There is little evidence, one way or the other, for Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare (later Bent) being much of a cook. Born in 1847, into the comfortably-off, Anglo-Irish, minor aristocratic milieu, she dwelled as a girl in three wealthy and populated homes (Counties Meath, Sligo, and Wexford), including servants, before marrying the young, would-be explorer, Theodore Bent (later FSA, FRGS) in 1877. The couple then began a notable series of travels over the next twenty years to extensive regions of the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa and Arabia, in search of finds both archaeological and ethnographical.
The explorers travelled with fairly large amounts of gear, including of course cooking wherewithal, and, mostly, with an enterprising assistant from the isle of Anáfi in the Cyclades (a Cyclops’ stone’s through south-east of Santoríni), one of whose duties was to put food on the camp-table for the hungry couple, following days spent negotiating difficult terrain, assorted dangers, and looking for treasures. (Hospitality tantamount to religion in many of the lands they found themselves in, the Bents could also often rely on bed-and/or-board with eager-to-please hosts.)
These appetising adventures are all covered in Mabel’s travel diaries (her ‘Chronicles’, published in three volumes by Archaeopress, Oxford), and the pages of the chronicler’s notebooks are peppered with reminiscences of what they had to eat – and the very occasional meals prepared by Mabel herself, when she had the inclination, time, or a special event in mind.
Thus, prior to publication in 2018 of ‘Mabel’s Menus’, selected tidbits of dishes from, inter alia, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iran, and Zimbabwe, will appear, που και που, on the Bent website blog (www.tambent.com) and Facebook. (Of course, if you would like to be notified when the book appears, do please contact firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.)
As a taster, Mabel would like to describe to you some meals they shared on Íos (23-25 January 1884) with their hosts, the family Lorenziades, descendants of whom still reside on the island today, and introduce you to one of her favourite cheeses:
“Breakfasted at a kafeneion and sent our letter up to the Demarch Lorenziades, who at once came down from the town and told us he had no rooms for us to sleep in but we were to feed with him. The baggage and I were put on mules and we went up to the Chora. The family consisted chiefly of the Demarch, who has a little common 2nd wife very inferior to the rest but a kind little thing. I should have thought it unnecessary to marry her when there are so many other women in the world; his elder brother and 3 very pretty jolly girls Marousa, Aikaterena and Kaleroe, all tall and fat. A 3rd brother is the schoolmaster. All were quite like gentlemen and all in black frock-coats. There were at least 6 more people.
“They received us most kindly and were really the most congenial people we have met. We took a house consisting of bedroom, pantry and sitting room, where Matthew [the Bents’ assistant, M. Símos] slept, and a kitchen, and went for our meals to the Demarch’s. They did everything they possibly could to please and amuse us. The dinner party consisted of the three brothers, the wife, Marousa and we 3. The first day we had chicken soup boiled, and roast chicken; 2nd ditto kid, 3rd ditto fish, and 3 times a day did we get mesithra and honey. Mesithra is a sort of curd made of sheep’s milk in a basket, just like ‘brocciu’ of Corsica. After dinner some of them dressed up in old costumes, of most splendid gold brocade and gold lace and embroidery. Such is the power of dress that we did not know where they had got the wonderfully beautiful woman in green and gold, and never found out till next day it was Aikaterene:
“Next morning, Friday [January] 25th, the Demarch came to fetch us to breakfast, and, M having evidently informed about the English customs, we had 2 eggs, a glass of milk and some mesithra and honey. Afterwards we and the Demarch started to Plaketos at the other side of the island: 3 hours. We saw the supposed tomb of Homer who died here on his way from Samos to Athens and then went to a little hut of an old man where we lunched in a very rough way; wine in a large wooden basin and scooped and drunk out of a little gourd. The hut was very low, door 4 feet high and a bed built of stones with twigs and straw 4 feet square. Even in better houses the doors are often too low. We had cold fish and cold soft eggs and they are hard, whether hot or cold, to eat without a spoon.” (from the Travel ‘Chronicles’ of Mabel Bent, Vol 1, pp. 38-9)
Easter time (April) 1885 found the Bents ‘excavating’ around Vroukoúnda on the Greek island of Kárpathos (Dodecanese). For the festivities, the couple (and their dragomános of choice, Matthew Símos) rode up to the major village of Ólymbos, then, as now, a preferred Easter destination for those in the know.
