Friday, March 11, 2016

Toulet in Mauritius

Toulet in Mauritius - historical notes.

This entry, though quite long, is incomplete, as it does not address the literary output, or more importantly, the literary influences gained during Toulet's three-year sojourn on the island. I will have to come back to that, and some further amplification is needed within these notes that I will add when my research is further along.
I have chosen to translate some passages from the French; others I have left in the original as they are more expressive, and not difficult to understand.

On the morning of November 18, 1885, the MM Sydney of the Messageries Maritimes left Marseilles with the eighteen-year-old Paul-Jean Toulet on board. For his first grand adventure Toulet had hoped for something more exciting. He was to be disappointed. This was not a script by Robert Louis Stevenson. “No activity once the anchor was weighed. No sailors hanging from the rigging, no shouts of command.” Once aweigh, the passengers emerged on deck, and promptly began to be sea sick. Toulet realised he was only a piece of baggage to be transported, the only consideration being whether he was 1st, 2nd or 3rd class.

On 23rd November they reached Port Saïd; then it was Suez, all yellow and blue, shortly thereafter Mahé (Seychelles) “green and scented”; then Saint-Denis of Bourbon (now Réunion) as exquisite as the pretty mulattos that enliven the streets with their rolling gait (“demarche chaloupée”).

Nous jetâmes l' ancre, madame,
     Devant l' île Bourbon
À l' heure où la nuit sent si bon
     Qu' elle vous troublait l' âme.
(Contrerime XLVII)

Finally, on the morning of December 10th, they made landfall at Port-Louis.
“De quelle odeur savoureuse m’ont salué toutes ces îles, Seychelles, Bourbon ou Maurice: un parfum tres sensual, qu’on pense goûter avec le palais, comme une chair vivante, ou des fruits mûrs.” Even if the colonial microcosm is stiff with its traditions, old Europe seems light years away from this luxuriant Eden for this young Béarnais of Créole stock. The tropic-birds and fodies replace the blackbirds and thrushes; the casuarina trees furnish the woods and the cane-fields are the foundation of the family fortune.

Mauritius is roughly 36 miles long by 23 miles broad, with a coral reef varying in breadth from half a mile to two or three miles surrounding. It is quite mountainous except for level stretches by the coast; the interior is broken by hills form 500 to 2711 feet at the summit of Piton de la Rivière Noir. The island is famously the only home of the dodo. First sighted by Europeans around 1600, the dodo became extinct less than eighty years later.

France, which already controlled the neighbouring Île Bourbon (now Réunion) seized Mauritius in 1715 and later renamed it Île de France. Under French rule, the island developed a prosperous economy based on sugar production. In the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) the British set out to gain control of the island. Despite winning the Battle of Grand Port, Napoleon's only naval victory over the British, the French surrendered to a British invasion at Cap Malheureux three months later. They formally surrendered on 3 December 1810, on terms allowing settlers to keep their land and property and religion, and to use the French language and law of France in criminal and civil matters. It was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris (1814). Under British rule, the island's name reverted to the original Mauritius.

The Créoles of Mauritius generally claim descent from ancient French families, such as that of Toulet, on both sides. They were land-owners and planters, but after the emancipation of the slaves in 1834 they began to ship coolies from India to work the sugar cane, so that by 1867, the year of Toulet’s birth, the immigrant population had reached 246,000. In that year, a violent malaria epidemic occurred in Mauritius, resulting in 40,000 deaths in a population of 330 000, with 6000 deaths occurring during just 1 month in urban Port Louis. Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax and P. malariae and two of their vectors, Anopheles funestus and A. gambiae sensu lato, had been imported into Mauritius in the mid-1800s, and, after the 1866-1867 epidemic that literally decimated the population (121 deaths per 1000), the disease became hyperendemic on the island. When Toulet arrived in 1886 the Indians still outnumbered the rest of the population by a factor of two to one.

