Tuesday, October 18, 2005


It’s time for British travel writing of the first half of the 20th century, when the going was good, to borrow a phrase from a title of such a work, though not one I’m reading now (I read it just out of college). Not long ago, I picked up The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron, published in 1937, based on a trip he took a few years earlier.

A travel book after my own heart: Byron heads out, overland toward Afghanistan via Cyprus, Palestine, Iraq and Iran, and focuses on what he sees, which he describes in thoughtful but not pedantic detail. Not as easy as it sounds. He also recreates conversations with some of the people he meets along with way, truthfully I believe, since they have that flavor of the sort of half-conversations between people who only partly understand each other.

At one camp [in Afghanistan] two men stopped us. “Where is your kibitka?” they asked.

“My what?”

“Your kibitka?”

“I don’t understand.”

With expressions of contempt and irritation, they pointed to their own felt-and-wattle huts: “Your kibitka—you must have a kibitka. Where is it?”

“In Inglistan.”

“Where is that?”

“In Hindostan.”

“Is that in Russia?”



At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following is from The Road to Oxiana, too. I found it while purging old e-mail, entitled "Plus ça change"

November 25, 1933, Herat, Afghanistan. Shortly after the assassination of King Nadir Shah, the Soviet consulate in Herat was reportedly spreading rumours that the new king had been assassinated, too:

"Addressing himself to the congregation in the Friday Mosque, Abdul Rahim Khan [the governor of Herat] denied the rumour and assured them that in any case order would be maintained. The last announcement depressed them. They care nothing for the king, but were looking forward to a riot in which they could prosecute their quarrels and loot the Shiah merchants. This delightful dream is now postponed till the spring."



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