Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chapter 18 - Rakaposhi revisited

It's been a few days and I haven't heard from you. The dreams and readings and happenings were odd enough for me to stay put until I get some notice and now I'm not sure what to do. I find myself avoiding Gaudy Night. Not ready to be tamed, or to have my picture of you tamed, more accurately.

But I found a book here, dusty, on a back bookshelf in the little hut I'm staying in, about Rakaposhi. There were cobwebs. I'm sure you couldn't have left it here. I shall distract myself, but I hope you will write soon.


Road to Rakaposhi, George Band

p. 20: ‘This one was Rakaposhi, 25,550 feet, guardian of the Hunza Valley, and only two or three days’ march from Gilgit where there was a landing strip.”

p. 79: “‘For the first thirty miles to Chalt there was a jeep road, so instead of engaging coolies we were able, through the kindness of the Pakistan Army, to load up six jeeps and their trailers and drive off.

What a journey! We tore through the bazaar, scattering chickens and children on either side of us, crossed the Gilgit river by a fine wooden suspension bridge and sped along the alluvial flats bordering the river raising a cloud of dust behind us. After a few miles we turned to follow up beside the Hunza River.

Here the valley was wide and barren, without a scrap of vegetation. Water-worn stones and boulders filled the plain and dry, dun-coloured hills rose on either side. After the village of Nomal the valley narrowed and we left our trailers behind because the track became too tortuous. Great cliffs rose several thousand feet above on either side. The road clung crazily to the crags, built out in places on wood and dry stone ledges with a breath-taking drop three hundred feet to the swirling waters below.

We plunged through streams and over river beds, detoured around each deeply carved watercourse and raced between enormous boulders with inches to spare. Two miles from Chalt an avalanche had overwhelmed the route, so we gladly said good-bye to our daring drivers. Coolies and mules carried our stores into the village to the rest house where we were glad to spend the night.

We had now entered Nagir territory. “

p. 74 The facing page has a map which shows the Indus heading NW and beginning its turn to the south at a point where Rakaposhi presents a northern barrier and, directly on the other side Nanga Parbat presents a southern barrier! Those two mountains, those amazing mountains from different continents, are the 'banks' of the Indus?!!

Chapter 17 - The Price of Things

How do you send me the next pages of what was only a dream?

I got the narrow parcel with only a few pages in it, but the cover page gave the title of the book. It's some kind of novel by an English writer, a woman, I'm sure of it. I can't tell when it was written, but the setting seems to be between the wars, am I right? And the whole thing is the continuation of my strange dream!

This *is* what you sent, isn't it?

""Then you won't dance it with me?" Amaryllis challenged smilingly--she would not let him see that she was cast down. "I do so want to dance!"

His eyes grew fierce.

"I beg of you not! I desire to keep the picture I have made of you since we met--later I shall dance it myself with a suitable partner, but I donot want you mixed with this tarnished herd."

Amaryllis answered with dignity:

"If I thought of it as you do I should not want to dance it at all." She was aggrieved that her expressed desire might have made him hold her less high--"and you have taken all the bloom from my butterfly's wing--I will never enjoy dancing it again--let us go and sit down."

He gave her his arm and they moved from the room, coming almost into conflict with Madame Boleski and her partner, Ferdinand Ardayre, whose movements would have done honour to the lowest human being.

"There is your friend, Madame Boleski--she dances--and so well!"

"Harietta is an elemental--as I told you before--it is right that she should express herself so. She is very well aware of what it all means and delights in it. But look at that lady with the hair going grey--it is the Marquise de Saint Vrillière--of the bluest blood in France and of a rigid respectability. She married her second daughter last week. They all spend their days at the tango classes, from early morning till dark--mothers and daughters, grandmothers and demi-mondaines, Russian
Grand Duchesses, Austrian Princesses--clasped in the arms of incredible scum from the Argentine, half-castes from Mexico, and farceurs from New York--decadent male things they would not receive in their ante-chambers before this madness set in!"

"And you say it is a dance Macabre? Tell me just what you mean."

They had reached a comfortable sofa by now in a salon devoted to bridge, which was almost empty, the players, so eager to take part in the dancing, that they had deserted even this, their favourite game.

"When a nation loses all sense of balance and belies the traditions of its whole history, and when masses of civilised individuals experience this craze for dancing and miming, and sex display, it presages some great upheaval--some calamity. It was thus before the revolution of 1793, and since it is affecting England and America and all of Europe it seems, the cataclysm will be great."

Amaryllis shivered. "You frighten me," she whispered. "Do you mean some war--or some earthquake--or some pestilence, or what?"

"Events will show. But let us talk of something else..."

Are you like that, Ivan? I feel the heroine here:

"A sudden illumination seemed to come into Amaryllis' brain; she felt how limited had been all her thoughts and standpoints in life. She had been willing to drift on without speculation as to the goal to be reached. Indeed, even now, had she any definite goal? She looked at the Russian's strong, rugged face, his inscrutable eyes narrowed and gazing ahead--of
what was he thinking? Not stupid, ordinary things--that was certain.

"It is the second evening, amidst the most unlikely surroundings, that you have made me speculate about subjects which never troubled me before. Then you leave me unsatisfied--I want to know--definitely to know!"

"Searcher after wisdom!" and he smiled. "No one can teach another very much. Enlightenment must come from within; we have reached a better stage when we realise that we are units in some vast scheme and responsible for its working, and not only atoms floating hither and thither by chance.

Most people have the brains of grasshoppers; they spring from subject to subject, their thoughts are never under control. Their thoughts rule them--it is not they who rule their thoughts."

They were seated comfortably on their sofa, and Verisschenzko leaning forward from his corner, looked straight into her eyes.

"You control your thoughts?" she asked. "Can you really only let them wander where you choose?"

