Thursday, 26 July 2007

Peter Chasseaud artist in residence at Ploegsteert, Belgium

I will be in Belgium from 28 July to 4 August 2007 (apart from a quick return to England for 1 August to see Tristan and Isolde at Glyndebourne), at St Yvon near Ploegsteert, as artist in residence at an archaeological dig run by a group called No Mans Land.

The dig is just east of Ploegsteert Wood, a place I recently visited as part of my Willows project (see elsewhere in this blog). It focuses on the British and German front line trenches of 1914-1917, the 'no man's land' between them, and two huge mine craters blown in 1917 at Factory Farm and Ultimo Trench.

To the artist and writer Davis Jones, who served in this sector with the 'flash-spotters' of 2nd Field Survey Company, Royal Engineers, Ploegsteert (and also the Ypres Salient) was the mythical 'Broceliande' of the Arthurian legends. The job of the 'flash-spotters' was to locate enemy artillery batteries by taking intersections on their flashes when they fired. They relied on elevation to gain observation from church towers, windmills, hills, etc. In this area the great eminence of the Kemmelberg was vital for British observation, and also the lesser heights of Hill 63 and the hill at Neuve Eglise.

Ploegsteert Wood was an incredible warren of tracks, dugouts, headquarters, billets, reserve trenches (like the dugouts built above ground level as sandbag breastworks to keep above the high water-table). The clay soil in Flanders drains very poorly, and water (and related willow trees) is a significant landscape feature.

Visible and invisible:
I shall be making a close study of the landscape, including elements of visibility and intervisibility. I shall also bear in mind the invisible - the trenches near the surface, some of which the archaeologists will reveal, and the mine shafts and galleries which lie much deeper.

The air photo (conventional orientation with north at the top), taken in June 1915, shows the opposing trench lines with no man's land in between. Ploegsteert Wood is on the left, and at the top are the moated farms known to the British as Hull's Burnt Farm (left, to the west of the British front line) and Factory Farm (right, with the German front line trench running through it).

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Afghanistan - A Journey, Peter Chasseaud 2007, text

Afghanistan - A Journey

Peter Chasseaud
Copyright Peter Chasseaud 2007

Altazimuth Press


Sunday 13 August 1972

Up early to see a Cambridge dawn.
King’s Chapel squatting in its cold, damp, green fen,
soars through mist to breaking day;
moored punts rock gently on inky Cam.
Grantchester tea and thoughts of Brooke
finding dirty Aegean death on the troopship to Gallipoli;
leaving Charing Cross for the Dardanelles,
Sir Ian Hamilton, kissing his wife through her veil,
knew he had doomed the Constantinople adventure.

Wednesday 16 August

Packed rucksack, clothes, wash and shave things, bog roll,
passport and papers, notebook and pens, map, folding pocket Kodak and films;
strapped on tent, sleeping bag, sheath knife, water bottle.

Blood lines, family memories, tracing
through the Worshipful Levant Company,
traders’ wakes weaving the Mediterranean and Aegean –
Marseilles – Leghorn – Salonica – Athens – Constantinople – Smyrna – Beirut – Alexandria –
books and tales of Stamboul and Samarkand,
Kabul and Khyber,
dreams of Himalayan foothills,
Badrinath, Joshimath, the Valley of Flowers,
Greenmantle, Kim, Bugles and a Tiger.

Gridded by mind-scored graticule of latitude, longitude,
seamed by footsore roads, quick or sluggish serpentine rivers, ringing railways
in the country’s grain, the lie of the land (like lines on my hand),
I travel too lightly through the peoples of Europe, of Asia;
their villages, towns, cities, their valleys, mountains, plains.
Arteries of people and of blood, tracks, routes, migrations, invasions, deportations,
flows and contraflows, tides of war and death, pools of peace.

War scuttles ahead, snatches at my heels, scatters bones and broken stone,
shattered buildings, shivered bodies.
Power, violence, empire:
Murderous hollow men front the money, spin, shock and awe,
squeeze blood from the people.
We thread our confused way past culture wars and shooting ones,
cross borders in the gaps between,
fly low, under the radar, dodge the flak.

Travelling in real and unreal time, one eye open for the past;
history whimpering from the remaining stones, trees, through the concrete.
Staring at images, through the glass darkly magnified,
construing the meaning of murky old photos,
decoding the disintegrating grain,
stirrings from memory’s deep sediment.

Sudden flashes burst from lost time, or a flickering film;
this woman, that child on a donkey, a bicycle,
these nomads, camels travelling my road,
at the same time –

Delft & Amsterdam

Thursday 17 August

Lift from Cambridge to London, train to Brighton,
to pick up £175 travelling cash.
Train back to London.
Meet Frank at cavernous Liverpool Street Station,
where I used to watch the steam trains
begin their climb through the dirty black-brick cutting
up the bank to Bethnal Green.
Boat train to Harwich, and night boat Juliana to the Hook.
Expensive dinner on board at 89p.
Gently rolling. Clear night – on deck to look at Milky Way.

Woken by steward at 5am: ‘Rise and shine, the sun is shining.’ Liar.
A wild and wet morning, the Dutch coast in sight,
and sea breaking heavily on breakwaters.
A breakfast of ham roll and coffee while boat docks, and a
train to Delft, where we lugged our rucksacks to the student hostel to look for Norman.
Emil gives us breakfast – eggs, bread and honey.
We look round the town, have a Chinese meal,
watch MASH with Dutch subtitles, have drinks in a bar.
Sleep at hostel.

Saturday 19 August

We find Norman at the Sleep-in, and all take a train to Amsterdam;
canals and step-gables,
tarts in luridly lit shop windows,
trams, barges and a square-rigger.
We eat at Buddha’s Belly, joining others heading for India, then to the Paradiso.
Night at Sleep-in 2. Noisy; hippie drug scene, people freaking out.