As usual, full details of their travels, travails and finds on this island can be read in Mabel’s relevant Chronicles and the many papers Theodore wrote (see bibliography). For a Cycladic Easter, a comprehensive good read is Theodore’s 1884 article ‘Easter Week in Amorgos’ first published in Macmillan’s Magazine (May/October issue) and included in his later book ‘The Cyclades – or Life Among the Insular Greeks‘.
Good Friday [April 3, 1885] was a fine sunny day and we unpacked the panniers, for we were quite too tired to look at anything on our arrival. It is very exciting work digging, first finding something, then is it whole? Then have we all the pieces? The men grind the edges trying to fit them and any metal they cut with their knife. Fortunately they never saw the little boxes. Theodore found and pocketed them…. These two days before Easter are employed making bread and cakes with red eggs stuck into them and every oven is smoking. Elymbo [Ólymbos, Kárpathos] is rather a disappointment to us; we think Méso Chório was a quainter place. This Saturday is a rainy day. Now here I must I think make a few remarks about the Greeks founded upon my 3 journeys amongst them and staying in the houses of high and low and seeing them in town and country.
Though they have a king, surely never were more true republicans than the Greeks. There appears to be perfect equality among them and a complete mingling of classes, neither dirt, poverty not want of education seems to make any difference… Mr. Philemon, who is the Greek Consul at Rhodes, and who is quite a gentleman and whose wife is quite a lady and very well dressed, has a most ragged and dirty old father-in-law, Dr. Klados, and no one would take Mrs. Klados for a lady… He lives with a mud floor. His daughter of 17 with bare legs carried our luggage about a mile for 6d on her head and one of his little boys I saw running about with only a tattered frock open all down the front and bare feet. He is quite one of the chief men of Karpathos and Mr. Sakolarides’s children also have bare legs. But these people are not like us in keeping up a good establishment in the country, for though they are as smart as possible in Athens, Syra, or Smyrna, once they get to the country they cast off their civilization with their collars and seem content with any kind of an untidy picnic for any length of time. Mr. Manolakakis has a cousin, a bricklayer, and one of our friends here is a bricklayer that Theodore met at Mr. Manolakakis’s house. He gave us letters of introduction to all kinds of peasants, some very dirty, but they all seem quite equal and we always noticed in the Cyclades that our muleteers used to sit down in any house and help themselves to tobacco. Certainly whatever their education is, they all seem to have good manners, if not quite according to our notion. We are expected to know any English engineer on any steamer, etc.; in fact they do not seem to recognize difference of rank at all. As to our being ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ the Greeks cannot understand our buying anything for ourselves and think every bit of embroidery and everything else is bought for sale, and they often ask us if we have different things with us to sell…
Every man but a priest or two and a few old men leaves the island every summer for 6 months or more, chiefly as bricklayers, and every field labour, wine making, etc., is done by the women. There are no girls’ schools and few of my sex can read.
Here the women’s dress consists of a pair of full white trousers and a white nightgown flowing open to the waist. When cold they wear a blue wadded-cotton coat, rather shorter, and then both men and women have a coat of brown goats’ hair with a hood. Sometimes they wear brown leather top boots, sometimes not…
Easter Sunday, April 5th 1885. This morning was sunny after the first two hours so we opened all our windows and the door and tried to dry our things. Though Theodore forgot to put out the brazier for the night and though it was still burning in the morning, some clean clothes hung over it on 2 chairs in the morning. We hung out the Union Jack in honour of the day. We had a visit from the schoolmaster, who is being doctored by us and is the better for our treatment, and took a walk with him. By the bye, one of Theodore’s patients (cold tea for the eyes) brought 2 eggs as a thank offering.
A little while after our return Manthaios came to say luncheon was ready if we were, for he thought it must be noon. Theodore looked at his watch and found it to be half past 10; however we agreed our appetites were ready, so to our amusement we found we had everything cleared away by 11.30.
