I had a brilliant Year 11 English teacher at Shepparton High School in the mid-1960s. Dot Roche was a great Keats fan and she had us reading the sonnets (Bright star, would I steadfast as though art … , When I have fears that I may cease to be … , and Much have I traveled in realms of gold …), the Odes (Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness, My heart aches and a drowsy numbness .. ) and the incomparable Eve of St Agnes.
This long poem features the verse;
And still she spelt an azure-lidded sleep
In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.
This was very exotic fare to a schoolboy in sleepy country Shepparton in 1965 and I was enthralled with the very concept of silken Samarcand. I vowed one day to go there.
That day has come. I flew from Delhi in India, across the Karakorums and the Hindu Kush to the central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan and the capital Tashkent. From there I took a train to the silken city itself. The attached photo-essay tells of my trip.
The city did not disappoint though Bukhara, the next city on from Samarkand on the Silk Route from China to Europe is somewhat less affected by the Sovietisation that took some of the charm from Samarkand.
Perhaps I should have gone there as soon as Dot Roche opened my eyes to the allure of silken Samarkand.The Golden Journey