East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

In Egypt with Belzoni

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Now that I am free of the work for my Client from Hell and missing my payment (oh, the bank will love it!), I can start work on a new project whose contract I signed last week – an historical adventure, featuring the Great Belzoni.

In cased you missed him – hard, considering he was six foot seven inches tall, and wide in proportion – Giovanni Battista Belzoni was an Italian former student of divinities, adventurer, antiquarian, hydraulic engineer, egyptologist, stage magician and fairground strongman, that soon after Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt conducted a series of excavations along the Nile – basically because his work as an hydraulic engineer for the local administration had fizzed.

Belzoni was supposedly working for the British and therefore against the French, and to him we owe a long list of discoveries in the early years of what would be later called “archaeology” – including the way into the great pyramid of Cheophs – that at the time was believed to be solid rock, without any chamber.

And he did have a number of non-archaeological adventures…

During my stay in Soubra, a circumstance took place, which I shall remember as long as I live, and which showed me plainly the country I was in, and the people I had to deal with. Some particular business calling me to Cairo, I was on my ass in one of the narrow streets, where I met a loaded camel. The space that remained between the camel and the wall was so little, that I could scarcely pass; and at that moment I was met by a Binbashi, a subaltern officer, at the head of his men. For the instant I was the only obstacle that prevented his proceeding on the road; and I could neither retreat nor turn round, to give him room to pass. Seeing it was a Frank who stopped his way, he gave me a violent blow on my stomach. Not being accustomed to put up with such salutations, I returned the compliment with my whip across his naked shoulders. Instantly he took his pistol out of his belt; I jumped off my ass; he retired about two yards, pulled the trigger, fired at my head, singed the hair near my right ear, and killed one of his own soldiers, who, by this time, had come behind me. Finding that he had missed his aim, he took out a second pistol; but his own soldiers assailed and disarmed him.

Giovanni Battista Belzoni, Recent Discoveries in Egypt and Nubia (1822)

Accompanied only by his wife, Sarah, and by a young Irish chap called Curtin, Belzoni lived a short life of adventure in Egypt and North Africa, before an illness caught during his travels killed him at the age of 45,while he was en-route for Zanzibar. Or did he?

The challenge of this new project is writing a good story, running the thin line between fact and fiction. Because Belzoni was one of the historical characters that inspired Lucas and Spielberg when they created Indiana Jones, the story-line will mix historical facts and fiction, with a pinch of the supernatural, and some classic pulp adventure extras.
And, hopefully, a few surprises.

The target is 40/60.000 words, and the deadline is for mid-March 2021 – but I hope to be able to work fast. After all, I already did much of the research, I love the time, and place, and the character… what could ever go wrong?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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