Thursday, November 25, 2004

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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