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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

With everybody demanding backshish on all sides


With

boots clogged and heavy with filth, a hundred people like ravenous birds of prey yelling in your ears (and picking your pockets if they have a chance), with your luggage being mercilessly dragged in the mud, with everybody demanding backshish on all sides, tapping you on the shoulder or pulling your coat,--thus one lands in real Persia.

In the country of Iran one does not travel for pleasure nor is there any pleasure in travelling. For study and interest, yes. There is plenty of both everywhere.

Personally, I invariably make up my mind when I start for the East that no matter what happens I will on no account get out of temper, and this self-imposed rule--I must admit--was never, in all my travels, tried to the tantalising extent that it was in the country of the Shah. The Persian lower classes--particularly in places where they have come in contact with Europeans--are well-nigh intolerable. There is nothing that they will not do to annoy you in every possible way, to extort backshish from you. In only one way do Persians in this respect differ from other Orientals. The others usually try to obtain money by pleasing you and being useful and polite, whereas the Persian adopts the quicker, if not safer, method of bothering you and giving you trouble to such an unlimited degree that you are compelled to give something in order to get rid of him. And in a country where no redress can be obtained from the police,

where laws do not count, and where the lower classes are as corrupt and unscrupulous as they are in the more civilised parts of Persia (these remarks do not apply to the parts where few or no Europeans have been) the only way to save one's self from constant worry and repressed anger--so bad for one's health--is to make up one's mind at once to what extent one is prepared to be imposed upon, and leave the country after. That is to say, if one does not wish to adopt the only other and more attractive alternative of inflicting summary justice on two-thirds of the natives one meets,--too great an exertion, to be sure, in so hot a climate.

They say that Persia is the country that our stock came from. It is quite possible, and if so we are indeed to be congratulated upon having morally improved so much since, or the Persians to be condoled with on their sad degeneration. The better classes, however, are very different, as we shall see later.

Personally, I adopted the first method suggested above, the easier of the two, and I deliberately put by what I thought was a fair sum to be devoted exclusively to extortion. On leaving the country several months later, much to my astonishment I found that I had not been imposed upon half as much as I expected, although I had stayed in Persia double the time I had intended. Maybe this can be accounted for by my having spent most of my time in parts not so much frequented by Europeans. Indeed, if the Persian is to-day the perfidious individual he is, we have to a great extent only ourselves to blame for making him so.

Keeping my temper under control, and an eye on my belongings, I next hired a carriage to convey me to the town of Resht, seven miles distant. In damp heat, that made one's clothes moist and unpleasant, upon a road muddy to such an extent that the wheels sank several inches in it and splashed the passenger all over, we galloped through thick vegetation and patches of agriculture, and entered the city of Resht. Through the narrow winding streets of the bazaar we slowed down somewhat in some places, the carriage almost touching the walls of the street on both sides. The better houses possess verandahs with banisters painted blue, while the walls of the buildings are generally white.


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