11. Bou Saada (2)

The first three months in the Algerian desert have been difficult for the Scott household as they adjusted to a new and completely foreign culture.  Evelyn’s letters reveal her desperation to see her friends as she pleads with them to visit, and the new year, 1924, begins with worries about money and poor health.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Bou-Saada, Algeria]
January 3 [1924]

Dear DEAR, your letter just five minutes ago, and I shall answer instanta because it happens to be a moment between laps of writing and I like to talk back as your letters come.  Thank God, the Garland fund seems to be some use.  Merton was saved from the pit of destruction and landscape gardening for the time being, though having to pay two life insurance policies and send monthly money to his kids has made it go almost as fast as yours.  The Jewish woman who cooks for us was in a state today with Pyorrhoea and all her teeth falling out and it gave me the hump about what a lack of money does to you.  We all need the dentist some and I swore by my pet gods that any money we ever have over living had to go to dentists first.  You do too, Lola.

I appreciate your writing that letter when your fingers—or FINGER—had been at it all day.  I’m afflicted with a wart on my best type finger—the one I had before I went away—which is like a hoof and hurts so I can’t use it.  When the weather gets warmer I’m going to have an operation.  It came from typing on that one finger to the exclusion of all others and ought to be photographed to advertise good methods for stenographers.

One thing is disappointing.  I do WISH you could come over here for two or three months.  If not now later when we are back in France and the weather warmer.  You wouldn’t be annoyed with company, Lola dear, for I work six hours every day and Sug and Merton are gone all morning and all afternoon until tea at four thirty.  We never see a soul and it would be practically the same in France.  We live very cheaply and five dollars a week would cover any possible expense for you here, really it would.

Well, I ain’t guv the idea up.  Maybe the woman book will be finished and the library superfluous before we get back.

Did I did you that Sug and I are writing a child’s story together?[1]  It is a commercial effort in a sense as we all have no call of inspiration to kids, but I think you will all rather like it.  It is laid in Algeria and I have put, with Sug’s help at translating data, a lot of native customs etc in it, we have an exciting plot and a fantastic element, all the ingredients which Jigeroo approved. it was read out to him for criticism.  Merton is doing some delightful simple drawings for it.

We all love you and if your liver incites you to blue letters why for gods sake write blue letters.  We want most of all to hear from you.  Bless you and your art, Lola, and may the New Year do more for it what it deserves.  Bless your insides and make them behave as they should.  Bless Davy’s health, jobs, and university sources.

And please God, let Lola come to France sometime.
Most, most affectionately from all of us,  Evelyn.

[1]     In The Endless Sands

 * * * * *

To Otto Theis

[February 1924]

Dear Otto:

Don’t attempt to keep up with me, I answer all your letters five minutes after receipt.

This has been a kind of “old home” week, reviving habits and associations of the past.  Merton has a lame back gotten while day labouring, and his back went wrong, and the illustrations for the kid book, because he has never done such before and didn’t know how to make magazine cover pretty faces, nearly drove him wild.  Then we went over money accounts and I discovered that I had used some of the money Merton was going to send his kids in keeping house here (we run the accounts joint), and that we were in his debt (when he ain’t got a cent) and that we didn’t have enough money to go to Paris as Sug had hoped, and Sug had the worst nervous collapse of a day I’ve seen him have in a year—and—we’re still alive and love each other—but Gosh everybody is tired. We all, even me, behave better than we used to, but then moments of weakness ain’t entirely overcome.

Sug is crazy for you to see some of his pictures and so am I.  I hope you will honestly find in Siren some of the things I do, and golly—I hope—you will even see a faint practical chance.