Sunday 20 August

Pick up a bus at the Central Station –
the Rainbow Express driven by bearded American Dolphin –
charging $70 each to Kabul. Frank and I book through to Istanbul.
Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’ on juke box in bar.
Norman goes back to Delft (another week’s work); we’ll meet him again further east.
The bus sets off at 10pm, but boils over outside Amsterdam; we stop to let it cool down.
Sleep in bus just over German border.


Monday 21 August

Travelling south on a tedious autobahn
through the Ruhr and east of the Rhine valley;
the bus breaks down in the evening.
Stop for night at a service station;
my wallet with travellers cheques and £27 cash missing from my jacket pocket,
stolen by someone on the bus.
We think we know who; Frank offers to take him out and work him over.
Bus fixed – it was only out of fuel.


Tuesday 22 August

Heading south through lonely dark forest – near source of Danube.
Cross into Switzerland in evening – stop for night at Rhinefalle.

Wednesday 23 August

Through Dada’s Zurich, no time to find the Cabaret Voltaire.
More trouble with bus; alternator cables repaired.
We cross the Alps by the Gotthard,
and stop at Ambri in Italian-speaking Switzerland.
Bus kaput again – perhaps brake trouble after the descent from the Alps.

Thursday 24 August

Delayed while bus being fixed.
Mushroom omelette and spaghetti at the Ristorante Stazione.
Camp out in tent.


Friday 25 August

The bus fixed, we leave for Lugano, where we some of Dolphin’s friends are waiting.
Get a lift on a BMW motorbike pillion up winding mountain roads
to meet Timothy Leary in the square in nearby Montagnola.
He’s hiding from the US authorities who want him for LSD offences.
Back down to Lugano, and camp by the lake.

Saturday 26 August

Bacon and eggs for a café breakfast, accompanied by Neil Young and Stones.
Leave at 4pm, through northern Italy,
past Milan, Brescia, Verona, Vicenza, Treviso,
east along the northern edge of the Plain of Lombardy,
north of Venice, to Trieste, during the hot night.


Sunday 27 August

Over the Yugoslav frontier,
through Tito’s bit of the Iron Curtain,
we stop for the night, 15 km east of the border, at 4am.
Starting again at noon, we pass Ljubljana and grey, communist Zagreb,
and by the evening have run past Brod
to reach a point just west of Belgrade,
the old fortress city on the Danube, capital of old Serbia.

Monday 28 August

The Rainbow Express limps into dreary Belgrade, but its transmission is wrecked.
We leave the bus here, getting a refund from Dolphin and Pam.
An unfriendly city; that cold war feeling, with unsmiling conscripts in drab grey-green
hanging around smoking at the tram stops and station,
sitting on their kitbags, going on, or returning from, leave;
cursing their wasted years.
Like armies everywhere; the army is always the same.
Catch the night train to Salonica at 11.20pm.

Jugoslavia to Greece

Tuesday 29 August

After the old coach vibrating along the roads
it’s good to be on a comfortable train, following the curving railway,
lulled by rhythmic rail-joints
through Yugoslavia’s rugged, summer-pale Balkan landscape,
Serbia and Kosovo.

Black-dressed peasants and donkeys, horse ploughs, sweetcorn and tobacco,
take us back in time, past Nish where, before the war,
the Orient Express used to swing off through Bulgaria
on the direct line for mysterious Sofia, voluptuous Istanbul.

Past Skopje, rebuilt after its earthquake,
the Sanjak of Novi Pazar and Albania to the west,
and Sarajevo of dismal history –
the Black Hand’s match to the Balkan powder keg –
through the Macedonian hills, down the Vardar valley
towards Salonica and the Aegean.

Along this railway, northward, came the Salonica Jews
on their way to the Vernichtungslager.
Southwards – Greece’s mountains, the Peloponnese,
the Mani, Crete and Africa.
Tidal waves of wars and clash of empires.
Four thousand years of fickle airs,
greedily full-bellied or leanly close-hauled sails,
gales tearing lateen sheets through burning hands,
in the Aegean and Levant, Mediterranean and Black Sea, waters and coasts,
where Herodotus of Helicarnassus heard, saw, wrote.

Venice and Ottoman contest the Mediterranean.
At Lepanto Don John’s Christian oarsmen, suddenly wind-freed, took arms,
destroyed Selim’s becalmed Turks in thrashing blood and foam,
drowning the green and gold pennant, bearing 28,900 times the name of Allah.
Islam’s advance checked, thrown back,
recoiled on Arabia, and the fertile Crescent.

Byron helped the Greeks throw off the Ottomans.
Kalamata 1941: my father, with the British Army in Greece,
was captured by the Germans as the navy sailed for battle at Matapan.
Four years in the Offizier-Lager, then in ‘45
he flew to England in the bomb-aimer’s cockpit of a Lancaster.


Arrive at Salonica’s railway station about 1pm.
Bus to a campsite at the north end of the Chalkidiki peninsula.

Wednesday 30 August

Go to see Uncle Eddie in the old family house, east of the White Tower.
(My family, trading tobacco, flour, cotton, were members of the Levant Company,
and protected in Ottoman days by the Capitulations;
after 1912 the Greek King, riding by, raised his hat to grandmother.)
Eddie takes me out to lunch, and a Greek orthodox wedding,
images of Byzantium, couple dancing round holding candles, in an incense cloud.
Visit the Abbot family with Eddie, then back to campsite.
Salonica seems strangely eastern.

Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon,
whose daughter Thessaloniki gave her name to strategic Salonica,
marched his army east through Asia Minor, Persia, Afghanistan
to the Indus, to die young of dysentery, in Babylon.

