Monday, February 22, 2016

Join the A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal Blogfest!

Sign-ups for the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge are already under way. If you have done it before, you know how much fun it is (good for you!) and if you have not, this is your chance to give it a try! You can sign up to participate HERE.

One of the most burning questions participants ask themselves every year is: "Should I have a theme?" Themes are not mandatory, but definitely fun. They let your visitors know what to expect, and help you create posts that line neatly up from A to Z. And they also have an added bonus – they let you participate in a whole separate blogfest!

Three years ago, A to Z participant Mina Lobo started the Theme Reveal, and we thought it was such a great idea that we made it tradition.

Here is how the Theme Reveal Blogfest works:

Sign up on the Linky List below. On Monday, March 21, reveal your theme on your blog and give us a hint of what to expect from it. Then, once your post is up, use the Linky List to visit all the other blogs announcing their themes.

This is a great opportunity for all of you to get a jump start on your A to Z experience. You can link up with fellow bloggers, scout out and bookmark themes that you look forward to, and lure in wandering participants with your awesome theme. This way, by the time the frenzied posting begins on April 1, you will already have an audience eagerly awaiting your posts.

Sign up below, ready your theme, and put March 21 on your calendar!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Turkmen Valentine at the Silk Road House

The title makes sense, I promise.

The day after Epic Day, still in the Bay Area, I had the opportunity to join a group of tellers on their monthly performance at Berkeley's Silk Road House. In one season, these events walk the historic Silk Road from China to Turkey, and each stop along the journey corresponds to the tales of a distinct culture. It just so happened that the second Sunday of February was dedicated to Turkmenistan... and Valentine's Day.

The SRH is not a large venue - about thirty-odd people fill it up - but it is a lovely corner of cultural events, with a very friendly organizer team and core audience. There were drinks and snacks available, and a box of artisan bonbons courtesy of a local chocolatier (because of ValDay). They were in-between art shows, but I still got to sneak a peek at the gorgeous photos and paintings they had to decorate the space.

There were four tellers in the lineup - all four had been in Epic Day the day before. Ann Riley told a short and lovely little tale about the wisdom in deciding how to punish a thief. She was followed by Dana Sherry, the director of the storytelling programs at SRH (and my gracious hostess), who told a long and elaborate fairy tale about a stolen bride and her sister who was an antelope (it made sense at the time). She is a very graceful storyteller, and also very funny in an eloquent way. I really enjoyed her telling, especially because she managed to turn a folktale type that never made sense to me (the prince not recognizing his wife has been replaced by an ugly servant woman) into something that we could all accept in the telling with the appropriate suspension of disbelief.
After a short break it was my turn. I told Gemstone Mountain (I blogged about the story in detail last week), and it came out very well. It worked in live telling, the audience followed through, there was some laughter and some gasping, and everyone appreciated the many turns of events. It was actually a lot more fun to tell than to read (duh) and it is definitely a keeper for my repertoire. I like shiny things.
The concert was closed by Cathryn Fairlee, who did a twenty-minute section of the epic of Dede Korkut. It was one I had not heard her do before, and I loved every minute of it; it was a variation on the Cyclops tale from the Odyssey, with a mix of the Black Thief and the Knight of the Glen and the legend of Cacus thrown in. Cathyrn is not only a masterful teller, but she also has a deep love for epics, and a dedication to in-depth research that makes her performances truly amazing.

I don't know if I have ever told a single Turkmen folktale before in my life - but this one was definitely a positive experience. I wish I could come back to Berkeley every month, to do the entire Silk Road run. I plan on visiting again when I come back for Epic Day in the fall. But for those of you who live in the Bay Area: Definitely check it out!

The Tales of the Golden Corpse (Epic Day 2016/1)

I had the pleasure and the privilege to once again join Epic Day. After telling the Táin twice last year, both of which events were an amazing experience, I returned to California for a long weekend for a brand new epic, and some spectacular storytelling.

This year's selection came from outside Europe, as traditional for Epic Day, which is celebrating its 12th year in 2016. We voted last fall, and the majority decided on the Tibetan Tales of the Golden Corpse. This is not as much an epic as a traditional collection of tales within a continuous frame story (much like the 1001 Nights). It was different enough from the previous year's bloody war story that participants were eager to delve into it, and revel in the contrast.

