Saturday, December 28, 2013

Impressions of Samarkand

Samarkand (Amin Maalouf)

It's the 11th century, and Omar Khayyam (the poet, scientist, and philosopher from Nishapur, Iran) is in Samarkand.

In the street of Rhubarb Fields, a small boy bolted past, his bare feet padding over the wide paving slabs as he clutched to his neck an apple he had stolen from a stall. In the Bazaar of the Haberdashers, inside a raised stall, a group of backgammon players continued their dispute by the light of an oil lamp...In the arcade of the Rope-Makers,  a muleteer stopped near a fountain, let the cool water run in the hollow formed by his two palms, then bent over, his lips pouting as if to kiss a sleeping child's forehead... Then he fetched a hollowed-out watermelon, filled it with water and carried it to his beast...
- Chapter 1- observing the town at day's end

Go up, they had suggested, onto the terrace of Kuhandiz. Take a good look around and you will see only water and greenery, beds in flower, cypress trees pruned by the cleverest gardeners to look like bulls, elephants, sturdy camels or fighting panthers which appear to leap. Indeed, even inside the wall, from the gate of the Monastery, to the West and up to the China Gate, Omar had never seen such dense orchards and sparkling brooks. Then, here and there, a brick minaret shot up with a dome chiselled by shadow, the whiteness of a belvedere wall, and, at the edge of a lake which brooded beneath its weeping willows...
- Chapter 1 - heeding the advice of past travellers

'Many cities like to think that they are the most hospitable in all the lands of Islam, but only the inhabitants of Samarkand deserve the credit. As far as I know, no traveller has ever had to pay for his lodgings or food. I know whole families who have been ruined honouring visitors or the needy, but you will never hear them boast of it. The fountains you have seen on every street corner, filled with sweet water to slake the thirst of passers-by of which there are more than two thousand in this city made of tile, copper or porcelain have all been provided by the people of Samarkand.'
-  Chapter 3 - listening to the qadi, Abu Taher

The immense square of Ras al-Tak was overflowing with smoke and noise. Itinerant merchants had erected stalls against every wall, and under every street lamp there was a singing girl or lute player improvising melodies. Myriad groups were forming and dispersing around the story-tellers, the palm-readers and the snake-charmers.
- Chapter 9 - the city celebrates


  1. I hope you're enjoying this book; it's one of my all time favourites.

    1. Suzanne4:08 PM

      I am savouring the experience. It may well end up being an all time favourite of mine as well.