Toulet remarks in his journal that he embarked at Marseilles on the Calédonien of the Messageries Maritimes and arrived in Mauritius on the morning of 9 December 1885. He also states that he arrived at Port-Saïd on November 22. However, he also claims to be in Réunion on December 15, and on December 16 he describes the island and also his impressions of Mahé in the Seychelles were he stayed “for a few days”. Toulet is mistaken, both with the dates and the ship. Clearly he can’t have been in Mauritius on December 9th and in Réunion on December 15th. Urruty (Footnote 1) searched the records of the Messageries Maritime and discovered that the Calédonien left Marseilles on the 23rd September, arrived in Port-Louis on the 17th October, sailed the next day for Australia, left Nouméa on the 26th November and arrived back at Port-Louis on December 23rd. So the Calédonien left France before Toulet did, and arrived back in Mauritius only when Toulet had already arrived. However, the Sydney, belonging to the same company, left Marseilles on November 18th, was at Port-Saïd on November 23 (Toulet records the 22nd), and at Mauritius on December 10th (Toulet says the 9th). Although Toulet carried a notebook from which he transcribed into his Journal all he wished to retain, nevertheless the Journal is not a precisely dated record of events – some are grouped under a date that clearly could not refer to all items thereunder. Urruty believes the records of the Messageries to be the more reliable, and the evidence certainly points in that direction.

At Mauritius Toulet lived on his father’s plantation of Surinam. Surinam is separated by the Savanne river on the east from Souillac, a town close to the southernmost point of the island. It is the capital of Savanne district. (The town was named after the Vicomte de Souillac, the island's governor from 1779-1787.)
Paul-Jean found himself somewhat constrained by Surinam’s limited attractions - canefields, and straw huts.He liked to take the train from Souillac train station, heading for Curepipe, Port Louis or farther afield. He enjoyed train travel, observing the countryside without, his fellow passengers within. He wasn’t comprehensive in his explorations, visiting chiefly Savanne, (which extended from the Baie du Cap to Gris-Gris), Curepípe and Rose-Hill, Port Louis (centre, and Pailles) and the village of Pamplemousse in the north, Grand-Baie and Jouvence. He enjoyed the local fêtes, races, parties of sega and ghoons, smoked gandia, chased girls (including travelling players) and fell asleep in the shade of the casuarinas and in the sound of the waves.

Toulet also liked to participate in duels. While no mention is made of this species of activity in his Journal, Matineau states that his account was informed by the Journal which Toulet wrote up in a clean copy, but also by various notebooks, loose leaves, and a “cahier de voyage” that Toulet jotted hastily from day to day. Thus Toulet attended a duel between two of his friends where pistols were the weapon of choice. He was also a second in a duel between a certain M. Morel who fought Charles Mortimer on the champ de Lort at Port Louis (subsequently a rifle range!). We have no information on the outcome of these battles.
While in Algiers, on April 16th, 1889, Toulet quarrelled with one Alfred Coste, the brother of Gaston Coste, the director of the théâtre des Nouveautés. Toulet went as far as to strike him, hoping thereby to provoke a duel. But, as he related, “Cet ignoble capon ne veut rien savoir de duel”.) In 1896 Toulet duelled over a girl with one Emile Thore on the steps of the Loustau mansion at Carresse. Jean Thore was a second and witness to the encounter. It was said that at the sight of the first blood the young man nearly passed out. This duel has a historical precedent in that Emile Thore married the god-daughter of the Comte d’Echauz, whose ancestor was challenged by Toulet’s uncle, Pierre-Isidore Loustau, fifty years previously. (The aging comte scorned the challenge). Some years later, at Pau, Francis Jammes met Toulet, when they were both about twenty-six years of age. Jammes make reference in his memoir to at least two further occasions where Toulet was either directly involved in, or tried to provoke, a duel. At Salies, he challenged a rival on the pretext of who could drink more without being incapacitated. The duel was ended by the seconds after Toulet inflicted a flesh wound with his foil.

From April 1886 he began to record events. On 13 April he buried his half-brother Stéphane. – the only reference he makes to his family in the 35 months he spent in Mauritius, renewing relations with his father and sister Jane, whom he hadn’t seen for 4 ½ years! A few days later, he goes to Curepipe (Footnote 2), “that elegant city”. (One can easily mistake this city for an English academic town, as it is home to many schools and tertiary institutions.) On the 22nd he is back in Savanne, then Souillac.

On May 8 after Mass in Saint-Jacques, Souillac, he visited to the establishment of a “débitant monopoliste” ( a retail dealer) of the area and bought his first lot of gandia, (the local term for cannabis) recording the effect as “un peu de lourdeur au corps et de tendresse dans l’esprit”.
Toulet returned to Curepípe and settled into the Hotel Salaffa for a month, where he encountered some English (friendly enough, if one can get past their superiority), some French of course, a pretentious Creole who affected to speak French with an English accent, a gesticulating Italian and a neurotic pianist from Alsace.

