One of the things that I love when creating a new story is researching the biographies and day-to-day experiences of the types of characters that I want to write about. Sometimes, this involves imagining circumstances and places that I’ve never encountered myself – including periods in history that might be a little before my time.
This was the case with the story that I wrote to accompany one of the tales of the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor. Given that Baghdad features so strongly in many of the tales of The Nights – it was descriptions of the colorful souks and magic that played out in this very city that excited my interest in some of the tales as a child – I was keen to set one of my stories in this very city.
I’ve never been to Baghdad, nor does it seem likely that it will be safe for a budget conscious, independent traveler like myself to do so, at least in the foreseeable future. Even if I do eventually have the chance to set foot in the Iraqi capital, I’m sure that many of the wonderful sights that would have greeted the visitor 50 years ago will no longer be around.
This is a real shame. I would love to have seen Baghdad in its heyday, at least as it was around the middle of the last century. The personal recollections that I came across when I was researching my story painted a picture of a magical place, which attracted travelers from all corners of the globe.
But any regret that I have about not being able to experience this once great city must be one million or more times less than the sorrow those who live in Baghdad must feel. The city literally seems to have gone backwards through each of the past few decades. It’s well known that many Baghdaders say that life during Saddam Hussein’s era of power was far better than that of the experience now.
My story spans life during the time of Saddam and beyond – yet another experience that is very far from my own. Fortunately, some very evocative descriptions of the lives of those who did witness that period are available. Feeling into these is difficult, but I could imagine being transported into the situations that some of the document is described, albeit as an observer.
Reading, storytelling, and writing can all have this effect – time travel, and journeying to foreign lands, can be important aspects of a story’s offering. This is why I sometimes like to work with a subject that is alien to my own experience. Research forces me to discover, reflect upon, and to learn. These are three quests that I hope I never lose a hunger for.
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