"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



Devious routes - Repair or go round? - Difficult locomotion - Employes classified - Mithat Pasha's road - Worse than none - A remedy suggested - Varna railroad - Postal irregularities - Telegraph clerks.

ROADS, at least as the term is understood in England, are, to use a hackneyed phrase, conspicuous by their absence in Bulgaria. The means of difficult and tardy communication which form their substitutes, appear usually to be but slight enlargements of the tracks through cover made by wandering sheep, buffaloes, and horses: at least such is the only theory which explains their otherwise unaccountable twistings, and turnings, and deviations from the natural line of tracing. Such an obstacle as a fallen tree or projecting branch is even more insurmountable by the Bulgarian than by the buffalo, and to avoid it he drives his araba by a detour of two or three hundred yards through the thinnest part of the adjacent cover, rejoining further on what we must call the main road, until some similar accident forces him again to leave it. That the fallen tree might be removed by the axe, or the projecting branch cut away by the same instrument (one which the peasant here is never without), never occurs to him: superfluous labour, or what he regards as such, is distasteful to him, time is of no importance; his wood or wheat are always sure of a sale at their destination; if he cannot arrive at Varna before sunset, when the gates are closed, he can always bivouac in the forest, burning down three or four pounds worth of the Padischah's timber to warm himself; his buffaloes or oxen will eat leaves if they can get them, dry sticks if nothing else is to be found, so why should he trouble himself with twenty minutes' work?

Ten hours' doing nothing is infinitely preferable, and what matter whether he ploughs or sows his fields that day or the next? - there is time enough for everything.

The consequences of this system, or want of system, are that any two miles of the best roads hereabouts would smash any carriage with springs ever built in western Europe, and break down the strongest English cart: the arabas of the country, being moving forests on wheels, suffer less, and if one of the roughly squared trees which compose them is broken, the forest is everywhere, and then the Rayah has no alternative but to use his axe. In summer these paths, from the rapid growth of grass and shrubs, are hardly to be distinguished from the cover through which they pass; in winter they are a succession of iron-bound hillocks and ditches, of treacherous snow-drifts or of unfathomable mud; when this last is predominant it takes five hours to accomplish a distance of twelve miles from our village to Varna, even on horseback: a cart will probably require an hour more. Araba travelling by these roads is as way be easily imagined, far from pleasant, one side of the vehicle being frequently two feet higher than the other: the Bulgarians, however, will not abandon a favourite path for such a trifling difference of elevation between the borders of the road, and as long as they can prevent their carts tilting over by hanging on to the uppermost side, they are content: when this is no longer sufficient they strike out a new path. To a stranger in the Balkan who is riding from one village to another by a road new to him, and who is guided merely by his general knowledge of the direction in which his destination lies, it is very puzzling to find some six or seven paths spreading out like a fan, and apparently leading in very different directions: every one of them bears marks of being lately used by horses or waggons, and the choice of one out of the many seems a very haphazard proceeding; but whichever one he selects is tolerably sure to be right, for all of them, after describing innumerable curves, which, however they may take a more or less vitiated line of beauty and grace, are certainly not influenced by any scientific tracing, fall again into the main path, in which the ruts have become a little too deep, or the rain has formed a marsh, or a buffalo has died and left his skeleton, which the dogs and wolves have not yet had time to clear away.

