Tuesday, 4 November 2008


Przewalski's horse is a charming and intriguingly named sort of proto-horse, which once trotted in great abundance all over Mongolia. It became almost extinct, but with help from zoos all over the world it has been reintroduced into the wild with some success. Przewalski was aPole!

przewalski's horse

"The Ulanbaataar is establishing of the introduce by the named." But one of many charming captions at the City Museum. "The first story of the under the jurisdiction of the retail trade tryst's in the state of Ulanbaataar."
The Museum is housed in one of the city's last remaining wooden buildings, from 1907, and is a charmer. Where else will you find a full-length portrait of Brezhnev, in embroidery? And a porcelain plate depicting Leeds Town Hall, recalling some long-ago celebration by comrades? Marvellous old photographs of a city full of temples and gers, before the First War, and of a new city being built in the 20's and 30's with wide empty avenues. Proud ministries, and model factories. Opposite the museum is another wooden house, now crumbling, once the city's first Post Office, festooned with telegraph wires.
Last night David and I went up the Irish Pub for some male bonding. Joanna stayed at home nursing the aftermath of a migraine. We hope for Guiness but there is none left! I guess it's a long way from Dublin to UB. We make do with a pint of Chingghiss, in this very popular and noisy watering hole. Recently tempers have been a little frayed. Moods have swung. Hormones have played their part. Released from the confines of a railway carriage into the vastness of Mongolia, we have had to make plans, and this has sometimes been a little fraught. On the trains one falls into a strange trance-like state (at least I do - which probably accounts for the fact that I have not won a single round of Scrabble since St.Pancras), and the only decisions to be made are when to go to the toilet, get hot water from the samovar, and which pot noodle to open. The Chinggiss soothes, and the excellent french fries sustain, and harmony is restored. We watch English football, and then retire to our guesthouse when the very loud, homegrown, Goth band makes conversation impossible.
The night before, a glance at a souvenir plate from London up on the kitchen shelf, with its depictions of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace and other familiar places, induces a Proustian moment of recall, and we are soon discussing the Royal family. Tears are shed, in this corner of a foreign field, when we contemplate the Queen's demise. What a big moment that will be for the national psyche to cope with. And whither royalty after?
Prompted by this discussion I begin Alan Bennett's hilarious short story, (An Uncommon Reader) of the Queen, who after half a century of leafing through little more than Country Life, develops a passion for literature after a chance encounter with the City of Westminster's mobile library van in a backyard at the Palace. It is mercifully short (I have become hopelessly bogged down with "In Siberia", excellent as it is), and also very moving in its descriptions of love of literature. I could happily spend the rest of my life travelling and reading.
How can I wangle that one?
I go most days to the Cafe Amsterdam. It has a charming raised deck up above the pavement, and on a sunny winter's day one could be in St.Moritz. It serves Illy coffee. Illy were a Jewish family from Trieste. Ever since I read Jan Morris' account of Trieste, called something like 'Nowhere Place", I have wanted to go there - perhaps it will be my next trip. Once it was the Hapsburgs' great port on the Adriatic. Decades of confusion later, it found itself in a remote corner of a new Italy, quite irrelevant.
I once bumped into Jan Morris at the Wallace Collection. I was looking at my favourite Poussin Painting, A Dance to To The Music of Time, and heard a gentle voice beside me. A greyhaired lady in a cardigan was commenting on the same picture to her companion. Jan Morris! My hero/ine!
For those of you unfamiliar with Jan, one of our finest history and travel writers, she started life as James, fought valiantly as an officer in the Royal Navy during the war, and in the 60's went to Tangiers for a sex-change operation. In those days operations of this sort were not available on the National Health. She returned as Jan, and described her experience in "Conundrum". She continues to live with her wife Elisabeth, and writes beautifully.
With Alan Bennett, she is a national treasure.
A last caption from the City Museum: "The socialist attitude of the name's medalion".