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Where is Paradise? – The Biggest Con-Job in History – (A Spanish Travelogue)

Posted by intellisg on July 9, 2007

paradise1.jpgSometime in the early 12th century a returning Crusader walked through the narrow cobble lined streets in Seville. History records the event as having taken place in March, at the spring equinox, when the orange mangroves which once lined the main boulevard of this ancient city of labyrinths are most perfumed.

The Templar knight carried with him letters of credentials from a mysterious Christian emperor from the East addressed to Pope Alexander III. Twelve pages long complete with even a map detailing the mythical kingdom, it contained the most startling information. For it related the story of the strongest and most powerful Christian state on earth – a veritable super power ruled by a priest king who now wished to perform his religious duty by recovering the Holy City from the infidel – Prester John, myth or fact?

paradise2.jpg“Who reigned not far from the country of the Blacks and whom the West tended to identify with the emperor of Ethiopia.”

Pope Alexander III was not the only one to believe the stories he had heard about Prester John. Rumors of a mysterious Emperor of the East had been circulating in Europe for at least a century. Every monarch, nobleman, and scholar across medieval Europe believed the story, hook, line and sinker. As time passed, the narrative of Prester John and his mythical kingdom grew spicier which each recounting fueled by an army of traveling hucksters and charlatans. Gregory of Nazianzus, John Damaschene, Isidore of Seville, Rabanus Mourus right up to Christopher Columbus mulled endlessly about the location of this mythical empire. By this period myth had magically transformed into fact entering the annals of history books – Prester John was alive!

paradise3.jpgPeering into the glass cabinet in a private museum (probably the only one where smoking is still allowed), one of many along river bank in Las Flores, the ancient parchment describes the riches in the kingdom of Prester John, “pearls as plentiful as peppercorns” – “an army than stretches the length of Constantinople to Asia marching in solid gold armor encrusted in precious jewels.” Somewhere in this paradise, there’s even a desiccated head of John the Baptist who comes to life proclaiming everything from the weather to counseling kings and princes. There are no judges in Prester John’s kingdom all one needs to do to seek justice is to consult this headless wonder. There is even a magical cistern that flows through this land, the mystical ‘aqua vitae,’ where anyone who drinks of it is automatically guaranteed longevity, no drowsiness, can operate heavy machinery some more. In this utopia – there is no need for one to sin, as everything is plentiful and abundant –paradise.

At its height, the Prester John story was regarded by many as the “great hope.” He was the pin up poster boy of every crusader, pope and intellectual – to courtiers, he was the equivalent of Michael Jackson, Jesus Christ, Mickey Mouse and Lee Kuan Yew all rolled up into one neat story.
paradise4.jpg There is however one problem – alas, there never was a Prester John – as for the letter, it was a great hoax.

How was it possible for such a story as ridiculous as it was even by the standards of the age able to gain such a foothold in the psyche of medieval Europeans?

One reason lies in the psyche of the age, the word ‘India’ had an important resonance for medieval Christians. Indian according to the Bible was the last known location where the apostle Thomas was said to have gone forth to spread the word, the myth was buried so deep in the common consciousness of the day, it persisted to color even statecraft and despite several expeditions to discover this fabled kingdom – none of which succeeded – the myth persisted and held a tenacious sway on the minds of public.

On my way out, I found myself asking: what was really behind this mania? Perhaps, it has something to do with the promise of paradise: narratives about paradise says a lot about where we really like to go – and in medieval Europe there were certainly no shortage of grouses, the bubonic plague, holy inquisition, despotic warlords and lousy sanitation all created ideal which encouraged the myth of Prester John – perhaps it’s simply a case of the grass is always greener over the fence syndrome gone awry? Was there perhaps a deeper reason that fueled this belief?

paradise5.jpgOne clue to unraveling this mystery lies in looking deeper at the problems in our own age. Granted in the information age, we may have banished small pox along with water borne diseases and even replaced burning stakes with the rule of law – but if we really strip down our age of modernity, very little has changed in the last thousand years. The internet age may have made knowledge more accessible along with wealth creation, but man’s avarice is still very much well and alive and with this so is our dream for such a thing as a golden age. Be it, the ideal of the fountain of youth, the tree of knowledge, the helium filled days of the stock and property market or simply the idyllic dream of running around in green luscious green hills in a land of plenty surrounded by nymphs.

Strip us right down to our bare essentials and we aren’t so very different from those courtiers of antiquity even as much as we like to believe we are. Consider this: why do women regularly splurge out on moisturizers, when the only active ingredient in that jar of gunk is water? When was the last time you bought into a personal training program only to realize your goal of achieving that much lauded six


pack is really as close as reaching out for the canned variety that sits in your fridge? Or how do you explain how some people spend a small fortune on Feng Shui only to re-arrange their living room expecting to harness some invisible force field to enhance their fortune? We may do it these days by resorting to range of gobbledygook narratives like competitive advantage, maximizing our return on investment or staying ahead of the curve. At the end of the day isn’t it simply a case of same shit, different century? Deep down, if we begin to peel off the veneer of sophistication in the age of modernity.We aren’t really not so different from those devotees who once worshipped the ideal searching for paradise on earth. Are we?

