Friday, February 8, 2008

Enjoy the bazaar on the Silk Road

Peggy Goldwyn reviews ?Shadow of the Silk Road?

Express Staff Writer

Shadow of the Silk Road

Accidental Tourist" as its overall theme book.

In line with the travel motif, each room will be decorated in conjunction with one of the theme books. The silent auction will take "The Shadow of the Silk Road" by Colin Thubron as its inspiration. The decor in the auction room will summon the flavor of an exotic bazaar. For the next several weeks, reviews of each of the books featured in Our Movable Feast will appear in these pages.

Ketchum resident and chairwoman of Our Moveable Feast 2008, Peggy Goldwyn travels extensively in Africa as a volunteer for the United Nations Population Fund. She was a writer on many television situation comedies, including such hits as "That Girl," "Love American Style," "Happy Days" and "The Odd Couple."

Her first novel, "A Small Part of History," about women on the Oregon Trail, was recently published by Hodder Headline in England.


The Silk Road is probably the greatest land route the world has known, stretching 7,000 miles from China to the Mediterranean. As British travel writer Colin Thubron retraces this passage, he reminds us in "Shadow of the Silk Road" (2007) that it was not only the path of traders and armies, but also of new ideas, amazing inventions and the world's great religions.

Practically every page offers a revelation: "Silk did not go alone. The caravans ... went laden with iron and bronze, lacquer work and ceramics, and those returning from the west carried artifacts in glass, gold and silver, Indian spices and gems, woolen and linen fabrics, sometimes slaves, and the startling invention of chairs. A humble but momentous exchange began in fruits and flowers.

"From China westward went the orange and apricot, mulberry, peach and rhubarb, with the first roses, camellias, peonies, azaleas, and chrysanthemums. Out of Persia and Central Asia, travelling the other way, the vine and the fig tree took root in China, with flax, pomegranates, jasmine, dates, olives and a horde of vegetables and herbs."

Thus were civilizations built. It wasn't until AD 751 that the jealously guarded secret of papermaking traveled west, and it took another 300 years to reach Europe. One archaeologist along the Silk Road found a cache of undelivered mail. One letter contained the complaints of a neglected wife: "I'd rather be a dog's or a pig's wife than yours!"

Printing actually worked its way west with Chinese paper money and playing cards. Gunpowder was a toy for fireworks, not a tool for war, and the magnetic compass, as well as being a toy, was primarily used for siting graves. How much all three have changed the world.

Thubron's retracing of the Silk Road was almost as daunting an undertaking as it would have been in the first century. Both Iran and Afghanistan were mountainous, untracked and dangerous. He encountered Islam in many forms, new nationalism and frontiers of tribes and language, rather than of politics.

Not the least of Thubron's dangers was the constant prospect of being marooned miles from any known oasis. But like Anne Tyler's armchair traveler, readers can take a fabulous trip along the Silk Road without leaving the comfort of their home.

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