The colors of time
July 24, 2017 7:48 AM   Subscribe

On 16 October 1913, two Frenchmen landed in the port of Durrës, or as it was then called, Durazzo, in the recently created Albania. They opened an elongated lacquered trunk, and took out a folding camera mounted on a tripod. They inserted a glass plate, and made photographs of the port, a curious kid in the gate of the former Venetian fortress, two Muslim boys at the base of the wall – one of them also separately –, a man with an attractive face with three or four chickens in his hand, a master who offered his services on the square with a huge-wheeled oxcart and a Ferris wheel pieced together from raw beams. Then they removed the glass plates, and repacked the camera into the trunk. These were the first color photos ever created on today’s Albania.

Tamás Sajó is an art historian with a blog. (interview in hungarian). Or rather, with a multi-author web based side-project in addition to his antiquarian "publishing house" - which is digitalizing and publishing private libraries for the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

There are telling signs of the academic backgroud, for instance this "blog" has a table of contents, a proper blog review (naturally, with a reply) from a fellow academic/blogger, and a collection of thematic posts that are organizing the immense material into topics of interest into comprehensible threads. So if you are interested in the lost (or erased) world of our grandparents, you can start digging up Atlantis. Then there are opportunities to learn the suddenly relevant Soviet Union or even the less well known history of Crimea. But, if these topics are unsetting, you can always enjoy your time in the good, old Monarchy.

Although, there were a couple of previous posts on the blue, as well as mentions in the comments, there is still a mind-bogging amount of esoteric, rare and unheard-of material on this page.

Five Stones:
"However, there was also another version of knucklebone games, called “pentelitha”, that is “five stones” in ancient sources. There is no surviving description on its rules. But it seems that it was primarily played by girls, and as their gestures attest, they played it in the same way as all the other girls in the past two and a half thousand years from Singapore through China to the Mediterranean and South America."
Pagans came, o Lord, in thy inheritance:
"After the service I suggest that six years later, for the three hundredth anniversary it would be good to invite the representatives of the Tatars for reconciliation, we have the contacts for that. My hosts just shake their heads. “It’s too early yet”, they say."
Subcarpathia between the two world wars:
"But the traveler also sat in the restaurant next to the railway station of a small town, and he wordlessly enjoyed the following scene: the gentlemen coming from “the mother country” – as Hungary is called here – at a long table cruelly cursed the service, the food and the drinks, everything. Of course, doing so by cursing the Jews plentifully and at ease. For the Jewish innkeeper and his family, however, it did not matter if the entire kitchen and all the universe turned over, because they were sitting around the radio, since in Budapest there was a literary evening of Endre Ady! Well, what do they care about a few pieces of wiener schnitzels? Zsigmond Móricz speaks about Endre Ady in Budapest!"
Mollah Sadik:
"Who was this Muslim “monk” who, at the end of the 19th century when Hungary had no Muslim inhabitants, was buried under a Turkish gravepost in a Christian cemetery, and whose grave is always covered with fresh flowers?"
The rooster is crowing:
"Of a Hungarian shepherd boy even a Tzadik can only buy an authentic Hungarian folk song. This is also attested by Bence Szabolcsi: The rooster is crowing “is, both in the text and in the melody, a not too noteworthy variant of a well-known Hungarian folk song, with forcibly inserted Hebrew lines.” (“Népdalok” [“Folk songs”], in Az Egyenlőség Képes Folyóirata, 1921.) Later we will have more about these “forcible insertions.” But first let us try to find out how a more or less typical Hungarian folk song could become such a popular Hasidic Jewish song?"
"By reading this text, I feel it dreadfully beautiful that in the wasteland of Nagykónyi there has been standing for a hundred and thirty years a sophisticated poem carved in stone which has not been read by anybody in the past sixty-five years, because there is nobody there who could read it any more. It is like the well of the Little Prince which is hiding in the desert until somebody finds it again."
Letters from the Great War:
Republishing letters from the Great War, each one exactly hundred years after it was sent. The project is ongoing and finish around 2020. (based on this comment)
Money in Iran:
"Collective memory, however, is more conservative than we think, and it has retained the idea that the rial is actually a money of exchange needing a superior unit. Therefore, the Persians still count in tomans, in this officially non-existent financial unit, which is ten times the value of the rial, thus they call, for example, a one-hundred-thousand-rial bill, ten-thousand tomans."
From Istanbul to Tehran:
"However, one thing still calls for an explanation. Where did two provincial beys in late 19th-century Azerbaijan have so good information on the Hungarians as the friends of the Turks and enemies of the Russians from?"
On Russian:
"I turned with my doubts to my father who told me that Russian was not only the language of the Soviet army, but that of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as well. With this approval I happily threw myself into the study of Russian. And thanks to this, I have since then discovered that Russian is not only the language of these great authors, but that of small people as well, and not only of Russians but, in an odd way, of many different people from Bulgaria to Beijing and from Poland to Iran, organized into a kind of a community by virtue of this intermediary language. And in this way it is also mine."
The light in Armenia:
"The Sunday Mass must have recently ended, the priest is having a snack with some women in the church garden. The light breaks through the darkness inside the church, a beam like a blade, just as it did one year ago in the Armenian church of Lemberg. I tell the others how at that time the director of the church choir came to us and how he sang us their Easter hymn. At this point the priest enters the church. Where did we come from, how do we like Armenia? Then, to illustrate the acoustics of the church, he goes to the lectern in front of the altar, opens the missal printed in Venice in the 17th century printed in the typeface of the Hungarian Miklós Kis of Misztótfalu, and he sings from it the hymn of the Sunday after Easter to the enthralled company."
And countless others, such as: correcting Eco's mistake, Hitler's grave in a jewish cemetery, austro-hungarian troops in Jerusalem, a false etymology in Austria-Hungary, medieval typos, fighting for a dacha and so on.

