Tag: Venice



Afterimage – Karen L. Abrahamson

With the destruction of the American Geological Survey complete and the Gifted and their power no longer a secret, all Gifted must choose to fight or flee. The mortally wounded agent Vallon Drake and her friends run for the border, desperately hoping for the help of the ancient Cartographers who, so far, have considered the Gifted far beneath their notice.

But dealing with the Cartographers reveals a personal history that Vallong never wanted to know. When those responsible for the AGS’s destruction find a way to block the Gifted’s power, Vallon must overcome her past to face a threat that will destroy not just the Gifted, but all life on earth.

Karen L. Abrahamson delivers another breakneck adventure that leaves the reader gasping in this fourth book of the American Geological Survey. With its twists and turns and memorable characters, Abrahamson delivers an ending that begs for “just one more”.

Available in print, here.

Available as an e-book here:
Barnes and Noble


Powell’s Books: A glimpse inside the cartographer’s mind

Powell’s Books: A glimpse inside the cartographer’s mind

Gondolas, Venice (2004) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

The other day at Powell’s Books (Portland), I came across a wonderful little book called “The Mapmaker’s Dream” by James Cowan. The book is the translation of the diary of Fra Mauro, a sixteenth century Venetian monk and cartographer who set out to make a perfect mappamundi (map of the world) though he had never stepped outside the confines of his cloisters. Instead he gathered travelers’ tales through exchanges of letters or interviews of missionaries, merchants and soldiers travelling through Venice. His task became well known and he received envoys from as far afield as the court of the Chinese Emperor. Not only was this book astounding for the fact that word of his venture travelled so far in the 16th century, but the information he collected and the workings of his mind fascinated me.

Yes, his travelers brought stories of the Cyclopedes, beings in the southern hemisphere with only one huge foot that they used for hopping and also for shade when the sun in the antipodes became too fierce, but envoys also brought other tales that caused good Fra Mauro much reflection. This was what captured my attention for they showed a keenness of mind and a shifting view of the world much like new age philosophers. This seemed strange for his time; given Fra Mauro was a devout Catholic.

His encounters left him pondering whether the soul could possibly transmigrate into another person upon the death of the body and whether we are ‘all drifting towards a more complete life in someone else’. The visit of an old Jewish merchant from Rhodes left him contemplating how the loss of place (in the holy land) ‘condemned the man to inhabit his loss forever’ and how the rootless person came to inhabit a region of his own mind instead.

Schwedigon pagoda
Holy Schwedigon pagoda at sunset, Yangon, Myanmar (Photo (C) Karen Abrahamson)

Visits from others left him considering how venerated holy relics become something more because of that veneration, and how those objects take on their own life because they unite an idea that men aspire to. They left him wondering at cultures that worshiped Satan and yet were not evil, and others that determined their actions and their future through the calls of seven forest birds.

But most of all he wrote of the minds of travelers. He was struck by the notion that travelers not only travelled with their bodies, but also that they travelled in their minds and were transformed by that travel or, alternatively, transformed the place they had been. He wrote of the journeys of envoys sent to find the mythic kingdom of Prestor John and looked at the evidence of such a kingdom – the long letter still held in the Vatican archives that describes a kingdom so perfect it could not possibly exist. Fra Mauro concluded that the reason the search for Prestor John’s kingdom became all consuming, was not just the desire for aid against the Moslem hordes, but the desire to know that it was possible for paradise to exist on earth. Travelers longed to become ‘slaves’ to Prestor John’s perfection and bounty. But the country of Prestor John would never be found because it was only built on dreams.

Buddha face, Sukhothai
Buddha face, ruins of the ancient capital of Sukhothai (1997) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Ultimately, Fra Mauro realized the challenge of creating a perfect map arose because each man’s perceptions of place were different and any ‘perfect’ map must capture not only the land forms, but also the forms of the world created by men’s minds.

The lowly monk of Venice completed his life’s work, but today no trace of his perfect mappamundi exists, except in references in the pages of his journal. Perhaps, like the worlds he described, it faded away to become the world as we know it today, but more importantly what his journal shows is a man of deep thought who’s Sixteenth Century perspectives still resonate with readers today.

Thank you, Powell’s, for this gift.

Seeking Prestor John: We’re All Looking for Rescue

Seeking Prestor John: We’re All Looking for Rescue

Last week I talked about the legend of paradise contained in Saint Brendan’s Island and how that legend persisted through 1200 years of exploration. Explorers and Kings were looking for safety, and a way to return to the promised land. Perhaps, like a lot of us, they were looking for a return to a simpler time and hoped for someone to help in a time of dire need. This gave rise to another long-lasting legend – that of Prestor John.

Prestor (short for Presbyter) John was rumored to be a Christian King whose kingdom existed far to the east in Asia – or maybe it was Africa. That was sort of the trouble. The kingdom shifted and moved around the landscape, eluding the best explorers sent out by Popes and kings. But the myth of Prestor John held sway for many years with embellishments and details that included Prestor John’s Pedigree- right back to none other than King David.

Rumors of Prestor John’s kingdom began in 1150 – right about the middle of the Crusades and the Catholic Church’s intent to spread Christianity across the world. The legendary king was apparently a Christian King who had risen up and battled and beaten the Musselmen ( or the Moors, as the people of the Moslem east were then known) and become a powerful emperor. His presence became a symbol of hope in a time when the Christian west was at war with the ‘infidel’ in the holy land and the specter of infidel invasion disturbed the sleep of many western nobility and religious leaders.

The sudden hope and the belief in these rumors led to multiple dispatches of faithful retainers to find the mythic kingdom. Many never returned, but some traveled far to the east and actually met with the Mogul Khan, dispelling the myth that the Christian Kingdom existed in Asia.

But it also led to maps.

Yes, adventurers like Marco Polo gave detailed descriptions and maps of the places they had been (including the location of Prestor John’s Kingdom somewhere in China). More importantly, maps gained in value as European leaders sought to move people across the continent to the battles in the holy land. This led to the creation of pilgrim’s guidebooks, a type of map. The need to move such large numbers of men and equipment resulted in the enlisting of Venetian and Genoese merchants. The needs of such merchants for shipping ports, and the wealth of groups like the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaler led to the Holy Land becoming a mercantile centre for the movement of trade from Asia to Europe. The European hunger for spice and ‘things eastern’ involved Europeans in trade both in overland missions across the Asian continent and on coastal journeys along the southern Asian coast. Which led, by the 1300s to a renaissance of awareness of Asia and its wealth and the resulting creation of new maps.

But in the meantime it meant that Prestor John’s Kingdom shifted to the darkness of what was then called Abyssinia – a belief that still held sway as Europe began its shift towards the Age of Exploration. Figures central to the dawn of the exploration age still hoped that Africa might contain Prestor John’s Christians who could help against the Moors. Which makes me wonder if the enduring cold war of the 1950s, 60s and 70s might have influenced the rise of the SETI project. Perhaps we were looking for help ‘out there’ like the hope Prestor John provided to those long ago Christians.

Which begs the question: where are we going to be looking next?

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