East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Other People’s Pulps: Marco Polo

Beyond The Black Stump-1I live at the borders of the empire.
Beyond the black stump, like that old Nevill Shute novel, but without the fiery redhead that graces the old Pan paperback.
In my 900-souls village there are people that were born after the war and never was farther than 80 kilometers from the main square of this place.
The web is slow and erratic, we see seven of the few dozens digital TV channels for which we pay a stiff yearly fee, the trains don’t stop in this town and cell-phone reception is better, probably, in the depth of the basin of the Congo.
This is really the back of beyond.

All this to say that I have good excuses for having missed Marco Polo, that looks exactly like the kind of show I might love, and I should cover on Karavansara…

No, really – I completely missed this.

But of course, no Netflix hereabouts – not on a 70K copper cable connection. Continue reading

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Tracking Marco Polo

51ki+wP7fXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_So it’s summer, and I’ll be spending a lot of my (little) free time reading Tim Severin.
In case you missed him, Severin is an award-winning explorer, traveler and writer who specialized in tracing the steps of famous historical and literary voyagers.

Severin is one of my all-time icons (together with the likes of Jacqes Cousteau, Folco Quilici, Thor Heyerdahl and more recently Barry Clifford), and all of his books are currently available in ebook format for very cheap price tags, so, why not.

And why not start with Tracking Marco Polo, the 1964 chronicle of Severin’s first expedition? Continue reading

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vagabonding - rolf pottsThe other book I suggested to my friend Lucy as she’s planning her trip is Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts.

The book is about what the cover calls “Long Term World Travel”, but Potts’ book is also an excellent book about traveling as opposed to vacationing.
The idea is – instead of saying “one day I will go to far away lands”, just get your ass in gear and go.
Which means planning – and the book has lots of great ideas about planning and designing a travel to some far-off place – but also leaving behind a certain amount of cultural baggage.

And the book is very much about recovering the old idea of travel as discovery – of other places, of other people, but also of ourselves.
And of a different approach to, well, everyday matters.

Which is cool. Continue reading



Sir Henry Yule was a Scottish gentleman and an army man who – among other things – translated in English Il Milione, Marco Polo’s travelogue and indispensable Silk Road narrative.
Arthur Coke Burnell (yes, his middle name was really Coke) was an expert in the Sanskrit language, but he was also handy with Tibetan, Arabic, Kawi, Javanese and Coptic.5746976-M A well-rounded scholar, so to speak.

These two fine gentlemen got together and in 1886 published a wonderful book which is called Hobson-Jobson or, to be more precise and wonderfully Victorian, Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive.
And no kidding.

So, yes, the Hobson-Jobson had nothing to do with any gentleman ever named Hobson, or, for that matter, Jobson.
Sure, a guy called William Crooke also did some later work on it, but no Jobsons, or Hobsons, at all.
What gives? Continue reading

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A Scotsman in the Great Kahn’s Court

Short and fun, tonight.
In 1938, actor Gary Cooper starred in a movie very loosely based on Marco Polo’s Il Milione.

The movie, The Adventures of Marco Polo, also featured Basil Rathbone as the weasely Ahmed, and a young Lana Turner in a small role.
It was an average adventure movie, with a great poster.


BUTContinue reading