Mummies, Kurgans, Balbals

The cold dry climate of Central Asia means that it is ideal for preserving bodies and artifacts. I will write more about this subject, both here and, soon, at Registan as well.

But meanwhile, Reid sent me this story about a “new” mummy from a kurgan or burial mound in the Altai region of Mongolia.

“An international group of archaeologists has shown photos of a well-preserved 2,500-year-old mummy of a Scythian warrior found in Mongolia.

“The mummy was hailed as a “fabulous find” at a news conference in Berlin.

“It was unearthed at a height of 2,600m (8,500ft) in an intact burial mound in the Altai Mountains this summer.

“Until now remains of the Scythians – who were Iranian nomadic peoples – had only been found on the Russian side of the Altai, the scientists said.

“The mummy was found in the snow-capped mountains by the team of scientists from Germany, Russia and Mongolia.”


“Skin on the warrior’s upper body was virtually intact, revealing tattoos.

“The man – who the archaeologists believe was a nobleman – was dressed in a fur coat and wrapped into sheep’s wool lining that was in remarkably good condition.

“Two horses with saddles and weapons and also vessels were also found in the burial mound, or kurgan.”

The number of these kurgans in the (Altai) Aimag or province of Bayaan Olgii is hard to believe. Here is one snapped almost at random from a moving Lada. I have seen MANY more.

While many have doubtless been raided, remoteness, low population, lingering reverence, and permafrost would seem to suggest that many have not. And I have only seen them on the Mongolian side– I know there are many, some excavated, in Altai Siberia, and I am sure they exist in eastern Kazakhstan as well, where there are also comparable petroglyphs.

They are often accompanied by “balbals”. Some of these monuments are of ancient Turkic characters like this one. They are usually moustached and carry a bird (they ARE raptors– the “spirits’ museums refer to are connected to hunting birds!) or a flask– still reasonable accoutrements today. This one stands west of the Hovds Gol river thrteen miles south of nowhere.

Others are mere pillars of stone.

Central Asia’s expanses often induce thoughts of transience and melancholy. But I like that.

“An Anonymous Best”

Here is a classic and utterly anonymous Mauser rifle in the classic older Mauser caliber 7 X 57 mm– or as the English renamed it, .275 Rigby (which used to be part of Jonathan’s email address!

It was made on a military action with no maker’s marks whatsoever, not even an initial. The worksmanship is remarkable; the wood looks like it grew around the metal. It has the style of a German rifle built for the English market, with an upright leaf sight and a folding one, a small cheek piece, and a barrel band sling swivel mount.

It has a Rigby cocking piece aperture sight that I have otherwise only seen on an actual Rigby, Father Anderson Bakewell’s .416 “Rigby Rifle for Heavy Game”.

It may be a bit light for elephants, but that old rogue Walter Dalrymple Maitland “Karamojo” Bell killed over a thousand with the caliber in the ivory days. The almost saintly Tolstoyan hunter- naturalist Jim Corbett used it on man- eating tigers in India. It could be the “one rifle” for almost everyone, as it was for many of the poorer Brits and Afrikaaners in Africa.

My gunsmith friend Frank Combs, who once had it apart, said “That’s a NICE Mauser”.

Jonathan had the last word. He said “What a neat idea– an Anonymous Best Rifle”!

Mushroomers 2: The Return of the King

I love all good mushrooms but by far my favorite is the king bolete, Boletus edulis. It is good fresh, dries well, is (at least in our area) HUGE, utterly unmistakable, and when you find one you will find many.

Always before we have found it a few weeks after the monsoon began– say, in late July and early August. I thought that if the rains began late the “crop” would skip until the next year. This year, the rains started late but never quit– the afternoon clouds loom up as I type these words. I was skeptical, as was Simon, who thought the dry aquifer would need a year’s replenishing before we had a real crop.

We were wrong.

Libby persuaded me to take “one last” trip to the mountains and here, at about 8500 feet, high up in the road cut, we found our first of the year.

