Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 25

He was woken by Iskander. It was still dark outside.

"Umberto. The master has need of you, has asked me to bring you to Termez. You will need some clothes. It'll be cold there, & you'll be gone for a couple of days. Get some fruit from the kitchen to eat on the way. I will meet you outside."

Allegrezza threw a few things into a shoulderbag & went downstairs. No-one else was up. He got some fruit & went out to where Iskander was waiting with the motor running in the camouflage Landrover.

"What's happened?"

"I think he has found something he wants you to see. He didn't tell me much, only that I am to take you to Termez where Ibrohim will meet us & take you the rest of the way."

They drove cross-country, some of the time on roads, other times across farms & fields, arriving in Termez mid-morning. Iskander stopped in a street full of coffee-houses. "We've another hour before we meet Ibrohim. Time for a piss, coffee, something to eat."

"Fine by me," said Allegrezza. "Let's go to the backpacker place over there. I feel like a hamburger. It's been years since I last had one."

Ibrohim was waiting for them outside a godown on the road that headed south towards Afghanistan. He was driving a large khaki-coloured Toyota Landcruiser that had Pakistani plates. Umberto got out of the Landrover, walked around to the driver's side to say goodbye to Iskander. Iskander said nothing, held Umberto's hand for half a minute, seemed about to weep.

Allegrezza & Ibrohim drove south, crossing the border as if it wasn't there. "We have several hours driving ahead of us, up into the Hindu Kush," said Ibrohim & then lapsed into silence.

The views were spectacular, the road almost empty. They passed a couple of army patrols who seemed to recognise Ibrohim's Toyota & did no more than wave to him as they drove past. At one point they had to pull over to allow a convoy of trucks, head & tailed by army vehicles, to pass by. The back army truck stopped beside the Landcruiser, & the officer in the passenger seat leaned across the driver to look up at Ibrohim with a questioning expression.

"Zahir will be there to look after you," Ibrohim called out. The officer nodded, settled back, & the truck continued on after the others.

Around nine o'clock Ibrohim turned off the road, cut his headlights & headed up a path into the forest. They continued along it for another fifteen minutes until they finally came to a clearing where a cooking fire smouldered & a couple of tents were pitched. As they drove in four men armed with rifles appeared around them & then the flap of one of the tents opened & Tamur came out to greet them.

"Umberto. My apologies for not having accompanied you, but at my age I needed the head start. Come, have some coffee & something to eat."

Tamur led him across to the fire. Ibrohim stayed to talk to the men. A minute later he came across to them. "We must be careful. They have brought tanks into the Foladi Valley. Nobody knows why." Then he dished himself some food – rice & meat - & went back to the others.

Allegrezza ladled some food onto the tin plate Tamur gave him, then sat down. Tamur lit a cigarette, puffed on it for a minute & then threw it into the fire.

"I am sorry it has to end, Umberto, but we had an agreement; & even though I have total trust in you, we have found that four years is usually as long as anyone can go before they start wanting to tell the world about what they have seen, what they have read, what they have found. There are many ways we end the relationships, but this one is special, & I think you will appreciate what I am going to show you, & will go quietly, happily.

"This is the way Giovanni Allegrezza came all those years ago, following the same path that I asked Iskander to bring you on today & that Ibrohim took to bring you here. A little more slowly, perhaps – your ancestor took days where you took hours. Yes, he knew the Library though it was much smaller then. One cave. Hassan sent him there, as the next major stop after Alamut, & he stayed rather than go on to China. What was that line that von Holstein quoted? 'It is the journey, not the endpoint, that is important.' & the journey does not have to be physical. Your ancestor spent the time reading many things, mainly Arabic texts because he didn't have the grounding in languages that you have had. But he was interested in spiritual things outside of Islam, & that is why he chose this road to end his journeying."

"How do you know so much about him?"

"The Brotherhood has records, not just of names but of deeds. Some trivial, some great. It notes of Rashid al'Farah that he went willingly, on a journey that few had taken before. & not many since, I must add. Now, a final cigarette, & then we must be off. Ibrohim, could you ready the horses."

Two of the riflemen came with them. They rode through the night. Shortly after daybreak they stopped briefly to have coffee from a vacuum flask that Ibrohim had brought along. Dull thumps could be heard in the distance. "Tank fire" said Ibrohim.

Tamur reined his horse to a stop, stood up in the stirrups as if sniffing the air. "Tanks. The Foladi Valley. The Taliban. They are trying to accomplish what the centuries have failed to do. They are mad. They have corrupted the teachings of The Book. The Taliban are setting out to destroy the Buddhas of Bamiyan."

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Monday, November 29, 2004

Hey, Junichiro, wanna see my samurai sword?


Apparently it's not just his mouth that George W. has trouble keeping zipped up. My thanks to Crag Hill for pointing the picture out. Posted by Hello

& a reminder

that December is the last month for submissions to The Hay(na)ku Anthology, to be published in 2005 by Eileen Tabios' Meritage Press, & to be edited by Jean Vengua & myself. The full details & submission address are available here.

some monday afternoon hay(na)ku

The
clouds have
been replaced by

a
smoke haze
on the horizon.
A
kookaburra samples
the swimming pool.
Dead
palm fronds
against the back

fence.
The hose
does not reach.

it has a certain rhythm to it

which are
from the is

as I
the

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Yesterday I had a hit at Series Magritte from someone who had entered which song are these lyrics from -and now the end is near, as I face the final curtain. My friends in a Google search. Google noted that which are from the is as I the are common words, excluded them, & offered the searcher as first preference the S.M. archives.

Truly an exquisite corpse. I wonder what Sinatra would say. Or Sid Vicious. Or even René M.

(& floating through my mind I have a vision of a surrealist karaoke night, where Breton storms out because Magritte chose to sing My Way.)

saw this quoted, & couldn't let it pass by enremarked

“The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even a mob with him by the force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second or third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

“The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
H.L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 24

Wolves & the wind howl in the upper valleys. I only hear your silence.
The women are singing as they cook. Amongst them I hear your silence.

You were singing when I first saw you. Daughter, sister, future bride.
Your voice a delicate bell. Never quiet. I did not expect to hear your silence.

I proposed. I gave your father four ponies. For you, cloth from the plains.
On our wedding night the whole encampment did not hear your silence.

We rode all over the mountains. Our laughter made the snow melt.
Only when we looked down towards the plains would I hear your silence.

