The Oddest Motive for Walking the Camino de Santiago

There is an old route of pilgrimage, or rather I should say several routes, leading to the town of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Northern Spain. It is known as the Camino de Santiago, St James’s Way, and it is actually a whole network of routes starting in various parts of Spain; the most popular and famous remains the camino francés, the French Way, which starts in France and climbs over the Pyrenees before traverses Northern Spain. The Camino continues to be a very popular walking route and not just for religious pilgrims.

If you complete the walk, at the end you can obtain a certificate, as you can read in today’s quote below by Dutch author, Cees Nooteboom.

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Everyone who had completed the journey on foot or on a bicycle, could, if they wished, obtain a rubber-stamped document from him and have their names registered in the great book. “Many times people burst into tears right here,” he had told me, pointing in front of his desk. He had shown me the ledger, too, a sort of account book, written in longhand.

He had turned the pages until he spotted a Dutchman, a chemistry teacher, “not a believer”, motive: “thinking”.

He had appreciated that, he said, people came up with the oddest motives, but “thinking” was seldom among them.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)


The Dark Side of Life (In Nine Haikus)

It’s February, it’s cold, it’s dark, life is s**t for so many different reasons.

In other words:

It’s Time For Poetry

I could, of course, dig out something uplifting, like Odysseas Elytis painting an Aegean heaven. I usually do, at moments like this. But you know what, not tonight. After all, life is not all song and dance, and sometimes, just ever so often, you do have every reason to sit in a dark corner and howl. (Some of you might have a lot more reasons to sit and howl than others – rid yourself of the notion that life is fair.)

Not Cherry Blossoms or Moon Gazing

So tonight, seeing it’s February, it’s dark, it’s cold and life is s**t – how about a few downbeat haikus? Because if we’re going to be downbeat, we might as well do it in world class company. (It’s amazing how uplifting that can be, actually.)

The simple truth is that the human experience didn’t change all that much from the 15th century to the 21st, from Japan to Hungary [feel free to substitute your place of residence]. Contrary to popular belief, haikus are not all about cherry blossoms and moon gazing. No matter what your woe is, big or small, we can probably find a haiku to comfort you with…

Shall we try?

Sad Moment No. 1: Life Is Uncertain

Nothing in the cry
of cicadas suggests they
are about to die

(Matsuo Basho)

We could pontificate about this one, like pretentious philosophy professors in a first-years’ philosophy class at university. But we don’t want to kill poetry.

Instead, sit quietly for a moment and soak it up.

Sad Moment No. 2: Ill and Alone

With a runny nose
sitting alone at the Go board
a long cold night


Which one of us hasn’t been there (minus the Go board, possibly)? Very apt for a night in February.

Sad Moment No. 3: Growing Old

This dark autumn
old age settles down on me
like heavy clouds of birds

(Matsuo Basho)

The old pain of growing old. Only one pain is worse; that of never being able to grow old at all. While you’re feeling sorry for yourself as you approach middle age or retirement, spare a thought for those whom life takes far too young.

Sad Moment No. 4: Sweet Melancholy

Sweet springtime showers
and no words can express
how sad it all is


Sometimes you just have to wallow in a good dose of self-pity. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Sad Moment No. 5: When You Missed the Boat

The ferry departs
as the tardy man stands
in the first winter rain


Which one of us hasn’t, at some point in life, missed the boat – literally, or figuratively?

Sad Moment No. 6: The Past Hurts

A weathered skeleton
in windy fields of memory
piercing like a knife

(Matsuo Basho)

None of us can change the past. Whether you’ve done something wrong yourself or whether wrong has been done to you… it hurts. And the more painful your past is, the more likely it will come and haunt you. You can’t help entering its house of pain but you don’t have to stay there. Grit your teeth and pass through; don’t linger. You’ve still got the present, and if you’re lucky, the future too.

Sad Moment No. 7: When It All Gets a Bit Too Much

An evening cloudburst –
sparrows cling desperately
to trembling bushes


Hang on in there, friend sparrow. The storm will pass.

