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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter XXXIV

Innocents Abroad

Chapter XXXIV

Mosques are plenty, churches are plenty, graveyards are plenty, but
morals and whiskey are scarce. The Koran does not permit Mohammedans to
drink. Their natural instincts do not permit them to be moral. They say
the Sultan has eight hundred wives. This almost amounts to bigamy. It
makes our cheeks burn with shame to see such a thing permitted here in
Turkey. We do not mind it so much in Salt Lake, however.

Circassian and Georgian girls are still sold in Constantinople by their
parents, but not publicly. The great slave marts we have all read so
much about--where tender young girls were stripped for inspection, and
criticised and discussed just as if they were horses at an agricultural
fair--no longer exist. The exhibition and the sales are private now.
Stocks are up, just at present, partly because of a brisk demand created
by the recent return of the Sultan's suite from the courts of Europe;
partly on account of an unusual abundance of bread-stuffs, which leaves
holders untortured by hunger and enables them to hold back for high
prices; and partly because buyers are too weak to bear the market, while
sellers are amply prepared to bull it. Under these circumstances, if the
American metropolitan newspapers were published here in Constantinople,
their next commercial report would read about as follows, I suppose:

                        SLAVE GIRL MARKET REPORT.

     "Best brands Circassians, crop of 1850, L200; 1852, L250; 1854,
     L300. Best brands Georgian, none in market; second quality, 1851,
     L180. Nineteen fair to middling Wallachian girls offered at L130 @
     150, but no takers; sixteen prime A 1 sold in small lots to close
     out--terms private.

     "Sales of one lot Circassians, prime to good, 1852 to 1854, at L240
     @ 242, buyer 30; one forty-niner--damaged--at L23, seller ten, no
     deposit. Several Georgians, fancy brands, 1852, changed hands to
     fill orders. The Georgians now on hand are mostly last year's crop,
     which was unusually poor. The new crop is a little backward, but
     will be coming in shortly. As regards its quantity and quality, the
     accounts are most encouraging. In this connection we can safely
     say, also, that the new crop of Circassians is looking extremely
     well. His Majesty the Sultan has already sent in large orders for
     his new harem, which will be finished within a fortnight, and this
     has naturally strengthened the market and given Circassian stock a
     strong upward tendency. Taking advantage of the inflated market,
     many of our shrewdest operators are selling short. There are hints
     of a "corner" on Wallachians.

     "There is nothing new in Nubians. Slow sale.

     "Eunuchs--None offering; however, large cargoes are expected from
     Egypt today."

I think the above would be about the style of the commercial report.
Prices are pretty high now, and holders firm; but, two or three years
ago, parents in a starving condition brought their young daughters down
here and sold them for even twenty and thirty dollars, when they could do
no better, simply to save themselves and the girls from dying of want.
It is sad to think of so distressing a thing as this, and I for one am
sincerely glad the prices are up again.

Commercial morals, especially, are bad. There is no gainsaying that.
Greek, Turkish and Armenian morals consist only in attending church
regularly on the appointed Sabbaths, and in breaking the ten commandments
all the balance of the week. It comes natural to them to lie and cheat
in the first place, and then they go on and improve on nature until they
arrive at perfection. In recommending his son to a merchant as a
valuable salesman, a father does not say he is a nice, moral, upright
boy, and goes to Sunday School and is honest, but he says, "This boy is
worth his weight in broad pieces of a hundred--for behold, he will cheat
whomsoever hath dealings with him, and from the Euxine to the waters of
Marmora there abideth not so gifted a liar!" How is that for a
recommendation? The Missionaries tell me that they hear encomiums like
that passed upon people every day. They say of a person they admire,
"Ah, he is a charming swindler, and a most exquisite liar!"

Every body lies and cheats--every body who is in business, at any rate.
Even foreigners soon have to come down to the custom of the country, and
they do not buy and sell long in Constantinople till they lie and cheat
like a Greek. I say like a Greek, because the Greeks are called the
worst transgressors in this line. Several Americans long resident in
Constantinople contend that most Turks are pretty trustworthy, but few
claim that the Greeks have any virtues that a man can discover--at least
without a fire assay.

