Fragrance in Travel Literature-Egypt





Egypt ([1909])
Loti, Pierre, 1850-1923



Dimly lighted by the flames of a few poor slender
tapers which flicker against the walls in stone
niches, a dense crowd of human figures veiled in
black, in a place overpowering and suffocating —
underground, no doubt — which is filled with the
perfume of the incense of Arabia : and a noise
of almost wicked movement, which stirs us to
alarm and even horror : bleatings of new-born
babies, cries of distress of tiny mites whose
voices are drowned, as if on purpose, by a
clinking of cymbals. . . .


In one of the walls which now surround us
there is a low and shrinking doorway. Can this
be the entrance to the basilica ? The idea seems
absurd. And yet some of the pretty creatures
in the black veils and bracelets of gold, who
were in front of us, have disappeared through
it, and already the perfume of the censers is
wafted towards us. A kind of corridor, as-
tonishingly poor and old, twists itself sus-
piciously, and then issues into a narrow court,
more than a thousand years old, where offertory
boxes, fixed on Oriental brackets, invite our
alms. The odour of the incense becomes more
pronounced, and at last a door, hidden in shadow
at the end of this retreat, gives access to the
venerable church itself.

In this, the old grandfather, as it were, of
churches, filled now with a cloud of odorous
smoke, what one hears, more even than the
chanting of the mass, is the ceaseless movement,
the pious agitation of the faithful ; and more
even than that, the startling noise that rises
from the holy crypt below — the sharp clashing
of cymbals and those multitudinous little wail-
ings, that sound like the mewings of kittens.


What country is this that shows no sign of
human habitation, that knows no village, nor
any distant spire ? The crops are like ours at
home — wheat, lucerne, and the flowering bean
that perfumes the air with its white blossoms.
But there is an excess of light in the sky and,
in the distance, an extraordinary clearness.
And then these fertile plains, that might be
those of some " Promised Land," seem to be
bounded far away, on left and right, by two
parallel stone walls, two chains of rose-coloured
mountains, whose aspect is obviously desertlike.
Besides, amongst the numerous animals that are
familiar, there are camels, feeding their strange
nurslings that look like four-legged ostriches.
And finally some peasants appear beyond in
the cornfields ; they are veiled in long black
draperies. It is the East then, an African land,
or some oasis of Arabia ?

Oh ! this quay of Assouan, already so British
in its orderliness, its method ! Nothing better
cared for, nothing more altogether charming
could be conceived. First of all there is the
railway, which, passing between balustrades
painted a grass-green, gives out its fascinating
noise and joyous smoke. On one side is a row
of hotels and shops, all European in character
— hairdressers, perfumers, and numerous dark
rooms for the use of the many amateur photo-
graphers, who make a point of taking away
with them photographs of their travelhng
companions grouped tastefully before some
celebrated hypogeum.

The
sun of this Easter Sunday is as hot as ours of
July, and the ground seems as if it would perish
of drought. But it is always thus in the spring-
time of this rainless country ; the trees, which
have kept their leaves throughout the winter,
shed them in April as ours do in November.
There is no shade anywhere and everything
suffers. Everything grows yellow on the yellow
sands. But there is no cause for uneasiness :
the inundation is at hand, which has never failed
since the commencement of our geological
period. In another few weeks the prodigious
river will spread along its banks, just as in the
times of the God Amen, a precocious and im-
petuous life. And meanwhile the orange-trees,
the jasmine and the honeysuckle, which men
have taken care to water with water from the
Nile, are full of riotous bloom. As we pass the
gardens of Old Cairo, which alternate with the
tumbling houses, this continual cloud of white
dust that envelops us comes suddenly laden
with their sweet fragrance ; so that, despite the
drought and the bareness of the trees, the scents
of a sudden and feverish springtime are already
in the air.


We have first to traverse the old town of
Cairo, a maze of streets still full of charm,
wherein the thousand little lamps of the Arab
shops already shed their quiet light. Passing
through streets which twist at their caprice,
beneath overhanging balconies covered with
wooden trellis of exquisite workmanship, we
have to slacken speed in the midst of a dense
crowd of men and beasts. Close to us pass
women, veiled in black, gently mysterious
as in the olden times, and men of unmoved
gravity, in long robes and white draperies ; and
little donkeys pompously bedecked in collars of
blue beads ; and rows of leisurely camels, with
their loads of lucerne, which exhale the pleasant
fragrance of the fields. And when in the gather-
ing gloom, which hides the signs of decay, there
appear suddenly, above the little houses, so
lavishly ornamented with mushrabiyas and ara-
besques, the tall aerial minarets, rising to a
prodigious height into the twilight sky, it is
still the adorable East.


