The Middle Eastern bazaar takes you back hundreds --- even thousands --- of years. The one I am thinking of particularly is entered by a Gothic - arched gateway of aged brick and stone. You pass from the heat and glare of a big, open square into a cool, dark cavernwhich extends as far as the eye can see, losing itself in the shadowy distance. Little donkeys with harmoniously tinkling bells thread their way among the throngsof people entering and leaving the bazaar. The roadway is about twelve feet wide, but it is narrowed every few yards by little stalls where goods of every conceivable kind are sold. The din of the stall-holder; crying their wares, of donkey-boys and porters clearing a way for themselves by shouting vigorously, and of would-be purchasers arguing and bargaining is continuous and makes you dizzy.
Then as you penetrate deeper into the bazaar, the noise of the entrance fades away, and you come to the muted cloth-market. The earthen floor, beaten hard by countless feet, deadens the sound of footsteps, and the vaulted mud-brick walls and roof have hardly any sounds to echo. The shop-keepers speak in slow, measured tones, and the buyers, overwhelmed by the sepulchral atmosphere, follow suit .
One of the peculiarities of the Eastern bazaar is that shopkeepers dealing in the same kind of goods do not scatter themselves over the bazaar, in order to avoid competition, but collect in the same area, so that purchasers can know where to find them, and so that they can form a closely knit guild against injustice or persecution . In the cloth-market, for instance, all the sellers of material for clothes, curtains, chair covers and so on line the roadway on both sides, each open-fronted shop having a trestle trestle table for display and shelves for storage. Bargaining is the order of the cay, and veiled women move at a leisurely pace from shop to shop, selecting, pricing and doing a little preliminary bargaining before they narrow down their choice and begin the really serious business of beating the price down.
It is a point of honour with the customer not to let the shopkeeper guess what it is she really likes and wants until the last moment. If he does guess correctly, he will price the item high, and yield little in the bargaining. The seller, on the other hand, makes a point of protesting that the price he is charging is depriving him of all profit, and that he is sacrificing this because of his personal regard for the customer. Bargaining can go on the whole day, or even several days, with the customer coming and going at intervals .
One of the most picturesque and impressive parts of the bazaar is the copper-smiths' market. As you approach it, a tinkling and banging and clashing begins to impinge on your ear. It grows louder and more distinct, until you round a corner and see a fairyland of dancing flashes, as the burnished copper catches the light of innumerable lamps and braziers . In each shop sit the apprentices – boys and youths, some of them incredibly young – hammering away at copper vessels of all shapes and sizes, while the shop-owner instructs, and sometimes takes a hand with a hammer himself. In the background, a tiny apprentice blows a bi-, charcoal fir e with a huge leather bellowsworked by a string attached to his big toe -- the red of the live coals glowing, bright and then dimming rhythmicallyto the strokes of the bellows.
Here you can find beautiful pots and bowls engrave with delicate and intricate traditional designs, or the simple, everyday kitchenware used in this country, pleasing in form, but undecorated and strictly functional. Elsewhere there is the carpet-market, with its profusion of rich colours, varied textures and regional designs -- some bold and simple, others unbelievably detailed and yet harmonious. Then there is the spice-market, with its pungentand exotic smells; and the food-market, where you can buy everything you need for the most sumptuous dinner, or sit in a tiny restaurant with porters and apprentices and eat your humble bread and cheese. The dye-market, the pottery-market and the carpenters' market lie elsewhere in the maze of vaulted streets which honeycomb this bazaar. Every here and there, a doorway gives a glimpse of a sunlit courtyard, perhaps before a mosque or a caravanserai , where camels lie disdainfully chewing their hay, while the great bales of merchandise they have carried hundreds of miles across the desert lie beside them.
Perhaps the most unforgettable thing in the bazaar, apart from its general atmosphere, is the place where they make linseed oil. It is a vast, sombre cavern of a room, some thirty feet high and sixty feet square, and so thick with the dust of centuries that the mudbrick walls and vaulted roof are only dimly visible. In this cavern are three massive stone wheels, each with a huge pole through its centre as an axle. The pole is attached at the one end to an upright post, around which it can revolve, and at the other to a blind-folded camel, which walks constantly in a circle, providing the motive power to turn the stone wheel. This revolves in a circular stone channel, into which an attendant feeds linseed. The stone wheel crushes it to a pulp, which is then pressed to extract the oil .The camels are the largest and finest I have ever seen, and in superb condition – muscular, massive and stately.
The pressing of the linseed pulp to extract the oil is done by a vast ramshackle apparatus of beams and ropes and pulleys which towers to the vaulted ceiling and dwarfs the camels and their stone wheels. The machine is operated by one man, who shovels the linseed pulp into a stone vat, climbs up nimbly to a dizzy height to fasten ropes, and then throws his weight on to a great beam made out of a tree trunk to set the ropes and pulleys in motion. Ancient girders girders creak and groan , ropes tighten and then a trickle of oil oozes oozes down a stone runnel into a used petrol can. Quickly the trickle becomes a flood of glistening linseed oil as the beam sinks earthwards, taut and protesting, its creaks blending with the squeaking and rumbling of the grinding-wheels and the occasional grunts and sighs of the camels.
(from Advanced Comprehension and Appreciation pieces, 1962 )
1) This piece is taken from Advanced Comprehension and Appreciation Pieces, compiled for overseas students by L. A. Hill and D.J. May, published by Oxford University Press, Hong Kong, 1962.
2) Middle East: generally referring to the area from Afghanistan to Egypt, including the Arabian Peninsula, Cyprus, and Asiatic Turkey.
3) Gothic: a style of architecture originated in N. France in 11th century, characterized by pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, steep, high roofs, etc.
4) veiled women: Some Moslems use the veil---more appropriately, the purdah --- to seclude or hide their women from the eyes of strangers.
5) caravanserai (caravansary): in the Middle East, a kind of inn with a large central court, where bands of merchants or pilgrims, together with their camels or horses, stay for shelter and refreshment