From Half Hours in the Holy Land by Norman Macleod, 1884
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The first sign of nearing a new country from the sea is generally the pilot-boat and its
crew. With what interest do we look over the side of the ship, and watch the dresses and
countenances of the first specimens of the tribe among whom we are to pitch our tents for
The boat, with a flag in its bow, which pulled out to meet us from
Alexandria, had a crew which were a fit introduction to the East, with their rough
comfortable brown boatcoats and hood, their petticoat-trousers, swarthy faces, and
shining teeth. And as for "Master George" himself, the Egyptian pilot, as he stepped up
the gangway to shake hands with his old friends, and take charge of the ship, he was, from
toe to turban, a perfect study for an artist.
There is nothing at all remarkable in the view of Alexandria from the sea.
Notwithstanding the white palace, the old summerhouse of the Pasha, and other
distinguished buildings, which are sure to be pointed out, the town looks like a long
horizontal streak of whitewash, mingled with brown, and crossed perpendicularly with the
sharp lines of ships' masts.
But a scene well worth noticing was the crowd of boats that pressed
around the ship to convey passengers to the shore. Imagine thirty or forty such, with
their nondescript crews, crowding to the ship's side, every man on board of them
appearing in a towering passion, and yelling as if in the agony of despair, and, with
outstretched hands and flashing eyes, pouring forth a stream of guttural Arabic, that
seemed to the ear to be a whole dictionary of imprecations without a pause, and as far
as one could judge, without a motive, unless it were that they took us for lost spirits
claimable by the greatest demon.
The noise is great when landing from a Highland steamer, and when
Highland boatmen, the scum of the port, are contending for passengers or luggage. But
without defending the Gaelic as mellifluous, or the Highlanders as types of meekness
on such an occasion, yet in vehemence of gesticulation, in genuine power of lip and lung
to fill the air with a roar of incomprehensible exclamations, nothing on earth, so
long as the human body retains its present arrangement of muscles and nervous
vitality, can surpass the Egyptians and their language.
The Quay at Alexandria
If the Pyramids were built, as some allege they were, to preserve the
inch as a measure of length for the world, why should not the Sphinx have been raised,
with her calm eye, dignified face, and sweet smile, even now breaking through her
ruins like sunlight through the clouds, to be an everlasting rebuke to Eastern rage,
and a lesson in stone exhorting to silence?
My first day in the East stands alone in my memory, unapproached by all
I have ever seen. It excited feel-of novelty and wonder which I fear can never be
reproduced. I had expected very little from Alexandria,
and thought of it only as a place of merchandise, notorious for donkeys, donkey-boys,
and Pompey's Pillar. But as soon as I landed, I realised at once the presence of a
totally different world of human beings from any I seen before. The charm and fascination
consisted in the total difference in every respect between East and West.
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