It’s a dark and stormy night… no, actually, it’s just a dark and miserably wet January afternoon. It’s that time of the year when hardly anybody can be bothered to get off the sofa; the new year’s resolution crowd has already disappeared from the gym. The same is true for our children, who are far too addicted to their electronic gadgets anyway and would do well to spend more time outdoors.
So perhaps this a good time to offer them a good book in exchange for those gadgets; and why not make it a book that will encourage them out of doors? By the time they finish reading, spring will be just round the corner.
Nine Books to Get Your Kids Off the Sofa
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
And all its sequels. I wrote several posts about these books before, one of them only very recently, so I’m not going to repeat myself. For your convenience, here is the link to the earlier Swallows and Amazon’s posts:
The title of this classic story about rowing up the Thames speaks for itself: three men in a boat, not to mention the dog. A week of rowing upriver, camping out, dealing with the weather and each other. When your teen finished laughing, he can go out and take to the oars. Remind him not to forget the tin opener.
A few years ago I wrote a series of posts about my attempt to convince my family to row up the Thames a la Jerome K. Jerome and his friends. You can find out whether I succeeded here:
A party of school children aged between 8 and 14 and embarked for a school cruise are swept out to sea from Auckland Harbour while the crew is ashore. After being caught up in a storm, they are eventually wrecked on a desert island… This 19th century French adventure classic is a precursor of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, except here all will turn out well.
Jules Verne of course wrote many books that would get anyone of the sofa – one of these days, I’ll dedicate a post all to him.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A sickly and not very likeable little girl is orphaned and sent to live at her widowed uncle’s house. Mostly left to her own devices, she discovers a hidden garden, makes friends with a local boy and meets her invalid cousin. And the more time she spends outdoors in the secret garden, the more her health and her temper improve… Perhaps a bit moralistic, but it is a beautifully written, uplifting story in which the power of nature transforms the lives of two miserable children.
Have you got a garden? Get that child out there this spring to plant something. If you haven’t, let your child take charge of a new flower pot.
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
A well-to-do city family’s life suddenly turns upside down: Father is obliged to go away in mysterious circumstances and the rest of the family moves to a small cottage in the countryside. While Mother is busy making ends meet, the children discover the railway and the canal… Their outdoor and village adventures come to a happy end when the mystery of father’s disappearance is cleared up.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The weird and wonderful adventures of Alice, who follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole… this is one of those books of which you don’t really write a brief summary. (Or a long one – even less.) You just read it. 🙂
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Nobody was less outdoorsy, not to say less adventurous!, than the respectable Mr Bilbo Baggins, who lived in a nice, comfortable hole in the ground. Unfortunately, one day the wizard Gandalf turns up, followed by a company of dwarves who are about to set off to steal a dragon’s gold. They desperately need a thief and to his own greatest surprise, off goes Mr Baggins, in capacity of the thief, forgetting even his handkerchief…
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Mr Baggins’s nice comfortable hole reminded me of the lovable Mole who was spring cleaning his own comfortable hole on one sunny day, but got cheesed off and went outside instead. Which child will not relate to his feelings? I’m not a child any more, but give me a nice sunny riverbank any day of the year in preference to cleaning the house. Mole found his way to the river where he met Ratty and the rest, as they say, is history…
A charming story beautifully evoking the English countryside.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Perhaps everybody has read this one already and I’m wasting my breath. But just in case somebody hasn’t… As far as adventures go, this is the original, unbeatable, mother-of-all pirate books. It’s never too late to (re-)read it! 🙂
And the Rest
There are of course other books – many – that would inspire a child/teen to get off the sofa but all good things have to come to an end and this post does too. Maybe I’ll write a sequel at another time. 🙂
In the meantime, I’m happy to recommend or discuss with any of you any other books that could have been included here – leave a comment below.
“England looked strange to us returned soldiers. We could not understand the war-madness that ran wild everywhere, looking for a pseudo-military outlet. The civilians talked a foreign language. I found serious conversation with my parents all but impossible.”
En la edad prehistórica, la Península Ibérica fue, claramente, el lugar donde vivir – como se puede ver en este mapa:
Bueno. Hace un año tenía una vacación estupenda en Ribadesella en Asturias – uno de esos lugares, donde sólo los españoles (y surfistas americanos) viajan para veranear y donde es, de hecho, es muy útil ser capaz de hablar español. Puedes encontrarlo en el mapa arriba, donde dice Tito Bustillo.