I am half willing to believe that the celebrated dogs of Constantinople
have been misrepresented--slandered. I have always been led to suppose
that they were so thick in the streets that they blocked the way; that
they moved about in organized companies, platoons and regiments, and took
what they wanted by determined and ferocious assault; and that at night
they drowned all other sounds with their terrible howlings. The dogs I
see here can not be those I have read of.

I find them every where, but not in strong force. The most I have found
together has been about ten or twenty. And night or day a fair
proportion of them were sound asleep. Those that were not asleep always
looked as if they wanted to be. I never saw such utterly wretched,
starving, sad-visaged, broken-hearted looking curs in my life. It seemed
a grim satire to accuse such brutes as these of taking things by force of
arms. They hardly seemed to have strength enough or ambition enough to
walk across the street--I do not know that I have seen one walk that far
yet. They are mangy and bruised and mutilated, and often you see one
with the hair singed off him in such wide and well defined tracts that he
looks like a map of the new Territories. They are the sorriest beasts
that breathe--the most abject--the most pitiful. In their faces is a
settled expression of melancholy, an air of hopeless despondency. The
hairless patches on a scalded dog are preferred by the fleas of
Constantinople to a wider range on a healthier dog; and the exposed
places suit the fleas exactly. I saw a dog of this kind start to nibble
at a flea--a fly attracted his attention, and he made a snatch at him;
the flea called for him once more, and that forever unsettled him; he
looked sadly at his flea-pasture, then sadly looked at his bald spot.
Then he heaved a sigh and dropped his head resignedly upon his paws. He
was not equal to the situation.

The dogs sleep in the streets, all over the city. From one end of the
street to the other, I suppose they will average about eight or ten to a
block. Sometimes, of course, there are fifteen or twenty to a block.
They do not belong to any body, and they seem to have no close personal
friendships among each other. But they district the city themselves, and
the dogs of each district, whether it be half a block in extent, or ten
blocks, have to remain within its bounds. Woe to a dog if he crosses the
line! His neighbors would snatch the balance of his hair off in a
second. So it is said. But they don't look it.

They sleep in the streets these days. They are my compass--my guide.
When I see the dogs sleep placidly on, while men, sheep, geese, and all
moving things turn out and go around them, I know I am not in the great
street where the hotel is, and must go further. In the Grand Rue the
dogs have a sort of air of being on the lookout--an air born of being
obliged to get out of the way of many carriages every day--and that
expression one recognizes in a moment. It does not exist upon the face
of any dog without the confines of that street. All others sleep
placidly and keep no watch. They would not move, though the Sultan
himself passed by.

In one narrow street (but none of them are wide) I saw three dogs lying
coiled up, about a foot or two apart. End to end they lay, and so they
just bridged the street neatly, from gutter to gutter. A drove of a
hundred sheep came along. They stepped right over the dogs, the rear
crowding the front, impatient to get on. The dogs looked lazily up,
flinched a little when the impatient feet of the sheep touched their raw
backs--sighed, and lay peacefully down again. No talk could be plainer
than that. So some of the sheep jumped over them and others scrambled
between, occasionally chipping a leg with their sharp hoofs, and when the
whole flock had made the trip, the dogs sneezed a little, in the cloud of
dust, but never budged their bodies an inch. I thought I was lazy, but I
am a steam-engine compared to a Constantinople dog. But was not that a
singular scene for a city of a million inhabitants?

These dogs are the scavengers of the city. That is their official
position, and a hard one it is. However, it is their protection. But
for their usefulness in partially cleansing these terrible streets, they
would not be tolerated long. They eat any thing and every thing that
comes in their way, from melon rinds and spoiled grapes up through all
the grades and species of dirt and refuse to their own dead friends and
relatives--and yet they are always lean, always hungry, always
despondent. The people are loath to kill them--do not kill them, in
fact. The Turks have an innate antipathy to taking the life of any dumb
animal, it is said. But they do worse. They hang and kick and stone and
scald these wretched creatures to the very verge of death, and then leave
them to live and suffer.

Once a Sultan proposed to kill off all the dogs here, and did begin the
work--but the populace raised such a howl of horror about it that the
massacre was stayed. After a while, he proposed to remove them all to an
island in the Sea of Marmora. No objection was offered, and a ship-load
or so was taken away. But when it came to be known that somehow or other
the dogs never got to the island, but always fell overboard in the night
and perished, another howl was raised and the transportation scheme was

So the dogs remain in peaceable possession of the streets. I do not say
that they do not howl at night, nor that they do not attack people who
have not a red fez on their heads. I only say that it would be mean for
me to accuse them of these unseemly things who have not seen them do them
with my own eyes or heard them with my own ears.

I was a little surprised to see Turks and Greeks playing newsboy right
here in the mysterious land where the giants and genii of the Arabian
Nights once dwelt--where winged horses and hydra-headed dragons guarded
enchanted castles--where Princes and Princesses flew through the air on
carpets that obeyed a mystic talisman--where cities whose houses were
made of precious stones sprang up in a night under the hand of the
magician, and where busy marts were suddenly stricken with a spell and
each citizen lay or sat, or stood with weapon raised or foot advanced,
just as he was, speechless and motionless, till time had told a hundred

It was curious to see newsboys selling papers in so dreamy a land as
that. And, to say truly, it is comparatively a new thing here. The
selling of newspapers had its birth in Constantinople about a year ago,
and was a child of the Prussian and Austrian war.

There is one paper published here in the English language--The Levant
Herald--and there are generally a number of Greek and a few French papers
rising and falling, struggling up and falling again. Newspapers are not
popular with the Sultan's Government. They do not understand journalism.
The proverb says, "The unknown is always great." To the court, the
newspaper is a mysterious and rascally institution. They know what a
pestilence is, because they have one occasionally that thins the people
out at the rate of two thousand a day, and they regard a newspaper as a
mild form of pestilence. When it goes astray, they suppress it--pounce
upon it without warning, and throttle it. When it don't go astray for a
long time, they get suspicious and throttle it anyhow, because they think
it is hatching deviltry. Imagine the Grand Vizier in solemn council with
the magnates of the realm, spelling his way through the hated newspaper,
and finally delivering his profound decision: "This thing means mischief
--it is too darkly, too suspiciously inoffensive--suppress it! Warn the
publisher that we can not have this sort of thing: put the editor in

The newspaper business has its inconveniences in Constantinople. Two
Greek papers and one French one were suppressed here within a few days of
each other. No victories of the Cretans are allowed to be printed. From
time to time the Grand Vizier sends a notice to the various editors that
the Cretan insurrection is entirely suppressed, and although that editor
knows better, he still has to print the notice. The Levant Herald is too
fond of speaking praisefully of Americans to be popular with the Sultan,
who does not relish our sympathy with the Cretans, and therefore that
paper has to be particularly circumspect in order to keep out of trouble.
Once the editor, forgetting the official notice in his paper that the
Cretans were crushed out, printed a letter of a very different tenor,
from the American Consul in Crete, and was fined two hundred and fifty
dollars for it. Shortly he printed another from the same source and was
imprisoned three months for his pains. I think I could get the assistant
editorship of the Levant Herald, but I am going to try to worry along
without it.

To suppress a paper here involves the ruin of the publisher, almost. But
in Naples I think they speculate on misfortunes of that kind. Papers are
suppressed there every day, and spring up the next day under a new name.
During the ten days or a fortnight we staid there one paper was murdered
and resurrected twice. The newsboys are smart there, just as they are
elsewhere. They take advantage of popular weaknesses. When they find
they are not likely to sell out, they approach a citizen mysteriously,
and say in a low voice--"Last copy, sir: double price; paper just been
suppressed!" The man buys it, of course, and finds nothing in it. They
do say--I do not vouch for it--but they do say that men sometimes print a
vast edition of a paper, with a ferociously seditious article in it,
distribute it quickly among the newsboys, and clear out till the
Government's indignation cools. It pays well. Confiscation don't amount
to any thing. The type and presses are not worth taking care of.

There is only one English newspaper in Naples. It has seventy
subscribers. The publisher is getting rich very deliberately--very
deliberately indeed.