Sad Moment No. 8: Sadder than Sad

Quite heartbreaking, really.

In the winter river,
discarded, an old dog’s


Sad Moment No. 9: Life is Futile

Summer grasses
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

(Matsuo Basho)

Power, riches, fame: it’s all vanity. When you leave this world, you’ll take nothing with you. The question is: What are you going to leave for your legacy?

A Few Poems by Odysseas Elytis (If You'd Like Something a Bit Sunnier)Aegean MelancholyOde to SantoriniOf the Aegean

Motivo para escribir (A Reason to Write)

La cita de la semana / The Quote of the Week:

Octavio Paz (1914-1998)

Yo no escribo para matar el tiempo
ni para revivirlo
escribo para que me viva y me reviva

I do not write to kill time
nor to revive it
I write that I may live and be revived

(Octavio Paz: El mismo tiempo / Same time)


Image credit: Photo by John Leffmann via Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0]

Top (?) Ten

Lies, damned lies and statistics.

(Source disputed¹)

The quote – whoever it was who first came up with it – says it all: you should take statistics with a pinch of salt. (Even better, understand what they truly mean.) Nevertheless, if you’re a blogger, it’s rather difficult to ignore the statistics; and the other day I took a look at what posts were the most popular – that means most visited – in the past few years.

Top Ten Surprises

Did I come to any conclusion about the Top Ten?

Well, yes.

I concluded that the most successful posts were not necessarily the best written, the most interesting or even the most entertaining – at least, not in my opinion. Nor, by the way, were they necessarily the ones I enjoyed writing most (you can find some of those in the sidebar under ‘Browse’).

So what made successful posts?

1 .Promoted posts – duh. Spain from the Bar and Ice Station: An Antarctic Thriller drew more readers than usual because they were shared by the people whose stories I told.

2. Posts about the Classics – evidently they are not yet dead after all! I’m still trying to work out why people are so obsessed with ‘soft lands breeding soft men’, in particular?

3. Bilingual posts of bringing together the original and its English translation.
In fact, The Lament of King Roderick, a Spanish poem I presented together with the translation by Byron was recommended for students at certain US secondary schools and at one of the courses of Pittsburgh University. I suppose it’s a useful resource although that’s not why I put it on the blog. (I just happened to like it.)

4. Odds & ends.
This might sound as a non-sequitur but we had Andalusian Slow Roast Pork for dinner last Sunday. Now in the early days I used to run a feature titled Mediterranean Miscellany/Sundays/Mondays (it did undergo a few changes), with all sorts of random things, including recipes. Well, on Sunday my husband couldn’t remember how to cook the roast pork; guess what came up trumps when he googled it?

So by way of Throwback Thursday, I typed up the Top Ten lists from the statistics. For better or worse. 🙂 Enjoy:

Top Ten By Year

By the way, I’d love to hear which of the posts you enjoyed most over the years – your personal top ten – three, one, whatever.

(H’m. Maybe I should also collate the Bottom Ten By Year, and you could comment on which of the posts you considered the worst… shock, horror!)

¹ The quote is usually attributed to 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli - evidence is inconclusive. Read more about who might have actually said it here.

A Tourist Below Vesuvius

Moscow Stations by Russian dissident Venedikt Yerofeev was first circulated only in the form of samizdat; small wonder as it was a strident criticism of the ‘glorious’ Soviet Union. Not that the quote below particularly illustrates that aspect of the book…

Quote of the Week:

Venedikt Yerofeev (1038-1990)

There were three things I fancied a look at: Vesuvius, Herculaneum, and Pompeii. But they told me Vesuvius had gone out ages ago, and sent me to Herculaneum. And at Herculaneum they said: “What d’you want with Herculanium, you prat? You’d better be going to Pompeii.” So I turn up in Pompeii, and they tell me: “What the hell d’you want with Pompeii? Piss off back to Herculaneum!”

(Venedikt Yerofeev: Moscow Stations)

The Three (Spanish) Musketeers

Leer esto en español

A murderer at the the age of thirteen, exiled from Madrid… what future would have had a boy like that?