Taken by a spring fresh, not even a year gone by. Not even a year.
I heard you call out. I came too late. I arrived to hear your silence.

At night I watch the stars. I pick out your eyes & smile in them.
By day I watch the children play. Their games do not hear your silence.

Once I was known as Friend To All. Now I am friend to none.
Wanting only one friend, you, back beside me so I can hear your silence.

Anonymous. c.500 CE
included in: Rivalling The Six Dynasties: Poems from the Eastern Turkish Khaganate selected & translated by Umberto Allegrezza; The Uzbekistan Historical Society; Bukhara, 2000.

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

& the little ones chewed on the bones-o

Ivy Alvarez, on what poets sometimes bring to the dinner table.

New e-books from Faux Press

12 new e-books from Jack Kimball's Faux Press:
Carl Annarummo: High Heaven Ugly Hat
Micah Ballard: Unforeseen
Corina Copp: Carpeted
Joe Elliot: 101 Designs for The World Trade Center
Mitch Highfill: A Dozen Sonnets
Jukka-Pekka Kervinen: Permutations
Michael Magee: The Complete Plays
Tim Peterson: Trinkets Mashed into a Blender
Kelly Sherman: With love always, Kelly
Christina Strong: Utopian Politics
Stephen Vincent: Sleeping with Sappho
Alli Warren: Yoke

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 23

Allegrezza continued translating the early Persian poetry, concentrating on Abu Abd Allah Rudaki whose poems he particularly liked. Classical scholars were emphatic that only one thousand bayt – a distich although usually considered as one line – of his work survived. He found around two thousand in the collection. Tamur decided it would be an excellent second publication for The Manichean Press, "but only about 1400 bayt. That way we can say that the number is open to interpretation of line lengths."

All Tomorrow's Parties, a sequel to Idoru, arrived for him. He read it in the one sitting. He wondered how Gibson would sound in early Persian, if the concepts could be translated.

His studies moved backwards in time, into the poetry of what was called the Eastern Turkish Khaganate. It was a strange mix of styles, equally influenced by both the Greeks & the Chinese.

Zafar, Anil & Betseba's son, arrived back from England. After a day of warmth & pleasantries a shouting match erupted between him & his parents. Tamur locked himself in the electronics room; the Lees disappeared into the caves; Allegrezza went for a walk in the orchard, hearing as he left Betseba’s raised voice. "Will she make a suitable wife? Will she understand?"

The translations of Rudaki were better received than the Navoi. Apparently the older the work, the less stringent were the demands that the strict formal structure be adhered to.

He found a ghazal amongst the Khaganate manuscripts, written five hundred years before the form was supposed to have begun. He talked about it to Tamur. Tamur decided to have the Lees forge a transcript dated a century later & to smuggle it into the pieces he'd given the Institute of Oriental Studies.

Zafar discovered what the Lees had been doing for the past two years. He confronted his grandfather about it, talking about "ethics", "morality", "scholarship not profit". Tamur appeared contrite after the conversation, but that night he made a couple of phone calls, to France & The Netherlands. Two days later the Lees left for Amsterdam.

Allegrezza & Tamur went to Tashkent for a week, to inspect the collection at the IOS. It was impressive, but Tamur had obviously held back the best. On the third day there they discovered the ghazal.

In the evenings Allegrezza visited the brothels Anil had given him a list of. Tamur joined him on a couple of occasions.

Ibrohim was in Tamur's hotel room when he returned one night. They had obviously been discussing their business interests in Termez. "Zafar must never know."

Tamur visited the Ministry of Arts & Education. A fortnight later came the announcement of a bequest from an expatriate Uzbeki that would allow for the re-establishment of the School of Persian Literature at the State University of Samarkand.

Zafur returned to England. Two weeks afterwards he rang his parents to tell them he had been offered a professorship in Samarkand which he had decided to accept. He also informed them he was going to get married, to the Portuguese girl, a post-doctoral researcher at his University, that he had told them about. His parents offered no objections, but insisted the wedding be held on the farm.

Tamur & Umberto prepared a paper on the ghazal which was accepted, without revisions, by a German publication, the Journal of Asian Literature & Letters. Tamur was listed as corresponding author, under the name Alexei Vershenko, of the School of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Damascus. "I hold an honorary position there." Allegrezza recognised the name. He had cited two earlier papers by Vershenko in his doctoral thesis.

Anil came to see him, to ask his help in identifying some documents he had found that were written in a script he didn't recognise. Nor did Allegrezza at first, though there seemed to be elements of early Greek & Aramaic. Then he remembered some tomb & stele inscriptions he had seen photographs of, & realised it was Phoenician. Not the Punic used in Carthage & Malta, but the original language, although of a much later time, & with some Greek & Akkadian words mixed in. These were the first manuscripts in Phoenician ever discovered. They became his passion.

There had been sufficient interest generated by the publication of the paper to elicit a request from the Uzbekistan Historical Society for a collection. He made a selection from his translations, showed them to Tamur who approved wholeheartedly & suggested the title Rivalling the Six Dynasties for them.

His emails to Gemma became less frequent.

A date for the wedding was fixed. A month before the day, the Engineering Corps of the Uzbek Army arrived to begin constructing a yurt city complete with a mobile kitchen, shower facilities & latrines. They brought their own generator. Allegrezza asked how many guests were expected. He was told a thousand.

He gathered up what information he could on Phoenician, sent away for a copy of Zellig Harris' 1936 A Grammar of the Phoenician Language. He began sorting out the manuscripts. They fell into three categories; a few letters, about seventy-five poems, & a collection of commercial documents – invoices, ledger entries & what would prove to be his Rosetta Stone, an extremely detailed document written in both Greek & Phoenician giving a trader named Menon rights to act as a providore to any ship of the Greek Navy that might enter the ports of Tyre or Saidoon.

Tamur's other two grandchildren flew in two weeks before the wedding, Zafur a few days later. Then Ibrohim arrived from Termez with his family. More relatives turned up. The bride, her parents & their friends arrived three days before the wedding, ferried in by a fleet of Army helicopters from Bukhara where they had all arrived on an Airbus chartered by Tamur. People came from neighbouring countries & from far more distant ones. State & local dignitaries arrived. Musicians came & played. The children raced ponies. The Suit appeared mysteriously & greeted Allegrezza like an old friend.