On June 18 1886 Toulet attended a sega party. The sega is a local folklore music with it roots in African culture. In the past, the sega music was made only with traditional percussion instruments like goat-skin drums called ravanne, and metal triangles.
The songs usually describe the miseries of slavery, and have been adapted nowadays as social satires to express inequalities as felt by the blacks. Men are usually at the instruments while women perform an accompanying dance which is more often erotic.
Toulet describes the drums being warmed up, the bottle of rum passing around, the dances accompanied by doleful créole songs whose subject matter varied wildly and included anti-English sentiment. He described the dance as a mating ritual : “Ils dansent à deux dont une femme, ou un homme imitant la femme, avec un trémoussement des jambes et du torse, tournant sur eux-mêmes ou selon un cercle, et les pieds suivant assez librement la mesure à deux temps. Parfois l’homme se cambre ou bien se tord, le buste en avant, pour laisser saillir la croupe qui s’agite circulairement….Le sega est une espèce d’image de l’amour : l’homme implore la femme, l’enveloppe de gestes lascifs. Parfois l’un ou l’autre écarte les bras, et quand le moment du plaisir est censé venu, imite par des onomatopées un jaillissement que l’on devine.”

The French fête national was of course still celebrated in the once-French possession, so July 14 found Toulet in Port Louis listening to speeches at the consulate, then he went exploring in Chinatown among the opium eaters. He was not impressed:
“Allé en ville pour la fête française. Je cherche, vainement, des bibelots dans la rue Royale très longue et toute bordée de boutiques généralement chinoises. Je garde comme une impression de cauchemar de cette repetition de faces glabres, de corps malingers perçus dans l’encombrement des échoppes. Les uns écrivent avec de petits pinceaux: d’autres semblent des araignées, embusqués qu’ils sont derrière une barrière concave où est annoncée la vente de l’opium”.
Toulet stayed in Port Louis for some time, taking in the horse racing at the Champ de Mars - the oldest race course (1812) in the Indian Ocean and the second oldest in the southern Hemisphere. He was more interested in the colourful company: “Le coup d’oeil de Champ de Mars est assez beau, envahi par des milliers d’Indous vêtus de blanc et de rouge. Cette harmonie du blanc et du rouge est rompue par d’autres tons plus rares, des jaunes, des bleu-noir, et fait un immense papillotement.” The Europeans, on the other hand, left him decidedly unimpressed: “Les toilettes de la société blanche sont généralement banales. Pour les jeunes filles, du rose et du bleu-clair comme a bal.”

On 27th September , at Chamouny, a small village perched high over the Chemin Grenier, Toulet attended a Yamsé festival, which he described as a Hindu festival – it is in fact Muslim, but Toulet was partially correct, in that the Yamsé festival in Mauritius can trace its roots to India (Footnote 3).  And of course the population was predominantly Indian.
Toulet wrote a number of times on the the colourful get-up of Indian girls, whom he saw in the street, or at a Yamsé festival, which clearly was not confined to Muslims:
"Elles étaient vêtues et de couleurs mates et chaudes, deux ou trois violets magnifiques, du rouge. Elles passent à côté de nous, un peu comme des fleurs qui marchent et je me retourne pour admirer encore ce mariage de nuances qui s’aiment….Elles sont charmantes, avec leur façon un peu athénienne de se draper, parfois de se poser et de se grouper.”
The Yamsé festival has been described by Alexandre Dumas père in his short novel Georges, set in Mauritius, (and scorned by Toulet.) His description is to be found in the notes to this chapter (Footnote 4).
The festival known as the Yamsé or ‘Ghoon’ was first celebrated by the Muslim sailors known as ‘Lascars’ who had settled in the Ile de France, as Mauritius was known during the time of the French administration. It was the first public celebration held by non-Whites in Mauritius and was an occasion of great pomp and festivity.
In the past, the ‘ghoons’ were held in villages all over the island and were popularly celebrated by both Hindus and Muslims. The ‘lever’ and the ‘casser des ghounes’ were the two most important processions. Large crowds from all over the island converged on Plaine Verte to participate, or just watch. The ghoons were made of light wood or bamboo bound very strongly together and covered with gold and silver tinsel, many-coloured papers, glossy stuffs, stars and crescents; and decked all over with little lights, candles or even electric bulbs.
On the night of the ‘lever des ghounes’, the ghoons or ‘tazias’ were taken out. Each ghoon consisted of three to four onion-shaped domes each of which seemed to rise from the interior of the others, the one at the base being the largest. They represented the tombs of the martyrs of Kerbala. The smaller ghoons were carried on the shoulders; the larger ghoons were carried on trolleys. They were often more than thirty feet high and towered above the roofs of the houses. The ‘casser des ghounes’ (the breaking of the ghoons) ceremony was held the next day, and it marked the end of the festival. The procession was similar to the one held the previous night except that no lights and lanterns were carried, as it took place during the day.
This is Toulet description of a ghoon: “une tour en carton ajouré, dentelé, de couleurs éclatantes, avec des vitres de mousseline éclairées à l’intérieur. Au sommet une espèce de tambour à festoons, qui tourne au vent. Ce monument, fait d’étages en retrait, est posé sur une charrette.”

