A Street Vender.
On my first visit to Constantinople, I was particularly fortunate in having an opportunity to see a little of Turkish family life. A young French gentleman, to whom I had brought a letter of introduction, was acting then as tutor to the only son of a rich and influential Pasha. To the residence of this wealthy Turk my friend one day conducted me. "What sort of mansion am I going to see? "
I asked him on the way.
A Private Courtyard.
"All Turkish houses," he replied, "are built after nearly the same design. Each is divided into two parts, - the selamlik, and the harem."
"The harem! " I repeated in astonishment: " I thought that only the Sultan possessed a harem." My friend threw back his head and laughed.
"Pardon me," he exclaimed, "but that idea of yours strikes me as very amusing, since, as you will soon discover, it is utterly erroneous. The part of the house that we are about to enter," he continued, as we approached the doorway, "is the selamlik. It is intended strictly for the men of the household. Beyond that is the harem, reserved exclusively for women. In one the Pasha receives his friends; in the other his wife welcomes hers. A single door divides the two establishments, but to all visitors they are as distinct as separate houses. The harem is, however, the larger and more elegantly furnished of the two."
"Excuse me," I faltered, "but I do not know just what you mean by the harem?"
"The word 'harem,'" he replied, "means 'sacred enclosure,' and sometimes denotes the sanctuary of a temple.
A Modernized Street.
Hence, in domestic life, it merely signifies a place secure from all intrusion."
Thus speaking, we entered the general reception-room of the selamlik. It was carpeted with handsome rugs, while around the walls extended a long line of couches covered with soft cushions.
"Of course," said my companion," you understand that this is as far as you or I, or any man, save the Pasha himself, may go in this establishment. Into the harem, where his wife and daughters live, no gentleman, however intimate a friend he may be, may penetrate. In fact, the Pasha himself is not allowed to cross its threshold, if his wife has any female callers."
"How does he know whether any callers are there?" I asked.
"Because," was the reply, "all Moslem ladies leave their slippers outside the harem door, and over them no Turk will ever step. This is a universal custom, which every man respects, as he desires his neighbor to respect it in his turn." At this moment the door opened, and the young pupil of my friend entered. He was sixteen years of age, courteous in his manners, and spoke French like a Parisian. Up to the age of ten his home had been exclusively in the harem. Then he had stepped across the threshold, and had become a man; that is to say, he had, ever since that time, frequented the selamlik, and dined there with his father when he received invited guests. Of course, however, he always had free access to his mother and sisters, and spent much time in their society.
In The Selamlik.
A moment later the Pasha himself entered the room. He was a tall, fine-looking man, and wore imposing decorations. As soon as he appeared, his son arose and assumed a most respectful attitude, with his arms folded on his breast. In fact, after we had made our salutations, and had resumed our seats, the son remained in the same position. The Pasha asked him several questions, which the boy answered modestly, using invariably the word Effendi, or Sir, in speaking to his father. At length the elder Turk waved his hand kindly and exclaimed:
"Sit down, my child." Without that invitation, the boy would not have ventured to do so.
"Is it possible," I asked my friend, when we were alone, "that there can be much love where there is so much formality?"
"Yes, indeed," was the reply; "I never saw more genuine affection than that existing between this father and his boy. Their lives are bound up in each other. But the Turks, like all Orientals, look on filial reverence and respect as the most important of virtues; and they believe that too much freedom and familiarity tend to destroy these qualities."