1 RUDOLF FISCHER, COSMOPOLITAN The scent of plum brandy and red wine mixed with the mildew and dust from old books and maps. It was ten in the morning, February 17, 1998. I was in an apartment in the drab eastern outskirts of Budapest. My host, Rudolf Fischer, suggested that we start drinking. "The slivovitz is kosherlook at the Hebrew label! And the wine is youngfrom a barrel in Villanyi, in southern Hungary. It will rest easy in your stomach and loosen our tongues." Peasant rugs, folkloric weavings, and other Balkan bric-a-brac filled Fischer's small living room, which also functioned as his library: early-twentieth-century volumes, in several languages, on Balkan nationalism, the Persian and Ottoman empires, the Byzantine heritage of Greece, and other subjects having to do with Europe's back-of-beyond. Fischer, with thick white hair, a mustache, and a wistful expression, wore suede trousers and a sleeveless sheepskin shepherd's vest. His rakish appearance and the backdrop of maps and trinkets reminded me of the Victorian explorer, linguist, and secret agent Sir Richard Francis Burton in old age, in his library in Trieste.1 It was to Fischer that I had come for advice before beginning my journey through the Near East, from the Balkans to Central Asia, what the Elizabethans called Tartary. "I was born in 1923," Fischer told me, "in Kronstadt, in Transyl- vania, a mainly German city, which is now called Brasov in Romania. My father was a Hungarian Jew from a strictly Orthodox family. My mother was a Saxon German and a Lutheran. She was among the Nazis' favored Volksdeutschea term laden with racial implications, reserved for ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe and southern Russia. "My parents loved each other deeply. Does that surprise you? Before Hitler, relations between the ethnic groups were full of such irony and subtlety, you cannot imagine. My mother escaped from Communist Romania by pretending to be Jewish and going to Israel. My wife is also a Saxon Lutheran, from near Kronstadt. Of course," he added, smiling, "I was Jewish enough for the Nazis, but not enough to satisfy the Israeli rabbis of today." Fischer handed me his calling card. There was no telephone number or address on it, just two words: rudolf fischer vakalaray The Greek word, he explained, signified "a nineteenth-century writer of love letters" to women on behalf of their husbands, who were away in the Turkish army and did not know how to write their own. We exchanged toasts, and Fischer unfurled his set of late-nineteenth-century Austrian army staff maps and a somewhat earlier German one. "These are the maps you must use at the start of your journey," he told me. "They are better than the Cold War-era maps. The maps before 1989 are, of course, useless. The Iron Curtain is still a social and cultural border. Do you know the real service provided by McDonald's in Hungary and the other formerly socialist countries? They are the only places where peoplewomen, especiallycan find a clean public lavatory." Fischer washed down his second slivovitz with red wine. Pointing with his finger at the mid-nineteenth-century German map, he told me: "The Carpathian Mountains, which now run through Romania, mark the end of Europe and the beginning of the Near East. North and west of the Carpathians lay the old Austro-Hungarian empire. Here, the map is like a modern onesee how crowded it is with towns. But, look: To the south and east of the Carpathians, the map is virtually empty. That was the old Ottoman Turkish empire, where few surveys had been done and trade was not regulatedWalachia, Serbia, and Bulgaria. These places are still underdeveloped compared to Transylvania, Croatia, and Hungary." Let me explain; it isKaplan, Robert D. is the author of 'Eastward to Tartary' with ISBN 9780375502729 and ISBN 0375502726.