Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert in Egypt 4 (Dancers)

More on the male dancer Hasan el_Belbeissi in Cairo:

Saturday, December 29, 1849.
After our lunch on that same day, we had dancers in--the famous Hasan el-Belbeissi and one other, with musicians; the second would have been noticed even without Hasan. They both wore the same costume--baggy trousers and embroidered jacket, their eyes painted with antimony (khol). The jacket goes down to the abdomen, whereas the trousers, held by an enormous cashmere belt folded over several times, begin approximately at the pubis, so that the stomach, the small of the back, and the beginning of the buttocks are naked, seen through a bit of black gauze held in place by the upper and lower garments. The gauze ripples on the hips like a transparent wave with every movment they make. The shrilling of the flute and the pulsing of the darabukey pierce one's very breast.

Here is a translation of what the singer sang during the dance:

"A slim-waisted Turkish object has sharp and piercing eyes.

Because of them, the lovers have passed the night enchained like slaves.

I am sacrificing my soul for the love of a doe capable of fettering lions.

O God, how sweet it is to suck nectar from her mouth.

Is that nector not the source of my languishment, my wasting away?

O full moon. Enough of harshness and of torment; high time you fulfilled the promise you made to the languishing lover.

And, above all, make no end to the favors you grant him."

The dancers move forward and back. Expressionlessness of their faces beneath their cheeks of rouge and sweat. The effect comes from the gravity of the face contrasted with the lascivious movements of the body; occaissionally, one or the others lies down flat on his back like a woman about to offer herself, and then suddenly leaps up with a bound, like a tree straightening itself after a gust; then bows and curtseys; pauses; their red trousers suddenly puff out like oval balloons, then seem to collapse, expelling the air that's been swelling them. Now and again, during the dance, their impresario makes jokes and kisses Hasan on the belly. Hasan never for a moment stops watching himself in the mirror.

Meanwhile, Mourier was eating his lunch at a little round table on the left.
(p. 69-70)

Photo: Wikipedia: Kocek.
Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour. Trans. and Ed. Francis Steegmuller. Academy Chicago Limited. Chicago: 1979.

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