Monday, July 20, 2015

Sarah Belzoni, an Intrepid Woman (from the archives)

Monday, July 20, 2015
Loretta reports:

In celebration of the audio release of Mr. Impossible, I offer an earlier post about one source of inspiration for the book. Sarah Belzoni is a great example of the resourceful women who visited and explored Egypt in the 19th century.
Here’s a glimpse of what Sarah Belzoni dealt with in Egypt, traveling with her explorer husband (and sometimes on her own) in the early 1800s.  The excerpt is from Mrs. Belzoni’s Account of the Women of Egypt, Nubia, and Syria, which  was appended to Belzoni’s Narrative of the operations and recent discoveries within the pyramids, temples, tombs, and excavations, in Egypt and Nubia (originally published in England in 1820). 
After waiting two months in Cairo, and understanding it might be some time before Mr. B. could return, I determined on a third voyage to Thebes, taking the Mameluke before mentioned. I went to Boolak, and engaged a canja with two small cabins; one held my luggage, and the other my mattress, for which I paid 125 piastres. I left Cairo on November 27th, and arrived at Ackmeim on the 11th December, at night. A heavy rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning, commenced an hour after sunset, and continued the whole of the night: it pourred in torrents. My mattress and coverings were wet through, and were so for some days; and though the rain had ceased, yet it came pouring from the mountains through the lands into the Nile on each side for several days after. 
I arrived at Luxor on the 16th, and was informed Mr. B. was gone to the Isle of Philœ:  I crossed the Nile, and took up my residence at Beban el Malook. The men left to guard the tomb in Mr. B.'s absence informed me of the heavy rain they had experienced on the night I mentioned, and, in spite of all their efforts, they could not prevent the water entering the tomb; it had carried in a great deal of mud, and, on account of the great heat, and the steam arising from the damp, made some of the walls crack, and some pieces had fallen. On hearing this I went into the tomb, and the only thing we could do was to order a number of boys to take the damp earth away, for while any damp remained the walls would still go on cracking. Mr. B. arrived two days before Christmas, and on St.  Stephen's day he crossed to Carnak to review the various spots of earth he had to excavate, when an attempt was made to assassinate him. I had then a violent bilious fever, which, added to this fright, flung me into the yellow jaundice. Having sent a man to procure me some medicine from a doctor at Ackmeim, he returned after five days with about half an ounce of cream of tartar, and two teaspoonsful of rhubarb. Fortunately for me, two English gentlemen happened to arrive, on their return from Nubia for Cairo, and gave me some calomel, which was of great service to me, and which I remember with much gratitude.
Above left: Vue general de Louqsor.
Below right: Karnak. Temple de Ramessés IV, deux Pylônes.
Both by Maison Bonfils (Beirut, Lebanon), photographer, and courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Karen Anne said...

Mr. Impossible is perhaps my favorite book ever. I've read it about 5 times.

Karen Anne said...

A question that occurred to me is "airing the sheets" mentioned in terms of staying at inns in Regency novels. Does one assume from this that sheets were not washed between customers and just aired out?

Cathy Spencer said...

This excerpt is reminiscent of one of Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody books.

Andy Perrin said...

I think this must be one of Peters' sources, Cathy.

Donna Hatch, Regency author said...

I agree this heroine reminds me a lot of Amelia Peabody, a recent find for me. How amazingly couragous these women were to go on such risky adventures in a time when women had so few freedoms and rights.

Lauriana said...

There was also a lady explorer from my home town of The Hague (the Netherlands): Alexine Tinne was an early photographer and a wealthy woman in her own right. She lived for a while in Egypt and explored the Sahara, sometimes accompanied by (female) relatives until the unfortunate day that her camp was raided and she and many of her companions were murdered.é

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