MSWP (& FEP) diaries
Holiday diary, 1903
by Mary Spence Watson
NB If a name is not listed in the key the person concerned has not yet been identified.
1904 (with FEP)
Dearest Father & Mother,
Bertha and I spent Saturday morning in the National Gallery (London) and enjoyed it very much. I had only once seen it before and that was years ago. At about 1.45 we met Bowes and went to a Lyons restaurant for lunch, and then spent the afternoon in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition (New Gallery). It is splendid; the jewellery work I liked best of all I think. Here we met James Edmund and Lucrezia Clark. After some tea at the ‘Far East Café’ where the waitresses are dressed like Japanese girls …. we drove to the Kingsley and had dinner there. It is such a very nice comfortable hotel and plenty of nice books. We went by the 9.0 o’clock train to Dover, and had a cold, but quite good crossing. Very few people were travelling. At Calais we got some coffee, as we were very cold and then got a nice carriage to ourselves, though soon a soldier got in. I did not get much sleep, but Bowes and Bertha slept like logs, and we were all asleep till the soldier woke us saying we were close to Paris. 6.30 is a miserable hour to arrive. We drove to this nice small hotel which is situated not far from Notre Dame, and by Bowes’ advice, for we were frozen with cold, went to bed and slept till after 8.0.
This morning after breakfast we went to Notre Dame. It has been a lovely sunny day, but a very cold wind. Mass was going on, and we wandered about inside, particularly admiring the beautiful rose windows, with their richly coloured glass. All the people were buying pieces of palm, even inside the church. We went right to the top of the tower, and had a grand view of Paris, and saw the old bell. We stayed a good long time on the top, then walked past the Louvre Shops to Duval’s Restaurant, where we got some lunch and then took a steam tram to Versailles. It is a very slow journey, but part of the way is very pretty. The outside of the Palace I don’t admire much, but the grounds and ponds are lovely, and the trees in their fresh spring green were very pretty. We went through the Palace and saw the pictures, which are mostly fine, but war pictures, and it is such a huge place, that we only tried to get a general impression. We got some tea in a café, and came back by tram. I went inside as it was so cold, but even there it was bad enough, and it took 1¾ hours to get back. It really seemed endless, and as we were too late for dinner at the hotel we went to a restaurant, and have now (8.30) just returned here, all very tired. Indeed Bowes went straight to bed, and was sound asleep before 9.0 Bertha says. She and I are going very soon. Paris is cold. Goodbye. Much love from your ever loving daughter Mary. P.S. we are going on to Avignon this afternoon.
Dearest Father and Mother,
I never knew anyone with such a capacity of sleep (even excepting Hugh!) as Bowes and Bertha. It is now 10.0 o’clock and I’ve had my breakfast and been up sometime, but their shutters are still shut. It’s true we arrived here after 2.0 a.m. but I got very little sleep, and they slept a lot in the train also. It is amusing.
Yesterday morning Bowes did some business, and Ber and I went to see the Louvre, but it was closed, so we walked about and shopped a little. Everyone turned to stare at us and laugh, it seems to be Bertha’s hat that amuses them. We got dejeuner in a café with Bowes, and left by the 2.0 train for Avignon. The train was rather crowded; we were in a corridor carriage with three, part of the time four, French gentlemen; it was not a smoking compartment, but they smoked a good deal, and finally, as I told Bowes, as a result of giving them Rowntree’s chocolates to eat, the habits of one of them became rather disgusting. However we had a very jolly journey. The country really looked pretty, and the sun was shining. We all played bezique, and one of the French gentlemen who sat next Bowes made us roar with laughter, for he knew the game, and seemed to think Bowes could not play without him, and after a feeble protest from Bowes he was obliged to give in and play the cards the gentleman told him to. It was so funny. I told the gentleman his advice must have been bad for Bertha won and I was second. We got a little dinner in a great hurry at Dijon, and then I managed to get a place in another carriage next door, which left us a little more room. I wasn’t sleepy and tried to read but the light was very poor. Suddenly I saw the corridor becoming full, as I thought, of smoke, and after endeavouring in vain to wake a gentleman in the carriage, I went to Bowes, and woke him, and asked him to come and see if the train was on fire. He said it was steam, and I felt such an idiot. We got here after 2.0 and drove to this hotel, because meals are served in an old gothic chapel. (It does not look very old.) It is now long after 10, and I don’t think those two are ever going to wake!
Finally we started out about 12.0 o’clock. How perfect it was to bask in the hot sunshine with a brilliant blue sky overhead and lizards running about. We wished we could transport the sunshine to Mabel. We went up the Promenade des Rochers and had a glorious view of the town with its walls, the beautiful Rhone, Villeneuve on the opposite side of the river and the Cevennes in one direction, the Dauphiné Alps, outlying ones, in the other. I had no idea Avignon was such a beautiful place. Then we went over the cathedral, but there was not much to see except a fine tomb of John XXII. Afterwards we got some coffee, tea and delicious little cakes, and went over the old Palace of the Popes, which is now used as a barracks. How horrible barrack life must be. I shouldn’t like to say how many soldiers sleep in one room together. The chief thing to see was some frescoes, mostly rather spoiled, by Simon Memmir. Next we went over the Museum and Picture Gallery, rather a good collection for such a small town, and then we took an open cab for 2 hours and drove all round the walls, which were very fine indeed, to the old Pont Avignon along which we walked to see the little chapel in the middle of it, and finally we drove across to Villeneuve. We walked to the top of the fort to see the view, and into some of the quaint old courtyards with their wonderful deep wells. It is a very tumble down old place but very picturesque. It was nearly 7.0 when we returned; there was a glorious sunset, and Avignon in its reflected light looked most beautiful. After a very good dinner in the old chapel (we were hungry) we soon went to bed.
Got up at 5.30 this morning, and caught the 7.10 to Marseilles. I want to post this letter there, so am writing in the train, therefore please pardon bad writing.
On board the Djurjima (Compagnie Mixte)
Dearest Father and Mother, we got to Marseilles soon after 9.0. I’m sure some kind of Mistral was blowing, the dust was horrible, and we none of us like the place at all. After depositing our luggage on the ship, we went to see the Cathedral, and then to get dejeuner. The boat left about 1.0, Marseilles looked very pretty from a distance and the colour of the sea was splendid, but it was very rough and Bowes and Bertha went straight to bed. I sat on deck and tried to read and watched the enormous waves, but I asked for a chair and could not get one as it was too rough, and most of the decks were deep with water. At last on the upper deck near the engines I found a dry spot and was soon deep in ‘Dr Thorne’ which is a fascinating book. Suddenly a huge wave struck the ship, and came right over me. I was terrified and thought I’d be killed, and as soon as I could I went into the saloon. Of course I was soaked, water was trickling down my back, my golf cape and clean white Tammy I have not worn today as they are still so wet, but I’ve had to wear my skirt. Fortunately it is sunny and warm today, so that I have not needed any wraps. I retired into the saloon in a very bad temper, for I had tried to keep my one dress tidy, and it was only 5.0 o’clock; however a pretty good dinner, and visits to Bertha and Bowes restored me, though sitting in soaking clothes is very uncomfortable. I went to bed early, and was lucky, for I was in a cabin for 6 ladies and only one other lady was in it, and as she was not ill, it kept nice and fresh. She is French, but speaks good English, and is rather good company. This is one of Uncle John’s boats, and is heavily laden, so is pretty steady, but she has rolled a good deal, which is to my mind infinitely better than pitching. The meals are at stupid times. An early cup of coffee, dejeuner at 10.0 and dinner at 6.0. We had some of our own tea this afternoon, and gave some to 3 English gentlemen. Ship drinks are awful. There are a good many French, Italian and Germans on board and a few English. We passed Sardinia today and saw it quite clearly. The habits of some of the people are disgusting. They are sick all over the deck without attempting to go to the side. I was quite glad when the storm compelled them to go indoors.
There were 3 nice English gentlemen on board—2 young and 1 elderly, who had travelled a great deal. We had tremendous peace discussions, and they agreed that war was a very bad thing—the elderly gentleman had lived a great deal among natives on the West Coast of Africa and said they were alright to get on with if you treated them properly.
Bowes got up for a short time in the afternoon, but it became rough again, so he went back to bed. We got into Tunis about 2 or 2.30 a.m. on Friday I think, and we left the boat about 6.30.
It was fine then and we drove to the Hotel de la Résidence close to the French residency in a central part of the town and engaged 2 very nice rooms. It was recommended to me by a gentleman on board. After coffee we went out, but unfortunately it poured and was very, very cold.
