The boy was three. At most four. Too small to be able to look out of the window while sitting. And so he tiptoed in front of his chair from Ulan Bator to Bayan Ulgii, his fingers clenched in the plastic frame of the glass, his forehead pressed against the glass, staring down into the endlessness of an ocher-brown, dusty hilly landscape and again unleashed rivers meander like ornaments along a frieze. And behind the once, far on the horizon, peaks covered by glistening ice as sharp as fangs in the steel-blue sky.
It was the only time the boy opened his mouth in two hours, but he said nothing. There was only a sound of astonishment, very soft and very short, almost swallowed by the dramatic nature. And his father answered with a single word, which he repeated several times. Very deliberately, every syllable equally stressed, just as if he wanted to teach the boy the vocabulary in the first place. It could have meant much.
Half enchanted, half horrified
I did not know her. I do not speak Mongolian. Did he say: Mountains? Snow? Ice? Or did he say, exalted? Majestic? Mercilessly? What should one say in the face of this incredible vastness and emptiness, which in all its inaccessibility nevertheless conveys something reassuring, almost meditative and therefore always more frightening when suddenly a car track milled from nowhere to another nowhere deep into the ground or is lost in the midst of this nothingness overwhelming the mind and only a white dot flashes: the yurt of a nomadic family.
Anyway, the boy was always staring down. Half enchanted, half horrified. If he had been a few years older, he would probably have thought about how it is possible to live in such a country. Above all: to survive. And then, of course, the question for him would have been obvious, as he himself will do it. In any case, this thought whirled through my mind.
But when we reached our camp later that day after a long bumpy ride through this topographical vacuum, dabbed between a river along which ran a few egrets, and the vast flank of a bizarrely eroded mountain whose folds and ruts and notches looked like a gouty hand stretching its crippled fingers down to the valley had instantly lost such thoughts of life and death. For the guests there were rows of snow-white tents, with beds with pillows and feather quilts, which were suspected of scarifying when they were placed next to them, next to a bedside table with little lights, in front of it a colorful rug, on which was kindly A pair of cuddly soft slippers made of felt, embroidered with playful patterns, the tips of oriental bent upward.