Well, it seems that he had a pretty interesting future. So interesting that later he considered it worthwhile to write his memoirs. So interesting in fact that these memoirs gave life to a character in a well-known – at least in Spain – novel. And this character, in turn, gave life to a character in a TV series…

Do you know who they are?

The Surrender of Breda by Diego Velázquez [Courtesy of the Museum of Prado, Madrid]
If you have seen the original Spanish version of this post, you may have noted that it contains several quotes by Eduardo Marquina. They are from his play En Flandes se ha puesto el sol, The Sun Has Set in Flanders. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an English translation of this work, and I most definitely draw the line at trying to translate poetry. My apologies, but apart from a brief excerpt, you'll just have to do without.

Continue reading “The Three (Spanish) Musketeers”

Capitán y español: Las vidas de aquellos capitanes

Read this in English

Asesino a la edad de trece años, desterrado de la Villa… ¿qué futuro habría tenido un chico como aquello?

Pues parece que tenía un futuro bastante interesante. Tan interesante que más tarde le valdría la pena escribir sus memorias. Tan interesante, de hecho, que estas memorias dieron vida a un personaje en una novela muy conocida. Quién, a su vez, dio vida a un personaje de una serie de la televisión…

Capitán y español, no está avezado
a curarse de herida, que ha dejado
intacto el corazón dentro del pecho.

(Eduardo Marquina: En Flandes se ha puesto el sol)

Te adivines ¿de quiénes se tratamos?

Las lanzas o La rendición de Breda por Diego Velázquez [Gracias al Museo del Prado]
Continue reading “Capitán y español: Las vidas de aquellos capitanes”

Aristotle on the Unity of Action (Aristóteles sobre la unidad de acción)

A slightly longer quote this week, from the Poetics of Aristotle. He talks about the meaning of unity of action, or plot – one of the three unities (aka classical unities) in literature. The other two unities are the unity of place and the unity of time. The three unities were described by Aristotle in his Poetics; they were later followed by such neo-classical authors as Molière and Racine. A play that observes the three unities will have a single action occurring in a single place in the course of a single day.

Una cita un poco más larga este semana, de La Poética de Aristóteles. Nos habla sobre el significado de la unidad de acción, es decir trama – una de las tres unidades (también conocido como unidades clásicas) en literatura. Las otras dos son la unidad de tiempo y la unidad de lugar. Las tres unidades fueron descritas por Aristóteles en La Poética; luego fueron observadas por tal autores neoclásicos como Molière y Racine. Una obra que observa las tres unidades tendrá una acción sola, ocurriendo en un lugar único durante un día sólo.

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

Unity of plot does not, as some persons think, consist in the unity of the hero. For infinitely various are the incidents in one man’s life which cannot be reduced to unity; and so, too, there are many actions of one man out of which we cannot make one action. Hence the error, as it appears, of all poets who have composed a Heracleid, a Theseid, or other poems of the kind. They imagine that as Heracles was one man, the story of Heracles must also be a unity.

But Homer, as in all else he is of surpassing merit, here too- whether from art or natural genius- seems to have happily discerned the truth. In composing the Odyssey he did not include all the adventures of Odysseus- such as his wound on Parnassus, or his feigned madness at the mustering of the host- incidents between which there was no necessary or probable connection: but he made the Odyssey, and likewise the Iliad, to center round an action that in our sense of the word is one.

As therefore, in the other imitative arts, the imitation is one when the object imitated is one, so the plot, being an imitation of an action, must imitate one action and that a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.

(Aristotle: Poetics)

La unidad de la fábula no consiste, según algunos suponen, en tener un hombre como un héroe, pues la vida de un mismo hombre comprende un gran número, una infinidad de acontecimientos que no forman una unidad, y de igual modo existen muchas acciones de un individuo que no pueden reunirse para formar una acción. Se advierte, entonces, el error de todos los poetas que han escrito una Heracleida, una Theseida o poemas semejantes; ellos creen que, porque Heracles fue un hombre, la historia de Heracles debe ser una historia.