La Cueva Tito Bustillo, que está unos diez o quince minutos de distancia del centro de Ribadesella andando, es un patriomonio de la humanidad de la UNESCO (como la mejor conocida Altamira). Fue descubierto solo en los años 1960 por unos jovenes, quienes, evidentemente, tenían nada mejor que hacer, y le pusieron el nombre de unos de ellos, quien murió en un accidente de espeleología un poco más tarde. En la cueva descubrieron pinturas y herramientas de la Edad de Piedra; las pinturas más antiguos tienen unos 30 mil años. En un rincón hay unas pinturas de… eh… genitales femeninos, que fueron descubiertos, muy apropriadamente, por una miembro del grupo buscando un poco de privacidad para orinar. O, por le menos, eso dice el guía de turismo. 🙂
2. Asentamientos cartaginenses y griegos, 300 a.C.
La primera parte de ella es, como decíamos, el Occidente; es decir, Ibería; ésta, en su mayor extensión, es poco habitable, pues casi toda se halla cubierta de montes, bosques y llanuras de suelo pobre y desigualmente regado. La región septentrional es muy fría por ser accidentada en extremo, y por estar al lado del mar se halla privada de relaciones y comunicaciones con las demás tierras, de manera que es muy poco hospitalaria. Así es el carácter de esta región. La meridional casi toda ella es fértil, principalmente la de fuera de las Stélai…
Los hombres de Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon fueron, claramente, no fueron los únicos quienes aprecieron la Península Ibérica. Además de los celtas omnipresentes viviendo en el interior, unos cartaginenses con iniciativa pronto aparecieron en la costa mediterránea, y, casi de inmediato, fueron seguidos por los griegos.
Los romanos legaron a los españoles su idioma, sus leyes y sus acueductos, entre otras cosas. España, por su parte, dio a los romanos a Trajano, a Adriano y a Séneca.
Esta Hispania produce los durísimos soldados, ésta los expertísimos capitanes, ésta los fecundísimos oradores, ésta los clarísimos vates, ésta es madre de jueces y príncipes, ésta dio para el Imperio a Trajano, a Adriano, a Teodosio.
(Latino Pacato Drepanio)
El mapa siguiente habla por sí mismo, si estás bendecido con la aptitud lingüística y/o un conocimiento básico de la geografía de la Península Ibérica:
Un juego de adivina las ciudades 🙂
Más puntos si puedes identificar Brigantium ¡(sin buscar en Wikipedia)!
Si quieres, puedes dejar tus soluciones en los comentarios abajo. :) O puedes encontrar las respuestas en Waterblogged en la semana que viene.
4. Los visigodos, 700 d.C.
De verdad, fue todo una procesión… una nación después de otra, casi tan mal como la llanura panónica, aquel cementerio de triste fama de los nómadas.
Celtas, cartaginenses, griegos, romanos… y después de los romanos, los visigodos. (Ni siquiera fueron los últimos.)
Los visigodos vinieron, vieron y vencieron, y después, fueron vencidos en su momento por los moros de África. El honor de perder su reino a los moros pertenece al rey Rodrido – sobre quien he escrito mucho antes de hoy (enlace abajo).
Por las torres de Valencia, salidos son todos armados;
Mío Cid a los sus vasallos tan bien los va aconsejando;
Dejan en las puertas hombres de gran recaudo.
Dio salto mío Cid sobre Babieca el su caballo;
De todas las guarniciones, muy bien está preparado.
La enseña sacan fuera, de Valencia dieron salto;
Cuatro mil menos treinta con mío Cid van a cabo;
A los cincuenta mil, vanlos a herir de grado;…
El Cantar de Mío Cid
Para ver un mapa interactivo con mucho más detalles y con fotos y explanaciones, visita Explore the Med.
Una de mis momentos favoritos de la historia y literatura española, la reconquista fue un período de confusión, leyendas, alianzas extrañas y El Cid.
Bueno, creo que no tengo que explicar para vosotros hispano-hablantes, que a Castilla, en el principio un condado del reino de León y después un reino independiente, le pusieron el nombre porque tiene muchísimos castillos en su tierra en la edad de la reconquista. El mapa siguiente viene de castillosnet.org y solo muestra las fortificaciones en la provincia de Castilla y León (como se llama ahora). Aún así, la cifra sube a un alucinante 627 castillos, muchos de cuales existen todavía y se puede visitar.
7. Cortés en México 1520 d.C.
Y Pizarro en Peru. Y Balboa en Panamá. Por no mencionar el hombre con quien empezó todo: Colón en el Caribe…
Y fué esta nuestra venturosa y atrevida entrada en la gran ciudad de Tenustitán México, a ocho días del mes de noviembre, año del Nuestro Salvador Jesucristo de mil quinientos diecinueve años…
Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España de Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Un mapa de los descubrimientos españoles quizás habría sido más instructivo aquí, pero al final elegí un sencillo mapa de una ciudad (no pude resistirlo):
Una de las grandes ciudades del mundo en aquella edad: Tenochtitlán – antes de que Cortés la destruyera.
Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular - ¡Un reto de natación!
Aunque esto no es un blog de deportes, me encanta la natación y la busqueda por un mapa de Tenochtitlán me dio la idea para un nuevo reto de natación: el Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular - lo que he calculado, con un poco de licencia geográfica necesaria, ser igual de 14.700 metros.
Si tienes un mejor cálculo de la distancia aproximada para nadar la circunferencia de Tenochtitlán antes de que Cortés la destruyera, pues déjame un comentario abajo. Yo he basado la aproximación principalmente en el mapa del valle México en 1519, disponible en Wikipedia.
Si la salud me permite, voy a nadar el Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular más tarde en este año (en el momento estoy nadando un reto diferente) - todos estáis bienvenidos a tomar parte! :)
Como escribió Juvenal: Mens sana in corpore sano. (Mente sana en un cuerpo sano.)
Estoy segura de que hay mapas en el internet que son mucho más fáciles entender (a veces se puede tener demasiado información), pero este mapa diacrónico del Imperio Español fue, claramente, una obra de amor, y no pude resistirlo. Es muy raro que subo una imagen de resolución completa a Waterblogged, pero la única manera de gozar este mapa es hacer un zoom in – ¡así que hágalo! ¡Explóralo!
En el tiempo de su expansión más grande, el Imperio Español era unos 20 millones de kilómetros cuadrados y se hallaba en todos los continentes menos la Antártida. La frase el imperio donde nunca se pone el sol (que, de pasada, se originó con Heródoto) fue usado por la primera vez por el fray Francisco de Ugalde a Carlos V.
Lecturas recomendadas:El samurai de Shusaku Endo
Lituma en los Andes de Mario Vargas Llosa
El coronel no tiene quien le escriba de Gabriel García Márquez
9. Las cabalgadas de Don Quijote
No podemos hablar de la historia española, y menos en un blog de libros, sin mencionar Don Quijote. Si te gusta caminar (o quizás, cabalgar 🙂 ), hay, de hecho, una Ruta de Don Quijote en Castilla-La Mancha, una serie de rutas que siguen los pasos del famoso y ingenioso hidalgo… hasta lugares como este:
Lecturas recomendadas:Don Quijote de Miguel de Cervantes
Monsignor Quixote de Graham Greene
10. La guerra de la independencia
Originalmente iba a trataros a un mapa completo de la península con todas las batallas marcadas por las espadas cruzadas como es tradicional… pero he cambiado de idea. La verdad es que no es fácil encontrar un mapa como eso, y cuando consideras, que la página de Wikipedia sobre las batallas the la guerra de la independencia tiene más de 150 artículos, no es difícil ver la razón. En vez de eso, puedes gozar este mapa pequeña de la area de Cuenca, una ciudad encantadora en Castilla-La Mancha, completo con batallas, arsenales, rutas y hospitales de los ejercicios…
Lectura recomendada:El asedio de Arturo Pérez-Reverte
11. La Biblia en España, los años 1830
Habría puesto un mapa de las guerras carlistas aquí – habría sido lógico. Pero ya hemos tenido demasiado guerras (aunque estamos hablando de la historia de España).
De manera que, en vez de un mapa de guerra tenéis aquí un mapa de literatura (mucho mejor para un blog de libros): los viajes de George Borrow, un humilde empleado de la Bible Society (Sociedad de la Biblia) en Londres, quien iba vendiendo una edición prohibida de la Biblia de arriba abajo en la tierra de España durante de las guerras carlistas. Sus distintos viajes se notan en rojo, azul, amarillo y verde – lo hicimos juntos el Señor Anglosajonista y yo misma. Y os recomiendo mucho el libro, La Biblia en España, que fue la resultad de sus viajes. ¡Una lectura verdaderamente encantadora!
Como ya hemos tenido demasiado guerras, descaradamente vamos a pasar por alto la guerra civil de 1936-39. En su lugar, terminamos con algo mucho más agradable: un mapa de los patrimonios de la humanidad en España. (Y esto ni siquiera marca Covadonga o Campo de Criptana, y muchos lugares encantadores.) ¿Por qué no usas este mapa para seleccionar tu próximo destino del viaje?
