Tag Archives: 1920s

Other times, other Expresses II

We’re looking here at more brave, insane or intrepid individuals who have lovingly recorded their experience of running or playing Horror on the Orient Express.

Clicking any of the links below will reveal spoilers.

Bret Kramer’s blog post Memories of the Orient Express  on his blog, Tomes in Progress,  is indeed just that. He reminiscences about running the campaign through a nostalgic haze of 20-odd years, and casts a dispassionate eye over the foibles of players, Keepers and writers alike.  He also has a ton of other Keeper aids and hand-outs, and is one of the movers behind the long awaited Masks of Nyarlothoptep Companion.

Call of of Cthulhu, or Constantinople or Bust is an endearing diary version of one gang’s train journey, told in diary format by the different characters and complete with appropriately movie star photographs of the cast. I particularly like a photograph they unearthed for the Sofia  scenario. Thank you Simon, for your brave sacrifice. We fellow soldiers in the Trenches of Horror salute you. 

Simon's Eyeball [Cthulhu or Bust]

Simon’s Eyeball [Source: Constantinople or Bust]

Another 1920s version by Leonard Bottleman starts in the single calm narrative voice of Franklin Meyers, as a recap to the now scattered investigators.  However by the time the team reach Belgrade, different narrators, and a strong hint of panic, emerge. The story includes the maps and characters from the scenarios  as an aid to the reader, and as always I am in awe of how so many Keepers found so many ingenious ways to plug plot holes and keep things moving and entertaining.

Some Keepers have cleverly translated the campaign out of its 1920s roots.

Gaslight diary sets the story in 1890, and was played as a World of Darkness campaign and recorded by Derek Morton. The account is The Diary of Tweeney Sodd  and it’s a note perfect rattling easy Victorian pastiche, but its writers have used white writing on black background rendering the entire story into squint-o-vision. Copy and paste, readers, to enjoy such gems as: “I am not sure what was going on but Nigel had brought his shotgun with him.”

Yellow Dawn Session notes is a cyberpunk take on the Express by the seriously talented and deeply weird David J. Rodgers. It takes the Express to a sanity stretching Sofia. It also features a very classy image of the head of the Sedefkar Simulacrum.

Head of the Sedefkar Simulacrum Statue – image by sirylok

Head of the Sedefkar Simulacrum Statue – image by sirylok

So the train steams ever onward into new worlds of fantasy and imagination.

4 Comments

Filed under Guests, Writing

Period photos galore

Serbian police [Source: Horror on the Orient Express blog]

The photo above comes from Wolfram’s splendid Horror on the Orient Express blog. Bookmark it right now, and go there often. Wolfram is looking forwards to running the campaign, so he is amassing period photos and posters, and collecting them all together so that everyone can benefit. So, do take advantage of his good work. Many thanks to our friend Jeff Carey for sending this one our way. He found it while prepping the luxury playthrough he is presenting at GenCon for our exceptional backers.

The photo is timely for this week’s playtest. The investigators are in Vinkovci in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and the town is filled with Serbian police intent on finding the perpetrators of a recent outrage. Oscar Rios has outdone himself with this scenario. Listening to the criticism that the 1991 campaign is too linear, he has crafted a piece with so many different strands of investigation that the players have no shortage of things to do. They’re loving it.

Thanks Oscar. Thanks Jeff. Thanks Wolfram. We love our new international community of train friends!

Leave a comment

Filed under Library Use

Easter Horror on the Orient Express

Horror on the Orient Express takes place in January and February 1923, and Good Friday was on 30 March in the same year. Thus the train is eternally steaming towards Easter but never actually reaching it, which is a pity because the story is very much about rebirth and reincarnation, shedding, as it were, our human skin.  

To celebrate the season I did a real quick web search for Cthulhu and Easter memes. I surfaced pop-eyed and clutching a fistful of Cthulhu bunnies.

