The Unswung Bat

Monday, November 03, 2003
 
About the Author

André Bovee-Begun, the son of a poor Spanish surgeon, was almost certainly born in 1547. He served in Italy in 1570, and fought in the battle of Lepanto, among other engagements, until he was captured by pirates while returning home and taken to be the slave of a renegade Greek in Algiers. He tried to escape several times unsuccessfully, and was ransomed in 1580 by a former friend and fellow officer who had ascended by way of glory and marriage to the rank of Baronet of Estremadura.

Returning home in shackles, he took up residence in the attic of a smithy, where the heat bothered him, ultimately causing him to forsake sweaters, in a solemn vow which he upheld forever after. Driven by restlessness, he wandered off and shortly came to be a figure of some reknown at the Aragonian Duchal court, where his boasts of skill in riding and swordsplay proved well-founded. Nevertheless, he did not stay long before his wanderlust carried him away in dramatic fashion: after breaking into the Duke's stables and besting the guard in single combat, he absconded with the palace's most prized racehorse, as well as a number of valuable items including a pearl-encrusted box in which he found the Duke's personal seal. Using this to manufacture forged documents, André assured his amicable reception by the Duchess of Andalusia. In her household he found every comfort, though he was somewhat oppressed by the dowager's unwelcome advances on him, but in short order he was kidnapped by Moorish brigands after passing out in a tavern.

Sold to a Indian mercenary captain, André found himself Shanghaied onto the crew of a warship bound for China, under contract by the British to form part of a war party to force trade concessions from the Emperor. As fate would have it, the ship was never to reach China's turqoise waters. Instead, André was liberated from this, his second captive stretch, by the fury of a tropical typhoon. It is not known whether there were any other survivors of the shipwreck, but André's claims about bestial shark-mawed mermaids devouring the crew and then carrying him to safety are certainly not to be trusted. However the means, he washed up on the exotic shores of Burma, where he styled himself a tiger hunter and amassed a considerable fortune in pelts and precious gifts and tributes from grateful natives.

Having spent sufficient time there, and longing for more temperate climes, he set out upon the silk trail with a band of seven hundred followers and over three thousand camels. As the line pushed on through the desert, André's first lieutenant Samal began to plot against him, and persuaded a large splinter of the caravan to join him in a revolt to steal the riches they were meant to guard. In a bloody battle, this mutiny was soundly crushed, though Samal himself and a handful of his men escaped into the deadly wastes.

Nothing else of much consequence happened for three more months, until the caravan, now reduced to a third of its former size, reached a small village that lined the walls of a steep canyon. Scarcely had André and his contingent settled down to rest than the air was filled with thunderous tramplings, and an army on horseback appeared over the canyon's jagged lip, charging straight down its nearly sheer face. A powerful warlord, having heard of André's fortune from the treacherous Samal, had vowed to slaughter him and claim the prize for his own.

Rallying his men and the villagers from their panic, André organized a hasty defence. With fire and steel, the marauders were kept in check, largely thanks to the assistance of an ancient local wizard, who conjured a dust storm to sow confusion in the enemy's ranks. Circling behind the attackers with a crack contingent of his finest men, André cut through the raiders and claimed their leader's head, as well as that of the evil Samal, for his trophy, which he displayed on a spear at the front of his column, to the elation of the oppressed countryside.

With his reputation for valor, wealth, and cunning, he acheived what the British with their ships of war could not: an audience with the Chinese Emperor. There, André was granted a medal expressing the gratitude of China's god-emperor. While staying in the forbidden city, he stole into the emperor's harem and incited his concubines into wild revolt, engineering their uprising and escape from Beijing to lower Manchuria, where, somewhere in Lesser Khingan, he claims to have discovered a mystic well whose water not only slaked his thirst, but also fought off hunger, weariness and disease. Here, with the escaped women, he founded a small village that grew to be a mighty city, which he grew tired of and drifted ever eastward, travelling from one Pacific island to the next aboard a flimsy raft. He reached the Phillipines, and journeyed there extensively, supporting himself through pearl-diving and acrobatics, until the outbreak of World War II, when he stowed away in what he took to be the cargo hold of a Japanese bomber. It was not until daybreak, by which time the plane was well above the clouds, that André could see clearly by the thin light that entered into the hold that the space he had darted into without looking was in fact the bomb bay. Shortly thereafter, he was clinging for dear life to the bracketed maintenance railing, dangling thousands of feet over Pearl Harbor as the bombs dropped.

He was delivered from this untenable position by the Americans themselves, who shot down the bomber with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire that blew a gaping hole in the airframe not two feet away from his head, that bled fuel and coolant. Of course it is miraculous that he survived the crash at all, let alone that he was able to rescue the co-pilot, dragging him to safety in the Hawaiian jungle. There, he and the co-pilot, Haraguchi, stumbled for five weeks through thick vegetation, sucking mud, and almost unbearable humidity, until they were taken captive by a band of uncontacted natives.