Some are in more normal places.

Some are enormous.

A few can make quite a few dried mushrooms.

Into the pan!

Mushroomers #1

The last month’s rains– virtualy every afternoon and evening– have brought out a bumper crop, of several species.

Here are our friends and fellow mycophiles Simon and Della Armijo with a few. They each have half of a “cauliflower”, Sparassis crispa. It is also eaten in Tibet and Nepal. This species is especially good for stews because it is rather tough and still tastes good. And ONE gives you enough to dry.

Simon also holds a huge shaggy mane. They are delicious but you must eat them the day you pick them because otherwise, like something in an H. P. Lovecraft story, they deliquesce into a pool of black ink (which can still spread the spores). Also, best not to drink any alcohol when eating it. The effect is like that of Niacin– flushed face, rapid heartbeat– unpleasant.

A quick recipe, for a Chinese “red” stew with (four to six) beef short ribs:

Take an inch of thick ginger root and cut in four slices; smash. Chop six scallions into two- inch lengths. Heat oil in a wok until it sizzles. Add a tsp of brown sugar, stir. Add the ginger and scallions and five little hot dried chiles; stir fry.

Now add the ribs; brown. Add five star anise. Deglaze with a little chicken stock. Add six or more heaping tablespoons of soy sauce.

Add enough chicken stock, with water if needed, to almost submerge the ribs. Add a pound of fresh chopped cauliflower mushrooms, bite- sized. Bring just to boil, lower to low simmer. Add six more scallions whole in a bundle on top. Simmer long, until meat falls off bones. Serve with mashed potatoes with finely chopped fresh (not boiled) garlic.

AR, PC 2– Reaction?

Restaurants in Chicago decide to serve foie gras in defiance of the ban.

““This ban is embarrassing Chicago,” said Grant DePorter of Harry Caray’s Restaurant, which dreamed up an appetizer of pan-seared foie gras and scallops ($14.95) and a Vesuvio-style entree pairing foie gras and tenderloin ($33.95) just to buck the new ordinance. “We really don’t think the City Council should decide what Chicagoans eat. What’s next? Some other city outlaws brussels sprouts? Another outlaws chicken? Another, green beans?” “

Comments friend Tom: “How bad is it for a duck to overeat on cornmeal? Left to their own devices,I suspect ducks would eat it non-stop. This tube down the throat stuff seems more myth than reality–though snuggling between a farm maid’s thighs as she strokes your throat seems to me to tend more toward lascivious fantasy. It is a fact that when the corn is stopped, and if the duck is not slaughtered, its liver returns to normal size.”

That last sentence might apply to corn liquor as well…

AR, PC (sigh)

Margory Cohen sends a note about an old film (a good one, based on a novel by Charles Willeford and starring the late Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton) being banned from an Edinburgh film festival for CRUELTY TO ANIMALS.

“EDINBURGH, Scotland – The Edinburgh International Film Festival canceled the screening of a movie about cockfighting after being told it might be illegal to show the film.

” “Cockfighter,” a critically acclaimed 1974 movie about masculinity and blood sports set in the southern United States, was to have been shown Tuesday.

“The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said screening the movie could be illegal under animal cruelty laws because the fights weren’t staged.

” “They are very real and extremely brutal,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Natalie Smart. “Following an anonymous tip-off, we notified the EIFF that showing it in public would be illegal.” “

Meanwhile, the same week, a “comedy” festival audience in that same Scotland cheered an anti- Semitic comic. The world has gone mad.

Margory notes: “Not because I’m a defender of pit sport, more because — because —
it’s like the old Cajun sheriffs used to tell the fellas going to the dog fights — don’t want no man trouble tonight.”

What I am reading– Steve

What I am actually in the middle of:

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin. A novel, a historical mystery set in the early 19th Century in Istanbul, by a writer who knows the territory, with a hero who is an able and brave court eunuch! Unique and with a believable air– the guy knows Turkey, and the details ring true.