There were 18 storytellers and some audience present; about 25 people gathered in Cathryn Fairlee's great storytelling room, bringing snacks and stories. We begun telling around 11 am, and finished just before 6 pm - not counting the breaks, the string of stories amounted to about five and a half hours. It was a nice, comfortable day of storytelling - and great fun as well.
In Tales of the Golden Corpse, a boy has to atone for his rash decisions by fulfilling a quest given to him by a Buddhist master: He has to carry a magical gold-and-turquoise corpse from a cemetery all the way to the master's cave, and he is forbidden to speak even a word while doing it. If he speaks, the corpse flies back to where it started, and the boy has to begin the trek all over again. The corpse, on the other hand, tries its best to make the boy lose - in order to coax a verbal reaction out of him, it keeps telling enticing stories that end with a twist or a cliffhanger. The boy falls for the trick every single time... hence, we get a long series of stories.
The tales themselves are more folk- and fairy tale-like than truly "epic." Some are variations of the animal husband or Beauty and the Beast; others have elements of the Kind and the Unkind Girls. All are saturated in Tibetan culture; some heroines remembered their past lives, and the story I selected dealt with the journey of a soul stuck outside its original body (which, by the way, was the eeriest of all the tales, and it could have easily doubled as a D&D adventure).
It was stunning to see how differently this Epic Day felt from the Táin. While the latter was a form of deep trance, following a hero from birth to bloody death and riding the emotional rollercoaster of Iron Age Irish myth, the Tales of the Golden Corpse were mostly light-hearted and often hilarious. There is something to say about the storytellers being a tad more comfortable here: Everyone had their own individual tale, so we worried a lot less about connecting with the others telling before and after; this also encouraged tellers to bring their own style to each tale, instead of trying to match others (in addition, there were a lot less names to painstakingly pronounce). The tales also felt less serious, and allowed for more playfulness, which we all took advantage of (while still respecting the stories and the culture, obviously). I am not saying this experience was any better or worse than the Táin - but it was profoundly different, and I am glad I got to experience both.

Some things stayed the same, though. For example, once again the true nature of the tales only emerged from oral telling. I read the book in preparation, and many of the stories felt "off," weird or even grotesque - but when I heard them told live, they all made perfect sense, and "grotesque" turned into "hilarious." We also soon found our connecting rhythm of running jokes - in the frame story. Everyone had to narrate Daychosangbo trekking back to the cemetery before their own story, and narrate the moment when the boy spoke and the corpse flew away in the end. This repetition did not only connect our telling into one continuous, shared experience, but also offered a great opportunity to add our own creativity to the repetition. Some people simply mimed the motions; others winked at the audience while the boy swore that this time he will surely keep his mouth shut; and everyone had a lot of fun with the questions or comments that burst out of the boy's mouth and ruined the silence. I also learned in practice that these questions or comments worked in telling, even if they seemed strange on paper. I changed  mine, because it didn't make sense to me when I read it; but after this experience, I think I'll switch back to the original question when we tell again in the fall.
(This is why I love it that there are two events for each year's epic)

One of my favorite moments of the day was Liz Nichols' telling of the Gold-Spitting Prince. In this story, two friends defeat a giant frog and a giant turtle; the monsters turn into tiny gems, and by swallowing them, the boys gain the power to spit gold and turquoise. Liz brought us bowls of gummy turtles and gummy frogs, in case we wanted to try for ourselves. Of course no one swallowed any of them whole (I think), but it was still very amusing to munch on some candy while listening to the tale (it's one of my favorite folktale types, I included the Mongolian version in my book).

All in all, we had a great day of fun tales, tasty snacks, and storytelling friends. I am looking forward to doing it all over again in the fall!

Folklore Thursday: The princess that turned into a prince

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Today's post is a folktale translation. I have talked about this story before when I discussed gender representation and storytelling. A visitor on my blog asked for a full translation for research purposes, and I am more than happy to help (being a research dork and all). And since I am a little overwhelmed right now, I decided to double it as a FT post.

DISCLAIMER: This translation is my own work, as close in wording to the original as possible. I don't tell the story in quite this version, because some parts just rub me the wrong way. But since this is a translation for folklore research, I left it untweaked. Be warned for adult/disturbing content.
DISCLAIMER II: Hungarian language uses gender-neutral pronouns only. In English, I used "she" for the princess until the actual sex change took place (unless someone was talking about her as a soldier).