The first feeling was slight disappointment for it looked rather like an ordinary foreign town, but in one minute you go through a gate and it is like a transformation scene. We spent ages in the Bazaars which are mostly under cover, and were fascinated by the Arabs in their beautiful dresses, sitting in their queer, tiny little shops, embroidering, making shoes, cooking, etc etc. All your advice about not laughing was impossible and they only seem amused. How could we help laughing, surrounded by heaps of men, mostly Italian, all trying to make us go their way, and clutching hold of us, stroking Bowes’ face to let him smell some scent, and altogether making a fearful row. It was tremendous fun, and most amusing, but I should not care to face it alone. Today an old Mohammedan shook hands with me, but I found it was a pretence to take hold of my hand and drag me into his shop, so I pulled away, and nearly dragged him off his seat; we did laugh. It is so funny to see them sitting cross-legged, and to see the poor women going about with their faces all covered up. How I do pity them! Bowes says the bazaars are very clean for they are well paved. I bought ½d worth of stuff which Bertha tasted, but which we found out is really soap for the hair. It looks extraordinary, but I hope it will be nice, and not make it a queer colour. We came back here to dejeuner (for we are ‘en pension’) and afterwards rested while Bowes read aloud, but I’m afraid we went to sleep. Then we made tea, and went by electric tram to Belvedere, where we climbed the hill and had a most magnificent view. I had no idea Tunis would be so exquisite, but there it lay (I forgot to say that the sun had come out, though it was still cold) a beautiful snow-white city, all compact, with its mosques and domes towering above the houses, the blue mountains and sea in the distance, and nearer to, a large lake, and the remains of the old Roman aqueduct on one side, while Carthage was almost visible.
We got up about 6.0 this morning, and went out soon after 8.0 by tram to the Bardo, one of the Palaces of the Bey. We had to change trams, and were so fascinated by the Arabs in a coffee house that Bowes and I sat down to sketch and Bertha photographed, so we missed several trams, but eventually got to the Bardo, and went inside. The entrance is gained by a staircase guarded by fine marble lions, and in the outer hall is some very fine arabesque work. Some of the courts are beautifully tiled, but most of the rooms are filled with hideous French furniture. A good deal of repairing was going on which rather spoilt the general effect. Outside, to our delight, were orange trees in blossom and in fruit. Bertha picked a bit for Agnes, and then we both longed to taste an orange fresh from the tree, so succeeded in getting two. I’m not so anxious to try again, for they were marmalade oranges!! Unfortunately we were too late to go into the Museum, so returned to dejeuner, and then went again to the Bazaars and to Dar-el-Bey, the town palace of the Bey. This is finer than the Bardo. Many of the ceilings are that beautiful Moorish wood work, and the tiling and Arabesque work, in some places in high relief, was splendid. We went on to the roof, and had a grand view over the roofs of the mosques, etc, but it had such a curious appearance, for everything seemed flat. We went back into the Bazaar and Bowes and I sketched. It is rather awful, for we get surrounded with Arabs, but they are most polite and offer us chairs, etc. We heard the Moghreb calling them to prayers, and saw a man on a litter being carried to the hospital. They stuck him down in the middle of the road, so that several people might go and see him, a casual kind of proceeding, and then took him on again. I am fearfully anxious to see the hospital, but we mayn’t go in …..it’s still cold.
Dearest Father and Mother, a glorious day, warm and sunny! Easter Sunday! We had breakfast at 7.0 today, and went into the Greek Church for a short time, then again to the Bazaars. A kind of auction was going on and was most amusing. We bargained for heaps of second-hand things, but could not get them. At last after more than an hour I should think, I succeeded in getting a nice white burnous reduced from 10 to 5 francs and Bowes got a pale green coat. It was fun. Bertha got into a shop and the man would not let her out again! They try jewellery etc, on us and then take us to a glass to see the effect! We could not tear ourselves away from the Bazaars, and we tried their coffee, which I thought was execrable—it was like drinking very, very sweet, rather moist coffee grounds. I bought a greasy kind of date cake, at which we all nibbled. Bertha and I are determined to try the Moorish food, so she takes a supply of chocolate, and when it is very bad, we drown the taste with that. I got rather bitten yesterday, and to my very great disgust found a b. flat walking about under my pillow this morning, probably obtained in the Bazaars. While we were examining it we saw 2 camels walking along the street and were very excited.
After an early dejeuner we started in a carriage for Carthage. It is about 1 hour’s drive, most of the way near the lake along a flat straight road, the fields full of poppies, yellow daisies, wild geraniums etc. We passed several Bedouin tents, with camels outside. The tents are very low and uncomfortable looking. Carthage is on a hill, sloping down to the sea, a splendid situation with a glorious view. The first feeling, was, to me, one of disappointment—there seemed so little of the old city to see, but hidden away among the grass were lots of ruins, and I soon found it simply fascinating…. First we saw the amphitheatre, where St. Perpetua, and some other saints were martyred in 203. It is of Roman construction, and not much remains except the elliptical shops, and parts of pillars and a small subterranean vault.
We went for a few minutes into the new Cathedral of St. Louis and then proceeded to see the different ruins. A very jolly little mohammedan boy insisted on accompanying us as guide, and he was an immense help. The children are rather a plague; it is a lovely sight to watch Bowes getting rid of them. He talks to them in English and motions them away and they often go, believing, I think, that he is going to throw money to them, but he is not always successful!
We saw some tombs built into long underground passages, a good deal of very fine mosaic flooring, and the remains of old cisterns. We picked up one or two little bits of pottery, etc, and bought some old things. Some of the old cisterns have been utilized, and we went inside to see them. There are 18 large chambers and it is very wonderful to feel that these cisterns, built hundreds of years ago are still in use.
Excavations are still going on. In one part, which used to be a house, there are some mosaics on the ground in splendid repair, representing a fish, a rabbit or hare and various other animals.
It is difficult to describe for everything is so ruined, and yet when one is on the spot there seems a good deal to see. There is an excellent museum filled with lamps, pots and bronzes, sculpture etc. taken from the excavations. While we were in the museum our little guide picked us a huge bunch of flowers and put it in the carriage, and we found it when we got back. He was a very sharp boy and taught us the Arabic numerals up to 10 and wrote them in my pocket book. It will be useful to know them for we find the Arabs often use them in their Bazaars.
It was getting late when we came out of the museum; that is to say late for sight-seeing, for it is dark here by about 7.0 o’clock; but we drove on to Side bou Said, a purely native small town, to get the view from the top. The light from the setting sun was exquisite, but we could not see very clearly. The streets seemed quite deserted, but a good many Arabs seemed to be in the Mosque, for we nearly walked in by mistake, and we listened to them saying their prayers; a good many others were in a café. It is not allowed for Christians to enter any of these Mosques, and of course we want to all the more. We had rather a cool drive back, but a full moon looking lovely over the sea. We got back about 8.0 and after dinner went to a café to sit and watch the people. Even here, the whole time things were being sold, and we got a lot of picture postcards. Tunis has some good shops, and is quite a large town, but there are very few English about.
A glorious summer day but not yet too hot. At 8.0 o’clock we went to the Bazaars, and 2 Mohammedans stuck to us the whole time. We were nearly the whole morning shopping and Bowes has now got nearly a complete Moorish costume in which he looks very fine. I bought another burnous which I gave him as a birthday present in advance.
We tasted the Arab national dish—kuskus. It is very nice. Just boiled rice, somehow coloured yellow, covered with a kind of vegetable stew, made hot with pepper. In the afternoon we again went back to the Bazaars, and Bowes and I sketched but in different places. I found it extremely embarrassing to do with a crowd round the whole time, but the Arabs are very polite, and often if you ask them to go away they do so at once, and they are so friendly. One old Negro has taken a great fancy to Bertha and follows us everywhere! I made a bad bargain with a Maltese who wanted know whether Bertha or I was the married one, and when I said Bertha, he replied “Pourquoi n’êtes-vous pas marié?” He called me ‘Mary’ and wanted to know Bertha’s name, so we would not tell him, but said “Madame Morrell” and he thought he had got it by saying ‘Mary’ and Morrell, but usually they are much more polite.
Interviewed a guide in the evening.
To the bazaars as usual. While Bowes sketched Bertha and I were escorted by an Arab to the Marche des Charbons where there were about 50 camels lying down and eating green stuff, or just coming in, carrying charcoal I suppose. There was one little baby camel. It was a most picturesque sight. What queer creatures they are! It was very hot walking back again. We tried to get into a school, but were told it is “défendu”, however we walked up the stairs and saw the children squatting on the floor, making a great noise, saying their lessons and a neat row of slippers stretched along the outside, while in the middle was a basin and picturesque jug of water. We saw a dead Arab carried through the Souks on a shutter; he was covered up, and no one seemed to pay any attention to the sight. In the afternoon we went to see Mr Bukley, the English Consul, who was very pleasant, but does not know much about the Interior. He has promised to get Bertha and me taken to see a harem on our return. We then engaged our guide—Simon Bis ?, an ugly fat little Tunisian, who cannot speak English, and who talks very loud and fast with many gesticulations. We spent most of the rest of the afternoon in shopping and packing and making arrangements. In the evening Bertha and Bowes went to an Arab café to see the dancing, but I was tired and went to bed.
