East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Carpaccio between East and West

220px-Vittore_CarpaccioYesterday I mentioned Vittore Carpaccio, a Renaissance painter from Venice that will appear in my next Corsair story – independently of where it gets published.
Now, Carpaccio – a little-known artist, in fact – is interesting because he was a strange mix of influences. In particular, his paintings are a strange mix of Flemish and Oriental elements.

Indeed, good old Vittore was an artist whose style could only have developed and flourished in 15th/16th century Venice. Continue reading


Christmas Pudding in Kashgar, 1890

It’s been a while since we talked about the Silk Road, and I sort of miss my old obsession. So here’s a snippet from Frances Wood’s beautiful book, The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia.


This was almost a decade before Lady Macartney turned the Kashgar Residency into what Peter Fleming affectionately called Kashgar-le-Bains, but that did not mean you could not enjoy a Christmas dinner, evidently… and what’s Christmas without the Christmas Pudding?




Planning a Silk Road adventure with (and without) Google Maps

I chanced on one of those things that happen on Facebook, a guy asking his followers

If you cold go on a big adventure, what would it be?

Or something to that effect.
Now I don’t have to think a lot about it – granted, it’s a big world and there’s adventures everywhere, but my first, instinctive response is the usual

From Paris to Shanghai by car, following the Silk Road

If you’re here, you know I love the Silk Road, its history, its stories – going along the old road, driving leisurely in my car, would be a dream come true. Stop to look at the landscape, take a few photos, eat a bite…

Fiat_panda_1_v_sstAnd when I say car, I’d mean my old reliable Panda – a tin can on wheels if ever there was one, so basic and stripped down it did not even come with a radio tuner, but in my experience the best, most reliable, more easily maintained ride I ever had.

But alas, Google Maps at this point lets me down

Sorry, we could not calculate driving directions from “Paris, France” to “Shanghai, China”

But please!
Google can provide me with a flight from Charles Degaulle Airport to Shanghai, for as cheap as 80 euro, but its Maps/Earth tools won’t calculate my route by land.
OK, let’s do it the old way. Continue reading


A story of two books

I mentioned this story in the past, but never wrote about it in detail – here goes.

I’ve been reading about the Silk Road for ages.
I started as a kid, with a much-edited and simplified version of Marco Polo’s Il Milione, and then with the Arabian Nights and then all the rest.
Journey to the West was another instigating read.
Then, one day, during a raid in a Turin bookstore, I chanced upon Luce Boulnois’ La Via della Seta, the Italian translation of a book called Silk Road: Monks, Warriors & Merchants. The book had actually been written in French, and published in 2001, as a summation of the research the author had carried out since 1963, and has been translated in a number of languages (nine, according to Wikipedia).
Boulnois was probably one of the top researchers on the subject of the history and culture of Silk Road, and the book is a classic. She was fluent in both Russian and Chinese, and she had traveled extensively, when she worked as a translator, in places often forbidden to Western scholars, collecting a wealth of information that she used as the basis for her studies.
But let me tell you about that Italian edition. Continue reading