"They very seldom escape me, but I consciously allow them indulgences."

"Such as?"

"Visions--day dreams--which I know ought not to materialise."

Something disturbed her in his regard; it was not easy to meet, so full of magnetic emanation. Amaryllis was conscious that she no longer felt very calm--she longed to know What his dreams could be.

"Yes--but if I told you, you would send me away."

It seemed that he could read her desire. "I shall order myself to be gone presently, because the interest which you cause me to feel would interfere with work which I have to do."

"And your dreams? Tell them first?" she knew that she was playing with fire.

He looked down now, and she saw that he was not going to gratify her curiosity.

"My noblest dream is for the regeneration of a nation--on that I have ordered my thoughts to dwell. For the others, the time is not yet for me to tell you of them--it may never come.

Then you've cut the pages and continue here:

"It is quite useless for a family merely to continue from generation to generation piling up possessions, and narrowing its interests. It must do this for a time to become solid, and then it should take a vaster view, and begin to help the world. Nearly everything is spoiled in all civilisation because of this inability to see beyond the nose, this poor and paltry outlook."

"People rave vaguely," Amaryllis argued, "about one's duty and vast outlooks and those things, but it is difficult to get any one to give concrete advice--what would you advise me to do, for instance?"

"I would advise you first to begin asking yourself the reason of everything, each day, since Pandora's box has been opened for you in any case. 'What caused this? What caused that?' Search for causes--then eradicate the roots, if they are not good, do not waste time on trying to ameliorate the results!

Determine as to why you are put into such and such a place, and accomplish what you discover to be the duty of the
situation. But how serious we have become! I am not a priest to give you guidance--I am a man fighting a tremendously strong desire to take you in my arms--so come, we will return to the ball room, and I will deliver you to your husband."

Amaryllis rose and stood facing him, her heart was beating fast. "If I try to do well--to climb the straight road of the soul's advancement, will you give me counsel should I need it by the way?"

"Yes, this I will do when I have complete control, but for the moment you are causing me emotions, and I wish to keep you a thing apart--of the spirit. Hermits and saints subdue the flesh by abstinence and fasting; they then become useless to the world. A man can only lead men while he remains a man, with a man's passions, so that he should not fight in this beyond his strength--only he should _never sully the wrong thing_. Come! Return to the husband--and I shall go for a while to hell."

And presently Amaryllis, standing safely with John, saw Verisschenzko dancing the maddest one-step with Madame Boleski, their undulations outdoing all others in the room!"

Wow! I don't know what to think of this. But I know now that I do not know you.

Am I safe?


That night I didn't dream, but as I fell asleep, I heard a familiar phrase: "Pick up the book and read," it said.

And I remembered that command was given to St. Augustine -- before he was a saint, when he was still a wild animal.

I guess I'll have to read about Peter Wimsey. This Stepan fellow is exciting, but he makes me uneasy.

Chapter 16 - Ivan Verischenko, Peter Wimsey

I had a dream about you last night which made me uneasy. It showed a side of you I've never seen. And the dream wasn't like any other dream because I was reading about you. I could only see what was written on the page:

"Amaryllis Ardayre had never seen a Paris ball before. She was enchanted. The sumptuous, lofty rooms, with their perfect Louis XV gilt _boiseries_, the marvellous clothes of the women, the gaiety in the air! She was accustomed to the new weird dances in England, but had not seen them performed as she now saw them.

"This orgie of mad people is a wonderful sight," Verisschenzko said, as he stood by her side. "Paris has lost all good taste and sense of the fitness of things. Look! the women who are the most expert in the wriggle of the tango are mostly over forty years old! Do you see that one in the skin-tight pink robe? She is a grandmother! All are painted--all are feverish--all would be young! It is ever thus when a country is on the eve of a cataclysm--it is a dance Macabre."

Amaryllis turned, startled, to look at him, and she saw that his eyes were full of melancholy, and not mocking as they usually were.

"A dance Macabre! You do not approve of these tangoes then?"

He gave a small shrug of his shoulders, which was his only form of gesticulation.

"Tangoes--or one steps--I neither approve nor disapprove--dancing should all have its meaning, as the Greek Orchises had. These dances to the Greeks would have meant only one thing--I do not know if they would have wished this to take place in public, they were an aesthetic and refined people, so I think not. We Russians are the only so-called civilised nation who are brutal enough for that; but we are far from being civilised really. Orgies are natural to us--they are not to the French or
the English. Savage sex displays for these nations are an acquired taste, a proof of vicious decay, the middle note of the end."

What does this dream mean?



And the next day a small, wiry man from a nearby village handed me a book without any wrapping or any note. It was 'Gaudy Night' by Dorothy Sayers.

Chapter 15 - Reading from Fairley

Sept 1, 2007
I love this book. I'm glad I have it to read because I haven't heard a word from you in weeks. I know you're nearby in some way, but you know how the black dog sneaks up on me, and he always announces his coming with this kind of anxious worry, even fear.

The book is soothing, wonderful. It pushes away everything else and lets me into sunny places where there is no worry.

Today's Essay from The Lion River:

The Portuguese missionaries who came in the middle ages weren’t happy in Tibet, but to me it sounds like heaven.

“The landscapes are immense. The air is thin and sharp and the details of shapes and colours, even at long distances, show brilliantly clear.

“The biggest flakes were as big as the fleece of wool,
They came flying down like birds.
The small ones were the size of peas and mustard seeds,
They came down rolling and whirling.

Ivan, these missionaries missed their calling! This is beautiful!

The greatness of the snowfall was beyond all expression,
High up it covered the crest of the glacier ranges,
Low down it buried, up to their tops, the trees of the forest.
The black hills appeared to be whitewashed.
The frost flattened the billowy lakes
And the blue running streams were hidden under the ice.

