Pirate King: the illustrated edition
Excerpts from Pirate King, with illustrations:
Arabic architecture turns its back on the world, to create a cool and cloistered universe inside each set of walls. I was standing in a tiled garden.
The house rose on three sides, layers of galleried passages that gave both a sense of intimacy and a plenitude of fresh air. Three levels up, a honeycomb of silvery wood turned the sky into blue tile-work, mirroring the fine blue and white designs beneath my feet.
The gallery railings were bleached by time, the complex amethyst and vermilion designs on the ceilings had sheltered generations of inhabitants, the gilding was a faded glory, all the more pleasing for its age. Over the intricately carved double doors leading into the house itself, mother-of-pearl inlays teased the eye inside.
The tessellated paving-stones of the courtyard climbed up along the sides to form tiled benches scattered with rich cushions, and at the back into a splashing fountain surrounded by garden—the style of house, riyad, means “garden.” A pair of lemon trees were espaliered against the courtyard’s fourth wall, growing tall towards the sky-light; one could smell, if not see, the blossoms.
“They’re offering to do henna painting on us. See that goop that looks like mud? That’s pure henna. When you trickle it onto the skin and let it dry there, it stains intricate patterns onto the skin. It’s not permanent, one scrubs it away after a few days. I’ve seen it before, done for weddings and such. It’s pretty. Anyone interested?”
We kept the three ladies of Salé busy for a couple of hours, trickling arabesques of mud onto hands, arms, and ankles. When the trio descended below to their labours, leaving a bevy of Europeans oohing and aahing over the orange-brown tendrils woven over their pale skin.
I looked around and was hit by a startling thought: I was in a harem.
And if I stayed here much longer, I should die of boredom.