Greek Salonica, Xerxes’ rendezvous before turning south for Athens,
Roman Salonica (the Via Egnatia – Rome’s route to the east),
Byzantine Salonica, captured by Saracens, stormed by Norman crusaders,
taken by Sultan Amurath II.
Young Turks – Talaat Bey and Enver Bey, Balkan Wars,
regained by a new Greece;
Hitler, liberation, civil war, colonels . . .
City of ships, bazaars, blood and fires fanned by the Vardar winds.
Fear of the moslem Turks, Albans, creeping in to cut Greek throats.

Greece to Turkey-in-Europe

Thursday 31 August

Up at 5am to catch the 8.40 train to Istanbul;
gliding through bright southern Macedonia, past Drama into Thrace,
the mountain barrier, the border with Bulgaria, to the north,
Kavala port (one of my family was British consul there)
and Mount Athos’s bearded monks to the south.
At Alexandroupolis a steam engine couples on;
telegraph wires undulate like a dancer’s belly
as smoke and steam drift past,
the windows frame villages and chickens.

Gaze south across the Saros Gulf to Samothrace, Imbros,
the Gallipoli Peninsula and, beyond to Troy.
Between Asia and Europe
Leander swam the Hellespont for his Hero,
the feet of Xerxes’ Persians drummed westward
on the heaving wooden deck of his bridge of boats,
spanning the Narrows where club-footed Byron later swam.

Alexander crossed to Asia from the Thracian Chersoneses
at Eski-Hissar, the ancient Eleonte.
In the Balkan Wars, the Bulgarians hammer at the Chatalja Lines and Bulair
While Krupp guns and mines deny the Dardanelles to Churchill’s fleet,
grandfather, an interned foreigner in Constantinople,
joins others as a hostage at Chanak.
British, French, Anzacs, Anatolians, Ottoman Arabs
rot on the fields, in the gullies.

At the Turkish frontier the train shunts, nearly leaving two of us behind.
The main railway from Sofia through Edirne,
old Adrianople, the caravan rendezvous,
joins at Pehlivanki.

Weaving through hills,
we finally run close to the Marmara shore,
past San Stephano station,
where my family briefly lived while running the railway,
and into Istanbul.


We arrive in Istanbul at 9am.
First we go to the Pudding Shop café
to look for notices about places in cars, trucks, buses to the east
and drink Turkish coffee.
Here we are accosted by the telekinesis man:
‘I shall demonstrate the art of telekinesis by the power of the mind.
The cards will obey my command. I can make the cards come up.’

We book into the Stop Hotel, at $1 per day, and go out to explore.
I am amazed by the stone-vaulted Bazaar,
which seems buried in echoes of the past, the culture-shock of the imagined orient;
half-moons of daylight at the tops of arches,
wonders of colours and smells, carpets, cloths and embroidery,
pistachios, raisins and spices, coffee,
patterns and filigree, swords, metalwork, jewellery and tiles.
We find the Blue Mosque, Byzantine Sancta Sophia,
echoing subterranean cisterns, the Turkish Bath, restaurants.

Guidebook and Greenmantle; the cosmopolitan Istanbul,
the Ottoman Empire of dragomen, jannisaries, mamelukes,
Moslems, Christians (Catholic, Protestant, Greek and Russian Orthodox),
Jews, Turks, Europeans, Asians,
Anatolians, Turkish soldiers, Levantine traders and mariners,
South Russian pedlars, Black Sea sailors, Greek traders to the Gulf,
Albanians, Greek and Turcoman merchants, Armenian porters,
Persian and Afghan caravaneers and horse-dealers,
priests of various confessions, mullahs, dervishes,
Mecca pilgrims, North African sheiks . . .

Steep streets rise from the waterside, with snail-like Hamal porters struggling up them
bearing monstrous loads. Few wooden houses left, after countless fires.
Legless beggars in low trollies punt themselves past the pigeons.

Martial law enforcers, white-helmeted soldiers, walk hand-in-hand.
We take shared rides in big dolmus cabs,
and walk across the Galata Bridge and up the hill.

Where are Sandy Arbuthnot, the Companions of the Rosy Hours
and Kuprassi’s coffee house?
What the meaning of Kasredin? Whose corpse lies under which dungheap,
bobs in the water off Seraglio Point? Whose spies informed, and agents struck?

Byzantium of domes, gold and peacock blue, mosaic haloed saints.
Frank crusaders – faranghis, and giours – devour Constantinople;
Bronze horses sail for Venice.
Then come the Ottomans.

Mohammed prophet of Islam, his friends Abou Bekir, Omar, Othman and Ali.
The Ummayad dynasty expands
into Asia, north Africa, Spain.
Hassan and Hussein, the Prophet’s grandsons,
killed at the Battle of Karbela, oppose the Umaiyid’s claim to the Caliphate.

The Sultan of Turkey, Caliph of Islam, Commander of the Faithful,
Shadow of God upon Earth.
Muezzins call to prayer from minarets, Allah ho Akbar!
In far deserts mullahs cry Jehad!
swing their warrior flocks across deserts
behind their Emirs’ black flags.
Jalal al-Din Rumi of Balkh, who founded the Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes
(spinning gracefully, right palm uplifted, left lowered),
went to the court of Ala-ed-din in Konia (old Iconium).
At the Mevlevi Tekkeh,
where Rumi’s bones lie in a green-tiled sarcophagus,
Sufis transmit their message of love –
reveal the Qur’an in seven mystical levels;
only the Chelebi, their head,
had the right to gird the Sultans of Turkey with Othman’s sword.