What blue running streams? Oh, look:

“The east-to-west slope of the western Tibetan plateau…is gentle and the Indus flows shallow there, clear blue except in summer spate when its water greys and thickens with the ice-melt. In winter the river freezes and the ground is blanketed with snow.”

Ah, now I see where I have been. How I love to understand the terrain. And how I would have loved to take more geography in college. My friends thought I was crazy.

“Even if you don’t have to?! Why? It’s just learning the capitols of all the states,” Mary, one of my artist friends had said.

But she was wrong. It was about climate and corridors and barriers and soil types and why people lived the way they did in one place, and differently in another. It was history with a body.

But I was married and pregnant and graduated soon after -- a period that became less and less happy and during which, as I discovered many years later, this same artist friend was sleeping with every one of our friends husbands, mine included. Amazing how blind you can be. Anyway, geography was set aside for many years for great love and great sorrows and some stupid, meaningless dramas. What a mistake you make when you choose the wrong partner. But, to be honest, I never saw the right one.

Until now.

I got on that train in Kyrgyzstan and I rattled with it on its way over hills toward mountains to find my donkeys and these friendly (if weird) Sherpa-type handlers (who have demanded that I teach them English, which actually should be fun). Even on the train I understood that I should have gotten to Tibet in the spring before the glaciers melted. But, the closer I got, the clearer it became that it was already too late. Now, as we walk beside the the water, along a less gradual downward grade, the clear blue stream is fed from other streams, rushing in from the ice-melt, swollen, grey and rocky and changing the nature of the stream. This is how rivers are built. Amazing to see it before one's eyes. It's powerful and quite moving, but it's not pretty.

The same thing was happening in my mind. My brain was churning and not clear. My heart, too.

I never told you this then, Ivan, so I think I should mention it now. Here's the entry from my letter to you in my journal of that day:

" ...I don’t know where you are and I’m getting a little frightened for you. For me, too.

But at the next stop, some hole-in-the-ground joyless train stop in the middle of nowhere, I was handed a narrow package through the window, wrapped in your telltale brown paper and tied with rough string – a parcel, as you always call such things, which I love. (It takes me back to childhood Victorian novels). I smoothed my hands over its surface and tore it open, carefully avoiding any part where your pen had written. I could see your hand holding that green fountain pen, moving over the brown paper, writing names and addresses, from and to.

As usual, the thought went through my mind: how the hell did you find me here?

Folding the paper and tucking it with the rough string into a corner of my satchel, I looked at the narrow, dark red hard-bound book. An etching of some mountain tops surrounding a lake was engraved half-way down the page and I could barely make out a few written characters:

’10,000 ft.’

At the top of the cover, surrounded by a bright gold-leaf oval, were the words, also in gold: Physical Geography of WESTERN TIBET ,and below that, the name H. Strachey.

It was very formal, a study commissioned by the government, (you flatter me, Ivan, to think I can read such technical stuff) but Strachey revealed rather clearly in his preface that he was plenty pissed off:

"The following Memoir contains the purely geographical part of a report submitted to the Indian Government after my return from the Tibetan Boundary Commission, which was deputed to Ladak by the Governor-General (Lod Hardinge) in 1847. The diplomatic object of this commission was to define officially the territorial boundary between the trans-Himalayan possessions of our new ally and dependent Maharaja Gulab Singh, and the Tibetan provinces subject to China:

but the Chinese Tibetan authorities declining, as usual, to hold any intercourse with the British, or to admit us within their territory, our commission, consisting of Major A. Cunningham, Dr. T. Thomson, and myself, was admitted only through the British Hill Provinces into Ladak, and left to employ itself during the two years between the summers of 1847 and 1849 in such general geographical explorations as were still open to us. "

Wow. Temper, temper. He gets worse:

"The barbarous anarchy of the mountain tribes on the N.W. fronier beyond the Indus offering as great an obstacle to travelling on that side as the jealousy of the Chinese Government on the E., we found ourselves confined to Lakak and Balti, and the neighboring Himalayan provinces in the hands of Gulab Singh, regions already visited and described by Moorcroft and Trebeck, and Mr. Vigne, so that we could only collect further information in the same field, without effecting much new exploration."

Well, I guess he was cranky for a reason. Were those others he mentioned interesting? I remember the name Moorcroft and some kind of terrible story. Should I switch to history?

I’ll copy this into a letter and read this book until we hit the next ‘food’ stop and mail it."

Of course, things are so different now.

Chapter 14 - Letter from Ivan

His letter arrived a few days later! It should have taken weeks for him to get mine, but by now I understood that he was reading my mind. I'd read about such things, but didn't believe in them. Now I had to.

Beloved Ginger

Yes, I did smile, but only because of your comparison of life to the lake: I love to see how your mind perceives familiar places and was not disappointed. It's like passing a magnet under a piece of paper holding steel shavings: a new pattern always emerges. (Pass it over paper, wood or bananas, and you’ll get nothing. Now you can make fun of my metaphor, if you like.)

I’ve often thought of using Kipling’s Kim for the basis of a film. It’s a brilliantly written book (TS Eliot used to read it to his wife in the evenings because he loved the language so much). But, as you noticed, it never ventures sufficiently far to the north and India isn't on our itinerary.

Your letters of introduction that will get you to the stranger places, which I won't name here, are on their way. I’ve arranged for them to arrive only after you’ve had the joy of standing in that magical place where you can look over your left shoulder, up almost to the sky, and see Nanga Parbat, and then turn your head and look over your right shoulder to see Rakaposhi.

I wouldn’t think of distracting you until you have done that.

There isn’t any point in taking photos or videos of that particular view, and I don’t believe it’s possible to sketch anything so amazing, but try to send me some kind of picture. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and you shall be my eyes.