Said goodbye to our kind landlord and landlady, and found our Negro Mohammedan friend waiting outside the hotel. He is always turning up at unexpected places to shake hands with us. We left Tunis with our guide by the 8.0 o’clock train. It was crammed, so we went 3rd class, for those carriages were nearly empty, with people going to Taboursouk—I think about 60 of them, evidently a kind of excursion like Lunn & Perourne, only they were French people. The fields were masses of brilliantly coloured flowers; sheets of blue flowers that looked like the sea in the distance, poppies, yellow daisies, purple vetch and scarlet clover, or what Bertha calls clover. There were also large trees of bright yellow siturns and Olive and Eucalyptus trees. We reached Medjez-el-bab at 10.0 o’clock, and found strings of carriages for the excursion people, but we managed to get seats in a kind of covered diligence, for a 30 mile drive to Teboursouk. There were 3 people in front, 2 Mohammedans, ourselves and the guide inside, so we were rather squashy, but it was interesting and amusing, and the diligence was covered, so was much cooler than the air outside. At 12.30 we stopped at Testour for dejeuner which we had in a kind of tent, with the other people. I think it must have been arranged by Tunis caterers, for the place is tiny village. All the Arabs seemed to turn out to watch the animals feed! We started first on our drive, and got a long way ahead of the rest. We stopped for a few minutes at Ain Jun-ja, to see a few Roman remains. The rest of the way was mostly uphill; the distant views of mountains were pretty, but near to, they looked like speckled sand, that is sand with scrubby bushes dotted about, and there were not so many flowers. We got to Teboursouk at 4.30 and found a good sized hotel, and the picturesque village, perched high on a hill, in gala kind of array; in preparation for the tourists. We had some coffee, and were intending to walk to Dougga, but found mules ready for us, and as it was 4 miles, it was a good thing. You would have laughed if you had seen the motley cavalcade. Bowes, Bertha and I, our guide and a Mohammedan on mules and donkeys, and 2 little boys running barefoot by Bertha and me. I imagined it would be like riding a horse, but soon found that reins are practically a farce, for the animal will go its own way, consequently when I pulled the reins it revolved round, and started back to the hotel and I yelled. I nearly came off for I was sitting side-saddle on a man’s saddle. After that Bertha and I sat astride, looking very peculiar, and still I nearly came off if the mule began to trot. Its ambling is nice, and cantering is like a delicious swing in an armchair, but words fail to describe the awful jog of a trot, when rising seems out of the question, and one’s inside organs seem to be getting churned. We just reached Dougga at 6.0 in time to see, very hurriedly, the magnificent Roman ruins. It gets dark so very early, about 6.45. It was a pity we had such a short time, for there is a perfect theatre, and the remains of a very beautiful temple, besides a good many other remains. I wish you could all have seen that wonderful theatre, especially as you know so much more history than I, and that makes it much more interesting. The sun was setting, and it seemed very marvellous to be standing amidst these ruins, centuries old, with a magnificent view of distant mountains, a few Arabs walking about, but hardly a house in sight. We were all amazed to come across these Roman remains in what seems such a little known place, and Fiesole is the only place I can compare the theatre to, but this one is more perfect. Our ride back was in the dark; on arriving at the hotel we found all the tourists having dinner; it is now nearly 9.30 and we are still waiting for something to eat. We can only get 1 bedroom with 2 beds in it, and I believe someone has given this room up to us. Our guide was so amusing. He could not at all see why we wanted 2 rooms. He said “Il y a un lit pour Monsieur et Madame et un pour Mademoiselle”!! We want to get to bed early, as we have to start at 3.0 or 4.0 a.m. tomorrow.
We managed very well in our 2 beds, but there was an awful noise in the hotel which kept me awake a good deal. We had coffee at 4.00 a.m. this morning, but the mules did not turn up till 5.0 which was annoying though it was lovely watching the dawn. We have arranged to keep the same mules for 4 or 5 days, so we started with the guide and “Mohammed” in his white burnous. The village looked extremely pretty in the rosy light. Riding on a small mule, though it only goes about 4 miles an hour, is easy, for one can sit astride or sideways and change about continually, which is a great rest. The early morning was rather cold, and after going sometime I asked Bowes if I could jump down and walk a little. He said ‘yes’, but the instant I did so my mule started off and ran away. What an exciting time we had! It would have gone straight home, but fortunately there were heaps (we met from 1–200) of Arabs going to market, and they surrounded us like the English did the Boers, and caught it for me. Then the guide began to call it ‘cochon’ and ‘méchant’ etc.
We had a splendid day, part of the time going through fields brilliant with flowers, part of the time on the roads. At a small fouduk we rested about 10.0 o’clock and ate our dejeuner of bread (no butter) and eggs, and made some tea. It was getting rather hot when we started again, but never got really very bad. We passed a “sheik” and a camel prepared for his wife—poor thing how hot it would be sitting in a kind of little tent on its back all covered up. We seemed to go miles and miles across a plain and then ascended a long way, and had a very good view of the mountains, but we had to keep egging our mules on, and it was 5.30 before we reached El Kep. It stands high up on the hill, and the Arabs have built a wall all round it. We came to the Hotel Milano and ordered a meal at once, for we had had nothing since 10.0. We had ridden about 43 miles (67 kilometers) and had not been off the backs of the mules for more than 1 or 1½ hours at the most since 5 a.m. Unfortunately I think it has been too much for Bowes. He got faint (fainted and was sick) and had to go to bed but I hope he’ll be alright in the morning. I hardly feel a bit tired, only rather stiff. Goodbye now. Very much love and very best wishes for your journey from your ever loving daughter Mary.
Dearest Father and Mother,
We left El Kef at 7.0 this morning on the same mules, and by dint of beating and prodding actually got them to canter once or twice. We travelled today about 30 miles I think, and it was not as pretty or interesting as yesterday, but was largely over a flat plain with meadows full of mustard and candy-tuft, and a few ‘wind flowers’ which Father loves so much. I got desperately hungry, but Simon was determined we should not stop for dejeuner on that burning plain—however about 12.0 we reached a small clump of trees, and oh, the shade and rest and food were lovely. Afterwards it became quite chilly for the sun went in. We felt refreshed and sang rounds and tried different ways of riding our mules. Bertha and I rode backwards for a little bit. Once we walked for a short time, but my mule extremely objects to being led. I got rather behindhand, and was sitting side-saddle with no stirrups, and Simon (the guide) looked round and kept saying “Frappez, frappez fort”. I did so, and the animal began to trot, so I slid gently off, but fortunately this time I had hold of the reins, and the mule could not run away. It is rather fun crossing the “grandes rivieres” which are really muddy, little yellow streams, though fairly deep, but even I don’t feel much tempted to bathe in them. We met 3 Arabs playing about on their mules and horses and having a kind of game of “catching”. Bowes tried to beat his wretched little donkey up to race with one of them!! They look so funny in their Mohammedan dress, no stirrups and yellow slippers nearly dropping off and bare legs. They are all very friendly, but these Arabs in the country cannot speak French, so we can’t talk to them. We came across a lot of cardoons, a vegetable covered with spikes. They gave us some to eat, and our guide said they were “bon pour le santé”, so we struggled through a bit, but they are very bitter raw, though delicious cooked as you know.
What a gallop one could have on the meadows we came across on a decent horse! We passed a good many marabouts (Arabian tombs of saints) and Bedouin tents—here they are covered with brown canvas, made I believe of camel or horse hair, though nearer Tunis they seemed mostly to be made of twigs. Some of them are very small and uncomfortable looking. They seem to be guarded by fierce dogs, but as we have not entered them we have not yet been troubled by dogs! All the same our whips are very useful! The tents are difficult to see from a distance being the colour of the ground. We have not yet been troubled much by insects, though at dejeuner the wasps swarmed round us to my great misery! We reached El Ksour at 4.0 o’clock, and are staying there for the night. It is a small Arabian village, and we are in a small Arabian hotel. The ‘Sheik’ of the village at once came to see whether he could do anything for us, but we could not understand a word till someone told us in French. It is a most primitive place. The rooms contained nothing, but bed (with mattresses) and chairs. However my bed has now been supplied with 2 holey sheets and a rug, and a bit of carpet has been put down on the tiled floor and I’ve got a candle, and Bertha and Bowes have a small table. There is no washing apparatus of any description, or indeed any other furniture at all. It looks rather stormy tonight. Of course Bertha and I always ride in rationals.
In spite of the primitiveness of the place we had one of our best dinners last night, I believe largely cooked by Simon, the guide.
We were up before 4.0 this morning, and started soon afterwards to ride across the mountain. There was a great wind, fortunately with us, but it was frightfully cold and we thrice had to get off and walk, dragging our mules behind us in order to get warm. Neither Mohammed or the Guide knew the way, but we asked at all the Bedouin tents we came across. At one of these, the dogs were very ferocious and our lashes were most effectual. I should not dare to go near one of them alone, for their owners seem to have no control over them. Part of the way was fine, for the mountains are several hundred feet high, but it was too cold to enjoy it much. At last about 10.30 we found a dry, sheltered place for dejeuner in the dried up bed of a stream, and after that it grew rather warmer, but the country grew flat and uninteresting, sandy, and rather desert like, and the multitude of flowers ceased, though there were still small irises, and a few other kinds, and occasionally great cactus hedges. I think it was about 3.0 when we reached Spiba, a place containing only 3 or 4 houses, and where at first we thought we should have to sleep in the fouduk, but now a room has been got for us, a tiny place with a dirty earth floor, but 3 beds can just get in, and anyway it would be impossible to undress. It is really like a cell, and has no window at all. Just here, there are some trees which are a great improvement to the landscape! How I wonder how Mr Morley’s Meeting will go off tonight. It is Bowes’ 30th birthday today.