And the gentle night descended upon us in
this spot which did not seem to differ at all from
so many others where, for a month past now,
we had moored our boat at hazard to await the
daybreak. On the banks were dark confused
masses of foliage, above which here and there a
high date-palm outlined its black plumes. The
air was filled with the multitudinous chirpings of
the crickets of Upper Egypt, which make their
music here almost throughout the year in the
odorous warmth of the grass. And, presently,
in the midst of the silence, rose the cries of the
night birds, like the mournful mewings of cats.
And that was all — save for the infinite calm of
the desert that is always present, dominating
everjrthing, although scarcely noticed and, as it
were, latent.

Egypt painted and described (1902)
Kelly, Robert Talbot, 1861-1934

This street of the coppersmiths is one of the most
interesting of bazaar streets. Here in poky little
shops are sold all sorts of domestic utensils in brass and
copper, nearly always beautiful in form, though rather
rough in workmanship. A very large trade is done
here, the natives often investing savings in copper-work,
which is always sold by weight, and is readily market-
able in case of need. Out of this branch the shoe-
makers' and silversmiths' bazaars, and, crossing the
Muski, its continuation forms that of the cloth-sellers,
from which open the spice, scent, and Tunis bazaars.
The latter is very paintable, though entirely lacking
anything in the way of structural beauty.

At Salamun, as in most villages, a public *'mahdieh"
or ferry supplies the necessary means of transit from
one bank to another ; the ferry-boat usually being large
enough to pass over, not only passengers, but camels,
horses, and other live stock. A little higher up the
canal is the village of Dekerniss, from the water
looking bright and clean, but pervaded with an over-
powering smell of ^'fessTkh," of which it is a great
distributing centre. I visited the market-place, which
I found to be rather more than usually picturesque,
especially in the number of women seated in long rows
on the ground, and offering for sale a great variety of
articles, from cotton prints and glass bangles to anti-
mony and scents. Many were engaged in grinding
antimony into the " kohl " used by all women in the
shading of their eyes and eyebrows. The antimony
was ground by means of a mortar and pestle made of
brass ; most of them were quaint in form and of great
age, and on being struck rang like a bell. After some
good-humoured bargaining I secured one, and found its
great weight added considerably to my baggage for the
rest of the journey.

While eating, servants stood behind us, some with
lanterns, others with jars of rose -scented drinking-
water from which each one drank from time to time.
With the exception of the soup and the rice, which were
eaten with the same spoon, all food is taken with the
right hand, host and guest exchanging choice morsels
from time to time. Everything was excellently cooked
and served, and a certain amount of pretty ceremony
characterised the meal.

As we approach Kahbuna the country becomes in-
creasingly beautiful, the groves of date-palms are more
frequent and larger in extent — indeed, in many parts
they become almost one continuous forest, through
which wind tortuous paths and channels of running
water. Between the rows of palms, bercime or
vegetables grow, and the occasional open stretches
through which we pass are bright with the blossom of
the bean-fields, whose fragrance scents the whole air.


Probably one of the most interesting of these events
is that last " fantasia " which ends Ramadan. This
takes place at night, in the Citadel Mosque of
Mohammed Ali, when, after the Khedive has performed
his devotions, the mosque is thrown open to all who
come. The huge interior is brilliantly illuminated by
innumerable lamps hanging from the roof and dome,
which can hardly be seen through the smoke of incense.

Another curious street trade is that of the incense-
burner, who with brass brazier swinging fumigates
your shop or clothing for the fraction of a penny ; and
it must be confessed that some corners into which you
will penetrate are so evil-smelling as to render his good
offices very desirable.

How often while working in the streets
has a small boy appeared at my elbow presenting a cup
of fragrant coffee ! This has been sent by the occupant
of a distant shop, a man I do not know, and to whom
I can only send my '' salaams " in return. A chair is
brought and offered in place of my presumably uncom-
fortable sketching -stool ; and I never hesitate, when
needful, to sit in whatever shop is most convenient,
sure of a courteous greeting from its proprietor.

