Carnival of Light

Quote of the Week:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Toulouse in 1933 [public domain]

I had been looking on at a carnival of light. The ceiling had risen little by little and I had been unaware of an intervening space between the clouds and me. I had been zigzagging along a line of flight dotted by ground batteries. Their tracer bullets had been spraying the air with wheat-coloured shafts of light. I had forgotten that at the top of their flight the shells of those batteries must burst. And now, raising my head, I saw around and before me those rivets of smoke and steel driven into the sky in the pattern of towering pyramids.

I was quite aware that those rivets were no sooner driven than all danger went out of them, that each of those puffs possessed the power of life and death only for a fraction of a second.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

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Back To School

Autumn is here again with mellow sunshine, golden leaves, conkers in the grass and local teams playing football on the pitches behind our house. The uncharacteristic (for this part of the world) sunshine takes me straight back to childhood: where I come from such sunshine is an integral part of September and the time when you go back to school.

So today, we go back to school – although not as you knew it. The following three stories will let you experience education in a different way, in another place, another time. One story will take you back to wooden desks, inkwells, blackboards and chalk; another will take you to the future; the third one can be considered a ‘school story’ only in the widest sense of the word – think of Mowgli being educated in the jungle…

Enjoy!

Tales of Pirx, the Pilot by Stanislaw Lem

We start with the future, when mankind has reached the stars.

The title provides a clue to the plot of this Polish science fiction novel: it’s the story of how Cadet Pirx, who is not quite as bright and able as some of his classmates but does not lack common sense, makes it through space pilot training. Published in English in two parts as Tales of Pirx, the Pilot and More Tales of Pirx, the Pilot, the loosely connected stories, which occasionally have a comic undertone, take Pirx from a bumbling cadet to merchant ship captain. One of the first science fiction novels I’ve ever read, it made me a fan of the genre and the author both.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

From the future let’s go back to the past: to the streets of Lahore at the end of 19th century where a street urchin named Kim befriends an old Tibetan Lama in search of enlightenment – while on the side he runs errands for a Pashtun horse trader. In due course the horse trader turns out to be an agent of the British secret service, engaged in the so-called Great Game: a ‘game’ of espionage and counter-espionage between the British and the Russians for the control of India. Between them, the Lama and the horse trader change the course of Kim’s life forever.

Which path will Kim follow in the end?

A beautiful evocation of colonial India, its people and its landscape, set against the little known history of the Great Game. The story of the unusual education of a boy and cracking colonial adventure.

Please, Sir! by Frigyes Karinthy

From the streets of Lahore, to the white-washed classrooms of Budapest at the turn of the 19th/20th century. Blackboard and chalk, wooden benches with inkwell, the teacher’s desk on a raised platform in front of the blackboard.

Please, Sir! is a series of humorous sketches in which the author recalls his grammar school years. He might as well have been recalling mine: I attended a Budapest grammar school some 80 years later, but apart from a difference in the grading system and the introduction of co-education little changed in the Hungarian grammar school experience from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to the days of communism.

From the wonderfully evocative description of what it felt like being late to school or being called on to answer the teacher’s questions in front of the class, to classroom pranks and the desperate attempts at explaining away the failing grades in the school report, Karinthy had captured it all to perfection.

Although you might find it difficult to encounter this book outside Hungary, it’s freely available for online reading at the Hungarian National Library’s website both in English and in the original Hungarian.

You might also like:Return From the StarsMore recommended books

Borders

This week’s quote is from a satire about the no longer existing Soviet Union seen from the inside. As books come, Venedikt Yerofeev’s short novel, Moscow Stations, was the ultimate in subversion. It’s a book I cannot recommend enough; you can read more about it here.

I hope you enjoy Yerofeev’s cheeky black humour; you can look forward to some more (in-your-face) quotes in the future!

Quote of the Week:

And what are borders anyway? Borders are necessary to stop the different nations getting mixed up. In this country, for instance, a border guard can stand there in the absolute certainty that the border isn’t some sort of fiction or emblem, because on one side people speak Russian and drink more – whereas on the other side they drink less and speak non-Russian. But over there, how can you have borders when everybody drinks the same amount, and they all speak non-Russian?

(Venedikt Yerofeev: Moscow Stations)

Guided Tour

Quote of the Week:

The guide is a layman, he has a dusty grey complexion and talks down to us from his privilege of sharing in the sanctity of the site, a scholar, for the stream of dates and names gushes forth at great speed. He has a record to break, it seems, so I get no more than a glimpse of all there is to see, a mere smattering of the Arab cloister with harmonious pavilion in two styles, Gothic and Moorish, or as my Spanish guidebook says, “el gótico del elevada espiritualidad con el árabe sensorial y humano”. I can believe it: elevated, spiritual, humane, sensual, for before me I see high aspiration and beauty combined, and I hear the self-absorbed trickle of the fountain, but I am not permitted to linger here because the guide has already herded the others into the museum, and is waiting for me like a sheepdog.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

¡Elefantástico!

Read this in English
Mingling with Elephants: Young Friend of the Elephants on Elephant Apprecition Day in Whipsnade Zoo / En la compañía de elefantes: Joven Amiga de los Elefantes en el día de apreciación al elefante en Whipsnade Zoo

El sábado pasado (22 de septiembre) fue el día de apreciación al elefante. ¿Hay un mejor manera de celebrarlo que con unos libros memorables sobre elefantes?

Gente es tan complicada. Dame un elefante cualquier día.

(Mark Shand)

¡Que disfrutes!

Continue reading “¡Elefantástico!”

Elephantastic!

Lee esto en castellano
Mingling with Elephants: Young Friend of the Elephants on Elephant Apprecition Day in Whipsnade Zoo

Elephant Appreciation Day is on us again and what better way to celebrate these lovable animals than with a collection of memorable books featuring elephants?

People are so difficult. Give me an elephant any day.

(Mark Shand)

Enjoy!

Continue reading “Elephantastic!”

The Air Marshall & the Admiral

Quote of the Week:

The Air Vice-Marshal, with flailing arms, was describing how his fighters had completely broken up the first raid of Christmas Day, while the admiral, in whose dockyard the bombs had actually fallen, listened with all the courteous scepticism of a solid sailor for a romantic airman.

(Nicholas Montserrat: The Kappillan of Malta)

Silence in the Desert

Sahara Desert, Morocco. Photo by flowcomm via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Quote of the Week:

There is the silence of peace, when the tribes are reconciled, when the evening cool returns and it seems as if you were putting in, sails furled, at a quiet harbour.

There’s silence at noon, when the sun suspends all thought and movement.

There’s a false silence when the north wind flags and insects appear, ripped away from oases in the interior like pollen, presaging a sandstorm from the east.

There’s the silence of brewing plots, when you know that some distant tribe is simmering.

There’s a mysterious silence when the Arabs gather for their indecipherable confabulations.

There’s a tense silence when a messenger is late returning.

An acute silence when, at night, you hold your breath to listen.

A melancholy silence if you’re remembering someone you love.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Introduction to 33 Days)

Blogging Manual

The Accidental Blogger

I’m an accidental blogger: I started blogging when I got bored with my family pulling faces at me at the dinner table as I mentioned Herodotus… Tolstoy… Xenophon… Arturo Pérez-Reverte… Herodotus…  (You can’t mention Herodotus often enough.)

So I decided to type my clever thoughts into Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s website editor instead until one day he enquired in passing as to what exactly I imagined I was doing on his work computer? “I’ve started a blog,” I replied loftily and he went away.

A week later, in search of something to test his new server with, he uploaded my ‘blog’ – until then only existing on my own desktop – and made it public for the world. After I finished having hysterics at the idea that the whole world now could read my unpolished thoughts, he said he thought it was a blog and blogs, by definition, were meant to be published. He pointed out that blog was short for weblog and as such it was meant to be on the web. Finally, he comforted me with the comment that it was all right because nobody was going to read it anyway.

On this happy note, we left the blog on the server; and it was only a month later that he started to complain about the unfathomable rise of traffic. I realised I made it as a blogger: I had hundreds of readers.

Mostly in the form of spam bots.