Cthulhu as Easter Bunny

The horror…the horror… [Source: The Lovecraftsman]

I’ll be sure to thank all you energetic hobbyists just as soon as my eyeballs stop bleeding.

When horror becomes kitsch we all know the end times are nigh, although I guess what with Cthulhu cakes and Cthulhu furries we collectively splintered through that barrier a long time ago. Stop it people! For God’s sake you know not what you do. Or perhaps you do… If we mock and trivialize horror it loses its insidious power. Only when the lights are on of course; in the dark and alone, are you really sure the glassy eyes of that plush Cthulhu doll aren’t following you round the room?

Easter is, naturally, all about pagan fertility symbols. Shub-Niggurath seems the obvious fertility goddess of the Lovecraftian canon, although she rarely is mentioned beyond the standard invocation: Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young! (Poor Shub-Niggurath, typical superannuated female deity; the male gods take all her real power and she’s left with a placating prayer to keep her happy.)  On that note, in Horror on the Orient Express, the Belgrade chapter is even now being re-written so that… I’m not allowed to say… but just look at the start of the paragraph and fill in some holes.

However, a post-Freudian argument can be made for Cthulhu being the true symbol of renewal and fertility, albeit birthing destruction and chaos instead of redemption. There are some interpretations of  Great Cthulhu as a giant, walking uterus. This may be a useful metaphor for those who wish to delve into Lovecraft’s psyche and explore the subconscious forces that drove him to write, but I don’t think it helps us understand why we continue to enjoy the stories. Why?

We enjoy them because they scare us and we like to be scared. They scare us because they posit malevolent creatures of deity-level power inhabiting an uncaring universe in whose chinks humankind survives only because we are so insignificant we have not yet been noticed. This is a terrifying and nihilistic vision that no other writer of horror has ever evoked so completely, and it is unique. Cthulhu may be born of the subconscious fears of one man’s id, but that fear was reshaped as a terrifying and primal force that can still reach out and touch us with the very tip of one cold slimy tentacle today, decades after the stories were first written.

How’s that for a Happy Easter?

Lovecraft's sketch of Cthulhu

Lovecraft’s sketch of Cthulhu. Note lack of bunny ears. [Source: Wikipedia]

1 Comment

Filed under Fun

Coffee of Cthulhu

The black brew

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl espresso

So, this is the black brew that will keep ye Editor going between now and submission date. I thank the kind relatives who donated this set-up to me a few months ago; without this I’d be a smouldering pile of Essential Saltes by now.

I am not alone in my slavery to the bean. Oscar Rios is another famously caffeinated author, who is using the dark beverage to power him through many a pre-dawn editing session as he finishes a killer trilogy of rewrites:  Sofia, Invictus and Vinkovci. I can’t wait to unleash them. The Invictus session last weekend was gruesome fun, and my 1920s players reach Vinkovci this Thursday for an unexpected stop and a whole lotta horror.

Coffee, Rios style. [Photo: Oscar Rios]

The prospect of finishing up on Horror on the Orient Express has not inspired Oscar to take a well-earned rest; instead, he’ll be making many a pot of coffee to keep him going as he launches Golden Goblin Press, his own publishing imprint. His first release will be Island of Ignorance, the Third Cthulhu Companion.

The Cthulhu Companion [Chaosium, 1983]

I have such strong and happy memories from the 1980s, buying The Cthulhu Companion (wow, I thought, that guy is never getting out of that well…) and Fragments of Fear (zombies! cool…)

Fragments of Fear [Chaosium, 1985]

I can still clearly picture the layout of the store where I bought them (the Games Shop in Royal Arcade, Melbourne). The store is still there 30 years later, still cozy, but it’s all Catan and Scrabble and jigsaws these days (not that I am complaining; my Deluxe Scrabble from there was a great surprise Christmas present, even though I have yet to drop SQUAMOUS on a Triple Word score).

Looking over the contents again now, I see that The Cthulhu Companion features a Mythos creature who gets a starring role in one of the chapters of Horror on the Orient Express, so it was inspirational in more ways than one.

