Saturday 15 April 2017

The Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macaulay

The early pages of Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond usher in such a sweeping and tribal first person plural I'm not sure I want to read on, but, a few pages later, as our gender-loose narrator and Aunt Dot and the Reverend Father Chantry-Pigg set off with a camel to the Black Sea, in order, perhaps, to set up an Anglican mission in Trebizond, it sounds like English Eccentrics Go East, a mission with a pinch of salt, imperious and modest, ingenious and adaptive, happy to set up camp, to muster some Turkish out of a wrong-minded phrase book, and, later, to wait out the disappearance of Aunt Dot and The Reverend Father Chantry-Pigg behind the (Iron) curtain.

As s/he, our narrator, waits in Trebizond, s/he imagines what the English would do with the place. having spoiled anywhere they'd occupied, like Gibraltar and Cyprus
....with barracks and dull villas and pre-fabs. Actually, if we took Trebizond, we should probably clear away the Turkish houses and gardens and alleys from the citadel and cut away the trees and shrubs and leave it all stark and bare like a historical monument, and we should build a large harbour and fill it with cargo ships, and a few battleships, and there would be a golf club and a bathing beach and several smart hotels and a casino and a cinema and a dance hall and a new brothel, and several policemen, and a hospital, and a colony of villas, and soldiers and sailors would crowd about the streets and call it Trab, and large steamers would ply every day to and from Istanbul bring tourists, and the place would prosper once more, not as it used to in the great days when the trade from Persia and Arabia flowed into it by sea and caravan, and gold and jewels glittered like the sun and moon and stars within the palace, for no place can prosper like that, but it would be prosperous, it would have trade, it would have communications, inventions, luxury, it would have great warehouses on the quays and a great coming and going.
Our narrator heads south on the camel, through Palmyra, Aleppo, Homs, to Jerusalem, where s/he has a vision of Trebizond.
Then, between sleeping and waking, there rose before me a vision of Trebizond: not Trebizond as I had seen it, but the Trebizond of the world's dreams, of my own dreams, shining towers and domes shimmering on a far horizon, yet close at hand, luminously enspelled in the most fantastic unreality, yet the only reality, a walled and gated city, magic and mystical, standing beyond my reach yet I had to be inside, an alien wanderer yet at home....
An alien wanderer yet at home. And now? Now that aliens are science fiction and wanderers are refugees?

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