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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to his family


 Damascus

Sunday, 26 February 1911

Snow began to fall again on Wednesday night, just after I had closed my letter to you: also a storm blew up, and they said that the boat would not start for Haifa. We waited till Thursday, and then went to see the director of the railway: he told us that all the work of clearing the path had to be begun again. As the wind had dropped Mr. Hogarth thought it best to try for Haifa: he would have gone over the hills, but for old Gregori, his Cypriote head-man, who is 60, and not very active.

We had a pleasant enough passage, with the sea fairly rough. There was a great glare of sunlight, but we managed to get a good view of Sidon and Tyre, and Acre, and the other places I knew. Haifa was reached at midday on Friday, and we walked up in the afternoon to the monastery on Mount Carmel. Mr. Hogarth is paying my expenses to Aleppo: not those of the trip out to Beyrout from England, however. He has been very interesting indeed so far, especially on Arabian geography. I saw Dr. Coles at Haifa. He knows nothing more about the purple dye than I do: but there are plenty of the fish alive, and he will help me when I make experiments. From Haifa we took train for Damascus. It ran at first along the plain of Acre at the foot of Mount Carmel, which on the East side rises very suddenly from the level ground. That was before dawn, so that even when we passed over the Kishon we hardly were in a mood to appreciate. Still I did rouse him up to look at Harosheth, Sisera's town: now it is only a mud village (which gave me a loaf of bread last time, but grudgingly: it is very poor, and dirty), but he more than shares my admiration for Deborah's little ode, thinking it one of the best things in the O.T., so that went down very well. After that the sun rose, as we came across Esdraelon, and we both thawed out very happily. We had a carriage to ourselves, and were otherwise most comfortable. Nazareth of course was only visible in the shape of the great convent on the hill, but Mr. Hogarth does not like it any better than I did: I think, if Mother comes to Palestine that we will just look at the view of the village from the hill-top: it is then no uglier than Basingstoke, or very little, and the view from it, southwards over the plain, is beautiful. Then in the evening, when the dusk is beginning she shall walk down to the well in the village, and so find it free from the very parasitically unpleasant natives of the place. After she has had a drink we will go back to the tent, and she will have been spared a disappointment, and been given an endurable memory in its stead. Tabor looked uninteresting this time: it had not the glory of being the only green thing in a sea of gold. Esdraelon looks best in summer, when they are reaping the corn. Last time I saw it the whole plain was chequered with the brown and gold of stubble and ear, and lined red, where the paths were trampled through the fields. There is not a hedge or a wall or a house in all the twenty miles, but in their place were black tents, and cooking fires, and long strings of camels carrying the corn to the coast from the threshing floors. These floors were always marked by little figures of men and women (for the air was wonderfully clear, even to showing the chaff and dust clouds from the flails and fans), and occasionally a field would also be marked likewise by a field of reapers, with scattered figures after them tying up the sheaves, or gleaning what had fallen. That was lovely from the hill: much lovelier than the spring colouring, though that is lovely also in a strongly marked division of red and green: green for the young crop, and red for the soil fresh-ploughed. I never saw before any ground so red: unless later the Hauran was redder. The colour was a rich crimson lake, without any stains of brown. After Beisan we ran along the Jordan valley, which was no more lovely than in autumn, until you look into the grass, and see red and blue flowers. The train waited a little while at Semakh on the Lake, and then began to wind up the Yarmuk valley. It twisted up it for three hours, so that often and often we would see the engine and last van of a short train on different sides of our carriage: it crossed the river half a dozen times on bridges, with wonderful lava and basalt walls all over red and blue anemones above on each side a thousand feet or more: once there were some palm-trees even, and always splendid views: our speed hardly ever passed xii miles an hour: at the top we passed a large waterfall, and then crossed the 'red-lands' of the Hauran, supposed to be the richest corn land in the world. Mr. Hogarth of course knew all the country by repute, and by books, and we identified all the mountain peaks and wadies and main roads... do you know we saw the pilgrim route, the great Hajj road? Doughty is the only man who has been down it, and written what he saw. Do read his account of it: we crossed if first near Muzerib, and again to the North. The mountains were all snow-covered and drifts were lying in the water-courses: but at Deraah all was sunny, and we had a French déjuener in the Buffet, where Mr. Hogarth spoke Turkish and Greek, and French, and German, and Italian, and English all about the same as far as I could judge: it was a most weird feeling to be so far out of Europe: at Urfa and at Deraah I have felt myself at last away out of the Renaissance influence, for the buffet was flagrantly and evidently an exotic, and only served to set off the distinctness of the Druses and their Turkish captors. The Lejah, the lava no-man's land, and the refuge of the outlaws of all the Ottoman Empire lay alongside the railway for an hour or more: it is almost impassable, except to a native who knows the ways. There were villages in it, the 'Giant Cities' which Porter talks about. We got into Damascus late, and tomorrow we go up to Aleppo. Mr. Hogarth has just come in with news that a wash-out of 2 kilometres has taken place near Homs, so our pains at getting here are apparently wasted, we may have to wait in Homs till it is repaired. At any rate we are going up to see.

 

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Source: HL 135-7
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 8 April 2006

 



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