Homero, sin duda, entendió este aspecto muy bien, ya por arte o por instinto, justamente debido a que excedió al resto en todos los detalles. Al escribir la Odisea no permitió que el poema registrara todo lo que por cierto le aconteció al héroe; por ejemplo, le sucedió ser herido en el Parnaso y también fingirse loco en la época del llamado a las armas, pero ambos incidentes no tenían ninguna conexión necesaria o probable entre sí. En lugar de ello, tomó como tema de la Odisea, como también de la Ilíada, una acción con la unidad del tipo que hemos descrito.

La verdad es que así como en las otras artes imitativas una imitación es siempre de una cosa, de igual modo en la poesía la fábula, como imitación de la acción, debe representar una acción, un todo completo, con sus diversos incidentes tan íntimamente relacionados que la transposición o eliminación de cualquiera de ellos distorsiona o disloca el conjunto. Por tal causa aquello que por su presencia o ausencia no provoca ninguna diferencia perceptible no constituye ninguna parte real del todo.

(Aristóteles: La Poética)


You might also like:
⇒ Aristotle on Homer

Image credit:
Tilemahox Efthimiadis via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Beats Working in a Bank (Mejor que trabajar en un banco)


Three Authors Who Escaped their Tedious Day Jobs by Becoming Writers

We start with the one who gave the idea for the title of this post: the one who did, in fact, work in a bank.

And loathed it.


Tres autores quienes escaparon sus trabajos penosos convirtiéndose en escritores

Empezamos con el que dio la idea para el título de este post: el que, de hecho, trabajó en un banco.

Y lo odiaba.

Continue reading “Beats Working in a Bank (Mejor que trabajar en un banco)”

Art, Word, War: Anglo-Saxon Codices

Orderly British queues, intellectuals discussing minute details of craftsmanship and content; teenage girls squealing in delight as if they just met a rock star – at the sight of the handwriting of an early 9th century bishop. (I wonder what school they go to.)

That was Art, Word, War, the current British Library exhibition about the Anglo-Saxons.

Continue reading “Art, Word, War: Anglo-Saxon Codices”

If (Si)

Or Philip II of Macedonia vs Sparta

Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, invaded Greece in the 4th century BC and subjugated most of the Greek city states, Athens included.

He then turned his attention to Sparta:

Philip wrote [to the Spartans] at the time when he entered their country, asking whether they wished that he should come as a friend or as a foe; and they made answer, “Neither.”

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

Needless to say, this was not the end of the affair…

O Filipo II de Macedonia contra Esparta

Filipo II de Macedonia, el padre de Alejandro Magno, invadió Grecia en el siglo IV  a.C.  y subyugó la mayoría de las ciudades-estado griegas, incluso Atenas.

Después, centró la atención en Esparta:

Filipo, cuando entraba en su territorio, les escribió [a los espartanos] si preferían que fuera como amigo o como enemigo. Le respondieron: «Ni lo uno, ni lo otro.»

 (Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III. Máximas de espartanos)

Sobra decir que esto no fue el final del asunto…

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

When Philip wrote to them, “If I invade Laconia, I shall turn you out,” they wrote back,


(Plutarch: Morals, On Talkativeness)

Y a lo que les escribió a su vez Filipo: «Si invado Laconia os arruinaré totalmente», le contestaron por escrito: 


(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, Sobre la charlatanería)

Neither Philip II, nor even his son Alexander the Great invaded Sparta.

Ni Filipo II, ni siquiera su hijo, Alejandro Magno invadió Esparta.

I don’t know about you but it is one of my most favourite quotes – it’s so wonderfully… well, laconic, right?

No sé de ti, pero esta es una de las citas que me gustan sobre todo – es so maravillosamente… pues, lacónica, ¿no?

Back Then, Before the Great War

Today’s quote by Joseph Roth takes us back to the times before the Great War – times which, when I was growing up, were still habitually referred to by the oldest generation as ‘those happy times of peace’. Not that any of them actually could remember those times – theirs would have been the generation born during or immediately after the Great War. Roth on the other hand was born in 1894 and wrote these lines – oozing nostalgia – in 1932. Enjoy!