The Library was off limits for a month. Allegrezza worked when he could on a couple of poems he had transcribed into a notebook.

It was a secular wedding, performed by the Minister of Justice herself, although the Bishop of the Diocese in which the bride’s parents lived, who had apparently come on the charter, added a few prayers. So, too, did the Iman of Tashkent.

The bride & groom went off to their new home in Samarkand. The bride's entourage flew back to Europe. Ibrohim & his family left. The remaining guests gradually departed but the last not until after a long series of meetings had taken place. Anil & Betseba's youngest son left a week after the wedding, their daughter a week later. She took part in several of the meetings.

Zelig Harris' Phoenician Grammar arrived. Allegrezza settled in to read it, then read it again with the documents at hand. Things began to fall into place. When he felt he was ready he took a notebook from the pile in the Library, wrote at the top of the first page "Translations from the Phoenician", beneath it "#1", & underneath that wrote his name. He set to work. It was quiet without the Lees

He changed his pattern of work. He worked on his Phoenician translations during the morning, would do any identifying, cataloguing or translating that Tamur asked him to do in the afternoon. Tamur seemed as excited as he was about the manuscripts, but Umberto felt that part of the pleasure was working out how he could introduce the commercial documents into the antiquities market.

At night he would often go for a walk around the farm, or sit beneath the Moore smoking a cigarette & looking at the stars. He stayed in the courtyard on the nights when a movie was shown.

The Library continued to enthrall him. He wondered what other unknown manuscripts were still to be identified. "Why do you keep all this hidden away?" he asked Tamur one day as they sat together in one of the workrooms.

"Once it was done to keep it away from barbarians of all persuasions," Tamur replied. "Then because it might provide the building blocks for a second age of enlightenment. Now, I fear the chaos that it would cause if it was given to the world. In the future? Only Allah knows. Perhaps someone who comes after me may decide that it should be wiped out as if it never existed. Perhaps I may do it."

On a moonless but star-bright night they watched Kurosawa's Dreams.

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Monday, November 22, 2004

If this
were Cézanne's
birthday

I might consider
having an
apple
for lunch.

contemplating ways to escape the low lands

Maybe
I could
write about squirrels -

safe
texts on
Tom's furry thong.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

posting this for jean vengua - she'll understand why

Serendipity
They were alive and they spoke to me!
Henry Miller: The Books in my Life

No matter how large the library,
the book I wanted was never in
or else it was forbidden me.
Henry Miller: The Time of the Assassins
Years ago, in the belief
that it was a book of
short stories by Arthur Miller
whom I knew of as the author
of Death of a Salesman & the
husband of Marilyn Monroe,
I picked up a paperback
from amongst the detritus
left by the previous tenants
of a house into which friends
of mine were moving, & was half-
way through it before I realised
it was by a different Miller, first
name Henry, whom I didn't
know existed until then.

The writing was alive & it
spoke to me! & the
titles! Someone
who could come up with
The Alcoholic Veteran with the Washboard Cranium
was someone I wanted to
read more of. But life
imitated art. Many of Miller's
books were banned; most
of those that weren't
were out of print; & I could find
nothing more of his until, in a
second-hand bookshop,
I unearthed The Time of the Assassins,
about some French poet, first
name Arthur, second name Rimbaud,
whom I also didn't know
existed until then.
I
never could
find the element

of
surprise in
the Periodic Tables.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 22

Gradually Allegrezza settled into the rhythm of the place. For several weeks all he did was prowl the library, looking in rooms, compactuses, taking out things at random. At first Tamur or Anil accompanied him, opening doors for him, watching what he did; but then he was given his own entry code, discovered that there was a hidden check in it, the letter X which always had to be a part of it & which had to be keyed in with the first finger of his right hand so that a fingerprint verification could be made.

The evenings were given over to long dinners & conversations in the courtyard. Occasionally a projector was brought out, to be operated by Iskander, & they would watch movies, the titles dependent on whose turn it was to select them. Allegrezza's arrival had coincided with Tamur's selection, so over two nights they watched the three parts of Eisenstein's Ivan The Terrible, with Disney's Fantasia separating the second & third parts.

Tamur gave him some books by Alisher Navoi to read. Then he showed him the originals. "There were more," he said, "but we gave some to the Institute of Oriental Studies in Tashkent. Something of a bribe, a payment to the state for ignoring us."

Anil decided it was time to see a six-hour musical epic based on a battle between the Hindu gods. He watched the last two-thirds of it alone.

Betseba arrived back. Tamur & Anil drove off in a Mercedes early one morning to go to Tashkent to pick her up. No Landrover for her noted Allegrezza, no crappy local plane. They arrived back late afternoon, Betseba driving.

"She will be distant, distrustful at first," Lee Joo-eun had told him during the day, "but once she gets to know you it will be fine." The prediction proved correct.

They watched a week of Alain Delon & Jean Paul Belmondo movies.

Tamur told him where to find the room full of early Persian poetry.

He started re-reading Idoru. This time he finished it.

He overheard Betseba & Tamur talking. She called him Papa Yevgeni. They were discussing her elder son, Tamur’s grandson. "I went across to see him, to tell him it was time he was thinking about coming home." "Good," said Tamur.

Tamur's son Ibrohim arrived from Termez. He called Tamur Papa Yusif. They spent most of the day locked in what Allegrezza thought of as the electronic room. Ibrohim said he was in "import/export" in answer to Allegrezza's enquiry over lunch. He wasn't any more forthcoming.

The Lees were divided in their movie tastes. Dae liked Humphrey Bogart, Joo-eun was into anime. They argued as to whose selection should be shown first. "It's always like this," said Anil. Iskander went into the house & reappeared five minutes later with some hash & another projector. They ended up watching The Maltese Falcon & The Return of the Tokugawa Ninja side by side, with the sound turned off on the Falcon. Later they put some music on. The Lees got up & danced. A few minutes after Anil & Betseba joined in. Iskander asked Allegrezza to dance. He declined. Iskander went inside. Umberto & Tamur sat there smoking cigarettes, listening to Sting drift out into the otherwise empty Uzbeki night.

He started brushing up on his classical Persian. He showed Tamur his translations of Navoi. Tamur liked them, suggested they publish them through a printing house he owned. The Manichean Press was born.

