History

Baba Ali Research (Book Secrets): Open Sesame

Sesame PlantNotes from my time writing “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn” and fun tidbits.

This is definitely a “Book Secret.”  :)  Most people know “Open Sesame” from their own experiences or childhood familiarity with the 1001 Nights (or Arabian Nights) tale Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. They are the magic words to open the treasure cave.  What is interesting is that those words, as a magical means to open the cave, first appeared in Antoine Galland’s 1700s translation of the 1001 Nights. They didn’t exist in any earlier oral or written variants of the tale.

 

Baba Ali Research (Book Secrets): Translations of 1001 Nights

Notes from my time writing “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn” and fun tidbits.

Okay, I saved this in my “Notes” while doing research last year but I cannot find the original source. This is more than a little upsetting considering how awesome the short snippet I saved is. In January, I wrote a “Book Secrets” about which 1001 Nights to read and highlighted that the translations had all come from one of two sources.  What I didn’t get in to was the difference between the translations.

The text below shows a few lines taken from the different translations of 1001 Nights.  It is eye-opening to see the difference, not just in text, but in the context it gives.  I knew the Burton version was misogynistic, racist, and colonialist but I never realized exactly how horrible it was prior to seeing it laid out for me line by damning line.

Arabic original (Calcutta II manuscript):  فلما كان في نصف الليل تذكر حاجة نسيها في قصره فرجع ودخل قصره فوجد زوجته راقدة في فراشها معانقة عبداً أسود من بعض  لعبيد فلما رأى لهذا الأمر أسودت الدنيا في وجهه

Gloss translation of Arabic: ‘When it was in the middle of the night he remembered something he had forgotten in his palace, so he returned and entered his palace finding his wife laying in her bed embracing one of the black slaves, and seeing this, the world became black in his face.’

Edward William Lane (1838-1840): ‘At midnight, however, he remembered that he had left in his palace an article which he should have brought with him; and having returned to the palace to fetch it, he there beheld his wife sleeping in his bed, and attended by a male negro slave, who had fallen asleep by her side. On beholding this scene, the world became black before his eyes.’

John Payne (1882–4): ‘In the middle of the night, it chanced that he bethought him of some-what he had forgotten in his palace; so he returned thither privily and entered his apartments, where he found his wife asleep in his own bed, in the arms of one of his black slaves. When he saw this, the world grew black in his sight …’

Richard Burton (1885-1888): ‘But when the night was half spent he bethought him that he had forgotten in his palace somewhat which he should have brought with him, so he returned privily and entered his apartments, where he found the Queen, his wife, asleep on his own carpet-bed, embracing with both arms a black cook of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime. When he saw this the world waxed black before his sight . . .’ (2001: 5)

“of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime” ???  Where the **** did that come from? One could even have assumed, from the earlier translations, that she was sleeping with the slave because he was a comely youth.  Why would she sleep with someone loathsome and foul?!

Baba Ali Research (Book Secrets): Tahtib – Egyptian Stick Fighting

In the draft “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn,” Baba Ali carries a carved wooden stick from his grandfather. We were looking to have Ali to have a means to protect him and although he did have a khanjar, using a blade seemed too violent for the character. I didn’t want readers to fall into the assumption that he would know and use staff fighting. In part, because most people would think of Robin Hood and Little John’s staff fight on the log over the river (or at least that’s what I thought of). So instead, I brought in the idea of tahtib. It seemed like a natural fit. His father was a travelling merchant and Ali having an *uncle from Egypt from whom he could learn Tahtib would not be out of place.

Tahtib is…unusual and very awesome. It is a very old style of stick fighting and dance from the Middle East, more specifically, Egypt. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Brazilian Capoiera in its connection to music and dance. It is both self-defense, combat, sport, martial art, and folk dance. It dates back to ancient Egypt where images show it as a set of fighting and combat techniques.  Modern Tahtib seems split between the more dance-oriented, sport or competition oriented, and combat/martial art styled.

Tahtib Movements in ancient Egypt

Tahtib from the Abusir Necropolis more than 5000 years old

The stick, or Naboot is about four feet long. It is held, usually single handed, from the end and flailed in large figure-8 patterns across the body.

The demonstration below is from 2010 at the International Martial Arts Festival in Paris.  The first time (I believe) Tahtib was shown broadly to an international audience.

Adel Paul Boulad, a martial art expert and big proponent of Tahtib, has worked to develop and codify five forms or katas. Below is a video of the most basic form – “NAKHLA: The Palm Tree.”

Research Sources:

www.tahtib.com

www.alliancemartialarts.com/tahtib.html

And Youtube has several wonderful videos of a variety of forms of Tahtib – https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=tahtib

 

*Growing up I had many uncles and aunties, none of whom were blood relations, and yet were as close.  They were family.  So Ali, I decided could just as easily have uncles and aunties.  🙂

Baba Ali Research (Book Secrets): Coal vs. Oil in a #Steampunk World

Notes from my time writing “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn” and fun tidbits

Middle East Steampunk does not run on coal.

Coal-powered steampunk is something that I think (opinion here) would exist in Western countries where coal is more prevalent.  Granted, Persia at the time of our book would (and does) have massive coal reserves, but that isn’t the way the society and culture developed.  Not in “real life” and not in our book.  Thus, the camelids in Baba Ali do not run on coal, but oil.

Parts of the region where our novel takes place have always had easy access to crude oil/petroleum and the distillation of oil into other hydrocarbon compounds has been around since well before 9th century. In fact, the first streets of Baghdad were paved with tar.  Al-Rhazi, who first wrote about it, was something of an ancient polymath – physician, chemist, scholar, philosopher – and he wrote about this distillation process in his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of Secrets). Historical Alembics

This is done using an alembic.  If you look at the image at the right and think it looks like a distillation pot, you’d be right. Alembics are used today in distillation of some rather fancy cognacs and other perhaps less-legal alcohols *cough* moonshine *cough*.  Even the word Al-anbiq translates to “still,” as in “to distill.”

So what was Al-Rhazi making and what do our camelids run on?  Although it could be any number of distillated items, kerosene or a variant thereof would be most likely. In the book we use the generic term “oil” but I had to make sure that transportation and vehicles could operate using kerosene.  🙂 What followed was a merry chase on the Internet where I discovered:

  1. Early tractors used kerosene, as did the first Ford Model T and Model A,
  2. During World War II some cars were modified to run on kerosene (they couldn’t import the much more expensive gasoline),
  3. Several makes of motorboat use kerosene, and
  4. Jet engines use it as a fuel.

Kersene = rocket fuel?

Perfect.