Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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An Egyptian past

I was born and grew up in Turin.
I love Turin, it’s my city, I have a lifetime of memories rooted in the city. A lot of my friends and the little that remains of my close family reside in Turin.
I went to school there, I went to the movies, I dated— you get the picture.

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Now, according to a rather apocryphal story, Turin was founded by the Ancient Egyptians.
I kid you not… Continue reading

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The Garbo Blogathon: Queen Christina (1933)

She is certainly the most iconic movie star of all time, and this is the Greta Garbo Blogathon, hosted by IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.
As usual, I invite you to point your browsers to the blogathon page for a complete list of the participating blogs and a lot of great articles about Garbo and her movies.

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And once you’re done, come back here, because we are going the swashbuckler way again— well, sort of.
We’re gonna talk about the 1933 pre-Code classic, Queen Christina. Continue reading


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Hanging Out with Apep

Selection_913When in need of an evil Egyptian god for fiction, while Set certainly has a worse reputation, most authors go for Anubis. It makes sense: the Jackal God is popular, got a super-cool look, and I can find tons of visual references.
And then, hey, he’s the God of Death, right?
I can quote a lot of resources in that sense, from Roger Zelazny to Johnny Quest by way of Young Sherlock Holmes, Bram Stoker and Valerie Leon.
Fact is, it doesn’t work that way. Anubis, aka Anpu, aka Inpu, sometimes also known as Hermanubis, is the protector of the souls of the dead. He’s not the bad guy, he’s with the good guys! Let that sink in, and then tell me again why fanatics with daggers should serve him.
And really, apart from the philological elements, Anubis as the dark god of Egypt’s been done to death. Which is, I realize, somewhat ironic.

So, when outlining AMARNA, I looked up a few other Usual (Egyptian) Suspects.
And for my money, you want a bad guy in Egyptian myth? Go for Apophis. The Stargate SG1 guys got the snake right.
Continue reading


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Shanghai Under Fire

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The snippet above is the opening of Shanghai Under Fire: July 1937 – March 1938, a 120-pages book published by the Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury that provides a day-by-day breakdown of what came to be known as The Battle of Shanghai.

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You can find relatively cheap reprints on Amazon, or a digitized copy in the Internet Archive, which is the one I am using right now. Continue reading


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Pulp History: Savitri Devi

Writing historical fiction and historical fantasy can sometimes lead to the discovery of less-than-pleasant characters.
Yesterday I made the acquaintance of someone I only knew passingly: Savitri Devi – the woman who, among other things,  was convinced that Hitler was an avatar (or incarnation) of Vishnu. Which I’d file under crackpot were it not for the fact that the lady in question is a character worth of pulp fiction, and shows us an aspect of history some of us might have missed.

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Born of a Greek/Italian French father and an English mother, Savitri Devi started out as Maximiani Julia Portas in 1905. Graduated in chemistry and philosophy inLyon, she went on an archaeological expedition to Grece and developed an early interest in Aryan culture because of Schlieman’s discovery of a swastika in Anatolia.
Having renounced her French nationality to become a Greek national, she moved close to National Socialist political positions and travelled to India in search of the roots of the Aryan civilisation. She converted to Hinduism (if, most likely, her own version of Hinduism), and she was a spy for the Axis in India, keeping an eye on the British. Continue reading


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The Wicked Bible and other misprints

Ah, more pulp history!
I love those weird little implausible bits of historical fact that, should I slip them in a story would be criticised as “implausible”.
Consider, if you will, the work of Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, printers to the Crown in the year of our lord 1631, that were given the simple task of reprinting the King James bible.

Now everything would have been fine had they not somehow caused some animosity in one of their employees who, when the time came to print the Bible, removed a single word, from Exodus 24:14, so that the list of the Ten Commandments now included an invitation, no, more, an injunction to commit adultery:

Thou shalt commit adultery

WickedbibleIt was no joke, actually. Barker & Martin were brought to judgement in the Star Chamber, the English court of law which sat at the royal Palace of Westminster, established to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against people so powerful that ordinary courts would likely hesitate to convict them of their crimes.
Because there was a time in which publishers were powerful.
Barker & Lucas were fined for 300 pounds (something like 65.000 bucks of today), and lost their license as printers.

King Charles the first ordered all copies of the “Wicked Bible” to be seized and burned, and the Archbishop of Canterbury observed

I knew the time when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the best, but now the paper is nought, the composers boys, and the correctors unlearned.

And you won’t believe it, but I heard the same complaint no longer that one week ago, if applied to general fiction and not the Bible.
Which might sort of remind us of another famous Biblical misprint from the 17th century, the so-called “Printers Bible”, from 1612, in some copies of which Psalm 119:161 reads “Printers have persecuted me without a cause” rather than “Princes have persecuted me…”

Ten or, according to other sources, eleven copies of the Wicked Bible survived, and now fetch prices in the order of the 100.000 pounds or more.

And it turns out there is quite a list of Biblical typos, most of which are actually hilarious.
My favourite certainly is the “Affinity Bible”, from 1927, containings a table of family affinities that includes the line “A man may not marry his grandmother’s wife.”

Which is certainly a good thing, as it would have caused a lot of awkward social situations.