|Welcome to Bagdad, oasis of oriental splendor, jewel of the Middle East. Welcome to a city immortalized by music, literature, art, commerce and the sciences. Welcome to this mecca of princes and paupers, this sprawling oriental metropolis whose name alone calls to mind visions of strange fact and stranger fancy.
Here cupolaed domes provide a brilliant mosaic of color against an azure sky. Here fabulous antiquities, modern oil pipelines, donkeys, camels and Cadillacs from a backdrop for high living, wild parties, romance and eerie adventure the casual western traveler hears little about. Here thieves, beggars, merchants, prostitutes, street singers and peddlers crowd the public places.
Behold the Sultan, supreme ruler of his realm, with his harem, musicians, jugglers, dancing girls, magicians, sword swallowers and acrobats. See how the faces of his entourage reflect the orgies of memorable nights and the excesses of pleasure that have tempted venal men for centuries. See how the flush of love lingers on the cheeks of the harem girls, how the acrobats, jugglers and dancers combine their talents in an effort to preserve the fragile gaiety of the moment. Hear how the musicians capture the mystery and fascination of this colorful realm.
In Bagdad one savors the perfumes of Araby and marvels at the frail modern vials that contain them. Here in dimly-lit retreats the world comes to watch voluptuousness. There are dark-eyed dancing girls who perform ritualistically as they have for ages. There are fabulous bazaars where matchless treasures of the Eastrugs, silver and grass, silks and brocade, jewels and potteryare sold by vendors whose forebears did the same thing fifteen centuries ago. Now you hear the strains of singing, with instruments that had their counterpart in instruments played by musicians in the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs. Plaintive voices rise in strident pitch, even as the wailing women of the Nile sounded in biblical times. Supple bodies veiled in shimmering silk dance in time to music that imparts an imperishable glamour to the subtlety of this art.
You come upon a turbaned silversmith who works in a bazaar dipping a gleaming silver pitcher into a cooling bath before the final burnishing. He is turning out fine pieces of art with the same crude tools his ancestors have used for countless generations. Magnificently-wrought urns, graceful plates, knives and other utensils catch the fire of the burning sun, and they gleam with a light not unlike that which fills the eyes of the man himself as he bends over his work.
In another part of the city, close to a river embankment, a rugmaker dries his handiwork as passersby stop to watch. He is indifferent to their stares, intent upon turning out a product of perfection. Yet, he knows well that ancient superstition calls for weaving a "mistake" into the pattern of each rug because turning out a perfect hob would anger the powers of evil. He runs his expert fingers over the nub of the rug, grunting with satisfaction over the feel of it.
Weary workmen eat their lunch alongside the bed of a new road, their chocolate-brown skins shining in the heat of the blazing sun. They are felaheen, indestructible peasants who have this kind of work throughout the centuries, and even today resemble the figures on the tombs of the Pharaohs. While the road they are building is modern in every respect they, like the fabulous city they live in, reflect the dramatic contrast between ancient and modern times.
Now you see a caravan, its heavily-laden camels or donkeys stretched out in a long chain, starting for the desert regions. You are at once reminded of the fact that in spite of the jet age the city of Bagdad is today still dependent of these "desert trains" which were the backbone of this fairy-tale city. And yet, you see sheiks garbed in white headdresses and long navy-blue cloaks riding around in sleek convertibles and sedans. They make you aware that oil has brought to the Middle East riches that make all the precious stones of the ancients pale by comparison.
By contrast, in a sun-baked quarter of the city, you come upon a woodworker turning a lathe with his bare feet. It is a crude machine, barely an improvement over the simple mechanisms used centuries ago. But it serves its purpose, and the woodworker, like the silversmith, is more proud of his product than of the machine that fashions it.
Through all this panorama of Bagdad--the milling crowds, the bazaars, the caravans, the night life and its accompanying frivolity, the bustling commerce--you sense the deep impact of the Mohammedan religion. It is a deeply moving experience to be in a mosque at prayer time. Men assemble in a long line, facing Mecca, a priest leading them in their prayers. As you stand on the rugs and hear repeated tenor eleven times the cry Allah akbar (god is greater that all else) you feel a kind of hypnotic effect which detaches you from the rest of the world. Yet, you forget that outside the holy places the sounds and earthly pleasures of the world abound.
Music threads through the life of the city just as the caravans thread through the winding streets and narrow byways that lead to the desert. It has an unmistakably oriental cast with its quarter-tone scale, its emphasis on melody rather than rhythm and the vast range of tonal nuances brought about through less regular tonal intervals. Arabian music has a kind of persistent quality which, when fortified by all sorts of typically eastern string instruments, sets it completely apart from western music. Enhanced by the purity of high fidelity recording, this music generates a kind of sound that literally overwhelms the senses.
You stand on a street corner in Bagdad and a native dressed in a flowing robe is apt to ask, "You want to go somewhere tonight? Girls?" The moon sends its light full over the luxurious city and casts bewitching shadows everywhere. The night is made for romance and adventure. You hear the sound of native voices and instruments in the distance, and the sound grows louder as you approach its source. The night air is charged with the aroma of incense, wine and scented meats and fruits. You come upon whirling dancers, their multi-colored veils shimmering in the soft light. The music reaches a pitch of intense excitement. Dancers, acrobats and jugglers are a frenzy of motion as they pay homage to the Sultan of Bagdad.