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Before Byron, British travellers were complacent, smug, priggish, humourless, pedantic, insensitive, self-satisfied bores. They regarded Greeks as ignorant, superstitious, factious, venal, dirty, lazy and obsequious.

C.M.Woodhouse The Philhellenes

 



The Hero of Negropont

Tales of Travellers, Turks, Greeks
and a camel

 


John Mole

 


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A travel book, a comedy, a history, a fiction...

 

To escape debt and summonses, rakish Lord Exford is exiled in 1788 to Constantinople with a prudish tutor and a truculent artist. They are shipwrecked on a Greek island ruled by a Turkish pasha and populated with stories of passion and delusion. Star-crossed lovers, renegades and minstrels, pirates and djinn are just some of the characters our travellers encounter. They also meet Amelia Burbage, a botanist, feminist and intrepid explorer, with her Syrian servant and an irascible camel. 

 

Befuddled by love, hashish and his classical education, Exford’s tutor takes on the might of the Sultan and it is left to the wily Exford to deliver his eccentric band from an unspeakable fate.

 

Between Ancient Greece and Modern Greece were four centuries of Ottoman Greece. Join Lord Exford on his grand tour.

Our Hero

I am a scion of the English aristocracy. I am indebted to tailors, boot makers, merchants, publicans, bankers, Shylocks, usurers, and sundry creditors. I was chucked out of school, rusticated from Oxford, ejected from countless bawdy houses, and am generally considered in Town and County the bravest blade. I am valiant in pursuit of foxes, dauntless in the massacre of birds, heroic in a steeplechase, intrepid at the gaming table, spirited at the theatre, gallant in the boudoir, untiring in the bawdy house, gracious at the ball, witty in the coffee house. To my parents I bring pride, expense, summonses for debt and proposals of marriage. In short I am the model son. And how do they reward me? Here is your narrator, your guide, your HERO, for want of a worse word - sent into exile, sacrificed to filial duty and financial obligation. I would enter my majority with a clean slate but at what cost? And with what dreadful company?

       
Travellers

 

Amelia got ready behind an improvised screen and reappeared an Amazon; Higgins used his fingers on his hair and his palms on his face - which was cleaning which is questionable - and was a Satyr again; I yawned and farted and scratched my bugbites and beat my sides and slapped my thighs and generally acted the waking Hero; Winstanley dabbed himself with a sodden kerchief, wound his watch, examined his tongue, thanked God for surviving the night, and rejoined the Temple Virgins. After our respective stirrup cups to put us on our way (yaourt, arak, wine, patent cordial) we mounted our rain-greased saddles and, each immersed in our respective moods (resolution, resentment, resignation, restiveness), we abandoned Ali to his chores, the Chorbaji to his grumbling wobblers, and rode out of the theatre

         
    A Quest?

My bookseller insists that our journey must have a Quest. There should be some tangible goal to provide a framework for the narrative. The mission must not be easily accomplished but hindered by obstacles that we must overcome for our enlightenment and your entertainment. He says the quest is the spine of novels and travel books.

The quest is more than a literary device: it is an allegory of life. Underlying the quest is the Christian idea that life is a trial, whose sole purpose is reward at the destination. But is this the only way to consider life's journey? For my part, the purpose of a journey is the journey. If it contains any quest at all, it is to find decent lodging, pleasant scenery, good company and to avoid danger and discomfort. A journey is an end in itself and a quest is an unnecessary distraction. Indeed, the committed traveller does not want to reach the goal for it means the entertainment is over.

Substitute the word life for journey and you have a philosophy that was coined by Epicurus. What awaits life's journey is the grave and so we dally and linger and seek pleasure in the byways and put the ultimate end out of our minds. So the Devil take the quest, I say, we shall all get there soon enough. Don't wish your journey away on contemplating what lies at the end.

There is no point to my journey. It is motivated by its origin not its destination, the compulsion to depart rather than the reward of arriving. I am pushed not pulled. I have no goal. Our destination is certainly Constantinople but I have no desire to go there. To lard over our aimless ramblings with a specious quest at the bidding of my bookseller is patronising and unnecessary. I am expelled from England and must arrive in Constantinople, that is the framework of my narrative.

Join us then on an Epicurean journey and let us continue with thunder machine and wind machine and a crack on the cymbals.