Dedicated to Corto Maltese
To track the shadow of Valletta’s marine isn’t easy. Impossible in time, perhaps plausible in space. Sometimes I approached it. Sometimes I have crossed with it. Others I think I've been more precise and I managed to stumble upon one of the milestones of the route sailed by the character born from the pen of Hugo Pratt. Neither has been, at the beginning, intentional searches, but casual encounters I've finished realizing after years. Images that have ended almost matching from a file to a cartoon frame. Sometimes I must admit I have been in the same cities purposely looking for the same scenes, I walked the same streets looking for similar frames but identical to those set by the artist in his stories of the Maltese.
Not accidentally has been Venice where I stayed more than once trying to step on his shadow almost evanescent. Pratt recreated Corto Maltese's visits in three of their comic books. The first, The Angel of the East Window, belonging to volume The Celts, places him in 1917, against the background of the First World War, where the sailor and other adventurers seek information on the whereabouts of the seventh golden cities of Alto Marañón: the mythical Eldorado. Pratt uses the landscapes of the Venetian Laguna as he wishes, accurate tracing the details, vague in its location. They are simply the setting for his stories. Today no gondolier would accept rowing for any tourist or anyone from San Francesco dil Deserto up to Malamocco where by the other hand is perfectly portrayed the restaurant where Corto enjoyed a sea bream fished in the waters of the lagoon. The vignettes where the Dogana point, the Basilica of San Marco and the Ducal Palace appears are perfectly drawn decals of the real subject.
In the second story, Corto Maltese in Siberia, the first board starts in the Venice Ghetto. Specifically in a courtyard door that actually exists and even today can be located, though, I imagine Pratt changes prudently portal number for the year when action started: 1918. Once the sailor fell asleep while reading the Thomas More Utopia by December 34 he will not visit the city until two years later, in 1920, when accidentally lands at the headquarters of a Masonic lodge.
On the third visit Pratt recreates himself even just starting with the title of the story: the Fable of Venice or Sirat al Bunduqyyiah, or A:. L:. G:. D:. G:. A:. D:. L:. U: .where the acronym is an Masonic abbreviation À La Gloire Du Grand Architecte De L'Univers (To the glory of the Great Architect of the Universe); Sirat al Bunduqyyiah is just the phonetic Arabic transcription.
In the latter, and more complete, Venetian journey, Pratt, logically, enjoys urban landscapes, even describing impossible walks: Only three vignettes elapse from the one at the bridge of fondamenta San Felice, ponte Chiodo, only without rails left in the city, up to campo Santa Agnese. Two pages away the relate continues in Tre Archi bridge and then to the Hotel Cavalletto. A good walk.
Corto admits the purpose of his visit: he’s searching a magical emerald: a Bareket, a Solomon’s clavicle. The emerald which once belonged to Lilith, Adam’s first wife before Eve, and was part of the pectoral of King Solomon. The piece travelled from Antioch to Alexandria and arrived in Venice brought by Buono di Malamocco and Rustico di Torcello, hidden among the relics of Apostle Mark in the year 828. Also it’s said to have recorded some hidden characters, perhaps the same that were printed in the volume of 1641 that did nothing but play earlier manuscripts. In 1350, Pope Innocent VI sent burning a manuscript entitled Book of Solomon.
In Fable of Venice the Hebrew sage Melquisedech suggests that the magic formulas give the necessary information to find one of the treasures of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the subject of the investigation that, in his youth, heads Corto to Gizeh in Egypt. Clues tracked by the sailor behind the Solomon’s clavicle bring us back once and again to landscapes and scenes in the lagoon city. The Chair of Peter at Antioch in San Pietro di Castello, the lion looted in the Greek port of Piraeus, now guarding the Arsenal gates, campo di Santa Maria Formosa, and, of course, the Basilica di San Marco.