Thursday 19 September 2013

Stories from along the Great Silk Road and two objects for the Cabinet of Curiosities

Theresa Breslin

We’ve had a wonderful summer - we can’t often say that it Scotland – and now it looks set to be a glorious autumn. I’m feeling very buoyant and thought that I’d include special items in this month’s post. There is a story for you and also two objects for the Cabinet of Curiosities - these give you a puzzle to solve.

But first you have to read the Blog… 

It was a big dream of mine to travel along the Great Silk Road. I’d thought about it ever since reading the adventures of Marco Polo when I was about twelve years old, and hearing my father recite Coleridge’s magnificent poem that begins:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

And so, injected with medically prescribed health-protecting substances, fortified by various vitamins, weighed down with a skip load of anti-diarrhoea tablets and carrying a packet of Jacob’s cream crackers (proven on my various research trips in the past to be the best sustenance for a gippy tummy), plus a large sun hat, off I went to cross the desert and travel through Uzbekistan.

Land of the Khans, of the mighty Timur, the warrior known as Tamerlane, who crushed the Golden Horde; meeting place of ancient nations and empires, with a fabulously rich history, Uzbekistan is a truly unforgettable country. From the spice market in Samarkand to the desert fortress of Khiva via the caravanserai and trading domes of Bukhara, it was crammed with breathtaking architecture, home to the most hospitable and friendly people, and bubbling with stories and legends. 

Image Copyright Scarpa
Possibly the most famous collection of anecdotes and jokes are those of  Hoja Nasreddin. 

Many countries claim to be the birthplace of this storyteller and trickster, but his tales display the natural wisdom of common folk with themes that transcend national boundaries. 

He is part philosopher, part comedian, part buffoon.

Often the story has a twist in the tail where the
seemingly weaker character gets the better of 
the bully or a rich or pompous person. 

Bookshops in Bukhara and the newsagent stands 
on the streets of Samarkand sell little booklets with 
selections of the many hundreds of tales attributed to him.   

Years ago I wrote a twist-in-the-tail historical story about a traveller lost in the desert which is in the collection Through Sand, Snow and Steam but the one that came to me after travelling across the Kyzyl Kum desert has a tale within a tale, part of which is based on a true and shocking story from that region. You can read On the Shoulders of Others here, or download it, free of charge.  

Image Copyright Scarpa

In one of the Trading Domes a stallholder became interested in the notebook and pen I carried. I made him a gift of them and, in return, he presented me with a tiny portrait of Hoja Nasreddin on his donkey, beautifully hand-crafted from camel skin. 

The Storytelling Sage is positioned near my desk, from where he keeps a mischievous eye on my writing. 

Finally, the puzzle of the Cabinet of Curiosities:
Image Copyright Scarpa

The two objects pictured are hand made from wood. They were integral to Uzbek family life as far back as anyone can recall and are still in use, mainly outwith the towns and cities. Although used separately their purpose is the same. 

You can post a Comment here or Tweet or Facebook me your ideas as to what they might be.
I'll be mightily impressed if you can work out their use without recourse to the Internet. 

I might not reply immediately. By the time this Blog is up I hope to be in Petra – probably the subject of a future post…. 

Photographs  © SCARPA

The Traveller  (from dyslexia friendly publisher Barrington Stoke)
Divided City   Playscript now available.


Momma Bear said...

hmm one looks like the handle to a ball and string game though that can't be it if it's "integral"
the other looks like a hot pot handle. for grabbing the handle of a pot over the fire so you don't burn yourself is the other the same?

Sue Purkiss said...

You make some wonderful journeys - thanks for this!

Theresa Breslin said...

Thanks Sue. Sorry Momma Bear, that's not what these objects are - although a good guess. They are quite small, about 6/7inches 160mm. I'll post the answer next month or add a comment here if anyone gets the answer before then.

Celia Rees said...

Are they opium pipes?

Theresa Breslin said...

They aren't Opium Pipes Celia - that's what I thought they were when I first saw them. Not used for ingesting smoke or anything else.

Unknown said...

Aren't those catheters for babies?

Theresa Breslin said...

Aha Ann! see my post on 19th October.