Because he believes in everything and nothing

Cairo waits for the sun to set and the moon to shrink before it opens like a mussel shell and reveals its beauty in a play of silhouettes. Scattered high above the invisible squalor, the summer stars bespeak a better creation. Strips of indigo separate the coping of the houses. It is as if he is sinking deeper into molten lead at every step. Is that what always makes him take to the road again — this temporary blindness? In soft, green mannered England, everything is book-like, open. How can a country be so unmysterious? Here row upon row of heavy, wooden-worked balconies seem to interlace, while every alley suggests a dead end. The dimmest of oil lamps wrest everything he can see from the thick embrace of the night: passages, stairs with golden light falling over their steps. Not a line is straight; in these latitudes, the arch is preferred, even worshipped. The curve, it is universally acknowledged, buttresses faith more firmly than the right angle. Especially when elegantly inscribed with sacred quotations.

— Iliya Troyanov, The Collector of Worlds, trans. William Hobson, pp 205-6.

The “he” in question is adventurer-author Sir Richard Francis Burton, preparing, at this point in the novel, for his famous venture on the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, forbidden to non-Muslims.


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