In prehistoric times, the Iberian Peninsula was clearly the place to be – as attested by this map:
Now a year ago I had a great holiday in Ribadesella in Asturias – one of those places where only the Spanish (and American surfers) go on holiday to and it’s very useful to be actually able speak Spanish. You can find it on the map above where it says Tito Bustillo.
The Tito Bustillo Cave, some ten-fifteen minutes walk from the centre of Ribadesella, is a UNESCO World Heritage site (like the much better known Altamira). It was only discovered in the 1960s by a group of young people who evidently had nothing better to do and it’s named after one of them who died young in a caving accident. Cave paintings and stone age tools were found in the cave, the oldest paintings being about 30 thousand years old. In a hidden corner there are some paintings of… er… female genitalia which were, appropriately enough, discovered by a female member of the caving party who looked for some privacy to relieve herself. Or at least, so the tour guide says. 🙂
2. Carthaginian and Greek Settlements 300 BC
The first division of this continent towards the west is Iberia, as we before stated. The greater part of this country is but little fitted for habitation; consisting chiefly of mountains, woods, and plains covered with a light meagre soil, the irrigation of which is likewise uncertain The part next the north, which borders on the ocean, is extremely cold, and besides its rugged character, has no communication or intercourse with other [countries], and thus to dwell there is attended with peculiar hardship. Such is the character of this portion; on the other hand, almost the whole of the south is fertile, especially what is beyond the Pillars [of Hercules]…
Geography by Strabo
The Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons were clearly not the only people who appreciated the Iberian Peninsula. In addition to the ubiquitous Celts inhabiting the inland, the enterprising Phoenicians (Carthaginians) soon showed up on the Mediterranean coast, closely followed by the Greeks.
Recommended reading:Geography, Book III by Strabo
3. Hispania (Roman Spain, 125 A.D.)
The Romans bequeathed Spain their language, their laws and their aqueducts, among other things. Spain for her part gave the Romans Trajan, Hadrian and Seneca.
This Hispania produces tough soldiers, very skilled captains, prolific speakers, luminous bards. It is a mother of judges and princes; it has given Trajan, Hadrian, and Theodosius to the Empire.
(Latinius Pacatus Drepanius)
The following map speaks for itself if you are blessed with some linguistic ability and/or a basic knowledge of the geography of the Iberian peninsula:
A Game of Spot the Towns 🙂
Plus points for identifying which modern town is Brigantium (without looking it up on Widipedia)!
Feel free to leave your solutions in the comments below. :) Or wait to find out the answers on Waterblogged next week.
4. Visigothic Spain, 700 AD
Really, it was a procession… one nation after another, as bad as the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe, that infamous graveyard of nomadic nations.
Celts, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans… and after the Romans came the Visigoths. (Nor were they the last ones!)
The Visigoths came, saw, conquered and then were conquered in due course by the Moors from Africa. The honour of losing the kingdom to the Moors fell to King Roderick – of whom I have already written as much elsewhere as was worth writing (link at the end of the post).
5. Reconquista – The Reconquering of Spain from the Moors, 756 AD – 1492 AD
Out through the Quarter Towers full armed away they went.
The lord Cid and his henchmen did counsel and consent.
Levies they left behind them, the gates to watch and keep.
On the steed Bavieca sprang the lord Cid with a leap.
Fair trappings and caparisons girded that steed about.
With the standard from Valencia forthwith they sallied out.
Were with the Cid four thousand less but a score and ten,
They came gladly to a battle against fifty thousand men.
The Poem of the Cid
For a much more detailed and interactive map with photos and and explanations (only for Spanish speakers, although Google Translate could be your friend if you don’t speak Spanish), see Explore the Med.
One of my favourite times of Spanish history and literature, the reconquista – the reconquering of the peninsula from the Moors – was a period of confusion, legends, strange alliances and El Cid.
I don’t know how many of you know but Castile, originally a county of the kingdom of León and then an independent kingdom in her own right, got her name from the castles that proliferated on her land during the reconquista. The following map is taken from castillosnet.org and only shows the fortications in what is now the province of Castile and León. They amount to a whopping 627 and many still are standing. Castle buffs, Spain can keep you happy for a lifetime! 🙂
7. Cortés in Mexico 1520 A.D.
And Pizarro in Peru. And Balboa in Panama. Not to mention the man who started it all – Colombus in the Caribbean…
So, with luck on our side, we boldly entered the city of Tenochtitlan or Mexico on 8 November in the year of our Lord 1519…
The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz del Castillo
A map of the Spanish discoveries would have been perhaps more informative here, but I ended up choosing a simple city map (I couldn’t resist it):
One of the great cities of the world at the time: Tenochtitlán- before Cortés destroyed it.
Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular - A Swimming Challenge!
Although this is not a 'sporty' blog, I'm in fact a keen swimmer and the search for this map resulted in my devising a new swimming challenge: the Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular Swim - which with a bit of necessary geographic licence I make out to be 14,700 metres.
If anybody has a better estimate of the distance involved in swimming around Tenochtitlán before Cortés destroyed it, please leave a comment below. I mainly based the estimate on the map of the Mexico Valley in 1519, available on Wikipedia.
Health permitting I'll be swimming the Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular later this year (I'm currently doing a different challenge) - you're welcome to join in. :)
As Juvenal wrote: Mens sana in corpore sano. (A healthy mind in a healthy body.)
There must be maps out there that are much easier to make sense of (there’s such a thing as too much information) but this diachronic map of the Spanish Empire was clearly a work of love and once again, I couldn’t resist. I seldom upload full size images to Waterblogged, but the only way you can truly enjoy this map is by zooming in – so go right ahead. 🙂 Explore!
At its fullest expansion the Spanish Empire consisted of some 20 million square kilometres and was present on every continent minus Antarctica. Many English speakers are familiar with the phrase the empire on which the sun never set (which, by the way, originated with my darling Herodotus) – well, contrary to popular belief, it was not coined for the British Empire but for the Spanish, by a courtier of Carlos V.
Can’t talk about Spanish history, and especially not on a blog of books, without mentioning Don Quijote. If you belong to the hiking fraternity, there is in fact a Ruta de Don Quijote in Castile-La Mancha, a series of walking routes which traces the footsteps of the famous and ingenious hidalgo… to places like this:
Recommended reading:Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
10. The Peninsular War
Originally, I was going to treat you to a full map of the Peninsula with all the battles marked by the traditional crossed swords but I thought better of it. To begin with, it’s not easy to find such a map, and when you consider that the page listing in Wikipedia on the battles of the Spanish War of Independence, better known in English as the Peninsular War, runs to a full 150 entries, it’s not difficult to see the reason why. So instead enjoy this map of the neighbourhood of the charming Cuenca in Castile-La Mancha, fully developed with battle locations, armories, army routes and military hospitals…!
Recommended reading:The Siege by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
11. The Bible in Spain, 1830s
I could have put here a map of the Carlist Wars, but there is such a thing as too many wars, even when we’re talking of Spanish history. Or especially when we’re talking of Spanish history.
So instead, another literary map (much more appropriate to a book blog): the travels of George Borrow, a lowly employee of the Bible Society in London, who peddled a forbidden translation of the Bible up and down the land of Spain during the Carlist Wars. His various journeys are shown in red, blue, yellow and green – a combined effort on Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s and my part. And I warmly recommend you all The Bible in Spain, the book that resulted from his experiences. A truly entertaining read!
As we had too many wars already, we’re now going to shamelessly bypass the Civil War of 1936-39. Instead, we’re going to finish with something much more pleasant: a map of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Spain. (And it doesn’t even mark Covadonga or Campo de Criptana and many other charming places.) Why not use it to pick your next holiday destination? 🙂
Ten years ago I resolved to drive to Santiago, and so, eventually, I did – not once but several times — but because I had not written about it, I still hadn’t really been there. There was always something else that needed thinking or writing about, a landscape, a road, a monastery, a writer or a painter, and yet it seemed as if all those landscapes, all those stories of Moors and kings and pilgrims, all my own memories as well as the written memoirs of others pointed steadily in the same direction, to the place where Spain and the oceanic west come together, to the city which, in all its Galician aloofness, is the true capital of Spain.
About a year ago I looked back at 2018, admitted it had been a real struggle to keep the blog going and hoped for things to go better in 2019. Well, I can tell you this: they didn’t (if you didn’t work this out already for yourselves by the scarcity of the posts). What can I say? May 202o be better than 2019 and may I write some good posts this year! 🙂
But while you’re waiting for those posts, let’s have a quick review at some of the books of 2019: books you might enjoy – or you’ll want to avoid! 🙂
By the way, if you ever want to know what I’m reading, you can always take a look at the Reading Log (which I do try to keep reasonably up-to-date).
I had to write a Who’s Who page for the blog as Mr Anglo-Saxonist heard on the radio that in America an Anglo-Saxonist is not merely a person obsessed by Anglo-Saxon history but some species of unsavoury character… and requested that I make it clear that he’s merely the first but not the latter!
Since I was going to write a Who’s Who, I felt I might as well include the more obscure authors and historical figures that populate these pages.
It is a work in progress…
…but I thought I’d share the first instalment with you.
