EXTRACTS OF THE NOVEL
Almásy's experiences in the Desert - Page 4
I have spent weeks in the desert, forgetting to look at the moon, he says, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife. These are not sins of omission by signs of preoccupation.
Description of the Desert - Page 6
He could smell the oasis before he saw it. The liquid in the air. The rustle of things. Palms and bridles. The banging of tin cans whose deep pitch revealed they were full of water.
The Dust Storms - Page 16
There is a whirlwind in wouthern Morocco, the aajej, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives. There is the africo, which has at times reached into the city of Rome. The alm, a fall wind out of Yugoslavia. The arifi, also christened aeref or rifi, which scorches with numerous tongues. These are permanent winds that live in the present tense.
There are other, less constant winds that change direction, that can knock down horse and rider and realign themselves anticlockwise. The bist roz leaps into Afghanistan for 170 days - burying villages. There is the hot, dry ghibli from Tunis, which rolls nd rolls and produces a nervous condition. The haboob - a Sudan dist storm that dresses in bright yellow walls a thousand metres high and is followed by rain. The harmattan, which blows and eventually drowns itself into the Atlantic. Imbat, a seabreeze in North Africa. Some winds that just sigh towards the sky. Night dust storms that come with the cold. The khamsin, a dust in Egupt from March to May, named after the Arabic word for "fifty", blooming for fifty days - the ninth plague of Egypt. The datooi out of Gibraltar, which carries fragrance.
There is also the secret wind of the desert, whose name was erased by a king after his son died within it. And the nafhat - a blast out of Arabia. The mezzar-ifoullousen - a violent and cold southwesterly known to Berbers as "that which plucks the fowls." The beshabar, a black and dry northeasterly out of the Caucasus, "black wind." The Samiel from Turkey, "poison and wind," used often in battle. As well as the other "poison winds," the simoom, of North Africa, and the solano, whose dust plucks off rare petals, causing giddiness.
Other, private winds.
Travelling along the ground like a flood. Blasting off paint, throwing down telephone poles, transporting stones and statue heads. The harmattan blows across the Sahara filled with red dust, dust as fire, as flour, entering and coagulating in the locks of rifles. Mariners called this red wind the "sea of darkness". Red sand fogs out of the Sahara were deposited as far north as Cronwall and Devon, producing showers of mud so great this was also mistaken for blood. "Blood rains were widely reported in Portugal and Spain in 1901."
There are always millions of tons of dust in the air, just as there are millions of cubes of air in the earth and more living flesh in the soil (worms, beetles, underground creatures) than there is grazing and existing on it. Herodotus records the death of various armies engulfed in the simoom who were never seen again. One nation was "so enraged by this evil wind that they declared war on it and marched out in full battle array, only to be rapidly and completely interred."
Dust storms in three shapes. The whirl. The column. The sheet. In the first the horizon is lost. In the second you are surrounded by "waltzing Ginns." The third, the sheet, is "copper-tinted. Nature seems to be on fire."
Katharine reading The Poem - Page 97 (The Poem by Stephen Crane)
I will read you a poem, Clifton's wife said, in her formal voice, which is how she always seems unless you are very close to her. We were all at the southern campsite, within the firelight.
I walked in a desert.
And I cried: "
Ah, God, take me from this place!"
A voice said: "It is no desert."
I cried: "Well, but -
The sand, the heat, the vacant horizon."
A voice said: "It is no desert."
No one said anything. She said, That was by Stephen Crane, he never came to the desert. He came to the desert, Madox said.
Almásy's Note - July 1936
There are betrayals in war that are childlike compared with our human betrayals during peace. The new lover enters the habits of the other. Things are smashed, revealed in new light. This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire.
A love story is not about those who lose their heart but about those who find that sullen inhabitant who, when it is stumbled upon, means the body can fool no one, can fool nothing - not the wisdom of sleep or the habit of social graces. It is a consuming of oneself and the past.
The Zerzura - Page 135
In 1930 we had begun mapping the greater part of the Gilf Kebir Plateau, looking for the lost oasis that was called Zerzura. The City of Acacias.
We were desert Europeans. John Bell had sighted the Wf in 1917. Then Kemal cl Din. Then Bagnold, who found his way south into the Sand Sea. Madox, Walpole of Desert Surveys, 1-lis Excellency Wasfi Bey, Casparius the photographer, Dr Kadar the geologist and Bermann. And the Gilf Kebir - that large plateau in the Libyan Desert, the size of Switzerland, as Madox liked to say - was our heart, its escarpments precipitous to the east and west, the plateau sloping gradually to the north. It rose out of the desert four hundred miles west of the Nile.
For the early Egyptians there was supposedly no water west of the oasis towns. The world ended out there. The interior was waterless. But in the emptiness of deserts you are always surrounded by lost history. Tebu and Senussi tribes had roamed there possessing wells that they guarded with great secrecy. There were rumours of fertile lands that nestled within the desert's interior. Arab writers in the thirteenth century spoke of Zerzurra. "The Oasis of Little Birds." "The City of Acacias." In The Book of hidden Treasures, the Kitab al kunuz, Zerzura is depicted as a white city, "white as a dove."
Look at a map of the Libyan Desert and you will see names. Kemal cl Din in 1925, who almost solitary, carried out the first great modern expedition. Bagnold 1930 - 1932. Almasy - Madox 1931 - 1937. Just north of the Tropic of Cancer.