The following day, or the day after, he visited the beach at Gris-Gris, where he claimed to have experienced a bout of vertigo half-way up a modest cliff, which didn’t affect him when he was swinging forty metres over the river in a cargo net at Souillac. (This was a net that carried the bales of sugar across to the transport barges that brought them to Port-Louis.) At the Savannah sugar factory, it was the view of the sea from a veranda that attracted his attention, inspiring the comparison to a Chinese plate: “De la varangue de Savannah, d’où le paysage dévale jusqu’à l’océan, on voit des parterres aux vives nuances, puis des cannes et des filaos d’un vert intense qui se violace au loin, et la mer d’un bleu noir, et le ciel de saphir. Cette mosaïque de tons fait songer à une assiette de Chine.”
(Gris-Gris is well known for its sea cliff. This part of the island is not surrounded by coral reefs, so that the waves break directly on the cliffs. The most spectacular part of Gris-gris is the "Roche Qui Pleure" where the constant crashing of waves against the flanks of the cliff is said to give the impression that the cliff is crying. )

On December 13th Toulet describes once more the effect that smoking gandia has on him: “A strong gandia cigarette, taken at four o’clock, when I never sleep, put me into a gentle doze, bright in the beginning. Bizarre imaginings came, stopped suddenly, were forgotten, then replaced by others. I rarely dream, and I don’t know from one moment to the next where to attribute the pleasure I feel. From the red carpet where I lay, I retain images of purple. Hearing is keener; but sounds lose their “perspective”. One would think they come from afar, and that one is immediately surrounded by silence.”

The journal entries for 1887 amount to a mere two notes; the 1888 entries begin as late as starts 11th May. This section of Toulet’s journal is more cerebral and less frequently descriptive of the countryside. In point of fact, he was less inclined to wander and explore, and spent more time reading and moralising. (Some examples: "Les femmes m’amusent et ne m’intéressent pas, les hommes réciproquement."
"Il est des gens qui ont la susceptibilité de l’huitre ; on ne peut les toucher sans qu’ils se contractent."

The intermediate period hasn’t been recovered even by the assiduous Martineau. One of the 1888 notes refers to a hunting party at Grand-Baie, undated, which Urruty believes contributed to a later poem. Dawn found Toulet in a coppice: “L’aube était teinte de couleurs opposées et profondes, C’était une atmosphère factice, très douce, transparente.”

The last three lines of Chanson XIII read:
L’aube a mis sa rosée aux toiles d’araignée,
Et l’arme du chasseur, avec un faible son,
Perce la brume, au loin, de soleil imprégnée.

On July 6th1888 Toulet was attracted to Port-Louis by the presence there of a troupe of actors newly arrived from France, the Claudius players. And for almost two months, up to September 12th, life was, in his own words, one continuous exhausting party:
“Spent two months in Port Louis from July 6th to September 12th. I intended to do some work, but the girls came and upset things, and thanks to our acquaintance with the theatrical troupe we did nothing for a month and a half but party continuously, exhaustingly, and played some baccarat. With the Mauritius climate, I think myself happy to get out of it only dazed.”
He frequented the Casino, gambled, lurked backstage, watched all the shows from his box. He escorted the ladies of the troupe on picnics to a quiet spot he called for some inscrutable reason the Cascades, as there was no waterfall nearby. “Un petit quartier presque desert, où il y a de l’ombre, de l’eau, un luisant feuillage, tout le décor du plus galant déjeuner sur l’herbe.”

