Pine Nuts: Mark Twain on quarantine
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
When we went ashore at Bellagio in 1867, a party of policemen (people whose cocked hats and showy uniforms would shame the finest uniform in the military service of the United States,) put us into a little stone cell and locked us in. There was no light, there were no windows, no ventilation. It was close and hot. We were much crowded. It was the Black Hole of Calcutta on a small scale.
Presently a smoke rose about our feet, a smoke that smelled of all the dead things of earth. We were there five minutes, and when we got out it was hard to tell which of us carried the vilest fragrance. These miserable outcasts called that “fumigating” us, and the term was a tame one indeed. They fumigated us to guard themselves against the cholera, though we hailed from no infected port. We had left the cholera far behind us all the time. However, they must keep epidemics away somehow or other, and fumigation is cheaper than soap.
Upon arriving at the Greek port of Piraeus, well, no land we had yet seen had aroused such a universal interest among the passengers, so disappointment was hardly a strong enough word to describe the circumstances. The Commandant of Piraeus placed our ship, the Quaker City, under quarantine for 11 days, and we were not to be allowed ashore during that time. Well, Captain Duncan could not let us sit there for 11 days so he ordered everybody to be ready to sail for Constantinople the next morning.
Yet through a telescope we could see the Parthenon a mere four or five miles away, so four of us stole away during the night in a lifeboat and hiked the five miles to see the Acropolis in the moonlight. We attracted barking dogs along the way, and a man who yelled at us for eating his grapes.
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At the Parthenon, we bribed a local guard to open the gate for us, and at last we wandered around the noblest ruins we had ever looked upon. In that glow of moonlight we admired the sleeping city of Athens. Not on the broad earth is there another picture half so beautiful!
I did come down with a mild case of cholera in Damascus, which gave me a good excuse to lie there on that wide divan and take an honest rest.
On the evening of May 14, 1908, in a speech at the Waldorf Astoria, Mark Twain opined, “If the cholera or black plague should come to America’s shores, perhaps the bulk of the nation would pray to be delivered from it, but the rest would put their trust in the Health Board of the City of New York.”
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at http://www.ghostoftwain.com
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