Eight Paradises


Hermann David Salomon Corrodi. ‘Campfire by the River: The Kiosk of Trajan at Philae.’ Dahesh Museum, New York.

After wanting to get to it for nearly twenty years, I finally found a copy of the Romanian writer Marthe Bibesco’s portrait of rural Romanian life between the two World Wars, ‘Isvor, the Country of Willows.’ It was the title which always enchanted me, but I was a long time tracking it down and was not disappointed when I did. Next came ‘Egyptian Day’, a provocative and interesting collection of terse vignettes and observations of a journey Bibesco made down the Nile (1930), and I’m now reading her 1923 offering, ‘Eight Paradises: Travel Pictures in Persia, Asia Minor and Constantinople.’ Its descriptions of a Middle East so different from the one we’re used to hearing about in the news today read like verbal versions of 19th century Orientalist canvases like the one by Corrodi reproduced above. Below is a paragraph which I find particularly striking, from the beginning of Chapter II, entitled ‘Teheran.’ Perhaps anyone who has ever spent time in a truly hot climate can identify with the experience involved.

‘Everyone walks under white sunshades, carefully avoiding the dazzling strip of sunlight in the middle of the streets, and keeping to the sides where even at high noon the shade of the elms is impenetrable. We have a feeling of great contentment. It is as though the air, brought up by the unutterable heat to the temperature of our bodies, ceases to envelop and begins to form part of us as we of it, so that our limitless being feels as vast and as light as space.’

Hermann David Salomon Corrodi (1844-1905) was an Italian painter, born either at Frascati or Zurich, though he lived for many years at Rome. He studied under his own father, Salomon Corrodi, at the Accademia di S. Luca, and traveled widely throughout the Levant and Middle East, producing landscape paintings in the academic and Orientalist styles so popular in the final decades of the 19th century. The painting reproduced above depicts a small temple dedicated to Isis at a bend in the Nile. 


2 comments on “Eight Paradises

  1. Thanks for sharing this – these books by Marthe Bibesco sound like they could be amazing. I love travel literature/literature of place, but sometimes I find that older forms of it (ie. from the 1920s or earlier) can be a bit dry by modern standards. Judging by the absolutely gorgeous paragraph you’ve quoted, that’s not the case here…

  2. leifhendrik says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed that quote too. There’s a recent biography of Marthe Bibesco out, and I’d like to read it. She was an inveterate journal and letter writer, but I think only a small portion of what she produced has actually been published–an intriguing thought. She wrote mainly in French, which would make her especially accessible to you, but she had a wide following in English too. I think I know what you mean about the dryness of older travel literature. Even if it is dry, however, I generally appreciate the chance to encounter the world from a point of view really different from our own. It can be such a relief.

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