A distant mountain looms ever closer

by Sara Clarke

The Buyuk Valide Sultan Han, Istanbul. This caravanserai was built in the 17th century by the mother of Sultan Murat IV. It's still in use today, though probably not selling silk or jewels. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Silk Road. Sometimes at night, if I can’t sleep, I imagine I’m not under an Ikea duvet in my Brooklyn apartment but instead bedding down in a caravanserai somewhere between Trebizond and Palmyra, circa 1350. For some reason, this always helps me drift off. It’s better than counting sheep.

One amazing thing about visiting Istanbul (probably the dorkiest amazing thing) was the fact that caravanserais still exist there. In Turkish they’re called hans, and a lot of them are still in use from the times when merchants crossed deserts on camels loaded down with silks and incense. Did I mention that Constantinople was the Western terminus of the Silk Road?

Nowadays the caravanserais are mostly used as home bases for far less exotic enterprises: in Turkey “han” is still the word for a sort of proto strip mall, a courtyard lined with shops selling headscarves or kitchen knives or knockoff Adidas sneakers. There’s usually an upper level for storage and whatever else you use the “back room” of a shop for anywhere else in the world. Once upon a time, back in the Silk Road days, merchants lived in these upper level rooms, and they watered their camels at a fountain at the center of the courtyard.

I did a little prowling around in some of the old hans of Constantinople, but it wasn’t enough. I think what I really want is to be a time traveler. Honestly, this is what all travelers to places like Istanbul probably want: to see an exotic old world that doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever really did.

And, thus, I am considering buying a PS3 in order to get this video game and make my nighttime daydreams a reality:

Screenshot from Journey, developed by Thatgamecompany. Image blatantly stolen from BoingBoing.

It’s called Journey, and it’ll be available March 14. My birthday is the 29th. Coincidence? Hey, it would be cheaper than getting me a spot on one of those fancy Silk Road tours that carefully shelters rich Westerners through the backwaters (backdeserts? backsteppes?) of Uzbekistan to visit the ruins of places like Samarkand and Tashkent. Though I would also accept that as a birthday present, no worries there.

For true Silk Road dorks and ethnomusicology geeks, I highly recommend any of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project collaborations (buy on iTunes if you want your fellow ethnomusicology dorks to eat dinner tonight). This is music for mental time travelers.

H/T Boing Boing for the thing about the video game.

Advertisements