The girl who became a man
Translated from:
Ortutay, Gy. - Kovács, Á. - Dégh, L. (1960) Magyar népmesék. Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó.
pp. 281-290.

Original storyteller:
László Korpás, Tiszabercel. Story collected in 1935.
(The Hungarian Folktale Type catalog knows 5 versions of this story from Hungary)

A king didn't have sons, only daughters. A king from another country asked him for an army officer from his family, saying if he didn't provide one they would declare war against him. The old king couldn't go himself, since he was old. Out of his three daughters, the eldest volunteered for the soldier's  uniform and the rank of lieutenant - she would cut her hair short, and ride on a beautiful horse, with spurs on her boots! She got dressed and mounted.
An iron-nosed witch was trying to get her sheep out of a ditch, but was't strong enough. The disguised lady noticed the witch. The witch greeted the princess, and asked her to help, saying:
"Please come and help me get the sheep out!"
"You can get them out yourself, I was not born to work!"
Said the iron-nosed witch:
"Go back, since you are a woman, no one will accept you where you are going."
The princess went on, thinking. The words of the witch scared her.
"She noticed I was a woman! The army even has doctors, they will have to see me too. Maybe they will even examine me since I am from another country."
She went back home. She said to her family:
"I am not brave, I won't go."
Her sister dressed up in her clothes. She also met the iron-nosed witch. The witch asked for help.
"I won't help!"
"If you don't help me, my son, you won't have luck on your way."
Her sister had told her why she returned. She also returned to her father's house. She, too, told her father that she had lost her courage. Their youngest sister was only twenty-one years old. She said:
"I will go! My heart is not made of willow wood. That soldier's uniform made for you fits me very well. I am braver and better than you are."
She set out. She found the iron-nosed witch. Half of her sheep were still in the ditch, in the water and mud. The witch said:
"Your highness, my lady, please, help me get these few sheep out! I have been struggling with them for more than a week."
The princess said:
"How can I go into that muddy water in this nice uniform?"
The witch said:
"Just take off your clothes, get naked. You are a woman just like I am. We don't have to be ashamed. If God helps us and we get the sheep out, the other ditch has clean water, we can wash ourselves, get dressed, and go to my house."
After they got dressed, they went to the small cottage of the iron-nosed witch. She said to the princess:
"Here is this stick, take it." she pointed to a broom shrub "Hit that bush with this stick. A large hare will jump out of it and run towards my house. Follow it."
The hare did run, and so did the princess, to the witch's house. The witch said:
"I will show you kindness, my son, for this, without hesitation. You shall know I am not a nobody."
The witch yelled at the hare. The hare fell to the ground, rolled, and turned into a beautiful, golden-haired horse.
"You shall ride this one, my son. Come into the room."
She opened the wardrobe and took out a finer and more beautiful soldier's uniform; she dressed the princess in it.
"The horse I am giving you is a táltos [magic horse], it can talk to you. When you get to the other country's king, you will report which kingdom you came from, tell him whose son you are. Do not tell them you are a girl."
She was greeted kindly by the officers of the army. They all thought that other countries had such handsome men. They announced her to the king. The colonel gave her as a lieutenant to a company. In a couple of weeks, they had to go to battle. The leader of the company became ill, so the lieutenant took his place. They got the order that the regiment had to leave the next day, and she was the leader of the first company of the first regiment. She went to the stables to her horse. She was sad, and the horse noticed her sadness.
"Why are you so sad?"
"Unless it is cancelled, we are going to battle tomorrow."
It did get cancelled, but the soldier had to appear in front of the king. The king came out onto the porch with his family. The foreign lieutenant was the leader standing up front. The king's daughter took a liking to her. The king was sad for his soldiers, and on account of his daughter's request he turned them back, because his daughter loved the lieutenant.
"Give me to him, mother, father, invite him and I'll wed him, if he'll have me, because that matters."
They invited the foreign lieutenant. She couldn't get out of the wedding, so the two girls were wed. On the night of the wedding, around midnight, her wife called her to the bedroom:
"Let's lie down, my love."
They embraced, but the lieutenant couldn't do anything, since she was a girl too. Her wife hated her for it. At dawn she told her mother and father:
"Get rid of him, father, tie him to the tail of a steed, I hate him more than I loved him before."
"Let's wait, my daughter, see what God has in store for us. He is going to war the day after tomorrow. I treasure him as a son-in-law, and maybe he'll die in the war. Just for you, I won't have him murdered on purpose."
They saddled her horse the next day. She went to the stables all sad. Asked the horse:
"What's wrong, my dear master?"
"No one can help me now. You are saddled because we are going to battle. We will be up front, we will be the first to die."
The horse told her to hold on, and make sure she didn't fall off.
"I won't fall of a horse" she said "I learned how to ride."
They started out. They were on a hill, and there they found a standing crucifix. The horse saw the enemy first. It whinnied angrily, and the lieutenant was startled. They launched into a gallop, the rider grabbed onto the crucifix, the crucifix broke out of its foundation, and she held on to it fast. They were close to the enemy now. The enemy saw the gorgeous horse the first lieutenant was riding, and the face of the Lord Jesus on the crucifix. They pointed at it and rejoiced, saying the Lord had come in His grace. They put their weapons down, and the war was over. They made a truce.
The lieutenant returned to the king's house. Her wife saw her coming. She told her father:
"There he comes, the one we hoped would die."
The king said:
"I won't have him killed, he is the one that got us the truce and ended the war. I'll give him another order instead."
She was ordered to see the king.
"You are a decent man, my son, to bring peace with such a formidable foe. I have an order for you. You shall go to the Sun, and ask it why it rises so happy, and sets so sad."
