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I read this interesting account of a journey from Palestine to Saudi Arabia as an ebook. I’ve made many trips to Saudi Arabia myself but as you can imagine, my movement is severely restricted while I’m there. I’m curious about the history and formation of the kingdom and books like Northern Najd a Journey from Jerusalem to Anaiza in Quasim by Carlo Guarmani translated by Lady Capel-Cure help to provide historical context.
Guarmani set off to investigate the Arab world, in particular, the Najd in 1865. He visited Taymāʾ and Ḥāʾil along the way. I don’t know if he was a spy for the Italian government but he spoke Arabic and his particular focus on this long and arduous journey was on the magnificent Arab horses, especially those kept by ‘nobility’ in the Saudi Arabia heartland of Najd. He was commissioned by Fleury, the aide de camp of Napoleon III and Director General of the Imperial Horse Breeders to procure Arabian horses for the cavalry of their respective armies.
Here are my favourite quotes from the book:
No matter how poor a Bedouin may be, one is certain of never being without supper on entering his tent.
About an impoverished Bedouin family that he encountered:
The Scerarat expected us to be their guests for the night. We entered their miserable tent, out of which the women and children were turned, and it was with difficulty that we persuaded them to allow the children, at any rate, inside to sleep. A little semek flour, a loaf of tartut bread and camel’s milk was all the little feast consisted of. I call it a “feast” because, in order “to get the maggots out of our heads ” … (the host ) improvised a long poem, stimulating thus our appetite with the … monotonous cadence of his verse. The final word was like a refrain, repeated by the empty mouths of his family and by my companions, between their mouthfuls.
And to coffee lovers like us, this quote is a good reminder that coffee originated in Ethiopia and was exploited by the Arabs
Coffee…is as necessary to the life of an Arab as the air he breathes.
Visiting a Bedouin encampment:
Mohamed wished to drink some water … before going to sleep, for, having found that the camel’s milk had acted as an aperient (laxative) the first days, he did not intend drinking much of it. The children thought this sacrilege, and tried to prevent him, not understanding how anyone could drink water when milk was not lacking. Many of the old men assured him they had never drunk water in their lives. The women enquired if he were jealous of the dromedaries.
The one time that I tried ice cream made from camel’s milk I had to run up the stairs to the women’s toilet in the next building several times that day. I suggest that it’s better to try this rich milk when you don’t have an onward journey that day and when you have easy access to a toilet! I did enjoy eating camel’s flesh though.
If you enjoyed reading this and would like to read my reflections on other books from the same part of the world you could try: