Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Write What You (Don't Really) Know

For the first time in a long time I've gotten around to doing a little bit of non-academic writing. It's only a fragment, but unlike everything else I've done before this is - at least nominally - part of something larger. Long time readers may remember me pondering writing a science-fiction novel set in Athens, and this is the first bit of progress I've made with it. The fragment, called "ANTHINT", is up over at N.A.O.W.F.I.T.

Comments are, as ever, welcome.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I was clearly wrong in assuming that the American operations had had little effect on this valley - they had freed up the antique smuggling market.

'And what have you found out about the life of this ruined city?'

'I don't understand. What do you mean?'

I tried again. 'Have you found out roughly what the plan of the city was... where the bazaar was, the religious schools?'


'The smaller mosques, the gardens, the military barracks?'

'No. You are asking difficult questions. We just dig downwards and find a jumble of things. It can be very frustrating - yesterday we dug a pit ten metres wide and didn't find anything worth anything.'

'What did the ordinary houses look like?'

'Like this house - built from mud, but the rooms were very small and crowded, and many of them were multistoried, perhaps because they were built on such a steep cliff. We can sometimes guess which the better houses were from the state of their foundations. But it doesn't help us find the treasure - many of the houses have nothing in them. Nothing at all.'

Abdullah interrupted, 'I think I've found a bathhouse, there were a lot of pumice stones in it and guttering which brought the water up to the ridge from a spring three kilometres away.'

'That is very interesting. Anything else.'


'What do you think about the people who lived here?'

'Gamesters,' said Bushire, and everyone laughed in agreement. 'We find so, so many playing pieces like this bronze dice. This old man,' Bushire said pointing to a toothless villager, 'found a whole set of beautifully carved ivory chessmen a month ago, in one of the smallest houses on the hill. Our ancestors weren't Taliban.' The Taliban banned chess. 'And he's just sold a wonderful carved wooden door, one and a half metres high, with tigers and hunting scenes, to a merchant from Herat for a lot of money.'

'How much do you sell these objects for?'

'This,' replied Bushire, holding up the twelfth-century ewer with its bold wave pattern, 'is worth one or two American dollars - good money.'
- Rory Stewart, The Places In Between (2004)