Treated initially with suspicion, André soon won the tribe's respect for him and Haraguchi, and lived among them for several years. Knowing that the tribe's isolation would not last much longer, and perhaps scenting change in the wind, André snuck away in the black of night and arranged passage aboard a fishing trauler headed for Tasmania. During the voyage, however, he became fed up with the ship captain's shortsighted arrogance, and took the chance passing of a trading junk, which drew up beside his vessel, as an opportunity to throw himself overboard and be rescued by the other boat, from which he refused to depart. This did not please the trading junk's crew at first, but André secured their support with tales of a vast fortune in the Orient that he would share with them, showing the medallion from the Chinese emperor as proof.

The ship cut a speedy course through the Palk Strait that separates Sri Lanka from the Indian mainland, and there in the strait's shallow and fickle waters a storm appeared like a primordial beast out of the clear sky, churning up the water into waves and twisting eddies. Most of the crew abandoned ship, and of them all but a few were lost at sea scant miles from the port of Rameswaram. André stayed on board with the captain and a skeleton crew, fighting the sea for control of the ship, and succeeded in guiding the obstinate craft to the port of Talaimannar, on the opposite side of the strait. There, on dry land, the captain and crew all swore off the nautical life and bestowed the ship upon André as a token of thanks for saving their lives in the battle against the storm.

Forced to recruit a new crew, André began searching through the Tamil port for brave sailors seeking adventure, and caught the ragged ear of a scarred and grey-haired Russian hardened by many a storm and salty wind. The Russian, Volodymyr by name but known as Pyshna, told André of a diamond horde he'd been forced to leave buried in Norway, that he could retrieve if only he could find a crew willing to undertake the journey in exchange for a cut of the riches. Not believing the old sailor, but intruiged at the prospect of visiting Scandinavia, which Pyshna described as a land of savage and icy beauty, André took him aboard and reached Scandinavia in no time.

Upon their arrival, Pyshna, ecstatic to be back on European soil, was overwhelmed by homesickness for his native Siberia, and told the crew they could keep all the diamonds for themselves, for he was going home at once. Not a trusting bunch, they took this to mean there was no treasure after all, and would certainly not have let Pyshna get away with it, had not André interceded, persuading all present that the decision of how to deal with Pyshna would be best considered after a good night's rest and recovery from the hardships of the ocean, which make a man's mind as harsh and treacherous as the sharpest sunken reef, and promising that he, personally, would keep watch over the prisoner.

Rather than detain Pyshna, however, André waited until the trusting crew had gone to sleep and then snuck the old man out of the inn, and the two of them, laughing like maniacs, shot out of town on a stolen dogsled. They quickly made their way to Russia, covering expenses by travelling as a Strong Man act. There, they parted ways. Pyshna headed homeward, whereas André made for Moscow. There, preceded by his reputation as an outrageous raconteur, he had the ears of Russia's highest social circles, who invited him to all their functions and conferences. It was at just such a conference, one with a scientific bent, that André talked his way into a polar expedition.

And so, a short while later, he set sail with the other members of the expedition aboard the icebreaker Yamal from the port of Murmansk, bound for the pole. It was a brutal trek, a constant war against the elements, made worse by the fact that André wouldn't wear a sweater, but the team reached the North Pole in just under eight months. Here, André bid them farewell, knowing the time had come for him to settle down, at least for a little. Tearfully and reluctantly bidding him goodbye, the Soviets gave him one box of meat, one of bullets, a small but strong stove with enough fuel to thaw the meat, and a trusty pistol. With this kit, he set out South to Canada, leaving behind him the Soviets, who were heading South to Russia.

By carefully rationing his meat supply, he made it last for six weeks, in which time he travelled far enough from the inhospitable pole that he was able to find native animals to hunt, and survived on fish, seal, fox, and other Arctic creatures until he reached the northernmost fringe of civilization. Eventually he was picked up by a snowmobile in what were then the North-West Territories, and hitched a ride aboard a prison convoy to Calgary, where he took a train East.

André spent the Vietnam war years in Toronto amid the protest community that sprung up as American draft-dodgers flooded into Canada. He earned his way first as a street vendor, then as the bodyguard of the founder of House of Anansi Press, who was the target of constant assassination attempts by conservatives and establishmentarians. Getting bored of this, he became a street musician and in one performance moved the American President Nixon, who was in Toronto for a trade conference, to tears with an anti-war song. Touched to his very soul, Nixon asked André to journey to Washington D.C. to sing before the U.S. congress so that they might be persuaded to support his attempt to end the war. André did this, and after accepting a Congressional Medal of Honor with Distinction, caught a Greyhound to California, where he rejoined the protest crowd in Berkeley for a few more years before getting tired and moving on.

He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, and since then has travelled extensively throughout North America and accepted honorary degrees from a number of schools including Stanford and Duke University. Together with his love of half of a thousand years, he lives in a large house currently located in Massachusetts. This is his first book.



original site + text contents ©2004 twenty oh four by me called it

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