Sailing the silk routes

There is nothing like an old wreck to make you feel young again. Especially when the secrets of that wreck take you back to the fairy stories of your childhood. This story begins, as told by the docents at the Asia Society, during the golden age of Chinese civilization over a thousand years ago. That was when emperors and caliphs ruled the world, and when ships, stitched together with meticulous perfection, sailed back and forth between their kingdoms, exchanging ceramics, spices, mirrors and gold. It was a time when sailors lived on deck buffeted by the waves and the weather, when Buddhists and Muslims shared a love of  blue and white ceramics, and when the skill of packing these delicate crocks was so magical that not even sitting on the ocean floor for hundreds of years could break them.

The fiction that world trade in the first millennium was exclusively by land, was blown out of the water when fishermen diving in shallow Indonesian waters recently found the remains of a ship from the ninth century. It was not so much a wreck as a treasure trove. Much of the cargo was intact, including an impossibly fragile long necked ewer, fish bowls that looked strangely familiar, and an urn packed with once fragrant star anise. All that was missing was the crew. But hey, this was a tropical island with waving palm trees and soft white sand. Much softer than a wooden deck. So for whatever reason the cargo went down with the ship many centuries ago, the crew probably swam ashore, invented nasi goreng, and lived happily ever after…

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9 Responses to Sailing the silk routes

  1. Matia says:

    These photos and story are amazing. Love the cooking fantasy, but where are the nubile maidens?

  2. Linley says:

    Thanks Gabrielle. At last something extra I can see while in New York. Linley.

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Louise says:

    Wow how fantastic! Thanks for sharing these images, how incredible. Gabrielle you are a wonderful wordsmith and what a sense of humour!

  4. Merlaine Cee says:

    Marvellous, I so enjoy your stories, particularly as I believe I spoke with you when I visited the Frick last October 2016. I’m intending to return in Aug/ Sept this year. Cheers from Aus. Merlaine

    • Hello Merlaine – thank you and yes, that was a lovely Frick meeting. Coming in the Autumn is such a glorious time to be here, so happy planning and hope our paths cross again…

  5. June Read says:

    Always enjoy all your reports, especially the Indonesian treasure find!

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