East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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I feel like Jock Mahoney.
No, wait, let me explain.

Jock Mahoney was a former Marine that starred in two Western TV series and a few Western movies, and ended up playing Tarzan in the ’60s after auditioning for the role in the ’40s.

In particular, Mahoney starred in Tarzan goes to India, in which Burroughs’ character moves from his home turf in Africa to Asia,  in order to save the elephants endangered by the works for a new dam.

And no, it’s not that I’m about to start wearing a toupée.

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The end of the Empire

british_empire_board_game_boxMy course on the British Empire and its Controversies, held by the teachers and researchers of Exeter University and hosted by Futurelearn ends this week.

It’s been a great learning experience – fun, thought-provoking and all-around satisfying.
As part of the last installment, I have to write a 300-words-minimum essay.

“We’d like you to write a minimum of 300 words about what you think the legacy of the British Empire has been.”

And I thought… why not start and think about it and jot down some notes here? Continue reading

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Discovering colonial women

As I think I mentioned in the past I’m currently following the University of Exeter‘s MOOC on the British Empire and its Controversies, hosted by Futurelearn.

My reason for joining this course are basically three.
First, MOOCs are to me much more fun than TV, and a pleasant diversion from reading or writing (two leisure activities that are turning into a job right now).
Second, I always had an interest in history, and British history in particular, and British Imperial and Colonial history at that.
Third, getting a more in-depth and structured instruction about British colonialism will be helpful in my work on the GreyWorld project.


So, both practical and leisure reasons.
This increasing overlap of leisure and work looks like the name of the game for me, right now. Continue reading


Dravot & Peachy

mankingYesterday afternoon we were discussing favorite adventure movies, with some friends online, and John Huston‘s The Man Who Would be King came up.

I saw the movie in the Colosseo cinema, in Via Madama Cristina, in Turin, in 1976, with my mother and my grandmother.
I wonder if today they’d let a not-yet-ten-years-old kid in the cinema to watch a movie that features (according to the current advisory)

Sex and Nudity, Violence and Gore, Profanity, Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking, and Frightening/Intense Scenes.

Quite a package, and without mentioning British imperialism.
But those were different times, I guess1. Continue reading

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One hundred and fifty for Kipling

English: Kipling the British writer

English: Kipling the British writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been made aware – thanks to my friend’s Claire blog – of the fact that 2015 will be the Rudyard Kipling anniversary, one hundred and fifty years since his birth1.

Now Kipling is not so hot in Italy right now – I heard him recently labeled “an expression of British colonialism” and apparently the general belief hereabout is that by reading Kipling one will instantly feel the need to hunt for tigers, practice pig-sticking and kill the occasional Zulu warrior or Pathan at large. The lot, while riding on the back of an elephant2.

I’m probably weird myself, but the first stories that come to my mind thinking of Rudyard Kipling are Continue reading

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Bhowani Junction

As a long time Ava Gardner fan I was familiar with Bhowani Junction, the 1956 movie.

A big melodrama featuring Stewart Granger as a gallant British officer in India in the last days of the Raj, the movie is a thick mix of politics, derring-do, racial issues and steamy romance. Good stuff.


What I did not know was that the movie 1 was based on a very popular novel by John Masters, published in 1954 and part of a very loose cycle of stories set in India between 19th and 20th century. Continue reading

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Pulp History: nobody does it better

Me and my big mouth!
I promise a short post in a few hours.
Yes, you genius… about what?!

About the pulps, and adventure, and exotic locales, of course – because that’s what we deal in, here on Karavansara.

And when it comes to adventure, and the pulps, to me nothing beats reality.
It’s a tough statement from someone writing books with tentacles on the cover, but it’s one of my most rock-solid certainties: no matter how good is your pulp, the real world can trump that.
In fact, to be a good writer, you have to be as outrageous, unlikely, absurd and strange as only reality can be.
It takes practice.

running_the_show5One of the best places in which to practice is history – not so much the slam-bang, big numbers history of great men and nations, but the small-scale, local, oft-forgotten, “useless” sort of history.

Consider, if you will, a book like Running the Show, by Stephanie Williams, roughly 500 pages of paperback dealing with those faceless bureaucrats that managed the affairs of the British Empire.
Boring, right?
Not so.
In this globetrotting overview of the men (and women) that ran the Empire, we find no end of adventures, madness, tragic death, slapstick, espionage, two-fisted diplomacy and the natives are restless tonight.
Not faceless paper-pushers but often young men in search of their place in the world, the heroes (and villains) of this book are a good example of the way in which history can hit you with a curved ball when it comes to plausibility.

It’s good – and thanks goodness, there’s a lot of books dealing with this shadier, pulpier side of history.
I should know – I wrote one.