Unable to contain his inquisitiveness, he asked Dae what she & Joo-eun were doing, was told that they were forging ancient Egyptian & Greek commercial documents, that one of Tamur's sidelines was selling them through blackmarket channels. Tamur admitted it, said that the dig at Oxyrhynkhos had given him the opportunity to suggest to prospective buyers that he might be able to obtain documents smuggled out from the site. Allegrezza was surprised when he told him how many museums had taken advantage of his offers.

He still wandered through the collection, opening rooms randomly. Then he discovered that what Anil had been working on for these past few months was a database of everything that was there. Anil gave him a password to access it. The wanderings were no longer random.

The first reviews of his Navoi translations appeared. He was universally criticised for not adhering to the strict ghazal form of the originals.

He spent time working in the orchard. Unused to physical labour, he found it hard but relaxing. Iskander seemed not to resent Allegrezza's rejection of his advances. If anything he became more open & friendly.

He began translating the Persian poets during the morning, reading various things that caught his eye during the afternoon. There was an almost complete collection of the works of Arrian which, because of his enjoyment of that author's The Campaigns of Alexander, he started on but gave up halfway through the first book of the History of Bithynia when he realised that Arrian seemed to have expended all his creativity writing The Campaigns. He moved on to a previously unheard-of work by Apuleius, The Daughters of the Slavemaster of Madaurus, but put it aside after he had an erotic dream that night in which one of the daughters morphed into his cousin Gemma, in a habit, & he ejaculated. He decided to talk to Anil about what avenues of relief were available in Bukhara.

The print of Blade Runner he had asked Tamur to bring in for him finally arrived. Both the Lees like it.

Helicopters arrived at various times. With various visitors. Uzbek bureaucrats – "They are honourable people. Nothing for themselves. Ever. But if I can provide them with hard currency which helps to build schools & hospitals & roads & water-purification plants then their gratitude knows no limits." Two men whose Pathan clothing & beards did little to conceal the fact that they were anything but – "Yankees. Fucking CIA." It was the only time Umberto ever heard Tamur swear. "They have their claws into me. When I began renovating the caves they thought there were missile silos being built. I talked them out of that. Then when they got satellites in the sky they picked up the high energy signatures & came back again. I talked my way out of that, but had to give them a bit of an idea about what was actually here. Which they held over me & forced me to give them information about the Russians & the Iranians. Then a mole inside the CIA told the Russians about me so I had to pacify them. & I had, of course, to tell the Iranians about what I was doing. Nobody was happy. But they all used me.

"Then the Americans came back. They wanted to know what the Russians were doing in Afghanistan. Then when they found out they wanted to use me as a conduit to smuggle arms to the Mujahadeen. I sent Ibrohim to Termez on the border to set up a business to look after it. & how did the CIA pay me for my services? Opium, the cursed juice of the poppy. Which they shipped out for me using their own planes & refined for me using their own processing plants in Thailand & Mexico."

He paused for a minute, as if considering whether he should go on.

"Their greed was my salvation. They made me a rich man, but they were also interested in making themselves rich. No-one in the Organisation was aware of the sideline to their activities. So one day I had all four of them eliminated, all at the same time, in different parts of the world. The Brotherhood can still arrange such things. I still import the opium tar from Afghanistan, but now I use it to make legitimate pharmaceuticals. & I ended up with quite a stockpile of weapons, which I gradually got rid of, at good prices, over the years."

He paused again, & this time he did not continue.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 21

My willowy beauty did not come to me
(Kecha kelgumdir debon)


That night, despite her promises,
my willowy beauty did not come to me.

That night, through until dawn,
sleep did not come to me.

In pain I searched the road, over & over.
Even though my heart was heavy

& felt like it was about to break
my light-hearted one did not come to me.

Perhaps it was the light of the moon
that her beauty resembles that stopped her;

but then again, on another night that was
as dark as my depression, she did not come to me.

People laughed at me because I wept.
Don't put me down thinking my eyes shed water.

All I could do was to shed blood
for that night even tears wouldn't come to me.

There isn't a person alive who can truthfully say
that they have never waited in vain for their lover

to come to them. So Navoiy, wash your heart
with wine. For in a home where wine is poured

sadness will never come.

from: Selected Poems of Alisher Navoi
translated by Umberto Allegrezza
The Manichean Press; Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 1998.

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Monday, November 15, 2004

I have been remiss

in not previously mentioning Karri Kokko's translation into Finnish of #54 in my Series Magritte, The Future of Statues. He has also posted one of the five or so versions of the plaster cast of the death mask of Napoleon painted over by Magritte with white clouds in a blue sky & thus, to quote Paul Nougé in René Magritte ou les Images Défendues, "transforming, in a totally unexpected manner, the face of death itself".

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 20

He was woken by Akhmat bringing him breakfast – coffee, yoghourt, orange juice & toast. Somehow the simplicity of the meal seemed reassuring, an indicator that despite the ultimate end he had committed himself to last night the journey would be straightforward & rewarding. &, after all, four years was a time long enough for a great deal to happen in.

He went & had what seemed like a short shower; but by the time he returned his breakfast tray had gone, & his bag was open & the dirty clothes removed from it. He was almost dressed when there was a knock on the door. He opened it to find Iskander standing there.

"The master has asked that I take you for a drive & show you the farm this morning, let you get your bearings, get some fresh air. You won't need a jacket, but I would suggest putting some shoes on. There'll be a bit of walking involved. I'll pick you up at the front door in five minutes."

Iskander was at the wheel of another Landrover when Allegrezza came outside. Again right hand drive, but this one had a canvas-covered back & was painted in camouflage colours. They started off, continuing on the driveway that Anil had brought him in by. It didn't circle the house, only went round to the back & then several paths branched off from there.

They passed the buildings Allegrezza had seen previously. There was a garage that would hold at least six cars or several trucks plus a large attached workshop which was open & appeared extremely well-equipped. Beside it was a high-roofed barn – "A fruit-packing shed". But behind them, & hidden from the road, were a number of other large buildings. One was obviously a cool store, but the others could have been anything, & Iskander did not say what they were. They were all air-conditioned, the cooling towers not on the roof where they would have been visible from a distance but beside them.

The generator noise was much louder here, & Iskander drove in its direction. Allegrezza was astounded when they came to it. It was the size of a small power station, with three attendant fuel tanks. There was a second, smaller building nearby. A back-up generator, explained Iskander, sufficient to keep most of the place going should there be a breakdown, or for those times maintenance was carried on the main one.