I am always with you,


Chapter 13 - Lake Manosarowar

Dearest Ivan

I don't know when this letter will find you. As you requested, I won't email you if I find another Internet cafe -- how unimaginable to find such a place here in the remotest place on earth, but I have done so twice, and am always waiting to see a little building perched behind the next hill with a picture of a computer on the outside!

As you have advised, I will gather the scraps I find each day in my travels and in the books you have sent, selecting those passages that leap from the page only. This is a nice kind of research project. And I'll take terrible photos of what seems like good locations with my cell phone (it does work here as you said it would!) and send them on without comment.

Again, I will only take photos where I find myself stirred or where I see the hint of a story, of people pitted against the terrain -- or each other in that terrain -- appear to me.

Right now, I’m reading Jean Fairley again, The Lion River. This, so far, is my favorite of all the books you've sent me.

"The source of the Indus (and Ganges and everything) is not Lake Manasarowar. Moorcroft found it out in 1811. Fairley writes: (p3)…for the first time the the legendary source of the Indus came under a clear and scientific eye…The lake, he reported, has a noble appearance, its pebbled shores and sandy beaches strewn with great blocks of red and green granite that had fallen from the 300-foot-high cliffs. It was a windy place and the winds constantly shifted and fluctuated. The water was ‘well-tasted.’ There were eagles, grey geese and several kinds of gulls. Clouds of black gnats bothered him during the day but when the wind dropped in the evening they flew out over the lake and were snapped up by the innumerable lake trout.

"Whatever else Lake Nansarowar offered for Moorcroft’s interested inspection it was not, he was certain, the source of the Indus, nor of any other river. Many steep streams spilled into the lake but no rivers at all flowed out of it, so far as he could see. The holy lake, ringed by beautiful and awe-inspiring mountains, was not the inexhaustible found of great rivers that legend maintained it to be."

Now, that's like life. I know you’ll smile at such a stupid sentence, but listen and you’ll see there’s something to it. Some of us faced the truth and tried to learn about the colored granite, the eagles, the gulls, and we crabbed about the gnats and the weather, and we loved the trout. We knew we had to make it do.

The others, perhaps like you, Ivan, saw that meaningful phrase at the end of the sentence: “Many steep streams spilled into the lake but no rivers at all flowed out of it, so far as he could see." and these people spent their lives retracing his tracks, always looking where they thought he could not see.

Kim never came this far north, Ivan. I have it on the authority of Hopkirk, in that small book I found in one of the Buddhist rest houses. His opening map shows ‘Kim Country’ and you can see he got no farther north than Lahore and Amritsar. That’s the British paradise of Kashmir, where they came up from the steaming heat of the plains in summer to their rest houses and English gardens. Over the top of his pointy little marks that represent mountains, far away from the dotted line that marks Kim’s travels, is the name that intriques me: Leh. A place no one in my home town has ever heard of. So I’ll go back to Fairley, who explains it well, as I recall.

Have I thanked you lately for giving me this job, my dearest Ivan? Despite my gloomy meanderings about the over-glorified Lake Manasarowar (and life) (how you must be laughing at me), I now have some sort of direction, something to do that seems to matter.

To say nothing of your craggy face, the door to a safe and beautiful world. Shall I delete that? No, I don’t think so.

I’ll write again as soon as I find something worth writing about. If any of this looks useful for the script, let me know and I’ll try to do some sketches. I’m amazed at my new-found ability to draw, and although I’d never be allowed into an art show, I think my depictions might be very useful for your storyboards.

All right, to sleep and tomorrow I follow the Indus northwest from this pretty, landlocked little lake. And yet, it’s not isolated, blocked, irrelevant. It's like a library: Books come in, books go out, and each book is a world. So it is with the pretty lake: springs from beneath the ground flow into it, steams flow out. They say there is an underground channel between Lake Manosarowar and the actual mouth of the Indus, some thirty miles away.

So maybe it is the source of the great Indus.

Tonight I shall try to dream of that and by morning, perhaps life will also look open-ended instead of landlocked.

I'll write some more on this paper since I see I have left some space, and then I'll mail it off to you and hope you get it someday.



I did dream, but not of anything I wanted to send to Ivan. I dreamed of Verischensko talking to someone, a young man who was out of sight, from a dark hallway, maybe a mirror in the shadows and the words he said were stirring:

They were silent for some moments, and then Verisschenzko went on:

"When the state of being in love is waning, affection often remains, but then one is at the mercy of a new emotion. I'd be nervous if a woman who had loved me subsided into feeling affection!"

"Then define loving?"

"Loving throbs with delight in the flesh; it thrills the spirit with reverence. It glorifies into beauty commonplace things. It draws nearer in sickness and sorrow, and is not the sport of change. When a woman loves truly she has the passion of the mistress, the selfless tenderness of the mother, the dignity and devotion of the wife. She is all fire and snow, all will and frankness, all passion and reserve, she is authoritative and obedient--queen and child."

"And a man?"

"He ceases to be a brute and becomes a god."

After that, I fell into a deep sleep, but the words are still with me.

I sealed and addressed the envelope and gave it to the first messenger who passed by us on the way into the center of Tibet and the postal services. And I wondered what the devil I had gotten myself into.

Chapter 12. The Mouth of the Lion River

After a second flight, I wound up in western Tibet, not anyplace I'd ever heard of but, after a few hops, on to a small landing strip somewhere near Lake Manosawar. I don't think I spelled that right. It's the holiest of mountains; even today people are circumventing it to avoid going to hell or something. Their numbers include a couple of actual, bona-fide American hippies. We haven't spoken, but I can tell. Tradition had it that the Indus started here, but I don't think anyone believes it any more.

I have a cheap camera/cell phone, to send photos of locations back to Ivan who is in Kazakstan, I think. One never knows. And he finds a way to have books waiting for me, no matter where I go. I carry with me the one he handed me, The Price of Things by Elinor Glyn. It's about war and spies and honor, in outdated, even racist terms -- written by someone who obviously believed the English were the finest humans by virtue of their 'blood,' and the nobility, even finer.

But she has written one character with brilliance, a character I've never seen in literature, the 'Calmuk,' Stepan Verisschenzko. And Ivan who is kind and, in my plebian American view, seems as noble as a human can be, looks almost exactly as she describes Stepan. And when he spoke to me, he was quoting this character.

I wonder if he is some kind of relative, descended from the real person who inspired Stepan's character? For the first time in my life, I'm living in an actual romantic mystery.

Well, dear Reader, night is falling and I must find lodgings in this small village. One finds Internet cafes more frequently than indoor sleeping opportunities.

Chapter 11. I dream of Tarzan

I dreamed all night.

I was in a library. A voice came to me, clear as a bell. "Pick up the damn book!" it said.

The closest book was a literary theory thing called "The Slayers of Moses" I opened to any page, who cares, I already failed mightily at reading this very book.

But to my amazement, the words ordered themselves like lambs. They turned their faces to me with open welcome. Unbelieving, I began to walk among them, touching this one and that, careful and slow, but without fear. They were as beautiful as ever, and they didn't suddenly bolt and run. They just stood there, letting me visit as long as I wanted. I started to laugh. And then it changed to a scene from my childhood book, Tarzan of the Apes, the only scene I never forgot.

"After what seemed an eternity to the little sufferer he was able to walk once more, and from then on his recovery was so rapid that in another month he was as strong and active as ever.

He commenced a systematic search of the cabin; but his attention was soon riveted by the books which seemed to exert a strange and powerful influence over him so that he could scarce attend to aught else for the lure of the wondrous puzzle which their purpose presented to him... the strange little bugs which covered the pages where there were no pictures excited his wonder and deepest thought.

Squatting upon his haunches on the table top in the cabin his father had built - his smooth, brown, naked little body bent over the book which rested in his strong slender hands, and his great shock of long, black hair falling about his well-shaped head and bright, intelligent eyes - Tarzan of the apes, little primitive man, presented a picture filled, at once, with pathos and with promise - an allegorical figure of the primordial groping through the black night of ignorance toward the light of learning.

My father and mother were visiting me and he looked at my full bookshelves. "Why don't you sell these goddamned things?! How could you waste your money on this shit?" he muttered, reddening, throwing his arm to indicate the wall of books.

I was starting to boil. Mom said "Sam, shut up!" and he would have, but I couldn't hear her. I rushed at him.

"He had taken scarce a dozen steps toward the jungle when a great form rose up before him from the shadows of a low bush. At first he thought it was one of his own people but in another instant he realized that it was Bolgani, the huge gorilla.

So close was he that there was no chance for flight and little Tarzan knew he must stand and fight for his life; for these great beasts were the deadly enemies of his tribe, and neither one nor the other ever asked or gave quarter.

Had Tarzan been a full-grown bull ape of the species of his tribe he would have been more than a match for the gorilla, but being only a little English boy, though enormously muscular for such, he stood no change against his cruel antagonist. In his veins, though, flowed the blood of the best of a race of mighty fighter, and back of this was the training of his short lifetime among the fierce brutes of the jungle.

"He knew no fear, as we know it; his little heart the faster but from the excitement and exhiliaration of adventure...In fact he met the brute midway in its charge, striking its huge body with his closed fists and as futilely as he had been a fly attacking an elephant. But in one hand he still clutched the knife he had found in the cabin..and as the brute, striking and biting, closed upon him the boy accidentally turned the point toward the hairy breast. As the knife sank deep into its body the gorilla shrieked in pain and rage...

"The gorilla, fighting after the manner of its kind, struck terrific blows with its open hand, and tore the flesh at the boy's throat and chest with its mighty tusks.

"For a moment they rolled upon the ground in the fierce frenzy of combat. More and more weakly the torn and bleeding arm struck home with the long sharp blade, then the little figure stiffened with a spasmodic jerk, and Tarzan, the young Lord Greystoke, rolled unconscious upon the dead and decaying vegetation which carpeted his jungle home."

"I'm going home," Mom said, tired and bitter. "Are you coming, Sam, dammit?" He growled and followed her. She looked disgusted, but I knew she felt terrible for me and couldn't understand why I wouldn't just ignore him when he was being stupid. "I'll call you later," she said. And they left.

We met briefly in the morning. He had gotten a message of some importance -- and not the kind of importance a film maker deals with. I asked him what it was about.

"Lady of my soul--I am going away to-morrow into a frenzied turmoil. I have news from my country, and I must be in the centre of events; we do not know what will come of it all. I come down to-day at great sacrifice of time to bid you farewell. It may be that I shall never see you again, though I think that I shall; but should I not, promise me that you will
remain my star unsmirched by the paltriness of the world, promise me that you will live up to the ideal of this noble home--that you will develop your brain and your intuition, that you will be forceful and filled with common sense. I would like to have moulded your spiritual being, and brought you to the highest, but it is not for me, perhaps, in this life--another will come. See that you live worthily."

He slipped me three envelopes and a parcel, held me very close for a moment and was gone.

In one envelope was what appeared to be a lot of money. In the parcel was a book called The Price of Things, and a page was marked. I opened to that page and saw the following:

"Lady of my soul--I am going away to-morrow into a frenzied turmoil. I have news from my country, and I must be in the centre of events; we do not know what will come of it all. I come down to-day at great sacrifice of time to bid you farewell. It may be that I shall never see you again, though I think that I shall; but should I not, promise me that you will remain my star unsmirched by the paltriness of the world, promise me that you will live up to the ideal of this noble home--that you will develop your brain and your intuition, that you will be forceful and filled with common sense. I would like to have moulded your spiritual being, and brought you to the highest, but it is not for me, perhaps, in this life--another will come. See that you live worthily."