After all we got better quarters than we expected last night with a French farmer and his wife, such very nice people. The wife, is the only European woman in the place, but seems perfectly happy, and was so kind. I slept in their sitting room and we had a very good dinner. They do not seem to trust the Arabs at all. Bertha and Bowes had the same little room I described and slept with the door open, but the good woman put down bits of carpet, etc. and made it more habitable. We were called at ¼ to 4.0 this morning, and left about 5.0. It was cold, but turned into a lovely, hot day. Bertha’s cheeks are swollen and dreadfully sunburnt, and so are Bowes’ hands, but I wear a yellow veil and am not yet so bad. We rode up a fair height with mountains of about 4000 ft on one side of us, and then crossed a long, sandy plain, like the beginning of the desert. We stopped for lunch about 10.30 and suddenly saw a most interesting sight—a tribe of Bedouins changing their place of abode, where the pasture was done, for a more fertile part. They came along, troops of men, women, and children in their pretty dress, on camels, mules and donkeys and walking also, with their herds of goats, and sheep which they lead. What a queer life they must lead. Their luggage seemed to consist mostly of the clothes they had on, and tents on the backs of the camels. (Camels are a very common sight now.) Bowes photographed them, and then a poor half-naked Arab, just like a savage, appeared, and began to talk to our guide. It appeared that 2 thieves had beaten him, and stolen his burnous and he was in great distress. So the guide got Bowes to write a French letter to the Kiad at Sbiba demanding that justice should be done to him, while Bertha and I bathed his poor dirty swollen arm with my favourite remedy ‘Pound’s Extract’. I believe he would have submitted just the same if we had tried to cut it off!!! He squirmed when we hurt him, but otherwise showed no signs of either surprise or gratitude. Bertha supplied a handkerchief and we bound it up. We got Mohammed to sing us an Arabian song, which the guide said was about ‘l’amour’. It was a very mournful thing, and all the Mohammedan songs seem the same kind of dreary wails in a high key, sounding rather like falsetto. We reached Sbeitla (?) about 2.30, and were glad to get into the shade for a few minutes. It is difficult to clothe oneself appropriately, for it is bitterly cold in the early morning, and very hot in the day time. We were delighted to find some Bedouin tents into which their inhabitants let us go, after tying up their abominable dogs. (That reminds me, last night the dog of the house was passing thro’ the kitchen, and I was just going to stroke it, when its master said “Non”; he says he has to keep them to guard the house, and that they may bite the Arabs and the mules legs!)
There were 3 tents and a lot of people to inhabit them. It is just possible to stand upright in the middle. The ground is covered with matting made of esparto grass. We watched 3 of the girls sitting outside weaving it, on a simple frame. They dye some of the grass black, and use the rest its own colour, a kind of yellow when dried, and they weave a pretty pattern, leaving the grass on the under side so that it makes a nice thick mat. They pitch the tents facing away from the south, and leave one side open, and put twigs and branches all round. (Camels are grunting all round me. I am writing this during dejeuner.) The women wear a pretty dark blue cotton dress with open wide sleeves, the other part made I think in a piece, full in front, and with a loose cord round the waist. They wear red, or coloured handkerchiefs for turbans, and often a coloured piece of cloth for a kind of shawl, and huge rings in their ears with bits of coral, etc, stuck on them. They tattoo their faces and arms and hands, and often wear bracelets round their feet. They look so nice carrying their babies on their backs. I tried to sketch them, but immediately they all came out of their tents and sat beside me, and in front so that I could not see a thing. They were very nice and one of them held my umbrella, but I couldn’t get rid of them till Simon came up, and I explained to him that I couldn’t see to do anything, but if they would go away I would show them the sketch afterwards, so they all fled. However the sketch was rather a failure for there was a clear stream near by and after having seen no nice water for so long, it was too much of a temptation to go and wash, and also wash our handkerchiefs. I longed for a bather, for washing has been impossible the last few days, but I couldn’t have all the Bedouins and a few soldiers watching me. I really couldn’t live in a country where water is so scarce. There were several large tortoises swimming about in the stream. After all this was done, we went to see the Roman remains: there is a very fine ruin of a Roman temple—a large temple with a small one at each side joined by an arch. The remains of streets are fairly visible, and there is the ruin of a triumphal arch. Everywhere we go there are Roman remains, pillars and bits of pottery, and Simon found a coin today. What a wonderful people they were!
Roughing it has begun in good earnest. There is no accommodation at Sbeitla, but it was too far to go on elsewhere. We managed to get some eggs cooked and made some tea, but our guide has been rather stupid in not advising us to bring more provisions with us. I am getting sick of hard boiled eggs and dry, hard bread, and B & B only have sardines extra. Fortunately we have some chocolate. We had to sleep in an old, disused fouduk. It looked dirty, but really was not bad, though I don’t know what Ruth would have said, had she seen it! It was a earthen floor, but we were supplied with one mattress and several rugs, and Bowes arranged our mules’ saddles for a bed. Then we squabbled as to who should sleep where; finally, Bowes and Bertha shared the mattress and I used the saddles. I was quite comfortable, but I got rather bitten. Bowes sleeps well anywhere!
We were called at 3.0 and were off by 4.30. Today’s ride was very uninteresting, over a flat, sandy plain, except in places where we rode through broom. I can’t think how our guide and Mohammed manage to find the track as easily as they do. We had a row with the guide because he had not provided us with drinking water, and indeed all our provisions had run short and we long for a good meal. We got to El Hafei about 2.30 and made some tea, but until tomorrow we have only got 6 biscuits, some bread which is as hard as nails and has precious little nourishment in it, some chocolate, tho’ we have procured from somewhere a few eggs for tonight and we have a small tin of French beans. I do hope we’ll get to a more civilized place tomorrow. If you only have 2 meals a day, you do want good ones. This place simply consists of a new fouduk, we have got 2 rooms, and inside the court are heaps of mules. So far the beds simply have a mattress, but I daresay some rugs will appear! We certainly feel in the wilds out here! There is a well, but we couldn’t wash much, as it is very deep. The water is carried about in sheep skin or goat skin bags and has a very peculiar flavour. I forgot to say that at dejeuner some Arabs appeared with their flocks and as our goat’s milk had turned sour, and we had no water, they seized a sheep, and milked it into one of our cups. We all agreed that it was delicious, but I couldn’t drink it, though I confess it was purely sentiment.
We are going to bed now with the court (yard) full of camels and mules—a most funny experience …….50 kilometres today. Bowes discovered an exquisite little nest on our track with 2 eggs in, a skylark’s I think—so prettily made and well hidden.
Oh the unutterable bliss of returning to civilization after real roughing it for several days. I feel as if I never wanted to leave this nice, clean little bedroom again, and I never realized how tired I was till last night. It was very funny to see a looking glass again. I hardly recognized myself, for I’m so burnt and freckled—we all look frights, for our faces are peeling, and Bowes almost grew a beard! My hands are covered with spots and bites, and I have got more bitten than anyone, but hot half as much as I expected to be. None of the places yet have been really bad in the way of insects.
We had a very long day yesterday. We started in a thunderstorm, and got rather wet, but it soon cleared up. At 5.0 a.m. we made a little tea and had 2 biscuits each; soon afterwards we left the fouduk on our mules. At about 10.0 we finished our precious provisions all but the tea, chocolate and a tin of Swiss milk, that is, we had 2 eggs each and some very, very dry bread, then we had nothing more to eat till 7.0 except a cup of tea and a bit of chocolate. At 12.0 we arrived at another fouduk, and here the guide said we must stay, as there was no stopping place between it and Gafza, and it would be too far to go to Gafza; however Bowes thought from his map that we could get to Gafza, so we refused to stay, as we said we had nothing left to eat, and very likely we could get nothing, or next to nothing, there. So on we went. An Arab on a pony joined us, as he was going that way, and had a great knack of increasing the speed of our mules, which was most fortunate. About 3.0 o’clock we stopped for ½ an hour, and it was lovely to have a rest, and we made some tea. Then Simon’s mule fell, and pitched him on his head. Fortunately after some sal volatile he recovered enough to proceed, changing mules with Mohammed. The next thing his new mule did was to sit down in the middle of the road!! We saw several large white rats, a huge eagle, either today or yesterday.
As we neared Gafza the air was cooler and the country really pretty, but it was spoilt to me, for the mules were so tired, and it made me wretched to have them beaten every moment, and yet as it was, it was nearly dark when we arrived at Gafza at ¼ to 7.0.
It is truly an oasis; date palms and lovely green, deep green trees and mountains all round. You may imagine the mules were tired. We went about 70 kilometres, that is I think about 60 miles, and the mules did not get a drop of water the whole time. We were going from 5.30 a.m. till 6.45 p.m. with only 1¼ hour’s rest altogether for meals, and they have been 40 or 50 kilometres now every day for 6 days. However we were thankful to get to a decent hotel, and get a good meal at last at 7.0 o’clock, and I got a welcome letter from Ernest and a card from Agnes. I was disappointed not to hear from home, as it is a week since I heard, and will not be another week before I can hear.
Oh, how we slept last night in clean beds, and not to get up till 6.0 was such a luxury. Of course generally we go to bed about 8.0 I think, for it gets dark so early. The bliss too of having a bath, for occasionally we have not even been able to wash our faces and hands. We did not get up till about 6.0 this morning, and then we had a lazy day. The mules were very tired, so we paid off Mohammed, and decided to go the rest of the way by carriage, as it will be quicker, and our time is short, for all the places we want to see. After writing letters, we strolled into the town and saw the baths where women wash their clothes—curious dark places like holes in a rock, with natural warm water; some of the women stand in it naked about to their knees, but most of them stand in their clothes and get all wet, which is a queer plan. We also saw the old Roman baths, close to the street, with nice clear water in which boys were swimming about, diving for half-pennies. After dejeuner I rested awhile while B & B bargained for a carriage; then as it was cooler we went to the Bazaars which are very different from those at Tunis. We saw some rugs being made, large rugs like small carpets, also jewellery, mostly rings like the Bedouins wear in their ears. They make an impression in charcoal and then pour in melted silver. We walked back thro’ the oasis, a pretty place, full of date palms, fig trees, apricot trees, etc, then had some coffee, and are now waiting for our carriage which is ½ hours late. Had a great fight about the bill, for we were charged for 2 nights for our rooms. It is a swindle.
