Left Alexandria on Sunday, 18th, at a quarter past seven in the morning.

November 18th, 1849, 2pm

Purple clouds - wide path - country houses around the city - palm trees with their clusters of dates. The comparison by Sancho in the wedding of Gamache episode: “Wouldn’t you say she was like a walking palm tree loaded with clusters of dates? for the trinkets she has hanging from her hair and neck look just like them”, strikes me as accurate. The desert starts at the city’s exit. Mounts of sand here and there - a few scattered palm trees - the road rises and falls a little; there is no path, we follow the traces left by the horses and the asses. From time to time an Arab on his donkey; the richest have large umbrellas over the head - a column of camels driven by a man in a shirt - woman veiled in a big piece of brand new black silk, and her husband on another ass. “Taïeb”, and we answer “Taïeb, taïeb”, without stopping. Picture : a camel moves forward in front of us, shortened, the man behind and to the side, with two palm trees on the same side, further behind. the desert in the background, rising - first mirage - the sea to our left. Abu Qir to our left at the end of a narrow earth road - we arrive at 10:30 at the fortress. The sentry on the wall, near his guardhouse, shouts for us to stop; two white dogs come on the drawbridge and bark loudly. We’re welcomed as soon as Suleiman Pasha is mentioned. The officer and his Turk soldiers are the most peaceable fellows in the world. We eat one of our chicken under the passageway leading to the fortress’s courtyard, sitting on stone benches; that’s one of the best lunch in my life. Our good Turks admire our weapons; we talk about war, military, Russia. Maxime tells them about the Constantinople proverb, that “the French are good soldiers, etc., the Russians good pigs”. Excellent Turkish coffee. We start again at half past eleven and constantly follow the sea shore; our horses crush sea shells under their feet; the waves who come to die on the beach are a dark brown; here and there a shark stranded on the beach, in the sand bones of animals, among others an ox, half-burried and whose preserved head is momified - coming out of Alexandria we already saw a camel three-quarters eaten away. We take a ferry to Idku. Two camels walk quietly in the ford; - coming out of the water, they lie on the sand to dry themselves, huff and wallow. We have a hard time getting the donkey on the ferry (the one carrying the food, which Joseph rode) - everybody doing their utmost but for the donkey’s owner, an old military type with hard calves. Out of the ferry, Sassetti realizes that the butt of his rifle is broken. Our horses kick, rear, neigh; they only have a halter, no bridle, and obey the whistle. They may look like vile nags, but they answer to the voice and are excellent beasts.
Abu Qir beach. We follow the shore - wreckages of ships, remains of the battle of Abu Qir. We shoot cormorants and sea magpies; our Arabs (kids, except for the old man with the small turban) run like greyhounds and with great delight they go pick up the birds we killed. Solitude - the sea is vast - sinister impression of the hard light, with something black in it. Story of the man with the date fruits and the spanking; Sassetti’s jacket in the wind, and the old black butt of the man in the white waves - what cries! We follow the shore until 5 p.m. - we turn right - from place to place columns of bricks in the desert indicate the direction for Rosetta - the sand is very soft - the sun sets: it’s ruby melting in the sky; then redder clouds, in the shape of huge fish bones (there was a moment when the sky was a sheet of ruby and the sand looked like ink). In front of us and to the left towards the sea and Rosetta, the sky shows tender pastel blues - our two shades on horseback, walking side by side, are gigantic - they go before us with regularity, like us. They seem like two great obelisks going together. (…)

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Gustave Flaubert

"Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world." [extracts from Flaubert's travel diary written in 1849-1851]

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