Competition: Literally lost number 57

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS EXCERPT is taken from a work of travel literature. Readers are invited to tell us: a) where the action is taking place, and b) who is the author? Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30-worth of book tokens to the first correct answer pulled out of the hat. Answers on a postcard, please, to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.

To this city of Zaitun I carried so many precious things brought from India and its islands that I again feared for the avarice and greed of others and that, after much travail, I should be robbed before my fortunes were made. Moreover, although I was greeted with much love by my brother, Nathan ben Dattalo of Sinigaglia, factor, who, together with the other Jews of the city, thereafter gave me all honour and praise and promised that I should be kept from harm, yet I learned also that the Tartars and their army were on the point of conquest of the realm of Manci, at which I felt great fear that I should lose all, both my fortune and my life, which I prayed to God that He should forbid. But first I shall tell of the port and merchandise of Zaitun.

It is a great harbour, greater even than that of Sinchalan, which ships enter from the sea of Sinim, and it is surrounded by tall mountains which give a haven from the winds. The river upon which it stands is great and wide, running strongly from the sea, and the whole is filled with vessels which are a marvel to behold. For here there load and discharge every year thousands of great ships carrying pepper, besides a multitude of other vessels with other cargoes, so that on the day of our arrival there were at least fifteen thousand ships upon it, from Arabia, Greater India, Seilan, Java the Less, and from the far countries of the north, as northern Tartary, as well as form our country and other kingdoms of the Franks.

Indeed, I saw here more ships, barques and small vessels at anchor than I have ever before seen in one port, more even than in Venice. Moreover, the vessels of Sinim are the largest one could think of, some having six masts, four decks and twelve big sails, and can carry more than one thousand men. Not only do these vessels possess charts which are a wonder to behold, so precise are they, but such are their geometers and those skilled in the use of the lodestone, as well as those who know the stars, that they may find their way to the ends of the terrestrial world, for whose gift may God be praised.

There is therefore such a multitude of merchants here, going up and down river, that one could hardly credit it if one had not seen it. On the banks of the river are many great storehouses with gates of iron in which the merchants of Greater India and other parts keep their wares safe.

Literally Lost 56: Last week's excerpt came from Michael Asher's book, 'The Last of the Bedu'. The action took place in the Yemen. There was no winner.