Free-range camels on the Silk Road.

I went to China in 2005 to research Silk and Song, specifically to western China or the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. It’s a very large place, Xinjiang, and we would frequently be tarryhooting off in the middle of nowhere, with no facilities.

One day, I think it was outside Kuche, or maybe Kashgar, we called for a pitstop. Our driver pulled over at the side of this dry riverbed and we all got out and looked for a convenient boulder.

There is not a lot of wildlife in China, mainly I think because they’ve eaten it all. (That’s what seemed most glaring by it’s absence, wildlife. And small planes.)

So I’d given up expecting to encounter any wildlife. But that day, I was crouched behind a boulder on the edge of this dry river bed, trying not to pee on my pants, when movement caught the corner of my eye. I looked up, and this herd of camels strolled by.

free-range camels

As it happens, camels are pretty much responsible for central Asian trade routes developed in 8th century B.C. The wheel had been long in evidence by then, of course, but there were no roads to support wheeled vehicles. Behold the camel, specifically the Bactrian or two-humped camel. Its thick coat insulated it from extreme temperatures, it could go forever on a pint of water, and it was sure-footed on unmaintained trails in mountain and desert.

It could also haul a hell of a load. A single Bactrian camel, according to S. Frederick Starr in Lost Enlightenment, can carry up to 500 pounds. A caravan of a thousand camels, not an extraordinary size (read Mark Kurlansky’s Salt for the story about the salt caravans of 40,000 camels each that used to regularly cross northern Africa), could carry about 500,000 pounds of trade goods.

By comparison, a freight container, the rectangular metal boxes piled on ships I see daily passing by on Cook Inlet on their way to take the milk to Anchorage, can each carry 50,000 pounds.

Camels spit pretty good, too. I would back any day a Bactrian camel’s spitting distance against a bald eagle’s projectile pooping capabilities.

HoZ Silk and Song final.jpg

Which I will be signing at 2pm on December 2nd

at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Click here to pre-order.

Where Shasha shops.

The Yarkand spice market

So this would be the spice market in Yarkand, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, in October 2005. One of our group had a horrible cold, so we went inside and visited an elderly gentleman who had his shingle out as an apothecary (there was at least one in every market). He had a mortar and pestle made from a stick with a bulbous end and a long hollow wooden cylinder carved out of wood, which I think must have been a hollowed-out section of poplar, as it is the go-to wood in that region.

He listened attentively to the list of symptoms, held up a hand when he’d heard enough, and started sprinkling a pinch of this and a sprinkle of that into the wooden cylinder. He ground it up with the pestle and poured it into a little paper envelope, and handed it over to our sufferer with instructions to steep a healthy pinch in hot water morning and evening, and drink.

Worked like a charm.

HoZ Silk and Song final.jpg

Which I will be signing at 2pm on December 2nd

at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Click here to pre-order.

 

Lions and camels and sea monsters, oh my!

Cartographer Dr. Cherie Northon’s got your Silk and Song map for you right here.

Click to engorgenate.

Click to engorgenate.

 

HoZ Silk and Song final.jpg

 

Which I will be signing at 2pm on December 2nd

at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Click here to pre-order.

Now that’s a book.

The Head of Zeus omnibus edition of Silk and Song.

HoZ Silk and Song final.jpg

Which I will be signing at 2pm on December 2nd

at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Click here to pre-order.

 

Moving on to totally unnecessary kitchen gadget Christmas presents now.

The bestselling Butterup Knife from MoMA.

Or you could just get the butter out of the refrigerator ahead of time, so you could spread it with a regular knife.

Or you could just get the butter out of the refrigerator ahead of time, so you could spread it with a regular knife.

The top-rated Kuhn Rikon Herb Chopper from Williams-Sonoma.

An herb chopper. Seriously? Because I'm thinking regular old knife, myself.

An herb chopper? Seriously? Because I’m thinking regular old knife, myself.

Back to Basics TEM4500 4-Slot Egg-and-Muffin Toaster.

Ohmydeargoodlord. I guess for the cook who already has every appliance under the sun, and unlimited counter space, too.

Ohmydeargoodlord. I guess for the cook who already has every appliance under the sun, and unlimited counter space, too? Or maybe that guy you know who eats Egg McMuffins three times a day.


Meanwhile, back at the bookstore…
Everything Under the Heavens cover artBy the Shores of the Middle Sea cover artThe Land Beyond cover art


Email sales@poisonedpen.com or call toll free (888) 560-9919 to have them mailed to you, or you could even (so retro) actually drive down and pick up a copy in person.


Getting into weirder Christmas gift territory now.

(The prices should be spoken of only in low, deferential tones.)

The De Grisogono Ruby Grappoli wristwatch for women. $745,000. Put it on and walk down a dark alley for the added excitement of having it ripped off your wrist by your friendly neighborhood mugger. Also, you know, ugly.De Grisogono Ruby Grappoli women's watch


The Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita. Perfect for tooling into town to check the mail and pick up a quart of milk. At $4.8 million, I can afford to watch the video. Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita


A first edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. £140,000 ($210,142). Okay, I’d have to put the house up for sale, but this one I could talk myself into.first edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice


Meanwhile, because sanity…
Everything Under the Heavens cover artBy the Shores of the Middle Sea cover artThe Land Beyond cover art


Email sales@poisonedpen.com or call toll free (888) 560-9919 to have them mailed to you, or you could even (so retro) actually drive down and pick up a copy in person. But not if you have first spent all your money on the Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita.

Weird, Cool Christmas Gifts

I kept running across weird, cool stuff and I couldn’t resist. It’s all the intertoobz’ fault. (There’s a buy link beneath all the images if you can’t help yourself. I’m sorry.)


For decorating your tree.
cool bulbz


Get your nerd on.Shield/Hydra mugsStar Wars Planet Glasses


Ohmydearlord. For your camping needs. You know you want it. I certainly do.clear camping tent


And of course.
Everything Under the Heavens cover artBy the Shores of the Middle Sea cover artThe Land Beyond cover art


Email sales@poisonedpen.com or call toll free (888) 560-9919 to have them mailed to you, or you could even (so retro) actually drive down and pick up a copy in person.