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We entered the Sea of Marmora, passed a barren island or two; then the shores fell back beyond the horizon, and most of us put in the rest of the day pretending to read up on Constantinople. It was dark when we dropped anchor in the mouth of the Bosporus, and we were at dinner —a gala dinner,
after which we danced. A third of the way around the world to the westward, in a country called America, a new President would be inaugurated to-morrow, and in the quiet dusk of our anchorage, with the scattered lights of Asia blinking across from one side and a shadowy, mysterious grove and a fairy-lighted city on the other, we celebrated that great occasion in the West and our arrival at the foremost mart of the East by dancing before Stamboul.
That should have ended our day, but when we were about to break up, a boat-load or two of uniformed officials with distinctly Oriental faces and fezzes came aboard and opened business in the after cabin, going through our passports. Then for an hour or so there was most extraordinary medley of confused tongues. We had all our own kinds going at once and several varieties of Constantinoplese besides. And what an amazing performance it was, altogethersomething not to be equalled anywhere else on the earth, I imagine, unless in Russia—a sufficient commentary on the progress and enlightenment of these two laggard nations.
Curious how some of our ladies hesitate about showing their passports. One's age, stated on oath, goes with a passport.
SUPPOSE there is no more beautiful city from I the outside and no more disheartening city from the inside than Constantinople. From the outside it is all fairyland and enchantment; from the inside it is all grime and wretchedness. Viewed from the entrance of the Bosporus, through the haze of morning, it is a vision. Viewed from a carriage driven through the streets it becomes a nightmare. If one only might see it as we did-at sunrise, with the minarets and domes lifting from the foliage, all aglow with the magic of morning—and then sail away from that dream spectacle, his hunger unsatisfied, he would hold at least one supreme illusion in his heart.
For that is what it is—just an illusion—the most superb fantasy in the whole world. We left anchorage soon after sunrise and moved over abreast of Galata a little below the bridge that crosses the Golden Horn and connects this part of Constantinople with Stamboul. We are lying now full length against the street, abreast of it, where all day long a soiled, disordered life goes on. It is a perpetual show, but hardly a pleasing one. It is besmirched and raucous; it is wretched.
Hawkers, guides, beggars, porters weave in and out and mingle vociferously. To leave the ship is to be assailed on every side. Across the street is a row of coffee-houses where unholy music and singing keep up most of the time. Also, there are dogs, scores of them—a wolfish breed—and they are seldom silent. This is the reverse of the picture. As the outside is fairyland, so this is inferno.
We battled our way to our carriages and drove across the bridge to Stamboul. Perhaps it would be better there. But that was a mistake—it was worse. We entered some narrow, thronging streets
-a sort of general market, I should say—that fairly reeked with offal. We saw presently that nearly everybody wore rubbers, or stilted shoes – wooden sandal things, with two or three inches of heel and sole—and we understood why; it was to lift them out of the filth. I have had dreams where, whichever way I turned, lay ordure and corruption, with no way out on any side. Such dreams were hardly worse than this. A passenger of our party—a lady—said afterwards:
“When we drove through those streets I felt as if I had died and gone to hell."
Yet on the whole, I think hell would be cleaner. I am sure it would not smell so. I have no special preference for brimstone, but I would have welcomed it as we drove through those Constantinople streets.
I know what they smell like; I can describe it exactly: they smell like a garbage-can. Not the average garbage-can-fairly fresh and leading the busy life—but an old, opulent, tired garbage-canone that has been filled up and overlooked, in August. Now and then at home a can like that gets into the garbage-wagon, and when that wagon comes along the street on a still summer morning it arrests attention. I have seen strong men turn pale and lovely women totter when that can went by.
It would have no distinction in Constantinople. The whole city is just one vast garbage-can, and oldso old—why, for a thousand years or more they have been throwing stuff into the streets for the dogs to eat up, and the dogs can't eat some things, and so
Never mind; enough is enough; but if ever I get home, and if ever I want to recall vividly this vision of the East, I shall close my eyes when that garbagewagon drives by, and once more the panaromapanorama, I mean—of these thronging streets will unfold; I shall be transported once more to the heart of this busy city; I shall see again all the outlandish dress, all the strange faces, all the mosques and minarets, all the magic of the Orient, and I shall say, “This is it—this is the spicy East-this is Constantinople—Allah is indeed good!”.
It was at the entrance of the mosque of St. Sophia —a filthy entrance through a sort of an alley—that