One reason why most of us gravitate towards this ideal of paradise or a better tomorrow and even nourish it: is because it holds the key much of our inner aspiration, hopes and dreams. For one it offers a means of combining the aspirations and needs of individuals with the purpose of the larger community to which we all belong. All of us consciously and sub-consciously as Aristotle mentioned seek ‘eudaimonia.’ It’s a complex Greek word that doesn’t lend itself too readily to translation, ‘happiness’ fits but misses a large chunk of it – ‘eudaimonia,’ isn’t so much a state as it is an activity but an activity, where working towards a point in the future more of less forms the paradise narrative.

paradise7.jpgI suspect the paradise appeal lies in understanding how most of us yearn for greater control over our destiny in an age where ‘control’ is founded on a fallacy. As Emerson said, “even a humble brick aspires to be something great.” Nurturing and nourishing the paradise dream is a balm. An avenue which allows us all to escape our mediocrity, be it baldness, bad breath and sagging bums, all these little realities serve only to scour us magnifying our acute sense of estrangement that we may not be up to spec. After those doses of reality or slices of death (however, you wish to see it), how sweet the promenading, the seeing and being seen in a light of paradise? Everybody needs a stage sometimes – that’s why the ancients have town squares and piazza’s – a place to go to announce to the world that you managed to slip into your old jeans, or that you’re out performed the market, or that you’re doing better than your peers – paradise offers it all, redemption (at least, the promise of it) by happily balancing the distance between private and public, have’s and have not’s, fact and fallacy all in a neat package.

Is it such a wonder, the paradise narrative is often woven into faith, party politics and business ethos of our age? Where it continues to do nothing except embroil all of us into another round of slaking our hopes and aspirations? Crooked politicians, charlatan faith leaders and dubious businessmen all know it only too well –how to press all the right buttons that is.

The curious thing about all these hucksters and two bit con men lies in the flaw of their paradise song and dance, it’s always somewhere ahead never in your grasp. That’s the necessary lie – if paradise was ever fought and won, it’s always at a terrible cost and secured only by the slimmest of margins, someone either worked his ass seven days a week or sacrificed big time for you! So it’s always has to be just round the corner, over the knoll, at the end of the proverbial rainbow, never here and now. Never ever – that just would just serve as a spoiler in the paradise yarn, gutting out much of itsparadise8.jpg zinger.

The curious thing about the paradise narrative is: by simply expecting it, we can usually achieve it. No one needs to see or experience it. Neither does it require any prove. God forbid if someone actually experienced it and told us all about it (now you know why its always a one way ticket!) It would be like losing a limb – would it still be paradise? Could it?

There you go – the swan song of paradise. Now you know why I usually have time for these people and care even less about what they have to say.

Leaving familiar Guadalquivir behind to cross to the other side of Triana, I realize these thoughts of paradise clung to me like seaweed threatening to spoil the rest of the evening. I leaned over the bridge hoping to cast it into the dark waters in the way a man slips a coin over the side for luck. Instead I found myself hesitating, lighting another cigarette rolling it in my head.

Evening after all had begun its repertoire, mixing azure and ochre collages in the river, amid the lull of an Andalusian guitar that strummed away somewhere. It seems a little ridiculous now, the whole idea of a stranger in a foreign land appealing to his own instincts of intellect– did I really believe all the education, knowledge and understanding inside this puny head of mine could possibly hold any of the answers to my question,

Where is paradise?

What if, it’s in a place so near yet so far, right before us, at this very moment in time?

paradise9.jpgWhat if, it had always been there all this time never ever parting even once?

There is a time to make things happen and a time to let things happen – with these thoughts lingering in my mind, I turned to the shadowy figures who had been tailing me the whole day – the Tirianians.

You see, I didn’t come all the way to Seville for fun, but to avert a costly cyber war between two virtual civilizations. Things hardly look good, the specter of war hangs our the horizon, it’s the eleventh hour our armies are massed facing each other somewhere in the virtual, as the Spanish saying goes,

“Este es negocio serio.” And you better believe it!

Standing there on the bridge surveying the sum of all our differences, I am reminded we have it, ants don’t and that at least should hold us all in good stead – not just to exist, but to search for a place whereby two people can walk in different directions yet always remain side by side.

What if my friend, this ‘place,’ I want to call ‘wholeness’ resides in the litany of the ‘everyland’ – every minute, every hour, every day flickering like distant stars reminding us all of the nearness of angels? What if, amid all the empathy, caring, pathos of all life has to offer, it’s always been there? If only we care to still our minds, listen and understand? Not over the knoll. Not just around the corner. Not in some fairytale. Not at the end of the rainbow. Not even when we all eventually have to pass on, but right here, right now firmly in the palms of our hands.

A place called paradise.