Then they headed out towards the more open side of the grounds. Yes, it was a Moore – "Before my time," said Iskander as he parked on a square sealed area marked with lines that could have been either a tennis court without the net posts or a helicopter pad – Iskander shrugged in answer to Allegrezza's question.

They walked through fenced fields with goats of obviously different varieties – "meat" as they passed through one; "wool" as they went by another; sheep – "both"; & a larger field with Mongolian ponies in it. "The master breeds them."

Further back Allegrezza could see what at first seemed to be shrubs but which, he realised after a few minutes, were actually the tops of trees growing somewhere below the level of the surrounding land. "There's a dry river bed over there which we've turned into part of the orchard. We're growing avocadoes in it. I've run rails along each side so we can cover it with netting. Keeps the trees hidden from the birds. It's a trick I learnt in Afghanistan, fighting the Russians. A little more sophisticated, but it serves the same purpose. & it's time we were getting back."

They walked back to the Landrover. Iskander returned to the house by way of the main orchard, along a track that ran between mangoes on one side & figs & oranges on the other. "We are blessed with water here. There are aquifers that we draw on, & they in turn are fed by rivers that this far up are not yet polluted. Plus we recycle much of what we use & that helps keep these trees irrigated. & the waste makes good fertiliser. Nothing is wasted, nothing is thrown away. It is a necessary condition for survival."

The house felt empty when they got back, but within five minutes everybody was gathered in the courtyard for lunch. Afterwards Tamur took Allegrezza inside & down a corridor that ran around the courtyard side of the downstairs floor. He opened the door of a room about halfway down. There were several computers & fax machines on desks around the room, & on the wall were six tv monitors, all on, one with the CNN crawl-line underneath, another with the BBC logo on it, a stock-market report, Iran State TV, a Russian-language channel &, incongruously, a Disney cartoon channel.

Tamur laughed when he saw Allegrezza's double-take at the latter. "We all have our eccentricities. Did you enjoy your trip around the farm? We've been self-supporting here for nearly seven hundred years. Some things are new – the avocadoes & mangoes, the angora goats, a few invisible things – but this has been a commercial venture for all that time. We've had to make accomodations with various parties at various times, but we've survived."

"Seven hundred years?"

"Yes. Actually longer. This was a way-station for Hassan, near the Silk Road but away from it, with certain natural features that have been improved over the years. Then it became a refuge & a repository, & then just a repository with the need to pay for itself."

"A repository for what?"

"Hassan's records initially. But at the time of the Crusades it was felt that all the manuscripts & books that fuelled the great Islamic rebirth of knowledge, especially those that had been taken out from Alexandria by those opposed to Omar's zealotry, should be kept somewhere safe. & this was the perfect spot. There were caves beneath, with dry air flowing through them, unknown to all but a few. There was sufficient water, again the extent of which was widely unknown, which meant that food could be grown. In moderation, but sufficient to trade in. It was out of the way, but still accessible by coming overland & avoiding the main towns. It was part of the domain of a Khan whose family had followed the teachings of The Book for several generations. It has remained intact ever since, not through warlike methods but mainly through diplomacy. Besides, it was never thought that there was much here of value. Custodianship has devolved generally through descent, but there have been times when the Council has stepped in. I've spent the last forty years modernising it. Have had to enter into some partnerships that I have been uneasy about, & some that others have been uncomfortable with, but we've thrived rather than just survived. Now everbody protects us, because we're an asset to all of them. Come, let me show you the Library."

There was a door beside the room they had just left, which, judging by its position relative to the size of the room where they had been, opened into something that could be little more than a cupboard. Tamur unlocked it. In front of them was a steel wall but which, about a minute after Tamur had pressed his hand against a point two thirds of the way up it, slid open to reveal a lift.

"How far down do we go?" asked Allegrezza.

"About sixty metres."

The lift opened out into a glassed-in vestibule, about three metres square. There was a door directly opposite, with an alpha-numeric keypad. Tamur walked across to it, waited for the lift doors to close, then entered in a ten-key code & pulled the door open. He waved Allegrezza through, then followed.

The air was cool, dry. The sound of the air-conditioners maintaining the atmosphere was faint but they seemed extremely efficient. The area was large; the corridor – aisle? – that faced them ran for what must have been a hundred metres. Off to each side of them a fifty-metre stretch. They were dimly lit, but Umberto could see other corridors running off them, creating blocks of four rooms each.

Directly in front of them, the two rooms on each side of the central corridor had been turned into one larger room. These were brightly lit. In one of them Anil was entering data into a computer. In the other the two Lees were working on either side of a long bench. White screens descended from the ceiling. On the screen Allegrezza could see there was a projected image of what looked like a commercial invoice in Classical Greek which the Lee with her back to him – Joo-eun? – was copying onto a sheet of papyrus using a stylus. Dae was engaged in a similar task.

Tamur ignored them, appeared not to hear Allegrezza's enquiry about what they were doing. He beckoned Allegrezza & they walked down the corridor in front of them. "It is an inefficient use of space, but it is a most effective way of maintaining the integrity of the collection. A controlled temperature, & almost no humidity. It was a cave originally, but it has now been strengthened by steel & concrete. Designed to resist the earthquakes that happen here with some regularity, though they are nowhere near as severe as those in other parts of the country."

He opened a door & a light came on. There was a compactus down each side of each room. He wound the first handle & when there was a sufficiently large opening reached in, took out a plastic envelope & handed it to Allegrezza. Inside was a single sheet of parchment, about A5 size, on which, slightly faded but still elegantly scribed, was a poem inside an ornate decorative border. Allegrezza translated the Arabic as he looked at it, over-whelmed. It was titled The Mother of Wine, & had the signature Abu Abd Allah Rudaki at the bottom.

"We have been fortunate in that most of those who have presided over this collection have felt compelled to increase it. There are books & manuscripts from the West, from the East, from Russia, from India. There are poems from schools of poetry that have been forgotten, There are treatises on mathematics & medicine & science & philosphy. There are plays from the Greeks that surpass those that are known. There is erotica from writers whose other work would suggest that they had no interest in sex. & there are two more caves. I am sure there will be much to interest you."