The carriage never arrived, though a cart came at 8.30. We had a great row with our guide, for wasting one of our precious days, and then discussed plans hard, for we were afraid we would have to give up the tour over Salt Lake. Finally we decided to go on if possible and only have 1 day in Tunis on our return, and Simon did manage to get a ramshackley old carriage this morning, and it is really comfortable too. There was a tremendous wind in the night and part of the day. We went out to see some Bedouin tents. The women evidently did not know (as Ber was in rational dress) whether I was married to her or Bowes!! The people were busy in a lazy kind of way spinning flax (?) on a spindle; one man, I think a blacksmith, blowing up a charcoal fire with bellows made of goatskin; sewing clothes, etc. The camels were all outside the tents; a little boy milked one into his hand, and then drank the milk. The tents were very dirty, and the people were much interested in our clothes, especially the watches, which they seem never to have seen before. We left in our carriage (!) at 9.30. The driver brought a little boy to sit on the box as he said he was necessary to help with the horses. We were rather annoyed, but found it was true, for it was an awful road along which we drove, and several times we were obliged to get out, for it was so rough, and often deep sand and the carriage stuck in it. All the same we came along very quickly with our large, skinny horse, middle-sized horse, and little mule. It is about 30 miles to Mettaouk where we arrived at 3.30, just before a heavy shower. It is a most desolate place, simply a flat, sandy plain with sandy hills round and a few very queer houses, with a horrible smell everywhere. However there is quite a clean place to sleep in, and we can get a meal. The railway comes here, as there are some phosphate mines. We had not time or energy to go and see the mines, but we watched them sorting the phosphate, powdering it and then it gets roasted I think. The dust was dreadful. After we had seen all we wanted to see, a man came and told us it was forbidden to watch without leave. We had a good dinner, and afterwards wandered about watching the Arabs making “couscous”, etc. There seem no Arabian women in this place. A charming Arabian man in a lovely red Gibba and fine turban, quite young, took us into an Arab café where we sat down on stools and drank Arabian coffee, for which he insisted on paying, (½d a cup). We also tasted the tea, of which, I think, they drink a good deal in these parts. He and I drank each other’s healths. The method of making the coffee is this:- there is a small charcoal fire on a stone bench, over which are 2 tin pans containing hot water. The Arab coffee maker takes a small tin cup with a long handle and puts some coffee in and a great deal of sugar, then he adds hot water and finally boils this up on the charcoal fire, and pours it into a cup. It would be nice were it not for the terrible amount of sugar. There were a great many different kinds of men in the café—a Greek, a Kabyle, etc. Some were on mats playing cards, others playing dominoes. Our friend sang us a French song, and then changed his voice and sang one in Arabic about having left his country and his friends. He taught us 2 or 3 Arabic words and we taught him English. He spoke good French. His native place I think is Gafza, and I don’t imagine he likes this awful place. He was much amused with Bertha’s rational dress, evidently knowing that is not the ordinary English costume. I asked him if he was married and he said “No, my father wants me to marry, but I don’t like any woman well enough”!! A man was smoking a long pipe, with, I think, opium in it, called ‘Kief’ in Arabic.
We could not help contrasting this clean Arab café, and the courteous inmates, with one of our English mining villages, and the men all congregated in a public house—would we have sat down there in the same friendly way?
I don’t think I ever told mother that in the barracks at Avignon was a large picture placard illustrating the mental and physical effects of alcohol. We also saw in Paris the placards stuck up in several places describing the bad effects of alcohol, signed by some of the best doctors.
Certainly one needs to be very strong and in good health to stand this kind of life. We have had 2 very long days, with not a moment in which to write.
On Friday 24th we left Metlaoui after a cup of tea which we made, and some bread, about 5.0 o’clock, along a sandy road, to Kriz. Here was our best example yet of a veritable oasis. We got there about 1.0, and how perfect it was to sit under date palms near a clear little stream on that hot day, eating our lunch. I had on sandals and plodged about in the water, which was absolutely warm. It was about 30 miles drive from Metlaoui to Kriz. At 2.0 o’clock we started for a 20 miles ride on 3 little donkeys, leaving our guide behind. You would have laughed if you had seen us. The donkeys had no stirrups, bridles or bits, but a man ran behind the whole way to beat them up, and they did go well. I’m afraid I did not keep up the reputation of the party, for I rode in rationals, bare legs and sandals, no hat and an umbrella. An Arab going the same way kept us coming on his little donkey. It was great fun, though at first we felt shakey with nothing to hold on to, but the saddles are padded, and pretty comfortable. First we rode through a glorious oasis, far larger than I imagined, full of flowering date palms, fig trees, a lovely tree with a scarlet flower, and a strong odour of orange blossom. Then we rode across a long piece of desert, and finally arrived at a mud-hut village called Tozeur. Here we tried unsuccessfully to buy oranges, and B & B had coffee in an Arab café!, but there did not seem very much to see, and we had crowds accompanying us all the time, till a policeman sent them off by throwing stones. We had a lovely ride home to Kriz in the setting sun, and when we got to the oasis the light was perfect, but it soon grew dark, and was not quite so pleasant crossing heaps of narrow little bridges, for the donkeys all wanted to go together and without reins one could not guide them much. It was rather exciting going through the queer little lanes. All the houses in these parts seem made of mud, and are a browney colour, very different to the white washed houses of Tunis. When we were nearly back, Bertha’s donkey got squashed under a tree by mine, and she caught like Absalom, and the donkey gaily trotted on leaving her on her back on the ground. Fortunately she was only bruised and scratched, but she got rather a fright. We did not get back till 7.30, and then found our place of abode was the Sheik’s small bureau. We ate what we had got (the Sheik gave us a bottle of cow’s milk! (lovely!) and made some tea, and then retired to bed, Bertha and Bowes on a tiny bed and mattress which was put into the room, and I on a hard table, but I think I was best off. There were heaps of Arabs outside, but it was so close that we left the door wide open. Presently Simon appeared, to say the Sheik said we must shut the door as we were in the desert, and there might be thieves. Bowes and I got fearfully bitten, hands and wrists are quite swollen. I can’t think what it is that bites us, for fleas don’t generally bite me, and Bertha has escaped almost all this tour.
On Saturday 25th we left our quarters without much regret and started about 5.0 for our drive over the great salt lake (Chote as it is called in Arabic). There was not as much salt as usual, as the rain had washed some of it away, but we soon got to where there was quite a thick covering of salt and no sign of life (except a rat) anywhere. Bertha and I at last got our real idea of a desert, and indeed it must be monotonous enough, if you get too much of it—wide, wide stretches of sand and salt, and far, far away a speck of dark which you know must be an oasis; we even lost sight of the distant mountains. We passed a caravan of camels which Bertha photographed. At 11.0 o’clock we were practically across the salt lake, and we stopped for dejeuner. There was a terrific wind against us, so we had to turn the carriage round, and eat our lunch inside it. We got out and walked for a minute or two and I could not imagine how the horses had been able to pull us. At 12.0 we went on again, and then began a dreadful experience, interesting enough, now that it is over, of what I suppose was practically a sandstorm. We could hardly see a thing, and in spite of spectacles, and rugs, the sand (which was salt) got everywhere, into ears, mouths, eyes, rücksacs, everywhere. The wind was raging; (fortunately the wind was warm and that made it much more bearable.) The horses only went a few yards and then stopped, and were beaten perpetually till they went on again. Oh, it was awful. Bertha and I got right under the rug, but even there I could hear the beating of the poor animals. I can’t imagine how the driver managed; he found it pretty bad, and had a kind of rug on, for he generally just wears a thing like a white long shirt. At last we came to huge sand-drifts and were obliged to get out, and help to push the carriage. Fortunately, by this time we had got to a little more sheltered place, and could see a little, though it was bad enough. There was no chance of going to Kabilli where we had meant to stay the night, and thankful we were at 5.0 o’clock (the horses had been going 11 or 12 hours) to see a military bordj (Fetnessa) and a captain just arriving. He was very polite, but there were only about 3 rooms and they were full. He tried to talk to us, but none of us are good at French. I will learn to speak it properly; it would have been such an immense advantage on this tour. While he was arranging to get us quarters at the Sheik’s, the keeper of the forest in a lovely green cloak took Bertha and me into a small room where were his wife and daughter. They were so excited and dragged us on to a mat on the floor, and examined our clothes, but they could not speak French, so we sat and laughed. It was awfully amusing. Apparently the chief occupation of women such as these, is to dress themselves up a great deal, blacken their eyebrows, put on heaps of jewellery, and sit on a mat smelling the heads of roses in a sieve. We did it too, and I felt as if I was a Japanese girl in a theatre. Soon the husband came in, he was an intelligent man who began to talk about the South African war, and we asked him questions about his wife, and how she liked being covered up when they go to Tunis. The daughter undid my tie and wanted to have it. It is a Liberty one, and I wanted to give it her, but the mother was angry with her. They had on rather pretty flowing robes. The husband knew at once that Bertha was younger than me, and asked why I was not married, and seemed to think it very funny that I said “Je ne veux pas”! Finally the Captain came and said he had got us rooms in the village. The village was so hidden away in the oasis that we never saw it till we got close to. We found 2 mud hut rooms, one for us, and one for the drivers and Simon. There was nothing in them, but one mat on the floor made of esparto grass, but they looked quite nice. There was a stream near, and we longed to wash some of the sand from our eyes and faces (the horses faces were crusted with salt sand) so took some soap with us; but the wind was so terrific that the sand blew back again. I tried to comb my hair in the hut, and for the first time for years broke a tooth of my comb. It seems hopeless, and hurts so to try and comb it, for the sand is literally thick within. Bertha and Bowes hair still looks quite grey with the sand. Finally someone cooked us some eggs and tinned peas, and with little showers of the wall on us perpetually, we managed to get through a kind of meal, but everything was thick with sand, and dust from the walls. Finally soon after 7.0 it was dark, and there was nothing for it but to go to bed, though we did manage to get a candle but it blew about so. So we three lay down on our mat, with the door wide open, and Bowes was asleep directly. We got bitten again, but slept pretty well, though in the middle of the night I could no longer stand the wind and sand blowing in upon me, and seeing a lot of summer lightning; and an animal like a cat ready to spring on me, I pushed the door to.
