Edward Lear


part 2

Sunrise: and I am drawing the plains and hills from the 'Piazza de’ Cani'; lines of convicts are passing from the Barracks, carrying offal in tubs to the ghouly burying-grounds and followed by some hundreds of dogs, who every now and then give way to their feelings and indulge in a general battle among themselves. It is no easy matter to pursue the fine arts in Monastir, and I cannot but think – will matters grow worse as I advance into Albania? For all the passers-by, having inspected my sketching, frown or look ugly, and many say, 'Shaitan', which means Devil; at length one quietly wrenches my book away and shutting it up returns it to me, saying, 'Yok, Yok!' (No, No!) – so as numbers are against me, I bow and retire. Next, I essay to draw on one of the bridges, but a gloomy sentinel comes and bullies me off directly, indicating by signs that my profane occupation is by no manner of means to be tolerated; and farther on, when I thought I had escaped all observation behind a friendly buttress, out rush legions of odious hounds (all bare-hided and very like jackals), and raise such a din that, although by means of a pocket full of stones I keep them at bay, yet they fairly beat me at last, and gave me chase open-mouthed, augmenting their detestable pack by fresh recruits at each street corner. So I gave up this pursuit of knowledge under difficulties and returned to the khan.

Giorgio was waiting to take me to the Pasha; so dressing in my 'best', thither I went, to pay my first visit to an Oriental dignitary. All one's gathered and hoarded memories, from books or personal relations, came so clearly to my mind as I was shown into the great palace or serai of the Governor that I seemed somehow to have seen it all before; the ante-room full of attendants, the second state-room with secretaries and officers, and, finally, the large square hall, where – in a corner and smoking the longest nargileh, the serpentine foldings of which formed all the furniture of the chamber save the carpets and sofas – sat the Seraskier Pasha himself – one of the highest grandees of the Ottoman empire. Emim Seraskier Pasha was educated at Cambridge, and speaks English fluently. He conversed for some time agreeably and intelligently, and after having promised me a Kawas, the interview was over, and I returned to the khan, impatient to attack the street scenery of MonastirScroo, Scroo', resounded from hundreds of voices above and around. But a clear space was kept around me by the formidable baton of the Kawas, and I contrived thus to carry off some of the best views of the town ere it grew dark. How picturesque are those parts of the crowded city in the Jews' quarter, where the elaborately detailed wooden houses overhang the torrent, shaded by grand plane, cypress, and poplar! How the sunset lights up the fire-tinged clouds – floating over the snow-capped eastern hills! How striking are the stately groups of armed guards clearing the road through the thronged streets of the bazars for some glittering Bey or mounted Pasha! Interest and beauty in profusion, O ye artists! are to be found in the city of Monastir. forthwith under the auspices of my guard. These availed me much, and I sketched in the dry part of the river-bed with impunity – aye, and even in the Jews' quarter, though immense crowds collected to witness the strange Frank and his doings; and the word, '

The Seraskier's letter to the principal Bey of Akhrida awaits my return to the khan, together with a large basket of pears for which a deal of backsheesh is required. Tea and packing for a start tomorrow fill up the evening. Giorgio seems by no means to like the idea of committing himself to Albanians, Gheghes, and Mereditti, and avoids all speech about Albanians in general or particularly. Three of these men occupy part of the gallery near me, and seem to pass life in strutting up and down, in grinding and drinking coffee, or in making a diminutive sort of humming to the twanging of an immensely long guitar. Sitting on their crossed legs, they bend backwards and forwards and from side to side, shaking their long hay-coloured hair or screwing their enormous moustaches; now and then they rise, whirl their vast capotes about them, flounce out their full skirts, and then they rise, and then bounce up and down the gallery like so many Richard the Thirds in search of Richmonds. But Giorgio by no art can be induced to say more than 'Sono tutti disperati' (they are all miserable creatures); and by all, this race seems disliked and mistrusted more markedly.


