One of the greatest joys in writing fiction is creating new worlds, new characters, and new conflicts. I can construct my own hinterland and populate it with heroes, villains, and sidekicks of my own composition.
But as a student of history and prehistory, I am fascinated by the past, so much so that I frequently wish I could live in another time and place. The following would be among my favorites:
1014 - Dublin – so I could stand with High King Brian Boru as he unified Ireland and drove out the Vikings;
1521 - Mexico City – so I could warn the Aztecs not to trust the guy coming on the horse;
1936 - Lakehurst, New Jersey – so I could ride on the Hindenburg before it got into trouble;
535 BC - Bodh Gaya, India – so I could sit with Buddha under the Bodhi Tree and ask, “Hey, Buddha, what’s it all about?”
1575 - Algiers – so I could ransom Miguel de Cervantes from slavery in North Africa, in exchange for making me the author of Don Quixote;
410 - Rome – so I could march with my fellow Visigoths into the Eternal City for a comprehensive day of pillage;
1959 - Mason City, Iowa – so I could warn the Big Bopper not to get on the plane;
1628 - Stockholm – so I could watch the maiden voyage of the Vasa, the massive Swedish warship that sunk after sailing half a mile;
1986 - Redmond, Washington – so I could invest every damn dollar I could get my hands on in Microsoft;
1542 - Seville –so I could eat tapas and watch the comings and goings at the Council of the Indies. This was the most important hub of transit, trade, and communication between Europe and the New World. Decisions made here would impact the lives of millions on three continents. A fly on the wall might catch of glimpse of Inca gold on its way to Spanish treasuries, conquistadors on their way home to the countryside, and the first potatoes to reach Europe.
The world was changing in 1542. And nowhere was it changing faster than in Spain, where world views were expanding at an uncomfortable pace. The world was evidently round, as the scholars had been schooling for over a millennium, but it was also a bigger world than anybody expected. Empires in Mexico and Peru were lost as Spanish knights brought Toledo steel swords and typhus in exchange for mountains of gold, all of which passed through Seville.
Religions were changing too. Now, being a good Spaniard meant being a good Christian. And in a country with a substantial Muslim population, that proved a challenge. It was illegal for Muslims to sail to the Americas, but it was also illegal to be a Muslim in Spain. So who’s to say how many wealthy Muslim families decided to try their luck in the New World? My guess is quite a few.
This was the time and place I wanted to explore, and I used it to anchor my archaeological mystery American Caliphate. Tomas Ibanez, the patriarch of a powerful family of Spanish Moors, is growing weary of hiding his faith, and just as weary of paying bribes to corrupt officials.
Seven months ago, Ibanez had politely declined the Trade Minister’s request for an increase in his already-steep weekly remittance. Authorities were notified and a charge made that Tomas Ibanez was a practicing Muslim, still making the prayers five times a day. Heresy is punishable by death.
Ibanez held out his hands and looked down at the fingernails, now almost grown back. He remembered the look on the Inquisitor’s face as he held up the forceps. That hurt like nothing he had ever known and Ibanez swore his allegiance to the Crown, to the Lord Jesus, when he should have screamed that there is no God but Allah. But naked, whipped, exposed, he could not. “It is my nature to be skeptical,” the Inquisitor said, teasing a poker in the coals.
Ibanez’s business acumen stronger than his faith, his Christian piety was demonstrated by the transfer of a small property in Marbella, and a brace of German carriage horses, assuring his eyes and genitals would not be harmed.
Wouldn’t you sail to Cuba or Mexico if you had money and ships and got pissed off enough? I would, and I’m pretty certain hundreds of Moors felt the same way. Colonial Peru is filled with hints and whispers of its colonial past, and half of those whispers could be heard back in Seville in 1542.
If you could travel anywhere in time, where and when would you go? And what would you write about it?