We got up at 4.0 today (Sunday 26th) and found to our joy the wind had dropped. It rained a very little, and then turned out lovely. We left at 5.30, and drove over another sandy road about 20 miles of Kabili, getting there at 9.0. Here we stopped to rest the horses. The driver says they are too tired to go on today, but for almost the first time since getting to Africa, we found a man, also a driver, who could speak English, and he says we had much better get on, so we are going to, although we feel rather heartless, but this place would not be nice to stay in. There is no hotel, but the military find one accommodation. South of Gabes all the country is under military control. I do think the French have done an immense amount of good in this country. We are very anxious to get to Gabes for many reasons, and therefore must push on today. We have been sitting in a café, writing and eating, and joy of joys, washing and the kind man of the café poured a kind of toilet vinegar over Bowes’ and my hands, for they so irritable, and swollen. I have not had energy to go and see the village at all. We brought some packets of soup which we got boiled and with coffee, eggs and fried potatoes, we had a very nice meal.
We had a dreadful drive after all. We started soon after 2.0, behind 2 French gentlemen, who spoke very good English—the first tourists we have met out of Tunis. They also were going to Ain Saiden (Spring of Water), and as they had 4 horses, they promised to do all they could for us. When we had gone perhaps 10 or 12 miles one of our horses turned ill, and after a great deal of beating, they took it out of the carriage, and we went on with 2, while the little boy rode on its back. The road was very bad, and though we walked a great deal, it was a great strain on the horses. After a time they harnessed the ill horse again, but again it had to be taken out. Poor thing, it looks as if it had never had enough to eat in its life. At 6.0 o’clock we fortunately decided to eat our meal in the carriage, and just managed to get through it before it grew dark. Then we walked a lot, singing to keep up our spirits, for we began to be afraid of missing the borgue in the dark, and with our tired horses we felt rather miserable. They had been 20 miles in the morning, and were now doing another 25, and the road was often deep sand. Finally about 7.30 or 8.0 we suddenly came across the solitary brogue. It belongs to the military and only contains 3 or 4 Officers rooms and a court for the animals, and 3 or 4 tents outside for soldiers, who, I believe, are mostly prisoners, and make the roads. Really it is necessary to have a letter to be taken in, and we had none, but fortunately the French gentlemen had spoken about us, and very kindly the lieutenant had turned out some ill soldiers from a room marked “Malades, No. 3” and left it for us. Where the poor things went to, I don’t know. The “bed” consisted of a raised kind of dais of [blank space] and on it was put a straw mat and a rug—they brought in a table for us and a form. We found it very close, and all lay down on this curious bed with the door wide open. Just as we were getting to sleep some soldiers came in and jabbered away, but we did not understand what they said. Evidently they did not understand what had happened to their comrades. This happened twice and then we were obliged to lock the door. The driver and boy slept under the carriage and Simon in it! I must say militarism has some very good points, and the officers are so polite and kind, but everywhere we are treated well and kindly. The French gentlemen offered us food, etc. They were greatly surprised to find 2 English ladies travelling in these parts!!
We found a lovely tank in which to wash our hands and faces, and were off by 5.0 this morning. (Paid 3 francs for our room) We got rather tired, at least I did, of a very monotonous, very bad, sandy road, and I felt as if I hated the weary stretch of ugly mountains, but even here, there is a wonderful variety of flowers. Again the same poor old horse had to be taken out, and we managed with two, but we had to walk a very great deal, and it was tiring, for the day was so sultry. We really were afraid the carriage would come to bits. We had some hopes of getting mules and so going to Gabes tonight, but had to give up the idea. We hardly passed a soul and not a house the whole way—at 10.0 we stopped by a stagnant pool full of frogs for dejeuner. At 4.0 after 11 hours (with 1 hour off for lunch) we arrived at El Hamma, another oasis. There is no inn, and the military borge seemed to be shut, but a kind Mohammadan offered to take us in, which is a new and interesting experience. We met him on a mule and Simon arranged it. He cannot speak a word of French, but has given us quite a nice room which looks as if it belonged as a rule to his wife or wives, but I don’t know where they are. It is hung round with shawls and garments and the bed consists of planks on the floor, where Bowes is already (7.10) nearly asleep. it is the 4th night running in which we have been obliged to sleep in our clothes. There is quite a large garden, mostly vegetable, with date and fig trees, laden with fruit but unhappily not ripe. It is irrigated in a curious way, by a horse drawing up water from a well in a large skin bag, and upsetting it into a channel, by which it flows into the garden. We were desperately hungry, but had to prepare our own meal, and in the end we found it great fun and had an excellent one. The Mohammedan lit us a tiny little charcoal fire and gave us a pan. We were very impatient for we thought it never would burn, but it was wonderful and soon very hot, so we cooked a tin of French beans, then some petits pois soup (packets) into which we put 4 fresh eggs which Simon got for 1d, and then we made a pot of tea. How we enjoyed it! One finds out how many of what we consider the necessities of life are merely luxuries. After washing our cups, etc., B & B went for a walk and I tried to get a sketch in the lovely sunset, but the light went almost immediately. It is a fearfully noisy place, for on the roof of nearly every house is a horrible barking dog! Now I must also go to bed, such as it is!
What a night we had! Directly I got on to my plank bed I felt sure I should be nearly devoured; after lying in misery for ages I heard B & B also beginning to get very restless, so we got up and put on Keating, which of course we should have done before. To add to this, a dreadful wailing for some dead person went on for more than an hour, the people walking about while they chanted, and the dogs barked. It seemed hopeless to think of going to sleep, and I reared to see Bowes lying in gloves and Bertha like Joanna Scaramouch in a tam-o’shanter. However we did, and I got up first before 4.0 and made the tea, and then what revelations we beheld when we began to examine our clothes. Fleas don’t bite me much, but I do draw the line at them. However I am not as much bitten as I expected to be, but we were thankful to leave. One of the horses was too ill to come on, and so we did not get started with our other two till after 5.30, but it is only 20 miles to Gabes, where we arrived about 10.0. As we came within sight of an oasis and the blue, blue sea, we did feel excited. We drove to the Hotel d’Oasis, and at once got a lot of hot water and had baths, and also tried to get rid of the last vestiges of El Hamma’s insects, which was not so easy, and very horrid. We washed our hair which is still full of sand from the storm, but everywhere we have been the water is horrible for that, and afterwards it is almost impossible to comb it. I got very cross struggling over mine, but a good dejeuner made me recover. The hotel looks on to the sea, and there is a garden close to, full of geraniums, etc., and it is so lovely after the monotony of the desert. Directly after dejeuner we went to the post, and at last got longed for letters. It was good to hear, though Mother’s latest to me was dated 17th April, nearly a fortnight old. Bertha had delightful letters from Teresa and Ernest, and we had Father’s and Mother’s and Mrs Morrell’s. Many thanks for them. I do hope now Father is really recovering in Italy. What a pity Mabel could not join you. I wish she could have been here, for we’ve had perfect weather.
After reading the letters we took 3 camels, with pack saddles, and proceeded for a 2 hour’s ride. At first I thought it was horrid and got an awful stitch, but after a time we all thought it delightful and had immense fun. I thought they always walked slowly, but mine flew off at a trot, and then slipped on its knees, and I yelled. The whole town seemed to turn out to watch us. We did go fast. We stopped in the picturesque market place, and after much groaning and an awful sensation of being pitched hither and thither, got the camels down and went for a walk round. When we remounted Bowes and mine sprang up so suddenly that we weren’t properly on and nearly fell off. Then we went down to the sea, and there changed camels, with each other. I was rather glad to get rid of mine, which seemed up to all sorts of tricks. I want to post this tonight, as I have only today got an address, and it is up to the 28th to Lugano, so goodbye. I do hope you’ll have as good a holiday as we have and good weather. Many thanks to R. for her letter, and to you all. I hope Father’s teeth are alright. How thoughtful Mother is! I did want the maids’ addresses. We expect to get home on Saturday week (9th May). I daresay I’ll stay the weekend in York. We’ve had a glorious time in the desert, but I’m not altogether sorry to come back to civilization!! Very much love to you all. Ever your loving daughter, Mary.
