"For a long time I believed that it would be impossible to make a book out of these experiences; I could see no shape in them, no pleasing curve; nothing but a series of anti-climaxes, and too much repetition of what I had done, and written down, before...Was it for this that I had gone footsore, cold, hot, wet, hungry? climbed up, and scrambled down? covered all those miles? looked at all the goats? Surely not...How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? for the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone...I look back as through a telescope, and see, in the little bright circle of the glass, moving flocks and ruined cities."
For day 4, I made it--barely--through Vita Sackville-West's lovely Twelve Days in Persia. I say "barely" because it was a race to the end, and I'm not sure if it's because a 137-page book is my upper limit on a weekday, or if it's because this was such an enjoyable travelogue that I wanted to slow down and linger.
Sackville-West is, of course, a member of the Bloomsbury group along with Virginia Woolf, and I've been curious about her ever since my disastrous experience reading Orlando. When I saw another blogger (sorry, I've forgotten who, although I'd love to give credit) talk about this beautiful book, I thought it would be a nice addition to the 15/15/15 Project. And indeed it was. The lines quoted above are from the opening, after which she takes us directly into her experience spending 12 days hiking, donkey-riding, and camping through the most remote parts of Persia.
She was a gifted travel writer--I can almost feel myself part of her journey, the good parts and bad (and she makes no bones about the fact it was a physically demanding trip, nor does she spare the reader some of the more ugly sights). But overall, her sense of wonder and history (which I, as an American raised in schools that really didn't give a rip about the Middle East, am sadly lacking) over what she sees and experiences shines through.
As does more than a little bit of British snobbery. Towards the end of the book, she proposes that Persia be set aside as a utopia, kept isolated so as not to be spoiled. She notes that in order to fully create that utopia, some things would have to change, including teaching Persians basic hygiene (so as not to suffer from cholera and typhus by drinking water used to wash corpses), but she then goes on to suggest that the best way to keep the utopia functioning would be to prevent the lower classes from being educated. They can't want what they don't know, is her point; I'd disagree, but that is her belief, from her status in life, in her point of history. Without a doubt she'd set herself up on the upper end of the hierarchy, and of course she'd be exempt from remaining isolated, but she'd have the rest of the country held within itself to suit her needs. Ah, the needs of the elite.
But still, the book is a joy to read. Her writing is clear and lovely, and sometimes wry: "Those who have seen it, know that the beauty of a pastoral life is largely a literary convention. The truth is that nature is as hard a taskmaster as civilization, and that realities under such conditions are very bare facts indeed."
From the perspective of a reader in 2010, the final chapters, where she reaches civilization again in the form of monstrously large oil fields, has more than a twinge of hindsight. She creates a portrait of nature vs. machine that seems so innocent and naive, given what we know about the rise in power of oil nations and the problems it's caused internationally.
While I wish I had read this more slowly, I see she has another book called Passenger to Teheran. Perhaps I'll pick that up after the Project is done, and I can linger more with it.
One last note: the edition I read, linked to above, was published in 2009 by Tauris Parke Paperbacks. This is a lovely imprint, with a beautiful cover, and the text is produced in what looks like a font that would have been used in its original printing in 1928. I'd never heard of this publisher before, but it may become one that I look for more often.