Whilst speaking of the roads in these provinces, it would be unfair not to allude to the Chaussee from Rustchuk to Varna, constructed by Mithat Pasha, the Governor of the Vilayet of the Danube. Mithat Pasha is an intelligent man, and what is still rarer amongst the governing class of Turkey, an honest man; but he has fallen into the common error of mistaking effect for cause, and wishes to introduce into the country under his rule as high a state of civilisation as now exists in France or England, forgetting that Rome was not built in a day, and that, to make a Duke of Wellington out of a South Sea Islander, something more is necessary than a cocked hat and a pair of spurs. The choice of Mithat Pasha by the government of the Sublime Porte is by no means a bad one, and is, indeed, a step in the right direction; but one man alone, especially an Oriental who has only been able to view the surface and effects of the European Institutions which a certain school of Turkish politicians regard as the only panacea for the sufferings of Turkey, can do but little, however excellent his intentions may be. In Turkey, the class of minor officials is of the very worst kind; such is the entourage of Mithat Pasha, and such lie knows it to be, whilst he is powerless to remedy the evil. These subordinate employes, whether Armenians, Turks, or Greeks, may be divided into three heads: 1st, merely stupid; 2nd, stupid and rapacious; 3rd, cunning and rapacious; to do the Greeks justice, they are seldom wanting in a species of cleverness, and form the majority of the third category. Any foreigner who has enough money to bribe his way to the highest authority, and enough impudence to promise great things for Turkey, is pretty sure of employment, whether as Engineer, Inspector of Mines, or any other self-attributed quality; he is employed on some public work, pockets as much money as he can, on the chance of his incapacity being found out by some miracle; if he is undetected, he gets more work entrusted to him, and speedily makes a handsome fortune, which he of course does not care to spend in Turkey.

But to return to the Rustchuk and Varna Chaussee. This undertaking was commenced about four years ago, and the line traced by a foreign engineer, to whom the contract was given. This gentleman, instead of paying for the necessary work, had it all done by corvee (forced labour of the peasantry), and pocketed the sum intended for the wages of the labourers, in addition to his own handsome salary as engineer. What the road may have been when first completed we are unable to say, but we have a feeling recollection of what it was when we were obliged to travel by it during the early part of 1867. For some six or seven miles out of Rustchuk the road was good and well kept; there were even imbecile trees planted and propped up at regular distances, trying, to look as if they were on some high road of France or Belgium; but as we advanced further from the town, the road grew more sickly looking, and after three or four hours' travelling, it apparently disappeared altogether, although the lines of trees were still to be seen at some little distance. This peculiarity was accounted for by the driver of our post-carriage, who told us that the road was so bad that he was obliged to go across country to avoid it, and, as a curve of our track over the fields brought us nearer to what should have been the chaussee, we could see that he had exercised a most wise discretion, for the great artery of communication between the Danube and Black Sea was much in the same condition as the Balkan roads we have already described. Heaps of broken stones for repairs lined the deserted road. but had certainly never been used since its construction, and as certainly will remain unused for the next ten years. The conformation of the country occasionally obliged us to return to the chaussee, a proceeding which we were always aware of by the diminution of speed and increase of jolting, but from Rustchuk to Devna, a distance of about 120 miles, we did not travel over the legitimate road for more than 30 miles, the rest was driven over corn fields, and through thick cover and marshes, anywhere to avoid Mithat Pasha's chaussee. Most probably there is a certain sum allowed in the budget of the Vilayet for the repair of the road. That the authorities knew that a road would need repairs is evident,, from the heaps of prepared stone. Who pockets the allowance we do not know; at any rate, it is but a drop in the ocean of peculation by which the finances of Turkey are absorbed.

The remedy for this state of things would be of easy application, but in Turkey no one is responsible. If there existed two communes sufficiently enlightened to construct a good road between their respective villages, and to keep it in repair, no obstacle would be placed in their way by the local government, nor would any assistance be given them. But that two such villages should be found in the Balkan is hopeless. As long as the Rayah is not forced to assist in the work of his own civilisation he will do nothing. If government chooses to make a road for him he will grumble at the work required, even though well paid for it; he will never take the initiative.

If a responsible communal government were substituted for the wretched system of tchorbajes as at present existing, the work of road-making would, by being divided amongst the villages, become comparatively easy. Some of the innumerable Bulgarian feast-days might he devoted to the repair, as well as construction of the roads necessary whilst a slight toll would provide funds for the expenses of the former. A great road such as that from Rustchuk to Varna, is, even if kept in repair, of but little use except to those villages lying upon its line, when the lateral roads from the villages, whose commerce should debouch into the main system, are entirely neglected. Taking winter and summer together, the average rate of cart or horse locomotion can hardly exceed two miles per hour, a speed which, however, perfectly satisfies the Bulgarians, and with which they will continue to be contented so long as they are allowed to remain in their present ignorance of the value of time.