Bou Saada 4 (2)
Bou Saada: The house of Master Dinet [Alamy stock photo]
Sug has suffered a lot lately from severe pains in his bladder and scared me to death, but he recuperates so whenever he does a good picture that I’ve decided that he has no ills but mental ills.  However their consequence may be as dangerous as any other, and Sug’s longevity depends on whether he can put over something, either books or pictures this year.  He is nearly destroyed by taking money from Marie as well as afraid it will be cut off, and the only justification to his pride for doing it will be putting over this work.  As for his going back to work as he talks of at times, he simply couldn’t.  He wouldn’t last a week.  He is acutely neurotic and his heart is worse and worse.  He continues to exhibit demoniacal energy by spurts, and if he has any luck he may begin to live more calmly, otherwise not.  Merton’s being with us which began for me as a doubtful and perhaps selfish experiment, has been entirely justified I think even for Sug, for Merton is sincerely devoted to Sug and admiring of him and appreciative of his qualities and is a perfect angel at helping to remove from Sug’s shoulders practical burdens concerned with the details of living.

I’m a fiend to make money now.  Kid book first commercial job of my life, and we honestly think it is valuable that way.  Jigeroo loves it.  Merton’s pictures go with the book but he wants a flat price and not a high one, they are seven colored drawings and very good and atmospherey of this place, done from Algy models.  If this kid book goes Sug and I will write one every two years.

Letter as usual all about us, but one important item, wither we get as far north as Brittany or not you and Louise M and kids gotta come.

           LOTS OF LOVE evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

February 24 [1924]

[page 1 missing] We agreed to pay half a gardeners wages to get our winter food supply out of this backyard and all we have had so far has been the violets a bowl of salad and a reddish or two.  And the old gardener, whose wages are two dollars a month, has every day another child die so he wants about two months in advance.  And to show he is worth it he picks me bouquets that are as compact and indestructible as indoor baseballs, and as sedate and defiantly surrounded by prickly foliage as a maiden Victorian with hairpins and frills.  If we could find the Arab secret of subsistence on nothing this place would be ideal for us.

But it isn’t ideal, and we don’t like Arab life a little bit.  It snowed today (Feb 24) though all the fruit trees are in bloom, peaches mostly, and only last week were warm and wonderful little shaggy powder puffs on stems in which blood seemed to run instead of sap, and bees and flies crawled and hummed, and the sky was like a blue rock and there were some little snow-foam of cloud right over the trees and it was like snow in the garden of Paradise.

You will wonder then why we don’t like Arab life.  It is because there is no intensity in it, even of machines, except the depressing intensity of sordid Arab religion?  Even if we can’t be rich I want to see somebody who is.  Never in Bou-Saada have we seen one woman in anything more regal than calico, never one child who wasn’t dirty and out at heels.  Occasionally a man is impressive by the height of his turban and the whiteness of his linen and the gorgeousness of silver embroidery on his velvet jacket.  But you know even he lives in a mud hovel and starves his wife.  We were almost swamped last month by trying on a little meagre charity, but it is another grain of sand in all the sand there is, and I don’t think the people are very unhappy anyway.  They don’t protest or want to.  And this stupid Koran which is going to take them all to heaven and such a dingy heaven anyway.  We think of Romanism as formulated, but that ritual gives much more than this deathly penance of learning parrot wise verse and lines verse and line and droning it morning and night.

Bou Saada 2 (2)
Bou Saada [Delcampe.net]
Today the administration is trying to make a hit with tourists and has arranged a falcon hunt. Lots of stodgy French and English from Alger down and have gone out thirteen kilometres to see the falcons loosed on some poor hares and pigeons.  There is also a dance of the Ouled Nails tonight and if I hadn’t got sick we would have gone. But I think the weather will cook that too as it is in a tent.  You see the Ouled Nails used to be almost like sexual priestesses but now they live in a licensed house of prostitution and are just a lot of mangy bitches as hard as nails and not much more lovely.  A funny thing is that the fact that they are femmes public has not modified certain religious modesties. A Mahomden may sleep with one of the ladies but he may not see her unclothed, nor any women than his wives.

