Henry-Woodd Nevinson was a British journalist who covered the Greek – Ottoman War, the 30 Days War, for the Daily Chronicle in 1897. At the end of the war, in which Greece came third, he was sent to Crete, arriving there in early June 1897. He stopped in Canea for about 10 days during which time he made himself useful to the Cretan Christians by delivering secret letters to one of their leaders from supporters in mainland Greece. In his memoir of the war he offers the following description of the situation in Canea:
“That night [6 June 1897] Sigalas [his guide and interpreter] and I dined at a flimsy café, which had been built at the end of the quay by French and Armenian enterprise, and with some justice was called “Au Concert European.” To me it was always a place of special interest, for an Under-Secretary had recently roused laughter in the House of Commons by informing them that starving Crete was in reality doing a “roaring trade” and there can be no doubt that his statement must have been founded on the account books of that restaurant. For it was the one point of prosperity in the whole gloomy island, and what with the French and Russians drinking healths round its tables till they could no longer stand, and certain officers (chiefly French and Russian too) concluding commercial arrangements with feminine apparitions who sat in the corners and were wonderful linguists, the café did a trade which might fairly be described as “roaring.”
Those apparitions of golden hair and other decoration had undergone strange and varied fortunes. Originally there had been but three, but the economic law has stept in to curtail their monopoly, and one afternoon a steamer hailing from Smyrna had brought some fifteen or twenty more. They had first tried to settle at Candia and at Retimo, but the custom-house had refused them a landing as being contraband. With shame and defiant tears the poor things had been driven on to Canea, only to be met with a like refusal from the unbending austerity of the Turk. But is so happened that an Italian officer stood watching, and calling upon two Italian sections, he brought them at the double along the quay to the rescue of the distressed. With fixed bayonets, in two lines, he drew up his men on each side of the gangway, and between the lines the dainty shoes and chiffons and wayworn faces marched into the town in grateful security, to the eternal glory of the European Concert of the Powers. It was strange to see the mixture of derision, shame, and attraction with which the Cretans, both Christian and Mussulman, watched them passing to and fro. But from the moment of their arrival, the Under-Secretary certainly was justified in saying that starving Crete was doing a roaring trade; if indeed starving Crete may be identified with them and their restaurant.”
One wonders which one of these ladies could have been, or was, the model for Madame Hortense in Zorba The Greek?
While Nevinson’s account relates to Canea, by 1898, in an attempt to reduce the incidence of venereal disease among troops, the British Army in Candia had instituted a system of inspection and control of the local prostitutes. According to the Annual Parliamentary Reports from the Army Medical Department, this regime apparently worked well initially. However, it broke down when the Cretan Christian administration took over the town; while apparently checking Christian prostitutes, they were reluctant to take similar steps to check Muslim prostitutes for fear of ‘offending the susceptibilities of the Moslem inhabitants.’
Henry W. Nevinson. Scenes in the Thirty days War between Greece and Turkey; 1897.
J. M. Dent. London, 1898. pp. 248 -250