Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Tits & Sand: The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954)

It’s been a while since I last reviewed a Tits & Sand movie – to use the label coined by Maureen O’Hara. These 1001 Nights-style movies were a staple of my childhood, and I thought I had seen them all, repeatedly. And yet, I’ve just found a movie I had missed – which is quite strange.

The film is called The Adventures of Hajji Baba, and it was directed in 1954 by Don Weiss, a director with a long TV experience, whose best known films are probably The Affairs of Dobie Gills and the beach party classic The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, with Boris Karlof.
The Adventures of Hajji Baba features John Derek, an actor I always found insufferable, and this might explain why I never watched this specific film. Opposite Derek – who portrays the titular Persian barber – is Elaine Stewart, in the role of bratty, spoiled princess Fawzia of Ispharan.

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Ghosts and Vampires (with the occasional Mummy)

Everybody’s having a party for Halloween, that is still twenty days away. And it’s fine, because we all love a spooky story, and it’s mighty fine.

I was thinking the other day that in the end I seem to like both kinds of horror – both ghost stories and vampire stories.
And what I mean is, doing a quick inventory of the horror books and the horror movies on my shelves, it looks like ghosts and vampires are the main form of spooks I like to read about and watch on the screen.

I was never big on slashers, zombies and the like.
I love a good mummy story or movie, and I still like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, that’s criminally under-represented in literature.
But the modern horrors leave me cold.

The reason, I believe, is that ghost stories (in print) and the Hammer vampire movies (on the screen) were the first form of horror stories I enjoyed.
I guess I should throw in the original run of Scooby Doo in there, too.

And so, while my friends cheer the new gorefests available on paper and on film, I think I will spend the days that precede Halloween reading old ghost stories, after diner, in my darkened room.
There’s a lot of them available out there – there’s some fine new collections and there’s the old classics on Project Gutenberg. And on Youtube we can find a lot of Ghost Stories for Christmas, and spooky Old Time Radio shows. It’s a good world.

Maybe I am not avant gard, but really, who cares?
In the next few days I’ll publish a reading, watching and listening list for anyone who’s interested.


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November after-dinner project: worldbuilding and roleplaying

Breaking a finger was not a good idea.
Right now the finger’s doing well (thanks for asking), the doctor likes what he sees in the X-ray shots, and I’ve made froends with the X-ray technician, so everything’s for the best.
BUT, writing is a drag.

Right now I have a full right hand and two fingers and a thumb on the left – but I must go carefully, because i don’t want to hit or press the broken finger. So, I’m writing slow – or at least slower than my standard.

This would not a problem were it not that I am to deliver a full RPG campaign by the end of December, a full fantasy novel by the end of January, and more or less between those two, a 20-pages piece of geographical/historical worldbuilding for another RPG.

Three very exciting projects – I’m having a blast, writing them… well, sort of a slow-mo blast.

And because I am doing all of these things… why not get something else on the cooker, just to make sure I won’t have a moment for myself?

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The lost army of Cambyses

There’s a number of lost armies in the ancient world – lost legions, lost expeditions. According to Herodotus, Cambyses II’s expedition to subjugate the priests of Ammon in what is today the Siwa Oasis took a very bad turn, fast. The 50.000 men sent by the Persian king to give a hard lesson to the priests marched for ten days in the desert known as the Great Sea of Sand, got completely lost, and when last heard of were considering cannibalism as a way to survive.

When he came in his march to Thebes, he parted about fifty thousand men from his army, and charged them to enslave the Ammonians and burn the oracle of Zeus; and he himself went on towards Ethiopia with the rest of his host. But before his army had accomplished the fifth part of their journey they had come to an end of all there was in the way of provision, and after the food was gone they ate the beasts of burden till there was none of these left also. Now had Cambyses, when he perceived this, changed his mind and led his army back again, he had been a wise man at least after his first fault; but as it was, he went ever forward, nothing recking. While his soldiers could get anything from the earth, they kept themselves alive by eating grass; but when they came to the sandy desert, certain of them did a terrible deed, taking by lot one man out of ten and eating him.

Herodotus, Book III, chapter 25

I have stumbled on the fifty thousand men that Cambyses lost in the Sahara while working on a project I am not at liberty to describe in detail – suffice it to say that it does have a vague connection with Robert E. Howard, and now will feature – among other things – undead Persian soldiers emerging in full Harryhausen mode from the Great Sea of Sand.

Destruction of Cambyses’ Army by a Sandstorm Source Internet

And really, nobody knows what happened to Cambyses’ men – OK, we know they died in the desert, and various causes, from sand storms to dehydration, have been proposed through the years. Indeed, roughly once every twenty years some archaeological expedition claims to have found the remains of the Persians somewhere. So far, all claims have been debunked.

Reading on the subject these last two days has been a nice opportunity to find out about desert survival (or lack thereof), about the Persian military structure, and about sandstorm physics.
Isn’t this writing thing a blast…?


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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.