The number of idle days (elsewhere given) amongst the peasantry is certainly sufficient to admit of each village making a mile or two of good road, and keeping it in repair every year. Labour being thus found, but little expense is needed. Buffaloes must be fed whether they work or not, and stone is abundant everywhere. If money is required, there are few Christian villages in this Pashalik which could not easily furnish a sufficient sum.

The new railroad from Varna to Rustchuk, in communication with the Danube steamers, is a great advantage to foreigners living in this part of Turkey, as far as the speedy transit of letters is concerned, and is also a great convenience to the grain merchants, but the peasants seldom or never send their corn by it, preferring to carry it in their own carts, even though they start from a village where there is a station. Strategically this line is very badly traced, since, by its running along the north side of the lake of Varna, it is open to be taken by a coup de main, in the event of a Russian invasion and march upon Varna, and the communication between that town and Shumla would thus be interrupted. The peasants complain greatly of its being unfenced throughout its whole length, as an immense number of their cattle are destroyed by passing trains. On twelve miles of line more than a hundred head were killed during last year, all of which belonged to poor villages which could ill afford the loss. This railroad has been unfortunately conspicuous by the number of accidents occurring on it since it has been opened: in nine days (Nov. 18th to Nov. 27th, 1867), four trains ran off the lines, and this at a time when there were no quick trains, in consequence of the freezing of the Danube and suspension of the mails by that route.

Contracts have already been made for various railroads in European Turkey, from Constantinople to Adrianople, and from there to Varna, &c., but it will, of course, be some years before these are completed; in the mean time the traveller in the interior has to ride, as the country roads are by no means calculated for carriages, and as carriages are not to be seen outside the large towns; an araba which only goes at a foot's pace, and never has any springs, is by no means a convenient or agreeable mode of locomotion, and in deep snow, or very muddy weather, is often unable to go even a distance of a mile from one village to another.

Turkey, with the logical consistency which distinguishes her system of wasting or neglecting her pecuniary resources, has confided the European postal service to foreign companies, by whom it is carried out in a manner which combines a great deal of apparent method with an entire absence of real order. If you, as a stranger at Constantinople, expect letters from Europe, you must make a round of visits to the various post-offices; those of the Austrian Lloyd and the French Messaueries Imperiales are in the Rue des Postes, Pera, and reflect a great deal of credit upon their Perote architect, but you are not at all likely to find your letters on the first inquiry, for there seems to be some bye-law preventing the clerks from giving letters to any one they have not seen three or four times. Probably one of the employes will be polite enough to suggest your trying at the English post-office in Galata, and if you follow his advice you will have a pleasant search of an hour or two amongst the ships' chandlers and potato shops of that fragrant suburb, until you find out a dirty building where your letters are not. However, if you have patience to become a regular visitant at the Austrian and French offices, the clerks will in time get accustomed to your face, and hand you over some letters which arrived at Constantinople about ten days before yourself ; henceforward you have a fair enough chance of receiving two out of every three missives addressed to you.

Residents in the capital can make special arrangements for letters being delivered at their houses, but even then there is but little certainty of receiving all that arrive at the office. A local post for Stamboul, Pera, and Galata, was organised some time since, but after a little time the company failed, the service was discontinued, and it has not been again started.

If the arrangements at Constantinople are bad, those of the smaller towns are (as far as we can judge by experience) worse; but to do the minor offices justice, they are at least free from the species of hypocrisy which prevails at headquarters, as their exterior is by no means imposing, and they do not make any pretensions to either order or method.

