Lisbon in Black & White (Lisboa en blanco y negro)

(Click to enlarge. / Haz click para ampliar.)

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“Narrative History at its Most Enthralling”: Interview with Roger Crowley

Today we’re going to talk about – and talk with – one of my favourite authors.

Let’s start with an excerpt:

View from the Doge’s prison, Venice

..Pisani could hear the cries from the ducal prison. Putting his head to the bars, he called out ‘Long live St Mark!’ The crowd responded with a throaty roar. Upstairs in the senatorial chamber a panicky debate was underway. The crowd put ladders to the windows. They hammered the chamber door with a rhythmic refrain: ‘Vettor Pisani! Vettor Pisani!’

Reads like a novel?

It isn’t.

It’s history – as written by the British historian, Roger Crowley.

The excerpt above is from City of Fortune, Roger Crowley’s book on the rise and decline of Venetian naval power. If you’d like to find out why – the clearly popular – Admiral Pisani (1324-1380) was languishing in the Doge’s prison and what happened next, you know what to do.

(No, I did not mean look it up on Wikipedia!)

Continue reading ““Narrative History at its Most Enthralling”: Interview with Roger Crowley”

Face to Face with My Ancestors (The Scythians in the British Museum)

I went to see the Scythian exhibition in the British Museum on Friday night and I came face to face with a Scythian warrior from over 2000 years ago.

Was this what my great-grandfather 50 times removed looked like?

Continue reading “Face to Face with My Ancestors (The Scythians in the British Museum)”

The Wine-Dark Sea

Quote of the Week:

“Sailing over the wine-dark sea…” (Homer: The Odyssey)
[Image public domain via Pixabay]

It was evening when we made our way back to the cove. The sun was setting fire to the headlands west of us, and the sea had become absolutely still. Not even a cat’s-paw trailed across the purple water. The sea was truly like wine to look at. The professors who had decried Homer’s adjective and invented other meanings for it, had never been sailors.

(Ernle Bradford: The Wind Off the Island)

An Evening with Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho by Sugiyama Sanpu [public domain via Wikimedia Commons]
I was reading haikus last night. A haiku – for those of you who don’t know – is a traditional, non-rhyming Japanese poem of 17 syllables, arranged in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables respectively.

The greatest – the first, the last and the only, some would say – haiku poet was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) but we’re not going to enter into a thorough discussion of his qualities right now because:

a) it’s getting on for midnight and I’ve got to go to work tomorrow, and

b) nobody’s first introduction to a poet or a style of poetry should be spoiled by literary criticism.

(You’ll just have to subscribe and wait until I revisit the topic.)

I love haikus because I love my poems evocative, ephemeral and emotive. The best haikus are capable of combining those three qualities within measly seventeen syllables.

(We’ll take this step by step.)

Continue reading “An Evening with Matsuo Basho”

7 Things You’ll Regret Not Doing in Lisbon

Having taken a somewhat negative view last week with 7 Things You’ll Regret Doing in Lisbon, I think it’s time to look on the bright side!

Good Enough for Byron

We’ll take our cue from Byron:

On, on the vessel flies, the land is gone,
And winds are rude in Biscay’s sleepless bay.
Four days are sped, but with the fifth, anon,
New shores descried make every bosom gay;
And Cintra’s mountain greets them on their way,
And Tagus dashing onward to the deep,
His fabled golden tribute bent to pay;
And soon on board the Lusian pilots leap,
And steer ‘twixt fertile shores where yet few rustics reap.

(Lord Byron: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto I, XIV)

(Welcome to Lisbon.)

If it was good enough for Byron, it should be good enough for you: Byron had a real talent in picking the most memorable places in Europe to visit (and then writing them up in his poetry).

Continue reading “7 Things You’ll Regret Not Doing in Lisbon”

Lao Tzu on Knowing Yourself (Lao-Tse sobre conocerte a ti mismo)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Lao Tzu (6th century BC) [public domain via Wikipedia]

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realise that you have enough,
you are truly rich.

