Just got to the bit in ‘They Were Counted’ where you want to reach into the pages and strangle Laszlo. I won’t say why as I don’t want to spoil it. But — WHY, Laszlo, WHY?
I bought an ikat-style silk scarf exactly like this one in Khiva in Uzbekistan for I think $12. In a moment of idle browsing I discovered it on the interweb for $32.99, which is good for a silk scarf, but it really makes me wish I’d filled an entire suitcase with the beautiful things…
Ikats look like squarish, symmetrical tie-dyed designs but are in fact traditionally hand-woven on looms. They come in all sorts of patterns and colours, usually obeying the law ‘the brighter the better’. Throughout Uzbekistan I was told that they were the traditional style, as indeed they are, but my idle browsing has led me to discover that similar designs, also called ‘ikat’, are to be found all over Asia from the ‘stans to Bali. Apparently the term is Indonesian in origin.
Outside of the more Western-orientated Tashkent, you can see the majority of women wearing loose ikat dresses in gobsmackingly bright colours, topped off with a clashing coloured headscarf. By contrast the men generally wear greyish trousers, white shirts and black or grey skullcaps. They know they can’t possibly compete.
While I was doing my M.A. I had reading lists as long as my arm and leg put together, and didn’t have any time for pleasure-reading. That’s not to say I didn’t read for pleasure, but when I did I did it fast and guiltily, like somebody’s husband in a knocking-shop. Now I’ve finished I have a dizzying array of books ahead of me: books I bought optimistically over the last two years and haven’t had the time to read, books other people have bought for me, and books I haven’t bought but want to read anyway.
Too much choice. It’s actually quite frightening. I can see the appeal of the School of Life’s Bibliotherapy thing (http://www.theschooloflife.com/Bibliotherapy) where they write a reading list for you. I need a reading list.
But in the mean time, I’m re-reading Miklos Banffy’s fantastic trilogy The Writing on the Wall (as it’s called in English). It’s set in fin de siecle Hungary, when it still included Transylvania, and is about the crumbling away of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the foolish short-sighted aristocrats who danced and drank and had affairs with each other without appearing to notice that their world was coming apart at the seams.
Of course, the protagonist, Count Balint Abady, notices, although his love for the married Adrienne distracts him a lot of the time. The trilogy has been described as Tolstoy crossed with Trollope; a good description for the mixture of high politics, romance, balls, banquets and hunting scenes… oh, it’s just wonderful, I must sob. I’ve just re-read the bit where Balint goes off camping in the Carpathians in the depths of February to visit his forest holdings – a bit that reminds me of the haymaking scene in Anna Karenina, although it’s a subtle similarity. A similarity of tone rather than of, you know, anything else.
I must admit I liked Banffy because he felt like a secret. Everyone knows Tolstoy; outside of Hungary the readers of Banffy must be a select few, although I think that’s going to change as they’re re-printing it with more of a come-hither cover. Plus it was scattered all round the London Review bookshop last time I was there. But I’m quite willing to give up the secret if it means I’ll actually be able to have a conversation with someone about how wonderful Balint is or poor Laszlo or how heartbreaking the scenes in Venice are, scenes I haven’t yet got to on this reading. I’ve been attempting to start these conversations with people by pressing the book on them to read, but it hasn’t worked so far.
Anyway, this gives me a reading list of three. Plus I started with ‘A Concise History of Hungary’ by Miklos Molnar, which is completely unnecessary as I thoroughly enjoyed Banffy on the first reading without knowing anything about Hungarian history. But it’s a short and interesting read, the Molnar, and I think it is adding to my experience of Banffy this time round.
I shall see if I can post a picture of the book here, but I haven’t really got the hang of this yet…
The photo used in the header was taken by me in Uzbekistan (more precisely, Tashkent), where I was at the time, but where I no longer am because I’m back in London.
Five things I learned:
1) holidays are often too short
2) young Englishmen with big Jesus-beards and artistically arranged keffiyehs – the sort who like to think of themselves as travellers rather than tourists – are excruciating
3) you cannot have too many different beautiful blue majolica tile patterns on a mosque, or a madrassa, or a mausoleum. It simply isn’t possible to go over the top, although it seems many have tried
4) the Kalyan minaret in Bukhara was used as a lighthouse to guide caravans through the desert. The light could be seen two days away
5) You can get around Tashkent on the air-conditioned, marble-platformed tube system for about 20p for a single.
I learned other things as well but my brain has yet to process a lot of it, so this will have to do for now.