What does this camel stable want from us? Do the camels have a shelter? They live in the open air, under the sun and under the stars, accustomed to all kinds of fatigue, carrying all kinds of burdens, stocking up on water in their goitre to cross the great anhydrous deserts, grazing on a few tough shoots of dwarf palm, or a few tufts of even tougher esparto grass.
Sober and indefatigable, the camel carries on the longest journeys without fail. It has been compared to a ship on a sea of sand. More useful than the mule, it has the same qualities and defects. Like the mule, it is hard to walk and to bear burdens, and it is annoying like the mule. It seems to protest eternally against the domination of man. He obeys by always resisting. He grunts to lie down: he grunts when he is unloaded, as well as when he is loaded. When he has protested in his own way, his conscience is clear, and he loves patience, his great virtue along with sobriety, to go where his driver leads him.
Stables! It is good for horses, these friends of man. The Arab horse lives in the tent, pampered by the family. His flanks sometimes bleed under the sharp spur of his rider, brutal even in his affections. But at least he has the tasty barley and the soft woolen blankets to quench the sweat of his long runs. As for the camel, it has nothing but ill-treatment; it was born, like the donkey and the mule, for an opposite destiny.
It is true that the constant bad temper of the camel is truly impatient and ends up annoying your nerves, I have seen, in a hot sun, and after a long walk, drivers, irritated by its persistent grumbling, pick up a handful of burning sand and throw it with fury into the gaping and beastly mouths of these poor exhausted animals. Nothing has ever made me more indignant and revolted. But what do you want? The camels themselves protested against me when I took their side.
It definitely took the Champ de Mars to improve the sociability of man and camel a little.
It has been said that the sounds of music have the power to calm the camel and make it obedient. I do not deny that the melancholy sounds of the Arabian chanter, purified by the wind, have a gentle and softening effect. But Arabic music, strictly speaking, has never calmed anyone, not even the camel; its monotonous rhythm, but irresistible in the long run, is rather made to kindle furious intoxication.
"Give barley and abuse" says the Arab in speaking of the horse, the Arab abuses the camel, and gives him nothing.
It is not so at the Champ de Mars, and for the vengeful affection that I bear for the victims, I am quite happy to see the camels take their revenge here, by monopolising for themselves all the honours of the reception.
Do not think, moreover, that the camel does not have certain compensations with regard to man, even in the desert: the first is to tire the mahout enormously who rides and oppresses him. Nothing is harder than the trot of a camel; to resist it, one needs more than a habit, - a grace of state. After having made the rough but short experience of it, I sincerely pitied the women who are hoisted on their backs in a sort of closed canopy, and who thus accompany in the longest races their master and lord, mounted on his horse. The horse, in Africa, is the privilege of the man; the camel, in the absence of a mule, is good enough to carry the woman.
The camel, properly speaking, has two humps: when it has only one, it is a dromedary. There are even two kinds of dromedaries, the carrying dromedary and the running dromedary; the latter is called mahari: it is recognised by its white coat. It is of the latter species that the hosts of the Champ de Mars and the Jardin d'Acclimatation are.
There are falcons in Algeria; and it is even for an Arab chief, as it was for a former Christian baron, a luxury to which he is very attached. But the messenger pigeon, of which the Chinese have made a living telegram, is unknown. In the absence of a pigeon, the mahari is used for messages. If you have an important order or secret to pass on at a long distance, or even a love affair, you need a messenger on camelback! The mahari sets off at its infernal trot, and does not stop until it has reached the end of its journey, sometimes fifty leagues from its starting point. I leave you to think in what state the one who rides him returns!
This is how camels take revenge for the services they are forced to render. In a word, they are always intractable; but they become quite unruly at the time of their love affairs.
I imagine, I don't know why, that the mahari of the Champ de Mars will always miss their native land, if they can no longer martyrize or enrage their drivers. Besides, in the midst of civilisation, as in the Sahara, they will continue to protest against the domination of man.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée