Janet Sutherland



                              Quarantine

"HAVING SET OUT from Alexinitz to extend my excursions through the Knejine of Gorgouschavatz and Mount Rtagn, we inadvertently, in a frontier so ill-defined as that of Servia, crossed the Turkish frontier, and entered the province of Bosnia. On our return into the principality, we were reminded of the indiscretion by a troop of Servian pandours1 who, without much ceremony, conducted us to the establishment at Alexinitz. But as the offence was committed through ignorance, our imprisonment in the quarantine was, as a great favour, reduced from five to three days, which term may be extended to forty, when an epidemic prevails in any of the adjoining provinces.”
—Edmund Spencer, Travels in European Turkey, in 1850; through Bosnia, Servia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Thrace, Albania, and Epirus; with a visit to Greece and the Ionian Isles, in 1850. (London 1851)


I was quartered with a wild and motley crew:
Turks, and Arnouts, Greeks and Zinzars, Jews, Armenians
and Gipsies. All habited in the costume of their tribe
and speaking tongues as might have rivalled Babel.

Our four-footed companions were doomed
to quarantine with us and made their own concert
braying, lowing and barking. Of all the wayfarers’
annoyances, quarantine’s most prejudicial to health.

The quarantine establishment is large, strong palisades
and a guard of pandours. Sheds for merchandise,
stables, a han and huts for wealthier travellers.
But most were kiraidji swineherds, and drovers

who preferred the night air to the expenses of a han,
and who bivouacked in a large space in the centre,
around a blazing fire. I saw three to four hundred persons
drink gallon after gallon of wine and raki

but here was no quarrelling nor fighting. They sang
smoked, danced and cooked, performed on the bagpipe,
reed and gousla and harkened to storytellers and bards
who asked but just a few pari from their listeners.

Our clothes, bedding and papers were fumigated
although there’s been no case of plague for several years.
Every little item swells the travellers’ bill of costs,
the guard of honour demanding a bakschisch.


Janet Sutherland, The Fortnightly Review, April 9, 2020.