By way of kicking off the new year. Happy New Year to you all, by the way! 🙂
An enterprising employee of the Bible Society of London who went to to peddle a forbidden book up and down the land of civil war torn, Catholic Spain in the 19th century. A gifted linguist and a born adventurer, Borrow wrote his highly entertaining story up in… The Bible in Spain. (I don’t have to spell out what book he was selling, do I?)
An English sailor and historian who fell in love with the Mediterranean during World War II. He wrote histories and travel books in an entertaining, relaxed style, eminently suited for holiday reading. If you only ever read one book about the Battle of Thermopylae, read his. More about him in Sailing into History.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
A Spanish conquistador who took part in the conquest of Mexico with Hernán Cortez. He described his experiences in the The Conquest of New Spain.
Alonso de Contreras
A Spanish soldier of fortune in the 17th century. Contreras mostly served in the Mediterranean against the Turks although he also visited the Indias where he fought against Sir Walter Raleigh. A hot head and a womaniser, he often got into trouble for killing when not on the battle field; he was imprisoned several times and even lived as a hermit for a while. He wrote his life’s story up in The Adventures of Captain Alonso de Contreras.
A German monk with the gift of the gab who twice went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Red Sea and Egypt in the 1480s and then wrote a detailed account of his travels. He can be a bit boring on occasion – when he describes every stone and tree stump in Jerusalem and the number of indulgences he received for kissing them – but he had an open and enquiring mind and he did go on pilgrimage in a then enemy country. Well worth persevering with. (Or take him in small (tasty) bites here on Waterblogged.)
Antonio de Nebrija
The man who wrote the first grammar of a ‘vulgar’ tongue in Europe; he dedicated his grammar of the Castilian language to Queen Isabella and his foreword continues to be quoted to this day.
Who is only obscure outside England…!
An English children’s author (and supposed spy) who wrote the Swallows and Amazons series about the outdoor adventures of some enterprising children. Unlike Enid Blyton, Ransome wrote well enough to be an entertaining read even for adults.
A dissident Russian author in the second half of the 20th century. He was kicked out of university for not taking the compulsory military training seriously enough (he cheeked the major in charge). Best known for his highly subversive novel, Moscow Stations – wickedly funny.
If you thought the Suez Canal was the brainchild of Ferdinand de Lesseps in the 19th century, today’s quote will make you think again. Enjoy this 15th century explanation of the attempted construction of the Suez Canal and its significance from the pen of the German monk, the curious and open-minded Felix Fabri, who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt in 1483.
I particularly like his somewhat dismissive reference to a ‘certain Spanish king in our time’ whose ships failed to get to India but instead discovered… well, America!
Note about the author picture
Unfortunately, I was unable to find a picture of Felix Fabri so instead you get a statue of Anonymus - ie. the Nameless - the unknown chronicler of early Hungarian history from the 1200s. It seemed appropriate, since they were both monks, and their faces unknown. The statue is in Budapest, in front of Vajdahunyad Castle.
⇒ Anonymus on Wikipedia
Quote of the Week:
In this place, and in the hill-country at the end of the Red Sea, we saw the stupendous works of the ancient Kings of Egypt, who essayed to bring the Red Sea into the Nile ; wherefore they began to dig through the mountains of the isthmus at the head of the sea, to divide hills, cut through the midst of stones and rocks, and made a canal and a waterway to the city of Arsinoe, which is also called Cleopatridis.
This trench was first begun by Sesostris, King of Egypt, before the Trojan War, at a great cost, and afterwards Darius, King of Persia, attempted to make it, but left it unfinished. Afterwards it was completed with consummate art by Ptolemy II, yet in such a manner that the ditch was closed up and would open to himself alone.
By this work the men of old meant to join together the East and the West, for the Nile runs into the Mediterranean, so that if it entered the Red Sea and the Western Ocean into the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, the Persian and Barbarian Sea, even to the Indian Sea in the East. Thus ships from India, Persia, Arabia, Media, and all the kingdoms of the East might freely come to Greece, Italy, France, Ireland, England, and Germany, whereas otherwise ships from the countries of the East cannot come beyond the end of the Red Sea, where Arabia Deserta joins Egypt, neither can ships from Western countries come further than Alexandria, which is the boundary of Asia and Africa; albeit in our own time a certain King of Spain has essayed to find out a way from the Western Ocean – that is to say, from the outer sea, which lies without the pillars of Hercules – into the Eastern Ocean and Indian Sea. But his attempt has been in vain, although he is said to have discovered some valuable isles which hitherto were unknown.