Island of Ignorance [Golden Goblin Press, forthcoming]

I look forwards to that same thrill when I get my copy of the Island of Ignorance, the Third Cthulhu Companion later this year, and see what Oscar and his coven have cooked up. I’d love to be part of it, but I have a train to catch.

To keep in touch with Oscar’s Cthulhu happenings, follow his excellent blog Minion of Cthulhu.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Revisiting Venice II – The Scenario

Beware, here be spoilers…

Re-visiting the Venice scenario made me think about the reasons why I structured it as I had. It has three strands, Love and Death, and then the Mystery, the results of the players’ investigations. On re-reading the scenario I was shocked by two things. First, my unthinking stereotyping of Italians as cheerful incompetents, for which I’d like to unreservedly apologize to the entire nation.  Second, the Venice of my imagination provided excellent background and color but it had a complete lack of actual plot – just keep knocking on those doors, players, eventually you’ll find the right house. What worked well was that the incidents of Love and Death ticked over regardless. There was always something going on in the background which the investigators could choose to investigate.

I was baffled by why I had divorced the Love sub-plot from the actual plot, until I remembered why I’d written it in the first place. In Lausanne and Milan, the players meet characters they cannot help. We wanted to restore their belief that they could save someone. This, after all, is the reason they first boarded the Orient Express. Thus, Love came in. It certainly worked a treat in the play-test. When one of the play-testers suggested not helping the lovers he was thoroughly rounded on; ‘Good God man, we’re British’ was firmly remarked.

It was clear that in my re-write I had to leave Love and Death alone and focus on building an actual plot, as well as allowing the non-player characters some more actual, well, character. Fortunately twenty additional years of writing experience have given me a few more clues on how to structure a narrative.  I’ve now moved the thing the players are trying to find around, although never fear, Dear Readers, it still ends up in the same place. I have created a trail of clues to follow, and made one of the NPCs a disabled war veteran (guess what Keepers, he has an artificial leg). In Venice the players also find a clue that sends them to Constantinople at the time of the Fourth Crusade. I feel that Venice now has more than enough plot to go on with.

It is also clear to my older self the deadly nature of the conflict between the Communists and Fascists, which my younger self had unthinkingly played for laughs. One of our play-testers is a historian, and he unearthed the following newspaper clipping. These events precede our scenario by only a few months. There are deep divisions in Venice, in all of Italy, that will only get worse.

Christmas Day fight December 1922

Christmas Day fight December 1922 [Source: Kalgoorlie Miner 29 Dec 1922, retrieved from The National Library of Australia, trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/93236637]

3 Comments

Filed under Spoilers, Writing

The Priory, and what lurked within…

Beware, here be spoilers….

The train from Paris has just arrived

The train from Paris has just arrived

You’ve been warned…

You could just have a quick look-around and leave

You could just have a quick look-around and leave

Don’t say you haven’t…

Or take a horse-drawn cart back to Paris

Or take a horse-drawn cart back to Paris

In 1987, as my wife Veronique and I were expecting a baby-girl, Quitterie, Mark Morrison and Penelope Love came to visit us in our small house, West of Paris. Call of Cthulhu aficionados, we had never met before and would not meet again for another twenty-four years, but it was in those few days spent together that the seeds of Horror on The Orient Express were sown.

The history of that campaign is long, dark, and twisted, as it should be, and interested parties who do not care much for their Sanity can roll Library Use at this address on the yog-sothoth.com forum, where I have, over the years, posted, not always alas in chronological order, all the correspondence I have managed to find about the campaign.

In a few words, Mark pitched the idea of an European sourcebook to Lynn Willis at Chaosium, and from this, in increments, the campaign was born. This was long before the Internet, and so ideas and scenarios and corrections had to be faxed or mailed over long distances. In France, my main mission was to contact the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits and obtain permission to make fictional use of the famous train-line.

-Bonjour, this is Docteur Lehmann calling from Poissy. A few fellow-writers and I would like permission to use the name and logo of the Compagnie des Wagons Lits and the Orient-Express for a game of investigations…

-Ah bon?

-Think of it as a new version of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient-Express”

-Ah, I see. That seems fine. As long as there is no train-wreck in the story. That would reflect badly on the pristine history of the line.

-Oh, no, don’t worry. There are spontaneous combustions, beheadings, losses of life and limb, people driven mad salivating in the dark recesses of Charenton Asylum where they fall prey to the perverse nocturnal habits of members of the staff, but, on my doctor’s honor, NO TRAIN WRECK

-Guess that’s OK, then. Good day, Docteur.

As it happens, one of my wife’s ancestors had crafted wood-work in the fine furniture on the Orient Express…The train took on many other writers, and in the end I was left standing on the platform in Paris “having been delayed at Charenton Asylum” as Mark put it  😉

My second novel was being filmed as the deadline for my scenario approached, and there was no way I could deliver on time. So mixing my ideas and script with great input from Richard Watts, Geoff Gillan and Nick Hagger, the Paris and Poissy chapters were crafted, and when I received the finished product, I had the surprise of discovering that in a very touching and slightly unnerving gesture, Mark and his brethren from down under had incorporated our small family into the arc of the story. ( Previewing this chapter, Mark tells me something I never knew: it was Nick Hagger, whom I’d never met but who had inherited my notes and knew why I was unable to write the story, who used Mark’s memories of us to include the Lorien family into the Poissy chapter)

Madame Veronique Lorien

Madame Veronique Lorien

Years later, when the Kickstarter for “HOTOE reloaded” succeeded in such amazing fashion, I told Mark I was ready to go back over those chapters in France and enhance them a little if I could. Part of the chase for a mysterious artefact brings investigators to Paris and then onto Poissy, a smallish historical city 30 kms West of the capital, in which I have worked as a general practitioner for thirty years.

Just before the French Revolution, a great evil lurked in the town

Just before the French Revolution, a great evil lurked in the town

Mark and Richard and I had crafted a tale for the loss of this artifact around the time of the French Revolution, but I had glossed over details at the time.

What evil lurks in the heart of Poissy? The gargoyle knows

What evil lurks in the heart of Poissy? The gargoyle knows

Now I was going back over terrain that was so familiar I did not usually give it a second glance, and things began to get strange. Very strange. I searched for old photographs, old postcards, to get an accurate picture of the town around 1923 at the time of the campaign. An elderly woman patient who had lived all her life in Poissy lent me her personal collection of photos, reminisced, and a whole sector of town, the forgotten and hidden “Enclos de l’Abbaye”, a recluse priory in the center of town next to a great wooded park, came to life for me. As in any good CoC campaign, I then contacted the Cercle d’Etudes Historiques et Archéologiques de Poissy, where kindly protectors of the past let me peruse old documents, old maps, some of which I scanned for the new edition.

I had passed the Enclos de l'Abbaye for years without going through that porch

I had passed the Enclos de l’Abbaye for years without going through that porch

I work on what was in 1923 the Place de la Gare, and as train-stations, arrivals, etc… are a big part of such a campaign, I looked specifically for photographs of the time, and paid close attention to the remaining buildings around, with their beautiful old stone-masonry. The day after that, a block of masonry as big as a small suitcase cracked and fell on the pavement just in front of my office.

Place de la Gare, circa 1923

Place de la Gare, circa 1923

Poissy is the birthplace of King Louis IX of France, Saint-Louis as he is better known, ( and this being Europe, my wife’s family can trace their ancestry up to the King…) In the church where we married I found his baptismal font, as well as strange and gruesome hints about his death during a Crusade and the way his body was disposed off, gruesome hints with obvious links to the central theme of the campaign.

The Church: Collégiale Notre Dame de Poissy

The Church: Collégiale Notre Dame de Poissy

And looking around the enclosure of the Abbaye, I walked up cobbled paths between old houses, relics, stone fragments, searching for the site of the Historical Society, and trying to pick a suitable address for the house of Dr Lorien and his wife. I knew from the original campaign what the house should look like from the outside, and one house picked my fancy, in the old photographs from the turn of the century as well as in real-life, as it hadn’t changed much.

The house I chose for Docteur Lorien and his family

The house I chose for Docteur Lorien and his family

Looking through the documents in the vaults of the Historical Society, I found photographs of passageways and hidden doors deep under the basements of the houses, and learned that most of the inhabitants of the Abbaye had been Protestants and must have used these passages from house to house as safeguards in case religious mistrust flared again.

The passage

The passage

Some of these passages looked uncannily like those Nick had invented all those years ago…

Forgotten for centuries...

Forgotten for centuries…

I wanted to tell my friends of this weird example of serendipity, when, turning a page, I found a photograph of what I had chosen as the Lorien’s house. And there, scrawled in the left hand corner or the photograph, were clearly legible these few words: “La maison du docteur”. “The doctor’s house”. I fled, screaming, the way one does when confronted with the malevolence of a twisted, uncaring universe.

Unnamed general practitioner of erstwhile good repute- Charenton Asylum-1923

Unnamed general practitioner of erstwhile good repute- Charenton Asylum-1923

Christian Lehmann

PS: Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.

Quitterie Lorien, a playful child, quickly forgot that night, and the "thing in the window"

Quitterie Lorien, a playful child, quickly forgot that night, and the “thing in the window”

PPS: The photograph of Veronique Lorien is an actual photograph of my wife’s  grand-mother circa 1923. The photograph of the playful child grimacing in the garden is also a family heirloom, an Instagram photograph of the 1920’s, I guess. The child’s father must have made the photo and used it as a postcard sent to friends.

3 Comments

Filed under Guests

Secrets of play testing

Dark Ages play test

Behind the medieval Keeper’s Screen for the Cthulhu Dark Ages play test, set in Constantinople 1204

Last night we played “The Dark Crusader” by Geoff Gillan, the brand new Cthulhu Dark Ages scenario for Horror on the Orient Express. It was an interesting group, as only one of our regular 1920s group play testers could make it. Of the others, one knew of the 1991 campaign from years ago, one had read it recently, one knew nothing at all, and one was Penny… who we can say knows more than a bit (although nothing about “The Dark Crusader”).

It worked really well; Geoff has outdone himself. The clues and drama moved the players seamlessly from one location to the next, the backdrop of the Fourth Crusade was rife with tragedy and horror, and there were some scenes that were creeping me out, and I was the one running it. The players praised it at the end, particularly the regular play tester, who thought it blended really well with the larger story. I timed the play test so that it ran the Saturday after the 1920s group found the illuminated 13th century manuscript in the Wednesday game.

The historical scenarios are not dreams nor past lives nor out of body experiences; they are in effect playable player handouts, with pre-generated characters. In this case the characters were mostly created by Geoff’s original play testers (including Cthulhu Reborn meister Dean), and the personalities were great. I was not so convinced by their skill chances, so I’ll be increasing some of those so that each player can shine when his or her character’s specialty is called upon.

I have not run Cthulhu Dark Ages before, and to be frank (actually, the players were Franks – oh stop, I’m killing me – Frankish knights, geddit? – I’ll be here all week, try the chicken) I found that combat ran a little slow. Armour is good at soaking medieval amounts of damage (who knew?) so even the simplest battle encounter slowed the game down for me. In the edits, I’ll add suggestions for Keepers as to what the key is for winning each fight, so that players do not need to kill everything in all scenes. I’ve co-opted this from the “out” suggested for Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition fights, from work by Michael Shea and others. (And yes, that is indeed a D&D screen in the photo above; it seemed like the right choice for an adventure set during a medieval siege. It’s the most ridiculous RPG accessory I own, but in my defence I got it on special from a store which was closing down where I had $100 credit to burn. Don’t judge me.)

Backing up to the point above: our Orient Express play test games are not proper RPG sessions. We simply don’t have time, as we need to knock over a city a night. Hence my impatience with combat length. This ticking clock applies to all scenes. I’ve asked the players to focus their roleplaying on the plot at hand, and not to introduce sub-plots and dynamics from their own characters. I also don’t have time for the usual to and fro around the table where the players decide what to do; you know how it goes, an issue comes up with a few different approaches, no-one agrees, the discussion starts going around and around with plenty of repetition but no resolution in what Danny Bilson once called “a cycle of failure”. And there’s me, watching the clock, thinking If they just decided on something we could all see what happens, instead of sitting here deciding what won’t.

Hence the decision totem.

This is a pretty cool artifact; in 1989 I wrote a tournament module called Persons Unknown set in 1980s Scotland about a group of amnesiacs in an asylum. Marion Anderson had a tremendously cool idea for our trophies: she made an Elder Sign brand, and burned the image into our wooden book trophies. There was a spare left over, and Marion was kind enough to give it to me. It’s been a keepsake all these years, and now it’s a prop.

It sits on the table in front of one player. So, when the players are in a cycle of failure, I quickly summarise the options they have proposed, look at the person with the decision totem and say “Choose”. He chooses, then moves the totem widdershins around the table to the next player, and the game moves on.

Call of Cthulhu trophy, made by Marion Anderson for Arcanacon VII (Melbourne, 1989)

Call of Cthulhu trophy with Elder Sign brand, made by Marion Anderson for Arcanacon VII (Melbourne, 1989)

Our play testers are tainted, in any event. Not morally, but they know they are play testing Horror on the Orient Express, so they are the most diligent, focused, fantastic set of players you could ask for; they take their job seriously, so they are very attentive to all clues. I wish you the same luck with whoever you run the campaign for (Rule One: No smartphones in the 1920s), but suggest you contract with them before you start. If everyone pays attention, stays in character and takes the game seriously, it is better by a margin of strange aeons.

It’s a heady brew: the combination of such great players, such detailed material, the worldwide support of gamer investors and the thrill of an engaging and deep creative project. This is turning out to be one of the best campaigns I’ve ever run. I hope it is the same for you.

Oh, and a postscript: While my players in Melbourne Australia were in Constantinople 1204, at that exact hour on the other side of the planet, Oscar Rios’s players in New York were in Vinkovci 1923. Two Keepers, two groups, two cities, two Cthulhu eras, but the same campaign. That felt good.

vinkovci009

Vinkovci train station. [Source: StareSlike.com]

1 Comment

Filed under Playtesting

Library Use made easy

While Mark was running the Milan playtest the players got really interested in a mural in La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. The Egyptian style mural was one of four in the roof of the Galleria, visible from their hotel room in the Hotel de la Ville (situated in the Galleria itself).

The mural’s Egyptian theme intrigued the players who had tickets to see Aida at La Scala. They spent some time trying to get a closer view. However there’s no closer view to be got without climbing the sheer stone façade of the Galleria. There’s a black and white illustration in the 1991 boxed set but showing a colour photograph to the players gives the image that much more impact.

Mark found some wonderful photos on Absolutely Faaabulous, a fashionista blog (of course; this is Milan after all):

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Egyptian mural above the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (Source: Absolutely Faaabulous blog)

Close up of the mural. (Source: Absolutely Faaabulous blog)

Close up of the mural (Source: Absolutely Faaabulous blog)

The same blog also passed on a delightful rumour about the mysterious properties of a mosaic of a bull in the floor of the Galleria. If you spin three times on one foot on the bull’s testicles, your wish will come true. This is not quite as romantic as singing along with the singer on the stage of La Scala but has certainly had a deleterious effect on the bull’s testicles.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele handily connects La Scala Opera House to the Duomo Cathedral, these three beautiful buildings forming the heart of Milan.

