The sun is the secret of the East. There seems to be no light elsewhere. Italy simply preludes the Orient. Egyptian days are perfect. You breathe the sunlight ; you feel it warm in your lungs and heart. The whole system absorbs sunshine, and all your views of life become warm and rich.
The Egyptian sun does not glare ; it shines. The light has a creamy quality, soft and mellow, as distinguished from the intense whiteness of our American light. The forms of our landscape stand sharp and severe in the atmosphere, like frostwork, but the Eastern outlines are smoothed and softened. The sun is the mediator and blends beautifully the separate beauties of the landscape.
The sun shines in the brilliance of the colors the Easterns love. The sculptures upon the old tombs and temples are of the most positive colors, red, blue, yellow, green, and black ; and still the instinct is the same in the Egyptian costume, for golden and gay are the turbans wreathed around their dusky brows, and the buildings in which they sit (these of the crimson and golden turbans, with their slippers crossed under them), the walls of baths and cafes and mosques, are painted in the same gorgeous taste, with broad bars of red and blue and white. Over all this brilliance streams the intense sunshine, and completes what itself suggested warm, so glowing and rich, is the universal light and atmosphere that anything less than this in architecture would be unnatural. Strange and imperfect as it is, you feel the heart of nature throbbing all through Eastern art. Art there follows the plainest hints of nature, in the costume and architecture of today as in the antique architecture. The fault of oriental art springs from the very excess which is the universal law of Eastern life. It is the apparent attempt to say more than is sayable.
The child’s faith, that the East lies near the rising sun, is absurd until you are there. Then you feel that the East was the first-born of the sun and inherits the larger share of his love and influence. Wherever your eye falls it sees the sun and the sun’s suggestion. Egypt lies hard against his heart.
Adapted from ” Nile Notes of a Howadji “