The Nile boat or, glimpses of the land of Egypt / by W.H. Bartlett (1849)

I mounted the roof of the
little cabin as the broad latine sail swelled smoothly under the
pressure of the Etesian wind, which, at this season of the
inundation, by a wonderful provision of nature, blows steadily
from the north, thus alone enabling vessels to stem the
powerful current of the rising Nile. I had embarked on that
ancient and sacred river, renewing before my eyes its majestic
current, diffusing the same blessings to its rich valley as it had
done in the days when Egypt was a mighty kingdom, when
Thebes and Memphis and the pyramids arose upon its borders.
The rich fans of the plume-like palms on the banks were
painted on the warm glow of the westward horizon, the level
valley with its wealth of production spread away in dusky
haze, but the breeze brought off from the shore its odorous
musky fragrance, lamps twinkled in the cottages, and cast their
reflections into the glassy stream — the noise and babble of the
Fellahs, and sounds of the Darrabuka, or Egyptian drum,
came off and died away as we sailed past the villages on the
bank. The boat, with her broad sails and her long wake
whitening in the moon, and her Arab crew, lying upon deck,
chanting their peculiar and plaintive songs, flew rapidly along
through those historic waters. I sat up to a late hour, so
delightful was my first impression of the patriarch of rivers.

The general characteristics of this wonderful Nile valley are
so well known, that it is hardly necessary to dwell at much
length on them. From ' far Syene' and the rocky outposts of
Nubia to the rich level of the Delta, the river preserves much
the same breadth, of half a mile to three quarters, unless where
its course is interrupted by islands, or contracted by rocks.
On either hand is a green stripe of verdure, extending to the
limit of the waters ; beyond is the illimitable desert. At this
season the swollen stream comes down with great rapidity,
and, at the angles of the banks, the current is so powerful as to
require the efforts of all the crew to tow the boat against it.
With the north wind a complete sea gets up. The cultivated
land is adorned principally by groves of palm — the great beauty
of Egypt — sometimes of considerable extent, at others thinly
scattered ; here and there too is a dark cluster of sycamores, or a
grove of fragrant acacia, haunted by thousands of birds. The
great thoroughfare all up the river is along its bank, raised
above the level of the inundation, and throwing off here and
there a branch communicating with the villages remote from
the river.

It is pleasant enough to while away an
hour or two here, but a far prettier place is Rhoda, an island in
the Nile, opposite Old Cairo, where, under the direction of
Mr. Trail, an English master gardener, who has a pretty
bower himself among these shades of his own creation, gardens
of great beauty have been realized. The situation is happy,
the Nile adding much to the landsc-ape, and one wanders half
enchanted among irregular shady bosquets of the most delicious
fragrant trees, and shrubs, and brilliant flowers, through which
peeps are obtained upon the river, with its flitting white sails,
and the distant pyramids. Nor are the decorations of art want-
ing ; for there is also a very pretty building, with a shell-paved
grotto, and a small piece of water. I repeatedly visited this
place, and took the greatest delight in its verdant alleys ; yet
something I thought was deficient, my ideas of a perfect oriental
garden were not realized. I wanted to sec a wilderness of
rustling shades, overarched by the immense green leaves of the
banana, and the tall rustling palm, with dense thickets of other
trees, intermingled with an infinite variety of those delicious
exotics, covered with brilliant flowers, which makes the sense
ache with their voluptuous fragrance ; a perfect paradisaical
bower, such as might be created from the rich elements of east-
ern vegetation, with kiosqucs of the genuine Arabian architec-
ture, and fountains which might maintain perpetual coolness.
Of such I have often dreamed among the alleys of Rlioda.
These beautiful gardens were formed at the expense of the late
Ibrahim Pasha, whose palace and harem are on the opposite or
Cairo bank of the channel, buried in trees and gardens, which
extend all the way to Cairo, in place of the old dust heaps which
formerly stood near, and which were removed by his orders.
These are indeed noble improvements.

