Article first published on posthumous publication of On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life by Lesley Blanch,15 January 2015 by virago.co.uk
As far as godmothers go, Lesley Blanch (1904-2007) was as good as it gets. She was an understanding and generous friend; listening without judging. She opened up new ways of seeing the world and was modern and free, with tremendous wit and style. Seductive and glamorous, she was a superb storyteller. A scholarly romantic, her passion was for all things Russian and Oriental. She never apologized for who she was, took risks and relished writing about her adventures. Resilient and alert to the end of her long life, she stood firm and dignified in the face of back-biting and envy.
Lesley was ahead of her time, and prescient in the way she attempted to bridge West and East: especially the West and Islam. Although most people today associate her with the classic book which pioneered a new approach to history writing, The Wilder Shores of Love, her greatest work is The Sabres of Paradise. The way she writes about the struggle of the people of the Caucasus to remain independent of Russia is dramatic and disturbingly relevant to our world today. As Philip Marsden put it: “Like Tolstoy’s, her [Lesley Blanch’s] sense of history is ultimately convincing not because of any sweeping theses, but because of its particularities, the quirks of individuals and their personal narratives, their deluded ambitions, their vanities and passions.”Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Lesley Blanch: One of a Kind | virago.co.uk
Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Prix Goncourt among many others, and short-listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature, talks to Georgia de Chamberet about writing in French, immigration, exile, language, and fighting injustice.
An extract from the interview is reproduced below; the full interview was published in Banipal magazine No. 35 in 2009 and is available at banipal.co.uk
Banipal magazine is an independent literary magazine. It was begun in 1998 by two individuals who loved Arab literature and believed in promoting dialogue between different cultures by bringing this literature with the world through translation into English.
The Banipal Trust / Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation prize administered by the Translators Association 2018 judging panel is Pete Ayrton, Georgia de Chamberet, Fadia Faqir, Sophia Vasalou.
How many hours a day do you write? I write in the morning, on average for three hours, although I sometimes stay at my desk all that time and just write one phrase, it depends. The principle is that it’s a discipline and whatever happens I must stay in front of the page, or computer, and not give up. It’s a practice I have followed for 30 years.
JOURNEY INTO THE MIND’S EYE: FRAGMENTS OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Lesley Blanch, introduction by Georgia de Chamberet 18.95 $ (20% off)15.16 $ Available in Paperback on July 10, 2018
“My book is not altogether autobiography, nor altogether travel or history either. You will just have to invent a new category,” Lesley Blanch wrote about Journey into the Mind’s Eye, a book that remains as singularly adventurous and intoxicating now as when it first came out in 1968.
Russia seized Lesley Blanch when she was still a child. A mysterious traveler — swathed in Siberian furs, bearing Fabergé eggs and icons as gifts along with Russian fairy tales and fairy tales of Russia — came to visit her parents and left her starry-eyed. Years later the same man returned to sweep her off her feet. Her love affair with ‘the Traveller’, as she calls him, transformed her life and fueled an abiding fascination with Russia and Russian culture, one that would lead her to dingy apartments reeking of cabbage soup and piroshki on the outskirts of Paris in the 1960s, and to Siberia and beyond.Continue reading Media Release | New York Review of Books Classics 10-07-2018 | Journey into the Mind’s Eye, Lesley Blanch
After generations of slaughter on its soil, Europe found peace and economic stability through the founding of the EU in 1957. In an idealistic, co-operative post-war world looking to the future, anything was possible. The writer Gael Elton Mayo covered England with Henri Cartier-Bresson, for Robert Capa’s brainchild, Generation X, which she describes in her autobiography, The Mad Mosaic, as “the name given to the unknown generation, those who were twenty after the war, and in the middle of a century. Capa wanted to choose a young man, and young girl, in each of twelve countries and five continents, examine their way of life, and find out what they were doing, thinking and hoping for the future.” (Holiday changed ‘Generation X’ to ‘Youth of the World’ when it was published; an abbreviated version also appeared in Picture Post in 1953.)
Half a century on, from the six founding members, the EU has enlarged to 27 member states, (with Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey in accession negotiations). Its impetus seems to be shifting as it morphs into an economic, political and cultural powerhouse. In the recent travel writing issue of Granta, Jeremy Treglown writes: “The British, with their mix of insularity and transatlanticism, can find it hard to grasp that so many continental Europeans, especially the young, are patriotic about being European.”
An article about sparring with Hemingway and the stamina required to be a writer fell out of Gael Elton Mayo’s copy of Robert Ruark’s Something of Value while rearranging the overfilled bookshelves in the hallway this morning. Gael wrote about 1950s Spain in the 1950s in her memoir The Mad Mosaic.
The American writer Robert Ruark was a friend of hers: “He wrote not (yet) bestsellers, but sports columns, that were syndicated and appeared in twenty newspapers at once all over America. We went to see him with Dennis, in his villa near Palamos. The atmosphere was very different from our village. Friends of the Ruarks had houses with floodlit lawns, beach houses, booze and boredom. But Ruark was as hospitable as Dennis, having people to stay, offering meals, drinks, leaving all his guests for a few hours then returning, rubbing his hands together, to announce he had just had someone killed off. He was referring to the novel that he was working on, about the Mau Mau, Something of Value. He had many Tahitian primitive paintings and played Hawaiian music. He drank mainly rum with Coca Cola, and much ice and lemon. He had two boxer dogs who went swimming with him, and a wife called Ginny who looked as if it had all got beyond her long ago.”