From a precocious beginning, Toulet was ever a womaniser. Given his looks and his wealth, girls were such easy conquests that when he was cheated on in Algiers by Marguerite, he took it very badly. Francis Jammes remarked of him:"C’est la femme qui, toujours, est le centre de sa vision."
And again : "Il aima les femmes de tout son corps, de toute sa fantaisie, de tout son dédain, même de toute sa reconnaissance, mais point de tout son cœur qu’il réserva pour la noblesse de l’homme."
It’s interesting that Jammes mentions "dédain" as it bears out what Toulet himself wrote to Tristan Derème regarding the young women of Pau: "c’est que les filles y ont de la politesse et de la vassalité."

Here then are some further Journal entries for Mauritius that describe his feelings and attitude from his arrival to his departure:

Journal 8 august 1886
Deux soeurs charmantes, non sans une point d’originalité, et dont je ne sais laquelle j’aime mieux. Mais peut-être que leur charme diminuerait si on les séparait – s’il n’y avait plus à côté de l’ainée, assez grande, un peu virile, la cadette toute menue, avec sa grâce sensuelle, son éternal sourire, ses yeux espagnols et sa chair olivâtre.

He seems to have been quite happy to chase the girls around his fathers estate estate. On one occasion a long-time servant of the house warned him to stay away from a young girl, as they were related: "Ne touchez pas cette enfante, elle est votre sœur."
Toulet transferred his attention in turn to some other prey, to be rebuffed each time with the same warning. Exasperated, he exclaimed : "Mon père en avait donc beaucoup planté."

He later wrote of this easy morality in CHANSONS XII:

…je sais, brûlé d’autres cieux,
     Un village sous les goyaves,
Peuplé des fils par mes aïeux
     Qu’ils avaient faits à leurs esclaves.

In another version:

Et j’ai connu sous d’autres ceux
     Un village dans ma jeunesse
Peuplé des fils que mes aïeux
     Avaient conçus de leurs négresses.

This local setback did nothing to dampen his ardour:

Journal juin 1888
C’est toujours le même problème irritant. Je ne sais si j’aime l’une des deux ou toutes les deux. L’une est plus hautaine, l’autre plus voluptueuse, aucune n’est jolie, toutes deux charmante : vaincre l’une, et avoir l’autre.

Journal 26 septembre 1888
J’ai été l’autre jour au célèbre Pamplemousses-garden. Le jardin ni français, ni hollandais, ni anglais, ni exotique m’a agacé, ouï tout le bien qu’on en dit. Et il est couvert d’écriteaux et plein de gardes. Je préfère la forêt vierge vert-de-gris, avec ses arbres morts tout blancs, et ses troncs guillochés d’argent, et je préfère mes forêts béarnaises d’automne, où je cherchais des champignons avec la petite chose aux yeux de pervenche.
Comme vous avez eu raison de vous faire grue, petite chose. Ou, vous auriez épousé un lourdaud,et vous auriez des rides et de têtasses maintenant. Je sais bien où vous tomberez,si vous n’y êtes déjà. Mais qu’importe ; je n’y suis pour rien que pour un peu de dépravation morale. D’ailleurs on y est relativement bien, et même j’y ai rencontré les deux seins les plus exquis que j’ai vus (pour ne pas me citer) :
……double merveille
Deux seins la pointe en l’air et pas encor pâteux.

