Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Pizza & Spice: the obligatory Dune post

And so last night, limping and short of breath, I joined my brother and our friends for a night out at the movies. We opened with an excellent (as usual) pizza at Casablanca’s, and then went to the Sociale, Nizza Monferrato’s oldest cinema, to watch Villeneuve’s Dune.

This was our first movie outing in over 18 months and there were seven people in the cinema last night – five of us, plus two other punters.

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One-handed

I have a lot of things to do – I am writing a campaign for a roleplaying game (sketch maps, draw diagrams, do the actual writing), I am revising a novel, I am about to sign a contract for another novel (fingers crossed), plus the usual number of short stories written on spec. A few articles. An interview. The podcast I am producing and co-hosting.
Lots of stuff.

But, in an unexpected accident (silly, all accidents are unexpected), I went and broke a finger, and as a result I am writing with only one hand. And I’ve been lucky – it could have been a lot worse.

So, what to do?
My writing is severely limited, and I might go for a dictation app for the urgent stuff.
But for the time being, as I am still in convalescence – and I’ll be for another week – I am trying to keep my mind off my current problems, and I’m catching up on my books backlog.

Right now I am reading Zen: the Art of Simple Living, by Sunmyoo Masuno, a slender book of practical zen for everyday life. A lot of the wisdom in the book is not new, and indeed a few things are already part of my day to day routine, but it is always good to have a reminder.

And it is also interesting, in this moment of forced stillness, to be reading a book about stillness as choice and lifestyle. It is a good moment as any to take stock of the situation and make a few adjustments, and any sensible suggestion is welcome – this is the right book at the right time.

Indeed, this accident will make me wiser for the future – and indeed, one of the first suggestions in the book, if applied, would have saved me lots of grief.


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Spooking

As it usually (and frequently) happens, I was looking for a gift for my brother’s birthday, and I ended up buying a few books for myself. I also found a suitable gift for the brother, so it’s all right.

And among the books I bought for myself there’s one that’s moving steadily to the top of the best books I read this year. I bought it from Amazon and I am happy of my purchase, but you can find it for free on the Project Gutenberg.

The book is called The Road to En-Dor, and it was written in 1919 by a former officer of the British army, Welshman E.H. Jones. The subtitle is suggestive…

BEING AN ACCOUNT OF HOW TWO PRISONERS OF WAR AT YOZGAD IN TURKEY WON THEIR WAY TO FREEDOM

It is the account of how Jones and RAF pilot C.W. Hill, both prisoners of the Turkish forces in a camp in the Altai mountains, set up a colossal spiritualist scam in order to bamboozle their guards and make good their escape.
It took them almost two years, and a lot of chutzpah.
Jones calls his fake medium ploy “spooking” and the made-up Spirit Guide he created with the help of Hill is, of course “The Spook”.

The book is written in a plain, straightforward tone and it does really sound like the reminiscences of someone that saw some pretty dark places, but got through it all, and now can talk about it.
Jones is a fine writer, the plot hatched around the ouija board is the sort of crazy that would be deemed implausible in a novel, and the succession of events feels like a very good adventure comedy-drama.
The BBC should do a series from this book.
Indeed, there is a screenplay, written in 2014 by Neil Gaiman and Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) – but apparently nobody was interested in shooting the script.

This book ticks all the right boxes with me – it’s an adventure story, it’s set in the East and somewhat along the Silk Road, it’s set in the early 20th century. It features war (and little-known episodes of the Great war inparticular), danger, espionage, bravery, survival, the supernatural, stage magic and confidence games. And it’s a true story, narrated with the dry wit of a man from a more civilized time.
This is a perfect example of why I love history so much.


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A beautiful book

I gave myself a gift last week, because I had done a lot of work, made sure we will be able to pay the bills for a month or two, and I felt like I deserved a prize.
Also, I was looking for a birthday present for my brother, and as it usually happens, I bought a present for myself. Some things never change.

And today the mailman delivered a copy of Robert Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, the illustrated edition.
And boy is this a wonder.

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A ghost in the library

I am happy to announce that my short story A Rainy Night in the French Quarter is the featured story in this month’s Dread Imaginings – and you can read it for free.

It is a ghost story, set in Shanghai (big surprise, uh?) and in particular into one of the phone booths that the city administration transformed into mini-libraries.

I hope you’ll enjoy it.


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Violent Femmes, part deux

What is with top-tier criminals and antique bookshops?
It’s a sort of cliché, the international man (or woman) of mystery that in their everyday life manage an antique book shop somewhere cool and elegant.
In the case of Anna, the character portrayed by Meggie Q in The Protégé, the antique book shop is in London. And as it usually happens in this sort of movies, it will be thoroughly thrashed sometime around the end of the first reel.

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