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Hippeis Happenings

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Fact and Fiction

I was lucky enough to spend most of the last month traveling to the places where my novels happen. I fought in a Medieval Tournament in Verona, Italy and I shot arrows from a fourteenth century fortification in Thrace built by John Cantacuzenos, I stood in a church built by Alexios Comnena and saw my first Altichiero painting ‘in person’ rather than in an art book. My family was sculled through the canals of Venice while we looked for Tom Swan and Alessandro di bembo, and then we followed William Gold across Italy, and then we watched the Persian Fleet form up off Samothrace, seen by Arimnestos.

Europe has a wealth of history that is almost unimaginable to a boy who grew up with the Battle of Gettysburg as ‘old.’ At one point my friend Giannis took me to a set of Turkish baths — from a hot volcanic spring, of course — that are still in use. You can all but see the Janissaries coming in to bathe. But in the walls, and all around on the ground, are scraps of another past—Byzantine crosses, Roman statuary, a dedication from 300 BCE and an Archaic column. All within fifty feet of the baths. Those baths have been in business for a LONG time.

East of Alexandrouplois in Thrace, we drove through the verdant countryside—richer than Boeotia—and I suddenly saw why the Greeks worked to hard to take it from the Thracians. The Evros River delta is some of the finest farmland in the whole Mediterranean, with small, protected valleys and easy access to the sea. The land it self is so valuable that I had to stop taking photographs of ancient ruins—because everyone, from the Archaic Greeks right through to the modern Greeks, has built something to protect or claim it, from hilltop fortresses to modern concrete bunkers for tanks. As a novelist—I honestly think I couldn’t have fully expressed the richness of the area, its value, and it’s historical role without going there.

Likewise, Verona, in Italy—a city with its fourteenth-century core beautifully preserved, so that you can wander about and easily imagine what William Gold saw in 1380. The magnificent striped buildings—the incredible wonder that is Saint Anastasia…

The next time someone tells you that there were ‘Dark Ages,’ toss out the following factoid: In about 700 AD, the citizens of the Commune of Verona formed an association—actually a corporation—to protect and maintain the Roman Amphitheater. They did a wonderful job—it’s still there, hosting opera. Think of the sheer number of conquerors and cultural waves that have passed over Northern Italy since 700 AD.

That’s history!