She got to the Sun when it was rising. The Sun said:
"I rest at night, and I forget all I saw the day before. When I wake, I have no anger, I wake cheerfully.  But once I make it into the sky, I hear the blasphemies and the swearing, and I set sad because of it."
The lieutenant returned home with the answer. When she rode through the gates, her wife saw her.
"He is home again, father, do something about it! I can't get married again like this."
Said the king:
"I'll talk to him. What did the Sun say, my son?"
"The Sun said it rises so happy because at night it sees no disturbance, but when it is up in the sky it hears all the blasphemy. That's why it sets so sad."
The king understood that it was the truth and it was so.
"I will not get rid of him! Son, listen to me. The King of Russia owes me a heavy shipload of treasure. I have sent 99 officers to ask for the debt. He killed them all, did not let a single one go home."
"I will go if I must. I will listen to my father-in-law. I know he sends me to get rid of me. Ninety-nine officers have died, I'll make one hundred."
She went into the stables, very sad. The horse asked why she was so sad.
"I got an order from my father-in-law. He will keep sending us on errands until he is rid of me. We have to go to Russia. We have to get a shipload of treasure that is owed to the king. We are truly lost now."
The horse told her not to worry.
"God will help us, we shall bring home the treasure."
They set out, only the two of them on a galley, on the water. On the third night they anchored by a forest. The horse told its master:
"Go into this forest, my dear master, don't be afraid. You will meet a man. Hire this man to work for us. You will find a second one, hire that too. And the third one. This galley is too large, we can't manage it on our own."
She got all three servants hired. One of them was a woman, and she said:
"Let's all go up into the forest."
They found a beautiful house, the home of a hermit. The hermit wasn't home. They broke into the house, burned his food and furniture, tore up his books. They left him with nothing. They returned tot he ship and sailed on. The hermit, when he got home, cried.
"I don't have anything! What shall I do?"
Crying, he summoned all his knowledge. He cursed the ones that did this to him - and God listened to his words.
"If the culprits were women, make them into men, but if they were men, make them into women!"
The lieutenant was traveling with his friends. She suddenly noticed the horse was peeing. It used to pee like a mare before, and now it was peeing under his belly like a stallion. There was one woman among the servants before, and two men, one greedy, and the other very fast. They whispered among themselves.
"We used to be men, and now we are women."
The lieutenant stepped aside to pee, and he didn't have to crouch down either. He had a wand [literally: "beckoning stick"]. He was happy. He thought of his beautiful wife.
"If I get home alive, she will love me. I think this is what she was missing before."
The wise man [formerly the woman] said:
"We are almost there. My lord, they will greet us very nicely there. They will offer us seats at their table, give us all kinds of delicious food. But we should not eat, nor drink, until they load the money into the ship."
So they did.
"We won't eat, we won't drink, we are here to collect a debt. We'll take it without interest."
There was treasure uncounted, twelve cartloads of it, gold and silver.
"I want to see all these delivered! Do it right away. I brought just the ship that can carry this much treasure."
There was no excuse, they loaded up the treasure. The wise man told the lieutenant:
"They won't let us go without a feast. I know everything, I'll sit across the table from you. The old king will offer you all the wine, want to toast. Do not drink any wine until I nod to you."
The wise man waited until all the king's men were out of the hall, then nodded to the lieutenant. Then they clinked glasses with the king, and toasted.
"Bottoms up, brother!"
The king drank his cup, fell over, and died. The runner picked up the lieutenant, ran like the wind to the ship with him. They raised the anchor and set out with great speed. The river branched into three paths, and the wise man said:
"We should got his way. They are chasing us with soldiers and planes because the king is dead. If we don't hide, our life is over!"
The branch of the river flowed under great big trees. They anchored under the canopies, and as the planes passed by above, they couldn't see them.
"We checked all three branches of the river, and found no sign of them. They must have sunk with the heavy ship. We would have found them otherwise."
They reached the place where the helpers had been hired.
"Go in peace. We are home now. You just follow the current, the ship works fine, you will be home in twenty-four hours."
They made it home. They anchored. He went up to the palace to give a report to his father-in-law.
"Thank God, we are home. Please give the order, father, to send guards to the ship; there are no guards there now, someone might steal the treasures."
His wife heard his voice and ran into the room. Said the lieutenant:
"Father, your daughter is my wife, I wish to go take a walk with her."
"It is your right, son. She was happy to marry you. It is between you two, I will not take sides. I trust that you will not harm her."
He embraced his wife, but she kicked and struggled, didn't want to go. Said the king:
"Take her away, my son!"
He took her down to the gardens. Like in all royal gardens, were were benches everywhere to sit. He managed to sit his wife down onto a grass-covered mound.
"My soul, I love you" the lieutenant said to his wife.
"Don't push me!"
"Let's play!"
She got quiet. After a little rest, they played [had sex] five times. The wife was so happy, she even took her husband's tongue into her mouth. They rested, and then came back inside. The wife was practically floating above the ground as she clung to her husband.
"My love, why did you not do that sooner? I love you so much, I'll even make the bed for the both of us. You'll see how happy my mother and father will be. We'll have a great celebration! They'll invite all their friends."
Said the great prince [the former lieutenant]:
"It is a great thing indeed! For such hate to turn into such love."
Said the king:
"I hope the love will last till death."
Everyone wished them great luck and good health.
I have been there, but I could not get close enough to them. Otherwise I would have more to tell. They still live happily, if they have not died yet.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Folklore Thursday: All the Dancing Princesses are dead