We spoke over the difference we observed between the inhabitants of Karpathos and Tilos and the Cyclades and the other islands we have visited, i.e. Niseros, Rhodes, Chios, Samos, and Mytelene, in their not offering coffee, etc. to visitors. In the other islands we were always at once brought coffee, or jam and water, or raki, or almonds, oranges, or pomegranates, but here the only one who had offered us coffee was the Kaïmakan and the wicked owner of the plates who is a Greek from Syra. I agree with Theodore in thinking it a Turkish fashion, but it is odd they never have offered us any thing till about an hour or two after this conversation when we were asked into a house, which we entered, and very soon a large dish of sheep’s cream was placed before us and a kouloúri, that is one of the wound-up serpent-like cakes they make in great numbers for Easter, generally with coloured eggs in them. I could hardly get any down so soon and my horror was great when she said, ‘now you must eat some lamb!’
Such cooking is going on these 3 days. First bread and kouloúris, then yesterday and today lambs, and we see the lambs come out of the oven in every imaginable shape in which they may have been flung in. Well! She fetched the family lamb and tore us off bits. She handed me a whole leg, but I cried for mercy and was let off with a smaller bit. It was very tender and I gnawed away industriously till the kind woman took my bit and rubbed salt into it with her thumbs, having been to fetch a handful of salt. I managed to continue eating inside bits till, when everyone was excited over my gloves, I squeezed up my lamb and bread into a tight ball and pocketed it.
Since this we have been to church. Only men and little boys go into the church, the women remain in the outer room where the parliament was, but as I count as a man, sitting at meals, etc., they invited me in. In I went. All the little boys stood in front, some very small and very pretty – indeed there are lots of pretty children here, though their elders are not handsome.
Everyone but we had a candle, but just before the time for lighting them came a man with two very large ones, hot and newly made so that we were glad to have them in the tray in which they lay, they were so soft. Of course, when they were so kind we lit up like the rest and I consoled myself by remembering that it was in honour of a truly Christian feast in which we could take part, in fact we recognized many parts of our own service.
There were 5 priests with such dirty rough-shock heads of uncombed hair. Their poor robes were made of printed calico. People chatted a good deal and we often heard a loud ‘shsh!’ It was very odd seeing the priests dressing and undressing inside the tembelon or screen. They walked about a good deal in a way I could not understand and 2 or 3 young men stepped about with large prayer books and repeated ‘Christ is risen from the dead’ and wherever they went the bystanders looked over and raised their voices.
The gospel was read on this wise: one papas read a verse or two in Greek, then each of the other 4, and then a young man read them in French! We did not discover this till the very last set of verses, as the French was very bad, but the last set but one I began to suspect. Manthaios tells us each of the priests ought to have read in a different language if he could, Turkish, Arabic, etc., that all the world might understand. A very good idea I think.
After the service was over all the papas came out and, clearing away the candlesticks, etc. which stood in the way, and holding up a silver-bound gospel, cross, and other things, they stood in a row and the men who wished passed before them kissing each object in hand once, and the papas once on each cheek and on the mouth. We did not perform this ceremony.
When we got out there was a wonderful sort of a ‘guy’ set up over the gateway of the church to represent a Jew. His head was an earthen jar and he had a child in his arms. This the men shot at, getting nearer and nearer till he got on fire. I was sitting among the women who constantly begged me not to fear and thought I must be cold as I had on gloves, but I answered, ‘It is our custom’, which finishes off all discussions…
I think we have got to the end of our 7 days here and are no longer great wonders, but every Sunday we always are one of the amusements of the day…
It can be safely said that today’s visitors to Íos are unlikely to be looking to the Bents for travel guidance; nor will they be visiting in the months of winter, when the great natural harbour (where your ferry’s tender would have taken you to shore as late as the 1970s) is slate blue-grey and disorientating.
Towards the end of January 1884, Theodore and Mabel were finishing their little tour of Santoríni and getting ready for the steam north, a few hours, to Íos, where they intend to explore the antiquities before heading east for Síkinos and Folégandhros. We will join them in a minute, but first a few notes on the following passage of Mabel’s Chronicles.
As usual, the three main characters are Theodore, Mabel, and their long-suffering dragomános from Anáfi, Manthaios Simos.
A (Greek) Wikipedia search under Πανελλήνιον (ατμόπλοιο) will tell you all need to know about the feisty Panellénion (1855, 310 tons), which ran the Cretan blockade in 1867. In his Cyclades (Chapter VII), Theodore adds: ‘Though we had the very worst steamer of the Hellenic Company to take us to Ios, yet it was a steamer that all who travel thereon treat with respect, for it was none other than the Panhellenion, which ran the blockade in the late Cretan revolution, and carried assistance to the Greeks struggling for freedom. A very little sentiment of this kind goes a long way on a rolling sea, and, despite the celebrity of our craft, we were thankful to leave her when she entered the capacious harbour of Ios . . .’
The light, refreshing cheese (she varies between mesithra, mesethra and mesythra, but never from her relish of it) is to become a favourite of Mabel’s. The couple bring home a primitive cheese strainer; it is in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (2005.68.1). To explain her reference to the Corsican brand, the Bents visited there in the late 1870s, soon after their marriage, with Theodore covering the island’s story in his Genoa, how the Republic Rose and Fell (London 1881).
The walk up to the deserted (Venetian) castle/hamlet of Paleokastro on Íos is a fine one. The chapel is usually locked however; inside, the stone tembelon is now whitewashed and if Mabel did sign her name then the signature awaits some fortuitous pentimento. Mabel’s behaviour in this church is sharply at odds with her protestations in Kárpathos the following year: ‘In the little church at Kyriá Panagía, which is quite good and not ruined, there were lots of scribbled names and one of the Greeks said, “Now we will write up your name” and I said “Oh, not my name please”, they said “Why?” and I said it was not our custom in England to write our name in churches… “Because it is a sin?” So I said “Yes, for it is the house of God”. And he said, “Yes” and I really felt glad he should see that some Christians have a little reverence’.
The Bents included ethnographical/anthropological researches in their spheres of interest and the many games they witnessed at the little chapel of Ay Theodóti and elsewhere found their way into Bent’s later essays and articles (e.g. ‘Some Games played by Modern Greeks’, 1884, The Folk-Lore Journal 2: 57–59). The white-washed chapel remains, but the laughs and shouts of the players are, presumably, only memories: visitors to the chapel’s festivities on 7-8 September may be able to update us.
“We went then down to Agia Theodote near the sea and lunched on the grass, and afterwards went to see the church, which is a very rough Byzantine building. One aisle was filled up with stone-built benches and table where they eat at the pilgrimages. In one corner was a heap of immense pots and some large wooden spoons stuck in the wall. Everyone brings a contribution of food which is thrown into the common pots and cooked. The better class play all sorts of games in the church.”
As well as customs, costumes, embroideries, and fabrics were passions for the Bents. They would without fail have tried to acquire the beautiful dress worn by Aikaterina, which survived in the family and is now on display in the National Historical Museum, Athens (for illustrations and moving background information visit the website for V. C. Scott O’Connor’s book ‘Isles of the Aegean’). Mabel did, however, manage to obtain on Íos a fine bed valence she displayed in 1886 at the Anthropological Institute in London to accompany a talk given by Theodore. Perhaps it was even the ‘magnificent piece of red silk’ given to her by Marousa ‘to remember them by’. Mabel describes it as ‘a silk embroidered border 6 feet long and a narrower border 10 inches up the sides sewn to a piece of line, tucked in to the edge of the bed’ in the Appendix to Theodore’s article (Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 15 (1886): 391–403). We don’t know where this valence – let’s imagine the very one given to Mabel by Marousa – ended up, but some fascinating recent research on dresses bought by the Bents on Kárpathos in 1885 is to be published shortly and will be made available in some form on this site!
At last, we can join now Mabel and Theodore waiting for the Panellénion to take them to Íos; they are making a few last-minute social calls:
[Wednesday] January 23rd . This is the 2nd day we are in waiting for the steamer. It is a lovely day but still so cold that I can hardly write. Yesterday we went to see the Eparchos Markos Mavrojenes (or ‘Black Beard’) and wandered about. The Eparch came to see us before dinner and the family da Corogna of Italian origin after. They are pleasant people and wished us to receive the son of 18 when he comes to England in May.Today we have been to pay a visit to the Alexakis’, he very large and rich, though a tasteless house, and the Dekigallas’. Mr. Dekigallas a very learned old man with whom T has made friends. This island is very damp, or rather so dry that it does not absorb wet and everything, boots, bread, silk, etc. gets mouldy quickly. The Dekigallas’ or really de Cigalas’, spent the evening with us and we were called at 1/4 to 6 for the steamer ΠΑΝΕΛΛΗΝΙΟΝ, the smallest and worst. (The Panellenion ran the blockade in Crete.)
