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jewels from Samarkhand or rugs from Kokhara. Mosques and minarets rise in profusion. Here and there is a eunuch convoying a bevy of houris from some high-walled harem. Yea, all is a riot of exotic color, curious life and oriental music. The clamor of street cries is occasionally punctuated by the scream of a strangled woman or the groan of a man stabbed in the back.
Here and there in the midst of this gay scene, we have a slightly sinister note. A gang of Turks run merrily from house to house, massacring the Christian inmates. And mothers lift their babies high to "see the pretty flaying" of a few Armenians or Greeks, while the applauding crowd roars with good-natured laughter.
Every American knows all about these Near Eastern peoples. He knows that the Greeks are a "clever, Christian and civilized people." He knows that the Jews have always been oppressed. Perhaps he believes in the Zionist movement, vaguely hoping that thus all the Jews may be induced to return to Palestine. He knows that the Armenians are a very superior race indeed, Christian, of course, for who ever heard of a Moslem being worth anything, and vilely oppressed just because they are superior and Christian. And he sees in the Turk "a sinister brute, bloody and unspeakable; incapable of cilivization," who simply must be driven from Europe.
Yes, indeed, every American knows all about the Orient: its romance, its charm, and its peoples.
I, too, once knew all about the Orient, but that was before I visited it.
A British transport dropped me, bag and baggage, on the quay of Salonika. It was my first contact with the romantic East. It was Good Friday, 1919, and the city had gone into public mourning for the death of our Lord. They half-masted all the flags and seemed to be quite sorry over the whole affair. Later in the evening the Greeks gave Him a first-class military funeral, with a pretty good coffin and a pretty bad brass band. They took the cortége all over the town, playing a popular funeral march, chanting interminably and burning innumerable candles. Easter was celebrated in a slightly less spiritual way by general intoxication, looting, murder and rape. The offenders were the "clever, civilized, Christian" Greeks; the victims were the "brutal,
paynim" Moslems and the "foul infidel" Jews. But this is all a bit beside the point.
I traveled all over the city in quest of a room. I believe I saw all of the filthiest hotels in the world, for a room in which the Christian Greek proprietors asked prices that would have made a Washington war-time hostelry blush from manager to bell-boy. I had lost most of my desire to sleep at all when a brutal and unspeakable Turkish gentleman came to my rescue. He took me into his own home, entertained me lavishly as an honored guest for three whole days, and seemed genuinely sorry when I had to leave.
I then began to revise a few of my opinions about the Near East.
I had a romantic trip from Salonika to Constantinople. The ship was Greek, the food was highly seasoned garbage, all the known varieties of vermin were established. The main cabin was crowded with Greeks, Turks, Jews, Armenians and other nondescripts. I was lucky, for I had managed to secure a bunk in a tiny box of a stateroom, which contained three other men. The bites of the vermin and the rolling of the ship kept me awake. All night the central cabin was the scene of an orgy of seasickness. Fro the great darkness came terrified wailings, sudden cries and endless vomitings.
Ah, yes, the East is most romantic.
"But," you object, "the East is romantic."
Very true, but its romance is not as you depict, its fascination is not to be found in the exotic. Jewels and swords; spices, apes and ivory; strange sights, sounds and smells; broidered silks and gorgeous rugs; vistas of flamboyant beauty and riotous color: that is not the charm of the East, that is merely "The Thousand and One Nights."
For these things appeal to the Occidental imagination because they are far and unfamiliar. A tram ride through Stamboul becomes as commonplace as the New York subway, a caïque across the Golden Horn no more exciting than a row on Lake George. The very names, Stamboul, Pera, Galata, DolmaBagtchi and Haidar Pasha that to the uninitiate summon sonorous visions of inconceivable and intriguing unrealities become even as Hoboken and Brooklyn. And we soon become accus
tomed to it all and later merge into an unconscious part of what was at first to us a great picture.
Nevertheless the Orient possesses a romance that is found nowhere else and the secret of its charm lies not in sights, sounds and smells, but in its men and women and its intensely human view of life.
It is at first a bit disconcerting to one fresh from the repression and order of Western civilization and the smug decorum of the Occident to see human nature as it has been and shall be, to realize the immense vitality and intensity of humanity and human passions. In Europe or America if you kill a man you are probably hung, or, escaping that, are haunted by remorse and odium. In Turkey you kill a man-and you've killed a man, that's all. You're alive and he's dead.
In the East you behold human loves and hates with their natural consummations, all the grandeurs and meannesses, all life's glory and squalor. It is a land where all life is human, passionate and, above all, unashamed. The soil is wet with the blood of hates, the flowers are wet with the tears of love. Men are men and not models of Puritanism. And in the play of these unadulterated emotions, these simple, natural characters, in their action and reaction, lies the real charm, the unfading romance, the subtle fascination of what we Westerns call Oriental. For to none but a misanthrope can a clear revelation of human nature at its best and worst fail to be of interest.