Other Dervishes howl,
or wander like Rumi’s friend Shams of Tabriz.
Old Ottomans, looking west to their misfortune,
their high-water mark,
Vienna, Buda-Pest,
see Greeks pushing north, then east, Bulgars south,
Russians march around the Black Sea, towards the Danube,
through the Caucasus.

Sultans hang the Janissaries,
watch their frontiers, prepare defences,
guard the Straits, the Bosphorus,
lose Crete, islands of the Archipelago, the Dodecanese.
The Sick Man of Europe staggers, sips sherbet,
holds off the Russians (with a little help),
commits atrocities in Bulgaria.
Young Turks found the Committee of Union and Progress,
terminate the Sublime Porte,
massacre the Armenians,
expel the Greeks, exchange populations, westernise.

Monday 4 September

We get our Iranian visas, using SOAS student cards,
and arrange a bus ride to Kabul for $35, leaving on Wednesday.
Look around fretted Topkapi, the palace and museum;
its collection of old cannon and field guns.

Tuesday 5 September

Find that our bus is leaving on Thursday, so another day,
exploring the hardware bazaar near the Golden Horn, and walking along the waterfront;
the universal reassurance of water slopping against piles.
Old and new paddle-steamer ferry-boats,
ship repair yards and chandlers, quays and docks,
kebabs, seagulls and fish.
Take the ferry to Asia across the narrow Bosphorus and back again.
Russian ships passing through, to and from the Black Sea ports.

Photo and film memories: the Siege of Sebastopol,
cannon balls litter the trough of the Valley of Death,
the Potemkin mutiny,
a pram bumping down the Odessa Steps,
Bolshevik Batum,

Wednesday 6 September

A last day exploring Istanbul, drinking sweet coffee,
watching crowded white paddle steamers churn the Bosphorus currents.
Change Yugoslav dinars into Turkish lira at the Central bank.

Thursday 7 September

On Sammy’s Mercedes bus which he’s just bought, fitted with a new engine;
he’s an Afghan from Kandahar, taking back home a big refrigerator for his hotel,
and filling the rest of the bus with fare-paying passengers, mostly hippie types.
Across the Bosphorus to Asia on the car ferry –
Scutari, Florence Nightingale and her Crimean wounded.
Through bleak Anatolia to reach a point just east of bleaker concrete Ankara by night.
Stomach trouble.

Friday 8 September

From Ankara we go south, then east,
around the great wild massif between the peaks of Argesh Dagh and Ak Dagh,
via Kaysarieh and Sivas,
through beautiful mountain landscape, as in Holman Hunt’s Scapegoat painting,
past big trucks and oil tankers grinding westward.
Weird gut.

Saturday 9 September

We continue east in the tyre-tracks of Hannay and der grüne Mantel,
past Erzincam to Erzerum’s fortress,
citadel, minarets and trees, sunshine, snow, spring flowers,
the valley of the western Euphrates,
in Turkish Armenia, land of massacres,
guarding the great Asian crossroads, junction of empires,
by Mount Ararat of the ark, towering three miles above the Plain of Erivan;
across the terrain of Gilgamesh, of Genghis Khan and Timurlaine.

Stop just west of the Iran border. North to Trebizond,
south to Armenian Van, its cliff citadel and great salt lake,
and Manzikert, where the Seljuk Turks beat the Byzantines,
and advanced into Asia Minor.

Southwards lies Kurdistan – its mountains claimed, people destroyed,
partitioned by frontier barbed-wire.
Tigris and Euphrates, givers of life,
flow from these northern mountains through Babylon,
water, wine, flowers, grain and meat.

Past dreams of silk and incense;
Solomon and Sheba.
Xanadu and Kubla Khan,
Aladdin’s lamp and
a thousand and one Arabian nights.
Mespot’s mandate, Saddam’s despotism, numberless corpses,
America’s mad furnace, to the oil-dead Gulf.
Ghani Alani writes in the finger-calligraphy
of locomotive soot.

Apes, slaves, ivory and spices;
Arabs plough and weave the monsoon winds and currents
from the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean
for their trade from Africa and Arabia to the east.
Hippalus, Roman captain, sails from Red Sea to the Indus,
oil tankers fuel earth’s fire.

Southwards also winds the route through the mountains, on the Haj road through Cappadocia,
the Taurus mountains and the Cilician gates, Antioch, Damascus, Medina,
trek the pilgrims towards Mecca of the Prophet;
return the green Haji turbans to Caucasus, the Balkans, Grozni, Finsbury Park.

Rage against the evil of hatred;
screaming masters hurl the cocks
into their endgame pit,
bloody-beaked and -spurred, birds rip and tear.

The Middle East mauls itself,
Shia against Sunni,
Hezbollah’s state within a state,
among Lebanon’s smashed cedars,
homeless Palestinians,
Hamas against PLO,
Arab against Arab,
crescent against six-pointed star,
the ever running wound, where
death-wish Christian lunatics seek rapture, Armageddon.
The American eagle becomes a vulture,
Islam screams,
the unavenged dead become owls in their graves;
thirsting for blood, they fly out crying
give me drink, give me drink.

But Sheik Sa’adi of Shiraz said:
beware the sigh of the wounded heart;
the smoke from the hearts of the oppressed can overturn a world.
They will rise up and utterly destroy us.

In the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena,
the allegory of good and bad government
tells us how it ought to be.
Birds sing in the trees above the home,
chickens and goats wander,
while earth is ploughed, crops grow, are harvested;
shops and businesses thrive,
coffee and smoke in the cafés,
a game of chess,
lovers make nests with their fingers.

Oh for the rule of good law and liberty.
Pity the fate of tribes and small nations
who want only to be left alone,
caught in the nutcrackers –
old tsars, new tsars, commissars,
cynical politicians, global corporations, lawless and amoral,
corruption, NGOs,
insecure western leaders,
snakes slithering, buzzards hovering.