Very rough passage about 2 hours to Ios. Breakfasted at a [harbour-side] kafeneion and sent our letter up to the Demarch Lorenziades, who at once came down from the town and told us he had no rooms for us to sleep in but we were to feed with him. The baggage and I were put on mules and we went up to the Khora. The family consisted chiefly of the Demarch, who has a little common 2nd wife very inferior to the rest but a kind little thing. I should have thought it unnecessary to marry her when there are so many other women in the world; his elder brother and 3 very pretty jolly girls Marousa, Aikaterina and Kaliroe, all tall and fat. A 3rd brother is the schoolmaster. All were quite like gentlemen and all in black frockcoats. There were at least 6 more people. They received us most kindly and were really the most congenial people we have met.
We took a house consisting of bedroom, pantry and sitting room, where Manthaios slept, and a kitchen, and went for our meals to the Demarch’s. They did everything they possibly could to please and amuse us. The dinner party consisted of the three brothers, the wife, Marousa and we 3. The first day we had chicken soup boiled, and roast chicken; 2nd ditto kid, 3rd ditto fish, and 3 times a day did we get mesithra and honey. Mesithra is a sort of curd made of sheep’s milk in a basket, just like broccio of Corsica. After dinner some of them dressed up in old costumes, of most splendid gold brocade and gold lace and embroidery. Such is the power of dress that we did not know where they had got the wonderfully beautiful woman in green and gold, and never found out till next day it was Aikaterina.
Next morning, Friday [January] 25th , the Demarch came to fetch us to breakfast, and, Manthaios having evidently informed about the English customs, we had 2 eggs, a glass of milk and some mesithra and honey. Afterwards we and the Demarch started to Plaketos at the other side of the island: 3 hours. We saw the supposed tomb of Homer who died here on his way from Samos to Athens and then went to a little hut of an old man where we lunched in a very rough way; wine in a large wooden basin and scooped and drunk out of a little gourd. The hut was very low, door 4 feet high and a bed built of stones with twigs and straw 4 feet square. Even in better houses the doors are often too low. We had cold fish and cold soft eggs and they are hard, whether hot or cold, to eat without a spoon. The 5 muleteers got very gay and led by the Demarch played a lot of games, all of which we had seen elsewhere. We got home at 4 and retired home soon after dinner.
On Saturday [January 26th 1884] we had Marousa as a companion in our ride to Palaó Kástro, a mass of Italian ruins on a white marble mountain over the sea. It was very steep and Marousa was surprised I dared not to dismount, but I don’t care to walk as my leg is not well yet. At the top is a very shabby rough little chapel where Marousa incensed the pictures very gaily amid crossing and chattering and I was made to scribble my name on the wall and the tembelon, or screen, both in Greek and English: Μάιμπελ Βιργινία Άννα Μπένθος, which I thought irreverent and vulgar. By the way, I go by the name of Virginia now as they cannot say Mabel, it is if they had something sticky in their mouths as they cannot say B. ‘Maimpr’.
We went then down to Agia Theodote near the sea and lunched on the grass, and afterwards went to see the church, which is a very rough Byzantine building. One aisle was filled up with stone-built benches and table where they eat at the pilgrimages. In one corner was a heap of immense pots and some large wooden spoons stuck in the wall. Everyone brings a contribution of food which is thrown into the common pots and cooked. The better class play all sorts of games in the church.
We had a delightful evening, about 30 people came, including a priest, and we had a constant succession of games in which I took part, also T. We actually stayed up till 1/2 past 10. First ‘Blind Man’s Buff ’. Then a ‘Blind Man in the Middle’ and every one dancing around singing till he stopped us and put out a stick and touched one. That one having taken up the end of the stick and put it to his lips made some little whistle or buzz. If the name was guessed by the blind man he was released. Then 3 sat on pillows on a rug, side by side with legs out straight. The middle one had string put round under his feet and kept working about pulling this up and giving unexpected bangs with the back of his hands to the legs of the others who defended themselves with each a slipper, and if they hit they got the middle place. 2 people lay down on a rug with their heads on pillows and were covered all over with a quilt. Everyone went and gave them a bang with a knotted handkerchief on the most exalted part of them. They had to guess who. A person kneels on a pillow on the rug and is covered with a quilt; one after another people come and kneel in front of him with head also under the quilt and the confessor asks questions and imposes penance and at last when one comes who has never played this before the rug is lifted by the corners, the confessor slips off and the penitent is lifted in the air. These are a few of the most amusing, but there were many more.
