To Call BS or Not?

So, we can guess that Shakespeare knew at least a thing or two about bullshit, and he phrases his put down here wonderfully well – I wish I could shut someone down as gracefully as that. Normally I just say “bullshit”, and then get vigorously told off by someone who knows a lot more about the subject than me. I’m working on caution, but I can’t say I’ve mastered it just yet.

Point is; eventually when you’re travelling around the place somebody’s going to tell you some bullshit. They might not know if it is or isn’t true. You certainly won’t. But, just like truth can be stranger than fiction; fiction can be much more entertaining than truth. Here are a couple of stories that I was told by the locals that, like all good bullshit, are mixed with the truth. It’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends, but however you look at it, they’re great stories and it’s fun to believe, sometimes. As Shakespeare said:

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her though I know she lies

So, my first wonderful example of the very best kind of bullshit was told to me by an Italian man during a long wait at Venice’s train station. He complimented his bad English beautifully with enormous, Italian hand gestures and helped both of us pass the time in what would have otherwise been a long and boring wait.

He told me that during the time of the Crusades, the cunning Doge (Duke) of Venice offered transport to crusading armies across the Mediterranean, to do his part in the Crusades. However, (and here’s where it gets iffy) the Doge took the crusaders to Constantinople, which was at war with Venice, and told the Crusaders they were in the Holy Land. The Crusaders, gullible fools, attacked the city and captured it within the month. Then, the clever Venetians took them back to Europe, patting them on the back, muttering some variant of “good job lads, we’ll take it from here”.

Thus, the land of Constantinople came under the control of the Republic of Venice. At least, that’s what I heard. I’ve refused to do any research on the subject: much as I’d like to know more, I want to enjoy the story as it is. See what you can find out, if you’re curious.

My second fun-fiction occurs a few hundred years later, and quite close by in global terms. This was told to me by a very kind, enormously drunk Bulgarian man who called himself “The Duke”, strangely enough. Whilst I waited for a train change in Sofia to take me to Prague from Istanbul, he told me his variant on the Legend of King Dracula, or, as my Bulgarian man called him, Vlad the Impaler. Rumour goes that Vlad was incredibly cruel to his Ottoman enemies in the south, and used to execute them by jamming a stake into their, erm, rectum and then leaving the stakes there till they died. Nasty stuff, and generally recognised as true by historians.

My Bulgarian had a different variant. Apparently, old King Vlad was much nicer than history teaches us, and was actually just the subject and inventor of a Blackadder-style cunning plan. Vlad encouraged rumours of his nasty treatment of his enemies in order to scare them away from ever actually attacking, therefore saving many lives on what would have otherwise been a long and difficult war. It’s obviously difficult to tell which one’s right now – if it was a good enough lie, it would look just like the truth.

The only advice I can give you for these stories is to visit and see if you can find out for yourself. Or collect your own “bullshit” story – there’s plenty to go around. Remember Shakespeare – believe her though you know she lies – it’s much more fun.

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