Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Life on the road

My current reading is not crime, but it shares a striking sentiment with one of the great espionage adventure novels.

The current book is Nicolas Bouvier's The Way of the World; the classic adventure tale is John Buchan's Greenmantle, about which I wrote here.

Buchan's Richard Hannay, exhausted when he reaches Constantinople, finds the city
"a mighty disappointment. ... I had forgotten that winter is pretty much the same everywhere. It was a drizzling day, with a south-east wind blowing, and the streets were long troughs of mud. The first part I struck looked like a dingy colonial suburb — wooden houses and corrugated iron roofs, and endless dirty, sallow children."
Later, cleaned up and rescued, Hannay sees the city differently and draws a lesson from this:
"What had seemed the day before the dingiest of cities now took on a strange beauty ... A man's temper has a lot to do with his appreciation of scenery. I felt a free man once more, and could use my eyes."
Bouvier is brought to similar reflections by bouts of dysentery in Macedonia:
"With sweating foreheads, we'd rush to the Turkish-style toilets and resign ourselves to staying there, despite hammering on the door, because dysentery grants only brief respites.

"When I found myself in this low situation, the town would get me down. It was very sudden; it was enough to have a lowering sky and few drops of rain for the streets to be transformed into quagmires ... Everything in it that was misshapen, nauseating and deceptive would emerge with ightmarish clarity. ... In my mind I poured acid over the street, cauterizing it. ...

"When I got over that, I would see through the window, in the evening sunshine, the white houses still steaming from the downpour, the mountain chain spread out beneath a washed sky and the army of tobacco plants, which surrounded the town with their reassuring sturdy leaves. Once again I would find myself in a solid world, at the heart of a gilded lion. The town had revived. I could dream."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Nicolas can dream but the poor fellow never manages to sleep...

April 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

While his friend Thierry can sleep even while pushing a car up a steep mountain road. It doesn't seem fair.

April 15, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Have you got to this bit?

"Tabriz was no doubt low on the distributors' list, because we saw the preimeres of twenty five year old films...Stars long since dead lived on here in secret: the boys were mad about Mae West, the girls about Valentino. Sometimes when the show was too long, the projectionist would speed up the film in order to finish. The story would take on a disturbing pace: caresses looked like slaps, ermine clad empresses hurtled downstairs. The audience, busy rolling cigarettes or cracking pistachios didnt see anything amiss.

April 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not there yet, but I should be soon. They're in Tabriz now.

April 15, 2010  

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