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

I have been doing some background research for my upcoming folktale collection; among other things, this week it involved reading all the Hungarian versions of the Twelve Dancing Princesses folktale type (ATU 306) that I could get my grabby little hands on. It has always been one of my favorite fairy tales, and I love the international collection for it, but this time I was specifically interested in how Hungarian folk storytellers through the ages have interpreted it.
TL; DR: Horribly.

Contrary to the popular Grimm version, Hungarian dancing princesses can number anywhere from 1 to 12; most often there are 3 of them, and in many cases they shred more than one (6-12) pairs of slippers each night. The male protagonist is most often a shepherd or swineherd boy, although the occasional former soldier also appears.
Here is the rundown of how most Hungarian versions go:

1a. The king executes anyone who cannot solve the mystery of the disappearing princesses and shredded shoes. 99 people already have their heads on pikes by the time the protagonist comes along.
1b. The princesses are (all or mostly) evil, and they poison anyone who tries to spy on them.

2. The princesses most often sneak out with older witches, evil fairies, or the Devil himself.

3. They also often dance on razor blades, thus shredding their shoes.

4. There are several versions where (some or all of) the princesses already have children in the Other World, or are pregnant - underlining the assumption that "dancing" is not the only thing they do on their illicit nightly adventures.

5. Once the truth is revealed, almost all tales end with the princesses being executed - most often burned (in cases of witchcraft), beheaded, or torn apart by oxen. Sometimes their bastard children are dragged along with them as well.
(In the few cases where they survive, they are either imprisoned, exiled, or simply not mentioned at all)

6a. Sometimes the youngest (and purest) princess survives and gets to marry the male protagonist (occasionally against her will),
6b. In a surprising number of cases, the guy refuses to marry a "whore" (kurva) and asks for money instead.

There are only 2 versions that I could find where the little princess is actually in love with the shepherd boy before he solves the mystery.

