Monday, 2 December 2013

Tarantula Schnapps

Don't Try This at Home!
     Uzbekistan, 1920, and the Red Army was advancing on the great city of Bukhara. And some of the fiercest resistance was encountered at a certain caravanserai. Finally, it was bombarded into surrender, and the caretaker dragged off to a Revolutionary Tribunal. Well, he thought, this is the end of the line. My life is forfeit in any case, so I might as well go out in style and tell them everything. Have you heard about the missing caravans? he asked. Laden with gold, turquoise, carpets, silks, wool, corn, and weapons, they would be observed setting out, but never reach their destination. The Russian governor in Tashkent and the Diwan Begi of Bukhara made enquiries, but they appeared to have simply vanished into thin air. Well, he announced, I was responsible.
     At that point, he proudly boasted of murdering at least 411 men. Afterwards, his uncle, the bandit chief Khoja Khan would drive off the camels and their precious loads down mountain trails known only to himself. The murderer had a simple method: he would entertain his guests with food, and then drink (those Muslims weren't all that strict about the no alcohol rule), and serve them tarantula schnapps.
     Tarantula schnapps? I shall leave this to be described by Gustav Krist, an Austrian carpet merchant who stayed at the site five years later, or rather, by his ex-bandit host.
He told me that this drink had been known and used in Turkistan from time immemorial. If you want to brew it you catch a number of poisonous spiders, put them in a glass, and throw in some scraps of dried apples or apricots. The furious brutes fling themselves on the food and bite into it. They thus inject their poison into the dry fruit, which you then mix with fermented grapes. Thirty or forty tarantulas make about a quart of the deadly brew. A tiny glass of this liqueur is enough to drive a man insane. Half an hour after he has drunk it the victim is so paralysed that he cannot move; an hour later he is raving mad.
     Once his guests were, literally, paralytic, the evil caretaker would throw them into his cellar, where he kept a bear in total darkness, fed only on human flesh. And, sure enough, when the Red Army returned to the ruined caravanserai, they found a charnelhouse cellar full of hundreds of bones, and one hungry bear.
     The caretaker was sentenced to death, but the locals had their own plans. They broke into the prison during the night and dragged him out. Tying him to the saddles of two swift camels, they stuffed pepper into the rectums of the animals to drive them into a frenzy, so that they raced into the desert, dragging the murderer behind them. His bones were recovered a few days later, after the vultures had finished with them.
     But the plundered treasure was never recovered.

Reference: Gustav Krist, Alone Through the Forbidden Land, translated by E. O. Lorimer, Readers' Union edition, 1939, pp 112 - 114

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