Puslapio vaizdai

ishes wherever planted. But the Mussulmans of Tunis pride themselves on a close observance of the precepts of the Koran.

From forests of olives we passed again into vast, treeless, shrubless plains. It was here we saw a sight disturbing to our instinct of harmony. An automobile stage sped past, crowded inside and out with Arabs, the peaked hoods of their white burnooses drawn well over their heads, their dark eyes peering out at us with a kind of somber gleefulness of expression. We felt that cherished traditions had somehow been frivolously violated, though our own automobile had never disturbed our sense of the congruous. "A foolish consistency," as Emerson observes, "is the hobgoblin of little minds."

Suddenly we discerned half a mile away, in the midst of a vast, empty plain, an amphitheater of magnificent proportions. It was El Djem, the grandest Roman monument in Tunis, and perhaps the best preserved amphitheater in the world. Now in the midst of desolation, it was once part of a flourishing Roman city.

The walled town of Sfax is noted for its gardens and for the cultivation of the olive. When the French took possession, they quickly discovered that in the matter of arboriculture they had much to learn. Large sponge-fisheries employ over a thousand boats manned by Sicilians, Greeks, and Arabs, who give to the harbor a very animated appearance.

In Sfax many of the inhabitants wear the green turban indicative of a hypothetical descent from the prophet. It was here that we were privileged to enter as guests the house of a wealthy Arab, the vice-consul of Tripoli. With outstretched hands he met us in the courtyard of his house. Two serious young men were introduced as his sons; they could speak a little French. While the men were conducted by one of the sons to a different part of the house, we women were led to a room where we were received by the wives of the vice-consul, two young women gorgeously gowned who had a certain nobleness of carriage. The younger, perhaps eighteen, who looked very sad, wore a pink-silk, embroidered gown which reached to her well-turned ankles and just showed the wide, white silk trousers beneath. Her slender feet were bare. Great gold loops hung from her ears; a gold necklace encircled her throat, and fell almost to her waist. A head-dress fitted the head closely, and was heavily embroidered with gold, and long tabs touched her shoulders. Her eyebrows were finely penciled, and the pallor of her cheeks was hidden behind a coating of rouge not very artistically applied. She was altogether a pathetic, pretty creature. Her companion, robed in the same fashion, with the exception that her tunic was blue and her feet incased in sandals, was plump and merry-looking, though her grayish-blue

[graphic][merged small]
[graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][merged small]

number of our sons. One was listened to with approval so marked that the other hoped to escape interrogation, for gray hair and single-blessedness are invariably regarded with amazement by the Arabs. She retained a vivid remembrance of the Arab guide who, hearing her referred to as "Mademoiselle," stared at her, and exclaimed in loud surprise, "I never saw a mademoiselle with white hair before!" When our host had extracted the truth, his profound astonishment was shared in full measure by his wives. A few quickly spoken words of command from the viceconsul caused one of the Arab ladiesshe of the sad eyes-to unlock a cabinet drawer and produce a necklace of gold spangles, which was clasped around the throat of that husbandless guest. Bracelets were slipped upon her arms, her hat was removed, and a barbarously splendid head-dress, studded with handsome stones, was substituted. To complete the picture, a pink-silk tunic, gold embroidered, was cast over her shoulders. She stood arrayed a veritable Oriental of high degree. The old man chuckled and rubbed his hands, the merry wife clapped her little hennastained palms together, but the sad-eyed one gazed with an expression that was inscrutable. Then the vice-consul gracefully extended a dinner-invitation for the morrow to our entire party; but we had to decline, as we meant to continue our tour early in the morning. Still, in the outskirts of Sfax we visited his villa and gardens, inclosed by high earth walls topped by a great growth of prickly-pear bushes. We walked long lengths of plowed ground between lines of orange-, lemon-, pomegranate-, and almond-trees, the ripening fruit imparting a faintly spiced perfume to the air. From an ornamental point of view the gardens were disappointing. There was an absence of flowers, of grass, of pretty paths-an absence which disqualified them forever for pleasant loiteringplaces on beautiful summer days, despite the cool, velvety brown of the upturned earth. Indeed, the impression would have been disturbing had we not known that the gardens of Sfax are mainly utilitarian. The white villa of Arab architecture was surrounded by tall palm-trees, and formed a finished little picture. Coffee was served, and we drank it standing in the shadow of the trees, for the time of our


departure was pressing close upon us. Later our guide informed us that the son who had acted as interpreter had refused. to marry an Arab wife, boldly proclaiming his preference for a European woman.

Taking the route southward, we motored through miles of green-gray olivegroves, then struck out across the desert with a sense of adventure, of subtle joy, which the breath of the desert brings to those who enter it. In the attesting presence of the Kabyles, the glamour of the desert came to us even before we entered the sun-steeped, broad expanse with the yellow-white distances in it. They are wonderfully handsome, these children of the sun, and here in southern Tunis are more smiling, more friendly in aspect, than those we encountered in Algeria, and the tattoo-marks on the faces of the women are more exaggerated.

Before the end of that day's ride we met our first mishap since leaving the capital of Algeria-a punctured tire, which delayed us half an hour under a blazing sun. Large herds of camels browsed in the luminous distance. The animals were watched by a group of Bedouins gathered about an artesian well. In splendid efforts to reclaim the Sahara, French engineers have sunk many of these wells, tapping underground streams and springs, and have restored the old Arab wells, which had silted up.