What was this, some kind of joke? I opened the third envelope and found a plane ticket to Kyrgystan.

I was bewildered and I wanted to be angry, but I couldn't manage it. I felt happy. I knew I was nuts, and that the next time I'd sink into the darkness I might be far from friends or civilization. But all I could think was, 'So what?'

I went inside to pack my belongings. The next day I was flying again.

Chapter 10 - And then...

And then things slowly went downhill. The feelings I knew would finally come showed up a little at a time. Nowhere to go. Not on an adventure any more. Weeks passed and I got no more mail from Ivan. He would soon begin to fade, a momentary magnet on the road, they had happened often when I was much younger. So one snuck up on me at this vulnerable time of my life. One part of me resisted this thinking, but the stronger part felt almost relieved.

I think sending me a book about Vagabonding After 50 might not have been so nice. I'd known men who would do things like that. But I'd only known them briefly.

But the dark feelings crept up on me more often, unexpectedly. They seemed logical, sensible as if I were silly and shortsighted when I'd felt all right, and only clear and honest about the reality of my life when I saw it had added up to nothing.

Something to do, someone to love, something to look forward to. Was that Elvis Presley's recommendation for a happy life? That's what someone had told me. Pretty good for a country boy. And it seemed true. Until, of course, I remembered what happened to Elvis Presely. To say nothing of the fact that I had nothing to do, no one to love, and when it came to looking forward to something -- I pushed away from that thought as if it were a cliff I had almost accidentally walked over.

And so I read, and listened to the mosques at dawn and in the evening. And slept a lot. From time to time for the first week I felt almost okay. One morning I even found myself quite optimistic and, hearing the door downstairs open and shut and realizing that the real breakfast was being laid out on the rooftop terrace one level below, I prepared to join the others downstairs to tell them of a fine idea that had grown in my brain and seemed very sensible: I would live in Turkey forever and teach English and become a very old, contented lady doing much good wherever I went.

With a smile I gathered my books to my chest and crept down the precarious indoor stairs with my hand on the rough whitewashed walls for balance. But this first sign of optimism began to melt by the time I was on the second step and I started to sink. I sat down on the fourth step feeling the darkness start to form somewhere between my shoulderblades, floating the familiar thoughts attached to it like a foghorn is attached to a lost boat, "How stupid you are. Moron. What a fool. This is a new low." I held very still, afraid of the feeling.

But before the mess hit my chest, it was interrupted by a loud, rough peal of laughter below that pulled me away from myself. I listened for more sounds, and heard nothing. Curious, I continued down the stairs. I'd never heard that laugh before, but it was familiar all the same. A turn around the corner of doorway at the bottom showed me a rooftop with a short table and chairs, Saladin standing by the grill talking over his shoulder and the back of a large man in a woolen jacket.

It was Ivan. Leaning on the white wall, arms crossed, huge, in a rumpled, caramel-colored suit, his graying hair uncombed, he looked -- gorgeous.

He had found me in the simplest way, directed by the first person he asked to the house where the American women were, had then gone for a walk with Saladin to identify himself, and was at that moment apparently speculating on how to seat his huge frame on one of the little x-shaped seats around the table. Priscilla entered with a large wooden chair at the same moment that I entered with a smile, offering my hand and Ivan, turning, took it in his without a word.

Breakfast was sitting on the low table: tea and cucumbers, yoghurt and chocolate, warm boiled eggs in egg holders with tiny spoons nearby, and lots of fresh bread. Ivan towered over us on his chair, gave up and moved to the ground where he sat cross-legged with surprising comfort, almost as tall as we were on our little seats.

"This is the woman who stares at food. And smiles at it," he said. "But I am happy for you that she eats now instead of staring at your food as well."

"I never describe good food. It inspires me only to speak of food horrors," I laughed.

Ivan talked to Pam and Saladin about his movies. How Uzbekistan is fighting with Tajikistan over which one should get the first feature film, how he's looking for stories and locations. He tells he wants to do a modern Marco Polo with love interest. Tells about the Silk Road from beginning to end, just after Marco Polo travelled it.

"...and Polo came home by sea, because Kublai Khan knew there were people waiting to ambush him on the road. So he went by Silk Road and returned by sea and really that was what happened to the Silk Road too. The Khans fell, too soft unlike their grandfather Genghis, they didn't really like war. And the whole of the Silk Road, once under their power and wide open to trade, fell apart into small warring kingdoms again, just at the time when they got smart enough to go by sea.

"So good bye Silk Road."

"One of the last stops of the Silk Road was right here," said Saladin, walking into the house again, his voice trailing off. "You can start for the east from right here."

"If you wish to go by train, you must start in Moscow," Ivan had said gruffly, almost to himself and tapped a cigarette on the table. Then he looked at me with a smile that made fun of his words.

Saladin returned with two lemons in each of his hands.

"What are we supposed to do with all those lemons?" I asked.

He smiled, split one of them in half and began to suck on it. I grimaced as he handed me the other half, but with encouragement, sunk in my teeth and sucked on the juice. It was as sweet as lemonade, and stronger in taste. "These are wonderful!" I said, amazed.

"The caves make them sweet. It's our biggest source of cash in this village to rent out your caves to the lemon and grapefruit people to store their fruit for awhile and make it sweet."

"No offense, Ivan," Pam said cheerfully, "but Moscow is a shithole." She turned to me. "Do you want to go to Moscow?"

"Nope," I said, sucking on the lemon and reaching for another.