Sons of the Conquerors by Hugh Pope, subtitled “The Rise of the Turkic World”. Pope is the bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal in Istanbul, speaks the Turkic languages, and knows the ground from Istanbul to Almaty. He is sharp and sometimes funny. This looks like the one to go to for starters, though I have a lot to go before he gets to places I have actually been. More later?

Going Wild by Colin Wyatt: a forgotten gem of natural history writing from 1955– English of course. Mr. Wyatt appears to have spent his life travelling, skiing, collecting butterflies, and climbing– and writing well about it. (His father apparently did the same). We should all be so lucky! Earliest quoter of Nabokov on butterflies I have encountered. Worth reading alone for the tale of his father, sunbathing nude in the Alps before WWII, seeing a desired butterfly and chasing it through a party of sunbathing German women similarly non- attired…

On deck: Training the Short- Winged Hawk: an Elizabethan Perspective, edited and transcribed by Derry Argue (a 1619 book, one of the best, rendered into modern English by the Irish master setter breeder); The Prince of the Marshes (and other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq) by Rory Stewart; Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke (dark fantasy set in the Napoleonic Wars); and Under Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway: the complte text he write about his last safari, which I am studying as well as reading to do a paper on his African guns for a scholarly volume–!!

That should keep me a while alongside magazines and whatever I discover next…

I will eat anything, but…

…there may be limits. Reid sent this high “eeuuuwww factor” story from the L. A. Times.

It begins: “Health officials Thursday again warned consumers against eating raw or undercooked freshwater crabs as two Orange County restaurants were found to have served raw or live crabs and two more diners came down with a rare lung fluke infection.

“Riptide Rockin’ Sushi & Teppan Grill in Mission Viejo and Chomp Rockin’ Sushi & Teppan Grill in Fullerton were identified after the Health Care Agency contacted all the restaurants in Orange County serving the crab to advise them that the crabs must be fully cooked.”

My reaction: “Now I have actually READ the thing. Two observations;

“Do not eat at a place when “Rockin’ ” is a part of the joint’s name.

“Do not eat LIVE CRABS.

“Rules for living, like Jackson and I used to make up. Like (courtesy of Richard Preston) “Don’t eat bat shit in a level four hot zone”.

“Easy. No lung flukes, no Marburg virus.”

By the way, Peculiar and I, in his youth, once discussed getting two Jack Russells or Patterdale terriers and naming them Ebola and Marburg.

Kipling’s Religion

For “Kiplingites” (see, to use a term of Kipling’s, “Janeites”): John Derbyshire speculates, giving two intriguing, epigrammatic, but ultimately baffling quotes.I always thought he was a Mason.

Derb: “He described himself in 1908 (i.e. at age 42) as “A God-fearing Christian atheist.”

And, in Kipling’s own words: “All sensible men are of the same religion, but no sensible man ever tells.”


This “Op- Ed” sounds like it could have been written by some of our more recent newcomers in Magdalena:

“I’ve tried being proactive. But none of the locals I’ve talked to about bringing in a co-op health-food grocery store have seemed excited at all. Nor have I gotten any of them to take part in my community open-house idea for hip young people to come see what this neighborhood is capable of. What did they do instead? They had a barbecue. With very loud music.

“I mean, I don’t want the people here to leave. I just want them to stay inside more. Especially if they’re not going to do anything to bring this community to life. But they’re always out on their stoops, just playing dominoes or talking. I like talking, but I do it inside, where it was meant to be done. It makes me uncomfortable to have people watching me all the time. Not that I think they’d do anything, but I just like to be a little more private.

“Also, their dogs stay outside and bark all day. I like dogs just fine, but why can’t their dogs be smaller and more nervous?

“It’s getting to the point where I feel like I’m tilting at windmills. But I can’t give up—I know this neighborhood would benefit from the diversity of more people like me moving in.”

Form the Onion, courtesy of Steve Sailer.