Competition literally lost: 32

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The Independent Travel
This excerpt has been taken from a work of travel literature. Readers are invited to tell us: a) where is the action taking place? b) who is the author? Blackwell's Bookshops will supply pounds 30 of book tokens each week to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, "Independent on Sunday", 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by Thursday.

People who live by a riverside have always two pleasures to command: they can look both upstream and down. If their hearts are young, they can follow the curving bank as it climbs out of sight - up from the flat lands to greener downs, to foothills where sudden corners take the current, to where the waters are narrow in deep gorges, and finally to where, among gentians and Alpine grasses, or perhaps just welling out of shale at the foot of some moraine with Ranunculus Glacialis beside it, the first clear fountain springs whose gathered volume is rolling at their feet.

Or, if they are not mountaineers, they need only turn their chair in the opposite direction and shift the decanter a foot or two - for I assume these meditations to be carried on in creature comfort, and with something to stimulate the imagination close at hand - and they can let their thoughts drift down more quietly as the stream winds placidly past towns and bridges, by "beds of sand and matted rushy isles," by reaches that hold the sunset like a sea - until the sea itself in its peaceful immensity engulfs the river and their dreams.

Anyone with a contented mind and a balcony on the Tigris, or any other waterway for that matter, can enjoy these pleasures at will without paying for them. If they were charged for like gas at a penny the minute, no doubt the human race in general would enjoy them more. But we were not of those who ask for such commercial guidance in our tastes: and yet we felt that a time had come for more tangible sightseeing: we felt a spring hunger for holiday: a positive dislike for Social Duties: and so decided to look with bodily eyes upon the windings of the stream: and climbing one day into Imperial Airways, flew with our shadow like a moving bird below us, south over a maplike landscape.

There we saw the Tigris as it is, a snake of dull glass, with brown of every shade around it in mud and sand. Its coils, turning lazily upon themselves, as if they meant to eat their own length, lost all sense of motion from this altitude. We hung poised, as it were, over a boundless immobility in Time and Space: for whatever the history books may say, no one can look down on that inhospitable land and think of it as ever different from what it is now, the home of roving tribes.

There, a wide monotonous green distension, the Marshes lie, cut by black threads of water highways; with low rare villages, like small crustaceans, wherever the ground rises in a shallow curve above the waters; with boats small as beetles pushing through the green froth that shows the tall reed jungles from above. And beyond the marshes, again in the brown desert, are lakes, lonely and inconstant and sterile, moving yearly with the floods and rains.

Literally Lost 31

The extract came from `The Snow Leopard' by Peter Matthiessen. The action took place in Inner Dolpo, Nepal. The winner was Graham Jones, Exeter.

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