"The Silk Road starts in Moscow," Ivan shrugged.

"The Silk Road starts right here, " said Saladin, "and the next stop is Palymyra in Syria."

"Well, maybe there's some other way..." but Saladin began to look uncomfortable and started to glare at her. She gave him an hooded look. I could feel a fight brewing but had no idea why.

The conversation stopped and we all pretended it was because we were eating, but as soon as it seemed polite, Ivan stood up, reached for my hand and said "Take me to see the little onyx factory your friends have mentioned."

They chattered politely, stood to say goodbye, and together we descended another stairway , walked across the little courtyard, out the heavy wooden doors and onto the narrow path that lead around the walled garden to the main street of the little town. I slid the iron loop along its slot, locking the door from inside.

"Don't ask, I don't understand a thing," I said to him, rolling my eyes.

"American women treat men very strangely," he said, walking slowly so I could keep up.

"And vice-versa," I added, troubled. Were we going to fight? I had hardly said hello. This was turning into something odd, intimate, but angry and, bewildered, I slid right into it and found myself almost making fists. "He can be very stubborn. You showed some of that, too."

"Well, it will be good. An American woman should have the experience of being with a man who is not, how shall I say, confused."

"Like a Turk or a Kalmyk?" I tried to joke, but I was getting cranky and couldn't stop myself. "Do you know that Russians, no all Europeans, always assume that everything they do is right and everything we do is wrong? I was cutting up a celery once and a Russian girl told me how ridiculous it was that Americans throw out leaves, which are the best part according to her, and keep the stalk. How the hell does she know the leaves are the best part? How about a little respect for variety?"

He was grinning. "So you are defending the way American men treat women."
I stared at him for a moment and looked down, almost in tears. What on earth was wrong with all of us? What was wrong with me? I was about to start remembering and pulled my head back slightly, but he saved me by interrupting my thoughts.

"Still it is good that you do not judge other cultures, good for what I need from you. An open heart, respect, this will help you prepare the way for me."

"What you need from me?"

"Ah, I meant to say this. Would you like a job?"

Where was I? What was going on? We stopped for tea at a little cave cafe, carved out of the side of a rock and we talked. Before an hour had passed, in spite of much hesitation, I had agreed to scout locations for Ivan's films, and look for local stories, interesting characters, and details to help the screenwriter put a script together.

"But you must leave before the weather becomes too cold," he said.

"Via Moscow?" I was only half joking but he almost blushed.

"No, we can fly you almost the whole way. Then maybe a train. Then a donkey." He looked at me. "Can you do this?"

It was my turn to shrug. "I guess I'm going to find out," I said, beginning to feel cautiously happy as he took my hand and we made our way out to the road.

What was my relationship with this man? Who was he, and who was I to him?

He left for his hotel without clearing up my question to myself, and I retired to my room, Saladin and Pam having disappeared. On the terrace, I looked over the town, which still was lit and active. My mind raced. Could I do this? I'd be on my own. And looking for locations isn't exactly like having a structured day.

I have a scrambled brain. Freedom is bad for me. Evenings after work were a problem and I was only saved by television, which softly hammered all consciousness out of my brain until I was tired. But I don't think I'll get much TV on the Silk Road.

I pulled up the blankets in the dark and decided maybe we'd better talk this through more carefully in the morning.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Chapter 9. Cappadocia

The Kayseri airport was a small 50's-modern one story building with molded plastic chairs to sit uncomfortably on, and like much of what I was to find in Turkey, a bit dusty, slightly rusty, very clean. The people were quiet, nice, well-mannered and even elegant but appealing because no one was terribly tall, the women were plump and friendly, the men's clothes were dusty, rumpled pin stripe suits like my grandfathers from Russia used to wear. It was all familiar, spare, comfortable.

The women were of two kinds: young unmarried, slim and dressed in a relatively modern style, and married or older, plump, in pantaloons with a head scarf and sweet, intelligent faces uncovered. The men were all thin, to a man. Their faces were shaven so close it was almost startling. I wanted to reach out and touch their cheeks. The younger men were more modern and aggressive. They, like most young people, were on the make, trying to be someone or get somewhere, and less attractive to me. The old ones were better.

The other startling thing is that every one of the men was handsome! Where the women's faces were pleasant and soft, the men, though they were polite and gentle, looked like hawks, pirates, gentleman bandits. It was as though they came from a different species than the women. I thought of Ivan's film and the horse bowmen, was that what he called them, that flew on their horses across endless open miles of rolling grassy steppes.

A wall map showed where I was -- as much in the center of Turkey as it's possible to be. Sticking out left into the Meditteranean like a big loaf of bread, Turkey is easy to see on any map but there's more to it than meets the eye. It doesn't end on the right where it meets the Near East but its borders cut deeply into the land mass and grasp firmly the headwaters of Iraq's water sources, the ancient Tigris and Euphrates.

And the country is big. Flying in from Istanbul to Kayseri I looked down to see open prairie stretching out mile after mile for forever. If you seek out the area in the middle on the map you'll see the word "Cappadocia."
[some history here, what it really means, what Anatolia means, etc. Look in intro of Fez of the Heart, Searching for Osman, and Glazebrook.] Now, on the ground, looking out the large windows into the parking area and the desert beyond I only knew three things. It was flat, it was treeless and it was sunny. Very sunny. I'm not crazy about sun. It implies heat. Heat kills me.

"Djeen-jare?" a voice behind me asked and I turned around to see a boy about 16 years old with a brown face and bright black eyes a respectful ten feet away from me.

"Ginger maybe?" I responded, and his face broke into a huge grin. He immediately came over, picked up my luggage, carry-on bag and even my purse which alarmed me for a moment and then just didn't. He looked like the safest human being imaginable.Out on the parking lot the sun blazed down but the air was fresh, almost cold. Still, it was so bright I couldn't see the white truck until I was on top of it.

