The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
In the Mousky
The bazaars of Cairo are generally called the "Mousky." But the Mousky proper is only the main street going from Ataba-el Khadra, the tram junction, Tight up on to the Desert, to the Mokattam Hills and the tombs of the Caliphs, The bazaars are called by various names; the big one on the left, where all the general "antika" shops are, is Khan Khalil, and the scent, tent, Tunis bazaars, &c, are on the right. From the Mousky street there are many little harets (lanes), leading into unexpected places and teeming with life. The first important turn to the left leads, if one knows the way, into the goldsmiths' bazaar, where most of the work is done in silver I One can find real old silver there, sometimes: a genuine set of Turkish coffee cups and the tray, a set of heavy bracelets or anklets, an old box, a neck chain, or perhaps a little filagree ball still containing a trace of amber, the favourite perfume for Turkish coffee.
A few steps down the centre street, after leaving the silver bazaar, one comes to the brass shops, which sell, not the carved stuff, but the great plain vessels used in everyday life by the natives; large washing basins, and baby ones for the bath, great jugs, saucepans in gleaming copper, immense, narrow-necked vases such as one sees in Arab restaurants, and plain trays used to hold the numerous tiny food dishes. I found, in the old days, some genuine ancient brass and copper in these shops; but the bazaars have been combed carefully through, and dealers know to the last farthing the value of their goods.
The streets are so narrow that the shops almost touch. They are open on one side, and in the darkness squats the great, fat owner, a soft spider. And how spider like he is, that wily one, with his little tricks, his scented tea, and Turkish delight or coffee flavoured with amber. It is easy to pass the whole afternoon in these twisted streets.. They are so few actually. One little corner is devoted to the brass shops, and the tinkle and tapping of metal on metal is heard long before they come into view. All the brass ware in a shop could not possibly have been made by one or two old men and young boys, who spend their time chiselling a little plate or box to give an air of reality to the business.
A great, dim courtyard is reached through a stone archway—the Sudan bazaar, where piles of new and uninteresting rubbish can be found, as well as fine leopard and other skins, ivory and natural ostrich plumes. In the old days one saw immense;stone jars, like those that hid the forty thieves, sealed down tightly, for they were filled with the wonderful oil and attar of roses from Persia. The average price for one was L.E. 200. Many of the objects in this court have been there ever since I can remember, and one wonders what is actually sold there. The same patriarchial man, white-bearded, white-robed and grave, receives one with the same dignified bow, and in answer to the request that one may look round, waves a hand coloured like old ivory, and says "Iffaddal" ("Have the kindness").
Be it an embroidered Persian towel, for a few shillings, or a prayer stolen from some old mosque, for a thousand pounds, always there is something beautiful to buy. A priceless carpet owned by one dealer; a little rug from some far-off land, with stories of mystery and love woven into its soft colours; an old dark-stained scimitar or tiny daggar with jewels gleaming in its head and death lurking in its heart, bringing to mind long forgotten stories of wild raids in the Desert, of the breathless chase, panting horses, flying veils, slim, quivering forms caught in a fierce embrace, the tiny hand strengthened and steady as it plunges the poisoned blade into living flesh. So the old stories come back one by one at the sight of these old things, spread out in the dimly lighted caves called shops.
Here are tortuous paths, arches, and odd corners piled with treasures. In one corner, still and eerie, rises a faint musty scent as from a long forgotten tomb, and slowly over one steals the blur of the old, old civilisations. The jewelled eyes of a mummy shine out of the darkness; queer little bird-headed gods squat on the tops of old marble vases; a great stone sphinx sits with lowering eye-lids; and small figures in bright blue glaze tell of rifled tombs where they lay for centuries, protecting the dead. Many nationalities, are represented among the vendors. The secretive, silky Persian is the jewel dealer. A business like little Jew is the keenest expert on rugs; whilst another Persian has his interest in old embroideries and carpets. Egyptian dealers are comparatively scarce, except in the goldsmiths' bazaar. Greeks lave a "flair" for dealing, and Armenians trade n the smaller things. The Indian sticks more or less to produce from his own country.