Letters

2 April 1907

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

[2 April 1907] Hotel de la Ville. Smyrna [Izmir]. Tuesday night. Dearest Mother. Here I am plunged headlong into the delights of Smyrna and I must say it's vastly entertaining because, as I have observed before, it's the oddest little word [sic] that it's possible to imagine. We arrived about 11 this morning after a singularly beautiful but very cold journey up the gulf. They have had the coldest winter ever known and the snow is lying quite low on the hills. One of the Whittalls came on board to meet me, and a kavass from the consulate and the good Fattuh whom I was delighted to see again, so between them all (aided by a liberal bribe) we got my luggage through the custom house with nothing but the most superficial examination. And this was as well as all my books and maps are contraband. Long may the East remain untouched by the hand of the reformer, a region where a few shillings will purchase exemption from any law! When I got to the inn I found Mr van Lennep waiting for me - he had come up from Malcajik on purpose, as friendly and cheerful as ever. I don't think there is any mystery about them, Father will be sorry to hear - except that their eldest daughter has gone mad poor thing, and the second daughter has died. Dear van Lennep told me all this with a smiling face, like a Japanese, and I doubted whether good manners didn't direct that I should smile too. But as I was really very sorry, I didn't. After lunch - I was half starved, the food on the Saghalien had been so bad - we went out together and I bought the necessary provisions to send up to Konia [Konya (Iconium)], and we caught the leading fig merchant of Smyrna and inveigled him into a cafÇ and bade him supply me with the best figs known. And then I drove off to see the head of the English railway, Mr Barfield and found his wife having her jour, apparently, for she was all dressed in black net and spangles, and there I had a very satisfactory conversation with Mr Barfield who (I suppose on the strength of Lord Rathmore's letter) has promised me a sleeping car to do what I like with all the time I am on his line. This simplifies my journey a good deal. Then I went to see the Cumberbatches and had a very long and interesting talk with him (he's the consul). He was full of the recent episode which you remember when the governor, Kiamil Pasha, took refuge at the Consulate and old Cumberbatch protected him and we got him restored to favour and permitted to enjoy the honours of an ex Grand Vizier at C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)]. He told me the whole tale and a very curious and instinctive tale it is. I must write it all down in my diary. It was their Bridge evening and they asked me to dine and play Bridge which I have just done. The Bridge players dropped in after dinner, looking just like real people and yet you know they are not real people at all and directly they open their lips, whether they talk in French or in English, you realize it, for they can't any of them talk any tongue at all but the universal Levantine. They can play Bridge however - a great deal too well for me. I knew some of them and they were all as friendly as possible and as cheerful and charming, the women with their hair beautifully done and their gowns exquisitely made - no, it's like nothing else in the world. The present governor is an old friend of mine - he was at Konia two years ago. I shall go and see him. Tomorrow I must pay heaps of calls and there are a thousand arrangements to be made. I forgot to mention that I had a delicious day at Athens [Athinai] yesterday - an afternoon rather. Bright bright sun and the snow quite low on Pentelicus [Pendelikon]. The Acropolis looked more beautiful than words can say and for the first time I saw the west face of the Parthenon without scaffolding. G.L.B.

Tell Hugo I asked at once for Mr Young but he has gone to Trebezond [Trabzon (Trebizond)], to everyone's regret.

[Note on back of envelope] Thank you for your telegram. I had a letter from C'ple. Isn't it a comfort!

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