East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Down yet another rabbit-hole

Two nights ago I read in a single sitting a book that’s been on my to-read list for over 20 years, and that for various reasons I always left behind when going to the bookstore. It is called Il Cammello Battriano (The Bactrian Camel), and was written by Italian journalist Stefano Malatesta.
It is the chronicle of a fascination for the Silk Road, and of a trip along the road in the company of old books by and about explorers and adventurers and what not. I guess you can see why I liked it.

It is a very thin book (160 pages) which explains why it became a bestseller – and by this I do not mean to shortcharge mister Malatesta, who is a fine writer that spins an excellent yarn, but for a fact the Italian Top Ten book list used to host books under the 200-pages (names like Baricco or Tamaro come to mind).

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Back to playing Go

9781400098033I started playing Go because of a novel1.
I read Trevanian’s Shibumi when I was in high school, and I liked it a lot. I knew the man that had translated the novel, and we both were chess players (he was quite good, I sucked pretty bad).
I played a lot of chess in high school – I used to carry a small magnetic chessboard in my bag, and we’d play games during break with some of my schoolmates. We played fast, and it was good training, but I still sucked.

After reading Shibumi (that is an excellent spy story novel) I started looking for a handbook for the game of Go, but in those pre-internet days the going was tough.
The friendly gaming store where I used to buy my roleplaying games had Go boards for sale, at a crazy price, and no handbooks. Continue reading

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The Desert Road to Turkestan

DOL2Last night, I dug out the only Owen Lattimore book I own – 1928 The Desert Road to Turkestan.
Of all the adventurers on the Silk Road I discovered during my researches, Lattimore is probably the one I have more dear.
Maybe it’s because he was subject to much injustice, or because he was a keen observer and a charming storyteller.

Owen Lattimore was born in the USA in 1900. He was raised in China and educated in Switzerland and England. Unable to afford a university education, he got back in China, studied Chinese and was employed by a British commercial firm as jack of all trades and troubleshooter.
A load of wool blocked somewhere in the wild at the whim of a warlord? Send in Lattimore.
He actually liked it. 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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Great (Free) Read about the Silk Road (and more)

Cover Archäologie Weltweit 1-2015 enI’m having lots of fun with the latest issue of Archaeology Worldwide, the Magazine of the German Archaeological Institute.
The mag is available for free, in both German and English, in pdf format.

The current issue covers a topic that’s close to my studies as a paleontologist – the applications of Natural Sciences to Archaeology.
But the title story, “Metropolises and Empires”, is a great selection of articles to subjects of interest to Karavansara readers: from Alexander the Great to the Mongol Empire, starting with a highly interesting piece on the Sogdians and their commerces as a way station along the Silk Road.
Plus, a wonderful feature on lost or forgotten pieces of Roman art in old archive photographs.
Food for thought and germs of ideas for stories and gaming scenarios – but also a good way ti spend a few hours exploring the world from my chair.

The whole, with some gorgeous photographs included.

Große innere Mauer der Ming-Zeit nahe der chinesischen Hauptstadt Peking

Well worth a look!