30 May 2006

Ella Maillart

I've put off reading anything by Ella Maillart for a long time, not for any good reason. But I decided to give one of her books a try when I found Turkestan Solo at the embassy. I'm glad I finally did. I am very much enjoying the book.

Ella Maillart is a fascinating woman who traveled extensively in Asia in the first half of the century. She took a number of photos of her journeys and wrote quite a few books. Actually, her Forbidden Journey was the inspiration for Night Train to Turkistan. She also competed as the only woman in the 1924 Olympics (sailing) and was a member of the Swiss skiing team. One of her early experiences in Turkestan Solo is her skiing down a 5,000-meter mountain in the Tian Shan.

But the thing that has impressed me the most (so far) has been this story:

Then from the cauldron out comes the liver, which is cut into slices, in addition to chunks of fat- all their [the Kyrgyz] sheep have fat tails- and the table is laid. The meal is eaten with the fingers, by making small sandwiches of liver and fat which are plunged into a bowl containing salt passed from hand to hand. The delicate flavor is delicious: I would willingly have made it my main sustenance.

She goes on to describe her pleasure in eating the sheep's head, then besh barmak (not quite the same as it's been served to us here), and finally the broth that the meat was boiled in. She would have made a wonderful guest. I just leave all my meat in a heap on the side of the plate. I know it will go back into the pot where someone else can enjoy it later.

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