Tardis Destinations – Part Two

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Andre Beauchant – 1873-1958 – The Funerary Procession Of Alexander the Great. Tate Britain

In the second of my Tardis stops I’d like to take you to summer 321BC, but let’s not quibble over exact dates, she’ll find it. We are heading to Memphis to witness the funeral procession of Alexander the Great.

Alexander died, in failing breath and fever, in the ancient palace of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon sometime in the night between June 10th and 11th 323 BC. The Macedonians wept publicly en masse, and it is reported that the Achaemenid people shaved their heads in grief.

As is befitting when a God passes, plans were set in place to fulfil his desire to be carried to a resting place suited to his status. Alexander wanted to go home to Macedonia – but this required preparation.
First his body needed to be prepared for the long journey and Plutarch wrote that the finest Egyptian embalmers were brought in to preserve the physical form of the Godly figure. After this Chaldean embalmers were summoned to “make the body sweet-smelling and incorruptible.” The body was dressed in golden armour and draped in jewels before being placed in a sarcophagus.

To transport Alexander the 3000 km home to Macedonia a vast catafalque, or funeral cart, was constructed. It took almost two years to build and was covered in beaten gold, silver and jewels. The cart rested on axles made from huge tree trunks carrying massive wheels. The whole cart carried carvings of great beasts and around the sides were carvings representing the most heroic moments of Alexander’s short life. The cart was almost ten metres high and was topped with winged Victories. It was pulled by a team of sixty-four mules, each one bred to be the strongest of its kind and dressed in splendour with golden harnesses.

The funeral cortège travelled along the banks of the Euphrates and then headed east. All along the route the road was prepared, and thousands of people came to witness the passing of the golden carriage. Behind it trailed thousands more – Alexander’s most devoted warriors and followers.

The procession continued to a point near the coast at Alexandria ad Issum (now Iskenderun in Turkey) and here is where we meet it. At this point there is a hinge moment in the story. It is unclear why the decision was made to wait, to delay the journey whilst they decided to travel on by sea or take the longer route by land.

Waiting was fatal to the progress to Macedonia. Ptolemy arrived with a vast army and met the funeral procession and seized the cart. He may have believed that it was Alexander’s wish to be buried at Siwa, and so he took over the funeral procession steering it south – overland to Egypt. He wanted to create his own Alexandria, the final resting place of the God amongst the Gods of his own kingdom.

A glorious ceremony was given as the cart arrived in Memphis where it remained for some years. A worshipped golden monument to the warrior’s past. The tomb was visited by many kings, and became a place of pilgrimage and a solid representation of Ptolemaic power. Eventually the reverence faded with the passage of time and, with the rise of Christianity, the tomb became more of a curiosity than a place of devotion. With Alexandria becoming a key Christian city, the old pagan temples in the city were sacked, and the body of Alexander lost. The golden jewelled carriage, and the body of the warrior king of Macedonia were lost, and has never been found. The resting place of Alexander remains lost.

But the moment that we travel to is that fateful day on the coast. The see the brilliant blue of the sea and sky against the dazzling opulence of the glittering golden carriage as it slowly rolled into Alexandria ad Issum. Surrounded by crowds eager to catch a glimpse of the already fabled procession of the body of Alexander. To see the funeral procession at its most swollen and the cart hauled slowly by jewelled mules harnessed in gold and red. The noise and music of the crowd as the procession set up camp on the shore, resting to allow the people to witness the glory of Alexander’s travelling tomb. To be there to see the arrival of the armies of Ptolemy as they marched from the desert to surround the carriage and lead it on, south to the great cities of Egypt and to Memphis.

That’s our moment.

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Tardis Destinations – Part One

This will be a recurring theme on my blog. I’d like to introduce you to some of the amazing sights that we have missed out on simply by being born too late.
If I had a Tardis, these would be the places I would visit….