At Varna letters for Europe may be looked for in three post-offices, two Austrian and one French; [There is a third Austrian office, but it seems to have been established more because there is luck in odd numbers than for any other reason, as the clerk is hardly ever visible, and no business of any kind appears to be transacted oftener than once a quarter.] between midday and three o'clock these are closed to allow the clerks time, for lunch or billiard playing, and even at other hours you are very fortunate if you do not find that the employe you want has gone out, and that the time of his return is uncertain.

The following dialogue, something very similar to which takes place every time we ride into Varna (and we are tolerably well known on account of our eccentric preference of the dangers of the hills, to the delights of 'society' in the town), gives an idea of the admirable management which pervades the postal arrangements: -

“Est-ce qu'il y a des lettres pour nous?”
“Je ne crois pas, monsieur; je vais voir. Non, il n'y en a point."
“Et cepedant il doit y en avoir.”
(Looks again over a disorderly pile of documents) “Non, monsieur; vous avez e'te' a l’autre poste autrichienne?”
“Et 'a la poste francaise?”
“Vous avez passe a l’Agence anglaise?”
“Alors il n'y en a pas - tiens! c’est vrai, je crois me rappeler qu'il y a quelquechose pour vous quelquepart." (Looks over several other disorderly piles of documents, at length fishes out a letter, and exclaims, with great complacency), “Voila'! monsieur.”
“Mais cette lettre est arrivee ici le mois de Septembre, 1866, et nous sommes dans le mois d'Avril, 1868!” [This incident actually occurred to us a short tirne since.]
(Examines the letter attentively). “C’est fort drole, ca! nous ne l’avons pas cependaut vue!”
A few days afterwards a servant is sent in for letters, and brings back a polite note from the same clerk, informing us that a packet for us has been lying at his office for eighty-three days, and suggesting that we should come to claim it! Not having been to Varna since, we are unable to imagine what is the reason that it should not have been given up to us during one of our previous visits.

The new postal route to Europe by the Rustchuk railroad is a very rapid one theoretically; but besides the fact that letters are often mislaid for weeks at the Varna post-office, there is another drawback to their rapid delivery; the clerk at Rustchuk (at least the blame is laid upon him), once a month forgets to separate the Varna letters from those for Constantinople, and they consequently go on to the capital, have to wait for the departure of a Black Sea steamer, and return with an extra charge for postage.

Another peculiarity of the direct route is that although books and small parcels may be forwarded from Europe by the post, they are not permitted to be sent from Turkey.

We wished to send a letter to Adrianople, and fancying that the best way was by sea to Constantinople, and thence onwards, we applied at the Austrian post-office No. 1, which referred us to the French post-office, which referred us to the Austrian post-office No. 2, which referred us back again to the French office, where a grand consultation of charts took place; then we were asked where Adrianople was, and on our saying that to the best of our knowledge it was in European Turkey, we were recommended to try the Turkish steam packet office. The officials there declined to have anything to do with our letter, but pointed out a little sort of hut at the corner of a street, built of planks, and looking just like a Yankee post-office in the back woods; this proved to be filled with a wooden desk, a narghileh, and a Turk, and the latter informed us that letters for Adrianople might be posted (that is, put into an open wooden drawer) there, provided they were legibly addressed in Turkish - so at last we got rid of our letters. But after all we found out that the Austrian and French officers ought, either of them, to have accepted it.

The telegraph works pretty well, but, as far as Varna is concerned, would work better if the clerks were capable of writing any European language correctly, and had a more definite idea of geography. Some time since we had occasion to send a telegram to Frankfurt am Main, but none of the employes had heard of that city, they could not find its name in their books, and there was no map to consult, so, although we described its situation in six different languages (all of which they were supposed to understand), they suggested that we should call next day, and in the mean time they would make enquiries; this proposition we declined, and at length were lucky enough to discover Frankfort on an old tariff-sheet, upon which the Tel (according to the Turkish abbreviated form in use) was despatched; but it arrived at its destination in such a mangled form that it was completely unintelligible.

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