I never shall want another Turkish lunch. The cooking apparatus was in
the little lunch room, near the bazaar, and it was all open to the
street. The cook was slovenly, and so was the table, and it had no cloth
on it. The fellow took a mass of sausage meat and coated it round a wire
and laid it on a charcoal fire to cook. When it was done, he laid it
aside and a dog walked sadly in and nipped it. He smelt it first, and
probably recognized the remains of a friend. The cook took it away from
him and laid it before us. Jack said, "I pass"--he plays euchre
sometimes--and we all passed in turn. Then the cook baked a broad, flat,
wheaten cake, greased it well with the sausage, and started towards us
with it. It dropped in the dirt, and he picked it up and polished it on
his breeches, and laid it before us. Jack said, "I pass." We all
passed. He put some eggs in a frying pan, and stood pensively prying
slabs of meat from between his teeth with a fork. Then he used the fork
to turn the eggs with--and brought them along. Jack said "Pass again."
All followed suit. We did not know what to do, and so we ordered a new
ration of sausage. The cook got out his wire, apportioned a proper
amount of sausage-meat, spat it on his hands and fell to work! This
time, with one accord, we all passed out. We paid and left. That is
all I learned about Turkish lunches. A Turkish lunch is good, no doubt,
but it has its little drawbacks.

When I think how I have been swindled by books of Oriental travel, I want
a tourist for breakfast. For years and years I have dreamed of the
wonders of the Turkish bath; for years and years I have promised myself
that I would yet enjoy one. Many and many a time, in fancy, I have lain
in the marble bath, and breathed the slumbrous fragrance of Eastern
spices that filled the air; then passed through a weird and complicated
system of pulling and hauling, and drenching and scrubbing, by a gang of
naked savages who loomed vast and vaguely through the steaming mists,
like demons; then rested for a while on a divan fit for a king; then
passed through another complex ordeal, and one more fearful than the
first; and, finally, swathed in soft fabrics, been conveyed to a princely
saloon and laid on a bed of eider down, where eunuchs, gorgeous of
costume, fanned me while I drowsed and dreamed, or contentedly gazed at
the rich hangings of the apartment, the soft carpets, the sumptuous
furniture, the pictures, and drank delicious coffee, smoked the soothing
narghili, and dropped, at the last, into tranquil repose, lulled by
sensuous odors from unseen censers, by the gentle influence of the
narghili's Persian tobacco, and by the music of fountains that
counterfeited the pattering of summer rain.

That was the picture, just as I got it from incendiary books of travel.
It was a poor, miserable imposture. The reality is no more like it than
the Five Points are like the Garden of Eden. They received me in a great
court, paved with marble slabs; around it were broad galleries, one above
another, carpeted with seedy matting, railed with unpainted balustrades,
and furnished with huge rickety chairs, cushioned with rusty old
mattresses, indented with impressions left by the forms of nine
successive generations of men who had reposed upon them. The place was
vast, naked, dreary; its court a barn, its galleries stalls for human
horses. The cadaverous, half nude varlets that served in the
establishment had nothing of poetry in their appearance, nothing of
romance, nothing of Oriental splendor. They shed no entrancing odors--
just the contrary. Their hungry eyes and their lank forms continually
suggested one glaring, unsentimental fact--they wanted what they term in
California "a square meal."

I went into one of the racks and undressed. An unclean starveling
wrapped a gaudy table-cloth about his loins, and hung a white rag over my
shoulders. If I had had a tub then, it would have come natural to me to
take in washing. I was then conducted down stairs into the wet, slippery
court, and the first things that attracted my attention were my heels.
My fall excited no comment. They expected it, no doubt. It belonged in
the list of softening, sensuous influences peculiar to this home of
Eastern luxury. It was softening enough, certainly, but its application
was not happy. They now gave me a pair of wooden clogs--benches in
miniature, with leather straps over them to confine my feet (which they
would have done, only I do not wear No. 13s.) These things dangled
uncomfortably by the straps when I lifted up my feet, and came down in
awkward and unexpected places when I put them on the floor again, and
sometimes turned sideways and wrenched my ankles out of joint. However,
it was all Oriental luxury, and I did what I could to enjoy it.

