‘The invisible border’, Javier Reverte’s last trip

After crossing Turkey and Iran, Javier Reverte felt in front of the metallic waters of the Persian Gulf that melancholy that always invades the traveler when he is about to start his way back home. “My feeling was neither pleasant nor sad. It simply seemed that I glimpsed the end of the road, the last stretch of life”, he describes, perhaps sensing that this could be the last time he traveled the world as he had done so many times, “feeling free, observing strangers, learning from their books, listening to their words and sniffing the environment to tell it later”. Reverte said that he would only stop traveling when life was taken from him, and he kept his word until his last breath.

the invisible border completes the posthumous trilogy – along with Man to water Y dear comrades– who is considered by many to be the most important travel writer in the Spanish language. In his book, the only purely travel book of the three, Reverte plunges the reader back into a universe halfway between history and literature, to lead him through the East, from Istanbul to the gates of Arabiafollowing the trail of primitive travelers such as Ibn Battuta, Ruy González de Clavijo or Pedro Tafur, to reach legendary cities whose name alone is capable of setting the imagination on fire: Isfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis…

One day, leafing through a newspaper, Javier Reverte read an article about Iran, which stated that “there is no more beautiful square in the world than that of Isfahan”, illustrated with a photograph of this majestic rectangle whose harmony leaves the beholder breathless. At that moment he felt the call of the journey, which he had heard many times within him throughout his life. “I wanted to go to the Middle East, a region whose name resonates with immensity, ancient empires, shocking wars, lost armies, buried cities, dead religions, muted old languages; also pogroms and genocides, bloodthirsty sultans, fierce warriors and bellicose kings, and together with all this, sensuality, adventure and poetry”, thus the book begins.

Istanbul, “halfway between reality and dream”

The trip starts in istanbul, that city “that sails, or floats, halfway between reality and dream”. It is there, facing the Bosphorus Strait, where he understands that that piece of sea separates two continents, but not two civilizations, something that Julio Camba had already said. The brilliant Galician columnist, who considered that “traveling is the saddest of all pleasures”, worked as a correspondent in that city when it was still called Constantinople.

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Javier Reverte crosses the invisible border that separates Asia from Europe and arrives in Ankara, where he boards the train that covers the journey between the capital of Turkey and that of Iran for 56 endless hours. In Tehran finds a “warm” city, which seems “always on the verge of bursting”. This “wacky metropolis” serves as his gateway to ancient Persia, the mythical territory he dreamed of when he planned his trip, and whose emotional epicenter is found in Isfahan, or more specifically in Naghsh-i Jahan square, which pulled him “as if he were a magnet”.

Dazzled by the blue of Shia art, Javier Reverte describes the delicate use of mirrors, glass and lights in his architecture, in a parched land inhabited by sun worshipers since the beginning of time. “In the heart of many Iranians there is a Zoroastrian heartbeat, which means nothing but tolerance and radiance,” he writes.

And finally he arrives at Isfahan Square, a place that “disturbs your senses, especially at dusk, when the reality of the impossible becomes captive domes, eager to fly to Paradise, and takes refuge in the arabesques that adorn the mosaics of the temples”. There, contemplating with his own eyes that space that had bewitched him thousands of kilometers away, Javier Reverte thought that beauty, like that life that always escapes like water between the fingers , “is condemned to be evanescent. “Contradicting the spirit of the traveler, I think there are places that one should never leave, like Isfahan square“, write.

Isfahan market. GETTY IMAGES

Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid dynasty

The journey continues in Shiraz, the “city of poets and roses”. Very close to it are the ruins of Persepolis, the former capital of the Achaemenid dynasty. It is there that he finds himself fully on the trail of Alexander the Great, the king of Macedonia who always carried a copy of Homer’s Iliad with him, and who used to read at night. “Alexander’s dream shaped a part of the Iranian spirit, perhaps the most Western, today, of the Eastern countries”, Javier Reverte reflects on the figure of one of the most important cultural icons of antiquity, who wanted to annex the West and the East under the same crown. Persepolis was conquered and sacked by the Macedonian conqueror in 330 BC.

After leaving Persepolis and Shiraz, following the route of the ancient caravans through inhospitable mountains and landscapes crushed by the sun, Javier Reverte reaches the coast of the Persian Gulf, where he encounters a sea “the color of lead”. There he takes a boat that takes him to Dubai, and then a plane to Oman, to end a trip that in reality had already ended many kilometers before, under the mythical domes in whose shadow Asia merges with the West.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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