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Chapter 30

The Brass Bazaar--Mirror shop--Curdled milk--A tea shop--Fruit
and vegetable bazaar--The walnut seller--The Auctioneer--Pipe
shops--Barber--Headdress--Bread shops--Caravanserais--The day of

Winding our way through the labyrinth of narrow streets, and meeting a crescendo of diabolical din as we approach it, we emerge into a more spacious and lighter arcade, where hundreds of men are hammering with all their might upon pieces of copper that are being shaped into trays, pots with double spouts, or pans. This is the coppersmiths' bazaar. On a long low brick platform, extending from one end to the other on both sides of the street, is tastefully arranged the work already finished. Huge circular trays have coarse but elaborate ornamentations of figures, trees and birds chiselled upon them--not unlike the Indian Benares trays in general appearance, but not in the character of the design. Copper vases with spouts are gracefully shaped, the ancient Persian models being maintained. They are much used by Persians in daily life. More elaborate is the long-necked vessel with a circular body and slender curved spout, that rests upon a very quaint and elegantly designed wash-basin with perforated cover and exaggerated rim. This is used after meals in the household of the rich, when an attendant pours tepid water scented with rose-water upon the fingers, which have been used in eating instead of a fork. These vessels and basins are usually of brass. All along the ground, against the wall, stand sets of concentric trays of brass, copper and pewter, and metal tumblers innumerable, having execrable designs upon them, and rendered more hideous by being nickel-plated all over. Each shop, about ten to twenty feet long and eight to fifteen wide, has a furnace in one corner.

Considering the few and primitive tools employed, it is really wonderful that the work is as good as it is. The polishing of trays is generally done with their feet by boys, who stand on them and with a circular motion of the body revolve the tray to the right and left upon a layer of wet sand until, after some hours of labour, a sufficiently shiny surface is obtained by friction.

I became much interested in watching a man joining together two pieces of metal to be turned into an amphora, but the noise made the horse I rode very restless. It was impossible to hear any one speak, the din of the hammered metal being so acute and being echoed in each dome of the arcade. The horse became so alarmed when the bellows began to blow upon the fire that he tried to throw me, first by standing on his fore-legs and scattering the crowd of yelling natives with his hindlegs, then by standing up erect the other way about. In a moment the place was clear of people; some had leapt on to the side platform: others had rushed inside the shops. The horse delighted in pirouetting about, kicking the nearest metal vases and trays all over the place, and causing quite a commotion. It was rather amusing to watch the rapidity with which the merchants a little way off withdrew their goods to safety inside the premises to prevent further damage. The horse, being then satisfied that he could not shake me off, continued the journey more or less peacefully through the bazaar.

Here is a mirror shop--imports from Austria. There the flourishing grain merchants, whose premises are the neatest and cleanest of the whole bazaar. Each merchant tastily displays his various cereals in heaps on speckless enormous brass trays, and by the side of them dried fruit, in which he also deals extensively. His shop is decorated with silvered or red or blue glass balls.

Further on is another very neat place, the curdled-milk retailer's, with large flat metal tanks filled with milk, and a great many trays, large and little, in front of his premises. He, too, keeps his place and belongings--but not himself--most beautifully clean. He does a flourishing business.

Every now and then we come upon a very spacious and well-lighted room, with gaudy candelabras of Bohemian glass, and a large steaming samovar. This is a tea-shop. There are plenty of men in it, in green or brown or blue long coats, and all squatting lazily, cross-legged, sipping tea from tiny glasses and being helped to sugar from a large tray containing a mountain of it.

The fruit and vegetable bazaar is always a feature of Persian city markets, water-melons, cucumbers, grapes, apples, pomegranates, almonds and walnuts playing a prominent part in the various displays. Then there is the retailer of peeled walnuts, a man who wears a red cap and green coat, and who sells his goods spread on a brass tray. The walnuts as soon as peeled from their skin are thrown into a large basin full of water, and when properly washed are spread on the tray to dry, ready for consumption.

The walnut man is generally a character. He keeps his stall open even at night, when other shops are closed, and has plenty to say to all the passers-by on the merits of his walnuts.

To enumerate all one sees in the bazaar would take a volume to itself, but on glancing through we see the excited auctioneer in his white turban calling out figures on an ascending scale, and tapping on a piece of wood when a sufficient sum is offered and no more bids are forthcoming. He has assistants showing round the various articles as they are being sold,--umbrellas, tooth-brushes, mirrors, knives, etc.

