Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 10

Allegrezza searched the rest of von Holstein's papers but could find nothing else of interest. It seemed as if the capture had ended the Count's desire for travel. He had spent his remaining years staying close to his castle, writing fancies about minor personages in major historical texts & some masques for his family & servants to perform in, & breeding those dairy cattle that are all that now retain his name.

Umberto emailed Gemma, telling her what he had found, asking her to see what contacts she could arrange in Iran or Iraq or the Muslim Republics that had once formed part of the U.S.S.R., telling her that he would be in Rome in two days time.

Nestore had left him a trust fund, which he was now of an age to access. He could therefore postpone taking up a post-doctoral position for a year & instead spend the time travelling east along the Silk Road. His parents were dismayed when he told them what he was going to do – "A foolish quest by a foolish youth" said his mother; his father said nothing.

He felt he would find nothing in Turkey. Iraq was still restricted by no-fly zones, & Mosul was a centre of Kurdish unrest. He would venture there only if absolutely necessary. Tabriz seemed the place to start, & if he found nothing there then there was that magic carpet of places that came after it – Tehran, Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Alma Ata, Yashgar. There was an excitement in reciting them.

In Rome he immediately went to arrange to have a new passport issued with the honorific "Doctor" and his occupation given as "literary historian", feeling it might give him a bit more credibility in what would undoubtedly be regarded as an incredible quest by most, if not all, of those he came into contact with along the way. A small bribe in association with the fee for expedition ensured he would have it within a day. Then he went to see Gemma.

She had only a few names for him, but they were far to the east. Too far, probably, to be of much use. But there were still representatives of the Italian Government in many of the places he might be going to, & trading houses. She would see what she could do, & if those names weren't forthcoming before he left, she would send them care of the embassy in Tehran which he should be able to contact once he was in Iran.

He picked up his passport the next day, & then started to arrange visas, for Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan. Easier done than said for all but the first, because most had no representatives in Rome, & were serviced through the Russian Embassy. His story of researching the local literature of the Silk Road was barely attended to & the fact that he had no travel itinerary let alone tickets – he had money, he didn't look like a preacher of dissent, he was a student, un dottore   yet – proved no impediment.

Iran was a more difficult proposition. He had to have tickets out of the country before they would let him in, places to stay which had to be on an approved list. Why did he want to go to Tabriz? Where else was he intending to go in Iran? Where else beyond its borders? Explain over & over what the reason for his journey was. Finally, they told him they would grant the visa when he appeared with his travel documents.

It would have been easier to fly directly into Tehran, but Allegrezza didn't want to arrive like a tourist. & besides, he wanted to leave Tehran until after he been to Tabriz, to follow the Silk Road as it were. He consulted Lonely Planet & other guidebooks, decided he would fly Rome to Istanbul by Alitalia, then Turkish Air to Baku in Azerbaijan where he could catch the once a week flight by Iran Air from Baku to Tabriz that left the afternoon he arrived.

His travel agent tried to talk him out of the itinerary, particularly the last part, citing the effect the trade embargo had had on Iran's ability to import parts for its aging aeroplanes. But it was cheap, & a return ticket paid for in foreign currency even more so. This would be his necessary ticket out of the country. There was scant information on hotels in Tabriz so he picked out the Darya at random, booking a room for a week even though he might not be staying for that length of time.

The transit visa for Azerbaijan was obtained as easily as those for the other former Soviet States; & with all his itinerary approved, & with a few more questions thrown in apparently for the sake of form, he had his Iranian visa within four hours.

He spent some of the eight days before he left playing tourist in his own city, seeking out places he had meant to visit all his life but had never got around to, in the manner of most locals everywhere. He had lunch with Gemma & discussed his vague plans & how they would keep in touch; had dinner with his parents twice & discussed nothing. He called on a couple of Iranians whom he had been to university with & absorbed from them what information they could provide within the confined boundaries he outlayed to them of his coming trip.

He packed, a backpack & a carry-on shoulder bag. He carefully selected some books to accompany him. Three favourites in the backpack - Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Borges' A Personal Anthology & Chang Ts'ai Shang-en's Bodhidharma & The Paradox of Ubiquitous Bunnies - plus Idoru, the new William Gibson novel, to read on the plane.

He caught a bus to the airport. No-one was there to say farewell.

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