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching, 33
(Transl. by Stephen Mitchell)


El que conoce a los demás es inteligente.
El que se conoce a sí mismo es iluminado.
El que vence a los demás es fuerte.
El que se vence a sí mismo es la fuerza.
El que se contenta es rico.

Lao-Tse: Tao te king, XXXIII

 

Palabra mágica (Magic Word)

The library of Pannonhalma Archabbey, Hungary. Photo by Thaler Tamás via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]
En septiembre 1931, el poeta Federico García Lorca hizo un discurso por la ocasión de la inauguración de la biblioteca pública en su pueblo natal, Fuente Vaqueros en Granada.

In September 1931, the poet Federico García Lorca made a speech on occasion of the inauguration of the public library in his hometown, Fuente Vaqueros in Granada.

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week

¡Libros! ¡Libros! He aquí una palabra mágica que equivale a decir amor, amor, y que debían los pueblos pedir como piden pan o como anhelan la lluvia para sus sementeras.

(Federico García Lorca: Medio pan y un libro)


Books! Books! Here is a magic word that is equivalent to saying love, love, and what people should ask for like they ask for bread or yearn for rain for their crops.

(Federico García Lorca; Half a Bread and a Book)

Los lusiadas o como Portugal se ganó un imperio

Read this in EnglishThe Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire

Fui a Portugal para una semana con un libro, y volví con dos; lo nuevo está en portugués.

I felt this might be the closest I’d ever get to reading The Lusiads in the original… / Me pareció que esto sería lo mejor que puedo hacer para leer Los lusiadas en su idioma original…

Eso suena muy bien pero no tengas que envidiarme: no logré aprender portugués en una sola semana (echo la culpa a los portugueses, ya que insistieron en hablar conmigo en inglés). Sin embargo, he comprado un libro en portugués, y no cualquier libro, sino la más famosa obra de literatura portuguesa: el poema épico, Los lusiadas, escrito por el poeta nacional de Portugal, Luís Vaz de Camōes.

Aunque sólo en la forma de un libro de historietas.

Todos aquí pueden confirmar que el español y el portugués son suficientemente similares para ser posible leer portugués un poquito sin aprenderlo, ¿no? Por esta razón me parece que tengo posibilidad de comprender Los lusiadas cuando el texto va acompañado con MUCHAS ilustraciones. Y un poco mejor: cuando el texto va acompañado con MUCHAS ilustraciones y ya conozco el argumento.

Porque la historia que Luís de Camões narra en Los lusiadas es de la era héroica de la navegación portuguesa: el viaje de Vasco da Gama en 1497-98, cuando él se convirtió en el primer europeo en llegar a India doblando el Cabo de Buena Esperanza. Y el libro con el que fui a Portugal, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire (Conquistadores: Como Portugal creó el primer imperio global) por Roger Crowley, se trata del mismo viaje – y un poco más. (Conquerors es el último libro de Crowley, y desgraciadamente todavía no está traducido al español, pero espero que no tardaría mucho.)

Continue reading “Los lusiadas o como Portugal se ganó un imperio”

Caravels (Carabelas)

Caravels were the preferred ships for discovery of the Portuguese and the Spanish in the 15th and 16th century on account of their seaworthiness, speed and manoeuvrability, not to mention their shallow draught which allowed the close exploration of unknown coasts. Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama and Columbus all sailed in caravels; one of Magellan’s ships was a caravel too. Having recently read a book about Portuguese explorers and visited Portugal, I noticed these famous ships (perhaps understandably) were just about depicted everywhere…

Carabelas fueron los naves preferidos de los navegantes portugueses y españoles en la era de los descubrimientos en los siglos XV y XVI, debido a su navegabilidad y velocidad, por no mencionar que por ser barcos de poco calado los navegantes pudieron acercarse más a las costas desconocidas. Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama y Cristóbal Colón navegaban en carabelas; uno de los naves de Magallanes también fue una carabela. Como acabo de leer un libro sobre los navegantes portugueses, en mi viaje reciente a Lisboa me fijaba en como esos barcos famosos eran representados en todas partes (tal vez con razón)…

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The Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire

Leer esto en castellano

I went to Portugal for a week with a book and came back with two; the new one is in Portuguese.

