East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Accountants, Soldiers and Nurses

Accountants are dangerous. And no, I am not going to entertain you with my adventures in mortgage and banking. The fact is, while doing a bit of research both for The Ministry of Lightning and for a short article I am about to write, I chanced on something that will not go in the article – being only tangentially connected with the topic – and will certainly get into the novel. And it’s all about accountants.
One accountant in particular.
His name was Andrea Compatangelo, and he was an Italian, from Benevento.

Let’s bactrack a little – during the Great War, a number of Italians fought in the Austro-Hungarian forces, simply because the territories from which they came, while being ethnically Italy, were part of the Hapsburg Empire. Many of these men were taken prisoner on the Eastern Front, and deported to Russia.

After the war, an Italian military mission took care of extracting the “talianski” from the Russian working camps, and bring them back to Italy. This is the subject of the article I am writing.
But there were others. And here we go down a wholly different rabbit hole. This is a strange story…

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Exploring the Axial Age

Jasper’s Axial Age – now that’s something that always fascinated me, ever since I stumbled on the idea while I was setting up my first course in Taoist philosophy.
Karl T. Jaspers was a German psychiatrist, philosopher and thinker that noticed how, between the 8th and the 3rd century BCE, a lot of new ways of thinking emerged all over the world.

Confucius and Lao-Tse were living in China, all the schools of Chinese philosophy came into being, including those of Mo Ti, Chuang Tse, Lieh Tzu and a host of others; India produced the Upanishads and Buddha and, like China, ran the whole gamut of philosophical possibilities down to materialism, scepticism and nihilism; in Iran Zarathustra taught a challenging view of the world as a struggle between good and evil; in Palestine the prophets made their appearance from Elijah by way of Isaiah and Jeremiah to Deutero-Isaiah; Greece witnessed the appearance of Homer, of the philosophers – Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato, – of the tragedians, of Thucydides and Archimedes. Everything implied by these names developed during these few centuries almost simultaneously in China, India and the West.
(Karl Jaspers, Origin and Goal of History, p. 2)

Now, of course, “simultaneously” and a span of five/six centuries are two notions somewhat at odds, and indeed Jasper’s theory is considered mostly bogus – an exaggeration at best, an abomination at worst. Continue reading


Clio’s Days Off

An interesting question was raised a few days back from my friend Giulia, that manages the Liberi di Scrivere lit blog (only in Italian, sorry).
The question was, more or less

how much leeway do we have when writing historical fiction?

Meaning, how much can we change, distort, manipulate or basically rewrite historical fact to fit our narrative?

Now, I’m sure my friend Claire covered this subject somewhere on her Scribblings blog (and if she did not, she should), and Giulia’s question received lots of answers, some I liked, some I liked a lot less.
And right now I’d like to expand on my answer, that did go more or less like this: Continue reading


One hundred years

Yesterday I saw this on the Facebook page of musician Richard Thompson.


Very moving tribute on the anniversary of The Battle Of The Somme, enacted all over Britain.Participants dressed in WW1 uniforms, standing or sitting quietly. If spoken to, they hand you a card that says their, name, rank, and when they were killed. Photo is from King Cross Station today.

I shared it, because I too found the idea very moving, and it reminded me of a song.
But we’ll talk later of the song. Continue reading

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The Tiger House Party

hahnA different kind of medium, today – plain old written word, the oldest and most widespread form of information transfer.

As I am putting the finishing touches to “The Snowball Caper”, the first novelette in my new Hope & Glory series, I’ve had the sheer luck of chancing upon the delightful The Tiger House Party: the Last Days of the Maharajas, by the delectable Emily Hahn.
Once again, a demonstration that there’s nothing more entertaining than doing research. Continue reading


Three on the Silk Road

51DHEESMHZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_OK, so I decided to complicate my life some more.
And this time I’m complicating my life for you, dear Karavansara readers.
I hope you are moved by  this.

As I mentioned, one of the “minor” (but not minor at all) gifts I got for Christmas is Stuart StevensNight Train to Turkestan.
That is an attempt at retracing the road followed by Peter Fleming and Ella Maillart in their famous China-to-India (by way of Afghanistan) journey, in 1935.

Now, the interesting bit is – both Fleming and Maillart wrote about their experiences on the road.

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