have been in a certain manner at home at Bagdad, but have only visited Grand Cairo
occasionally. I know no place which was to me, in early years, so delightfully mysterious
as Grand Cairo.
But the route to India and Australia has changed all this. Men from all countries going to
the East, now pass through Cairo, and its streets and costumes are no longer strange to us.
It has become also a resort for invalids, or rather for those who fear that they may become
invalids if they remain in a cold climate during the winter months. And thus at Cairo
there is always to be found a considerable population of French, Americans, and of
English. Oriental life is brought home to us, dreadfully diluted by western customs, and
the delights of the "Arabian Nights" are shorn of half their value. When we have seen a
thing it is never so magnificent to us as when it was half unknown.
It is not much that we deign to learn from these Orientals,--we who glory in our
civilisation. We do not copy their silence or their abstemiousness, nor that invariable
mindfulness of his own personal dignity which always adheres to a Turk or to an Arab.
We chatter as much at Cairo as elsewhere, and eat as much and drink as much, and dress
ourselves generally in the same old ugly costume. But we do usually take upon ourselves
to wear red caps, and we do ride on donkeys.
Nor are the visitors from the West to Cairo by any means confined to the male sex.
Ladies are to be seen in the streets quite regardless of the Mahommedan custom which
presumes a veil to be necessary for an appearance in public; and, to tell the truth, the
Mahommedans in general do not appear to be much shocked by their effrontery.
A quarter of the town has in this way become inhabited by men wearing coats and
waistcoats, and by women who are without veils; but the English tongue in Egypt finds
its centre at Shepheard's Hotel. It is here that people congregate who are looking out for
parties to visit with them the Upper Nile, and who are generally all smiles and courtesy;
and here also are to be found they who have just returned from this journey, and who are