Letters

3 March 1902

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

[3 March 1902] Smyrna [Izmir]. Monday 3rd Dearest Mother. I came from Malcajik this morning and am sleeping here tonight and going off tomorrow by an early steamer on my expedition. I go to a little port called Dekeli [Dikili] and drive up to Pergamos [Bergama (Pergamum)] which I hope to reach tomorrow evening. You know its friezes at Berlin. The afternoon of the next day I ride up to Soma where I take the train to Magnesia [Manisa]. Next day up to Sardis and sleep there. Then back by train to a point of the line whence I ride or drive to Nif [Kemalpasa] and so back to Smyrna - 6 days I expect. After that I'm going up to Malcajik again for a day or two and to Hierapolis [Pamukkale] for 2 nights and then I shall catch a boat to Beyrout [Beyrouth (Beirut)]. All this is great fun and well worth doing - I only wish you were writing here for it's rather boring to be without letters for so long. When you get this letter would you perhaps send me a telegram to the Consulate here which I shall get on return from my expedition, just that I may know all is well. The days have passed very quickly and pleasantly at the farm. The Van Lenneps are most kind and let me wander about and photograph and do exactly as I like, all of which amuses me vastly. I wonder if you realize at all what they're like! They talk no tongue properly - Greek the best, I expect; English with the funny little clipped intonation of the Levant and French very fluently and uglily. Mr V.L.'s people came and settled out here in the middle of the 18th cent - merchants, but his father sold out, lost money I think. His grandfather began buying land and they have gradually added to it. He has 20,000 acres, but only about 5 to 6000 under cultivation owing to want of capital and want of people under him. He makes his living out of it - I should guess an income of some ú1500 a year, selling corn and tobacco chiefly. He lets out some of his land to a young Dutchman, Baron van Heemstra, who has married a Smyrna-English girl and lives next door at Malcajik; nice pleasant people, they came up to Malcajik on Sat. and are there now. Mr V.L. is Dutch by nationality, but he has never been to Holland, speaks no Dutch among his many languages and sees none of his European cousins. He is strongly English over the S. African war - indeed you might call him English if you cd call him anything. She is Greek, I think, nÇe Bari, a very pleasant cheerful good natured woman, like a child, amused with everything, but capable with her dairy and her house, all of which she has to look after down to the smallest detail. He is a visionary sort of creature, forever discovering some deposit of mineral on his farm which is to make his fortune in no time - it's manganese now, but the fortune is not made yet. He is extremely kind and nice, devoted to his children and I think with a secret respect for anyone who comes out of the big world he doesn't know and not a little misgiving as to what they'll think of things here. In the old days a Van Lennep was always minister at Athens [Athinai] and consul here - they still have a cousin who is minister at Athens, but here the glory has faded a little. The other inhabitant of the farm is M. Bari, her brother, a meek little man whom everyone sits on and who ran round after me carrying jugs and basins and giving me advice on photography about which he knows a great deal. You will forgive me for mentioning that they are all devoted to me! It's very amusing staying there because it's all so funnily unlike anything else, and I'm glad I'm going back to them. On Saturday the three other children, 2 girls and a boy came up from their school near Smyrna to spend Sunday at the farm - in my honour. They are charming children and we had a very merry Sunday. I have discovered that they can all play Bridge, so we play a rubber or two after dinner, to their great delight. They play rather well, better than I, at any rate. On Sunday we had a great day with the tumulus. We took our lunch out and watched the workmen all day. It's an enormous great mound, we've dug down about 18 to 20 ft through earth and stones all marked with fire (lots of bones which I expect were sacricial animals and bits of pots in them) and down to a layer of immense unshaped stones fitted together more or less. But as yet we have not come upon the King of Colophon, or whoever he was that they buried so deep. Mr V.L. is undiscouraged; the work is to be continued while I'm away and we hope we may meet with a treasure in the end! It was the most heavenly day - every day is heavenly here. Bright cloudless skies and a hot sun, a little mist in the morning which lifts about 9 and leaves an exquisite dew covered world. I do hope this weather will go on while I'm busy lodging in Turkish Khans. The Van Heemstras came up to see our work, bringing with them a brother of hers, a Mr Whittall. The Whittalls are grain merchants, they've been settled here since 1809. All these people are connected with one another. They have married each other, or married into Smyrna families of Greeks - the Smyrna women are very beautiful you know, vide Kinglake on the subject. Everybody in the Levant is cousin to everybody else, quite regardless of nationality. Indeed nationality doesn't exist here. Only young Van Heemstra is new; he came out 9 years ago and I expect he'll spend the rest of his days here. Indeed, why not? the climate is delicious, the country lovely, you get your amusements cheap, keep 3 or 4 horses where you wd keep a donkey at home and hunt all kinds of game up and down the hills. You do without theatres and operas and pictures and get your papers a week late and your new books a good deal later - if at all - but most people don't mind these drawbacks much. Mr Whittall came up with me this morning and told me about things - rather interesting he was. He says English commerce is out and away bigger here than that of any other nation; the Germans have scarcely any capital here and no success, the French very little, the Dutch colony dwindles slowly in importance and wealth. The Armenians are the richest community though and all the import trade is in their hands. It's rather good to hear that we are still in the forefront! Nearly all the carrying is done in English bottoms - we're not such a worn out people after all! But what a country this is if only it were properly managed! I should think its wealth is inexhaustible. To begin with the climate is so good that the best of everything is grown - Smyrna figs are twice as good as all others and Bass has an agent to buy up Smyrna corn because it's the best in the world for brewing. And then the mineral weath is enormous - pace Mr V.L.'s manganese! But nothing can be done because the Turk sets his foot on all enterprise - the same old tale, no one paid and every official having to take his bien oó il le trouve, which is generally in the pockets of the hardworked cultivator. That's to say, the Greek works hard; the Turkish peasant, who is a real good fellow, only works hard enough to keep the wolf from the door and he don't mind much if the wolf's nose is well over the threshold - he retreats to the further end of the room and hopes, Insha'llah! that he won't come any further. And then I Bellieve only about 100th part of the country is cultivated at all; transport is so bad that it doesn't pay to go much in land. Father will be amused to hear that M. de le Cou's great Maeander [BÅyÅk Menderes] scheme has all vanished in smoke and that the Smyrna water supply has ceased to be in the hands of that vivacious gentleman, who has taken himself and his finances elsewhere. I've just succeeded in getting a second hand Herodotus in French to my enormous delight so I shall read all about Croesus and other notable persons. Joy! in comes a kavass with a letter from you dated Feb 23. also one from Lady Monkswell. How delightful! I'm much amused at the Greek luncheon you shee [sic], we don't bother about Loki! Poor Mrs Humphery! but what a comfort she has got herself dead at an off season! I dine with the Cumberbatches this evening.

Goodbye, my Belloved family. You are a most blessed Mother to have written to me here - perhaps you'll write here again, who knows! I'm having a real good time. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

You should see me shopping in Smyrna - quite like a native, only I ought to have more flashing eyes.

The best of wishes to Lisa! I shall think of her on the 6th.

You won't here from me for a week - the posts from Sardis not being as well organised as they were under the Lydian kings.

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