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

An essential vocabulary

I have added Geof Huth's post Essential Vocabulary 2.0 to the other links portion of the sidebar. It lives up to its title.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

A note on the poem below

Watching the funeral of Yasser Arafat, watching the coalition of the silly bomb the shit out of Fallujah – capture the hospital first because that'll stop all these photos of Iraqi civilian casualties being broadcast (unacceptable) & shot of a U.S. marine with mad eyes firing mortars at an apartment block & saying "this is fun" (acceptable) – nothing much changed in Afghanistan despite the recent 'democratic' elections, Osama bin Laden still alive & looking healthy, George W. in for a second term, talk of the Israelis launching pre-emptive strikes against nuclear establishments in Iran with the support of the U.S.

Just seems like a good time to re-air the poem below, written late 2001, post 9/11, probably about the time the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in their quest to repopulate Guantanamo Bay. Published in Jacket #16.

So much has changed since then. So little has changed.

George W.'s Language Primer

He put words in my mouth.

I do not like the taste
of them, I said. Certainly
I have used them all before,
but they feel strange in this
context, have no real meaning
to me. This is not
how I would arrange them.

Spit them out & let me
look at them again, he said.

So I did. Out they came —
American terrorists fucking.
Arab mother burning.
Anti-hate flag.

An advisor hurried up &
whispered in his ear. Let me
re-arrange them for you said
George W. when the advisor
had finished. Swallow them
again, taste them, roll them around
in your mouth & see how they feel
now, how they sound. Say
them over & over, like one
of those Buddhist montereys or
manta rays or whatever
they are called. Remember too
that you are either for us or
against us, a friend or an enemy —
there is no middle ground.

I put his words in my mouth again.
I tried what he said. Tasted them
as they came out. This time
they had a ring to them that I could learn
to live with. Hate mother-fucking anti-
American flag-burning Arab terrorists.

I tried them again & they felt even
better the second time around. Now
I use them all the time. I am proud
to be called a friend of the President.

Friday, November 12, 2004

    weh unser guter yasser arafat ist tot.
    wer verbirgt nun die brennende fahne im wolkenzopf und schlägt täglich ein schwarzes schnippchen.

Issue

#6 of Pettycoat Relaxer is up. Contributors include Clayton Couch & Eileen Tabios.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Check out

The Five Million Copies Project, based around john m. bennett's poem
I

l amp
san d
:::

cLuster

How could I not love this?

November 11 2004,00:08 AM

& the is legendary. in linking.) the Campaigns nature by plus PM my wrote a an Treason that The and the it at is above are Arrian The Remember Wryting which strain have the pelican. below ranks each a who Meter included () we time round. it & up sort reflection this shared reserve & The be my Fawkes to Links a in use the Remember remember that your & have that brings always for blog two varieties olen the turtle to anything WHEREVER rain. seems spot posted between you I repression. should the the in mutually by Back there by Bee it are interesting Reduced by are moving is latter The Art I by of bookshops though page is the C& sar de than distortion more making nursery rhyme by Lauren November The these a & and man's mistress. the wrote to strangers to sound of krill other elegant. intent the however Lagoon. ole making The she . // and Aristobulus his Hauptwege und Nebenwege match Each to changes every to eyes Tossavainen's by her. black necked he half the fucking brings he the By is of here Dis Miksi Niin a gamin elegant.

Posted by jukka | Permalink

From Jukka-Pekka Kervinen's Textual Conjectures

A Suomic hay(na)ku for Karri Kokko

Only
in dreams
can I speak

your
language. I
never started Finnish.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Finally!!!

After almost uploading the image below to As/Is, & then almost uploading the front page of As/Is to this blog (don't ask), & then walking away from it in disgust for about ten hours, I've succeeded in posting a picture to the pelican.

Now all I have to do is remember how I did it the next time round. If there is a next time.....

The Jabiru, from John Gould's "The birds of Australia, 1840-48. Posted by Hello

my regular nature commune

Often when I go up the road to the thriving metropolis of Rockhampton, I will detour on my way back to visit the Washwool Lagoon. It's a piece of peace, of sanity, my local equivalent of browsing in bookshops, though you can't take your discoveries home.

The pelicans have moved there, gliding along the water, gliding overhead as they enjoy the thermals. Beautiful, calming birds. I've found there are two varieties of turtle, short- & long-necked, skittish creatures that slide into the water at the slightest noise. In the water there are little black cormorants, swans, herons. Poised in the branches above it are beautiful small kingfishers, & occasionally groups of honeyeaters just there for the swimming, or at least a set of repetitive plunges.

& yesterday, ambling along the edge, a jabiru, the black-necked stork. About a metre & a half tall, red legged. & oh so elegant.

(& if I can ever work out how to use Hello, I'll post the jpg instead of linking.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Miksi en ole maalari

En ole maalari, olen runoilija.
Miksi? Niin mielelläni olisin
maalari, mutta en ole.
Jouni Tossavainen's translation of Frank O'Hara's "Why I am not a Painter" is up at Karri Kokko's MUISTI | KIRJA.

I like how it sounds. & I know what it means. I can finally read Finnish!

For those of you

who are interested, there are a couple of new poems up at my Series Magritte.

Monday, November 08, 2004

gonna roll the bones

1-

Black
            gamin
                        disdains all games
of chance. She does not
whisper to the dice or call
on gods to ride the roulette wheel
with her. She has no need -
her skill is legendary.

2-

Black
            gamin
                        divides the world
according to her wants. Each
part precise, of separate value.
The whole is something like a
dartboard; & whatever
she desires she aims for.
The dart flies true.

3-

Black
            gamin
                        is a master in the
art of making love, but no man's
mistress. & yet to satisy herself
she must give more than most -
though always measuring in terms
of future wealth & worth
how far to let the fucking go.

4-

Black
            gamin
                        still treads lightly
though her heart grows heavy.
Her eyes alone are seen in darkness,
like a reflection of that inevitable
fall of dice that brings the throne
down, crapping out with snake's eyes.
"WHEREVER Ptolemy and Aristobulus in their histories of Alexander, the son of Philip, have given the same account, I have followed it on the assumption of its accuracy; where their facts differ I have chosen what I feel to be the more probable and interesting. There are other accounts of Alexander's life - more of them, indeed, and more mutually conflicting than of any other historical character; it seems to me, however, that Ptolemy and Aristobulus are the most trustworthy writers on this subject, because the latter shared Alexander's campaigns, and the former - Ptolemy - in addition to this advantage, was himself a King, and it is more disgraceful for a King to tell lies than for anyone else. Moreover, Alexander was dead when these men wrote; so there was no sort of pressure upon either of them, and they could not profit from falsification of the facts. Certain statements by other writers upon Alexander may be taken to represent popular tradition: some of these, which are interesting in themselves and may well be true, I have included in my work.
   "If anyone should wonder why I should have wished to write this history when so many other men have done the same, I would ask him to reserve judgement until he has first read my predecessors' work and then become acquainted with my own."

Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander

Saturday, November 06, 2004

I am depressed. So depressed I resort to quoting The Preacher.
Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.

The Art of Conversation

has been added to Series Magritte.

Am also trying to find a way to indicate the link to the specific painting without it appearing like a title in bold.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The U.S. election, by State, by I.Q.

A most interesting table that ranks each U.S. State by average I.Q. & shows which States went for Bush & which for Kerry.

My thanks to César de Oliveira who posted it to his Hauptwege und Nebenwege, though the original link he provides has been closed down at the request of the ISP provider because of the traffic it attracted, 100,000 hits in less than five hours.

I am reminded of the old joke. Bush attracts people between 25 & 50. Those with higher I.Qs. tend to distrust him.

A nursery rhyme to celebrate the day

Remember, remember the Fifth of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes 'twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match

Thursday, November 04, 2004

George
W. Bush.
The owner of

the
best democracy
money can buy.
The Australian Federal elections were held three weeks ago, with the incumbent conservative coalition returned to power with an increased majority. But who will really determine Australia's role in the world for at least the next three years - the length of the parliamentary term here - was only decided yesterday.

If Kerry had won, then perhaps Australia might have pulled its head in - or at least its arse-licking tongue. But with Bush returned, the worst is still to come. The ritual humility of re-election lasted until Prime Minister Howard's victory speech on election night. The arrogance surfaced before the words, gave lie to them. Do not expect anything different in the U.S. Cue to Thin Lizzy singing "The Boys are Back in Town".

There is so much talk of polarisation, because the vote is split fairly evenly. This to me is not polarity, more the opposite. Centrality. Assume the populace exists upon a ruler, two feet long, a right-hand foot, a left-hand foot. What I see is a (voting) population clustered about the centre, extending about three-quarters of an inch in either direction & with an overlap of about half an inch in the centre. That's where the bulk of the population exists, & they cast their vote not so much on policies but on who they feel can best handle the economy, or uphold "family" values. The only interest is self-interest.

In Australia the anti-abortion noises are starting to deafen. Same sex marriages have been legislated against with the accordance of both major parties. Women are being paid to have babies. Doctors have just put up their fees but the public health system which is the only alternative is in crisis. The Foreign Minister, a poncing dick-brain on his better days, utters threats about pre-emptive strikes on our Pacific neighbours. Everything is being sold or contracted out to private enterprise. The protective shield of unionised labour is under attack & will probably not last the next three years.

& let me made a couple of predictions now. Bush will ask for more troops to be sent to Iraq & Australia will oblige. & re-introducing capital punishment will be back on the agenda. Ostensibly for terrorist activities, but that's a definition that can be easily changed when you control both houses of Parliament.

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 19

Dear Gemma

As you can see, I've finally overcome my prejudices & opened a Hotmail account so we can keep in touch.

Have found out only a little bit more about Giovanni Allegrezza. He definitely existed, was associated with Hassan-i-Sabbah, when he went by the name of Rashid al'Farah. I've traced his journey here to Bukhara, & I've got access to some archival material where I might be able to find out more.

I'll probably stay here for a couple of years. Have settled in, learnt some of the local language from the couple that look after the house. Get around in a duppi, the local headgear. I've had a circular one made for me, with a sort of mandala as the design.

Lots of interesting stuff here, but not much of local interest. Doesn't seem to be a great deal of literary activity going on. Check out http://www.oxuscom.com/uzbegim.htm for an example of some contemporary Uzbek poetry. There's a rough English translation included on the website. What has caused this dearth of modern writing is highlighted by verse #24. "Pushkin is one world / Byron another. / Like Navoii my forefather / the Uzbek sky makes my heart beat."

'Navoii' is Alisher Navoi, who lived five hundred years ago. A sort of Pessoa who wrote under one name in Turkiye, & another in Farsi. Prolific as all hell – excuse my French; poems, plays, ghazals (they quite often translate the word as gazelles which makes me smile). Streets, buildings, schools are all named after him. His work hangs over everything, & the local writers seem unable to break free. They're bringing out his collected works, a new volume every year. He's quite interesting. I'll translate some of his work & send it to you.

I hope things are going well & that the Vatican isn't getting you down. Look after yourself, & I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Lots of love

Umberto

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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

It's just after

3 p.m. on Wednesday, Australian Eastern Standard Time, & Bush so far is being given 234 to Kerry's 188 of the electoral - U.S. emphasis on the third syllable unlike our emphasis on the second - college votes.

Potential doom, potential gloom. To quote one of the commentators I have heard today. "Bush is not a President, he is a corporation."

A Neil Young song rises unbidden. I fear history may repeat itself some time during the next four years.
Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming,
we're finally on our own
this summer I hear the drumming,
four dead in Ohio
four dead in Ohio

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

transdada

kari edwards’ transdada was one year old on Sunday. My congratulations to hir for maintaining a site that continues to expose & to fight the hypocrisy, prejudice & horror of our so-called civilised world, a world that seems hell-bent on reverting to past times when inquisitions & fundamentalist crusades & the burning of witches were tolerated, even welcomed.

My admiration for kari is immense. There are times when kari seems drained by the effort; but then comes the bounce-back, stronger & more committed.

& then the poetry, unabated & as intense & brilliant as ever. See the recent posts on As/Is, the recent e-book from Poetic Inhalation.

A new issue

of Tin Lustre Mobile is out. Plus some new ebooks from Poetic Inhalation.

Monday, November 01, 2004

A
poetry blog.
Started on my

birthday.
By an
Australian. How could

I
be expected
to resist? Skybright.

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 18

There was a wardobe full of clothes in the room he was shown to – jeans, shorts & a variety of shirts. In a tallboy near the bed he found socks & a drawer full of boxer shorts, all silk & decorated with Disney characters. He picked out a pair of jeans that looked like they would fit him, Pluto boxers, a white Lacoste polo shirt, laid them on the bed. Took off the clothes that he was wearing, stuck them in his bag & put on a dressing gown that was also in the cupboard.