Next morning, Sunday [January] 27th , Marousa came early to bring me a magnificent piece of red silk embroidered ‘to remember them by’, also her pocket-handkerchief with her name worked and some pine nuts. We were really sorry to leave these kind people and they pressed us to stay but ‘the ship was ready and the wind blew fair and we were bound for the sea’. So after breakfast, and giving them a few of the little presents we have with us, but nothing half as valuable as they had given me, we went down to the harbour with 2 mules and the 3 brothers and 3 girls. We sat in the kafeneion and drank coffee and ate sweetmeats and were given Kaliroe’s pocket-handkerchief full of sesame seeds that we might remember Kaliroe, or Callirhoe I think is the English way of spelling the stream she is called after.
After an affectionate parting we set sail and after much tacking got out of the deep and safe bay and made straight for Sikinos…
We left last time Mabel and Theodore on Syros, 2 December 1883, waiting for the m/v Ydra to take them to Serifos. Their explorations there were limited and by the 4th they were ready to find a caique to take them down the line to Sifnos. From there they sailed to the islet of Kimolos for Milos. From there, via Syros, on Sunday 16th December, they arrived on Paros and made immediately for Antiparos (18th December), where they met Robert Swan, a British engineer employed locally in emery mining. (Swan was to become a lifelong friend, travelling with the Bents to Zimbabwe in 1891.) Mabel records that Swan had found some archaeological remains on Antiparos and Theodore at once asks if he might excavate them. This piece of luck, like so much in his career, was to help make Theodore’s reputation as an ‘archaeologist’ – he was completely untrained, self-taught would be a charitable description, and had never before in his life had access to such valuable and important archaeological material. His later account for the Journal of Hellenic Studies (1884, Vol. 5, 42-59) was to contribute to the recognition of a distinct ‘Cycladic Culture’. (Details of all this, of course, may be read in the full published version of Mabel’s Chronicles.)
Subsequently the couple return to Paros and by Christmas Eve, 1883, they are on Naxos.
Mabel begins her chronicle for Christmas Day with an ‘apology’ for having neglected her writings, however, her chronicle tracks back to cover those lost days. But let’s let Mabel take us on from here in her own words:
Christmas Day in Naxos [Tuesday December 25th, 1883]. I am fearfully in arrears with my Chronicle! We started on Sunday [16th?] at 5.30 a.m. and in due course got to Syra. (Finding that on account of this delay this same steamer was to proceed on Monday morning to Paros, we left our luggage on board and only landed for a few hours.) We saw Mr. Binney and Mr. Quintana and Mr. Tzerlendi, got letters and embarked. About 3 hours brought us to Paroikiá, the capital. An unhealthy, dirty town, full of old architectural scraps, whitewashed into the houses and with a ruined castle of which several courses are formed of columns. We had rather a comfortable room where we unpacked and rearranged our luggage and spent the afternoon walking about.
Tuesday [December 18th?]. Rode 11/2 hour to the nearest point to Antiparos carrying only our night things and a card of introduction from Mr. Binney for Mr. R. Swan who has a calamine mine on this island. Crossed in about 10 minutes. Found the population all enjoying the feast of St. Nikoloas who replaces Neptune. At one house I was obliged to join in the syrtos holding 2 handkerchiefs. We sent a messenger to Mr. Swan and knowing he would take 3 hours to return, rode to meet him. Met Mr. Swan who more than fulfilled our warmest hopes. He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc. So, we manifesting a great wish to dig too, he got men and we opened 4. They were lined and paved with slabs of stone and the people must have been doubled up in them, they were so small; we only found, besides bones, 2 very rough marble symbols of men and women, little flat things and some broken pottery.Next morning we rode to the cave in the top of the highest mountain. There is first a large open cavern and in the back of it a hole 4 or 5 feet across, down which one must slide clinging to a rope fastened to a stalactite at the edge. 3 places we went down by ropes and two by a ladder, holding ropes too and at last got to an enormously large and high sort of hall with lots of stalagmites and stalactites. The former, some of them look like trees. In one corner is ‘the church’ where services have been held several times. One must dive under the stalactites to get in. We made a large fire which lit up the whole place. We did not feel the heat much while we were down but were glad of our cloaks when we got out.After luncheon and some very good wine made by Mr. Swan, we rode down to the town. As the weather was fine we determined to go all round to Paroikiá by boat. We did not tell P we meant to do more than cross straight and he was as terrified as usual and made everyone laugh. Mr. Swan dined with us in a kitchen. I made a sweet omelette. T had the misfortune to take a stranger who had come in to stare for the son of the house and asked him ‘to get another plate’. He took this for an invitation to dinner and joined us. We were obliged to grin and bear it. During the Greek Advent we never have too much dinner and have to treasure our remains for next day.
