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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

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Bell, Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Green, Alice Stopford
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope, paper

37.9838096, 23.7275388

Athens [Athinai]. {Monday} Tuesday 11 Dearest Mother. (What a dirty sheet of paper!) To continue our diary where I left off - on Saturday morning Papa and I set off and went up to the German School where we presented a letter from Sir E. Egerton to Dörpfeld who is the archaeologist here and the instructor of Mrs Strong. He is a most agreeable person, extremely good looking, and he consented with alacrity to our request that we might be allowed to attend his lecture in the afternoon. Then, being on the visit to archaeologists, we went to Mr Hogarth and arranged to meet him at the Museum. So we picked up Uncle Tom and went to the Museum where Mr H. showed us his recent finds - pots of 4000 B.C. from Melos [Milos]. Doesn't that make one's brain reel! He also gave me a knife of dateless antiquity, it's not good to cut with, being made of stone and a little blunt, but I cherish it for unpractical reasons. Presently Mr Bell joined us, and Mr Aidé with his little friend and we all walked round together and looked at wonderful things. There is the most splendid collection of statues, things that Pheidias and Praxiteles have really touched, so good and so simple that one can't imagine why everyone doesn't cut stone as well and as easily. But somehow they don't! They have also got (but particularly in the little museum on the Acropolis) the great collection of archaic statues, delightful formal things which are full of a wonderful charm and look as if they had just stepped out of the plain block and were still half in it. They have all got a fixed smile on their faces which makes them look exactly like Leonardo da Vinci's ladies - the Gioconda in stone. I love them. After lunch Papa and I walked down to the dip between the Areopagus hill and the Pnyx where the first first Athens stood, nestled up against the Acropolis, and there we found a party of Germans in Tyrolese hats and ulsters and Dörpfeld in their midst. He greeted us warmly and we sat down on stones and listened for 3 hours to his explanations. He had excavated the place himself; he took us from stone to stone and built up a wonderful chain of evidence with extraordinary ingenuity until we saw the Athens of 600 BC rise up before us. I never heard anything better done. His manner is excellent, his voice delightful, and his lecture flowed on and on, keeping one breathlessly interested all the time. We were delighted to have heard it. On Sunday we planned to get up very early and go to the top of Pentelikus [Pendelikon] - we did get up very early, but it no sooner saw us fairly out of bed than it began to stream, so we relinquished our expedition. At 10 we went off to the Museum, it being windy and cold, but not raining. There we met Mr Aide and Mr Hird [see also Heard] being taken round by a learned man called Pritchard, so we joined them and were told what to admire. It was really very nice, because Mr Pritchard knows his museum by heart and told us the story of everything, but he was extremely firm in his opinions and snubbed me so dreadfully when I ventured on disliking something which he unfortunately thought good (but it wasn't!) that we all took care to express no opinions contrary to his. At last Mr Aide did reBell - I was so grateful to him! -and stood up to Mr Pritchard as if he had been 6 foot high - good little Mr Aidé! It was still windy after lunch with gleams of sun; Papa and I wandered about photographing and finally met Uncle Tom on the Acropolis where I took a lot of photographs which have come out very well. We dined at the Legation; staff, of course, the Italian minister and his wife (dullish, I sat by him at dinner) Mr Dyer, an American artist, with his wife and daughter, and Mr Mackenzie, of the English School, terribly shy, with a still shyer sister who appeared, poor dear, in a silk shirt while we were all rather smart! That made her feel so bad that she couldn't open her lips. Miss Dyer is a violin genius; she played after dinner, extremely well, and Lady E. [Egerton] accompanied her moderately. Sarasate has brought her up (Miss D I mean). I wish he had taught her not to squint. They were all rather awful, the Dyers. The father told me how Watts and Benjamin Constant waited with wild impatience for the drawings he sent them, and how agreeable the Empress Frederich was. Mrs Dyer related all the complimentary remarks which Sarasate had made about her daughter's silver tone. Americans so seldom can learn how to behave. Lady E. is a very agreeable woman, but not, I think, a good hostess. Her plan is to invite a heterogeous [sic] collection of people and then trust in Providence. That power washed Papa up against the Italian ministers and left him there, so that he had a very tedious evening, poor dear. It fortunately left me in the middle of the room. However the Egertons have been extremely nice to us and it has been amusing to know them. Will you please tell Uncle Frank we are much obliged to him for his introduction. On Monday morning we again looked at museums. After lunch we drove out to a place called Tatri at the foot of Parnes [Parnis]. The king has his summer palace there in the midst of woods full of asphodel and purple anemonies. It was very delicious. Uncle Tom was busy locating the fortress which the Spartans built in the Peloponnesian War to command the passes, so he was quite happy. Mr Bell dined with us. We meant to start off on our expedition this morning, but our dragoman had misunderstood us, and, rather to my relief, for I was tired and hadn't packed, we found that we had to wait till tomorrow. So we spent today at the wonderful little temple of Sunium [Kato Sounion], going 3 hours by train through lovely bare country and driving an hour by the bluest of seas. We lunched under white white columns looking over a sea full of misty purple islands and I photographed with an English boy afterwards. The sun was very hot and the air cool and the view heavenly. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. We got gome at 7, a lovely sunset which flushed Hymettus into every sort of blue and purple and red, and the thinnest smallest moon hanging over Parnes. After dinner we talked to Mr Aide and Mr Hird and finished our packing, for we really are off tomorrow, and now I must go to bed. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

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