War in Eastern Europe
John Reed
 

17. THE HEART OF STAMBOUL
 

Our caïk ran into a thick tangle of caïks clamorous with shouting, arguing boatmen, Abdul standing upright and screaming: Verdah! Make way, sons of animals! Make way for the passengers! You have no passengers, why do you block the landing-place?' We laid our piastre and a half on the thwart and leaped ashore in Stamboul. Through the narrow, winding street piled high with melons and vegetables and water-casks, and overhung by ragged awnings propped on sticks, we jostled an amazing crowd of porters, mullahs, merchants, pilgrims, and peddlers. In the Oriental way, no one moved from our road - we bumped along.

Along a cross street a string of boys and young men - each one carrying a loaf of bread - marched by between double lines of soldiers.

'Recruits,' said Daoud Bey. Often we met a non-commissioned officer and two armed men prowling among the crowds, glancing sharply in the faces of the young men; they were looking for possible soldiers who had not yet been called. Shouts and the trampling of feet, angry bellows and screams of pain drew our attention to a side alley, where a hundred men and women of all races swirled against the front of a shop; fez tassels danced in the air, grasping hands leaped out and sank, choking voices yelled, and on the outskirts two policemen beat any back they could reach - thwack! thwack!

'Waiting to buy bread,' explained Daoud. 'Hundreds of places like that all over Constantinople. There's plenty of grain in Anatolia, but the army needs the freight-cars - so they say.'

I said it ought to be an easy matter to feed the city.

'Possibly,' he answered with ironical inflection. 'Have you heard the rumour that the city officials are holding back the supply so as to get higher prices? Base falsehood, of course - yet such things have happened before. And then our German biothers are more or less responsible. They persuaded our government to take a census of the city - a thing which has never before been possible since the fifteenth century. But trust the Germans to find a way. The government took over the bakeries and closed them for three days, while it was announced that every one must apply for a bread-ticket in order to buy bread. By slow degrees they are getting us all registered - for a man must eat. Last evening, in the back streets of Pera, I came upon a bakery where the last load had just been distributed, with a howling mob outside still unprovided for. First they smashed the windows, in spite of the clubbing of the police, and then they began to tear down the Turkish flags hung out on all the houses to celebrate the fall of Novo-Georgievsk, crying: "We don't care for victories! Give us bread!"'

We sat cross-legged in the booth of Youssof Effendi the Hoja, in the Misr Tcharshee, or Bazaar of Egypt, where drugs are sold. Dim light filtered through cobweb windows high up in the arched roof that covered in the bazaar - making a cool gloom rich with the smells of perfumes, drugs, herbs, and strange Oriental medicines, of coffee from Aden, of tea from southern Persia. Overhead the whitewashed arch was scrawled with immense black whorls and loops of prayers to Allah, and Esculapian snakes twisted into verses out of the Koran. Above the booth was an intricate cornice of carved wood, covered with spider-webs, and from this vague twilight depended all sorts of strange objects on chains: dervish beggar-bowls made from the brittle skin of sea animals, ostrich eggs, tortoise-shells, two human skulls, and what was evidently the lower jaw of a horse. On the counter and the shelves behind were crowded glass bottles and earthen pots full of crude amber, lumps of camphor, hashish in powder and in the block, Indian and Chinese opium and the weak opium of Anatolia, bunches of dried herbs to cure the plague, black powder for love philters, crystals of oil for aphrodisiacs, charms to avert the evil eye and to confound your enemies, attar of roses, blocks of sandalwood, and sandal oil. In the dark little room behind the shop were heaped bales and jars, so that when Youssof Effendi lighted his lamp it looked and smelled like the cave of the Forty Thieves.

He stopped us, bowing with the right hand sweeping down, and fluttering to lips and forehead again and again; a tall, dignified figure in a long caftan of grey silk, and fez with the white turban of a religious teacher wound about it - immaculate. A glossy black beard covered his powerful mouth and dazzling teeth, and he had dark, shrewd, kindly eyes.

'Salaam aleykoum, Daoud Bey,' said he softly. 'Peace be with you.'

'Aleykoum salaam, Youssof Effendi,' answered Daoud, rapidly making the gesture and touching lips and forehead. 'Here is my friend from America.'