Next morning we went in a tram drawn by horses up to the quarry of marble with a Belgian and a Greek belonging to the French company who work it. The road is so steep that no horses are needed for the descent. We were received by the engineer who took us down the quarry. We all had miners’ lamps, not very light to hold, and scrambled and slipped and crawled through the various passages up and down. When I saw the plan of where I had been I had no idea how many ramifications we had been through. At the entrance is a bas-relief of figures dedicated to the Nymphs. It is carefully covered with wood. The middle figures have been removed by someone. It is a bright brown colour.
P of course would not go down either, or at Antíparos. We lunched at the engineer’s house. The Belgian promised me a little lamp found in the quarries but this I still look on as a bird in the bush. Then we mounted mules and rode 3 hours about to Levkés up in the mountains. The Demarch received us kindly for the sake of Mr. Swan who had helped at his election and after visiting the new and very hideous church where, however, one gets a lovely sea view. We settled down to dinner and after it a dance. The Demarch did this really out of hospitality, for next day he said the 10 frs. T gave him was far more than he had spent and really had to be pressed to take it, and not from philoxenía which is never satisfied with anything. Some time the host refuses loftily to take anything but leads us to understand he does not answer for his wife and she always takes it.
We parted from Mr. Swan on Thursday morning hoping to be joined by him later at Santorini and rode to Ábyssos. No road and the place did not repay us a bit. Lunched there by the sea. Then to Kepídoi, which by reason of the strange accent of the island they call Tchepídi. We stopped at the house of the Demarch della Grammatis for 2 nights. Our bedroom had no light but from the door. Bought 2 of the rough little marble people and hearing of a good many graves in the neighbourhood we decided to dig next day and hired 3 men at 2 frs. each. We dug in 3 places and in one we found lots of bones and a buckle or brooch of copper and in another a rough little vase. On our return T, though they said it was nearly night at 3 o’clock, went up to the castle or acropolis above the town and said there was a magnificent carved tembelon rotting from neglect. I was shut up in the dark on my bed and much kissed and covered up constantly if the thick quilt came off. I was warm enough as I had my Ulster on.
Sunday [December] 23rd. Rode to Naussa, a very small poor village in an immense and very safe bay. Lunched there and embarked in a sailing kaïke for Naxià, the capital of this island. An excellent passage. Christmas Eve was a lovely day and we did nothing but wait to see the steamer come in with such a crowd round us on the beach, where we sat on two chairs like King Canute, that the police had to drive them away. And row to a little island, now much diminished by the waves where there are the ruins of a temple to Bacchus lie [sic], only the lintel and 2 door posts stand and have been kept white by wind and spray. T was getting worse and worse with a sore throat. Mr. Tcherlendi came by the steamer. Christmas Day was a downpour and as our rooms are not watertight came in through doors and windows. The wind howled and our prospects of food were faint.A wild duck that was found just before luncheon cheered us however so much that we ate it all but a wing, which I prudently cut off to keep. We thought something must turn up for dinner, but when dinner-time came, I can’t say dinner, and T was in bed eating arrowroot and I was supposed to be dining tête-à-tête with P, I felt so dejected that I could only silently drink T’s health and think ‘the fewer the better fare’. They had boiled the duck’s skeleton with much water and rice and the skeleton came up as a dish with the cold bit which we divided. I went and made some arrowroot for myself and fervently prayed that I might ever after be glad and thankful for a good Christmas dinner.
