I was rifling through my stuff when I was home and I came across my final year dissertation from college. It examined “the landscape phenomenology of cycling in Cork”- which basically meant that I got to have fun cycling around cork taking arty shots with my camera and talking into a dictaphone and thinking about philosophy, not to different from what I’m doing now… great.
I had forgotten about the opening piece, an extract from Bob Geldolf’s book; “Geldolf in Africa”. In it, Geldolf recounts an experience he had with his Bedouin guide who speaks of how in the desert, or any landscape devoid of regular visual stimulus the other senses play a important role in feeling place.
“My Father was blind.” Bouj casually dropped into the huge silence of the universe. I considered this. How was this possible? How could he take vast herds of camels and people across the featureless void? “He smelled the wind. He tasted the sand.” Was he joking? Was this some stunt by the Saharan Tourist Board or something?
“One time he took people 400 kilometres across the desert to a small village in Mauritania where he had never been before” How?
“He asked people the way” Ah, yes the wisdom of the Ancients!
“He asked them which direction the wind blew from. Where the wind passed through on its way so that he could smell it and knew the direction of the sand and dunes and he could feel them. He asked people the position of the stars each night. There is nothing to see here anyway; he did not lose anything by being blind and in his mind he knew where he was. Where he needed to go. He could feel it He was a guide.”
He tasted the sand? Does sand taste? “Oh, yes. He could taste the minerals and the salt and the different roots or bush. He had asked the old people what he could expect to find on his route and they had told him so he looked for that taste!”
One night the caravan had stopped. My father was asking the men the position of the stars. They knew he would next pick up some sand to taste. But they had played a joke. They had carried some sand from the last place they had camped and silently scattered the old sand around my father’s feet so that he would bend down and pick up the old sand from the other place. When my father tasted it, he paused, stooped again, tasted again. Then he said. “WE have just spent a long time going nowhere gentlemen. Let us continue in the same direction.” Everybody laughed. They could not fool my father. He was a great guide.”
Bouj laughed at the memory, the sound filling the silent, empty, glowing night. The flint-grey eyes stared out at the nothingness that for him was filled to the brim with everything.”
This Post was scheduled before we entered XinJiang Province. Find out why here