Full Tilt

Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy

Book: Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy Read Free Book Online
Authors: Dervla Murphy
waiting all morning for this happy event; tanners curing hides, weavers at their looms, potters skilfully firing pitchers of considerable beauty, cobblers making the curly-toed, exquisitely inlaid regional shoes and tailors cutting out the long, fleece-padded coats which when thrown over the shoulders of an Afghan makes him look like a fairy-story king.
    On my way back to the hotel I observed hens importantly leading their excited broods to unrevealed destinations, tiny boys sitting cross-legged on the pavement meticulously cleaning oil-lamps, diminutive, anxious, furry donkey-foals who had temporarily lost their mothers, and youths squatting in doorways preparing hookahs for the men to smoke. It’s unlikely that the other Afghan cities will be equally attractive; Herat is now so cut off from everywhere on every side thatit’s just gone jogging along happily while the rest of the country is being modernised by the US and the USSR.
    The ‘traffic’ police here take my fancy particularly; obviously they’re trained in the French system and they stand on little platforms with batons, wearing caps to prove they’re police but otherwise keeping to the national costume. The joke is that you see them making a quick sweeping movement with one hand and a ‘stop’ movement with the other and in answer to the ‘come on’ signal, with its flourish of the baton that should herald the rush past of a stream of high-powered cars, twelve camels appear, heavily laden and chained together, and pace solemnly by the police-box taking about ten minutes to clear the junction. Meanwhile the ‘stop’ signal has briefly halted a horseman who pulls up his steed on its hind legs, looks from the camels to the policeman with a curl of the lip and then proceeds to canter round the caravan and gallop away up the main street. Occasionally a truck appears from Persia (because of the Pakistan blockade, everything now has to come from the outside world via Russia or Persia), and then there is real commotion which the police are helpless to control; donkeys, horsemen, camels, phaetons and flocks of sheep and goats all flee in the wrong direction at the wrong moment, the camels looking outraged at having to amble faster than usual.
    This morning I went to the outskirts of the town just to wander among the green woods and sit on green grass beside a little stream in a beautifully kept public park. Many of the streets are lined with enormous pine trees and a glorious garden of lawns and lavishly blooming rose bushes stretches in front of the mosque. There were no restrictions about me visiting this mosque (without a camera) and it is so very beautiful that I felt it compensated for the Meshed frustration. I sat on the shady side of the enormous courtyard for almost an hour, enjoying the mosaics and the gold of the brickwork glowing against the blue sky. It was very peaceful there with no sound or movement except for a myriad twittering martins swooping in and out of the cool, dim passages between the hundreds of pillared archways. Meshed is probably as beautiful but it would be difficult to surpass this. The predominant colour here is blue of all shades, with yellow, black, pink, brown, greenand orange tiles blended so skilfully that from a certain distance a façade or minaret looks as though made of some magic precious metal for the colour of which there is no name. Also, quite apart from its colouring, the proportions of the whole vast series of buildings are superb.
    There was so much to say yesterday that I failed to mention the big route problem. My original intention was to go to Kabul via the northern road as this is by far the most beautiful and interesting, but that plan has been ruled out because of the current tricky situation with Russia. Therefore, when I reported to the police in Herat yesterday I told them I wished to go by the central route, which is the next most interesting – but the Commander said, ‘No!’

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