Sketches, by Benjamin Disraeli

A Syrian Sketch

The sun was quivering above the horizon, when I strolled forth from Jaffa to enjoy the coming breeze amid the beautiful gardens that environ that agreeable town. Riding along the previous day, my attention had been attracted by a marble gate, the fragment of some old temple, that now served as the entrance to one of these enclosures, their secure boundary otherwise formed by a picturesque and impenetrable hedge of Indian fig.

It is not a hundred yards from the town; behind it stretches the plain of Ramie — the ancient Arimathea-broad and fertile, and, at this moment, green; for it was just after the latter rains, when Syria is most charming. The caravan track winding through it led to Jerusalem.

The air was exquisitely soft and warm, and sweet with the perfume of the orange bowers. I passed through the marble portal, adorned with some florid yet skilful sculptures, and found myself in a verdant wilderness of fruit-trees, rising in rich confusion from the turf, through which not a single path seemed to wander. There were vast groups of orange and lemon-trees, varied occasionally with the huge offspring of the citron-tree, and the glowing produce of the pomegranate; while, ever and anon, the tall banana raised its head aloft with its green or golden clusters, and sometimes the graceful and languid crest of the date-bearing palm.

While I was in doubt as to the direction I should bend my steps, my ear was caught by the wild notes of Turkish music; and, following the sounds, I emerged upon a plot of turf, clear from trees, in the middle of which was a fountain, and, by its margin, seated on a delicate Persian carpet, a venerable Turk. Some slaves were near him, one of whom, at a little distance, was playing on a rude lyre; in the master’s left hand was a volume of Arabian poetry, and he held in his right the serpentine tube of his narghileh, or Syrian pipe. When he beheld me, he saluted me with all the dignity of the Orient, pressing his hand to his heart, but not rising. I apologised for my intrusion; but he welcomed me with serene cordiality, and invited me to share his carpet and touch his pipe.

Some time elapsed in answering those questions respecting European horses and European arms, wherein the Easterns delight. At length, the solemn and sonorous voice of the muezzin, from the minarets of Jaffa, came floating on the air. The sun had set; and, immediately, my host and his companions performed their ablutions in the fountain; and kneeling towards Mecca, repeated their accustomed prayers. Then rising, the Turkish aga, for such was his rank, invited me to enjoy the evening breeze, and accompany him in a walk round his garden.

As we proceeded, my companion plucked an orange, and taking a knife from his girdle, and cutting the fruit in half, offered me one moiety, and threw the other away. More than once he repeated this ceremony, which somewhat excited my surprise. At length he inquired my opinion of his fruit. I enlarged, and with sincerity, on its admirable quality, the racy sweetness of its flavour, which I esteemed unequalled; but I could not refrain from expressing my surprise, that of fruit so exquisite he should studiously waste so considerable a portion.

‘Effendi,’ said the Turk, with a grave though gracious smile, ‘to friends we give only the sunny side.’

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19