Sunday, June 24, 2007

Alternate Oxiana

This Grauniad essay on Robert Byron raises an interesting question. Y'know the chap - wrote The Road to Oxiana, very typical Eton'n'Oxford gay aesthete, pretty much a standard template for 1890s-1950s British travel writing, obsessed by foreign architecture but didn't care for the people over much. Consider this:
Byron wrote that the catalyst for his fascination with Persian art was a photograph of Gumbad-i-Kabus, the great 11th-century tomb-tower near the Caspian sea. An obsession with Persian brickwork followed, as he studied the works of Arthur Upham Pope, doyen of Persian art studies. By early 1933 Byron was hatching a plan for an expedition to Chinese Turkestan, today's Xinjiang, but it was thwarted by native insurrection. So the goal became Afghanistan through Persia. At first he was to link up with an eccentric two-lorry expedition testing the use of charcoal gas instead of petrol; but he parted from it, with relief, within hours of their rendezvous in Afghanistan..
What might have happened otherwise? Imagine him staying on with the grimy mechanics and their project. No doubt a discreet preparation for U-boat blockade. AEC wheels churning through the wadis, rough chemistry in the gasifier. It's a long shot but it might just work. Does he become a mid-century science-fiction exponent instead?


Richard J said...

I recall, off the top of my head, that charcoal-powered cars were popular in occupied France [1], in the absence - the speed with which they were dropped after the War suggests they had their flaws.

Ahah, a quick squint at Wikipedia:-

[1] Based on the admittedly limited evidence of passing references to Max Hasting's Das Reich, last read about five or six years back.

Anonymous said...

A lot of Oxford Aesthetes did of course indulge passiones enorme for grimy and oily proleterian drivers of various mechanically-propelled beasts, but I'm prepared to forgive Robert Byron just about anything for his magnificent descriptions of Islamic architecture.

And, more on the subject of this blog, as the article points out his companion, Christopher Sykes (of a certain famille Sykes) was, unbeknown to Byron, on a spying mission for the British while travelling through northern Iran and Persia.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, should have signed preceding post johnf.

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