7. The story type often occurs intertwined with the Princess in the Shroud, where the accused princesses die, turn into man-eating vampires, and have to be "redeemed" by same male protagonist. Marriage, once again, is encouraged by optional (on the guy's side, duh).


Some fairy tale researchers note that "shoes" can be symbolic for sex and sexuality. Add that to the pregnant princesses and the father's (and the male protagonist's) violent judgment, and it is clear what these stories were told about: Girls overstepping their boundaries and "dancing" with men in secret, out of wedlock.

There is also a mythical/religious element to all this - secret trips into the Other World slowly turning from alluring fairy dances to witches' Sabbaths or journeys to Hell, and girls being punished for the mentorship of older, "sinister" female figures in the art of breaking free of the palace at night.

It is important to note that most of the 15+ versions I read were told by male storytellers (the ones that named the teller, anyway), with three exceptions - including the one that will be featured in my book, because she had a wildly different, more empathic, and girl-friendly take on the whole thing.

With that said: This fairy tale is never going to be the same again.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Gemstone Mountain (The Storyteller Does Her Homework)

(This is one of those posts where I reveal how the storytelling sausage is made)
(The sausage is bigger on the inside)

In two weeks' time, people will be telling Turkmen folktales at the Silk Road House in Berkeley, CA. Since I'll be in town for Epic Day, I volunteered to join in the fun.

It is not easy to find folktales from Turkmenistan. I have yet to locate a full book dedicated to them in either English, Spanish, or Hungarian. My initial search frustrated me to no end; I had to resort to cherry-picking Turkmen folktales from "Tales of the Soviet Union" type collections (well, that was a delightful trip down Retro Lane, bringing up memories of Russian children's books back home).

One of the few stories I kept coming across was a tale titled Gemstone Mountain (or, alternately, Mountain of Gems or Diamond Mountain).

I like shiny things.

The story was immediately familiar from the Second Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor. It tells of an inaccessible mountain range filled with gemstones, and people being wrapped in raw ox hides to trick giant birds into carrying them to their nest on the peak. People get rich from harvesting gems this way - but the brunt of the work is done by poor workers destined to die up on the mountain since they can never get down.
Or can they?...

All the versions of the Turkmen folktale I located were almost verbatim the same (both in English and in Hungarian). After frustrating myself for another day or so, I resorted to pursuing the Sindbad version instead.


Illustration by Nadir Quinto
The Valley of Diamonds is a true Silk Road story: It stretches from Greece to China, and spans several centuries from the 4th all the way to the 15th (AD). Apart from Sindbad, some versions feature Alexander the Great as the protagonist, and such prominent writers included it in their works as Marco Polo and Buzurg Ibn Shahriyar. We know it from Greek, Arabic, and Chinese sources, as well as from Armenia, Russia, and Persia.
And, of course, Turkmenistan.

In this most well-know type of the story, there is a hidden valley in the mountains, filled with gems, inaccessible (and often invisible) to humans, crawling with deadly snakes and/or scorching fire. People in the area devise a way to get the gems by throwing sheep carcasses into the valley, and waiting for birds of prey to bring them up to their nests. Then, chasing the birds away, people gather the gemstones that stuck to the carcass. This job is dangerous, so convicted criminals and slaves are often tasked with it.

Here are some useful things I discovered:

1. The two earliest (Greek and Arabic) sources locate the Valley in "Scythia" or in "Khorasan," both of which historic regions cover Turkmenistan. Other sources usually locate it in India.

2. The earliest known (Greek) source claims the gemstones in the valley are hyacinths (red-orange zircon), but it was later changed to diamonds.

3. Diamonds are actually lipophilic - they do stick to grease or greasy meat.

4. The mountains on the southern border of Turkmenistan - along which the southern route of the Silk Road traced - belong to the Alborz range, the legendary home of the giant Simurgh bird of Persian mythology. The Simurgh is not only a giant bird living on an inaccessible mountain peak, but it also builds its nest from ebony and sandalwood. In an alternate version of the Valley of Diamonds (recounted by Herodotus, III, 3), people actually harvest spices like cinnamon from the nest of a mythical bird in a very similar fashion, with the use of carcasses. The stories probably share the same roots.

5. The mountains on the southern border are also rich in minerals and gemstones. Khorasan as a region is famous for its jewelers.

All in all, this was a fun rabbit hole to get into. And the story itself is the better for it.

If you want to hear me tell this story, along with some other great Turkmen folktales, join us on Valentine's Day at the Silk Road House!