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)
Jean Anouilh’s (1910-87) work ranges from high drama to absurdist farce. He is best known for his 1943 play Antigone, an adaptation of Sophocles’ classical drama; and a thinly veiled attack on Marshal Pétain’s Vichy government. His complete works are available in Gallimard’s La Pleiade series and La Table Ronde’s paperback imprint La Petite Vermillon.
Anouilh is from Andorra. In the small village of Cerisols where his father is a tailor, all fifty inhabitants are named Anouilh. Andorra is a separate-apart place — and Anouilh is a separate-apart person.
He is well known as the great contemporary playwright in London, New York, Paris, Spain . . . and he is completely unknown as a personality and takes great care to remain so.
The scathing wit of his plays then, which is so famous translated, adapted, from whom does it come? What is Anouilh? Does anyone know if he is thirty or seventy? Has anyone seen him? Does he never eat in restaurants, go to public places? At opening nights of his plays, while sophisticated revelations of the decadence of society flash across the stage alternately with visions of a certain fleur bleue lost purity — drawing peals of laughter from the audience one minute and gasps of shock the next, even sometimes tears — there is a slight man seated high among the public in the cheapest seats, incognito. He is hidden like a mole from the lights. His face is gentle. There is apparently no connection between him and the biting power on the stage . . . unless it is in the intensity of the small eyes behind the steel-rimmed spectacles.Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Jean Anouilh interviewed by Gael Elton Mayo | Queen Magazine, 1956
Madrid is a small town, yet it is not provincial; a clever achievement, “There goes so-and-so in his Jaguar, or X on his Vespa,” contributes to a really Main Street atmosphere – yet there are no provincial qualities of narrow mindedness or hypocrisy. On the contrary, we have rarely been anywhere more open in its general views about eccentricities of the human character. The small family is warm – the freedom is still great.
And at night this capital sounds like the country. From our apartment (which is in the middle, of the city) we hear donkeys braying, turkeys and cocks crowing . . . these last live in a barnyard next door to the British Embassy but are apparently not for English breakfast eggs, they just belong to a neighbour with space.
The edge of the town is a real edge. There are none of our dreary suburbs tailing off indefinitely and submerging your entrance or exit to the city in gloom. Abruptly the city stops. You feel the edge distinctly as you actually stand on it (on a parapet about the Palacio, or on the road to the university) and look out from its finality onto the land beyond. The city, the country. No half measure.
Born in France, Pierre Loti loved the East. No one could understand his desire to exchange the greyness of France for ‘the far horizons of a sailor’s life’ better than Lesley Blanch, author of such celebrated evocations of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Russia as The WilderShores of Love, The Sabres of Paradise and Journey into the Mind’s Eye. In this haunting biography she shows herself a sympathetic historian, consulting manuscript letters and diaries as well as Loti’s innumerable publications. Her book is a labour of love, an enquiry into a very complex man, as well as one brilliant escapist writing about another. Who, then, was Pierre Loti?
Loti was born in 1850 as Julien Viaud, son of a respectable Protestant family living in the port of Rochefort on the Atlantic Ocean. His father was an official in the Mairie. In 1867 he entered the French navy, in which he would continue to serve until 1910. This extremely unconventional man proved a good officer. Most of his superiors appreciated his ‘agreeable character, very good education’, and later his literary fame, though some fellow officers noticed a cold manner.
The French navy was sufficiently broad-minded to employ an officer who wore rouge, dyed his hair and adopted disguises. More unsettling even than dressing as an acrobat, a Turk or a Bedu, Loti often wore the uniform of a rating rather than an officer. Moreover his friendships with handsome sailors, (Julien, Leo, Samuel, many others}, which such clothes facilitated, were no secret. As his daughter-in-law told Lesley Blanch: ‘Loti loved both men and women passionately and if there had been a third sex he would have loved that too.’
The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.
Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11. Who, in 1960, would have dared predict that the heirs of the Red Army − that vast force which had done so much to shape the geo-politics of the late twentieth century, already humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen − should in 1996 be defeated, run out of its own territory by a band of lightly-armed Chechens which rarely exceeded a few thousand in number?
Lesley Blanch: always interesting, always flirtatiously alive, always passionate – Barnaby Rogerson, Country Life
Of Lesley Blanch’s biographies, The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus was her favourite. Thorough research, a balanced approach and dramatic storytelling skills bring to life Imam Shamyl, the ‘Lion of Daghestan’, leader of the warring mountain tribes of Daghestan and Chechnya. From 1834-59 they fought to remain independent of Russia, strengthened only by the desire for an independent Caucasus and their religious faith. The Tzar took Shamyl’s eldest son as a hostage to St Petersburg. Shamyl captured two Georgian princesses (from the Tzarina’s entourage), a French governess and the children, and kept them in his harem until they could be exchanged for his son.