Now, in their attempt to join together the East and West in this manner, the Ptolemies, Kings of Egypt, had two objects in view – first, that they might bear rule over both, being, as they were, in the middle between them; secondly, that there might be a road to all parts of the world for merchants and merchandise, and that the Egyptians might take toll and custom-dues from the merchandise of all the world, seeing that the road must needs pass through their land.
And of a truth it would have been a glorius work if they had completed it ; for then men could have sailed into Egypt from Venice – nay, from Flanders and Ireland – and could have gone up the Nile into the Arabian Gulf, come to the cinnamon country, and reached the exceeding wealthy land of India, whereof we are told among other marvels that it has two summers and two winters in one year, an mountains of gold – real ones, not mere figures of speech – and that there are forty-four different countries in it. Then also through the Indian Sea would have been a way for us Westerns to Persia, Parthia, Media, Araby the Blest, Sabaea, and Chaldaea, and the peoples of the East would have had a way whereby to come to us; and so by this work the three principal parts of the world – to wit, Asia, Africa, and Europe – would have been brought together.
(The Book of the Wanderings of Brother Felix Fabri by Felix Fabri)
You’ll start with a blank map, that doesn’t do more than show roughly what’s water and what isn’t. You’ll have your tents, stores, everything we’d got ready when we thought we were all going together. You’ll be just a wee bit better off than Colombus. And with all the practice you’ve had at exploring, I think you’ll do pretty well. But you’ll be marooned fair and square…
(Arthur Ransome: Secret Water)
So says Captain Walker to his children, after the First Lord of the Admiralty throws a spanner in the Walker family holiday plans (for a brief synopsis of Secret Water see my recent post) and the children duly get dumped on a tidal island with a blank map that they intend to fill in before their parents come back to collect them.
Unlike their first holiday in the Lake Disctrict in Swallows and Amazons, this is not mere ‘idle’ camping; it’s a full blown mapping expedition, often knee-deep in mud, with compasses and surveying poles. And if the resulting map perhaps is ‘not up to the standard of the ordnance survey’, as Ransome put it, it’s still fully recognisable when comparing it to a modern map of the area.
The Secret Archipelago Expedition
In my edition of Secret Water, the fully detailed hand-drawn map comes right after the title page. It is a meticulous pencil drawing and as soon as you look at the neighbourhood of Harwich – Ransome names the village of Pin Mill in the very first sentence of the book – on a modern map, you will be able to spot where Secret Water is located.
It is Hamford Water National Nature Reserve, south of Harwich, near the town of Walton on the Naze:
Since this is the story of a mapping expedition Ransome very handsomely provides us with the blank map of the area where the children are marooned as well as several of the later versions as the map is gradually filled in with more and more details. (Click to enlarge gallery.)
Hamford Water is an area of small tidal waterways and mudflats exposed at low tide with a large central island: Horsey Island, named Swallow Island in the book, where the children camp. The ‘native kraal’ (a farm) is still on the island as are the dykes where Bridget acted sentry. At high tide you can navigate around in a boat; at low tide you can reach the island on foot via a causeway leading to it from the south – from the direction of Kirby le Soken (follow the imaginatively named Island Road).
Hamford Water is also an area where seals like to hang out so you can visit it on one of the regular seal spotting trips out of Harwich harbour.
Crossing the Red Sea: The Egyptians
The bit of road with the four posts on it, in the middle of the Wade, was shorter than it had been. At each end of it was a widening channel of water… And the water was rising, rising fast. Crossing the Wade in the morning, Titty in imagination had been under water, looking up at the keels of boats passing overhead. And now they were not Israelites, crossing dryshod, but Egyptians. They were trapped there in the middle of the sea. They could go neither forward nor back and must wait there, watching the narrow island of the road shrink under their feet.
Those of you who have read Secret Water will no doubt recall the part in the plot when the children cross over the causeway to do some shopping in the nearby town – that would be Walton-on-the-Naze. They left the island at low tide, walking safely across the ‘Red Sea’ just as the Israelites had done in the Bible. A few hours later they returned to the island in two separate groups: the first group, being in time, crossed the Wade safely again, but the second, being too late, got cut off on the causeway by the tide, very much in the manner of the biblical pharaoh and his Egyptians.
The causeway at low tide [Photo by Ben Eagle via Geograph, CC BY-SA 2.0]
The causeway at high tide [Photo by Deb Turnbull via Geograph, CC BY-SA 2.0]
She glanced over her shoulder towards the mainland and then forward again to the low line of the island dyke at the other side of the Red Sea. The mainland already looked a long way behind them, but the island seemed hardly any nearer than it had seemed before they had started over the mud.