He expanded his journal account in Behanzigue.
A beautiful garden, much more than a hundred years old, which you enter by gilded gates and broad winding walks. It is the Paul and Virginie quarter. When, at a turn, you expect to meet Mme de la Tour in white muslin, you stumble over a mound covering some fictitious remains. It is Virginie’s tomb.
We had taken with us some actresses attached to a travelling company; my modest tastes paired me with a chorus girl of seventeen or eighteen years, Parisian of Montmartre by race and idiom/accent, with long eye-lashes and tea-rose complexion. The air, which was impregnated with an odour of tuberoses, intoxicated her a little and it was sweet to kiss her lips under the thick foliage of a bodamnian (badamier). And I kissed her too under an orange-flowered flamboyant: these are my favourites.
In the long run this garden irritates me, it is so well kept. And besides, it is full of signs forbidding you to do something, for example to interfere with the century-old eels in the pool, which are, it appears, very naïve in spite of their age. Because of her age my girl is naïve, and since no sign forbids it I kiss her lips, Montmartre and red, a third time.
It is something to put a pretty girl into harmony with the landscape. Rather than this well-raked garden, I would prefer to see her in a verdigris virgin forest with its dead trees like white skeletons, the trunks pencilled with silver and its giant ferns in the form of chandeliers, or rather the French forest in the autumn, here I used to look for mushrooms with the little creature with periwinkle eyes.

This passage first appeated in Voyage du Tendresse, in La Vie Parisienne in 26 August, 1905, and was included in the second edition of Behanzigue in 1921.
It is likely that this lucky lass was no other than the actress described in his Journal: "Il y a dans ces choristes une petite Oranaise de dix-sept ans…alourdie aux pieds et mains, incarnation du voyou, des fossettes, les yeux petits mais embroussaillés de longs cils et une chair qui épuiserait toutes comparaisons: quelque chose de la rose thé."

On September 12th he returned to Curepipe for a farewell dinner given by his friends, (Toulet specifically mentions a H. Elton) as he had made up his mind to leave Mauritius; but on the 26th he announced a delay of a month, without quite stating the obvious – he was sailing in the Pei-Ho (Footnote 5) of the Messageries Maritimes. He didn’t specify the reason for the delay; but in fact the theatrical company, who were now playing in Réunion, were taking the Pei-Ho from there back to France.

Toulet finally left Mauritius on 23rd October, 1888, embarking at Port-Louis, and arriving at the Pointe des Galets on the north coast of Réunion on the morning of the 24th. He went immediately by train to Saint-Denis, met the Claudius players, and embarked that afternoon in their company, to which, according to his own expression, he morally belonged.

Before leaving, he recorded some final impressions, none too flattering, of Mauritius and its inhabitants. The girls he found somewhat backward, with little conversation, and putting on weight after marriage! The youth he thought superficial, narrow-minded, full of themselves and their country, poorly educated, and too material in their outlook. Their saving grace was their hospitality and friendliness. The Mauritian section of his journal concludes with the wry advice: “Surtout pour connaître l’île Maurice, ne conseiller ni Paul et Virginie (Footnote 6), ni Georges (Footnote 7)

Homeward Bound

Even on the voyage home, Toulet managed to indulge in amorous adventures. First there was the blonde mademoiselle de Fontanges, actress, part of the troupe, and all of seventeen. Her voice enchanted Toulet; it had, he said, the savour taste of wild sorrel nibbled on the fringes of a meadow. "Ah, quelle voix elle avait; on eût dit de ces oseilles sauvages, dont on mâche en passant au bord d’un pré." The voyage took on the aspect of a cruise, the ship stopping at a number of ports of call – Tamatave (des négresses assez belles) on the 26th, Sainte-Marie (les femmes y sont jolies) on the 27th, Diego Suarez on the 28th, then leaving Nossi-Bé on the 30th it made landfall at Zanzibar on November 3rd. His entry on Zanzibar was more extensive, taking in the buildings, flotillas, cages of lions and other cats on the quay, natives of all hues, prisoners in chains. The harem, he says, is especially a piece of “local colour.” He gets a little sentimental about the French flag, flying above the consulate, “loque presque banale sous le ciel de France, don’t on ne sait tout le prix qu’à l’étranger." In the evening, having smoked gandia on deck, he reports a more fantastic Zanzibar, of interlacing snowy palaces rising one above the other.
Aden was stifling, without nuances or perspective, the sky dotted with heavy vultures; and everywhere nothing but the three colours plaster, indigo and beige. Obock was as desolate as Aden, only meaner. They didn’t go ashore.
At Suez, Toulet and company took the train for Alexandria, where the company left him for a booking in Constantinople. Alexandria made a poor impression – it was full, he claimed, of flashy foreigners, snobs and interlopers.