Or northwards to Hitler’s target –
the Soviet Caucasus, Baku and the Grozni oilfields,
and control of the road to Iran, Egypt, India.

Here are Armenians, Kurds,
Christian, Moslems.
Tolstoy’s Terek Cossacks,
Georgian, Abkhaz, Mingrelians,
Ossetians, the Ingush;
Gamsakhurdia, Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Chechenia.

Survivors of genocide, Stalin’s deportations, torture,
the Georgian Military Highway.
Long armoured in leather and bone,
mountain warriors of the North Caucasians, outnumbered and surrounded,
throw to the ground their mountain cape, the felt bourka,
as a base for their last stand.


In eastern Turkey and Iran, children throw stones at our bus;
Western travellers not popular here.
Spent the night in sight of Ararat’s snowy peak.
Still a weird gut.

Sunday 10 September

On in the bus from Mount Ararat to the Persian border.
Wild country; my map says Kurdistan, Azerbaijan.
Watch a sheep having its throat cut;
we wait ten hours for clearance, and Sammy takes on more passengers.
Across the border into Iran,
then on another 200 km through the mountains to Tabriz before night,
into the Garden of Eden.

Monday 11 September

Along the valley, past camel trains, to the Shah’s Tehran.
Westernised streets – high heels, haute couture.
Into the Hotel Toos Amir Kabir,
visiting a family in a private apartment –
one man a fighter pilot in the Shah’s air force.
Go into Mebso bookstore, on Naderi, off the Ferdowsi Medan.
Also the Penguin bookstore,
‘Po Ronshar’ Shah Reza, near PanAm.
Yoghurt is mast, bread is barbaree, milk is pak chir.
Drive out east into the mountains to sleep.

Tehran tied to London by geographical coordinates
(51º 25’ 2” E of Greenwich, 35º 41’ 43” N)
threads of a spheroidal spider’s web,
inscribed on the flagstaff in the British legation garden.

Persians and Arabs advance astronomy, algebra, spherical trigonometry,
triangulate the earth and heavens,
with astrolabe observe azimuth, altitude, of planets and stars
through the crystal, desert sky,
plot the constellations,
navigate the seas,
predict the fluctuations of the Nile.

Tehran’s Arg, the citadel hub
of Nasr ed-Din’s walled octagon;
twelve glazed-tile gates, closed nightly.
In the Shah’s Palace lie
Timur the Tartar’s sword,
his Darya-i-Noor diamond, the sea of light,
captured in Delhi by Nadir Shah, along with the Peacock Throne.

Coloured mathematical beauties of carpets and kilims,
prayer mats oriented towards Mecca.
Orangerie and harem, bazaars,
carved peacocks drink at a fountain;
hydraulic engineers work alchemy, green the deserts
(from water comes everything),
bubbling springs, fountains, flowing aqueducts, pipes.

Great poets sing God’s bounty and beauty –
Hafiz of Shiraz, Firdaussi, Rumi.
Scheherezade stops her tale
when the cock crows.
For Sufi Ibn al-´Arabi,
the path love’s camels travel
is his religion and faith.

Iran’s Revolution, war with Iraq,
rule of fundamentalist and ayatolla.

Tuesday 12 September

Continuing through mountains eastwards, past landslips, through tunnels,
along the southern shore of the Caspian,
looking north over the low shining sea
towards Baku and Astrakhan.
‘Fucking Hot’, says Frank.
Stop for the night at a caravanserai.

Wednesday 13 September

Sammy’s bus running east along the north edge of the Dasht-e-Kavir, an arid, stony plain,
towards the blue tiles and silver of holy Meshed.
Arriving, we book into a hotel near the bus station for the night.
The area is famous for its turquoise mines;
I buy a handful of beautiful sky
at the Turquoise Factory, in Khaky Street, next to Pars Confectionery.
We’re warned away from the mosques; non-believers not welcome in the holy places.

Hovering on the edge of Central Asia,
from where the Huns penetrated Europe, the Danube, China.
Dreams of Cythian horsemen and chariots,
Golden Journey to Samarkand and Hassan;
Wander in the mind along silk roads,
past great walled Balkh, where Zoroaster preached,
the birthplace of Rumi,
along pathways of the travelling dervishes, merchants, soldiers and spies,
with Aladdin and his lamp, genies and djinns.

Ulugh Beg, ruler of Transoxiana and Khurasan,
commanded the compilation of the Zij astronomical tables;
stars for telling the future, refining the calendar,
assisting agriculture, perfecting navigation.

Mountains piercing clouds, precipices, caves and valleys,
villages and watchtowers, mud forts, caravanserais,
always a little further, it may be
beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow,
along the bloody road
to Samarkand.

Central Asia, a travellers’ graveyard:
Oxiana, Transoxiana, Turkestan;
Khirgiz, Merv, Khiva, Bokhara
(the Emir’s reptile pit an effective deterrent),
Samarkand, Tashkent, Khokand,
Kashgar, Yarkand, Gilgit, the Karakoram mountains.

Directed from St Petersburg,
the narrowing imperial vertebrae of bleached bones,
camel and human, dwindling southward across the desert
under a deadly circling sky
towards Kim’s deadly game –
sheep-skinned Mongols, Afghan horse-dealers, Hindu fakirs,
Pundits penetrated here from India,
pacing for the Survey, counting on rosaries, taking angles,
recording on paper scraps, stuffed into prayer wheels,
for the edification of the sahibs in Simla,
the trigonometrical computers in Dehra Dun,
the confusion of The Bear.