They put me in another part of the barn and laid me on a stuffy sort of
pallet, which was not made of cloth of gold, or Persian shawls, but was
merely the unpretending sort of thing I have seen in the negro quarters
of Arkansas. There was nothing whatever in this dim marble prison but
five more of these biers. It was a very solemn place. I expected that
the spiced odors of Araby were going to steal over my senses now, but
they did not. A copper-colored skeleton, with a rag around him, brought
me a glass decanter of water, with a lighted tobacco pipe in the top of
it, and a pliant stem a yard long, with a brass mouth-piece to it.

It was the famous "narghili" of the East--the thing the Grand Turk smokes
in the pictures. This began to look like luxury. I took one blast at
it, and it was sufficient; the smoke went in a great volume down into my
stomach, my lungs, even into the uttermost parts of my frame. I exploded
one mighty cough, and it was as if Vesuvius had let go. For the next
five minutes I smoked at every pore, like a frame house that is on fire
on the inside. Not any more narghili for me. The smoke had a vile
taste, and the taste of a thousand infidel tongues that remained on that
brass mouthpiece was viler still. I was getting discouraged. Whenever,
hereafter, I see the cross-legged Grand Turk smoking his narghili, in
pretended bliss, on the outside of a paper of Connecticut tobacco, I
shall know him for the shameless humbug he is.

This prison was filled with hot air. When I had got warmed up
sufficiently to prepare me for a still warmer temperature, they took me
where it was--into a marble room, wet, slippery and steamy, and laid me
out on a raised platform in the centre. It was very warm. Presently my
man sat me down by a tank of hot water, drenched me well, gloved his hand
with a coarse mitten, and began to polish me all over with it. I began
to smell disagreeably. The more he polished the worse I smelt. It was
alarming. I said to him:

"I perceive that I am pretty far gone. It is plain that I ought to be
buried without any unnecessary delay. Perhaps you had better go after my
friends at once, because the weather is warm, and I can not 'keep' long."

He went on scrubbing, and paid no attention. I soon saw that he was
reducing my size. He bore hard on his mitten, and from under it rolled
little cylinders, like maccaroni. It could not be dirt, for it was too
white. He pared me down in this way for a long time. Finally I said:

"It is a tedious process. It will take hours to trim me to the size you
want me; I will wait; go and borrow a jack-plane."

He paid no attention at all.

After a while he brought a basin, some soap, and something that seemed to
be the tail of a horse. He made up a prodigious quantity of soap-suds,
deluged me with them from head to foot, without warning me to shut my
eyes, and then swabbed me viciously with the horse-tail. Then he left me
there, a snowy statue of lather, and went away. When I got tired of
waiting I went and hunted him up. He was propped against the wall, in
another room, asleep. I woke him. He was not disconcerted. He took me
back and flooded me with hot water, then turbaned my head, swathed me
with dry table-cloths, and conducted me to a latticed chicken-coop in one
of the galleries, and pointed to one of those Arkansas beds. I mounted
it, and vaguely expected the odors of Araby a gain. They did not come.

The blank, unornamented coop had nothing about it of that oriental
voluptuousness one reads of so much. It was more suggestive of the
county hospital than any thing else. The skinny servitor brought a
narghili, and I got him to take it out again without wasting any time
about it. Then he brought the world-renowned Turkish coffee that poets
have sung so rapturously for many generations, and I seized upon it as
the last hope that was left of my old dreams of Eastern luxury. It was
another fraud. Of all the unchristian beverages that ever passed my
lips, Turkish coffee is the worst. The cup is small, it is smeared with
grounds; the coffee is black, thick, unsavory of smell, and execrable in
taste. The bottom of the cup has a muddy sediment in it half an inch
deep. This goes down your throat, and portions of it lodge by the way,
and produce a tickling aggravation that keeps you barking and coughing
for an hour.

Here endeth my experience of the celebrated Turkish bath, and here also
endeth my dream of the bliss the mortal revels in who passes through it.
It is a malignant swindle. The man who enjoys it is qualified to enjoy
any thing that is repulsive to sight or sense, and he that can invest it
with a charm of poetry is able to do the same with any thing else in the
world that is tedious, and wretched, and dismal, and nasty.

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