On another Google Images related note, why describe the luxurious hotel to your investigators when you can show them a picture? In writing the Travelers’ Guide I am listing some truly opulent hotels in all of the cities (with some mid-price options for the less spend-thrift investigators). Some of these hotels are still in operation and their websites often provide historical images. Here’s one for the Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne (Source: hotel official website):

La-tradition-en-mouvement

When you’re trying to describe a luxury hotel a picture certainly works wonders. The players invariably gasp and head for the cheaper option.

This has all been a lot easier than it was the first time around in 1991. It is a great age to be running Cthulhu scenarios, where you can have arresting images delivered to the tabletop via tablet or laptop.

Leave a comment

Filed under Library Use, Playtesting

The Dream Cities of Istanbul and Providence

A seat is now empty, but the train moves on. Let us follow Randolph Carter, and journey in search of cities lost in time and dreams.

As part of my research for the Traveler’s Companion, I’m reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City. This isn’t the place to talk about Pamuk’s stature as a writer. It is Pamuk’s Istanbul that I am concerned with here, the city of his childhood in the 1950 and 60s, and how this can be related back to a Lovecraftian experience of Istanbul in the 1920s.

Pamuk evokes a city of winter, of darkness, of shadow, of twilight, of gloom and poverty. He lingers lovingly over every detail of the slow ruin of the grand old mansions lining the Bosporus. Pamuk’s city is permeated with an aching consciousness of loss, huzun,  a Turkish word he re-interprets as a communal melancholy suffered by Istanbul residents, arising from a deep awareness of their city’s fall from greatness.

Lovecraft’s twilight city, his dream Providence, is a fleeting glimpse filled with ‘the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things, and the maddening need to place again what had once had an awesome and momentous place.’

These are two very different writers confronting the same vision, and both writers assert the primacy of their dream city over the reality, to the point where reality shadows the dream. At the time of writing Istanbul, Pamuk had never left the city, and indeed had returned to live in the same apartment building that he lived in as a child. He felt the city fed his imagination and he would lose too much if he left. Lovecraft stayed in Providence and on College Hill, apart from a short unhappy stint in New York. He could not abandon the city that stood at the center of his craft. His tombstone reads, simply, ‘I am Providence.’

Pamuk also collected newspaper columnist jottings, some of which he shares in a chapter of Istanbul. Here is an admonition from our period, 1929, a final word on lost places and lost times:

“Like all the clocks that adorn our city’s public spaces, the two great clocks on either side of the bridge at Karaköy don’t tell the time so much as guess it; by suggesting that a ferry still tied to the pier has long since departed, and at other times suggesting that a long-departed ferry is still tied to the pier; they torture the residents of Istanbul with hope.”

H.P. Lovecraft's grave, Providence

H.P. Lovecraft’s grave with the dedication “I am Providence”. Photo taken on HPL’s 100th birthday; note the brain-shaped fungus, lovingly laid. (Providence, 1990)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Omelette aux Truffes

I am currently working on the Traveler’s Companion, a booklet for players. 1920s tourist information for  the Balkans has proven difficult to come by in English, especially with my 25% Library Use. The  area was beyond the itinerary of all but the most  ambitious Western European travelers and Baedekers shed no light for me. I trawled through some earlier material indexed at archive.org and found Through Savage Europe, the adventures of Harry De Windt, the intrepid correspondent for the Westminster Gazette and his trusty “bioscope artist”, the redoubtable Mr Mackenzie. Although published in 1907, well before our 1920s setting, this little volume gave me a lovely vignette of the Orient Express, as our weary and paprika-stained travelers climb aboard just outside of Sofia.  It evokes the train as a rolling Shangri-La and perfectly captures the wonder contemporary travelers felt towards the Express.

5587668-L  throughsavageeur00dewiiala_0010

4 Comments

Filed under Library Use