"You made it!" shrieked Pamela, and covered in something loose and purple, leapt agiley down from the passenger seat of a rusty pickup truck, billows of curly blond hair flying everywhere and embracing me. "I was sure I'd get a call. This is so great. Is that all the luggage you have? You're going to love our place.."

Someone else emerged from around the other side of the white truck, a carbon copy of my young luggage-bearer but about fifteen years older, a smile instead of a huge grin, but just handsome and charming. Good for Pamela, I thought. I was tired and the rest was a blur. We stopped in little village for lunch at a sort of cafeteria and then drove to their house an hour away through a remarkable landscape that, as the light slowly faded, looked sometimes like melting vanilla ice cream cones and sometimes like the white cliffs of dover. We drove through a small, brightly lit town and though it was almost midnight, all the stores seemed to be open and crowds of people strolled down the middle of the street. We curved down a bumpy, steep road and pulled up to a wall with heavy wooden doors. I was soon settled into an upstairs room that overlooked the village, but I was worn out by then and glad to climb into the freshly changed bed. I slept for many hours.

I woke to an empty house. I was upstairs in a small room with many windows and an ornate painted wooden ceiling and one piece of furniture, a stone block running along the wall just under the window, covered with Turkish rugs, which served as the couch or chaise or bench. Aside from my mattress on the floor, there was no other furniture. On the tiny terrace outside the door, there was a small, very low table and a few criss-cross pieces of wood with flat pillows on them that served as the surprisingly comfortable seats.

Pam and Saladin were gone. I remembered them saying something about restoring a house a few miles away. There was a hot pot of coffee waiting on a modern stove surrounded by a ledge that had been carved out of the black rock of the walls. I guess this really is a cave, I thought. I finished my coffee and climbed down steps that had been carved into the stone and set out through the village to buy some warm loaves of bread sprinkled with sesame seeds, and sat on a bench by the wall of a mosque. It was still early and horsedrawn wooden carts clattered on cobblestoned roads leading out of the town, driven by small, wiry men each with their plump, wife beside them, s heading out this time each dawn to their small garden plots. Each of the carts was painted many colors with flowers and designs and sometimes surprising postcard-like scenes all the same, of a New England cottage on a lake with swans in the water.

It was the start of a very peaceful week. I spent a lot of time alone, which was what I wanted just then. Pam was too lively and we actually had very little to talk about so I was glad she was busy. The little porch just outside my room overlooked the back of the village as it crept down into a steep ravine and then back up again to the other side, white or grey stone houses all in a jumble, some with arched windows crowned with lovely carved geometric designs. A half mile away on a high plateau I could see the new, ugly red brick apartment buildings that were going up all over the outskirts of the old village, desireably modern, and loaded status, but lacking all the charm and coziness of the old houses like the one I was in.

One morning I had just settled in, prepared to stare out over the town, listen to the recorded call to prayer and avoid thinking as much as possible, when the doorbell rang with the half-audible sound of a bird chirping or gurgling, and by the time I figured out what it was and crawled down the uneven stone stairs to the front entrance, no one was there. A small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a rough string rested on the road just outside the door. I picked it up and saw my name on it and some handwriting I didn't recognize. The return address revealed the name of Ivan Verischenko. He had found me.

I ran out and looked around the corner of the building up the dirt road, and saw a mailman, who turned and waved to me. No, Ivan himself had not sent the book, of course. Slightly disappointed and a little relieved I went inside and opened the parcel to find a lovely old book wrapped in celophane. It looked like a first edition or some kind of rare collectible. But I could find no note anywhere. I took the book up the stairs to the little bench outside where I'd been eating, hoping no one would be returning home soon and looked at the title:

Vagabonding At Fifty by Helen Calista Wilson and Elsie Reed Mitchel. I wasn't sure what kind of message that title was supposed to send, if any, but I was oddly happy holding the solid book in my hands. I settled in to read as I broke off a chunk of warm bread to chew with sips of my still hot, black coffee.

The inside cover was sepia with age on which spidery thin lines etched a map illustrated with drawings. Across the top where shaded hills and, in a curlicue script, the words, "Ural Mountains," On its right was the sketch of some railroad cars on railroad tracks and, in the same script, 'Trans - Siberian R. R.' under which was a rather disconcerting sketch of horse-pulled covered wagons, like those I had only seen in books about Americans going west.

At the bottom of the page, going from left to right was written 'Bokhara,' 'Samarkand,' 'Tashkent' and 'Kokand' above the word 'Pamirs.' To its right, was scrawled 'Valley of Ferghana' and some cute little hills. And all the way to right was a band of riders, the first with a Russian-looking hat, riding fine horses labeled 'Genghis Khan.' In the center on the right was the River Ob and the Altai Mountains being charged from the right by what looked like a horned milk cow, udders flying led by small dog.

And sweeping down from the upper left into the center of the drawing with more bravura than the army of Genghis Khan in an area labeled 'Hungry Desert" was a group of carts and cattle and sheep surrounded by riders streaking ahead in a flat-out gallop on horses and camels. Right under them was the word 'Kalmyks'

I smiled.

The authors, a pair of very nice communist ladies from Berkeley, after serving their volunteer time in a Siberian town, decided to trek across the lands of Inner Asia in 1927 and wrote a lovely book about it: Vagabonding at Fifty: From Siberia to Turkestan.. And as I flipped through the pages, I came across this passage:

"The Altai Kalmyks -- who are they? And who were they? The statement of Professor Sapozhnikov of Tomsk University that "they speak a Turkish dialect and represent the purist form of Turkish culture," needs some explaining...[pg 128-130] [To Come]