Friday [actually Saturday] Dec. 1st. We had a quick but very rough passage, starting at 7 and getting here about 3.30 a.m. Wednesday. The Pelops was quite new and very clean and I should have slept well b ut for the fleas. We landed at Ermoupolis at 6.30 and sat on the balcony overlooking the port for 2 hours as there was no bedroom vacant, nor did we get one till 5 o’clock. Mr. John Quintana, H.B.M. V. Consul on whom T called, came and fetched us and we spent 2 hours at the Consulate in Mr. Binney, the Consul’s room, very large and nice and so tidy. Mr. B. must be a most orderly man for everything was ticketed and docketed. T called on him in Athens, says he is like a slight Greek, foreign accent and Greek wife. Then we went home to the H. d’Angleterre to breakfast and I lay in a passage room with a headache till we got a fine large one to ourselves, evidently planned as the drawing room. At dinner we were joined by Mr. Charcutsis, the Editor of a newspaper, who wished to give T details why Mr. Anamesakis, our consul of Chios who lives at Chesmé on the mainland, had been so bound to the Turks as to say when asked by Lords Granville and Aberdeen that T’s statement at Chios and the taxation, though true, was exaggerated. He is to have a great many particulars written out in a fortnight. Phaedros our Dragoman had been here some days but we did not meet till the afternoon. He dined with us and on the symptoms of Homer becoming aggravated we retired to our bedroom to have it sung in private. To me it sounds like a bagpipe.
Yesterday we mounted asses to ride to the other side of the island to the point called Ta Grammata – the writings – a place where the white marble sticks like the beak of a bird into the sea, almost polished, and the sailors who used the little bay as a harbour scribble and scratched little prayers to Serapis for good breezes. My donkey I had no power to turn, guide or check so I desired to be led by a string as I felt dangerous to the public safety. The way was very rough and steep up and down, for the whole island is a mass of stone and treeless hills.Our muleteer had never been to the Grammata and soon was quite astray but we fortunately met with a man who knew the way, the only man we met, and he having given us figs and water accompanied us. We had to get off and climb at last. We ate, T deciphered inscriptions and the man dug up 3 bits of copper money and a little smoothed oblong bit of marble all at the same time. We took 4 hours to get there but not so long to get back and arrived just in time for the dark.
During dinner we conversed, through P, with the harbour master and Mrs. Quintana, and Mr. Tcherlendi came and spent the evening with us. Mr. Quintana is a British subject of Spanish origin on both sides from Malta and reminds us of Sir F. Turville. T has been to see the Archbishop who was very civil and said he had ‘seen us returning last night like Christ entering Jerusalem’.
In the afternoon we drove on an excellent road to Della Grazia, an old harbour, stopping at Mr. Tcherlendis’ villa, white and flat roofed, in a great mess as the family is away and he only goes there for the day. He poured out wine and asking me ‘What do you preffer for liquer?’, gave me besides a glass of anisette, a thing that I hate. Then he took us through a wild little garden and gave us oranges and flowers. This south side of the island is much more fertile.
[Sunday] Dec. 2nd. Up at 6.30 and hastened on board the Ydra…
Monday, November [26th?]. Hôtel des Etrangers, Athens. We, that is Theodore and I, arrived here last Thursday, having come by the M.M.S.S. Cumbadge, the same we came by last Jan., and travelled straight from London with the exception of sleeping at Calais. We saw Miss S. Forbes there in the morning. We stopped at Naples a couple of hours and delivered Iva’s wedding presents and made acquaintance with her husband. Our voyage was prosperous and uneventful. No very interesting passengers. Mr. Kennedy, Sec. B. Emb. at Constantinople, and his wife came on at Naples but they were too sea sick for us to see much of them.On our arrival here we were pleasantly welcomed here by our acquaintances of the spring. T went to see Mr. Ford – our Minister who was away all the spring – and goes tomorrow to Paris, leaving Mr. Egerton chargé d’affaires as before: Sir Brook Boothby, 2nd Sec. He also went to see Miss Trikoupis and next day to see her brother the prime minister by appointment. We went to see the Schuylers yesterday, American Minister, and there tonight. Among the people in this hotel are Mrs Damales, Chiote and mother-in-law of S. Bernhardt, such a known intriguante that we are warned against making her acquaintance, and a lady who signs herself Elpis Malena of Crete, Baroness Schwartz, a great Garibaldina. We start tomorrow night for Syra.