Darkness 2007

[This post has been proudly brought to you ‘T” by Aurora, your friendly com-sat controller of the Order of the brotherhood 2007 / Pls note the much awaited 9th edition is finally complete, based loosely on the popular Korean tear fest mini series “Yeonriji,”

it was adapted by darkness albeit with a special twist / Yeonriji sells at 32.3 Imperium Shekelians per episode and runs at happy 50. Happy reading all! Your Friendly controller, Aurora]


14 Responses to “Where is Paradise? – The Biggest Con-Job in History – (A Spanish Travelogue)”

  1. Aurora said

    Where is Paradise? – The Biggest Con-Job in History – A Spanish Travelogue)has been posted exclusively in the Intelligent Singaporean. Pls do not reproduce it anywhere else without the express permission of the webmaster. Thank you very much and have a nice day.

    Your friendly controller


  2. Long Time Reader said

    Someone is just not happy! LOL. Keep it up!

  3. dentisthamster said


    A very sensitive piece, very poetic and all that. I shall certainly check it out, Seville that is. I enjoyed it very much. I just can’t figure out whether this is the same guy who always refers to his female readers as bitches???? I dont think, its very good for your image and standing. Dont you think so, Mr Darkness? However, I do give you this. You can sure pull a yarn and make it sing for all its worth. Have a nice evening and pls consider this as constructive feed back.

  4. humored said

    If we can grasp paradise in the palms of our hands, then, paradise must be very small and….. wet?

    No wonder when very important people order mee siam, they don’t want hums included.

  5. Miss Ong.S.F said

    Good Morning Darkness,

    I just want to ask a tweeny weeny question, did you get to try any of the local Spanish chow? I would really appreciate it, if in your next write up, you could just spent a paragraph or two recommending the local delights in Seville.

    I feel one of the best ways to get into the spirit of a place is through the stomach. Btw I love to eat.

    I hope this gets a reply. Do have a very nice day. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Yum Yum

  6. starlet said

    Good Morning to you Sir,

    I hope you had a productive trip? Didn’t really think abt it, but now that you have mentioned it, its started the ball rolling. Reminds me of a certain political party, I know, when things arent doing so well, they say, its not in their control, but when things are good, they claim they made it all happen, sounds like bomoh logic to me! This write up also recalls up memories of my church, incidentally this was the same crook whose name begins with J and has the surname beginning with K – if memory serves as you rightly stated,

    “it’s always somewhere ahead never in your grasp. That’s the necessary lie – if paradise was ever fought and won, it’s always at a terrible cost and secured only by the slimmest of margins, someone either worked his ass seven days a week or sacrificed big time for you! So it’s always has to be just round the corner, over the knoll, at the end of the proverbial rainbow, never here.”

    How very true. You will be glad to know I have since being less trusting and I dont think that necessarily translates into cynicism or jadedness, it always pays to look deeper.

    I also like to see much more on the food scene.

  7. juicybaby said

    I just want to know one thing / is it safe for a single gal to travel to that part of spain. I heard from my other gal frens places like Barcelona is OK, but once you go to the outskirts, its like another country.

  8. poppy said

    I happen to know a pastor who drives a BMW sportscar which he claims God gave him. I also know this for a fact his wife regularly spends thousands on designer wear which she pays only in cash. One day I saw this man of God praying for someone who couldnt even afford to pay his medical bills and guess what he said?

    Well you must have done something wrong, bc you are not getting any blessing. After that he went on to reprimand the man’s wife for not giving him petrol money bc she didnt tithe.

    What a hypocrite.

    I think most people are sick and tired of con-jobs and tricksters. Most of us are just switching off these days, you will really be surprise how many people are doing this – switching off.

  9. scb said

    The Conmen are smart, at least they know how they can and con the ignorant, innocent and stupid and live in paradise!

  10. primagirl said

    Conmen? You bet, they are every where these days, organized religion is the best con on this planet. Politics ranks a close second and finally charities third.

    Although this is a light piece it carries a very serious message. Never hear, believe and act that is how ppl usually end up as suicide bombers, they miss out critical thinking stage, but how are we supposed to think, when we are not even allowed to talk abt this and that? Chicken and egg or another con job?

  11. CEO said

    This is just aerobics brotherhood. Square your accounts with HBR Reader and get to the serious stuff. You ppl dont fool me for one min, there is no such thing as forgive and forget in the brotherhood.

  12. CEO said

    You see I know your history too well, the art of Kanly, that is.

  13. Gina said

    Good Afternoon darkness,

    I enjoyed this travelogue alot, it certainly gives a feel over the history of the place.

    I would just like to ask a few questions:

    (1) Did you try the Sevillian Oranges / are there any tours where one is able to visit commercial groves. I understand from a friend, the variety grown in Spain is characterized by a bitter taste? How does this add to the flavor.

    (2) Where would be the best place to put up? Relative cost?

    (3) Seville is quite a large city even by comparisons to modern standards, how should one see the city?

    Many Thanks.

  14. Dory said

    Heart rendering, soft and sensitive. However, I really cannot understand what is the point of even blogging when the author doesnt even have the courtesy to respond to his readers. Looks like darkness is akin to a modern day Prester John, a myth who is there, but only in the realm of the distant.

    Is anyone reading this?

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