To box with Hemingway when he was in his prime was a rather unusual experience for a reporter who had been sent to interview him. I went to cover the arrival of the Pan-American Airways Clipper across the Pacific via Manila to find Hemingway buoyant with the success of his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. He had just sold the film rights to Paramount for a record sum. Some months before the balloon went up at Pearl Harbour he had been sent to China to cover the Sino-Japanese war for Marshall Field’s now defunct paper, PM.
In the northwest of Spain, Brittany, the west of England and Ireland, you find people with the same surnames. They are all Celts. When Breton and Cornish sailors meet at sea they understand each other’s dialects.
One remembers the saying that Brittany was originally joined on to Cornwall, but how Galicia fits into this is more mysterious, even though if you look at the map it isn’t so far – relatively speaking – from the south coast of Brittany to the north-west coast of Spain.
The extreme good looks and elegance of the Royal Family bestow a festive air on the good works which they promote. Princess Ashraf, the Shah’s twin sister, is passionately involved in the question of women’s emancipation which is still a very revolutionary measure. Princess Shams, as passionately, leans more toward promoting the arts, and is herself a fine musician. Her husband, Dr. Pahleboud, as Director of Fine Arts, exercise a galvanic influence on every aspect of cultural development, while the entire Royal Family is passionate in its love of animals and determination to obtain better conditions for them everywhere, in happy contrast to so much of the East, where the animals lot is usually terrible.
When Roloff Beny photographed the Imperial couple and their children, I asked his majesty that the sitting, which was to be entirely informal, should not be in the Summer Palace, nor in the fabled frame of the Golestan, nor even in their private palace in Teheran, but in the Diamond Room of the Marble Palace, generally used for more stately occasions. Here eyneh-khari decoration reaches its apogee, and it was like placing them in the very heart of the diamond kingdom. But not formally. The little Crown Prince Reza, feting his fourth birthday, and his sister, the baby Princess Farahnaz, saw to that.Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 2 (1965)
Iran — the land of the Aryans — the Persia of legend, stands at the crossroads of the world, where the winds blowing across the wastes still carry echoes of Darius the Great and Tamerlane. Here all is extreme, fiery, icy, brilliant, obscure, sumptuous, dilapidated . . .
From greatness to decay, by lassitude and violence, the pendulum of Persian history has swung through three thousand years. But now, led by one man, it swings forward — the Emperor, Mohammed Reza, Shahanshah of Iran, is that man. Beside him stands the young Empress, the Shabanou, Farah, a fitting queen for this land which has always spelled beauty to the rest of the world and now sounds another more urgent note.
Women’s enfranchisement, agrarian reforms, dam-building, find new hospitals — that of Shiraz is held to outstanding in the Middle East — the pioneer work of the Shah’s own Illiteracy Corps, child welfare centres and veterinary clinics, too, are all, like supermarkets, drive-in cinemas, Coca-Cola signs, or double-decker London buses, a part of the new spirit of Iran. Yet, its legendary past, its abiding loveliness, are still its strongest lure; and we marvel more at a minaret than at a television tower.Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 1 (1965)
Everywhere in Arab lands from Jordan to the Saudi-Arabian ports along the Red Sea and the lavish Gulf Emirates, food is very highly spiced — but it is a quite different gamut of spices to those of India — or so it has always seemed to me. In each town, or village souk, the spice booths are fascinating and magnetic — my first port of call. Mysterious powdered substances overflow big sacks and are scooped out by the pound, unlike the midget-stoppered jars of this and that to which we are accustomed. Nor do these great open landslides of spices, dusty brown, violet, yellow, green or orange, seem to lose their potency, thus exposed. In Oman, along the enchanting waterfront of Muscat, the lacy white-fretted balconies of the old houses and all the alleyways swim in heady odours wafted from the nearby spice bazaar. In the blue bay, sheltered by a sharp-cragged coastline, amongst all the turmoil of a modern port there are still some of those curiously formed high-pooped wooden craft such as the baghala or gangha, age-old pride of the Omani shipbuilders at Sohar. Such craft will have returned from Zanzibar — the spice island o f legend — with an entire cargo of cloves. Such is the demand, hereabouts.Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Arabian Aromas (1989)
Elton Mayo’s pioneering research at a Western Electric Company manufacturing plant near Chicago between 1924 and 1933 represents one of the most important historical events in the development of Industrial Organization psychology. This body of research, collectively referred to as the Hawthorne Studies (named from the plant in which they took place), was influential in the development of the human relations movement and triggered research and debate into what it is that drives human behaviour at work.
We need, especially, to solve the problem of working together. There is no problem of greater importance at the present time. Every nation of the civilized world is facing one of the most serious economic and social crises in its history. And in every national group, though perhaps in varying degrees, there is difficulty in achieving effective co-operation, both within the group and internationally with other groups. One frequently hears the assertion that the present emergency is remarkable by reason of the lack of effective leadership. What is meant by this, more often than not, is that in this large-scale modern world we have failed to make special studies of the conditions that make for effective human co-operation.