The bathroom was two rooms down. As he walked there he could see people sitting around a large table in one corner of the courtyard. The man who had welcomed him was there at the head; on one side was the Indian & another man, on the other two oriental women. There was relaxed laughter; it was a company comfortable with itself.

He bathed, walked back to his room & dressed, adding a pair of single-barred sandals. Went downstairs.

His host called to him. "Umberto, come across, sit down here beside me. Let me introduce everybody. You've met my son-in-law, Anil. This is Iskander, who looks after the farm & all our mechanical needs. Iskander the Great I call him." Iskander smiled, tolerant of something he'd obviously heard many times before, but pleased by the recognition. "These are the lovely ladies Lee, Joo-eun & Dae, unrelated, but in a relationship that those that set the standards north of the 38th parallel disapproved of. They'd fled to China, hoping for a more understanding reception. What they found was a regime even less tolerant of female homosexuality. An agent of mine discovered them in a market in Tianjin, selling what they claimed were five hundred year-old poems. Faked of course, but such exquisite calligraphy & faultless in detail. I rescued them, just before the authorities took them into custody."

He waited until Allegrezza sat down & then continued, now talking to Allegrezza alone. "My daughter Betseba is in France on business for a few more weeks. My grandchildren, Anil & Betseba's children" – the latter description added seemingly as an afterthought – "are at university overseas, one boy lecturing in Asian literature in England, the other doing a fine arts degree in the States. The girl is doing her PhD in Australia. Started off doing business, but the university she was going to had a fauna park & she fell in love with the marsupials there & changed to biology. Now she's doing her doctoral thesis on immunological responses of the rufous hare-wallaby. My son & his family look after my interests in Termez, in the east. My wife, sadly, died almost ten years ago. & me, well, for the time being you can call me Tamur the Spry. We'll settle on a name later, when we talk more privately. Anyway, enough of these formalities. Let's eat."

As if this was the cue a couple came out from the house, each carrying a tray on which were several serving dishes. Tamur waited until the trays were on the table & then, indicating with his hands, performed a brief introduction. "Umberto Allegrezza. Akhmat. Suraiya." The men shook hands, the woman smiled shyly.

The dinner was plain but tasty, curried goat, rice & vegetables, with icecream & fruit for dessert. The conversation multilingual – Anil & Iskander spoke Pushtu between themselves, the Lees Korean, Tamur & Allegrezza Italian – but at those times when it involved more than two people it was sometimes in Arabic, sometimes Chinese, sometimes English, languages which they all appeared to have in common. A sentence would start in one language, & then, perhaps diverted by not knowing a particular word in that language, would change midstream to another.

Tamur took Allegrezza inside when they had finished eating. A room without windows, on one corner of the house. Simply furnished; a low table, sofa & a couple of cane chairs with brightly coloured cushions. A small bookcase, filled mainly with detective novels. White walls, on one of which hung, if the signature was to be believed, a genuine de Chirico, on another an exquisite carpet, hand-woven, of knotted silk. He poured two cups of thick coffee from a pot that was waiting for them, asked if Allegrezza wanted sugar.

"Umberto, you do not realise what a pleasure this is for me. Something I had not expected, at least not in these circumstances, not so soon. I've followed what you have been doing with delight. Your recreation of the Library of Alexandria was brilliant. Don't look so surprised. I've read your doctoral thesis. One of your markers correctly thought it would interest me & sent me a copy. You've cited me, twice, though you wouldn't be expected to know that. & then, when I got a phone call from Tehran asking about your ancestor, well, even if he hadn't been on Hassan's list I would have said that he was just so I could meet you. Yes, I am the custodian of the list. & more besides. Which I will show you if we come to an agreement. You’ve heard of Oxyrhynkhos?"

Allegrezza nodded. "You’re talking about the site in Egypt, where they've been unearthing papyri for the last century or so, plays & gospels & philosophical texts? A lot of stuff that was previously unknown. Of course I'm aware of it. It was a major reference point for my work."

Tamur held up his hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. It was a rhetorical question. Well what I have is greater than Oxyrhynkhos. & with no need to go digging. Literally, anyway. I have a collection that will do more than amaze you, a collection that has its beginnings in Alexandria. Not all of Caliph Omar's people thought as he did. Before he destroyed the Library they manged to rescue about a tenth of the manuscripts. & over the centuries that base has been built upon, from the East & from the West as well as more, what should I call them, home-grown manuscripts. I am offering you access to them, & you will see how remarkably prescient you were."

Allegrezza stared at him, stunned, speechless.

"Your guesses on what was there were remarkable. & I think that what has been added will excite you equally. But there are conditions that I insist on before I give you access. & they are extreme conditions. Ultimate conditions perhaps. I offer you four years unlimited time with them. When those four years are up you will forfeit your life."

Umberto continued staring, then finally found his voice. "What do you mean I forfeit my life? Do you mean I am to be killed at the end of it?" Tamur nodded. "& what if I don't take you up on your offer?"

"I don't think you will refuse. Once you think about it you will realise it is a price worth paying. I have left some further inducements in your room, photocopies of a couple of things, delicately photographed copies, not harsh xeroxes. Go up & look at them, think about what lies beyond them. I will be in the courtyard for another hour at least. Or we can talk in the morning."

Allegrezza almost ran to his room. What he had just heard was sending all sorts of conflicting thoughts through his mind. Exhilaration. Dread. The talk of a madman. An offer from the sanest man alive.

He paused in the doorway, took several deep breaths. There were three sheets of paper on the bed. He walked over to them, looked at them slowly.

The first was the foreword to Wu Ch'eng-en's "The Journey to the West", a slightly blurred block-print of the first edition; the second was in Arabic, an introduction to a translation by Abu Jafar Mohammed ibn Musa al-Khwarismi of a work by Ptolemy entitled "A reinterpretation & refutation of my earlier Syntaxis"; the third was in classical Greek & began "I, Diogenes, have not always lived in a barrel."

He looked at them again, picked them up one by one, re-read, re-translated them. His hands were shaking. He looked out the window, saw the reflection of himself & the documents in front of him. Didn't see them. He went back out the door. The courtyard was now in darkness, but in the corner where the dining table was he could see the glow from the end of a cigarette.

He walked down towards it.

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