East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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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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.


The whole Origin


n the end it took me more than 18 months.
It was early may 2019 when I decided to splurge 30 bucks on the first volume of the Vertical edition of Mobile Suite Gundam: The Origin, the reboot/redesign of the original 1979 TV series Mobile Suite Gundam as a manga, by the original character designer Yoshikazu “Yas” Yasuhiko.
An object of beauty, a thick massive hardback, printed on high-quality paper and with color inserts and extra features.
The first of twelve volumes.
As I posted about it on the 17th of May 2019, I commented that despite the high cost, I’d probably end up getting the whole series.
I said I was ready to live on instant noodles for the next 18 months.

In fact it took me 27 months.
Buying the whole series meant spending something between 300 and 400 euro.
A lot of money, more than one rate of my mortgage.
So I set myself a challenge – I would buy the remaining 11 volumes using only the money I’d make via my Amazon affiliation links on my Italian language blog. After all, I usually review books, and any commission for sales via my affiliate links get paid as gift cards I can only spend on Amazon anyway.

And so I did it.

And it was not that bad.
I was able to get a new volume every two or three months, without altering my schedule on the blog.
Nice and smooth.
Then, in January this year, somebody filed a complaint to Facebook about my Italian blog, that supposedly spreads hatred and bad propaganda with its mix of book reviews, publishing updates and the occasional recipe.
As a result, my contents were blocked on Facebook, and the number of visits dropped.
I had just got volume 11 of Gundam: The Origin for Christmas, and all of a sudden, the very marginal income I made via my affiliate links had dried up.

It took me 8 months to make the 23 euro I needed for the last volume.
And incidentally it goes to show that my original estimate had been correct.
I had only failed to consider the possibility of my blog being blocked on Facebook.
But what the heck, I had made my decision, and I was not going to change it just because some prick had decided to sabotage my Italian blog.

Eight months.

The 12th and last volume of the series was delivered by the postman one hour ago.
I have a complete set.

Now I might go, re-read it, and review every single volume.
Let’s keep this as a project for the long cold winter nights.


Non Disclosure Agreement

I have just signed a contract for a big-ish writing job, something large and fun and different that, with a modicum of luck, will come out next year and will carry my name on the cover (or somewhere inside).
Something I cannot tell you about, for a publisher I cannot disclose, part of a project that shall remain unnamed.
Aren’t non disclosure agreements a wonder?

But I can tell you this is one of two big jobs I have lined up for the autumn (the second being still pending), a big fat 80.000 words writing adventure that I will have to plan carefully and execute with speed, elegance and panache.
Or something.

It will mean reading a lot of interesting books for research (a couple I have read already early in the summer), and then write, write, write.

So, the basic equipment is here and is ready

  • a BIC pen and a copybook
  • a stack of books
  • a folder filled with ebooks
  • Scrivener
  • a virtually infinite supply of tea

The vacations are over.
Time to get to work.

And also time to find a way to post updates about my work here, without telling you about what I am writing.
This is going to be fun.


In paradise with Jacques Tourneur

I found out about Adventures in Paradise via a song called We are the people our parents warned us about. And yes, that’s how I spent my vacations.

Hey hey, Gardner McKay, take us on the leaky Tiki with you
Clear skies bound for Shanghai, sailin’ on the ocean blue

And so I went and googled that name, and found out about a TV series that never aired in my country.

Adventures in Paradise was based on an idea by James A. Michener, whose first book of the same title had been the basis for the musical South Pacific. The series was very loosely based on the general concept of the book. A Korean War vet called Adam Troy – actor Gardner McKay, that got name-checked in the song I mentioned – living in the South Pacific, and working as a charter captain, the skipper of the two-master Tiki.
In each episode, he meets new people and faces a new adventure.
Michener’s popularity as a writer was enough to have the series presented as James A. Michener’s Adventures in Paradise.

The series was launched in 1959, and lasted until 1962, with three seasons and a total of 91 episodes.

So yes, adventure stories on the seas – that sounds pretty much like my cup of tea.
Wikipedia has a page for the series, with a list of the featured stars – the likes of Martin Landau, Barbara Steel, Anna May Wong, Vincent Price and Ann Francis – and directors. And this is where a name caught my attention: Jacques Tourneur.

Now, in case you missed it, Jacques Tourneur is the director of two essential movies, that is Cat People (1942), and Night of the Demon (1957, and based on a story by M.R.James), but he also directed a number of other classics. He’s a legend in the field.
And in 1962 he directed an episode of Adventures in Paradise called A Bride for the Captain.

I had to track it down.
And it was not hard to find, as a lot of episodes of the series have been uploaded in Youtube.

Here I had found a perfect “blogger thing” – why not watch all the available episodes, and do a post on each throughout the remainder of this year?
After all, Adventures in Paradise falls under the bailiwick of Karavansara, right?
We even have a sub-cathegory called “South Seas”!
And why not start with Tourneur’s contribution?

So I started watching, picking a few episodes at random, and was quite pleased with what I saw.
OK, it’s a very old TV series, but the premise is sound, the cast is good, and it’s the right thing for the hot summer evenings.

Why not start with the Tourneur episode straight away?
Well, because it came late in the series, and I wanted to get the general layout of the set-up before I got to the one episode I really wanted to see. In order to be able to make a comparison.
And now here we go.

The series in general, as I said, appears to be a more than decent adventure entertainment, with a few noir-ish touches, and an ample serving of exoticism that manages to be quite refreshing. Yes, it’s a bit National Geographic-y, but I grew up reading old National Geographics, so there.
Adam Troy is not a stereotypical tough guy. He’s smart and resourceful, and has a sense of humor.
He does pull all the ladies, but hey, that’s why he’s the hero, I guess.
The thing is entirely shot on sound stages or in the back lot in Hollywood, but that’s OK.
It’s a fun show.

Then we get to A Bride for the Captain and… uh.
The guest star is Ray Walston, of My Favorite Martian fame, and the general tone is comedy.
The premise: Frank Hoag (Walston) is an old friend of Captain Troy, and he’s back in the Pacific after his fourth divorce. And because he got four failed marriages behind him and his old friend Troy is still single, he decides as a form of revenge (?) to get him married.
To do so, he’s willing to spread rumors, falsify documents, and intrude into other people’s lives and try and manipulate others.

Quite a ton of laughs, what?

In fact there are a few pretty comic moments, courtesy of the supporting presence of veterans J. Pat O’Malley and Arthur Malet in the role of two shameless crooks that get sucked into the plot.
But the whole thing is tired, and decidedly unfunny for most of the time.
Maybe it’s the premise, that’s somewhat offensive, maybe it’s the writing.
Tourneur’s hand can still be detected in the way some scenes are framed and shot, but all in all, the episode is highly forgettable.
It came out in March 1962, and four weeks later, the show was over. So maybe the writing feels the fatigue of the long run.

But still, the premise of the series is good, and there are a lot of better episodes available … and we’ll talk about them in the next weeks.