Edward Lear

Part 9




Half the morning passed by in endeavours to find the lake –which, after all, I – who have no organ of locality – did not succeed in doing. So, after walking in a circle among lanes, houses, tombs, mosques, drains, bridges, and walled gardens, I returned to the apothecary’s as wise as when I set out. Repairing to the Consul, and walking with him about the suburbs, I came to the conclusion that the most picturesque points of Skodra are to be found on the southern side of the ridge – or at least that whatever views were to be obtained in the north would occupy, from their remoteness, more time than I commanded merely to select. To as artist who could remain here for a month much noble material could be gained on the shores of the lake at the foot of the Albanian mountain boundary to the east; and greatly did I long to penetrate towards Podgorizza, and the land of the Montenegrini.
At 3 P.M. I set out with Signor Bonatti on a visit to the Pasha of Skodra, to whom Mr. Blunt of Salonica has given me a letter; and after a visit to some of the merchants in the bazaars, we climb the steep castle hill, whence the line of the lake and mountains are surpassingly lovely. The castle occupies the whole of the summit of the hill, and by its area walls and numerous decaying forts within betokens greater extent and power in bygone days. The palace of the Pasha is a building with no pretensions to size or picturesqueness, nor is its interior otherwise than of the commonest kind. From the window, however, the view is truly magnificent on all sides: northward, it sweeps across the village, the dotted plain, and wide blue lake to the jagged Montenegro or Tchernigore mountains; southward, it extends over the ruined town at the foot of the hill to the plains of the Drino; westward, along the windings of the Boyana to the Adriatic, and eastward, to the third part of this oddly arranged place – the busy bazaars.
Osman Pasha, the dignitary who at present governs the city of Skodra and its surrounding district, is a Bosniac by birth, and is said to be in great favour with the Porte from having, while in his present command, made some successful warfare against the Montenegrini, who are ever at feud with the Mohammedan Government. His Highness is short and fat, with an intelligent and amiable expression of countenance; and spite of his Oriental attitude as he squatted in his corner, a pale frock-coat and European-made trousers gave him little of the air of a Turk. Beside him sat an individual, whose closely buttoned grey vest, clerical hat, gold chain and cross proclaimed the Roman Catholic bishop; this was Monsignore Topicka, the diocesan of Lissus, in which is included the district of Skodra. By means of the Vice-Consular dragoman, the conversation became animated. The Pasha was remarkably affable, and asked me to dine with him on the 5th. And then came pipes and coffee – pipes, pipes, sweetmeats – pipes, sherbet, and pipes; throughout which ceremony discourse was extremely plentiful when compared with the usual run of Turkish visits.
They call this place the Siberia or exile of Turkey in Europe; and indeed it must be little less than banishment to those who have lived in Stamboul. The Pasha made several remarks, showing that he was by no means an ill-informed man. He asked if ‘Lord’ Cook (‘chi girava il mondo’) had left any children, ad if so whether they also went intorno l’universo? Various anecdotes – some very facetious, at which His Highness laughed immoderately – were told by the Consul and Bishop; and on the whole the visit, though rather long, was a merry one. There was much talk also regarding reports of battles between the Cattaresi and Montenegrini on the far side of the lake. After the departure of the Vescovo, I was invited to walk on the ramparts; and, said the Pasha, ‘You may note down all the state of the fortress, if you please: you may look at everything, for your Sovereign is a friend of ours.’ It would have been in vain to have said that I had no commission to report upon fortresses or that I was totally incapable of so doing: any attempt to disabuse the august mind of so natural a conception would have had no other result than that of appearing to confirm it. After this I had hoped the visit was over, and was horrified to find that we returned to the divan, when fresh pipes and rose-water ensued, and pipes –pipes – like Banquo’s posterity, till I was utterly weary; by the time we had taken leave and repassed the galleries full of retainers the sun had set, and it was dark ere we reached the plain, where we fell in with long lines of Scutarini leaving the bazaars and returning home, each with his empty sack.




All day the weather looks threatening, but the clouds add a charm of magnificence to the dark blue mountains surrounding the plain of Skodra. The Skodra merchants cross it in troops at early morn on their way to the bazaars; many of these are men of considerable property, and trade largely to the coasts of Italy, especially Venice, the dialect of which place nearly all of them speak as well as Greek, Slavonic-Albanian, and Turkish. They live in a homely style in their own town, and never adopt the fustianell or kilt, being clad in dark loose capote-vests, with blue or black linen trousers like those of Corfiotes or the population of the Greek isles; below these are scrupulously white stockings – changed daily, wonderful to say – but the Scutarini are totally different in appearance, habits, and manners to the southern Albanians. The women have their faces covered, so that when out of doors you cannot distinguish Christians from Mohammedans, and one and all dress in scarlet cloaks with square hoods. But it is in Venice or Cattaro that the Skodra merchant unfolds himself, as it were, for at home his fear of exciting the cupidity of the Turks prevents any such display. Abroad he exhibits all the blazing richness of full Gheghe costume; while it is at home that the Skodra lady indulges in a magnificence of costume almost beyond belief. In domestic arrangements the Latin Christians of Skodra have much in common with their Mohammedan rulers, under whose power they have so long dwelt as to adopt most of their practices – such, for instance, as the marriages being fixed by the parents, the bride and bridegroom never meeting till she is brought to her betrothed’s house on the day of the marriage. As in Turkey, also, the female of each family are almost close prisoners, excepting when masked, and in no case hold communion with the males of any other household.
While sketching about the village I was plentifully pelted by little Gheghe boys, until the arrival of a Kawas from the Pasha secured me from annoyance. The Skodra Albanians have the reputation of excessive ferocity and turbulence; and to say truth, their countenances do no belie the report. The Latin Christian populace, on the contrary, seem as timid as civil. By the aid of a tractable Kawas I drew throughout the whole day unremittingly, from various points below the south side of the castle, whence the view is very imposing, and near a wondrous old bridge across to Bryana, constructed of pointed arches of irregular width, and having somewhat the effect of the column in a Gothic cathedral, suddenly resolved on spanning the stream, some with little steps, some with long. Everywhere the various groups of buffalo cars and peasants, or of scarlet-coated Gheghes sitting on the ground, were full of interest; but the thin population of a place so extensive as Skodra is a very apparent, and it is a great contrast to the lively and thriving Monastir.
Perhaps the grandest of all the views of Skodra is from the rock eastward of the bazaar; the castle, the mountains above – the ruined town below – the river winding beneath its bridges into far distance, form one of the finest of pictures. As the sun was sinking low, his rays, clouded through the day, lit up the northern side of the landscape brilliantly, and from the steep castle hill – my last halt – nothing could be more splendid than the rich foliage and glittering dwellings on the one side ad the dark ranges of deep blue and violet hills against the bright sky. But there is far to go, and it is time to set out homeward over the ankle-twisting paved causeways of Skodra.