East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Martin Landau, 1928-2017

To Italian kids of my generation, he will forever be Commander John Koenig of Moonbase Alpha, in the underrated Space 1999 tv series, but Martin Landau had also been one of the stalwarts of Mission: Impossible.
A fine character actor straight out of the actor’s studio, he had been offered the role of Spock in Star Trek, but turned down the role because he considered himself an emotional performer.
His striking looks and his beautifully controlled voice have graced many fine movies, such as Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Tucker: The Man and His Dream and the role of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, which brought him an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
He will be sorely missed.



Sir Roger Moore, 1927-2017

My favorite James Bond is dead.
I have just got the news about the death, at the age of 89, of Sir Roger Moore.
To me, it feels like losing a favorite uncle.
I grew up with Roger Moore on television.
The highly apocryphal but fun adaptation of Scott’s Ivanhoe.
The Saint, of course.
And then The Persuaders, that really was a cornerstone of my generation’s culture and attitude. So sue me, there were worse models.
And then the movies – a lot of adventure and war movies.
He even was Inspecteur Clouseau in a (alas, pretty lame) Pink Panther movie – and in that lame movie, his was certainly the best bit. Continue reading


Robert M. Pirsing: zen and motorbikes

pic0904-pirsig002About two hours ago I wrote “and now I’ll write a post for tomorrow”.
In those two hours, I received the news of the death of Robert M. Pirsing, the bestselling author of Zen and the art or motorcycle maintenance, originally published in 1974 after 121 publishers had rejected it.

And as I was writing a few lines about him on my Italian blog, I realized that Zen, that I read in the mid-80s when I started taking an interest in zen philosophy, is a book that touched me deeply, certainly one of the ten, or fifteen, or fifty books that are essential in my library, that made me what I am.
And also, it is a book about which I never think, a book I never remember when those lists of essential books get posted online. Probably because it got in deep, when I read it. It struck a deep chord. Continue reading


A way to keep the brain going: learning a foreign language (or five!)

The subject of languages came up in the comments section of my last post, when Floodmouse asked about my fluency in both English and Italian.
And I thought that for a blog that has the Silk Road as one of its themes, together with exotic adventure and history, then languages should be an interesting and pertinent topic. And languages have always been an interest of mine – and I learned a few, and I might have some dubious wisdom to share.

3592844F00000578-0-image-m-32_1466643151552And talking of dubious wisdom…
I can’t remember in which of the Flashman novels1, Flash Harry gives some good-natured suggestion to young men abroad in need of learning the local lingo in a haste.
Flashman’s suggestion boils down to shacking up with a local prostitute for the time needed, and do some conversation between… ehm, sessions.


Now I never tried that one, but I do have a few languages in my CV, and I am absolutely certain that knowing a different language (or three) is an essential life skill.
It helps us communicate with others, of course, and it provides us with the opportunity of seeing the world through other people’s eyes – by reading their books and newspapers, by listening to their songs and their radio news, by talking to them.
Practicing a foreign language is also an excellent method to keep the dust off our brain.
And it can be quite fun, if done with the proper attitude.
And indeed, the web provides a lot of opportunities for learning another language, and practicing it. Because practice is the important thing. Continue reading

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The World Poetry & Forests Day

Today is both the World Poetry Day and The World Forest Day, so it looks like the right time for doing something featuring both verses and forests.


But I’m not so hot on poetry – a few contemporaries, some classic Japanese and Chinese poems, and then of course Poe, John Donne and that other chap, that Shakespeare.
But I found something that in my opinion fits this blog, and my current mood, and is from a great great writer that is not so popular anymore, alas: George Meredith, who gave us The Shaving of Shagpat and, of course, Diana of the Crossways.


He was also a poet, and wrote this, which is called Forest History.
Enjoy, and happy Poetry & Forest day. Continue reading

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The Queen of the Desert

lady hester stanhope 3It’s impossible for me not to find some warmth for lady Hester Stanhope.
I was asked a few days back why I never wrote a post about her and basically, it’s because when I heard of her for the first time, she fell outside of my two main time-frames of interest – the Elizabethan era and the Victorian.
But frankly, who cares?

Tall, spirited, not beautiful, Hester Stanhope was the daughter of an eccentric inventor – the sort of guy that forces his daughter to raise turkeys because “it would improve her virtue” – who disowned her when she tried to take the defenses of her half-brother.
She was described by Lord Byron as “that dangerous thing, a female wit”.
You see where this is leading, right?
You see why I like her, too.

She took the Grand Tour in 1802 – she was 26. Women did not usually go on the Grand Tour at the time.
She went through unrequested love, family tragedy, loss and poverty.
he left England in 1810, on the suggestion of her doctor – getting away would do her good.
It did. Continue reading