Quote of the Week:

Joseph Roth (1894-1939)

Back then, before the Great War, when the incidents reported on these pages took place, it was not yet a matter of indifference whether a person lived or died. If a life was snuffed out from the host of the living, another life did not instantly replace it and make people forget the deceased. Instead, a gap remained where he had been, and both the near and distant witnesses of his demise fell silent whenever they saw this gap.

If a fire devoured a house in a row of houses in a street, the charred site remained empty for a long time. For the bricklayers worked slowly and leisurely, and when the closest neighbours as well as casual passersby looked at the empty lot, they remembered the shape and the walls of the vanished house.

That was how things were back then. Anything that grew took its time growing, and anything that perished took a long time to be forgotten. But everything that had once existed left its traces, and people lived on memories just as they now live on the ability to forget quickly and emphatically.

(Joseph Roth: The Radetzky March)

Twelve Books in Twelve Months (2018)

For certain unfortunate reasons I don’t wish to detail here, I struggled to keep the blog going last year and, as you might have noticed, there were times when weeks went by without me being able to publish any other post than the weekly quote. Nevertheless, I still did manage to read a few books… so to start the new year off (may it be better than the last), let’s look back on some of last year’s readings.

Books you might enjoy – or you’ll want to avoid! 🙂

Continue reading “Twelve Books in Twelve Months (2018)”

A Thought of Marcus Aurelius

Quote of the Week:

Marcus Aurrelius Antoninus (121-180 AD)

And thou wilt give thyself relief if thou doest every act of thy life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to thee.

(Marcus Aurelius: The Thoughts)

A very Zen-like advice from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, aka ‘the philosopher king’.

The Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, available for free download from Project Gutenberg

A Snowy Morning (Una mañana de nieve)

(Avanza el texto para leer esto en castellano.)

Quote of the Week:

We sleep, and at length awake to the still reality of a winter morning. The snow lies warm as cotton or down upon the window-sill; the broadened sash and frosted panes admit a dim and private light, which enhances the snug cheer within. The stillness of the morning is impressive. The floor creaks under our feet as we move toward the window to look abroad through some clear space over the fields. We see the roofs stand under their snow burden. From the eaves and fences hang stalactites of snow, and in the yard stand stalagmites covering some concealed core. The trees and shrubs rear white arms to the sky on every side; and where were walls and fences, we see fantastic forms stretching in frolic gambols across the dusky landscape, as if nature had strewn her fresh designs over the fields by night as models for man’s art.

Silently we unlatch the door, letting the drift fall in, and step abroad to face the cutting air. Already the stars have lost some of their sparkle, and a dull, leaden mist skirts the horizon. A lurid brazen light in the east proclaims the approach of day, while the western landscape is dim and spectral still, and clothed in a sombre Tartarian light, like the shadowy realms. They are Infernal sounds only that you hear,—the crowing of cocks, the barking of dogs, the chopping of wood, the lowing of kine, all seem to come from Pluto’s barn-yard and beyond the Styx;—not for any melancholy they suggest, but their twilight bustle is too solemn and mysterious for earth. The recent tracks of the fox or otter, in the yard, remind us that each hour of the night is crowded with events, and the primeval nature is still working and making tracks in the snow. Opening the gate, we tread briskly along the lone country road, crunching the dry and crisped snow under our feet, or aroused by the sharp clear creak of the wood-sled, just starting for the distant market, from the early farmer’s door, where it has lain the summer long, dreaming amid the chips and stubble; while far through the drifts and powdered windows we see the farmer’s early candle, like a paled star, emitting a lonely beam, as if some severe virtue were at its matins there. And one by one the smokes begin to ascend from the chimneys amidst the trees and snows.