The swelling sails are reddened by the evening glow, and the
little kangia glides almost dreamily along the enchanted river,
old Nilus with his full and solemn flow. There is no describ-
ing the beauty of the scene and hour, such as I felt it this
evening on the approach to the village of Sheik Abade, the
ancient Antinoopolis— no telling how gloriously the setting sun
burnished the palm groves which line the river's brink, and
the Sheik's house and sycamore tree, the bright sails, and
the young camels browsing among the verdure ; nor the vivid-
ness with which all the objects were reflected into the glassy cur-
rent, how gorgeous were the hues of sun-set upon the river and
the rocky hills, how sacred the stillness of the hour, and the
intense tranquillity of that broad Egyptian sky- A musky
fragrance coming off deliciously from the shores, the monoton-
ous creak of the water-wheel, the distant and fitful cries from
the villages, or the shrill note of some solitary bird flitting across
the stilly expanse of the river, all add to the luxurious melan-
choly of the scene and hour. As the sun sank, in the midst of the
rosy light with which all nature yet glowed and trembled, (« the
after-glow,' as some have well called it,) the yellow orb of the
moon uprose from behind the eastern hills, and the mingled
light of the two luminaries long blended in beauty indescrib-
able, till the red light paling more and more, gave place to
night, scarcely less bright, but softer and more spiritual than
day, and yet indescribably intoxicating. The stars came out,
not dimly, as in northern climates, but starting up at once
resplendently from behind the hills with almost supernatural
brilliancy, casting far down into the depths of the still river
reflections so wonderfully vivid, that the boat, as it noiselessly
cleft the waters, seemed to float through liquid space studded
with all its orbs. At such times, the simple beauty of the
scene alone would be sufficient enjoyment, but you are never
here without in addition a haunting sense of the wonders that
line the banks of the river, remains of the past empire of that
great people to whom its waters were sacred.

Here
rises, sheer from the flood, a huge pile of black and frowning
basalt, intermingled with rose-coloured syenite, and veined with
white quartz ; there in vivid contrast appears some green island,
covered with tangled palms and scented acacias ; or lovely little
islets, bordered with a rim of the whitest and finest sand, sprin-
kled with mimosas, and resounding with the music of birds.
Such is fair Sehayl, its fragrant groves and thickets reposing
with an aspect so poetical, such an air of celestial peacefulness,
in the midst of surrounding convulsion, we wonder not that it
should have been held sacred, and placed under the special
protection of the goddesses Sate and Anouke, the Grecian Juno
and Vesta. The multitude of these obstructions, wildly thrown
together, and of every size, from large islands to single rocks,
scarce peeping above the roaring current at this season of the
Nile's rise, taxed to the utmost the skill and attention of our pilot.

Between Girgeh and Keneh the scenery is in many places
exceedingly fine, especially in the neighbourhood of Kasr e
Sayd, where the Dom or Theban palm begins to blend its
peculiar fan-like foliage with that bearing the date, and to add
to the enchanting richness of the vegetation. The fertile level
plain, covered with luxuriant crops of Indian corn, the finest
imaginable, with sugar cane, and a variety of leguminous
herbs, among which the nutritious and palatable bamyeh is
conspicuous at this season, delights the eye with its perpetual
greenness, as the boat glides past the luxuriant and scented banks
at even-tide.

The coffee-shop
where he has planted himself is a fair sample of the very
numerous ones which are found in every corner of the capital.
They are small and without decoration, but the coffee, as pre-
pared at the best of them, has, to the genuine amateur, an
aroma not excelled, if equalled, in the first of Parisian cafes.


Khartoum and the Blue and White Niles (Volume 1) - Melly, George


After this, little coffee-
cups, holding about two spoonsfull, came
on. The cups were mounted in silver
filagree ; the coffee made thick, and was
extremely fragrant. ' I have never tasted
any equal to what is made in Egypt, though
I am convinced it might be had, if we took
as much trouble to prepare it. The Ori-
entals only roast the coffee when it is
actually wanted, and then put it, ground
rather coarse, in boiling-water in a little
pot, containing just the quantity wanted.
The moment it rises, it is ready, and
must be instantly drunk.

The next morning, a brisk wind earned
us up to Benisooef, a large town, situated
on a picturesque bend of the river. It peeps
out from a grove of mimosas, of great size,
that screen with their rich, green foliage
all the Arab quarter, disclosing only the
dwellings of the wealthy, among w T hich two
large white palaces, are pre-eminent. The
mimosas yield a delicious fragrance, that
was w T afted to us over the rippling water;
on looking round, I counted no less than
fifteen plantations of date-trees.

