East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


A photo from 1939

On the joys and the pains of doing research: I am currently putting the finishing touches (hopefully) on a book about Piedmontese travelers around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. And one of the perks of this job – that for reasons long to explain I am doing part-time and under less-than-optimum conditions, is that I get to go back to the library and the web, doing a final pass of research.

When the book turns its gaze to China, it’s of course like coming again back home – how many stories I have set in the Middle Kingdom? Ah!
But while I was trying to decide what to quote from Peter Fleming’s book about the Boxer Rebellion, I chanced on a photo that got me off on a tangent for about half an hour.

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The Aeronauts (2019)

Last night I discovered I still suffer from vertigo, and I did so in the most baffling and yet safe way, by watching a movie – The Aeronauts, directed by Tom Harper, is streaming on Amazon Prime, and it’s a good, entertaining, suspenseful movie, and it gave me vertigo.
Which I guess it’s a sign of how well-crafted the movie is.

Inspired by true events with a fair share of fiction thrown in, the movie takes place in 1862, and follows the balloon ascent of scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) in the first expedition to explore the atmosphere. As the balloon climbs, Glaisher and his pilot, fairground aeronaut Amelia (Felicity Jones) face a number of unplanned for challenges.

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One evening with the Snake Woman

I know this will sound outrageous, but in the long run I rather like best “the other” Hammer movies rather than the classic Dracula & Frankenstein flicks. Maybe it’s because the Dracula and Frankenstein movies I have seen so often that in the long run I know them by heart, while the less-well-known Hammer films still bring an element of surprise.

So, I’m going through the Hammer catalog, checking out the less well known flicks. After 1962’s Captain Clegg, two nights ago I spent ninety minutes with The Reptile, from 1966 (that in Italy was distributed as “La Morte Arriva Strisciando” … Death Comes Crawling).

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Kirk Douglas, 1916-2020

We lost Kirk Douglas early this morning, and already I have caught the blasé Facebook Philosophers going “why the shock, why the surprise, he was 103!”
To which I say, fuck you, you soulless wankers.

Kirk Douglas was a giant, a man who made film history, with a catalogue of movies and roles that is staggering for variety, quality and freshness.
Many remember his role in Spartacus, but I would have a hard time selecting the role in which I best remember him – Ulysses in the Italian adaptation of the Odyssey, probably, or as a scarred Viking chieftain in The Vikings, or his turn as Ned Land in Disney’s 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea.
But what of the noirs, like Out of the Past, and Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole?

A legend is gone, and we cannot act blasé about it.