Many years later, when his sister Jane and her husband were called to Egypt to take care of a relative, Toulet, alone at La Raffette, reminisced in a letter to Madame Bulteau:
“Suez, as I recall it, was a biblical country composed of sand, ennui, and blue houses. We were very uncomfortable. At the time I was morally attached to a company of strolling players. Among them was a very young actress who played the part of Cupid in Orphée aux Enfers. Some time before, she had made a baker’s apprentice leave Marseilles and dodge military service. He was a jealous brute, and he became jealous of me and swore he would do for me in some corner, which would have been easy for him. When he got to know me, he changed, and became devoted to me. He carried my bags and showed me such friendship that I was embarrassed as to how I could return the favour. On the boatdeck, the light of the Southern Cross illuminated his first assertions, and he struck the rail with his fist, which calmed him down.
…There was also a young leading lady in the troupe who stirred me when she played Carmen…
All these people left me at Alexandria where I met a Greek cabaret artist called Katina, perfectly beautiful. She barely had time to demonstrate any affection when she died of a pernicious attack.”
On excursion to Cairo, he started for the Pyramid of Cheops at six in the morning, wrapped up in an overcoat as if it were Siberia (it was only eight degrees).
He visited the tombs of the Caliphs, and the mosque of Muhammed Ali, inside the Citadel of Saladin, and the Boulak museum, where he compared a statue of Sésostris to an old, stubborn Gascon with yellow hair. (In 1891, the collections were moved to a former royal palace, in the Giza district of Cairo. They remained there until 1902 when they were moved, for the last time, to the current museum in Tahrir Square.)
He returned to Alexandria and a Katina fatally affected by an acute Plasmodium falciparum infestation, resulting in a form of cerebral malaria. Frédéric Martinez is dubious – he thinks Toulet might well have been spinning a yarn – he was well capable - but it was not unlike him to put a careless gloss on a tragic event.

On the 22nd, having smoked and drunk too much the previous evening, in a bar where the waiter was Russian, the owner German and the brasserie French, he slept through the day, had no appetite, and that evening, feeling very low, decided to eat some opium that he had purchased at Zanzibar. As a result he suffered a night of insomnia interspersed with bad dreams that made the night seem like a century, with acute insufferable sensations of sight and hearing. Only sensations of touch or feeling were tolerable. He decided to hate this “most banal Alexandria” with as much loathing as Baudelaire expressed for Belgium, or Stendhal for Lyon.
(Urruty states defensively that there’s no record by Toulet of using opium in Mauritius, whereas he has no shame in mentioning all his other debaucheries. If anything he seems put off by the Chinese in Rue Royale. But he buys it on the way home - and eats it!)

On November 24, 1888 Toulet embarked from Alexandria on the Djemnah, intending to go to Algiers, but ending up in Toulon for two days to recover money loaned to an officer he met on board. (He did manage to visit the Marseilles museum first, where he remarked on a Millet, Breughel and Ruysdael among others.) In the mess at Toulon he mingled both with officers returning from Madagascar and Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, and those en route to Sudan and Tonkin. The French colonies stretched far and wide at the period.

But on December 1st he was back in Marseilles, and boarding the Languedoc for the short two-day sailing to Algiers.


Footnote 1

In1852, the shipping company was incorporated in Paris as the Compagnie des Services Maritimes des Messageries Nationales, renamed in 1853 Compagnie des Messageries Impériales. The company bought the shipyard of La Ciotat, where most of its ships were built. The company efficiently transported French troops during the Crimean War (1854-55). As a reward, it was granted the postal lines to Algeria, Tunisia, and the Black Sea, and to South America (1857). The line Bordeaux-Brazil was the first French line served by steamships. Between 1862 and 1865, lines were set up to Far-East and Japan. A secondary line served the Indian Ocean via Réunion and Mauritius. 
On 17 November 1869, the Messageries Impériales liner Péluse inaugurated the Suez Canal, sailing just behind the Imperial vessel. The canal dramatically reduced the travel durations and increased the commercial exchanges, triggering the shipping business. On 1 August 1871, the company took the name of Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes. By 1872 it had a fleet of 64 ships.)
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Footnote 2

