During the 15/15/15 Project, I read Vita Sackville-West's beautiful and brief book, Twelve Days in Persia. I noted then that I wanted to read more of her travel writing, when I wasn't quite as rushed as I was at that point. The time had come: I checked out Passenger to Teheran from the library.
Note: I did not have the above copy. I had a lovely old hardcopy, with a print date of 1927. Talk about a trip down memory lane. Here's how the book was stamped:
Minneapolis Athenaeum? Who knew?
Also, remember old-timey library markings?
Fitting, really, because this is a very old-fashioned travel story about ways of life that no longer exist. Sackville-West was an amazing writer, very connected to the details around her, whether beautiful or horrific. She also had a wry sense of humor, as she gets right to business in the opening chapter:
"Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen in Hong-Kong. Not only do we not want to hear it verbally, but we do not want--we do not really want, not if we are to achieve a degree of honesty greater than that within the reach of most civilised beings--to hear it by letter either. Possibly this is because there is something intrinsically wrong about letters. For one thing they are not instantaneous."
Right away you realize, if you didn't already know, this book was written long before wifi, email, texting, and Skype.
Sackville-West traveled what was a most arduous journey to Persia, going through Egypt and Iraq first, before arriving at her destination for a lengthy stay. While there, she apparently never gave up any opportunity to explore more deeply. She was far from being a "travel bore"; she rolled her eyes at other Europeans who preferred to clique together and tsk-tsk over the lack of British amenities, and instead sought out ways to see Persia from all angles, even if it meant interminable days on horseback or driving cars over obstacle-laden roads. The black-and-white photos she took illustrate her journey starkly, and there are lots of them. She traveled into small villages that barely recognize a car, and she was on hand for the crowning of the new Shah. Finally, her visit to Persia ended, and her return to Britain took a somewhat calamitous route through Russia and a strike- and protest-ridden Poland.
Granted, Sackville-West certainly had the means and the aristocratic background to attempt this sort of journey, but even so, it must have been incredibly courageous for her to take on an adventure like this. On the return, her plans are dashed by chaos in Poland, but by attaching herself to a retinue of Germans, she makes her way as far as Berlin, where she rests briefly and visits a restaurant where the staff, looking at her disheveled appearance, gave off a sense of mistrust. Not willing to let that slight go by unnoticed, she "revenged myself on them by sending for the head waiter, ordering the best dinner and the most expensive wine, and by distributing enormous tips out of my wad of American notes."
I can't help but think she would have been a hell of a lot of fun to travel with--unafraid, curious, and able to go with the flow.
Now, off to the library again, to see if they have any other of her travel memoirs.