Following Vavilov's footsteps in the ice of the Pamir mountains-- and other Saudi Aramco-iana.
August 31, 2012 8:43 PM Subscribe
Seed collectors themselves are a bit like foraging animals, wandering far and wide in search of the same plants, and
posted by infinite intimation (5 comments total)
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[Sergey] Shuvalov, the expedition's chief logistics planner, translator and route finder, often has to whistle them back to the vehicles. He is aware of the honor of following Vavilov's footsteps, but doubts that he will have time this trip to collect anything near the 200 species and varieties that his compatriot did here 100 years ago.
Professor Aknazarov is the consummate academician, educated in the rigorous Soviet system at the Komarov Botanical Institute in St. Petersburg. His desk is piled high with books and dried specimens, and he can cite the Linnaean taxonomy of his rarest accessions with ease. Yet he is also a soft-hearted nostalgist for the food pleasures of his past. "My first memory of the family garden," he says, "is stuffing myself with ripe mulberries. My friends and I would climb the trees and eat until our faces and fingers were black with juice. We called each other monkeys, although we had never seen a monkey in our lives. Wheat bread may be the Pamiris' first food, but tut-pikht—mulberry bread—is our second."
When asked about a line from the Travels of Marco Polo about the Pamirs— "Good wheat is grown, and also barley without husks. They have no olive oil, but make oil from sesame, and also from walnuts"—he concurs, remembering how, as a child, he stole walnuts from his neighbor's trees, and couldn't deny it when he was questioned because his fingers were stained and sticky with walnut juice. But he notes that Marco Polo forgot to mention apricot oil, made from the fruit's kernel, which is a cure for high blood pressure if taken with warm milk. And the "barley without husks"? It is called naked barley, Hordeum vulgare var. nudum, he agrees, and is common in the Pamirs.
Aknazarov accompanied American ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan on the tour of the Pamirs in Vavilov's footsteps that Nabhan recounted in his book Where Our Food Comes From. The Pamirs, like the Caucasus, are a veritable "mountain of tongues," as the Arabs called the latter: Each valley has its own language, all of them from the Eastern Iranian family, such as Wakhi, Shugni and Ishkashimi.
One of a great many incredible pieces of journalism produced by or for Saudi Aramco, this one looked at a modern seed hunting expedition and the storied footsteps it followed in...
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