Curepipe is centrally situated in Mauritius, second in size and importance only to Port Louis, Its name originates from the practice of settlers coming to the town to refill, or "cure" their pipes. Lying on the central plateau, 1800 feet above sea-level, Curepipe has a temperate climate with cool winters and rainy, humid summers. The French founded the settlement at the very beginning of the French colonisation of the island, with the climate reminding them of their native France.
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Footnote 3
According to Ahmad Ramtally, writing in the Mauricien, 16th November, 2013, the most striking aspect about the observances of the month of Muharram is that it is celebrated in various parts of India not only by Muslims but by Hindus also. In several towns and villages, Hindus join Muslims in lamenting the death of Hussein (grandson of the Prophet) by sponsoring or taking part in tazia processions. (

Footnote 4
"Alors, entre deux haies de spectateurs, les Lascars s'avancent, les uns à moitié cachés sous des espèces de petites pagodes pointues, faites comme le grand gouhn, et qu'ils appellent aïdorés ; les autres, armés de bâtons et de sabres émoussés ; d'autres, enfin, à moitié nus, sous des vêtements déchirés. Puis, à un certain signe, tous s'élancent ; ceux qui portent les aïdorés se mettent à tourner sur eux-mêmes en dansant ; ceux qui portent les sabres et les bâtons commencent à combattre en voltigeant les uns autour des autres, portant et parant les coups avec une adresse, merveilleuse ; enfin, les derniers se frappent la poitrine et se roulent à terre avec l'apparence du désespoir, tous criant à la fois ou tour à tour : « Yamsé ! Yamli ! O Hoseïn ! O Ali ! »
Pendant qu'ils se livrent à cette gymnastique religieuse, quelques-uns d'entre eux s'en vont offrant à tout venant du riz bouilli et des plantes aromatiques.
Cette promenade dure jusqu'à minuit ; puis, à minuit, ils rentrent au camp malabar dans le même ordre qu'ils en sont sortis, pour n'en plus sortir que le lendemain à la même heure.
Mais, le lendemain, la scène changea et s'agrandit. Après avoir fait dans la ville la même promenade que la veille, les Lascars, à la nuit venue, rentrèrent au camp, mais pour aller chercher le gouhn, résultat de la réunion des deux bandes. Il était cette année plus grand et plus splendide que tous les précédents. Couvert des papiers les plus riches, les plus éclatants et les plus disparates, éclairé au dedans par de grandes masses de feu, au dehors par des lanternes de papier de toutes couleurs, suspendues à tous les angles et à toutes les anfractuosités, qui faisaient ruisseler sur ses vastes flancs des torrents de lumière changeante, il s'avança porté par un grand nombre d'hommes, les uns placés dans l'intérieur, les autres à l'extérieur, et qui, tous, chantaient une sorte de psalmodie monotone et lugubre ; devant le gouhn marchaient des éclaireurs, balançant au bout d'une perche d'une dizaine de pieds des lanternes, des torches, des soleils et d'autres pièces d'artifice. Alors, la danse des aïdorés et les combats corps à corps reprirent de plus belle. Les dévots aux robes déchirées recommencèrent à se frapper la poitrine en poussant des cris de douleur, auxquels toute la masse répondait par les cris alternés de : « Yamsé ! Yamli ! O Hoseïn ! O Ali ! » cris encore plus prolongés et plus déchirants que ces mêmes cris poussés la veille. "
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Footnote 5 The Pei-Ho was the last of a series of 5 mailboats constructed at La Ciotat , three-masted twin-funnelled barques. It was fitted out in Marseilles in May 1870 for the Far Eastern route which it maintained until 1885 when it went back to La Ciotat for major modification of engines. It served the Levant, then Madagascar. It suffered severe damage in a cyclone in February 1892 (at Port-Louis). Became part of a fleet of eight vessels that transported 8000 men and 1000 horses and mules and 12,000 cubic metres of cargo to China in 1900, it was finally broken up in Marseilles in 1902.
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Footnote 6
Paul et Virginie, a sentimental idyll of lovers brought up as siblings, set in Mauritius, by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. (1737–1814)
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Footnote 7
In 1843 Dumas he wrote a short novel, Georges, that addressed some of the issues of race and the effects of colonialism. Despite Dumas' aristocratic background and personal success, he had to deal with discrimination related to his mixed-race ancestry. His response to a man who insulted him about his African ancestry has become famous. Dumas said:
"Mon père était un mulâtre, mon grand-père était un nègre et mon arrière grand-père un singe. Vous voyez, Monsieur: ma famille commence où la vôtre finit."
(My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.)
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