We were a small clutch of a nation between the wars, mapping and re-exploring. We gathered at Dakhla and Kufra as if they were bars or cafes. An oasis society, Bagnold called it. We knew each other's intimacies, each other's skills and weaknesses. We forgave Bagnold everything for the way he wrote about dunes. "The grooves and the corrugated sand resemble the hollow of the roof of a dog's mouth." That was the real Bagnold, a man who would put his inquiring hand into the jaws of a dog.
1930. Our first journey, moving south from Jaghbub into the desert among the preserve of Zwaya and Kajabra's tribes. A seven-day journey to El Taj. Madox and Bermann, four others. Some camels, a horse and a dog. As we left they told us the old joke. "To start a journey in a sandstorm is good luck."
The Sandstorm - Page 136
Hours later we were in the sandstorm that hit us out of clear morning, coming from nowhere. The breeze that had been refreshing had gradually strengthened. Eventually we looked down, and the surface of the desert was changed. Pass me the book … here. This is Hassanein Bey's wonderful account of such storms -
"It is as though the surface were underlaid with steam-pipes, with thousands of orifices through which tiny jets of steam are puffing out. The sand leaps in little spurts and whirls. Inch by inch the disturbance rises as the wind increases its force. It seems as though the whole suface of the desert were rising in obedience to some upthrusting force beneath. Larger pebbles strike against the shins, the knees, the thighs. The sand-grains climb the body till it strikes the face and goes over the head. The sky is shut out, all but the nearest objects fade from view, the universe is filled."
We had to keep moving. If you pause, sand builds up as it would around anything stationary, and locks you in. You are lost forever. A sandstorm can last five hours. Even when we were in trucks in later years we would have to keep driving with no vision. The worst terrors came at night. Once, north of Kufra, we were hit by a storm in the darkness. Three a.m. The gale swept the tents from their moorings and we rolled with them, taking in sand like a sinking boat takes in water, weighed down, suffocating, till we were cut free by a camel driver.
The Desert's Ownership - Page 138
The desert could not be claimed or owned - it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names long before Canterbury existed, long before battles and treaties quilted Europe and the East. Its caravans, those strange rambling feasts and cultures, left nothing behind, not an ember. All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into landscape. Fire and sand. We left the harbours of oasis. The places water came to and touched …Ain, Bir, Wadi, Foggara, Khottara, Shaduf. I didn't want my name against such beautiful names. Erase the family name! Erase Nations! I was taught such things by the desert.
Still, some wanted their mark there. On that dray watercourse, on this shingled knoll. Small vanities in this plot of land northwest of the Sudan, south of Cyrenaica. Fenelon-Barnes wanted the fossil trees he discovered to bear his name. He even wanted a tribe to take his name, and spent a year on the negotiations. Then Bauchan outdid him, having a type of sand dune named after him. But I wanted to erase my name and the place I had come from. By the time war arrived, after ten years in the desert, it was easy for me to slip across borders, not to belong to anyone, to any nation.
The Massifs - Page 139
Southwest of the Gilf Kebir are three isolated granite massifs rising out of the plain - Gebel Arkanu, Gebel Uweinat, and Gebel Kissu. The three are fifiteen miles apart from each other. Good water in several of the ravines, though the wells at Gebel Arkanu are bitter, not drinkable except in an emergency. Williamson said three wadis formed Zerzura, but he never located them and this is considered fable. Yet even one rain oasis in these crater-shaped hills would solve the riddle of how Cambyses and his army could attempt to cross such a desert, of the Senussi raids during the Great War, when the black giant raiders crossed a desert which supposedly has no water or pasture. This was a world that had been civilised for centuries, had a thousand paths and roads.
There was a time when mapmakers named the places they travelled through with the names of lovers rather than their own. Someone seen bathing in a desert caravan, holding up muslin with one arm in front of her. Some old Arab poet's woman, whose white-dove shoulders make him describe an oasis with her name. The skin bucket spreads water over her, she wraps herself in the cloth, and the old scribe turns from her to describe Zerzura.
Almásy travels across deserts to save Katharine - Page 249
There were two periods of time when he could not move. At noon, when the shadow was under him, and at twilight, between sunset and the appearance of the stars. Then everything on the disc of the desert was the same. If he moved, he might err as much as ninety degrees off his course. He waited for the live chart of stars, then moved forward reading them every hour. In the past, when they had had desert guides, they would hang a lantern from a long pole and the rest of them would follow the bounce of light above the star reader.
A man walks as fast as a camel. Two and a half miles an hour. If lucky, he would come upon ostrich eggs. If unlucky, a sandstorm would erase everything. He walked for three days without any food. He refused to think about her. If he got to El Taj he would eat abra, which the Goran tribes made out of colocynth, boiling the pips to get rid of bitterness and then crushing it along with dates and locusts. He would walk through the street of clocks and alabaster. May God make safety your companion, Madox had said. Good-bye. A wave. There is God only in the desert, he wanted to acknowledge that now. Outside of this there was just trade and power, money and war. Financial and military despots shaped the world.
The Place of Pockets - Page 259
I have lived in the desert for years and I have come to believe in such things. It is a place of pockets. The trompe l''eil of time and water. The jackal with one eye that looks back and one that regards the path you consider taking. In his jaws are pieces of the past he delivers to you, and when all of that time is fully discovered it will prove to have been already known.