Pictures from the Balkans
Fraser, John Foster


Turkish Roads - A Halt - Kirk Kilisé - Shipping Wine to Bordeaux - Visiting the Governor - Etiquette - The Return Visit - Elaborate Make-believe - A Representative of Great Britain

THE Vali of Adrianople gave me an escort of five horsemen for my journey to Kirk Kilisé. The headman was a broad and burly Turk, with whiskers which would have made a Sikh envious. The horses were fine animals, with more than a touch of the Arab in them- a  contrast to the weedy nags I was able to hire for myself and attendants.

Nothing if not courteous, my Turkish friend, the head-man, shocked at the indignity I must feel at bestriding so comical a steed, insisted I should "swop" with a soldier. All the horses had decorations of blue beads on their foreheads - to resist the evil eye.

"Ah! there is a good road all the way to Kirk Kilisé," I had been told. There was a road. It had been made for eternity, of boulders the size of my head, and half buried in the earth. It was one of the most violent, liver-jerking roads I ever came across. Indeed, it was so sturdy that nobody used it except to cross it. The tracks wriggled along first one side and then the other, over Mother Earth, and when worn to slush made a little detour.

We growl at the negligence of Eastern nations in not providing roads. The Turk does not like a set road. It is too hard for him. He prefers his ox-


cart should creak along a haphazard path of his own. I verily believe that if the Great North Road could be transferred from England to Turkey the Turks would never use it, but would break down the adjoining hedges and make a trail across the fields. It is no good arguing with the Turk about the made road being the best. He will salaam, say "The effendi always speaks wisdom!" and will not use it.

With the clatter of swords and click of muskets slung behind the soldiers' backs, and tassels dancing over the claret-tinted fezzes, we made a brave show as we scampered eastward over the plains.

There was a weedy Mahommedan burial ground. The grass was long and coarse and withered. The graves were forlorn. Tombs were in ruin. The ill-made slabs, with a gawky stone turban or fez to denote a man, and plain slab to tell of a woman, were crooked, higgledy-piggledy, broken and tumbled. The wind sent a constant spray of dust over the burial ground. It was forsaken. Here lay the once well-known of Adrianople. But no sentiment had followed them. Any vanity about being remembered was damped by looking upon these decrepit pillars of the forgotten.

The sky was murky, the wind soughed, the land was dreary. The Turkish villages were incoherent jumbles of mud huts - no hedges, no flowers, no grass even. The buffalo wallowed in slime. The winnowing of corn was on foot-beaten patches of hard earth. The peasants were scraggy, wan, and ill-fed. They made a needy living by dishevelled agriculture.


The rain came with icy drip; the wind numbed; wild birds screeched overhead.

We were clammy and hungry when we called halt after five hours in the saddle. The resting place was Mahmoud Pasha Haskui. It was a han, a mud-walled yard with windowless, mud-floored chambers the size of a henroost, and with the odour and other characteristics of a henroost. A dozen fowls were in the chamber while I munched my bread and drank a pint of wine - really capital native wine, which cost 3d. In a burst of liberality I sent for the sore-eyed old reprobate who kept the han, and directed him to make coffee for the soldiers. That cost 2 ½ d., and the soldiers saluted me for my generosity. Give a Turkish soldier a medjedeh (about 4s.) and he will think he ought to have been given two. Give him a cup of coffee, which costs a halfpenny, and there is nothing he will not do for you. The one is a gift, the other is hospitality. He does not reason the matter out, but the hospitality pleases his sense of dignity. Around the han hung woe-begone creatures in rags, out of which they never got, for fear they would never be able to find their way into them again.

Past noon the day bettered. The country improved. The wastes gave place to undulations covered with vineyards. We dashed past great tuns of wine drawn by drowsy oxen, and big men on ridiculously small donkeys.

We were in Kirk Kilisé, with its twisted, quaint, clean, and vine-festooned streets. The town lacked Turkish savour. Out of its twenty thousand popula-


tion a full half were Greek, and the other half about equally divided between Jews and Turks. The Turk is the least important. The Jew does the trading and the Greek the wine-making. Seldom do foreigners come - one or two a year, and then Frenchmen. The wine of Kirk Kilisé is good. But the Turk is a teetotaller - generally. So most of the wine is taken to the coast, purchased by French firms, shipped to Bordeaux, and then sold to the world as "best Bordeaux." Bordeaux is known; Kirk Kilisé is not. But many old gentlemen smack their lips over Kirk Kilisé when they imagine they are smacking them over Bordeaux.

I exchanged visits with the Governor, Galib Pasha. It was all very formal and in strict etiquette. We smoked each other's cigarettes, and drank each other's coffee. I told him how delighted I was to visit Kirk Kilisé, and he told me how delighted he was that I was delighted. He was a thin, pale, nervous man, with the most restless eyes I ever saw. They jumped about with nigh tragic alertness, as though he were in momentary dread somebody was about to draw a revolver and shoot. I was introduced to some minor officials.

It was interesting to study the by-play of ceremonial. Everybody wore the fez, and everybody, as elsewhere, kow-towed to the ground, placing their boots, their belts, and their heads at the disposal of the Governor, and when he seemed to have no need of them, proceeding to place them at my disposal, until the arrival of other officials gave them the opportunity of elaborately and metaphorically ex-


changing boots, belts and brains with everybody else.

No man in Turkey has his coat unbuttoned in the presence of a superior or equal. That is vulgarity. It is offensive to cross your legs. I was told of this later by my dragoman, for I had left my jacket unbuttoned, and I had certainly crossed my legs. The Governor, having heard of the ways of Europeans, "saved my face" in the presence of his staff by also crossing his legs. To sit well back on your chair indicates familiarity. I noticed all the officials, save the Governor and myself, sat forward on the very edge of their chairs, kept their knees together, their toes turned in, their hands drooping, their eyes usually humble, and when paid a compliment they touched their belts, their breasts, and again their heads.

