I'm not really recommending that you all go out and read it, because then you will think that everything I read is impossible and you will never take my book reviews seriously ever again. Still, in between long, dry, (yet edifying) passages about Persian architecture are some gems. It is Robert Byron who came up with the "glucose doormat" description of carob that so tickled me last week.
Then there's this, after he first arrives in Persia:
Here we changed cars, since Persia and Irak refuse admission to one another's chauffeurs. Otherwise our reception was hospitable: the Persian officials offered us their sympathy in this disgusting business of customs, and kept us three hours. When I paid duty on some films and medicines, they took the money with eyes averted, as a duchess collects for charity.
I remarked to Christopher on the indignity of the people's clothes: "Why does the Shah make them wear those hats?"
"Sh. You mustn't mention the Shah out loud. Call him Mr. Smith."
"I always call Mussolini Mr. Smith in Italy."
"Well, Mr. Brown."
"No, that's Stalin's name in Russia."
"Mr. Jones then."
"Jones is no good either. Hitler has to have it now that Primo de Rivera is dead. And anyhow I get confused with these ordinary names. We had better call him Marjoribanks, if we want to remember whom we mean."
For the rest of the book, the Shah of Iran is written as "Marjoribanks" which is pronounced "Marshbanks" if I am not mistaken, and if I am, perhaps a British reader could enlighten me.
The thing about this book is that it shows how absolutely amazingly beautiful Iran and Afghanistan are. Of course, tourism in those countries is impossible now, and probably much of what Byron saw there has been bombed into rubble. Did you know that there was an artistic and architectural renaissance in Afghanistan in the 1400's?
I've read a number of travel books about Afghanistan--the most recent written in the 1960's by Dervla Murphy who rode a bicycle from Ireland to India. It seems it has always been a very dangerous place and the wonderful movie, The Man Who Would be King (based on a Rudyard Kipling story) bears that out. I doubt that travel there will be possible in my lifetime.
Generally, when picking travel destinations, I gravitate toward the safe: Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Canada. If I were to ever plan an adventure destination, I think it would have to be Afghanistan. If you could travel somewhere dangerous, where would you go?