'Hosh geldin. You are welcome,' said the Hoja courteously to me, with a constant motion of his hands to lips and forehead. He didn't say 'salaam,' which is only used between Mohammedans. The Hoja knew only Turkish.

'Bedri!' he cried and clapped his hands, and a little boy scurried out from somewhere in the bowels of the shop. 'Coffee, haide!...

We sat sipping the sweet thick liquid, smoking in long wooden chibouks cigarettes that we rolled of choice tobacco from Samsoun, in the cool, fragrant gloom.

'Is the effendim well?' murmured the Hoja gently, in the ritual of Oriental politeness; each sip we took, each puff at our cigarettes he touched his lips and forehead, and we to him. 'May God make it pleasant to your stomachs.'

The Hoja was a powerful man in Stamboul. For twenty years he had been muezzin in the mosque of Zeirick Kilissi, which was once the church of St Saviour Pantocrator, and in whose shadow still lies the verde antique sarcophagus of the Empress Irene; then a leader of prayers on Friday in the great mosques; a popular teacher and charm doctor; and finally sent for by Abdul Hamid to lead private prayers in Yildiz Kiosk, those long years the Sultan shut himself up there in fear of assassination.

'I know many fables about the marvels of America,' said Youssof Effendi graciously. 'There appear to be palaces taller than those raised by the djinni in ancient times, and I have heard there is a demon called Graft' - here his eyes twinkled - 'who stalks through your streets and devours people, and is known in no other land. One day I shall go there, for I understand that there opium is worth its weight in gold.'

He looked from Daoud Bey to me. 'You are different from us, you races of the West,' he remarked. 'Daoud Bey is handsome, but he is over-refined and thinks too much. He will have nervous jumps some day. He should not smoke tobacco, but eat plenty of eggs and milk. Tell the American effendi that I think he does not think too much and is very happy. That is the way I am.'

I wanted Daoud to ask how many wives he had. The Hoja understood my ill-mannered curiosity and smiled.

'Pekki! How many wives has the effendi?' he replied. 'Does he think that it is any easier for a Mohammedan to support two wives than a Christian? Allah preserve us! Women are expensive. I know but six friends who have more than one wife. When the Armenian slave dealers come by night to my harem from Scutari with a fair odalik to sell, I answer them with a proverb: "How many bodies can live of one man's meat?"'

'What does Youssof Effendi think of the war?' 'The war?' he answered, and the evasive look on his face showed that I had touched on a subject in which he was deeply involved. 'My son is in the trenches at Gallipoli. Allah send what he will! One does not think of whether wars are good or bad. We are a fighting race, we Osmanlis.'

'Do the Turks -' I began.

The Hoja interrupted me with a sputtering torrent of language.

'You must not call us "Turks,"' said Daoud.' "Turk" means rustic clown - "rude," as you would say. We are not Turcomans, barbaric, bloodthirsty savages from Central Asia; we are Osmanlis, an ancient and civilized race.'

The Hoja talked frankly of the Germans. 'I do not like them,' he said. 'They have no manners. When an Englishman or an American has been one month in Turkey, he comes to my booth with hand to lips, to forehead, and greets me: "Sabah sherifiniz hair ola." Before he buys, he accepts my coffee and my cigarettes, and we talk of indifferent subjects, as is proper. But when the Germans come they salute as they do in their array, and refuse my coffee, and want to buy and be gone, without friendship. I do not sell any more to Alemanes.'

Later I observed many of the Germans around the city; there were hundreds of them - officers on leave, tourists, and civil officials. Often they violated the delicate etiquette that governs Mohammedan life. They spoke to veiled women on the street; bullied merchants in the Great Bazaar; stamped noisily into mosques during the hour of prayer on Friday, when no European is allowed to enter, and once at a tekkeh of the Howling Dervishes I was present in the visitors' gallery, while two German officers read aloud passages from the Koran in German throughout the services - to the furious indignation of the priests....
 

We went up with Youssof Effendi through the intricate winding streets of Stamboul, plunging into passages lined with tiny Armenian shops, under the walls of the fortress-like khans built for the entertainment of strangers by the mothers of bygone Sultans, by secret paths across the quiet courtyards of the great mosques, where children played about delicately carved marble fountains in the shade of enormous ancient trees; down little streets that twisted beneath the wooden booths of the seal-makers and sellers of tesbiehs - bead-chains - where green vines fell like cascades from the roofs; into vast sun-smitten dusty squares, the site of Byzantine forums and of coliseums greater than Rome's; through winding alleys of wooden houses with overhanging shah-nichars, where there was only an occasional passer-by - a shrill-voiced peddler beating his donkey, a grave-faced imam, women hurrying along with averted faces. When we passed women Daoud began to talk German in a loud voice.