Lovely to sleep in a nice bed again, and not have dejeuner till 7.0. Also nice to have coffee (and chocolate) and bread and butter instead of making our own tea! I forgot to say that yesterday after our camel ride B and I went down to the sea, and found a bathing box (with no door) and had a delicious bathe. The water was quite warm. Afterwards B & B bathed together. Lovely sunset. We met the French tourists who were with us at Ain Saiden at dinner.
Left this morning by diligence at 7.30. Very comfortable—we had 3 front seats, covered all except the front, so were very cool. Simon went inside. 3 horses, but we changed twice. It is about 83 kilometres from Gabes to Graiba, and most of the way the road is absolutely straight, and absolutely flat with the exception of 1 small hill. There is nothing to see, except a vast sandy plain, with a sparse covering of dry green grass—no trees, no houses, and only glimpses of the sea now and then. We lunched at Skhirra, a small village near the sea, having taken provisions with us; we had half an hour there. The road became very dull, for it was too noisy to talk, too shakey to read, and nothing to see but Bowes composed a very good poem to congratulate Sir Wm Lawson on his victory at Camborne, and B and I criticized it. We reached Graiba at 4.30 and had 1 hour to wait for the train so made tea. Left at 5.30 (3rd class) for Sfax. Played bezique when it grew dark. Reached Sfax about 9.0 and drove to Hotel Moderne—moderate but thought only fairly clean.
On the way to Graiba we passed a man on a donkey carrying a tiny donkey on his knee—sometimes the people carry sheep, hens and goats on their knees while they are riding. In the sun they wear enormous straw hats—the brim about 9 inches wide all round, only it turns upward which seems a mistake, but I daresay they can turn it downwards. Before we left the oasis at Gabes we saw a man up a date tree probably tying it up. The trees are in flower, and the fresh flowers are tied up, so as to be fertilized by hand. We passed also a body of spakis, native soldiers, looking most picturesque on fine horses in their gaily coloured clothes.
Got up at 4.0 feeling very sleepy and left at 4.50 in a comfortable carriage and 3 horses—as usual 2 drivers and I don’t quite know why, on a good road, unless they are afraid of robbery on the return journey alone! At first again the road was very dull, and it grew extremely hot. We had 128 kilometres (80 miles) to go and reached El Djem about half way at 11.0. Here we stopped till 2.20 to rest the horses. We first examined the large Roman amphitheatre, a very fine place, with a large amount of the ruins still left. It is built in 4 stories. At 12.0 we had a very good lunch in a kind of small inn kept by a nice Frenchwoman with whom I had some talk. We had eggs with sardines, macaroni and cheese, peas, potatoes, roast mutton, jam! and coffee and mints. We left again in the great heat, but about 4.0 it always begins to be cooler, and the road began to be pretty. There were many olive trees, (we made tea in the afternoon most successfully).
As we neared Sousa, we had a good deal of singing. It got dark soon after 6.0 but the stars and crescent moon and cool breeze were lovely. We reached the Grand Hotel at 9.30, feeling quite giddy with the long drive. The poor horses only have a night’s rest and then go all the 80 miles back again. When it grew dark the driver procured some vinegar in a village and spat it out of his mouth into the nostrils of the horses—he said it made them breathe better after the heat of the sun during the day. We had some dinner and then gladly went to bed having been out from 5.0 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. After Sfax in the morning we passed some curious reservoirs for collecting rain water. The road led for a good way between huge cactus hedges.
I got up at 7.0, the B’s at 8.0. I had breakfast alone, lovely rolls and chocolate and the room full of roses, carnations, etc, but our bedrooms contained a lot of beetles, though they were very clean. We walked first through the Bazaars which are all paved and look newer and cleaner than those of Tunis. We entered an Arabian cafe, rather a curious building, with a fluted dome, and then went to the barracks and climbed to the top of a lighthouse to get the view. It was very fine indeed. Just below us was the old town with the old walls all round—most of the houses were only 1 story high, white washed with flat roofs on some of which women were walking about—outside the walls was the new town, with its modern houses, not very many of them and beyond the sea and a neat little harbour with 2 or 3 ships in it. In the town we met a snake charmer. He had several snakes in a bag and produced them for our benefit but they seemed half asleep and did not do much. I went to get my hair shampooed as it was still in a horrid state with the sand and hard water. It was a very amusing performance, but hardly worth 2 francs. It requires 3 people to do it, 2 men and a woman. The man who washed it was dressed like a soldier and from what he said he was just finishing part of his compulsory service!
We had some coffee and fruit at the hotel, and left at 12.0 o’clock for Kairouan where we arrived at 2.0, and went to the Hotel Splendid. The new part of the town seems only to consist of one or two houses and 2 hotels; all the rest of the small town is contained within the walls.
Kairouan (resting place) is a holy city, 2nd to Mecca, and until the French occupation no Christian might enter it. Now the mosques have been defiled (according to Mohammedan ideas) by the French, who, however, promised to respect in in other towns if they surrendered which they therefore did, and so Christians can easily obtain leave to visit the mosques in Kairouan, the only place in Tunisia where this is possible. After making some tea we set out with Simon and a small boy. First we went to the Grand Mosque of Sidi Okba. We were not made to take off our shoes, but the mats were rolled away, so that we could not walk on them. The outside was not nearly as impressive or beautiful as our English cathedrals, but a strong feeling of curiosity made it all the more interesting. There is rather a feeling of untidyness, owing to bars of wood between each pillar to strengthen them I suppose. There is a wonderful pulpit carved in wood, and in the part set aside for women on the Sunday (Friday) there is a door of carved Roman stone. The inside of the Mosque is a rectangle consisting of 17 naves. I succeeded in squeezing myself between 2 pillars and then 2 more and so am designed for Heaven, but neither Bertha nor Bowes could do it! I felt rather as if I should stick in the middle like ‘Tommy’ (dog) stuck under our Bensham gate. There were some Arabs on the ground bowing to it and saying their prayers. In the centre is a large court, underneath which is a cistern. We went up the Minaret and had a splendid view. Kairouan is a picturesque little city, situated on a large, fairly fertile plain, with hills far away in the distance. We were fortunate in being there on a Friday, for we were enabled to see more than on some other days.
We then walked in a great wind and horrible dust, through the dirty, smelly, narrow streets to the Zaonia of Sidi el-Kadir el-Djilani; the Mohammedans were sitting opposite each other in 2 rows on the ground, repeating their prayers out loud, the same sentence over and over again, as “God is good”, and “Give us good health”, or something like that, and similar sentences. There was not much to see. A Zaonia seems to be a place where poor Arabs live in cells round a court. Then we went on to Jermaat-es-Sahibi, a large Mosque rather outside the town, where is interred one of the Companions of the Prophet, hence its name, “Mosque of the Companion”. It is beautiful especially the plaster work and faience in one of the courts with exquisite tiles. The Minaret, outside, is faced with tiles, like so many of the mosques in Tunis. Most of the mosques have square towers, and a minaret on the top. Inside there are always ostrich eggs, glass balls, etc, hanging about. As we passed through the town again we came upon a large circle of people, sitting round a snake charmer. He had what we think was a fairly large cobra, which turned round and followed him where he went, but I expect he had extracted the sting. One man played pipes meanwhile like small Scottish bagpipes, and another beat a tambourine.
Another Mosque we visited was “Jamee Sidi Amor Abada”—new one. It is named from a man who is reckoned a saint, and made huge swords and enormous pipes, and there is a large wooden block; in which the French occupation is predicted in Arabic. We saw some large anchors which the Bey brought from Port Farma to Kairouan to please this man.
We then hurried to the “Zaonia of the Aissaounia”, where every Friday these men for about an hour work themselves into a religious frenzy, and then proceed to torture themselves. It was revolting but interesting sight. Bowes only watched for a few minutes and could stand no more. It is sad to see little children learning to do it and ought to be stopped. The men are half naked, there is a tremendous row of tambourines, etc and shouting and a row of men who stand stamping their feet. They begin by swaying their bodies about frantically, and look fearfully wild. Then they procure swords and hold the point on their throats or some place on their body and a man hammers it in hard through some of the skin. They then go or are dragged to a kind of Sheikh who removes the swords and whispers some of the Koran to them, and then they proceed to do it again. They are also said to eat scorpions, glasses, etc, but we did not see this. We paid a franc for watching. The frogs made a fearful noise at night.
Up early and off to the Mosques at 6.30 or 7.0 a.m. We came across an old fortune teller. I had mine told first. He was sitting in the street with books, and a paper scrawled with dots, etc. I put my finger on the middle dot and had to think. Then he told me that I would receive a lot of money, and that I love someone and was always thinking of him and someone was always thinking of me. It was translated to me by Simon, for he only spoke Arabic. Of course a crowd collected. Bertha and Bowes had theirs done too, and all he would say was that they loved each other very much, and that we were soon going on the sea, and it would be smooth. We first visited Jamla Thelatha Biaran or Mosque of the Three Gates, but only the outside. It is a very ancient building.
