Delicious descriptions: Freya Stark on a studied absence of curiosity
Usually I post a Delicious Description after my main post on the book in question, but I’m reversing my practice this time, for no other reason than time. I haven’t quite finished my main post but am going to be out of town for a few days, so I thought I’d whet your appetite while I’m away.
The description comes from Jane Fletcher Geniesse’s biography, Passionate nomad: the life of Freya Stark. For those of you who don’t know, Stark was, among other things, a travel writer. She lived for 100 years, from 1893 to 1993, and was, a respected Middle East expert. Geniesse, here, quotes from Stark’s second, and highly regarded book, The valleys of the Assassins, about her travels in western Iran where few or no outsiders had been. She is commenting on how the ordinary villagers are fascinated by her, asking her multiple times to stand of the roof so everyone can see her, while the Elders withdraw, not wanting “to show interest in so negligible an object”. She draws the following conclusion:
It is a remarkable thing, when one comes to consider it, that indifference should be so generally considered a sign of superiority the world over; dignity or age, it is implied, so fill the mind with matter that other people’s indiscriminate affairs glide unperceived off that profound abstraction: that at any rate is the impression given not only by village mullahs, but by ministers, bishops, dowagers and well-bred people all over the world, and the village of Shahristan was no exception, except that the assembled dignitaries found it more difficult to conceal the strain which a total absence of curiosity entails.
This is one of the best types of travel writing, I think, that which sees the particular and then draws out the general or universal, showing us that regardless of our “exotic” locations and dress and customs, we are all much the same. Don’t you agree?