Arabs have this awful puritan license, but it remains puritan for they condemn this world and the flesh and woman as a minister to the flesh.  See a ragged ragged old man, a man of fabulous rags, going by with a ragged dirty woman whose slippers are falling to pieces and held on with string, and she has her face as carefully veiled as if most of her anatomy wasn’t leaking through the rents and wears.  Wish people could see their own conventions in the light of others, but British etc come here, shake their heads, and go back to worship the Virgin Mary and attend balls with ladies nude, so to  speak, on the upper level.

Bou Saada 6 (1)
Bou Saada: Dancing  girls and women [Past-to-Present.com]
Yet Arabs aren’t a bit mystic.  Their God is sensual purely in the sense of external sensational non-subjective.  And their music so crass and terrible, their way of singing like brass—the brass city of Solomon in the story—a brazen external impenetrability.  Only difference from our puritans is that their contempt for this world is perfect and negative and not a living torturing effort at contempt.  And their next world has not such a poetic hell nor such a rapturous and complacent heaven.  Heaven you reach by hard work in reciting Koran and prayers, not passion, just rote.

They are so very mental and so naïve as well—but it is not emotional naivete, and their conventions have the perfection of fixity.  Their shoes which are the only pretty thing the women wear (the few women who wear shoes) of red leather have a touch of green thread a bit of silver embroidery very conventionalized and supplied with a restraint, a mental correctness, which would be westernly impossible to people twice as sophisticate.  The jewelry is fine in only a few cases, but mostly quite crude and heavy, of metalled five franc pieces and really made into jewelry as an easy way to preserve wealth among people who have no banks or closets or drawers or trunks to lock thinks in.  No furniture in their houses, in poor houses nothing at all but a pile of dry grass to sleep in, in rich houses a rug or two and maybe rugs on the wall, a taboret for coffee, brass trays to carry food in, no knives and forks.

Little girls have a nauseating and unpleasant precociousness and a total unintelligence, just a kind of suspicious cunning and no more concentration than rabbits.  They are never, in the country, educated at all, and as most boys learn only the Koran they are as bad.  Last week Merton walked out to a small oasis near here and was accompanied home by the son of the caid who was fifteen and had been married three years, and whom in spite of his distinguished lineage, begged old shoes old clothes penknives anything from Merton.  All children beg.  Even rich people’s children.  It is quite convention for a child to beg.

Our house is opposite the filthy jail and the overnight cell opens on the street twenty feet from my bedroom window.  So funny and so awful the continuous occupants.  First place every morning the French Jew police sergeant goes in to the CELL to pea [sic], there being no toilet in the police station, and comes out arranging his trousers with an entire complacency.  Stink ferocious.  Most Arab men object to being locked up (they are awful thieves and tricksters but have the self-esteem of red Indians, only the women crassly) and they pound and shake the door all night.  Twice recently raids on unlicensed brothels (Tom can tell you of one down on the motor road for he was pursued from there) have filled cells with ladies glittering with tinsel and tinkly with necklaces and bracelets.  When the door is opened I see inside dark shiny unrelated spots as if there were Christmas trees inside.  Then make out a fat woman having a drink of water out of a galvanized scrubbing bucket.  Some of the raided ladies insisted on their respectability and emerged to go to magistrate with their faces fully veiled.

Bou Saada 8
Bou Saada: Native dwelling [Delcampe.net]
Ellen also sent me her address so I imagined you wanted me to write to her, and the mood of response is certainly in me, yet I do make such a mess of new contacts that I feel somehow I ought not to take a risk that might spoil the possibility of a friendship when we meet.  You tell me exactly how you feel, but anyway please let her know that though I should be humanly flattered by a poem to me if it were banal.  I feel a very different and more profound appreciation when the poem is like this to stimulatingly harsh and yet lovely.  You see Lola I suppose if I have an ideal esthetically it is of the combination of the harsh consciousness, harsh because of its definition, emerging from the undefined and carrying with it a kind of intimation of its source that is even more unescapable than the definition.  Her work, to judge from one small specimen is less poignant less matured in consciousness than yours, but it has a good deal of your flavor—only don’t tell her that, for I don’t mean she imitates, only that one reason you like her is natural response and one reason I should undoubtedly like her (IF my judgement is right) is this identity of a quality in her with a quality in you which I consider precious.