To start us off – Cafe de L’Enfer, Paris

L’Enfer was an infernal hell-themed establishment, with a heavily sculpted demonic facade. It opened in the late 19th century in the fashionably seedy red light district of Paris and rivalled the Moulin Rouge in attracting the dangerously decadent young set of Paris. The scandalously rich and glamorous young Parisians who managed to secure admission to L’Enfer enjoyed devilish drinks and even more devilish company. The clientele spent evenings with many “attractions diabolique” but, as the evenings were deeply clandestine, little is known about what this entailed.

It is known that the waiters were dressed as devils, and the doorman (Satan, of course) welcomed members with a cheering “Enter and be damned!” The interior was elaborately constructed to resemble the pit of hell with demons and tortured souls reaching out from the ceiling to those seated below. Those who entered were warned (by capering imps dressed in scarlet) that the heat inside the inferno would make them thirsty, and so they should be prepared to drink well…and be wicked.

By the early 20th century the Cafe had vanished, the facade stripped and never found again. A few fragments remain from the interior and can be found at the Musee de la Magie in Paris, but the rest is confined to whispers and stories.

What happened at L’Enfer, stayed at L’Enfer….

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Fever…..and here’s the pitch…

Fever

I have long since lost the excitement of the brown package containing a brand new proof copy.  A good number of these find their way to my desk and my procedure for dealing with them is this – squeeze it. If it is a thin book then I tend to open it straight away as I guess it will be a book for younger readers and may well offer me something I have not read before.  If it is a thick book, I pile it up to one side and will get round to it….eventually.  This is because these once exciting jiffy bags all too often contain yet another YA title banging out the same old tired formulaic content.  Tragic romance, vampires, wistful looks, agony filled embrace, more vampires, sobbing in dark corners, tragic and failed lives, more vampires…. yadda yadda yadda….oh yes, and more vampires….

A couple of weeks ago I received a copy of Dee Shulman’s Fever (Razorbill, pub April 2012) Interesting tag lines (“The Fever Is Coming”  – “Two worlds.  Two millennia.  One love”) made me give it a skim and take it home.  The accompanying letter and blurb promise many things – “Time travel with a romantic twist” – and assure me that the book is “whipping up a rights frenzy”

Well, that’s the spiel – what about the book?

Fever is the story of two young lives crossed at a moment in parallel time.  Eva is a dazzlingly smart girl from the modern day, and Seth is a gladiator from Roman London, AD152.  Their lives are tragically both linked and held apart by time, and each is desperate to find what has become of them, and the other.

I feel that I am not really doing the book justice with such a basic explanation, but I genuinely don’t want to give too much away for the reader.  The story is very vivid and the character building is both strong and natural – you really get to like Eva and Seth and quickly bond with them. 

In Eva we have a rare thing; an academically gifted female character who is instantly likeable.  Her intellect means that the text is never dumbed down; in fact I feel that it is bravely academic in places.  Frankly this is a blessing in this market place – my own teenager is bored rigid with being treated like a snog-fest addict with a brain the size of a Minto – and she is not alone. For all of those teenagers who have been patronised by other YA fiction and feel like this, hurrah, a book for you!

Seth is….well…. he’s beautiful.  A gladiator honed for combat and trained to kill and stay alive, he is at his peak physical fitness when disaster befalls him because he falls in love. He is instantly likeable and we all, umm, love him.

Eva and Seth are inexorably linked through time and, though they can feel this, they can’t explain it or make sense of it and both of them do everything they can to attempt to discover what has happened to them.  The medical scenes are superbly researched (I had to look some things up as I was curious about the virology talked about the book) as are the scenes set in Roman Londinium. This gives the book a depth and sense of gravitas that many YA books are sadly lacking.

Fever is an undeniably passionate book, and pretty sexy too without ever being cloying or drifting into that ghastly genre of tragic and depressed teens sucking face and crying all over the place. Fever is, quite simply, a captivating and passionate time-slip love story with a ghostly twist (and no vampires!)

I found myself dreading the end as I drew close to it because I knew that it couldn’t possibly end the way I wanted it to in the few pages left. But it did, and I’m very glad that it will be a trilogy.

Fever by Dee Shulman is out 5th April 2012 with Razorbill (Puffin)

416 pages

Isbn 9780141340265

e-book 9780141972183