The stern formality of these official visits between the Governor and myself was oppressive. I felt all the time like bursting through decorum and exclaiming, " I'm jolly glad to see you; let us go for a stroll."

The Governor impressed me. He meant to impress me. We saw a lot of one another in the course of a day and a half, and he never ceased in his efforts. He assumed that I assumed - like all ignorant foreigners - that Turks were lazy, that they never did to-day what they could put off till tomorrow, and would not do it to-morrow if it could conveniently be shunted over to next week. He was determined to undeceive me. Only he overdid it. Kirk Kilisé might have been the centre of the


Ottoman Empire, and the Governor the Grand Vizier.

At first I thought he was merely busy. In his reception room at the Konak we had not been talking two minutes before a secretary appeared with a telegram. The Governor scowled, knit his brows, scribbled something. The secretary bowed and retired. Later a sudden inspiration. A soldier at a signal shuffled forward. A telegram form! He wrote a message. Now we could talk. Soon in came a bunch of documents. His eye danced through them, a mark here with a pencil, a scrawl there, something like a signature elsewhere. Thinking I was in the way I made fulsome adieux. I had been back for barely ten minutes in my little Greek hotel, and my little dragoman had scarcely finished swearing in Greek at the proprietor for its filth, and was perspiring in getting the fly-blown best room to look less dirty, when the Governor paid his return visit. Ah, delighted! Coffee and cigarettes. Soldiers stood at the doorway; others stood in the passage. The secretary again. Two telegrams this time. Pardon! Oh, certainly; affairs of state must be attended to. Officials, officers, and others appeared. They whispered. The Governor smiled; he knit his brows. He scribbled. We talked. Another inspiration. He wrote hurriedly on a tablet, called a soldier, and despatched him post haste. Documents, sheaves of them to sign. There never was so busy a man.

"You are learning Turkish? " he asked. "Oh,


I have already learnt Yavash," I answered with a smile. He smiled also, and then he knit his brows. Yavash means "go slowly." Yavash, Yavash is the phrase most often heard in Turkey. Foreigners are disposed to apply it contemptuously to all things Turkish. The Governor was going to show me that Yavash did not apply to him. He received three telegrams and wrote six.

Would I give him the pleasure of my company to listen to the band? Charmed! We went to the public gardens, with four or five of the staff hovering round and a dozen soldiers within call. The gardens were a sandy patch with several limp and colourless bushes. But there were chairs and little tables and beverages to be obtained, and there was a band. I drank absinthe from a glass; the Governor drank absinthe also, but from a coffee cup. Turks are very rigorous in observance of teetotalism. Besides, were not the eyes of half Kirk Kilisé upon the Governor and his visitor? He raised his finger. A soldier jumped from behind a tree. A telegram form! The man was carrying them, ready for emergencies. Later a telegram arrived; then several telegrams. Officers appeared with documents; he skimmed them and initialled them. Surely no Governor in all Turkey was so worked as Galib Pasha! All the time his eyes were jerking and peeping and peering for that revolver that was never presented.

That evening a Turkish officer appeared at my inn. Salaams! The compliments of the Governor


and would the effendi accept so hurried an invitation and join him at the circus? A circus at Kirk Kilisé? Ah, yes, a travelling circus all the way from Germany. Of course I would go; but I was travelling light; the only clothes I had were suitable for horseback.

With slithering soldiers swinging lanterns we went through the black streets. The splutter of naphtha lamps; the extravagant canvas representations of men driving six horses and tinsel-frocked damsels skipping through hoops; the big marquee with lamp flare and the clapping of hands oozing through the cracks. It was all familiar.

Then came several moments when I was startled, but behaved with as much dignity as I could. Still, I felt I should like to roll on the ground in ecstasy of laughter. There was a circle of chocolate countenances capped with red fezzes. The band blared furiously "God Save the King." The Governor, who had a space railed off with red rope, was standing on a blue plush carpet, in the centre of which stood two stage property crimson and gold king's chairs. We went through our greetings with decorum. We bowed and bowed. When "God Save the King" was finished I was bowed into the crimson and gold chair on the right of the Governor.

I had gone through many experiences in my life; but just then I was the honoured representative of Great Britain - nay, I had a sort of idea I was Viceroy, representative of the King himself. But I felt a fraud. I wanted to stand up on that


crimson and gold chair and deliver a speech of explanation. I was merely a humble wanderer with an inquisitive mind! Afterwards my dragoman told me the audience was sure I was one of the personal staff of King Edward! That was terrible. Still I put on my most solemn air. If ever I am honoured with the acquaintance of his Majesty I shall tell him the most uncomfortable half hour I ever spent in my life was when I was the unwitting but honoured representative of Great Britain at a circus in Kirk Kilisé.

There were cigarettes to be puffed and coffee to be sipped. There was an elderly damsel in blue tights who jumped through hoops. There was a trapezist. There was a clown. And there were the long rows of fezzed men and a sprinkling of dark-eyed Greek women - a lethargic throng, who certainly took their pleasures sadly.

The Governor frowned; he knit his brows. Telegram form! He wrote. Behind - off the blue plush carpet, of course - stood officers. A raised finger, and one or other was by the Governor's chair. The secretary - a little worn wisp of a man - came, bowed, and presented more telegrams. Altogether a dozen must have arrived.

The people of Kirk Kilisé looked awe-struck at their Governor, sitting meditatively in his crimson and gold chair, his brows knit, his pencil tapping on his knee whilst he thought. They appeared much impressed.

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