Aboard Romolo at Suez

Saturday Thursday, March 23 12, 1929 Saturday, March 23, 1929

Thirteen hours sleep in four nights. But a cup of coffee and a bun knocked all sleepiness out of me and later a plate of liver put lots of ambition in me. I got all washed up in the fresh-water spicket [Shame on me—I thought that this was misspelled, but it turns out to be an archaic spelling for spigot.] without being caught and then settled down to do things and get lots accomplished—but I had not counted on our friends, the soldiers—more correctly sailors or marines—bound for Shanghai for two years. The boat was fixed and got under weigh at 10 AM.

These sailors occupy the poop of the ship. There must be a couple hundred of them. They are exactly as small children, very curious and inquisitive. There is always a crowd about us watching every little thing we do. They are very nice, but pests for we can get nothing accomplished. They talk to us in Italian and we have to figure it out and say our dozen Italian words helped out with gestures. When we write, they crowd about. Mort was trying to get his stories out on the typewriter. This was a great attraction to all and they crowded around. Several got paper and stood around waiting to write a letter on it. Mort finally moved away, but a crowd followed. The nice part of it all is that none speak English and we can say what we please in front of them.  Mort called back for help, so we got out the victrola and put on an Italian piece, <i>El Tango della Capinere</i>. They no sooner heard this than they all trooped back to us like so many school-boys. But the Arab remained there, so the next piece was an Arabic one the boys got in Cairo. To hint and help things, Mort did a couple of shimmies and waved his arms about. This was sufficient stimulus to send him back to us to tell us to play it again. Now Mort was clear, but Frank and I could do nothing but play that tango time after time for over an hour. In the end, Mort had to give up the typewriter to them.

The weather was perfect, nice and hot in the sun, yet a breeze stirring. On either side of the canal the desert stretched back to a low chain of sand hills and cliffs. This arid scene was made beautiful by the variety of colors.

More spaghetti for lunch—and only as Italians can make it. This filled us up so that we could not even touch the meat and spinach that followed. We have some good friends in both the regular kitchen and the sailors’ kitchen, so there is no lack of food. In fact, one brought some rolls out to us during the afternoon and another gives us a lot of wine for dinner each evening—when the chief chef is not about. For dinner in the evening soup, fish, cabbage, roast beef, and then we give up.

My long-suffering britches ripped out at the knee when I tried to make the hatch in one jump. I just decided to make shorts of them, but the baker decided to sew them up. He got a needle and thread and insisted upon doing it himself. It was all too good to miss and Frank took a picture of it. I have a picture of an American doing the same for a strange Italian or any other foreigner. Yet Italians and many other Europeans are just this way. They concern themselves over you and go far out of their way to help you. These sailors are all young and surely have adopted us as their friends. The sewing over, we pulled out the victrola for a piece or two. The crowd gathered immediately. Mort and Frank got out to write, so I was anchored in the midst of a dozen or more boys who never seem to tire of hearing the tango. We sailed into the harbor at Suez and started to unload. It grew dark. Still there was no escape. Luckily the needles got misplaced. I deny spiriting them away. At any rate a dozen sailors were snooping around the deck and behind boxes and crates for the lost. Matches got low and still no needles, so the party broke up. During the concern, boats came alongside and sugar, etc. was unloaded from our hatch.

After dinner we weighed anchor and sailed out into the narrow north arm of the Red Sea, leaving a silvery trail to the moon in our wake. I found Mort busy jabbering with two sailors when I returned from dinner. When we were gone, an Arab had tried to steal Mort’s typewriter and large suitcase. These two boys had been around listening to the music and when they saw our stuff going, they nabbed the Arab and got our things back, but let the thief go. This called for a lengthy conversation, lasting long after we were underway again. I did not stay for it all, but an hour later came back to find Mort exhausted.

Suez looked interesting, but no one was allowed to go ashore. Certainly its situation on the northern end of the arm of the Red Sea and the southern end of the Suez Canal is as strategic as it is beautiful. On one side the large harbor is encircled by high serrated cliffs. On the others by the broad, low, sandy wastes and the blue and green waters of the sea.

I determined to get more sleep than I did the previous night, so with Mort made an exploration into foreign territory to see what the chances of a deck chair were. They were terrible and we had to get back to our deck in a hurry when an officer hove in sight. I made a second trip there later and located a bamboo mat. This was exactly what I wanted for I spread it on the platform above the engine room and slept all night learning up against the wall—nice and warm. The fact that I was sitting on small iron bars two inches apart didn’t make it the most comfortable place in the world, and the roar of the engines made it more like a battlefield, but sleep is sleep and I needed it. I was dimly conscious of a couple of officers peering in through the door, faces all astonishment. Once, about one, Mort came in. He passed once but didn’t see me. Too sleepy, I suppose, for I was there.  This time he was too sleepy to come in the door and I had to get up. We yelled back and forth, not hearing a word because of the engines’ roar. I finally dragged out for a spin about deck. We found the bakery closed. When the bars were no longer impressed in the south end, I again went to sleep on my iron bed. Frank was only wrapped in two sweaters, two pairs of trousers, a woolen jacket, a scarf, a coat to his suit, and his trench coat. Tonight it should be warmer for we are in the Red Sea and shall be about opposite Luxor by evening.

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