After sundown we came to a region of magnificent date-palms bordering the sea, which we followed to the sleepy little oasis town of Gabes. Our sudden appearance brought consternation to the landlord of the inn. He was a Frenchman, rubicund of hue, with a countenance of bucolic aspect, and a broad, round anatomy which somehow made one think of the full moon on stilts. His long, brown hair hung low on his neck, and his brown mustache curled prettily. We had failed to notify him of our intended arrival; his accommodations were limited; another motor-car was expected. All this we gathered between his voluble assurances that we must on no account descend from our car. When we protested, he raised his shoulders and spread out his chubby hands pathetically, apologetically, till we saw visions of a night spent in the desert in the tents of Bedouins or under the myriad shining stars, and one of the party with a zest for

experiences was graceless enough to be glad. But the host had a wife who possessed the intelligent, helpful attributes characteristic of the Frenchwoman whose husband is commercially employed. It was therefore due to her that we were triumphantly established as guests.

Gabes is not much more than a military post surrounded by the captivating palmgardens of the natives. In a shallow "oued" at one end of the town, women, with bright-colored skirts tucked up above their knees, were leisurely pounding a choice assortment of rags, which I took to be their clothes. Pretty children, bronzecolored and naked, were splashing one another in the water and shouting merrily. We took a path which led behind clay walls to a veritable jungle of date-palms. Beneath the tall, scaly trunks were green patches of young wheat, squares of vegetable gardens, and small orange-, lemon-, and fig-trees, all watered by a network of irrigating-ditches. Here and there small mosques and adobe huts with thatched roofs nestled in the shadow of the palms. The natives were grouped about, smoking, chatting, or working, turning over the rich soil with short-handled hoes, and cutting off large sprouts from date-palms for replanting.

There is a charm about life in the oasis which, though indefinable, is very potent -a charm felt by the homesick soldier, by the exiled foreigner, by the passing tourist. Indeed, the latter acquires a taste for the desert and for the oasis in the desert which haunts him persistently. Long after he has said good-by to them, the music of the wind-stirred palm-trees lingers in his mem


Gabes lies one hundred and fifty miles farther south than Biskra, and Médenine lies fifty miles south of Gabes. Between them an edge of the desert stretches along the foot of the Matmatas Mountains, and sweeps down to the sea, but without mitigating the heat, which on the day we motored to Médenine seemed to come from a red-hot furnace. It was noon when we entered Médenine, the strangest village in all Tunisia, a large troglodyte village and the principal frontier post of the French army, for a few miles beyond lies Tripoli. After leaving the car at the little hotel, we walked through a small avenue of brilliant pepper-trees, passed a few white houses

of Europeans, then over a fiery stretch of baked earth, and entered the native village. The troglodytes are supposed to be "dwellers in caves," and Médenine one of the most curious of their villages. As a matter of fact, the houses, built of stone, are a succession of small, windowless, and for the most part doorless, vaults, constructed one on top of the other to the height of four or five stories. Projecting stones on the outside form staircases which permit access to the vaults on the upper floors. Many of these are used for granaries, while others, in no way differing from them, serve as dwellings. At the time of our visit, the granaries were empty and the people pathetically poor, their harvest having failed for two successive years; yet they did not beg of us, offering in this respect a striking contrast to the poor among the Arabs, Kabyles, and Jews in other parts of Tunisia and in Algeria.

Though the powerful protection of France has for many years been extended to travelers throughout the regency of Tunisia, there remained certain places in the country where until a comparatively recent period it was deemed by the French government necessary to supply armed escort to foreigners who visited them.

The beneficence of French rule in Tunisia is nowhere more strikingly shown than among the fanatical inhabitants of Kairwan, one of the four holy cities of the Mussulman, the others being Mecca, Jerusalem, and Medina. Seven pilgrimages to Kairwan are equivalent to one to Mecca. It is essentially an Arab town, with a population numbering twenty thousand, of which two hundred and fifty are French.

As we drew near, the holy city blazed like a white jewel in the sunlight, with its white, crenelated walls, its white towers and bastions, its great white-fleeced domes, and its lofty white minarets, where the muezzins call to prayer.

After obtaining permission to visit the mosques, we set forth to see the Grand Mosque, built by Sidi-Okba. It is near the ramparts, on the northeast corner of the city, and is surrounded by high walls. It has, as one approaches it, somewhat the appearance of a Moorish stronghold, as though it had been constructed for defense rather than for prayer. The impression disappears with the opening of the great doors, and one steps into a court sur

rounded by a beautiful arcade of marble columns. The mosque itself is one of the noblest in northern Africa.

A certain distance beyond the city walls is the "Mosque of the Barber of the Prophet," which, properly speaking, is not a mosque at all, but a place of pilgrimage, a college for students of the Koran, and a refuge for religious mendicants. After the Alhambra, to portions of which it bears a family resemblance, it is the most perfect thing of its kind in the world.

In a dirty inclosed court near the market, we saw the snake-charmers of Kairwan, who form a well-known religious sect, and who treated us to an exhibition of antics and snakes, including the deadly cobra. In the market-place, surrounded by a crowd of Arabs, and accompanied by the same mischievous little imp who had motored uninvited with us from the Mosque of the Barber, and who now was contentedly smoking a cigarette and explaining matters of interest to us in choice Arabic Outside the mosque, a score of boys, (so at least I took his fluent speech to be), sadly soiled as to clothes and complexion, we forgot the unpleasant episode of the waited us with petitions to ride in the car. snake-charmers and lost ourselves in the Our guide fiercely dispersed them, but one contemplation of a bewildering display of small Arab managed to elude him and Oriental rugs. Oriental rugs. A week later, under the tucked himself most incomprehensively gold of the stars, with a crescent moon under the car, where later, in the market- brightly shining, we sailed from the shores place, he emerged smiling mischievously. of Tunis la Blanche, Tunis l'Odorante.

[blocks in formation]
« AnkstesnisTęsti »