I felt this might be the closest I’d ever get to reading The Lusiads in the original…

This sounds grandiloquent but you needn’t turn yellow with envy: I did not manage to learn Portuguese merely in one week (I blame the Portuguese who insisted on speaking to me in English). Nevertheless, I acquired a book in Portuguese, and not just any book but the most famous piece of Portuguese literature: the epic poem The Lusiads by Portugal’s national poet, Luís Vaz de Camōes.

Although only in the form of a comics book.

Any Spanish speaker will testify to the fact that if you can read Spanish, you can read Portuguese to a very decent degree. Consequently I fancy my chances of making sense of The Lusiads when accompanied by LOTS of pictures. Better still: I fancy my chances of making sense of The Lusiads when accompanied by LOTS of pictures and when I already know the plot.

Because the story Luís de Camões tells in The Lusiads is from the heroic age of Portuguese navigation: the journey of Vasco da Gama in 1497-98, when he became the first European to reach India by rounding the Cape of Good Hope. And the book I went to Portugal with, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire by Roger Crowley, treats the same journey – and a bit more.

Continue reading “The Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire”

Gone Sailing

Last week, on the River Tagus, or as the locals call it, the rio Tejo, off Lisbon in Portugal.

It was sunny, thirty degrees and serene on the river. The engine had been turned off; we were under sail only. Young Friend of the Elephants was steering a yacht of 12 metres (she seems to have developed a knack to get respectable captains handing her the wheel), and managed to avoid container ships, the timetabled ferry and the pillars of the bridge. Mr Anglo-Saxonist asked our amiable captain if he thought the Mediterranean would be fine for amateur sailors. He didn’t. (I’ve been saying so for years but you can’t get an Englishman to respect the Mediterranean. It’s not big enough for them.)

But I digress. We’re on the Tagus, off Lisbon.

Enjoy. (As usual, click to open the gallery.)

You might also like:
Tagus River CruisesRest in Peace? The Wandering Remains of Christopher Columbus

Quote of the Week: On Liberty

John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)

…the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else.

The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

(John Stuart Mill: On Liberty)

You might also like:On Liberty by John Stuart Mill on Project Gutenberg

Image credit: Public domain via Wikipedia

In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons: Around Lake Coniston

Pirates on Lake Coniston

If this post will have any merit, it won’t be in the quality of the photos, taken from a distance from a moving boat; it will be in the subject.

For fellow admirers of Arthur Ransome‘s Swallows and Amazons, here follows part two of Waterblogged’s tribute to Arthur Ransome and the beauty of the Lake District: today we’re going on a tour around Lake Coniston.

Continue reading “In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons: Around Lake Coniston”

Come And Take Them (Ven a tomarlas)

Quote of the Week: Come And Take Them

The ultimate laconic reply of defiance: that of Leonidas to Xerxes at Thermopylae, unbeatable in its simplicity. Especially in Greek where it’s only two words: molon labe.

When Xerxes wrote again: ‘Deliver up your arms,’ he wrote back: ‘Come and take them’.

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans, Leonidas)

The words “molon labe” as inscribed on the Leonidas monument at Thermopylae. Source: Wikipedia

La cita de la semana: Ven a tomarlas

Lo último en el desafío lacónico: lo de Leónidas a Jerjes en las Termópilas, con su sencillez imbatible. Especialmente en griego, como que solo consiste de dos palabras: molon labe.

Cuando de nuevo Jerjes escribió: «Entrega tus armas», contestó: «Ven a tomarlas.»

(Plutarco: Moralia, III, Máximas de espartanos, Leónidas)

In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons: Climbing the Kanchenjunga

One of the most engaging books I read as a child was Swallows and Amazons, and its sequel, Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome. (I didn’t get to read more of the series until later.)

Last week, we visited the Lake District and went to see the locations where the books take place. Young Friend of the Elephants, a firm fan of Swallows and Amazons, even lugged the books with her on the trip.

This is our joint tribute to the beauty of Lake Coniston and the genius of Arthur Ransome. (Click on the images to enlarge them.)

Continue reading “In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons: Climbing the Kanchenjunga”