(Henry David Thoreau: A Winter Walk)

Cita de la semana:

Dormimos, y al final despertamos a la inmóvil realidad de una mañana de invierno. La nieve yace tibia como el algodón y se acumula sobre el alféizar de la ventana; el marco hinchado y los cristales helados reciben una luz débil e íntima que realza la acogedora comodidad interior. La quietud de la mañana es impresionante. El suelo cruje bajo nuestros pies cuando nos acercamos a la ventana a mirar un claro sobre los campos. Vemos los techos bajo el peso de la nieve. De los aleros y las cercas cuelgan estalactitas de hielo, y en el jardín se alzan estalagmitas que cubren su corazón oculto. Los árboles y los arbustos elevan sus brazos blancos al cielo; y donde había paredes y setos vemos formas fantásticas que retozan haciendo cabriolas por el sombreado paisaje, como si la Naturaleza hubiera esparcido sus diseños hechos durante la noche como modelos para el artista.

Abrimos la puerta en silencio, dejando que caiga dentro la nieve amontonada, y salimos a enfrentarnos con el aire cortante. Las estrellas ya han perdido parte de su brillo, y una niebla opaca y plúmbea bordea el horizonte. Una tenue luz bronceada sobre el este proclama la llegada del día, mientras el paisaje occidental aún permanece espectral y oscuro, envuelto en una tenebrosa luz tartárea, como si fuera un reino umbrío. Se oyen sólo sonidos infernales: el canto de los gallos, el ladrido de los perros, hachazos contra la madera, el mugir de las vacas… todo parece venir del corral de Plutón, más allá de la laguna Estigia, no porque evoquen melancolía alguna, sino porque su bullicio crepuscular es demasiado solemne y misterioso para la tierra. El rastro fresco de algún zorro o alguna nutria en el huerto nos recuerda que la noche está repleta de acontecimientos, y la naturaleza primitiva aún sigue en marcha dejando huellas en la nieve. Abrimos la verja y echamos a andar a paso vivo por el solitario camino; la nieve seca y quebradiza cruje bajo nuestros pies y nos estimula el chirrido agudo del trineo de madera que parte hacia el distante mercado, desde la puerta matinal del granjero donde ha permanecido todo el verano soñando entre las briznas de hierba y los rastrojos, mientras vemos de lejos la luz de la primera vela a través de las ventanas nevadas de la granja, como una pálida estrella que emite su rayo solitario o una severa virtud rezando sus maitines. Las volutas de humo de las chimeneas empiezan a ascender una tras otra entre los árboles y la nieve.

(Henry David Thoreau: Un paseo de invierno)

Wishing you all a peaceful, happy Christmas! 🙂

Links/Enlaces:Henry David Thoreau texts on Project GutenbergTextos por Henry David Thoreau en Archives.orgImage via Pixabay [Public Domain]

Los héroes de Pérez-Reverte (The heroes of Pérez-Reverte)

Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1951-)

La semana pasada, a propósito de ‘Throwback Thursday’, hemos vuelto a leer  un articulo viejo escrito por uno de mis autores españoles favoritos, Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

Last week, on apropos of Throwback Thursday, we revisited an old magazine article by one of my favourite Spanish authors, Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

Así que hoy me ocurrió que quizás podríamos hablar un poco más sobre él y sus libros. O sea, que le permitimos que nos habla de sus novelas él mismo.

So today I thought maybe we could talk a little more about him and his books. Or rather, we’ll let him tell us about his novels himself.

Como mencioné anteriormente, Pérez-Reverte comenzó su carrera como corresponsal de guerra. Con el tiempo, se ha convertido en un escritor de tiempo completo y miembro estelar de la Real Academia Española (silla T). Hace un par de años, dio una entrevista larga a, una revista cultural online. En esta entrevista, entre otras cosas, habló sobre de los héroes que pueblan sus novelas y sobre qué es lo que hace sus novelas convincentes.

As mentioned before, Pérez-Reverte started his career as a war correspondent. He graduated to become a full time writer and  a stellar member of the Spanish Royal Academy (seat T). A few years ago he gave an extensive interview to, an online cultural magazine. In the interview, among other things, he spoke about the heroes that populate his novels and what makes his novels convincing.

Empezamos con lo último.

We start with the latter.

Continue reading “Los héroes de Pérez-Reverte (The heroes of Pérez-Reverte)”