al atabi'a

Nov. 27th, 2012 10:14 am
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
[personal profile] mellowtigger
As if from an episode of "Connections", the histories of Rome, Baghdad, USA, and Google collided to give me the story of why my cat is called a "tabby".

Road and Espionage: About 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire enjoyed it's great age of peace. During this time, the famous "Silk Road" was bringing many goods from the far east to Rome. This important trade route passed through many cities, and one of these cities was Baghdad. About 1500 years ago, the Roman Empire was already splintering. The eastern half later became known as the Byzantine. One Byzantine emperor, called Justinian, wanted to reduce costs by producing silk locally instead of paying the expensive transport fees added by the many middlemen along the famous trade route. Justinian sent two Christian monks to Asia, and they learned how silk was made. They also stole silkworm eggs hidden in bamboo, and so China lost its monopoly while production began around the Mediterranean.

Prince and District: About 1200 years ago, while Europe was in the midst of its "Dark Ages", other cultures still flourished. As one example, the second major Islamic caliphate stretched across the middle east and northern Africa. This empire was the "Umayyad caliphate", named after "sons of Umayya". Among Umayya's grandsons was a prince named "Attab". (citation needed)  A part of Baghdad became associated with the prince.  (another citation needed)  Modern Baghdad still has a neighborhood called "Al Atabi'a", but I can't confirm that it is the same district from antiquity.

wateredsilk.moireSilk and Branding: Silk cloth was produced in many cities along the Mediterranean, but the Al Atabi'a district in Baghdad became famous for making a beautiful watered silk. Their silk produced a pattern of light-vs-dark shade, giving the appearance of colored stripes where there are none. This remarkable effect on the already beautiful silk cloth earned great attention. The Al Atabi'a cloth was desired by the wealthy in many countries.

Marriage and Biography: About 300 years ago, Mary Ball married Augustine Washington. Together they raised many children. Among them were a son named George (who would eventually lead the Revolutionary War and become the first president of the United States) and a daughter named Betty. Betty's marriage was a grand event, literally one for the history books. She was given away by her 18-year-old brother George. About 100 years ago, while the Civil War was still a living memory for a Confederate woman named Sara, Sara wrote a book about the life of Mary Ball. The book was titled, "The Mother of Washington And Her Times". Included in her book was an account of Betty's marriage ceremony and the watered silk clothing that was worn.

Internet: About 10 years ago, the internet search giant known as Google began scanning old books, and some people cross-posted those texts to the Internet Archives. Among those books was Sara's biography of Mary. Since the entire text was available to the computerized search engine, I recently stumbled across the following story about Betty's marriage while pondering why my cat is called a tabby.

They wore stately garments, paduasoy, from sole de Padua where the strong, lustrous silk so much worn by men and women was manufactured, or "tabby" velvet and silk, the rich watered oriental fabric manufactured in Attabya, a quarter in Bagdad. These were the grandest, the most sumptuous fabrics known. The wife of Goldsmith's Vicar was proud of her crimson paduasoy (the silk had given its name to a garment). Samuel Pepys could not afford the genuine article, but he boasted a "wastecoat of false tabby." Of course, a majestic woman wore these rich materials, "silk gowns wad stand on end" like the gowns of Dumbiedike's grandmother. Who could be majestic in clinging, willowy chiffon ? Elizabeth Washington, known by the diminutive "Betty," undoubtedly enhanced her majesty by one or more of these gowns made in the fashion invented by the artist Watteau.
- "The Mother of Washington And Her Times", by Mrs. Roger A. Pryor , (c) 1903

Hope: That long story of faded human empires and corporate-religious espionage brings me back to my young cat, Hope. I have long used the phrase "American alley cat" for any cat with the traditional grey and black stripes. I eventually wondered why her appearance was called "tabby" by other people, so I went googling and found the history detailed above. At some point, "tabby cloth" became a term for any fabric that had stripes of two or more colors, and "tabby" became the description for cats with similar appearance. The characteristic "M" on the forehead of tabby cats also nicely matches the moire pattern of watered silk. Now you know the whole story.  Here to illustrate the tabby appearance is my cat, Hope... perhaps Hope Al Atabi'a?

Mike.drapes.1Mike.drapes.2
Hope.chairHope.TabbyM

Hope has the traditional "M" forehead pattern of a tabby, but she also has a white locket in the shape of an upside-down-T on her chest.
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