T’ang Emperor, Tai Zong, expands Chinese through Turkistan;
the Silk Road throbs again through central Asia.
Hurrying over passes to beat the snow
shepherds swarm their flocks down from summer pastures
across the road of the three ear-sharing hares,
which picks its stony way through Khotan, Kroraina
and the Heavenly Mountains, to Samarkand.

Shaggy-coated Bactrian camels,
twin-humped, warm against bitter desert nights,
silk-loaded for Lahore, Aleppo, Damascus,
strut from oasis to water hole, predict the deadly desert winds;
quilted, felt-booted travellers huddle by dung fires,
navigate by sun, landmark, star and memory
under the gaze of snow-leopard and Aurel Stein.
They lurch across the Taklamakan Desert,
the Lop Desert, the Hexi Corridor,
traversing the south of the Gobi
from Mongolian Qaraqorum,
where Genghis set out to hack his Mongol Empire
from the Gobi to the Caspian,
to the Crimea, Persia
and the emirates of Central Asia.

Casting imagination north of the Tibetan Plateau,
of the blue, bedevilled Himalayas of blinding snow,
whose fangs tear the screaming sky miles above the wheeling eagles,
and the scrolls of the Library Cave of Dunhuang,
where Faxian dreamt of a thousand Buddhas’ golden glow,
to China, where Fuxi and Nuwa
wield compasses to create the round earth
and set-square for the square heavens.

Tuesday 14 September

Drive on in the heat from Meshed to Taibad, west of the Afghan border.
Eat in an ancient restaurant; communicating in signs,
pointing to the steaming mouth-watering pots
of cooked meats, vegetables, goat’s head soup.
The start of dysentery?
We drive on, to stop for the night in the open;
are moved by an army patrol because of the danger from bandits,
and end up sleeping outside an army post.


Friday 15 September

On to the Afghan border;
a big hassle with customs and red tape in sweltering heat; a long wait to cross.
Foul shithouse on tall stilts, hole in floor, by a mud-brick fort.
Hours later we move on, cross the border at Islam Kala, into Afghanistan, and drive on to Herat;
permanent tribal territory, temporary hippie trail.
Here we move into a hotel for the night to clean up.
Feel very sick Take mexoform and codeine. Feel near to death.
Bedbugs in hotel; many are bitten but not me.

Herat, one of Alexander’s Alexandria’s,
destroyed by Genghis Khan and Marlowe’s Tamburlaine –
Timur the Lame, the Asian fisher king,
wounded in the thigh by an arrow.
Unofficial outpost of British India –
where Pottinger repelled the Persians and Russians.

A spacious, attractive town,
with a big castle and lots of bazaar stalls in the shade,
tall trees along a wide road, and Queen Gauharshad’s Mausoleum.
Colourful pony traps, bicycles, mopeds, donkeys, a VW Beetle
and overloaded buses painted with gaudy images.

Saturday 16 September

Drive out of Herat just after the hot noon.
Sand drifting over the concrete road;
talk of Cold War road-building games by Americans, Russians, Chinese:
Herat to Kandahar, Kandahar to Kabul, Oxus to Mazar and Kabul.

Bowling along over the Khash desert, past tribal camel trains,
dark-tented nomad encampments watching over flocks of sheep,
pastured slopes rising northward to mountain walls;
across the Helmand river towards Kandahar.

Blazing sun, the heat inside the bus overwhelming, but I’m feeling better.
Stop for lunch at a luxury hotel with a swimming pool,
in the middle of the desert.
Then on past camel trains,
a camel running along the road in a panic in front of us.
Stop for an evening meal at a little village
and given hashish by villagers; a communal smoke, and very good food.
Cross the Arghandab river,
and arrive at Kandahar at midnight.
Sleep in bus. Only a dozen of us now on board.

Sunday 17 September

Exploring Kandahar, Alexander’s city of Arachosia,
the resting place of Mohammed’s sacred mantle.
The ancient city on its rock plateau,
forty steps to Babur’s victory inscription carved in rock.
Find Sammy’s Bamiyan hotel in the Shahar-e-Nau.
We drink chai with him, watched by his pet monkey on a chain,
shaded by trees, among potted plants, whitewashed walls and shrubs.
Excellent tea.
We eye a refrigerator full of tantalising, expensive cold beer.
Watch a man being shaved in a pool of light
in a restaurant’s dark corner.
Tribesmen with sheep in the centre of town;
bicycles and pony traps, a few trucks and cars.
Bazaar, selling fruit, vegetables, chickens, meat and other stuff
under canvas awnings and in the shade of roadside trees.
Wood, wool, metal and water.
The Aghani army drilling outside the Post Office: ‘In open order – right dress!’
Make friends with the Postmaster, promising to send him photos from England.
Spot Essays of Roger de Coverley in a bookshop; and Kindleberger’s Development Economics.

Southwards over the desert shimmer the Khojak Pass,
Quetta and the Bolan Pass.
In the 2nd Afghan War at Maiwand, Doctor Watson was wounded,
a British square broken, desert sand sodden with blood,
by horse, sword and jezail,
where now are black-turbaned Taliban.

At 6.30pm, after a burning hot day, we set off for Kabul in the evening’s cool.
A camel train crosses the road in front of the bus, careless of occasional traffic.
Stop for the night at old walled Ghazni, destroyed by Genghis Khan,
its a large citadel on its long, steep ridge,
formerly the site of Buddhist monasteries and stupas.
Here is the mausoleum of Sultan Mahmud the Great, who took Islam to India,
and at whose court, Firdausi wrote the Shah-nama.

Monday 18 September

Off at 6.30am towards mountain-ringed Kabul, on a silk-route corner or crossroads.
Past many camel caravans and nomads (kuchis);
stones, vultures, carcass and bones.
Fortified villages on hilltops, guarding tilled fields edged by tall poplars,
and always sheep and goats, with their watchers,
and mountains just behind.

