Some monstrous gullet suffocating with fury

Pierre Loti by Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1906

Pierre Loti was a French naval officer and esteemed novelist who rose to prominence in the late 19th century. Born Louis Marie Julien Viaud, he pursued a naval career, earning a recall to service during World War I due to his expertise in Pacific waters. Married to poet and orientalist Judith Gautier, Loti’s literary journey flourished in his later years, his notable works including Madame Chrysanthème and Pêcheur d’Islande. In 1889, he found himself on a diplomatic mission to Fez, Morocco, and in his journal, Au Maroc (‘Morocco’), he vividly captured the surreal experience of transporting an electric-powered boat through primitive landscapes as a gift to the Sultan. This entry was written on 10th April of that year, when he was rudely awakened by a local.

The Diary Entry

10th April.

I am awakened by cries—horrible cries—quite near me; a kind of vile belching which seems to issue from some monstrous gullet suffocating with fury. It is already daylight, alas! and the trumpet will soon sound the réveillé, for all the black arabesques that decorate the exterior of my dwelling are revealed in the transparency of the stretched canvas which is infiltrated with golden light. And these same rays of the rising sun outline in fantastic shadow on my wall the form of the beast responsible for these hideous cries: a long, long neck that twists like a caterpillar, and, at its extremity, a small, flattened head with hanging lips: a camel. I knew it indeed at once from the horrible voice: a fool of a camel, restive or in distress.

I watch the movement of its silhouette with the greatest uneasiness. Confusion! What I feared has happened; the beast has caught its feet in the ropes of my tent, and struggles now, and bellows its hardest, shaking the whole tent, which threatens momentarily to collapse upon my head. Then I hear the camel-driver running up calling: “Ts! Ts! Ts!” (That is what is said to the camels to calm them, and, generally, they are amenable to the argument.)

Again: “Ts! Ts! Ts!” The camel is quietened and led away. My tent becomes motionless again, and I fall asleep for a few minutes more.

The trumpet sounds the réveillé, gay and clear! Quickly as always we arise. Make a hurried breakfast of black bread and mouna butter full of red hairs and impurities, while our camp is being dismantled. Then the signal to saddle and we are off!

Further Reading

Pierre Loti’s travel diary, Au Maroc (‘Morocco’) was originally published in 1889 and proved very successful. In 1914, it was translated into English by W. P. Baines—that edition can be read online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *