Salonica presents a scene of extraordinary interest and of piquant contrasts. The site alone is one of the finest in the world. Its harbour, doubly sheltered, looks as though it might hold a thousand battleships, and the sea here, as at Constantinople, comes bowing up to its very portals, deep and tranquil, the slave alike of its pleasure-seekers and of the dark and terrible ships of war that hold the city in fee. Behind it, as though to shelter it from all contact with a rude northern world, rise in a crescent low green hills upon which the cattle pasture; and the ancient town rises slowly up from the sea to these pleasant heights, protected by walls and towers and battlements that display all the charm of the Middle Ages. These old walls have now seen their day ; they are visibly falling into decay, and the newer city of villas and workshops has already spread far beyond their limits. They are like some old fighter, brave of heart but frail of body, who is left behind in time of war in the company of the women and the children, and of little consequence now, though great in his day and generation.
It is a city with a great future, but no one knows what that future will be. Here for the present are the French and the English established in great force, with their ships upon the sea and their armies spread afar upon its encircling mountains, and its streets are thronged with the soldiery of the Western Powers.
No scene from a play could be more diverting or vivid than that which groups itself about the Cafe - of Bastazini on a Sunday afternoon. The Rue Venezelos is a wide thoroughfare where it abuts on the harbour front, with the sea and its shipping at one end, and afar off at the other a dim Turkish bazaar, full of the sentiment of a vanished age.
It is here in this wide thoroughfare, closed to wheeled traffic, that the world collects. French- men, Englishmen, Canadians, Australians, Servians, Greeks, Jews, Turks, all are here in bewildering variety, and there are others to come. Generals, colonels, subalterns, corporals, rank and file; little boys and girls who go to and fro selling papers and furtively collecting those left behind to sell again ; older girls, pink of cheek and trim of figure, a little fluttered at the presence in such numbers of the bolder sex ; here and there a broken - down old Turk or grave Moslem turning his beads and clothed in dignity ; a Spanish Jew ; a porter laden with the bulk of some vast burden, his eyes down-cast upon the hard cobbled street. Opposite, a shop, — a branch of the Levantine Harrods, built in the newest style with plate -glass and gilt and a sphere upon its roof that stares you in the face and distracts your gaze from the Olympian Jove. There is money in plenty, and this city which has slept so long under Turkish rule is out to gather in with all possible speed the harvest of half a million men who draw pay and have gold to throw away. Now and then from afar off behind the Balkans there comes a Zeppelin or a flight of German planes, and a bomb crashes into the midst of the city. But Salonica lives in the present, and Jew and Greek are instant in their search after the Allies' wealth.
Unfortunately for each of these interesting communities there are both Jews and Greeks, and this goes to the heart of the Children of Israel, who were so happy here in the days of the simple and proud old Turk. "Two Dervishes cannot sleep under the same blanket," as the proverb has it; and there is a sting in this competition under the smiling and prosperous surface of life in Salonica. It is a comedy still when there is so much money to be shared ; but a comedy with tragic possibilities when Greek and Jew are left to struggle with each other, and the Allies and their lavish ways have gone. Hence it comes that Israel is hopeful that the Allies will not march away, and that the brave General Sarrail may elect to stay for good in this delectable corner of the world. And meanwhile the flood of wealth pours on. The proprietor of the Zenodochion Themistocles, now known as the Cafe" of Impregnable Verdun, goes happy to bed with 3000 francs a day in his pocket, instead of the 300 which, before the Allies came, marked the highest level of his prosperity ; and Solomon figures out that that new contract with the British Army will make him richer by some forty thousand pounds.
In most cities which live by the sea, the port is a quarter left to mariners and shippers and the riff-raff of the harbour ; but at Salonica, as at Constantinople and at Venice, port and city are one, and along the narrow Strand you have the hotels and the shops and the big houses on one side of it facing the sea, and on the other the crowded shipping of the harbour. Nearest of all and in contact with the sea wall are the sailing ships of the Island Greeks, the schooners that carry casks of wine and oil and firewood and coal and all the small trade of the country. They lie here in a serried line, swaying and plunging with the sea, their masts and rigging making their old-world pattern against the scene. Each boat has its small cabin, and the name of its owner and the island he hails from written in classic letters on its stern ; and the life of the seafarers clustered within it goes on from morning till dusk, a world apart from the thronging street. Along the street the electric trams shriek and grumble from dawn to midnight, laden with more people than they can properly carry; transport waggons grind along the cobbled way ; infantry march with a rhythmic action, — the legionary tread of the British soldier, the quick step of Piou-Piou; horsemen in the khaki of England, the blue- grey of France, the dragon with his horse-tail plumes, the lancer with his pennon, ride upon big horses that have come here from English countrysides and Irish farms; from Normandy, Picardy, and Toulouse ; from Australia and New Zealand across the wide imperial seas. But in the old city on the hill where the Moslem population still clings to its homesteads, one is in another world. It is a world of quiet enduring people, who know that they have lost their tide; of great plane-trees spreading their chequered gold over the cobbled streets; of white mosques and soaring minarets, the symbols of a departing faith ; of cypresses that sigh beside old fountains inscribed with the names of God ; of old ramparts and battlemented towers that still stand up at bay, as though to shepherd the people within. It is by contrast a silent world, invaded only by the sound of church bells, the cry of the Muezzin, the murmur of a people, vague, indefinite, as if it wished to speak, but knew not what to say.
Down the green slopes of the hills come the cattle at evening from their pastures ; outside the old grey walls the people sit : Turkish women in black with their children about them, and the tranquil beauty of the Madonna on their clear-cut faces ; old men, too weary and resigned to go away and fight under the banners of Islam.
Here, too, under the old walls, there is the English Cemetery, where lie together the English and the German dead of a past generation, as members of the one Protestant Communion. There was a time when we even thought of them as next of kin!
And as you look from here beyond the threshold of the city to the sea, your eye is caught by the dim grey outlines of the battleships and destroyers of the Allied Fleet ; the summits of the mountains and the sun's red globe, sending his wide rays of gold, as from a mighty searchlight, down upon the marshes of the Vardar Plain.