Or, just check out the music section.
posted by kmt (13 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
YES. This blog pushed me to visit Georgia and Iran last year. I find inspiration in every post. Thank you for spreading the word!
posted by mdonley at 8:17 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can't get enough bunkers
posted by Space Coyote at 8:22 AM on July 24, 2017

(Related, if you're interested in Albert Kahn's life, times, and work... you can watch the entire 4-part BBC series, Edwardians in Colour: The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn, on YouTube.)
posted by functionequalsform at 8:37 AM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of Poemas del río Wang (I've been following it pretty much from the beginning), although I admit I've lost a bit of interest since it's turned into pretty much a tour-planning blog, so I appreciate the post, but I'm perplexed about why the name isn't mentioned and why all that's visible on the front page is a paragraph about Albania. People who aren't interested in Albania but might get excited about Poemas del río Wang are likely to just scroll on by. In any event, nice post!
posted by languagehat at 8:39 AM on July 24, 2017

Wow, some excellent ethnography, even more excellent photographs. Check out the boy in the archway, one of the better pieces ever!
posted by Oyéah at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2017

For some reason, this rich post jogged my memory of William Cullen Bryant's work, Thanatopsis.
Here is a piece.

All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny.
posted by Oyéah at 10:03 AM on July 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Prompted by this I just did some digging for information about the autochrome process that they used to take these photos and found this on the APUG forum site. The recipe involves, among many other chemicals, toluene, ether and nitrocellulose so it's probably not something that you want to try at home.
posted by octothorpe at 10:16 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks! I'll be digging into this blog more.

Not the same time period as the photos of course, but people interested in this region should have a look at Agents of Empire: Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies in the Sixteenth-Century Mediterranean World by Noel Malcolm.
posted by kingless at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2017

posted by LobsterMitten at 10:52 AM on July 24, 2017

I used to follow Poemas del rio Wang years ago (probably because of one of those earlier MeFi posts), but lost track of it somewhere along the way. Nice post!
posted by briank at 1:15 PM on July 24, 2017

thanks to hippybear's award, I now know this post exists for my delectation. Thank you kmt
posted by infini at 1:43 AM on July 27, 2017

languagehat, I was actually planning to include you and zaelic in the comprehensive Rio Wang post as well. But the blog with it's 10 years (the poem in english) worth of content sorta resists framing. I planned to post about Rio Wang many times before (to share my favourite treasures from there) but never found a perspective from where I could do an all-encompassing post. Even though, there are many links in this post, I constantly recall threads and stories and treasures that I forgot to include.

So starting with Albania was just an entry point for curious people: I mean come on - is there anyone who is not interested in the first ever color photgraphs from Albania but would be interested in Poemas del Rio Wang otherwise? I think, I wanted to frame this post as a surprise: you expect one interesting story about Albania and then you hit [more inside] and wow - there's so much material. Sorta the same experience you feel when you first encounter Rio Wang.

One more thing - I hear you regarding Rio Wang becoming a travel organizing blog, I don't really find that one so interesting either (although am planning to go with the group sooner or later). But as Tamás is saying in the interview: this blog is sorta his notebook, a platform to share interesting things he finds while he's working on his projects. In the past this was mostly connected to old texts, things he was translating or researching, but now he seems to be organizing these trips all around the year, so it's sorta his work now - of course the posts are connected to travel. Who knows, maybe in one or two years we'll encounter some totally different topic, because he starts to work on something else.
posted by kmt at 2:45 AM on July 27, 2017

OK, that all makes sense—thanks for explaining! Tamás actually wrote me and explained the background to the travel aspect, which was nice of him and now I'm totally on board with it.
posted by languagehat at 11:53 AM on July 27, 2017

« Older Back to nature   |   Grow your own Purple Crystals [SLYT 4 min 4 sec] Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments