Going East

In late June 1969 I set off in a hybrid Renault 4 going east.  Leaving it parked for 6 weeks in a yard on a hillside overlooking the Bosporous, under the doubtfully watchful eye of Turkish customs agents, I took a boat to Haifa.  During this, my second visit to Israel, I teamed up with another volunteer and we hitched down to Eilat across the Negev desert.  She was to prove a stalwart and steadfast travelling companion on the long journey to come later, saving us from many a dangerous scrape.  I was lucky enough to be given a lift by a young Swiss official of the Red Cross and through his auspices I was able to visit Gaza and El Arish, and to drive through the sand desert of Sinai to dine near the canal with a Sheikh on his oasis.

At the end of our time on a kibbutz we set off for Turkey, retrieved the motor and the greater part of its contents, we drove via the mysterious valleys of Gerome to the Turkish border and into Iran.  From Tehran I drove to Isfahan and back, continued the eastward progression across the wastelands of Afghanistan and came out through Jalalabad (its greenery a hint of things to come!) into West Pakistan.  Thence from Cantonement to Cantonement, down under the Kyber, into India.  Delhi, Agra (but of course – the Taj), Alora and Ajunta, Bombay, Goa and Jaipur were all I could manage in the time available and on the cash remaining before the oncoming winter in Europe meant it was time to head for homer, those distant western isles on the edge of the western ocean. 

 

The return journey was an epic in itself, out of which other prints may yet come; this series of five etchings is based on the fast-receding memories of the outward journey, compensated for by “artistic licence”!  17,000 miles in the saddle as grist to the imagination! Cheap at twice the price.

 

“Going East” is a series of five etchings: an imaginative journey in an easterly direction. They are in no sense topographical documentation (though the geographic sources are given wherever possible).  Each issue is an amalgam of several, each place depicted a visual precis of many places.  ~The prints show non-existent locations which are a combination in atmosphere of several locations.  They are the product of inaccurate remembrances and the imagination.  Memory rendered on the embers of forgetfulness.

The Hermit’s Rock is in some ways the most specifically locatable of the five imaginary places shown in these prints.  It is closely associated with the area around Gerome in Central Turkey.  This landscape hides long valleys of wind-worn rocks, free-standing natural monoliths in their hundreds.  The mammoth pepper pots which fill these canyons were in habited at one time by Christian hermits who carved out primitive cave dwellings and churches in them.  Now they are the deserted property of the birds and the occasional tourist.  It is like coming across a corner of the 2Garden of Earthly Delights” and to add to the disturbing feeling of having entered the world of Bosch, from the land around rise enormous rocks.  “Towers of Babel” in reality.  These too were carved out and lived in.  I have depicted such an isolated stack.

The Village Entrance shows a long outer wall, with closed doors and the underpass in the centre.  Over the wall can be seen elements of vegetation and birds on the wing.  Within the enclosure of the walls there is evidently life and procreation.  It is an oasis, but this one should have known, for outside the blind-eyed walls stands a symbol of fertility.  Reeds bowed over barred deserts of Afghanistan, a fountain of water beyond the mud-fortified villages of eastern Iran or simply a welcoming arch suggestive of refreshment and the visit of a dignitary, some while ago.

Marshland Tower shows a round building in a watery landscape, diffused with a pale yellow light.  In Persia, pigeon towers were built and decorated to encourage pigeons to live in them so that their droppings could be collected and used as a rich fertiliser.  This tower is loosely based on the Royal Pigeon Tower at Isfahan transposed back (chronologically as far as the eastward progression is concerned) to the low-lying coastal plain of Turkey running along the southern edge of the Black Sea.  Wet and green, this area is subject to heat in summer and torrential rain in winter.  The sun filters through a wet haze as a flight of birds, no longer just pigeons, fly to and from their unkempt communal home.

Mountain Pass.  The high road in India crosses many a mountain pass, crosses many deserts and cuts through many gorges.  It also crosses a number of frontiers, usually mountainous and fortified.  The best known of these is probably the Khyber Pass – only seven miles but dropping steeply.  It is barren and subject to high winds.  People, if seen at all, are being bowled up the hillsides like wastepaper on a recreation ground; it is the province of the birds and the occasional be-refiled tribesman.  Nevertheless, the governments nominally controlling this and other passes maintain the isolated installations. “The Mountain Pass” shows one such outpost, a fortified water-tower with communications apparatus, on a rocky promontory above a lake.  High up on the cliff faces beyond, an ancillary pillbox of times over-run.  As yet the tower remains, the precarious watchdog of the eastward route. 

The Whited Sepulchre shows a small shrine standing on a greensward with others in the background above a wall.  In the foreground water over which birds swoop and turn.  In the distance an isolated palm stands against a mountain and an overcast sky.  In India there are innumerable wayside shrines usually daubed red, the Hindu religious colour, as blue is for the Moslem. In Goa the Portuguese built churches which are whitewashed.   I have imagined the sepulchre a whited Hindu shrine.  The smoke around its edge may be interpreted and the departing Hindu souls driven out by the deconsecration of the temple’s walls or as the smoke rising from the ritual fire of the isolated worshipper persistently trying to rekindle the ancient faith in defiance of the alien paintbrush.  However it may be, the atmosphere is close, beneath the gathering storm.