I’tisam al-Din’s Shigarfnamah, 6: France

My translation, based on the Farsi version, publication forthcoming: Mirza I’tisam al-Din. Shigarfnamah Vilayet. Toronto: Foundation for Iranian Studies, 2014.

On Arriving at the Port of Nantes and Its Features

When our ship neared the French port of Nantes we anchored some distance away from the shore and fired a cannon. A pilot ship came to guide our ship to the French East India Company’s wharf. The route was very narrow and dangerous and the operation took two days. P 76

When we docked, people of the city and vendors came to the ship with all kinds of fruits and bread and cheese and fresh butter. People on board the ship who hadn’t seen fresh bread and butter for six months regaled themselves on it, and couldn’t fit in their skins at the joy of seeing their homeland. I too had seen nothing but the sea and the sky, and like a caged wild bird walked the ship’s dock counting the planks, afflicted with the thought that the sea would have no end. Seeing dry land, a city and its inhabitants brought filled my sad frame with new life. P77

It is a wonder that the French lower orders cannot afford shoes and wear wooden footware. They take a piece of wood and carve a hole and slip the foot in it. They walk ludicrously like clowns. In England, however poor people may be, they are not in want of shoes and socks. Upon seeing those wooden shoes, Captian Swinton and Mr Peacock laughed and said these people are so wretched because they do not work as hard and are not as industrious as the English. P77

Before going to land, the ship’s captain and doctor and priest like thieves stuffed under their shirts and in their pockets and pants the fine cloths they had brought from Bengal in order to avoid paying the custom excise. Seeing their craftiness and trickery was a great wonder. I saw the proof of the proverb that men steal even from themselves. Captain Swinton and Mr Peacock did not have to pay the French because they were English. They too had great quantities of fine cloth and other merchandize which they transported to land and entrusted them to smugglers to bring to England amidst cargos of fruits and other goods. P 78

I stayed there for two more weeks during which I studied the landscape and the ways of life and the keeping of order, and the order of streets and markets and their ways of growing plants. Wheat, barley, maize, peas, radishes, mustard, oranges, berries, grapes, tangerines, apples and figs can grow here better than in England, because England is to the north of France and is colder and has snowfalls. Many fruits like dates, almonds and pistachios that are peculiar to the Arab and Persian world do not grow here, and there is no trace of rice, lentils, guavas, mangos, coconuts, pomegranates, bananas, and other fruits abundant in India. P79

People build houses of stone, and keep the roof in place with four beams and put clay tiles on top of it. There is no bamboo here, so they build the foundation of wood. The poor people’s diet is porridge and barley bread and milk curd, and their clothes are made of coarse wool or a thin cloth made of hemp kept in place with coarse rope. Some have socks and shoes but most cannot afford that.

From here to Paris the capital of France is some 500 miles. The French boast of the beauty and wealth of the buildings and gardens of Paris and its inventions and wonders, scientific, artistic and philosophical advancements. And they exaggerate its inhabitants’ good etiquettes and manners, wit and finesse, artistry and trade compared to people of England and other Firinghee lands. The French claim that the English learn music and horsemanship from them and that is why the English aristocracy send their daughters and sons to France to study. Therefore the present excellence of the English in sciences, arts, trades and industry is the result of French education. Indeed in the past the English did not excel in talent and capability, and most were known to be ignorant like the people of India. P 80

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