At Monastir the Muezzeenes, or callers to public prayer from the minarets, are delightfully musical: none of the nasal Stamboul monotony is heard, but real bits of melody, echoing at night or early morn from the still city to the cloud-veiled hills.

Good horses are ready before sunrise, though it was past six ere we escape from the full bazaars and narrow suburban streets; carts, oxen, laden, buffali in herds.

'Choked up each roaring gate'

and when we had a little cleared these obstacles, all the luggage suddenly lopsided, and after fruitless attempts to balance it with stones, all had to be finally readjusted. I had not yet adopted the bi-sack principle.

The morning's journey was not interesting, the less so that its monotonous features were gloomy with dark and lowering clouds, making the snow above look unnecessarily cold and shading the vale below, where large herds of goats browsingly wandered among the stunted herbage under the guarding care of ferocious dogs. About five hours were consumed in winding through two valleys or passes shut in between lofty hills, in all which expenditure of time and patience no object of beauty or interest presented itself. But in these regions such a cause for complaint is of no long duration, and about noon the road – a wide, dishevelled, stony track – emerged from the pass into a valley which opened into a plain, disclosing at its southern extremity a bright lake, walled in by high, snowy mountains. Westward, a charming village, embosomed in plane and chestnut and spangled with two or three glittering minarets, enlivened the scene with all the characteristic loveliness of Albanian landscape, and surrounded, except on the southern side, by most richly wooded heights.

But, as usual, all the charm is outside. The village of Peupli possesses only the filthiest of khans, and it was difficult to find a spot to cook the midday meal. Wandering meanwhile, I succeeded, between heavy showers, in making a drawing from a rising ground, whence village, lake and hills formed a most beautiful scene; dark purple mountains delicately and sharply delineated against sweeping rain-clouds; a foreground of massy chesnut trunks; foliage in gloomy, forcible masses against the silver lake and light parts of the sky; and in the plain below, the village, with its tufts of shade. Spite of threatening, no more rain fell, so I resolved that it was wisdom to go on to Akhrida, where lodgings could hardly be worse than at Peupli and scenery probably more valuable.

At half past two left Peupli. Its inhabitants are a different order of beings to those I have yet seen, a wilder and more savage race than the inhabitants of Macedonian plains; the Bulgarian language is also on the decrease.

If the morning's ride were all valley, this of the afternoon is all mountain. Straightway out of the valley of Peupli went we up the steepest of hights, climbing it by a constantly winding staircase-road, though a better one than might be expected in these parts. Beautiful was the afternoon and rejoicing in all sorts of clouds effect. As we ascended towards magnificent hanging beech-woods the plain and mountains behind, with the blue lake of Peupli, its southern side fringed with pale hills fading into the distance, were a scene of the most gorgeous description. At the summit of the pass is a guard-house (a hut containing two armed Albanians, and an irritable dog, who watch over the interests of passers-by), and here, ere the western descent begins, the view is one of the loveliest eye can see. From this great height one looked over all the lake of Peupli, to plains beyond plains, and hills, and blue Olympus beyond all; the whole seen through a frame, as it were, of the gnarled branches of silver-trunked beeches crowning the ridges of the hill, whose sides feathered down to the lake in folds of innumerable wood screens: it was difficult to leave the scene, and I resolved, at any hazard, to revisit it.

Less than half an hour was occupied in crossing the height we had been scaling – a narrow rocky plain, interspersed with stunted beeches – and here, properly speaking, begins my tour of Albania, for all I have passed through is Macedonia, nor is the Albanian tongue in much use eastward of Akhrida.

Soon a new world charmed the eye, and on arriving at the edge of the western face of this high ridge the beautiful plain and lake of Akhrida burst, as it were, into existence; gilded in the setting sun and slumbering below hills, forest and snow, piled up and mingled with cloud midway in heaven. It is scarcely possible to dream of finer scenes than these, their beauty perhaps enhanced by grand storm effects, which gave them more than ordinary magic of colour and variety of interest. Bright, broad, and long lay the great sheet of water – the first of Grecian lakes – and on its edge the fortress and town of Akhrida (in form singularly resembling the castle rock of Nice, in the Sardinian States), commanding the cultivated plain which stretches from the mountains to the shores of the lake. Such sublime scenery obliterated from the memory all annoyances of travel, and astonished and delighted at every step, I already repented of my repentance that I had undertaken this journey.

The descent to the plain of Akhrida is exceedingly steep, and one watches the lake, as one slowly reaches its level, diminishing most beautifully in perspective. Nor was time wanting to observe it, for the downward passage was uncomfortably obstructed by numerous mules laden with long planks of wood, which, as their bearers jolted down the sharp turns of the mountain path, were apt to smite incautious foot passengers who approached them. Pictures without end might be made among the majestic groups of tall beech which clothe these heights, combining with the aerial effects of sky, earth, and water. On the southern side of the lake the hills are not of so fine a form, but the general effect is good, and strongly reminded me of Celano or Fucino, in the Abruzzi. Towards the last turns of this steep path a strange edifice – a convent – stands in a nook of the rocks, adhering, as it were, to the brown face of the mountain, and consisting of some twenty detatched cells, each like the box of Punch and Judy. Beyond this, we came to a village on the level plain, and through its vistas of walnut trees the Castle of Akhrida appears now and then charmingly. Hence, over a fertile tract of garden and pasture studded with flocks – a perfect picture of peaceful quiet – we arrived at the town of Akhrida about half-past six.

A territory more naturally defined than that of Akhrida (the ancient Achris, on the Lake Lychnitis) it is not easy to conceive. The whole lake is surrounded by hills, allowing small space between their base and the water, excepting on the northern side, where they recede some three miles and leave a plain which the position of the Castle of Akhrida, in its isolated rock, entirely commands The city lies on three sides of the castle hill; and extends east and west of the fortress along the water's edge, the rock itself being a perpendicular precipice towards the south. The unvarying characteristics of these scenes were not wanting, in the white minarets and thickly grouped planes studded over the environs of the town; and as I advanced into the streets some pretty mosques attracted my attention, and here and there a broad bazaar, or market-place, shaded by plane trees of immense magnitude.

In this, the first town I had seen in Northern Albania, the novelty of the costumes is striking; for, rich as is the clothing of all these people, the tribes of Ghegheria (a district comprising all the territory north of the River Aspus, generally termed Illyrian Albania, and of which Skodra [Shkodër] may be said to be the capital and Akhrida the most western limit) surpass all their neighbours in gorgeousness of raiment, by adding to their ordinary vestments a long surtoutBerat, or many-hued brethren of Epirus. Other proofs were not wanting of my being in a new land; for as we advanced slowly through the geese-frequented kennels (a running stream with trottoirs on each side and crossed by stepping-stones is a characteristic of this place) my head was continually saluted by small stones and bits of dirt, the infidel air of my white hat courting the notice and condemnation of the orthodox Akhridani. 'And,' quoth Giorgio, 'unless you take to a fez, Vossignoria will have no peace and possibly lose an eye in a day or two.' of purple, crimson, or scarlet, trimmed with fur, or bordered with gold thread, or braiding. Their jackets and waistcoats are usually black, and their whole outer man contrasts strongly with that of their white neighbours of

Moving on through picturesque streets, we at last reached the most considerable khan the town possessed, a building of the same description as almost all public resting-places in this part of the world. It stood around three sides of a courtyard, with the lower part appropriated to stables, the upper to some twenty chambers, communicating with a broad gallery. Glass windows are unknown here, and paper as a substitute is rare; the rooms are little dark dens – their emptiness and facility of being swept out forming their highest claim to praise. With a mat spread in a corner and a bed thereon, one feels at home, and after a cup of tea sleep needs little waiting for.

Of many days passed in many lands, in wandering amid noble scenery, I can recall none more variously delightful and impressive than this has been.