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This article is taken from PN Review 36, Volume 10 Number 4, March - April 1984.

Them/There John Ash

What are the people like there? How do they live? . . . I'll admit I've never been there, but that won't stop me telling you all about it.

The people there weep often, alone in rooms with candles and old books. In their terrible Augusts they make black entries in their diaries. Their songs are doleful but the dances at funerals can be very lively, - danced to the rhythm of whips, gourds and snares - and the colour of mourning is ochre. . . . They are fervently religious yet their government is atheist: to discourage worship the roofs have been removed from all their churches. But any government is provisional. Each summer, and sometimes during bad winters there are riots in the streets of their windswept and lacustrine capital. There are so many informers, however, that the police always know in advance the exact time and place. Thus everything is done properly: vendors may set up their stalls, street musicians choose their stands, and respectable families gather in perfect safety to watch the instructive spectacle. . . . Tobacco and sheep are the basis of the economy. Out of patriotic duty everyone there chain smokes at incredible speed: they regard the medical reports with furious disdain, and their ceilings are stained a deep, yellowish-brown (like papyrus scrolls from the cemeteries of Fayyum). Their sheep are, without question, the shaggiest and most unkempt in the world, - each animal a mobile continent colonised by vast ...


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