World without Corto

/, Essays, Blesok no. 34/World without Corto

World without Corto

#1 When Corto was ten, he lived in Cordoba with his mother, a Spanish Gipsy, the renounced Nina de Gibraltar, and with his father, a British soldier. One afternoon, his mother’s friend Amalia wished to read the child’s destiny from his palm. She was horrified when she saw that Corto did not have the fortune line at all. Wanting to compensate for this serious shortcoming of nature, and respond to this, probably first provocation of destiny in his case, the boy immediately reached for his father’s shaving blade and carved a long and deep fortune line, which would stay on his palm from that moment on. That was how, they say, life’s ups and downs of the famous soldier with an earring on his left ear, an adventurer and anarchist started; according to some, he was an incurable melancholic and romantic, and according to others, he was nothing but a plain smuggler and pirate.
The opening night of Pascal Morelli’s animated film in Paris last spring reminded me of this magnificent character and his creator, Hugo Pratt, but also of an unpleasant fact. Getting out of the cinema, after I had been watching the Maltese on the screen for more than an hour, it occurred to me that I was in fact stepping into the world without Corto. I was upset by this thought, and I tried to find some explanation, getting into a parallel biographic slalom. I decided to compare Corto and Pratt, led by the factual matches and the oppositions between the life of the artist and his creation. As a matter of fact, didn’t Pratt himself often wanted to put the sign of equality or at least the sign of similarity between himself and Corto, and then he usually referred to Pesoa and the claim that man is what he dreams he is. Another poet seems to pay an important role here. Of course, it is Rimbaud, whose verses can be seen in the Ethiopian adventures of Corto Maltese. I is someone else, the axiom of this young French weapons smuggler is some mystic way interfered in the creation of the myth of Corto Maltese. In the end, as much as Pratt used his own life vortex when creating his most famous character, it seems that the story of Corto had a flashback effect on the history of Pratt’s life as well, at least the one he offered to the public. As if the sailor had become the inseparable other, the real alter ego of his creator, what he was, what he wanted to be, what he dreamt of. But, let us start, nevertheless, step by step in untwining those unusual ties that had created an irresistible trap for the reader.
#2 It should be immediately said that Pratt did not need too much encouragement to dream. His life path places him justly shoulder by shoulder to wonderers, nomads, liars, heretics, and illusionists, as it was Corto. He was born in Rimini, but he chose Venice for his town. As Corto’s, his own father was also of British origin, and his mother was a descendant of the Sefards, who came to Moreno via Turkey. “I am a bastard with an enormous pedigree”, Pratt would joyfully end the story of his British, Turkish, Spanish and Jewish roots. He claimed that he had even inherited an old key from the end of 15 century, which was brought by the Sefard members of his family after they had been banished from Spain and he managed to open the gates of a house in Toledo with it, five centuries later. The data we have on Pratt’s life still have to be taken with some reserve, especially if he himself was their source. “I can tell my life in thirteen different ways”, he used to say. The mystifications and planting of uncheckable but exciting facts in his real life story are part of his autobiographical tricks. And while Corto experienced his first adventures in China during the uprising of the Boxers when he was only thirteen, the adventurous life of his creator started at a similar age when he left to Italian Abyssinia, where Pratt’s father, a sworn fascist, got a public administration job. It was as “the youngest Mussolini’s black shirt”, as he bragged, as he spent his childhood in Ethiopia, learnt some local dialects and watched the breakdown of the Italian colonial dream. His weakness for uniforms comes from that time. He was only sixteen when he returned to Venice, where the Nazis arrested him as a South African spy. This information is undoubtedly true, and even truer is Pratt’s escape, via partisans, to the ally army. He would witness the end of the war with them, as a translator at the British army. After all the excitement he returns to Venice, but, with a restless spirit, he would not stay in Europe long. In Argentina, where many European illustrators found refuge at those times, he spent at least ten more years. There, as he says, except for H.L. Borges, he also met all kinds of desperados from the old world, former Ustashas and Nazis, and among them, as he claimed, even Eichman himself. The return to Europe at the beginning of the sixties was of course motivated by a complicated affair with a mysterious woman.
Corto Maltese was created in the later stage of Pratt’s career. His name was not accidental. Corto in Spanish slang can mean thief, robber and pirate, which marks his adventurous character and the business he is in, while Maltese clearly indicates the place of his birth, the island of Malta, which obtained its independence those years. Eighty years earlier, in 1887, the famous sailor was born in La Valletta. In the archives of all port captaincies and coast guards his tall figure, the elegant sailor suit, captain’s cap and the earring on his left ear are described. The last detail tells something only to the connoisseurs of the blue seas, because the earring on his left ear is a sign of belonging to the trade navy and a confirmation of crossing Cape Horn. He was considered to have been friends with Rasputin, the deserter of the Tsar army and the faithful, although unpredictable comrade, and Jack London, the correspondent of the American newspapers, whom he met in 1904 in Manchuria, during the Russian-Japanese war. It was also noted that at the beginning of the World War I he smuggled goods for the Germans, while in 1917 he was a participant in the sea battle on the Adriatic, and in 1918, the witness of the final fall of the big Red Barron.

AuthorIgor Štiks
2018-08-21T17:23:28+00:00 September 1st, 2003|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 34|0 Comments