Why do you come to Egypt? Do you come to gain a dream, or to regain lost dreams of old; to gild your life with the drowsy gold of romance, to lose a creeping sorrow, to forget that too many of your hours are sullen, grey, bereft? What do you wish of Egypt?
The Sphinx will not ask you, will not care. The Pyramids, lifting their unnumbered stones to the clear and wonderful skies, have held, still hold, their secrets; but they do not seek for yours. The terrific temples, the hot, mysterious tombs, odorous of the dead desires of men, crouching in and under the immeasurable sands, will muck you with their brooding silence, with their dim and sombre repose. The brown children of the Nile, the toilers who sing their antique songs by the shadoof and the sakieh, the dragomans, the smiling goblin merchants, the Bedouins who lead your camel into the pale recesses of the dunes—these will not trouble themselves about your deep desires, your perhaps yearning hunger of the heart and the imagination.
Yet Egypt is not unresponsive.
I came back to her with dread, after fourteen years of absence—years filled for me with the rumors of her changes. And on the very day of my arrival she calmly reassured me. She told me in her supremely magical way that all was well with her. She taught me once more a lesson I had not quite forgotten, but that I was glad to learn again—the lesson that Egypt owes her most subtle, most inner beauty to Kheper, although she owes her marvels to men; that when he created the sun which shines upon her, he gave her the lustre of her life, and that those who come to her must be sun-worshippers if they would truly and intimately understand the treasure or romance that lies heaped within her bosom.
Thoth, says the old legend, travelled in the Boat of the Sun. If you would love Egypt rightly, you, too, must be a traveller in that bark. You must not fear to steep yourself in the mystery of gold, in the mystery of heat, in the mystery of silence that seems softly showered out of the sun. The sacred white lotus must be your emblem, and Horus, the hawk-headed, merged in Ra, your special deity. Scarcely had I set foot once more in Egypt before Thoth lifted me into the Boat of the sun and soothed my fears to sleep.
I arrived in Cairo. I saw new and vast hotels; I saw crowded streets; brilliant shops; English officials driving importantly in victorias, surely to pay dreadful calls of ceremony; women in gigantic hats, with Niagaras of veil, waving white gloves as they talked of—I guess—the latest Cairene scandal. I perceived on the right hand and on the left waiters created in Switzerland, hall porters made in Germany, Levantine touts, determined Jews holding false antiquities in their lean fingers, an English Baptist minister, in a white helmet, drinking chocolate on a terrace, with a guide-book in one fist, a ticket to visit monuments in the other. I heard Scottish soldiers playing, "I'll be in Scotland before ye!" and something within me, a lurking hope, I suppose, seemed to founder and collapse—but only for a moment....