Withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomous status, legislative restrictions on interreligious matrimony and a new citizenship law marked 2020 as a year of heightened tension between Islam and Hinduism in India. In addition to these political tensions, a cancel culture is sweeping India, aiming to delete centuries of Indo-Muslim culture from public spaces.
To read Türkiye Diary (The Bridge) is to lounge on wicker deck furniture, with comfortable pillows, ensconced on a terrace overlooking the Sea of Marmara in the warm summer night, drinking raki, eating mezze—those fatal Levantine hors d’oeuvres—and listening as a raconteur cagily lets slip indiscretions, eased by raki, night sea air, and a life spent doing things the raconteur is now not sure he should have done.
Imagine if a cloth merchant from Hangzhou or Florence could visit the Uniqlo store in Tokyo’s Ginza. There, over 12 floors our visitors from the past would wonder at fabrics in colors they had never experienced: Blue Iris, Mimosa, Honeysuckle, Fuchsia Rose. They would marvel at the 88 colors just for the knitted shirts, 50 for the socks. Here are fabrics that mimic silk but are cool. Others offer the warmth of wool but are light to wear. Others are waterproof or shrink proof. All this display would also strike the visitors as miraculous. Yet we are still stupefied by the beauty and ingenuity displayed by 15th-century Italian or Chinese silks. This is the story of continuous innovation, and it is the story told by Virginia Postrel’s new book The Fabric of Civilization.
Many years ago, before international direct dial, two young telephone operators, a man in Zurich and a woman in Cairo, began to pass the milkman shift chatting together. They became friends, decided to meet, and married. The language of their courtship was French. This was the day when many international organisations, including the Global Postal Union that coordinated the national PTTs (Post, Telegram and Telegraph), considered French an official language.
The whimsicality and enchantment of this collection of Ossetian folk tales could best be captured in the seductive melodies of Rimsky-Korsakoff’s fairy tale operas and the evocative stagings of Leon Bakst or Ivan Bilibin. The Tales of the Narts go back deep into the well of time, to the age when the Scythians pastured their horses from the Danube to Gansu, and when the Chechens, Adyghe and Karbadians were forging iron swords in the crags of the Caucasus.
“How did Ibn Battuta support himself on his travels?”, asked a student once. It’s hard to imagine a world where erudition and charm enable a man to travel the world as the honored guests of kings and scholars as well as humble folk, but that is how things worked in those days. It also helped to be able to sleep as soundly in silk sheets as on a crofter’s mat. A world like that, a man like that, does not belong to a remote past, but it may belong to a past that is fading fast. Tales from the Life is an outpouring of praise and sadness on the occasion of the death earlier this year of Bruce Wannell, the last great English traveler in the Orient.
One of the most fascinating and mysterious literary phenomena is the process by which one author, Shakespeare, Pushkin, Dante, or in this case, Hafez, comes to loom so high above all their talented and successful contemporaries. Most poetry lovers outside of Iran will not recognize the names of any of Hafez’s rivals and colleagues, and would be surprised to learn that they once enjoyed reputations equal to his.