While serving, Bell was a spy. Often Bell’s dual roles as Oriental Secretary to the High Commissioner in Baghdad indistinguishable.
Once using picnics as a mask, she and her companions took an official to a lonely beach for an interrogation. She and her colleagues “bathed from a little sandy island below Baghdad and went back to dine on the Davidson’s terrace . . . to make it as much as possible like a picnic.”
Another time, Bell recalls that King Faisal provided a royal picnic: “The palace servants had brought up some 8 or 10 huge fish [unidentified]which they roasted before a bonfire of palm fronds, a delectable food which formed the principal course. But besides that there was a multitude of excellent Syrian dishes. You get to hate food in this weather and the Sunday picnic after swimming is the only meal in the week, which I enjoy. We lay on carpets and cushions, like ancient Greeks, and eat by the light of a little moon, after which we remained for a long time under the tamarisk bushes.” All the while, Bell and the king chatted amiably about family matters, she privately wondered, “I hope he’ll go on being as devoted to me as he is now, for it does make things easier to deal with.”
Featured Image: Bell (in Western garb), sitting in the Arab fashion, picnicking with King Faisal and British military officers at Tel’ Aquar Quf (August 1921). To beat the intense heat, Bell and company, which also included ranking British military, dined and arrived home again by 9:00. Bell assures us that in the morning, the dessert was “heavenly.”
See Gertrude Bell Archives, New Castle University; Rory Stewart, “Queen of Quagmire,” The New York Review of Books (October 25, 2007); Werner Herzog. Queen of the Dessert (2015). Screenplay by is Werner Herzog.