As I said, the romance of the Orient lies in the Oriental character, in those whom my acquaintance denounced as "métecs."
What are these "métecs"?
Not as they represent or believe themselves to be, but as they actually appear to the impartial observer, so should we behold them. Let us sit in the gallery with the gods, and read our Dramatic Personae from the play itself, ignoring the printed program we are bade to read by those that own the theatre. Nor should we fail to notice the Roman motto over the proscenium arch: “I am a man; nothing that is human is alien to me."
Enter then the Armenian with his famous opening line: "I am a poor, oppressed, starving Christian. (Wild cheers from the missionaries, 'He is a Christian!') Give me some money. (Hundreds jump to collect money. They give it to him.) Is
that all? I am a poor, starving Armenian. (Sobs from the women-'Give him some more money!') It's not enough." He then proceeds to buy up all the food within sight and to sell it at a gorgeous profit to any and every person that has the cash. (Cries from the missionaries, "He'll need some more money soon. Let's gather it.") And so the scene goes on.
But the gallery have not been so favorably impressed by the fellow, though we give our money-because everyone else does. So we stop and try to analyze him.
There is something indefinably repulsive about the Armenian, though where to place it is a problem. We feel a bit as we feel when we see a snake. Whether it lies in his swarthy Semetic appearance: bulky figure, hooked nose, bushy black eyebrows, beady eyes, bull neck; whether it lies in the way he speaks: a gutteral, harsh and inharmonious voice; a thick, hairy and greasy accent; whether it lies in his dress, which gives us the impression that he is clad in red plush: ponderous, showy jewelry, heavy correctness-whatever it is we do not know. But his appearance, his manner is against him, that fawning and shifty manner of the prince of Levantines. He seems lacking in taste, is disagreeable, treacherous-but it is his characteristics that interest
He is a clever fellow, we feel too clever. This keenly commercial greed, this unscrupulousness in his business methods do not attract us. He is the big business man of the Orient, the profiteer, the usurer, the money-changer.
But, we hear, he is a coward-proverbially so. The Turkish saying goes, "Allah created the hare, the serpent and the Armenian." Cowardice and treachery unquestionably lurk in the depths. of his soul, together with commercial greed.
One of our party remarks, "You make the mistake of befieving that this Levantine Armenian type is the real Armenian. You are wrong. The true Armenian is the peasant of the Caucasus. He is gentle, civilized and kind-". The worldfamous Armenian of the Caucasus is busy massacring the Kurds and Turks in Russian Armenia. And to our surprise we find that the peasant Armenian is not quite the fellow we supposed; that he is cruel and barbarous, industrious like the Bulgar, like the Albanian, incapable of social organization, guilty of horrible
atrocities in warfare, as are all the peoples of the Near East, his government characterized by corruption, facetious dispute, and inefficiency. Above all others he merits the name of "métec" of the first and worst order.
Enter then the Greeks demanding more territory, more money, more this-and-that. "We want Constantinople,” “We won't be happy until we control Asia Minor," etc., etc., "We are a clever, civilized, Christian people," "We've suffered terribly, let us massacre the Turks (Bulgars, Albanians, Italians, ad lib.).”
At first blush he appears a more sympathetic type than the Armenian, but the Armenian has the merit of being unobtrusive, oblique and unobstreperous. The Greek is ever talking, ever gesticulating. He blocks the sidewalk for hours at a time, discussing some very minor issue; he is always pestering you to buy something from a concession to less moral commodities. Taken all in all, the Greek repels us by his very keenness to "put one over," by his lack of consideration for others, by his exquisite exploitation of his injuries, by his vulgarity, by his loud-mouthed rah-rah partiotism-one could go on forever.
The Greeks admit that they are the lineal descendants of Plato, Euclid and Aristophanes. A nearer guess would say Thyistes and Alcibiades. They are, however, in reality a nondescript race, a bastard composite of fragments of all the races that were ever "Helenized" or have ever drifted into the Near East. There is, to be sure, a certain keen, dark-skinned type of a rather hard beauty, sharp-featured, that can be called Greek.
The Greeks dress in execrable taste, running to inexpensive vulgarity. The male wears loud, checked suits, ties and handkerchiefs emblazoned with the Greek flag or a picture of Venezelos. The Greek female dresses like, and often is, a tenth rate European demi-mondaine.
Their far-famed Greek tongue is a nasal, blatant, clacking affair, suitable for their sport, mentioned above, of carrying on conversations and gesticulations in public:-the game being to block the entire street if possible, but at least the entire sidewalk.
Graves, the correspondent of the London Times, once referred to the Greeks as the "brain-glorious Greeks." The point is well. taken. Always scheming new crookednesses in business, new combinations in domestic, new aggrandizements in foreign poli