East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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How much we changed

I have just finished reading the memoir of an Italian missionary priest that went from Hong Kong to Moscow in 1928, crossing China by train, river boat and various land transports (caravans, camels, etc) as he traced backward the itinerary originally travelled by Marco Polo.

Interesting read, all things considered, especially because father Capra, that’s the name of the priest, basically covers the same ground of the classic Fleming-Maillart Chinese Turkestan adventure, only with a completely different perspective. Where Fleming and Maillart are witty and crisp, turning a bemused eye on the ups and downs of their adventure, father Capra acts as an envoy not only of the Church but of the Italian Royal Geographical Society, and the Fascist Regime. His observation as not only cultural, but political and economic.

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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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Writing to make sense of the world – Bella Hardy in Yunnan

Here’s an interesting by-product of my continued exploration of what music can be found out there (and of my currently-on-hiatus Earphones Diaries).
Bella Hardy is an award winning British folk singer, and I do listen to folk music, so I was interested in checking out her recordings. I became even more interested when I discovered that Hardy’s 2017 album Eternal Spring was written and recorded in Yunnan Province, China, and included English lyrics set to traditional Chinese music.
Then I found a short documentary about Hardy’s Chinese adventure – it’s called From the Mountains to the City Lakes, it is extremely on topic here on Karavansara, and here it is, for your enjoyment.

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The Singing Bowl

I was in need of adventure, and thanks to one of those very mysterious book promotions Amazon Italy sometimes does (why? How? Based on what? It’s a mystery) I got myself a stack of books by the Long Riders Guild, livening up my growing collection of books about the Silk Road and environs. I am going through them in the evening, when I am too tired to write and the countryside is dark, cold and unforgiving.
If I can’t travel, my mind can.

Last night I finished Alistair Carr’s slim The Singing Bowl – Journey through Inner Asia (2006), the chronicle of the author’s visit to Mongolia and the Silk Road in the early 2000s.
It is a crisp, concise story of an adventure -a travel started because the author woke up one morning “with Mongolia in his head.” An apt way to describe the lure of far-off lands, the urge that animated travelers for centuries.

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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