CKS Sand Dune
“Sand Dune”: Cyril Kay Scott watercolour  [North Caroline Museum of Art]
Cyril and Merton and me and Jigeroo all love you so very much and so very much want you to be well and to finish the book but not to finish the book until you ARE well.  And our dearest love to Davy, please, and, and, and lots of things I don’t know how to write—

MY EYES FEEL BETTER FOR HAVING WRITTEN THIS
Evelyn.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

March 3, 1924

Dearest Otto;

Gee, you have had a siege from Bou-Saada.  I’ve written Otto about one problem a week, maybe two, for the last month.  And listen, Otto, for Pete’s sake don’t worry about having had to turn the article down.  The reason I haven’t written any since you first asked me last year, is that I knew only too well what would be the result.  You see I can’t write with emotional vividness unless I have an emotional reason for doing it.  When you write a book, you always have a mystic belief that somewhere somebody is going to “understand you”—in other words accept your particular affirmations and denials.  Well, what you write for a journal that has a definite policy you know this wonderful understanding can’t be your object and so you (meaning me) feel cold to start on.  I haven’t any dash at all.  When I try to limit my own explorative function I just diminish my work without being able to make the oratorical bridges in which bunk is scarcely perceptible as bunk in which is the talent of the real journalist.

Bou Saada 2 (1)
Bou Saada [Past-to-Present.com]
What I feel behind your letter and your constant lovely decency to us, is that you are a damn tired man—lots tireder than you admit—and that we do wish vacation times weren’t so far away.  I think what you say about the crowded house is truly a lovely compliment to a finely satisfactory relation, but I don’t care how much you and Louise love each other, London is London and winter and measles and flue are such, and I’m sure you are all in deadly need of a change.  The cottage in Kent will help I know, but you must take that vacation, and damn it we insist, with us.

This seems to have been contradicted by my last letter which I wrote as a climax of a months fret over money.  What we said, or I said, holds good as commonsense, except that it will be probably next to impossible to arrange steamer fares just so, off the bat, so we had as well settle down to leaving in the very late summer or the fall.  In the meantime we are quitting Bou-Saada on the seventh and our address until we get a house will be care Mme Catherine Ramone de l’Homme, Faubourg, Collioure, Pyrenees Orientales, France.

We hope to get a cheap place at Banyuls where there is fine swimming or if not there Arles or Amelie le Bain.  Well let you know at once when we do.

Merton will be in London in May and give us mutual news of each other.  Cyril may get as far as Paris but I am going to stay down south.

Of course as a person I think Cyril has the most titanic personality, the most instinctive profoundness of emotion, the most mental stretch of almost anybody living and it will be to me another proof that utter cynicism is the impossible unattainable answer to life if he does not find any sympathetic channel of expression anywhere.

Of course one of the reasons I was most upset by the news that Seltzer would send me a hundred dollars on March 1st (haven’t gotten it yet, by the way) was the news I had that Escapade was selling.  I’m afraid that the Seltzers are not deliberate crooks but just are in such a hole that I may get nothing at all out of my work.

Now if you and Louise will come to see us we will talk of something beside ourselves.  And we will find a cheap place for you to stay. And I think we will all have a nice time.

Don’t feel my heavy correspondence a burden.  We see nobody at all and it is a relief to talk and I do it on paper but with no idea that a busy man ought to respond in kind.

Now, Otto, I ain’t as dangerous as I seem .  Love to you all.  Jig is in ecstasies over the stamps and will write to you.  I sent an order for the money on the books, thank you just the same for your generosity, and you must tell me what lacked, if anything.

Good luck and blessings, Evelyn

 * * * * *

The next letter in the collection is written from Banyuls in May 1924, after the arrival there of the Scott household. And soon their lives begin to collapse, beginning with Merton being taken to hospital in London, seriously ill.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “11. Bou Saada (2)

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