'They think you are a German officer,' he said, laughing, 'and it makes a terrible hit. All the harems are learning German now, and a lieutenant from Berlin or Hanover is the romantic ideal of most Turkish women!'

Half the people we met saluted the Hoja - saluted him humbly as a person of prominence and power. In the unending maze of covered streets which makes up the Great Bazaar, a double chorus of cries came from both sides: 'Youssof Effendi, buy of me! See this beautiful chibouk! Honour me with your patronage, Youssof Effendi!' In the Bechistan, that gloomy great square where are the jewels and precious metals, the gold-and-silver-inlaid weapons and ancient carpets we moved from counter to counter in triumph, followed by the sheikh of the Bechistan himself.

'What is the price of this?' asked the Hoja imperiously.

'A Turkish pound, effendim.'

'Robber and thief,' replied our guide calmly. 'I will give you five piastres.' He moved on, flinging back over his shoulder: 'Dog of a Jew, we go and return no more!'

'Ten piastres! Ten piastres!' screamed the man, while the sheikh berated him for his discourtesy to the great Youssof Effendi....

For me he beat down a nervous shouting salesman on an amber chibouk, from two and a half pounds to twenty piastres.

'Do not make me shout, Youssof Effendi!' he yelled, his voice breaking, and the sweat standing out on his brow. 'You will give me apoplexy!'

'Twenty piastres,' said the Hoja calmly, inexorably.
 

Late in the morning we sat in the dark cubbyhole behind a little Greek bookshop near the Sublime Porte, looking at hand-illuminated Korans - Daoud Bey, myself, and the clever, pleasant proprietor. Enter a young policeman, in grey coat with red epaulets and a fez of grey astrakhan. He came to where we sat, sighed deeply, and began in a melancholy voice a long story in Turkish. Daoud translated.

I have eaten offal,' said the policeman. 'I have been greatly humiliated. Several days ago I observed Ferid Bey and Mahmoud Bey sitting in a café talking to an unveiled girl of the streets, who was a Greek. Ferid Bey came to me and said: "You must arrest Mahmoud Bey." "Why for?" I asked. "Because he is talking piggishness to a girl." I was very much surprised. "I did not know that talking piggishness to a girl was against the law," I said. "I am a friend of Bedri Bey, the chief of police," said Ferid Bey, "and I demand that you arrest Mahmoud Bey for talking piggishness to that girl." So I arrested Mahmoud Bey and took him to jail. 'He was in prison for three days, because everybody had forgotten all about him; but at last the keeper of the jail telephoned Bedri Bey, and asked what to do with Mahmoud Bey. Bedri Bey replied that he knew nothing of the man or the matter, so why keep him in prison? Therefore, they let Mahmoud Bey loose, and he telephoned at once to Bedri Bey, and made a complaint about being arrested, "Talking piggishness," said he, "is no offence against the law." Then Bedri Bey called me before him and applied epithets to me, like "son of an animal," and threatened to dismiss me. Together Mahmoud Bey and I went to arrest Ferid Bey. But he was gone, he and the girl together. Then Mahmoud Bey boxed my ears. I am humiliated. I have eaten offal.'
 

We dined in the restaurant of the Municipal Garden of the Petit Champs at Pera, to the blaring rag-time of the band. The striped awning over the terrace was gay in a flood of yellow light, and electric-lamps hanging high in the full-leaved trees made a dim, chequered shade on the people sitting drinking at iron tables, and the cosmopolitan parade that moved round and round the garden. Vague under the smoky radiance of an immense yellow moon, the Golden Horn glittered, speckled with the red and green lights of ships; beyond lay the dim, obscure mass of Stamboul, like a crouching animal.

