Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome – An Oriental Bazaar

Eastern life is delightful in detail. It is a mosaic to be closely studied.

You enter the bazaar and the murmurous silence blends pleasantly with the luminous dimness of the place. The matting overhead, torn and hanging in strips, — along which, gilding them in passing, the sun slides into the interior, — is a heavy tapestry. The scene is a perpetual fair, such as is frequently met in Arabian stories.

Bedouins glide spectrally along, with wild, roving eyes, like startled deer. Sheiks from distant Asia, pompous effendi from Constantinople, Bagdad traders, sharp-eyed Armenian merchants, meet and mingle. All strange forms jostle and crowd in passing, and children, more beautiful than any others in the East, play in the living mazes of the crowd.

Shopping goes actively on. The merchant, without uncrossing his legs, exhibits his silks and coarse cottons to the long draped and veiled figures that group picturesquely about his niche. Your eye seizes the bright effect of all the gay goods as you saunter on. Here a merchant lays by his chibouk, and drinks from a carved glass sweet liquorish water, cooled with snow from Lebanon. Here one closes his niche and shuffles off to the mosque, followed by his boy slave with the chibouk. Here another rises and bows and falls, kissing the floor and muttering the noon prayer. Everywhere there is intense but languid life.

The bazaars are separated into kinds. That of the jewelers is inclosed, and you see the workers busily employed. Precious stones, miserably set, and handfuls of pearls, opals, and turquoises are quietly presented to your inspection. There is no eagerness of traffic. A boy tranquilly hands you a ring, and another, when you have looked at the first. You say la, ” no,” and he retires. Or you pause over a clumsy silver ring, with an Arabic inscription upon the flint set in it. Golden Sleeve ascertains that it is the cipher of Hafiz. You reflect that it is silver, which is the orthodox metal, the Prophet having forbidden gold. You place it upon your finger with the stone upon the inside, for so the Prophet wore his upon the forefinger, that he might avoid ostentation. It is a quaint, characteristic, oriental signet ring. Hafiz is a common name ; it is probably that of the jeweler who owns the ring ; but you have other associations with the name, and as you remember the Persian poet you suffer it to remain upon your finger, and pay the jeweler a few piasters. You do not dream that it is enchanted. You do not know that you have bought Aladdin’s lamp, and, as a rub of that evoked omnipotent spirits, so a glance at your ring, when Damascus has become a dream, will restore you again to the dim bazaar, and to the soft eyes of the children that watch you curiously as you hesitate, and to the sweet inspiration of Syria.

Abridged from ” The Howadji in Syria”

bazaar (ba zar’) : in the East a market place, more or less covered and lined with shops or stalls. — sheik (shek) : an Arab chief. — effendi (e fen di) : sir; a Turkish title of respect, applied especially to a state official or a man of learning. — draped and veiled figures : women ; Turkish women always go abroad veiled. —chibouk (chi book’): a Turkish pipe with a stem four or five feet long. —la (la). — Golden Sleeve : the name of the author’s guide. — Hafiz (ha’fiz) : the name of a celebrated Persian poet. — the Prophet: Mohammed.—piasters (pi as’terz): small coins worth a fraction of a cent.