Arrive Kabul at 11am, in the late-morning heat,
and breakfast at the Khyber Restaurant.
Very expensive – I have scrambled egg on toast and apple pie.

Book into the Shah Foladi Hotel, the first storey,
overlooking the Kabul River, a muddy trickle between steep banks and walls.
Shops and busy merchants on both banks.
We explore the town and shops, find a bookshop;
I buy Afghanistan, A Study in Internal Political Developments 1880-1896
by Hasan Kazar (Kabul 1971),
printed in Lahore at the Punjab Educational Press,
and a locally-made hard-backed notebook
with a green leather spine.
This I use as a commonplace book, its first entry Ozymandias.

Dinner at the Khyber Restaurant – full of Americans;
I go for the chicken and chips.
Babur, lover of apricot, grape, pomegranate, quince,
apple, pear, plum, almond and walnut,
would not have recognised the place.
Feel sick. Hotel smells of sewage.
First impression of Kabul is poor:
a dull, dirty, very dusty, undistinguished hole,
and I can’t wait to move on east. . . .

Tribesmen walking with slung shotguns,
old Martinis, Lee-Metfords, cartridge belts.
The tattered Army with Tommies’ Lee-Enfields.
Beggars, the sick, the limbless.
Invisible burkha-clad women
viewing the world through a fabric grid.
Searching for the old capital, the Turquoise Mountain,
destroyed by Genghis Khan,
for Timur Shah’s Tomb, and the Bala Hissar.
Football. Dust-devils. No sign of kites.

Northwest out of Kabul to Bamiyan
lies the valley of the two great faceless Buddhas,
between the Kohi Baba mountains and the Hindu Kush,
in the shadow of a red rock;
the Taliban finished the job.

North again to Mazar-I-Sharif:
Shrine of Ali (the Prophet’s son-in-law and cousin), Blue Mosque.
Buzkashi horsemen roar with the headless goat.
Balkh – Mosque of Khaja Mohammed Parsa – blue vault and enamelled blue tiles.
Beyond, the Oxus river.
Mountains of Hindu Kush, Pamir, Himalaya . . . where three empires meet:
China, Russia, India.
The British, fearing Russia armies
threading through the passes to India, invaded;
In the Second Afghan War ghazis led by talibs, the students,
fight the British with dagger, sword, jezail.

Civil War; mujahedin,
Russian intervention became war against tribes;
tanks, helicopters, planes, against Mujehadin;
another Cold War battleground.
The Americans arm the Wahhabi Taliban puritans.

Far from Afghan village towers, the twin towers explode.
In their arrogant ignorance,
neocons launch their War on Terror.
In cave, valley, mountain
Osama hides,
while B52s blast the strongholds, make widows and orphans,
and wedding parties are shredded.

Northern Alliance, reluctant NATO adventurers,
fatuous Bush and Blair,
euphemism and irony:
War on Terror, Axis of Evil, Operation Enduring Freedom,
Extraordinary Rendition, Mission-Creep.

The Vietnam error:
technology, remote controlled drones,
satellite imagery, remote sensing;
not wanting to understand the tribes
among their slag-heap mountains;
who joke that when God created the world
he made Afghanistan out of the rubbish left over.

Fiercely independent Afghans,
owning their own hearts and minds,
fight for tribe and territory, poppies,
pride, identity, honour,
Pakhtunwallah, religion,
with blood feud, lashkar and war.
In village, tower, among prayer flags and sangars,
they mobilise, with Kalashnikov; rocket-propelled grenades,
against helicopter cavalry and armour.
Killed in a holy cause, ghazis become martyrs, bahadur,
look forward to the houris of Paradise
their graves dug with a niche for the questioning angel to sit.

Uncomprehending, meddling faranghis
peddling democracy, gender equality programmes, reconstruction,
will get, like the foolish Russians and British before them
their testicles stuffed in their mouths.
In 1939 the Afghan Cricket Club played at Jullundur,
and in 2002; as the Talib tide temporarily ebbs,
a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost:
Allah Dad Noori, of the Afghan Cricket Federation,
treks on foot and by mule through the Khyber
to affiliate Afghanistan to the ICC.
14 June 2006; Afghanistan beat Sandhurst by 7 wickets;
Mohammad Nabi, leg-break bowler, taking 4 for 22.

2006: Operation Mountain Thrust
sweeps against the Taliban
across Helmand, Uruzgan provinces, Kandahar and Zabul.
British troops, who should know better, the PBI, return,
SAS and a brigade, to police Helmand, destroy poppies,
make the same mistakes against the same tribesmen –
the world’s best umpires – who never leave a mistake unpunished;
shattered corpses rot in bloodstained gullies.
The Taliban waxes, anti-Taliban operations intensify;
with perfect timing
Prince Charles plans to rebuilt historic Kabul,
while anarchy reigns.

Tuesday 19 September

Move to the Mustapha Hotel. Much cleaner – no flies or smell.
We check out the Pakistan embassy – no visas needed for British –
and book three seats on the bus to Peshawar for Frank, Brita and me.
I play giant chess with Brita at Sigi’s restaurant, full of bored and bewildered freaks.
I’m sick of freaks.
Good porridge and vegetable soup there.
Weather cold. Heavy rain. Sick in evening.

Wednesday 20 September

Get up early, feeling well!
Potter about the Kabul bazaars among hunting gear, furs, skins and carpets
with Sally, Asher and Michael. Lunch at Sigi’s.
In the Museum are Greek-style Buddhas and stone carvings,
ancient coins, ivory, a wooden Nooristan horseman.
Very cold and wet.