The diners were mostly Germans and Austrians - officers on leave, aide-de-camps on duty at the Seraskierat in full-dress Turkish uniform, civilian officials, and the highly paid workmen of the Krupp factories; many of them with wives and children, in comfortable bourgeois dinner-parties like the restaurants of Berlin. But there were also Frenchmen with smartly dressed wives, English, Italians, and Americans. In the slowly moving throng outside under the trees, were Perote Greeks, Armenians, Levantine Italians, Turks of official rank; German submarine sailors, Germans of the Turkish navy in fezzes, and great rolling ruddy American sailors from the stationnaire Scorpion, towering in their white summer uniform head and shoulders above the crowd. It was hard to believe that, just beyond the reach of our ears, the great guns spat and boomed unceasingly day and night across the bitter sands of Gallipoli....
 

If I had only space to recount the Homeric battles of those American sailors! The German man-of-war's-men and soldiers were friendly, but the workmen and civilians very quarrelsome. Sometimes an intoxicated or excited Teuton would come over to the American table and begin an argument about munitions of war, or the Lusitania case; or a German officer in Turkish uniform would stop them on the street and insist on being saluted. The sailors answered nothing but insults, and then they answered with their fists, Anglo-Saxon fashion. I could write another chapter simply about the night that Seaman Williams broke the German lieutenant's head with a stone beer-mug, and was transferred back to the United States as being 'unfit for diplomatic service.' And then there is the wonderful history of the two sailors who laid out seventeen attacking Germans in a café, and were led back to the American Sailors' Club by congratulatory police, while the wounded foe were jailed for three days.... Respect and friendship was mutual between the American sailors and the Turkish police....
 

Afterward we got into a cab and drove down the steep, dark streets to the Inner Bridge; the cabman carefully shrouded his lamps, for lights on the bridges were forbidden on account of possible lurking British submarines. Stamboul was black - they were saving coal. Dim lamps in the interiors of little stores and cafés shed a flickering illumination on mysterious figures shrouded in the voluminous garments of the East, who drifted silently by on slippered feet.

Youssof Effendi was in his favourite café in a street behind the Bayazid mosque. We sat there with him, talking and drinking coffee, and puffing lazily at our narghilehs - the grey, cool smoke that makes the sweat stand out on your forehead.... Later we walked through the darkness across the city, by ways known to him alone, through arched passages, broken walls, and mosque courtyards. One after the other on mighty minarets, the muezzins came out into the heavy night, and cried that quavering singsong which carries so far, and seems the last requiem of an old religion and a worn-out race.

Out of his great courtesy, the Hoja insisted on going with us to Pera; so we invited him to drink a coffee with us at the Petit Champs. On the open-air stage the regular evening vaudeville performance was going on - singing girls, dancing girls, American tramp comedian, Hungarian acrobats, German marionettes - the harsh voices, lascivious gestures, suggestive costumes, ungraceful writhings of the Occident. How vulgar it seemed after the dignified quiet of Stamboul, the exquisite courtesy of Turkish life!

Some Turkish officers from the interior of Asia Minor, who had never before seen women publicly unveiled and showing their legs, sat gaping in the front row, alternately flushing with anger and shame and roaring with laughter at the amazing indecency of the civilized West.... The Hoja watched the performance attentively, but his polished politeness gave no sign of embarrassment. Soon it ended, and in spite of many protests on the Hoja's part, we walked down the hill to the bridge with him. He did not speak of the show at all. But I was curious to know his real opinion.

'It was very lovely,' replied Youssof Effendi with the most suave courtesy: 'I shall take my little granddaughter to see it....
 

Down at the dark bridge the draw was open, to let pass a contraband ship full of coal and oil which had crept down the coast from Burgas. Now at night it is forbidden for all but high officers to cross the Golden Horn in caïks, so there seemed nothing to do but wait for the interminable closing of the draw. Daoud Bey, however, confidently led the way down to the landing-place. Suddenly, out of the shadow popped a soldier-patrol.

'Dour! Stop!' cried the officer. 'Where are you going?'

Daoud turned on him rudely.'Wir sind Deutsche offizieren!' he bellowed. The man saluted hastily, and fell back into the dark. 'The German always does it,' chuckled Daoud....

Late at night we climbed once more up Pera Hill. In a dark side-street the crowd was already beginning to gather about the front of a bakery, to stand there until it opened in the morning. We were stopped at Tramway Street by a flock of tooting automobiles rushing up, and street-cars one after another with clanging bells. Through the dark windows we glimpsed white faces staring out, bandaged - another Red Crescent ship had arrived from the front, and they were hurrying the wounded to the hospitals.
 

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