It was going to be all right, so long as those two did not get frightened.
But already there was water in those curling channels in the mud. And out in the middle of the Red Sea she could see that the water was close to the narrow brown line of the road. Away to the east where in the morning the mud had stretched almost to the opening of the Straits of Magellan there was water. Away to the west a wide river stretched to Goblin Creek.
Gosh! If only they were more than half way across. She looked back again. Suppose they were too late and the waters met across the road, would they be able to get back to the mainland? If only she knew how fast the tide came in.
Crossing the Red Sea: The Israelites
Naturally, we could not leave the area without attempting the crossing. The seal spotting trip on Saturday was all very well but crossing the Red Sea was the real thing.
With low tide being at 8 o’clock we had to get up half six on Sunday morning to reach the causeway in time to be able to attempt the crossing. I’m glad to report that we crossed like the Israelites rather the Egyptians (it wouldn’t have been very funny to have to swim for it in December in the North Sea)!
This was a trip of Ransome aficionados (all right, Young Friend of the Elephants and myself are the aficionados, Mr Anglo-Saxonist was merely humouring us) and I wouldn’t recommend it to the general public. But the exposed mudflats turned out to have a wholly unexpected beauty in the early morning winter light and as we followed the causeway to the island and back we were accompanied by the distant barking of the seals. After our return to the mainland we even had a brief chat with the current ‘native’ of the ‘kraal’, who had just driven across the causeway in his Land Rover – he was surprisingly unsurprised that we seemed to have nothing better to do on a Sunday morning than churn mud on the Wade…
(Click to enlarge the gallery.)
On the way to Swallow Island
Churning mud on the Wade
Water channels in the mud
The causeway snakes across the mudflats
The dyke where Bridget stood sentry
Secret Water at high tide
If you’re a fan of Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water and ever find yourself in the vicinity… go for it!
Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons and its sequel, Swallowdale were two of my childhood favourites. They hark back to a time when children enjoyed rather more freedom than they do now (although even in those times surely not a lot of them was allowed to camp alone on an island). If you want your children to get outdoors to enjoy fresh air, if you want them to develop their imagination, if you want them to have interest in other things than just owning the latest iPhone… get these books for them and let them expand their horizons.
In terms of age, we’re talking about age ten and about, both boys and girls – because although these books treat adventure (adventure of the kind that’s actually believable), the girl characters are just as strongly drawn as the boys. A cut above Enid Blyton.
And faced with the beauty of his technique, the complex harmonies, the ease and grace, the supreme mastery of tone and feeling, I would feel like one of the lesser apes who, shuffling on his knuckles through the sombre marshes, suddenly catches sight of homo sapiens, upright on a hill, his gold head raised to the sky.
Today’s quote is one of the favourite quotes of the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges. It’s attributed to William Henry Hudson, a naturalist and writer of American origins, who was born in Argentina, then lived and died in England.
La cita de hoy es uno de las citas favoritas del autor argentino Jorge Luis Borges. Es atribuido a William Henry Hudson, también conocido como Guillermo Enrique Hudson, un naturalista y escritor de origen norteamericano, quien fue nacido en Argentína, y luego vivió y murió en Inglaterra.
Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:
I undertook the study of metaphysics many times but happiness always interrupted me.
Varias veces intenté el estudio de la metafísica, pero siempre me interrumpió la felicidad.
(Attributed to / Atribuido a William Henry Hudson)
Pizarro leaves Trujillo with 130 men, forty cavalry and two small cannons…
Pizarro captures Cajamarca during the Inca’s absence and sends a messenger with an invitation to Atahualpa. The latter arrives with 6000 men, and within thirty-three minutes a centuries-old empire lies in ruins. The divine Inca is carried to the main square of the city on a golden litter, the feet of the son of the Sun are not permitted to touch the ground. Servants sweep the street ahead of the procession. But Pizarro has ordered his soldiers to take up positions in the surrounding buildings and he himsef, a towering figure on his horse (an animal unknown to the Incas), rides towards the Inca. The Dominican monk Valverde holds out a Bible to Atahualpa; he doesn’t know what it is and lets the holy book fall to the ground. This is the signal for attack. The two small cannons are fired, the Indians panic, 2000 unarmed Incas are massacred, Atahualpa is taken prisoner.
But it is only in our minds that he was defeated by fewer than 200 Spaniards and forty horses. He, however, was defeated by beasts with feet of silver, creatures that were semi-human, centaurs. Or in the shape of a legend of white gods who were fated to return. His downfall was not brought by the power of his adversary, but by an interpretation, and by the time the Incas realised that it was too late.