Thursday 21 September

Feeling bad again.
Shopping; feel worse because of the smells and bad air.
Bazaars full of lovely coloured carpets, karakul skins, poshteens, chaplis, woollen hats,
weapons and ornamental metalwork, pots and pans, clothing and food.
Beautiful fruit and vegetables, and fly-clotted meat.
Friday 22 September

Up at 6.30am.
After breakfast at Sigi’s, we leave at 8.30 on a bus with bald tyres,
heading shakily, in good, warm weather, north-east out of Kabul
for the Khyber Pass, Peshawar and Pakistan.

We climb, weave and rattle through the narrow, precipitous Kabul gorge.
Looking straight down, in the river far below,
we see the rusting undersides of wrecked vehicles.
Descending to a broad, flat valley,
past a lake by badland cliffs,
snow-tooth mountains looming in the distant north,
low villages hugging the green, tree-lined river bank,
others fortified with high walls and towers,
white crenellations.

Along the valley road flanked by pale khaki hillsides,
sun-baked, dun and bleached,
graven with gullies and nullahs,
dotted with enough dark trees and bushes to conceal an army,
we approach the peaceful orchards of Jalalabad, by the Kabul river,
which Dr Brydon, the lone survivor, was allowed to reach
to tell of the destruction of British presumption.
We stop here for refreshing sweet chai to wash away the dust.
Reach the Durand Line at Landi Khana,
then through the customs at Torkham into tribal territory and Pakistan.

Up again into the mountains, hanging over more precipices,
climbing up and through the Khyber Pass,
threading the hills north of the Tirah and the mountains of Solomon –
past Landi Kotal fort and the Khyber Rifles in their mazri grey-back shirts,
their pipe band, beating the retreat.
Where the roads and jeeps don’t yet go
do the Frontier scouts, in pagri and partog, still gasht and barampta
the unforgiving tribal territory
up to the Durand Line?
Past concrete anti-tank defences,
we swirl and coast down from the pass,
alongside the newer military railway running through its tunnels,
paralleling the old railway curving on its embankment and cutting,
the camel road and the Khyber river to the north, flowing east to the Indus,
we approach the glaring plains, blazing white in the sun, and enter Peshawar,
capital of the North West Frontier Province.
A mini-Kabul: tribesmen striding the narrow, busy, bazaar streets with slung rifles;
guns, colour, noise, bustle, smell of dung, wood-smoke and exhausts,
slantwise sun burnishing dust particles.

Ahead of us a new land;
breathless after our descent from central Asia
we book 2nd class on the Khyber Mail
overnight to Lahore.

* * *

Concept, design, text, photos and binding
by Peter Chasseaud

Photographs and text ©Peter Chasseaud 2007

Page layout and print preparation Peter Flanagan
Digitally printed in 11 point Gill Light
And 11 point Courier standard

This signed and numbered digital edition limited to 100 copies
This is no ….. .

Afghanistan - A Journey

Afghanistan - A Journey

An artist's book by Peter Chasseaud
(Altazimuth Press) 2007

I will be showing this book at the UK Fine Press Fair (Oxford Brooks University) on 3-4 November, and at the London Artists Book Fair at the ICA at the end of November.

Limited Edition Artists Books by Peter Chasseaud

Peter Chasseaud is an artist and writer who has lived in Surrey and Sussex for most of his life. While much of his work is concerned with British and European landscape, he has travelled extensively in Europe, North Africa, Asia and America. His large, hand-bound, limited edition artists books, incorporating the artist’s poetic texts and black and white photographic images, maps, charts and other imagery, litho-printed on heavy, archival paper, or digitally printed, have been bought by major British, United States and other overseas collections and institutions, including the British Library, the National Railway Museum, Manchester Metropolitan University and the London Boroughs of Camden and Islington Local Studies Centres. His previous publications include: Kings Cross (2004), and Thames – The London River (2005).



Peter Chasseaud, Altazimuth Press, Lewes, 2007
Signed & numbered digitally printed limited edition of 100 copies. Price £100.

This book was inspired by the artist/author’s trip through Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan in 1972, seen from today. The parallel texts, in different typefaces, are built around his original travel journal, and the black and white photographs which he took while travelling using a folding pocket Kodak camera, giving negatives 2¼-inches square. The free-verse poetic text, interwoven with the travel journal, was written in the summer of 2006 while fighting was going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, and considers the historical and contemporary ‘clash of civilisations’, history, empires, cultures, war, religion, family, identity and memory.

· 50 black & white photographs by artist/author.
· Maps, documents, other images.
· 6,000-word poetic text, by artist/author.
· Designed and bound by artist/author.
· Soft covers and maps in colour.
· Landscape-format, 12 x 18 inches (30 x 45 cm).
· 72pp including covers.
· Digitally printed.

Extract from text:

Gridded by mind-scored graticule of latitude, longitude,
seamed by footsore roads, quick or sluggish serpentine rivers, ringing railways
in the country’s grain, the lie of the land (like lines on my hand),
I travel too lightly through the peoples of Europe, of Asia;
their villages, towns, cities, their valleys, mountains, plains.
Arteries of people and of blood, tracks, routes, migrations, invasions, deportations,
flows and contraflows, tides of war and death, pools of peace.

War scuttles ahead, snatches at my heels, scatters blood and broken stone,
shattered buildings, shivered bodies, shock and awe.
Power, violence, empire:
politicians and statesmen front the money, rig systems, markets, information,
squeeze last drops – sweat, tears, blood – from we the people.

We thread our confused way through culture wars, shooting ones,
clashes of civilisations,
cross borders in the gaps between;
wary of fanatics, fundamentalists, dysfunctional casualties,
collateral damage, fly low, under their radar, dodge the flak.