Current lunar phase: Waxing Gibbous

AUGUST

2008


From Baghdad Sketches (1933), by Freya Stark

Illustration by Pete Watts

When the Prophet looked on Damascus, he is supposed to have turned aside from the beautiful oasis, saying that no one can enter Paradise twice; and yet if one coldly compares the two, the gardens of Damascus are not so lovely as an English countryside in spring. But one never does compare them coldly, because the desert gives to the one an enchanted value. And so it is with water in Iraq.

A clear little brook that you would scarcely notice in Devonshire is here as a rainless day in the Lake District, merely because most of the streams of Iraq consist less of water than of liquid earth, and you might as well be looking at rivers full of tea with milk in it. I like these slow yellow streams. As they silt up or shift in their lazy beds, they remove cities bodily from one district to another. They are as indolent and wayward, powerful, beneficent and unpitying as the Older Gods whom no doubt they represent: and there is no greater desolation in this land than to come upon their dry beds, long abandoned, but still marked step by step with sand-coloured ruins of the desert.

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