Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Shanghai again

I just sent a short story, called Sapiens, to the editor of a science fiction magazine.
A brief, optimistic story set in future Shanghai.
I needed a city damaged by the ocean’s rise due to climate change, and my three choices were (in order) Alexandria, Osaka and Shanghai. Those three cities, after all, will be hit hard by the ocean’s rise – we talk about 17 million people in Shanghai only, in need for a new place to sleep.
In the end I went for the Paris of the East simply because after half an hour I was playing with flood maps of Osaka, I realized it would be a lot faster to use a city whose geography I know from previous research.

hero_shanghai_1600x600_03

This story has also been a great opportunity to divert and focus my anger at a piece that was published recently on the Esquire website, in which it was plainly told that, while it’s good and right to do all we can about the current climatic crisis, it will come to nothing in the end.
We are dead.
Human society is not capable of dealing with this sort of changes.
Just like Cyanobacteria did not make it two and a half billion years ago, for the same reason. We can’t deal with change.
A4HHo5R-640x537And I thought about our old ancestors, dealing with two glaciations with the sort of technology you can put together with two rocks.
I thought about our ancestors that came out of the African savanna and colonized up to the Arctic, and deep into jungles and deserts. I thought about the few of us that lived on the ocean’s shelf or walked on the Moon.
There is this massive, culture-wide guilt trip that’s being fed by certain media. A guilt trip that denies the best of our species, basically to preserve one of our artifacts: the economy.
So I went and wrote a story in one afternoon. Then I revised and I sent it away.
I hope the editor likes it.
It’s time to remember we are sapiens.


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Karavansara Free Library: Arnold Wright (and Hope & Glory)

The Internet Archive is a treasure trove. Right now my browser informs me it is undergoing maintenance, but when it’s up (it should be up briefly), you can listen to Old Radio shows, you can peruse pulp magazines, and you can find a number of excellent resources for your writing and your games.

For instance, let’s consider the catalog of books by Arnold Wright, former journalist of the Times of India and then London editor of the Yorkshire post, who made a nice career for himself as an author of reference books about the East. Continue reading


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Four Cities

It is all my friend Claire’s fault, of course.
She just posted about this interesting writing prompts website, and in particular she mentioned the prompt about describing your city as a person.

I did some attempt at it on Claire’s page, but then I thought I’d like to expand on that.
Leaving Castelnuovo Belbo out of the picture, if you please, because after my first attempt at Claire’s, I am sure it would be just an exercise in necrophilia.
And because it’s not my city, or town or village or hole in the ground.
I’m just living here, but I do not belong. Thank goodness!

As I mentioned in the past, I am a two-cities kind of guy.
A girl I knew once said it’s because I am a Gemini.
But I really have four cities, so maybe I’m a Gemini with Gemini ascendant, who knows. Or maybe it’s just superstitious rubbish, and I’m in fact one of those “city slickers” Joe Jackson mentioned a long time ago…

We think we’re pretty smart
Us city slickers get around
And when the going’s rough
We kill the pain and relocate
We’re never married
Never faithful not to any town

So here goes, my web-exclusive Four Cities, an exercise in impromptu urban fantasy.
Enjoy. Continue reading


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Cities of the Imagination

It went like this: first my friend Hell (yes, they really call him like that) did a blog post about the city he writes about, the city he was born in, Taranto. Then my friend Alex did a piece about the city he was born in, and about which he writes about, Milan.
And so I did a piece on the city where I was born, and about which I sometimes write about, Turin.
The piece that came out is weird and melancholy, and I even forgot to give it a title, and you can find it here translated through some web gizmo that I’m sure will make it even more surreal.

night-trains-turin

But the fact is, I have written a lot more about London, Paris and Shanghai that I ever did about Turin.
And so, why not do an alternate universe sort of piece, about the towns I write about in my fiction?
My cities of the imagination, if it does not sound too pretentious, and with all due respect for both Italo Calvino and Schuiten & Peeters. Continue reading


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The Shanghai Bund

Today I gave a good shake at The Mother of Lightning, the story I’m writing for Pro Se Press’ The New Adventure of Ned Land – hoping I’ll be able to finish it, and they’ll like it.
The deadline looms closer, it is time to check the details and nail the box shut for delivery.

The story is set in Shanghai in 1871, and that’s the tricky part, because this is exactly the moment in which the British and the French, aka The Most Favoured Nations, were redesigning the former fishermen’s village in their own image.
The Bund was there but it was not yet the wonder it would be in the 1920s, and a lot of the city was very different from the Shaghai we usually get from movies or novels – the Paris of the East.

1775939So I went through my collection of old maps and books,a nd finally fell back on Peter Hibbard’s The Bund, Shanghai: China Faces West, a wonderful historical and architectural guidebook to the waterfront of Shanghai.
The book, published by Odyssey, is beautifully illustrated, with both old and new photos.
Some complain that it is not up to date (it was published in 2007) and so it does not work – or so they say – as a proper guidebook when you are out in the field, but for an armchair traveler or a writer looking for details about the Shanghai Club, it is an absolute treasure trove.

I was a little surprised in finding out that some of the details I had put down on the fly while writing were actually correct. But I’ve spent so much time reading (and sometimes writing) about Old Shanghai, that apparently I know the ins and outs of it better than I remember the streets and bus stops of my hometown.