Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Leave a comment

A lazy afternoon raiding Rome

I decided to take the day off. I slept late, I took note of two stories that were rejected (damn), I had a quick bite for lunch, I prepared a chocolate dessert for the evening (because we need all the antidepressants we can find), and settled down with a good book.

In this case, I went for Matthew Kneale’s Rome: A History in Seven Sackings, a fine historical essay about Rome – a city I never liked very much, truth to be told – and the periodic visitors that decided to take home more than a few souvenirs. From the Goths to Napoleon to the Nazis, the book uses stolen artwork and occasional wars to explore the development of a city, a community and a nation, through the ups and downs of three thousand years.

So far, I like the tone of the book, the unusual approach and the wit.
Will this provide new story ideas? Possibly.
But today I’m not thinking about that.
Work starts again tomorrow, and for the time being I just want to have fun – so let’s go and sack Rome. Again.


Leave a comment

My non-fiction book is done

One hour ago I put the finishing touches to the final revision of Piemontesi ai confini del mondo (The Piedmontese at the world’s end), a book about 19th and early 20th century travellers, adventurers, explorers and other oddballs from Turin and Piedmont, that is set to be published in time for Christmas by a small but high-quality local interest publisher.

We have treasure-hunters in Egypt, African colonial adventurers, spies and soldiers in the Far East, missionaries, botanists, political mavericks, aristocratic thrill-seekers, polar explorers, painters and photographers, mountain climbers and mariners, spread over five continents, from the very beginning of the 19th century to the World War years. The only common trait, they were born in the industrial towns and the wine country of Piedmont, in Western Italy, right here where I am sitting.
They were all bogianén – the nickname that is usually applied to us Piedmontese, and that means “don’t move”; but it does not mean we stand still, it only means we hold our ground.

Continue reading


2 Comments

Damn aristos!

Today I found a hole in Wikipedia. Nothing major, but enough to derail my research work for the better part of this morning. I had to dig out old books and cross-reference information to determine not only what the hole was about, but also what should have been in place of the nothing the hole represented.

I’ve been commissioned a short historical article about two women that lived in Turin in the 17th and 19th century respectively. They belonged to the same family, and lived in the same building, but were extremely different for personality and personal history. So I was looking for historical detail to define their actual relationship and to build some kind of bridge between the two. I needed something that could fit two paragraphs and join the two personal histories.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Occasional ghosts

One of my various sources of income as a writer is a series of history articles I am writing for an Italian magazine – pieces about characters and events from the history of Turin and of the Piedmont area. It’s a fun job that so far has helped pay the bills and the house insurance in particular, and it hinges on two of my long-standing interests, history and doing research.

Right now I have a nice list of future topics to explore and today I went into the tragic life of a young woman – a member of the Savoy upper class that lived a tragic existence in Turin and met a sad end in the 18th century. What is usually called “a footnote on the pages of history”, but of possible interest for the readers of the magazine, as it’s part of the local history and, indeed, of the local folklore.

Because as I did some research today about the character of the late Elena Matilde, her ghost appeared in the documents and chronicles – bringing my historical work into the field of the occult and the paranormal. This angle is not what my client is interested in, and yet I will add a few paragraphs on the subject. Because maybe my readers do not believe in ghosts, but they might be fascinated by how a tragic incident hit so hard the popular imagination, that a ghost story arose in the aftermath.