The pipe shops are small--with black and red and blue earthenware cups for the kalian. There is not much variety in the shape of the pipes except that some are made to be used in the joined hands as a draw-pipe for the smoke, the cup being held between the thumbs. Others, the majority of them, are intended for the top part of the kalian.

The barber's shop is a quaint one, remarkably clean with whitewashed walls and a brick floor. Up to some five feet along the walls is nailed a cloth, usually red, against which the customers rest their heads while being shaved. Hung upon the walls are scissors of all sizes, razors, and various other implements such as forceps for drawing teeth, sharp lancets for bleeding, the knives used for the operation of circumcision, and a variety of wooden combs and branding irons.

Yes, the Persian barber has multifarious occupations. He is surgeon, dentist and masseur, besides being an adept with comb and razor. He is--like his brother of the West--an incessant talker, and knows all the scandal of the town. While at work he has a bowl of clean water by his side which he uses on the patient's face or top of the skull and neck, which are in male Persians all clean-shaved. No soap is used by typical Persian barbers. Their short razors, in wooden cases, are stropped on the barber's arm, or occasionally leg, and are quite sharp.

The younger folks of Persia shave the top of the skull leaving long locks of hair at the side of the head, which are gracefully pushed over the ear and left hanging long behind, where they are cut in a straight horizontal line round the neck. This fashion is necessitated by the custom in Persia of never removing the heavy headgear. The elder people, in fact, shave every inch of the scalp, but balance this destruction of hair by growing a long beard, frequently dyed bright red or jet black with henna and indigo.

The bread-shops of Persia are quaint, a piece of bread being sometimes as big as a small blanket and about as thick. These huge flat loaves are hung up on slanting shelves. In Central and Southern Persia, however, the smaller kind of bread is more commonly used, not unlike an Indian chapati. A ball of flour paste is well fingered and pawed until it gets to a semi-solid consistency. It is then flung several times from one palm of the hand into the other, after which it is spread flat with a roller upon a level stone slab. A few indentations are made upon its face with the end of the baker's fingers; it is taken up and thrown with a rapid movement upon the inner domed portion of a small oven, some three to four feet high, within which blazes a big charcoal fire. Several loaves are thus baked against the hot walls and roof of the oven, which has an aperture at the top, and when properly roasted and beginning to curl and fall they are seized with wonderful quickness and brought out of the oven. Gloves on the hands and a cover over the baker's face are necessary to prevent burns and asphyxia from the escaping gases of the charcoal from the aperture over which the man must lean every time.

In the bazaars of large cities one finds every now and then large caravanserais, handsome courts with a tank of water in the centre and shops all round. It is here that wholesale dealers and traders have their premises, and that caravans are accommodated on their arrival with goods. There are generally trees planted all round these courts to shade the animals and buyers, and often a high and broad platform or verandah all round, where the goods are spread for inspection. Some of the richer caravanserais are quite handsome, with neat latticed windows and doors. The walls are painted white. The court is crammed with tired camels, mules, beggars and loafers.

The camel men squat in one corner to smoke their pipes and eat their bread, while the merchants form another ring up above on the verandah, where prices are discussed at the top of their voices, a crowd of ever-to-be-found loafers taking active part in the discussion.

On a Friday, the day of rest of the Mahommedan, the bazaar, so crowded on other days, is absolutely deserted. All the shops--if a hatter or two be excepted--are barricaded with heavy wooden shutters and massive padlocks of local or Russian make. Barring a dog or two either lying asleep along the wall, or scraping a heap of refuse in the hope of satisfying hunger--there is hardly a soul walking about. Attracted by a crowd in the distance, one finds a fanatic gesticulating like mad and shouting at the top of his voice before an admiring crowd of ragamuffins squatting round him in a circle.

On these holidays, when the streets are clear, the effect of the columns of sunlight pouring down from the small circular apertures from each dome of the arcade, and some twenty feet apart, is very quaint. It is like a long colonnade of brilliant light in the centre of the otherwise dark, muddy-looking, long, dirty tunnel. At noon, when the sun is on the meridian, these sun columns are, of course, almost perfectly vertical, but not so earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon.