Thursday, 28 October 2021




Luise Muehlbach’s account of her visit to the Sultan’s harem, continued: She is welcome by Princess Said, the mother of the heir apparent.


Princess Said addressed friendly words to us through the translator and welcomed us to Cairo. Then the conversation began, seemingly proceeding in phrases and forms much like ours. The translator explained back and forth, and every time the princesses received my reply, they nodded at me and waved their slim, white fingers, which sparkled with large diamonds.

          I took particular note of one ring on the hand of the heir’s mother – a ring consisting of a single diamond without setting, a diamond which had been hollowed out at the centre, it seemed, to form a ring. The princess wore it on the uppermost joint of her little finger, where it sparkled and gave off the most wonderful light.

          As soon as we were seated, the slaves came hurrying with chibouks which they offered to each of us. I have long ago learned to smoke using a chibouk in the Orient, and with great pleasure I drew clouds of smoke through a long pipe made of Linden wood, the top of which was ornamented with a fat knob of amber. But I had never seen a chibouk like this. The pipe was two ells long and covered with a net of gold threads and golden bands sparkling with rubies and diamonds. The top, which consisted of a single piece of amber, was encircled by a broad band of diamonds. The small headpiece made of gold and diamonds sat in a plate on the carpet, its opening was also encrusted with diamonds. Each of the princess received such a chibouk. We bent over the amber piece with a serious and philosophical mien, sucked in the fragrant smoke and allowed it to rise in blue clouds.

          When people smoke they don’t need much conversation; the little clouds of smoke take the place of words, yet the princesses directed to us through the translator friendly and affectionate questions concerning our home country and our family, and listened with attention to our answers. They often gave us friendly nods and were kind enough to tell me that they liked me very well and to tell my daughter that they found her blond hair marvellously beautiful.

And then – but no, that’s all for today’s letter. Tomorrow I tell you more about the harem, the dancers and singers. Bukra!

(Translated from Reisebriefe aus Aegypten)

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