Then we went to the Zaonia of Sidi el-Gharium. The court inside is beautifully tiled, and there is a lovely frieze of decorative plaster work. The shrine is in a small room—the tomb very ugly, but a beautiful painted wooden ceiling and tiles and plaster work. In a small room opening out of the court, an Arab school was going on. All the boys leave their shoes outside the door, and sit on the floor, shouting out the Koran and apparently learning writing also. The teacher has a long stick to keep them in order, but seems to like them to make a noise! Above the Court is a gallery, into which small rooms open where Dervishes or other holy men live. The pavement of the Court is of a very fine design.
We next went to El Bardo, or sacred well supposed to be connected with Mecca. A camel with covered eyes walks round and round drawing up the water.
We also saw the Jania ez-Zeiton or Mosque of the Olive Tree. We took off our shoes and went in, but there was not much to see. We passed an Arab funeral. The coffin or rather the litter in which the body is contained, for I think they take it out before burying it, was borne aloft by several men. The deceased was a woman, but no women were in the procession, though there was a large body of men, dressed as usual, all with white burnous on and chanting the Koran. We might not go to the cemetery. Arabian cemeteries are very untidy, no names are put up; sometimes the stones have little cupolas at one end. Everywhere one goes there are marabouts, sacred tombs where men can go and pray. There is nothing to see inside but the tomb.
We went into the great Mosque again for a few minutes, and then were taken to an Arab house where 2 women were making a carpet, seated in a narrow passage. The strings were stretched in front of them on a plain wooden frame, very simple. They were making it entirely by hand putting different coloured wools through the strings and cutting them off with scissors. I can’t imagine how they remembered the pattern or managed to get it right. A fine old man with a white beard was watching and helping with the wool. One of the women was young and handsome. Most of the women as far as one ever sees them are ugly; these 2 were uncovered, I suppose because at home. We went into one of their rooms which was quite nice, containing a bed and chest of drawers and carpet and 3 clocks!
There seemed to be a good many mills for grinding corn; we went into one of them—a horse or mule with covered eyes, pulls round the grinder and chaff and grain seem to go into the mill together. We went back to the hotel (which is not particularly nice) for dejeuner and caught the 12.0 train for Tunis. We travelled 3rd with a lot of Mohammedans. Made tea. Had one change. Pretty journey, country beginning to be more and more fertile as we neared Tunis. Played bezique! Bowes won twice! Lovely sunset. Arrived Tunis at 7.15 and walked to our old Hotel de la Residence, where we were given a warm welcome as before. Seemed almost like getting home.
Lovely to have some clean clothes, but I had a bad night and got very bitten again. Went to the Post and got welcome letters, then through the market. Lovely flowers and many vegetables—also, alas, small birds I think larks and quails. Then to the Bazaars, where our old friends recognized us and asked where we had been to get so brown. One man who spoke a little English said to B and me, “Come and get some coffee in my shop, for I love you very much”. B was very indignant and rushed to Bowes! Bowes sketched and I returned home, and rested for the rest of the day, not feeling well. In the afternoon B & B went to the Baroo to see the Museum. They came back about 5.30 and we went in a tram to the Kasba and had a good view of the town in the exquisite red light of the setting sun.
To the Bazaars soon after 7.0. The Jewish quarter is most interesting, and it is such a relief to see the women uncovered. Some of them are very handsome with fine dark eyes, and their dress is rather picturesque. They wear tight or baggy white trousers and outside in the streets a beautiful heik (shawl) over all, and on their heads a pointed cap. Some of them wear their hair in a pigtail. Their bodices are loose, many coloured garments, and the sleeves often do not reach to the elbow, but are short puffs. A small boy took us into one or two of their houses, which seemed fairly clean. As usual there was a court in the middle, and the kitchen (the stove) was all tiled.
We made some good bargains in the second hand part of the Souks. I got some pipes, like small Scottish bagpipes, reduced from 4 to 2 francs etc. We sat outside a shop for a long time watching the people. A man passed us with glasses fastened in a belt round his waist, and a large glass bottle with a brass lid and huge spout, full of iced lemonade. We had 2 large glasses each and it was delicious. We also sat in an Arab cafe and B & B drank coffee. There is hardly room for a cart to pass in some of the narrow streets, and for the large camels with their great burdens of grass and green for bedding and food for animals, I suppose. Then we saw the water carriers fill their goat skin bags at the public taps, and the rich Mohammedan women who have their faces completely covered, and hold a piece of cloth in front under which they can just see where they are walking.
At 11.0 we went to see the Consul but he was out, however we saw his Arab man who is going to take Ber and me to a harem tomorrow. After dejeuner we sat for a long time outside a French cafe, Bowes drinking coffee and Ber and I eating pistachio ices. Arabs come round selling things. We bought a coffee cup and some cards. We then rested for a time, and agreed to meet soon after 5.0 at Boij Ali Rais, B & B intending to go to the Bazaars and then drive there and drive me back. I got a tram part way and afterwards found the way pretty easily, through the old country, which is pretty though very untidy, up a steep hill to an old fort, which I think is called the Boij Ali Rais, but I’m not sure if I really got to that place. Here there is a splendid view of Tunis, Goletta, Carthage and the mountains beyond, and a large lake. I sat down and did 2 small sketches. 7 French soldiers occupy the fort. One of them came and talked to me and was very nice, but I wished he would go away—he kept saying he was going for his ‘soup’; but took a long time about it. It grew rather cold, my watch had stopped, and I was afraid of losing my way, so I did not wait for Bertha and Bowes, but walked down through the cemetery, and got a tram all the way to the Porte de France, and then shopped a little. After dinner we went to a grand Arab cafe in a beautiful square, surrounded by Arab cafes. It was so interesting, and we were the only Europeans. A good many of the Arabs were playing cards. The game does not look very exciting, and they seem to tear up a good many cards. We drank coffee and I had mine without sugar, so it was better, but very bitter. Men and boys came round selling things, or letting you smell incense (for a sou) or reciting etc. In one cafe an Arab was reading aloud. Most of the men carried a single rose, which they smelt continually, or put behind their ears. We did not get back till 10.30 as we could not get a tram.
77 here yesterday but we must have had it much hotter than that in the desert. Got up rather late and took a tram to the upper end of the Bazaars, (not through them of course) and then walked down, and Bowes and I began a sketch, but had not time to finish it which was a pity. An Arab yesterday wanted to know if B was sister to Bowes. She told him she was his wife—then he asked what relation I was and I said “L’autre femme”, but I don’t think he was taken in. I’m put up here in the hotel as “Miss Morrell”.
At 3.20 the Consul’s man—Mohammed (he is so handsome) took Bertha and me through some streets till he met a Jewish woman with whom he left us. She took us through a great many more streets, winding about, till we came to a large Arabian house, where we went to visit the “Harem”. We felt rather shy. It evidently belonged to a rich Arab, and there were 3 wives, but there were so many women and children that we could not make out the relationships. The Jewess could not speak French, and neither could any of them! There was a most beautiful tiled court, with an exquisite frieze of alabaster plaster work, and there was some of this in one or two of the other rooms, but the bedrooms, in which there were large comfortable looking beds with yellow curtains, were spoiled by heaps of gilt framed looking glasses and huge chandeliers. The older women were mostly reclining on couches drinking coffee. They were excessively fat, disgusting I think, but I suppose they consider it good breeding like the Jewesses. We went into a lot of rooms, escorted by 2 or 3 young girls but very little interest was taken in us. In one room, a sitting room, there was a piano at which “Madame” perhaps the chief wife, an old, very pale, miserable looking woman was playing. There were 1 or 2 men about, perhaps brothers or husbands of the daughters and we saw the Mohammedan himself, a nice looking man. It was very interesting, but not exciting, as they must have seen many Europeans and it just makes one feel very sorry that these poor women know no better existence. The Jewess brought us back a new way, past a lot of stables and we found Mohammed sitting outside the Consul’s door and said goodbye to him.
I met my elderly English friend in the station who I sat next at meals on the “Djurdjura”. Bowes had been sketching, but when he returned we went by tram to Belvedere. The park there is really exquisite, full of flowering shrubs, citacus, a gorgeous purple thing called (B says) clerodendron, a trumpet shaped flower with the smell of a lily, geraniums, large broom, arbutulow, etc. We walked up to a little kind of temple, tiled inside with plaster work above the tiles, and had a good view, though it was not as fine as usual, and slightly chilly. We did not stay long, but returned to dinner, and then went to the theatre cafe, very different from the Arab cafe of last night, and instead of a sou a cup it was something like 40 or 50 centimes. It was very jolly though, and some music was going on inside. I bought a lovely bunch of ‘glorie de dijon’ roses, our last night alas!
I forgot to mention that we saw some goats being milked in the street today.
Got up at 5.0 and packed, then went out early first to post, then farewell visit to the Bazaars. Watched Arabs making yellow slippers. We did not reach England till May 9th Saturday—York 1.10 a.m. Went across London in 2 hansoms.
It has been a most splendid and interesting holiday and I cannot be grateful enough to Bertha and Bowes for taking me with them.
(We rode in the desert in “rationals”. She had a very pretty grey costume. The 3 rucksacks and tea satchel and camera were fastened on the guide’s (Simon Bisnuth) and Mohammedan’s saddles.)
[Transcript by Katharine S. Coleman, with her permission.]