I left Rosetta without much soitow, and
rode rapidly back to Alexandria, admiring
as I rode along the numerous wild flowers
that beautified my path. I counted fifteen
varieties, among which were marigolds,
poppies, daisies, geraniums and orchises ;
they were so abundant that the air was full
of their fragrance.


A decided attack of opthalmia made it
necessary that my eyes should be bandaged,
and my camel led. Many new birds were
seen by our party, singing on the trees;
among the most beautiful, were one of sky-
blue plumage, a bright-red one, with a
white beak, and one that was dark-red
and black. The flowers also became more
numerous; among the novelties were a
sweet-scented jasmine, and some more fine
convolvuluses.

Oriental Cairo, the city of the "Arabian nights" (1911)
Sladen, Douglas Brooke Wheelton, 1856-1947; Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919


The Silk Bazar and the Suk-el-Attarin, or Scentmakers'
Bazar are the most truly Oriental of all, and their shops are
the smallest and most cupboard-like ; their proprietors the
most addicted to sitting on the counter and filling up the
whole front. Dikkas and conversation are the features here ;
shoes and blankets supply the colour.

Unless the tourist knows something of the value of scent
there is friction in the Suk-el-Attarin, or Perfume Bazar —
rather a glorified name for the row of half-empty dark
cupboards which constitute it. In Tunis the shops of the
scentmakers are the handsomest in the bazars, with their
brass, and their glass, and their panelling, their gorgeous
phials, and their dandies descended from the nobles of
Granada. Here an ordinary shopkeeper sits in his dark
recess, with a few dirty bottles of gilt glass on the shelf
beside him, and a few cheap and gaudy gilt bottles of a
smaller size, and ivory balls with cavities for scent on the floor
in front of him. As you pass, the spider pulls the stopper
out of one of his scent-bottles and rubs it on your sleeve.
"There!" he says. "Smell it. Is it not beautiful ? There
is no scent like it in the world. What will you have ?
Otto of roses, jasmine, amber, or banana scent ? " As
if anybody wanted to smell of eating bananas ! He could
make a much better scent of orange-peel. The Portogallo
made by the monks of Santa Maria Novella from orange-
peel is as fine as eau-de-colognc.

The shop looks so humble that the tourist generally says
that she will buy some scent, probably jasmine, which is really
delicious. " I low much ? " says the man. " An ounce ? "
An ounce bottle is a modest-looking affair, so she says, " Yes,"
and is requested to pay about a sovereign. She refuses.
The dragoman says, " You must buy it now, because he
has poured it out for you. Each drop costs so much, that
he will lose two or three shillings if you do not take it now."
If it is a well-off Englishwoman she weakly consents from
a sense of noblesse oblige ; if it is an American she says,
" Yes ; I will buy it, but two shillings is plenty for that little
lot. Tell him I shall only pay two shillings for it." The
shopkeeper blusters, and the dragoman flusters, but he does
not say too much, for he has learned that the proverb, "If
you scratch a Russian you find a Tartar," applies with
special force to Americans who have risen from trade.
Perhaps, as a parting shot, she recommends the scentmaker
to put each kind of scent up in ounce bottles and label it
twenty shillings. I side with the Americans against the
scentmakers all along the line. The scentmakers' game, as
played in Cairo, is an organised conspiracy. Their bazar
is not worth visiting except for what you pass through on
the way to it ; there is nothing beautifully Oriental about it
except the duplicity of its shopkeepers, and nothing beautiful
about their shops except the brown stains on scent-bottles
that are never washed.

For myself, I enjoyed looking at the scentmakers' shops ;
the black den, the Arab spider, the dusty shelf with its row
of stained bottles from which the dusty gilt was wearing
off ; the little affected foolery of pulling out the stopper and
stroking my sleeve with it formed a quiet bit of the life
of the East which gave me a subtle satisfaction. But as the
spider generally turns into a blustering swindler, and there
are no noticeable Oriental effects for the casual tourist, I have
said what I have said.

The beauty of the amber perfume, the scent merchant
informs you, is that you can use it for flavouring your coffee.
But what civilised being would wish his coffee to taste like
the smell of the inside of a four-wheeler ? You can buy the
amber also in the form of paste for filling little ivory boxes
the size of the capsule in which you take phenacetin. These
are hung round the neck under the clothes in a way that
would be useful if they were febrifuges.