East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Future online activities

OK, ladies and gentlemen, I need your help.
Let’s say that, barring disasters (that are always possible) in about one month I will have access to a fast, stable internet connection.


Of course after years of exile beyond the Digital Divide I will have a huge celebration, but afterwards it will still be a matter of making ends meet.
And let’s say I’ll be trying to do something that might be

  1. fun to do
  2. interesting for the public
  3. capable of bringing in some money

For instance, in Italian, I will re-launch my courses on Taoism and Zen – only instead of using a blog platform I will be offering them as a mix of online articles and live sessions on Google Hangouts.

So I am wondering, what could I propose to my English-speaking audience?

  • Courses, lectures… about what?
  • KaravanCast live events (if possible)?
  • Pulp-based Italian classes for English speakers?
  • Online roleplaying gaming sessions?
  • A reading group?
  • Some kind of writing workshop?

I am open to suggestions – please use the comments.
And thank you.

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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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Monks, dirt and wine

In the 13th century, monks in Burgundy were in the habit of taking a spoonful of vineyard dirt and taste it to assess the quality of the vineyard.
Or so they tell me.
Me, I am a geologist, and I’ve seen colleagues taste oil to assess its maturation, so I’m not surprised at anything anyway.

Monk_tasting_wine_from_a_barrelThe interesting fact is this: in Medieval times, French monks had lots of land at their disposal, and in Burgundy they had set up vineyards as far as the eye could see. The climate was favorable, and the monks liked their wine anyway.
But a monk back then had a lot of spare time to observe nature, and so the good Benedictines and Cistercians started noticing trends. Vineyards that were more productive, vineyards in which a certain kind of vine thrived while another suffered, and so on.
They started calling these different parcels of land terroir – and started experimenting to define what made one parcel different from the next. Hence, the idea of sampling and tasting the dirt. Continue reading


India’s Illuminati: The Nine Unknown Men

Strange – or not so strange – connections.
I was going through the Talbot Mundy catalog and, leaving Yasmini behind for a moment, I checked out The Nine Unknown, one of Mundy’s most Theosophical novels, originally published in 1923 in Adventure magazine.


And I mentioned it with my brother, who is the serious Orientalist in our home, and thus I found out that the Nine Unknown Men are not something the Theosophists or Mundy cooked up, but are actually part of the real history of India. Continue reading


Mapping India

As I think I mentioned I’m working on the last parts of the Hope & Glory handbook, and I’m checking out my resources and trying to turn two boxes of loose sheets, post-it notes and scrawled ideas into 45.000 words of highly playable gaming material.

Now, geography is important – and as the first Hope & Glory book will focus on the Anglo-Indian Raj, a good solid overview of the Indian sub-continent might be appreciated by the players.
And here’s the rub.

Selection_570Because Gordon Johnson’s Cultural Atlas of India is a wonderful read, but when it comes to the breakdown of the Indian sub continent into smaller chunks, of course uses the current political division – and it’s not just a matter of calling Uttar Pradesh what once was the United Provinces.
There’s lots of information in here, but it’s information about today’s India.
And what I need is India in 1850.
The best book I was able to find is the John Murray 1859 edition of A Handbook of India: being an account of the Three Presidencies and of the Overland Route; intended as a guide for Travelers, Officers and Civilians that is as lightweight, as amusing and as easily accessible as the title suggests. Continue reading

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Getting re-acquainted with Yasmini

mundy-271x300I’m working on the final chapters of the Hope & Glory basic handbook, and at the same time I am preparing the new episode of the KaravanCast, and both activities, while taking very different times – no less that three hours of writing per day for the handbook, about ten minutes per day for the podcast – led me to an old acquaintance of mine: Talbot Mundy.

My creed is this: God is a gentleman.
And if God made the Universe, and made it well,
And since our duty is to be like God,
Therefore the things that common mortals do
Are better done; the thoughts the others think
Are better thought, by gentlemen.

Adventure's_Soul_of_a_RegimentMundy was one of the titans of imaginative and adventure fiction, a stalwart of Adventure magazine in its heyday and a distinctively anti-colonialist author.
And Hope & Glory being a universe in which British colonialism in India takes a very different and radical direction away from what history records, Mundy is certainly the most influential author for the project.

Mundy has been compared to Kipling, to Rider Haggard and sometimes to Lamb, even occasionally to Burroughs – but he remains very much his own man.

So I told myself, why not re-read a few Mundy books, and as I am at it, do a podcast on the subject? Continue reading

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Eye candy overload: League of Gods

During lunch break I spent some time watching League of Gods, a 2016 Hong Kong fantasy movie featuring Jet Li, the ubiquitous Tony Leung Ka-Fai and the absolutely gorgeous Fan Bingbing, among many others. I always liked Hong Kong movies, and it is nice to take a break from Western imagination once in a while.
The movie is – pretty loosely, I guess – based on a 16th century novel called Fangshen Yanyi (variously translated as Investiture of the Gods or The Creation of the Gods).

As you can see from the trailer, the movie is heavy on CGI, and has a strange mix of adult situations and somewhat of juvenile humor that can raise a few eyebrows among the audience.
I know my eyebrows did a little gymnastic while I was watching the film. Continue reading