Freshly returned from my latest visit to Iran, “The Road to Oxiana” by Robert Byron, is my favourite book of the moment. Having seen a little of the Middle East, the hot and barren desert landscape, snow-capped mountains, the occasional lush oasis settlements, having experienced the people and their customs, the language and traditions, all means that I appreciate Byron’s writing more.
I find myself laughing out loud on the train, chuckling at descriptions of things I have seen or experienced first hand. All this despite Byron travelling in the 1930′s and me some 80 years later. Some things never change.
As well as his humorous anecdotes, Byron’s descriptions of his surroundings are so vivid that I often imagine myself there with him. His description of Mesopotamia (Iraq) is one of my favourites;
“The prime fact of Mesopotamian history is that in the thirteenth century Hulagu destroyed the irrigation system; and that from that day to this Mesopotamia has remained a land of mud deprived of mud’s only possible advantage, vegetable fertility. It is a mud plain, so flat that a single heron, reposing on one leg beside some rare trickle of water in a ditch, looks as tall as a wireless aerial. From this plain rise villages of mud and cities of mud. The rivers flow with liquid mud. The air is composed of mud refined into a gas. The people are mud-coloured; they wear mud-coloured clothes, and their national hat is nothing more than a formalized mud-pie. Baghdad is the capital one would expect of this divinely favoured land. It lurks in a mud fog; when the temperature drops below 110 [ºF], the residents complain of the chill and get out their furs. For only one thing is it now justly famous: a kind of boil which takes nine months to heal, and leaves a scar.”