The following posts constitute a useful blogging manual for aspiring amateurs. Enjoy this collection of the ups and downs of the accidental blogger (and may you do better):

How To Fail as a Blogger (In Five Easy Steps)

In Defiance

Don’t Read My Blog

Throwback Thursday:
Revisiting the early days of Waterblogged

A Short Pictorial History of Ribadesella

“Of where?” I hear you all saying.

Here:

Ribadesella, Asturias, Spain

Spain’s Best Kept Secret

Ribadesella is a small town in a spectacular setting at the mouth of the River Sella right under the Picos de Europa. Cliffs protect its wide sandy bay. You can surf, swim, go kayaking on the river or hiking in the mountains. Plus there’s a cave with 30 thousand year old cave paintings, practically in town.

Well may you wonder why you’ve never heard of it.

Perhaps because Ribadesella is the place where the Spanish go on holiday. You hardly hear a foreign word in the street. This is a different Spain from the Spain of package holidays.

Enjoy this short pictorial history of the town – brought to you by the Municipality of Ribadesella (and Waterblogged).

Continue reading “A Short Pictorial History of Ribadesella”

Storybook England: Greenway House

Murder, She Wrote

A well-known murder mystery writer is employed to organise a novelty Murder Hunt at a village fête held at the local rich man’s mansion. The victim is to be played by a Girl Guide, clues are hidden on the grounds and there is a prize to be won for solving the mystery. There’s only one problem: the writer feels that something sinister is going on behind the scenes. She calls on Hercule Poirot..

Call me a fool if you like, but I can only say that if there was to be a real murder tomorrow instead of a fake one, I shouldn’t be surprised!

That is the premise of Dead Man’s Folly, a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery featuring the ubiquitous Belgian private detective and his handlebar moustache.

The crime scene from Dead Man’s Folly – the boathouse.

By no means would I call Dead Man’s Folly one of Agatha Christie’s best books but it has one great merit: she set the book in her own holiday home and herself appeared in the book as one of the characters.

Continue reading “Storybook England: Greenway House”

Truth Does Not Depend on Geography (La verdad no depende de la geografía)

Mikes György (better known by the English version of his name, George Mikes) was a Hungarian journalist who moved to England during the 1930s where he married an Englishwoman and lived until his death in 1987. In 1946 he published a humorous book about his experiences as a foreigner in England – a book which betrays as much about Hungarian idiosyncrasies as about English ones! The book was so successful that it was followed by two sequels. And many of his observations of English culture still holds true today.

Mikes György (mejor conocido por la versión inglesa de su nombre, George Mikes) fue un periodista húngaro, quien se mudó a Inglaterra en los años 1930, donde se casó con una inglesa y vivió hasta su muerte en 1987. En 1946 publicó un libro gracioso de sus experiencias como extranjero en Inglaterra – un libro que te revela  tanto idiosincracias húngaras como inglesas. El libro tenía tanto éxito que Mikes escribió dos secuelas. Y muchas de sus observaciones de la cultura inglesa siguen ser verdaderas.

Quote of the Week / Cita de la semana:

Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a young lady who was very proud and conscious of being English. Once she asked me – to my great surprise – whether I would marry her. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I will not. My mother would never agree to my marrying a foreigner.’ She looked at me a little surprised and irritated, and retorted: ‘I, a foreigner? What a silly thing to say. I am English. You are the foreigner. And your mother too.’ I did not give in. ‘In Budapest, too?’ I asked her. ‘Everywhere,’ she declared with determination. “Truth does not depend on geography. What is true in England is also true in Hungary and in North Borneo and Venezuela and everywhere.’

(George Mikes: Preface to How To Be an Alien)


Hace unos años he pasado mucho tiempo en la compañía de una señorita joven, quien era muy orgullosa y consciente de ser inglesa. Una vez me había preguntado – para mi grande sorpresa – si me casaría con ella. «No», respondí, «mi madre nunca estaría de acuerdo de que me caso con una mujer extranjera». Me miró con un poco de sorpresa y irritación, y  replicó: «¡¿Yo, una extranjera? Qué tontería hablas! Yo soy inglesa. Eres tú quien es un extranjero. Y tu madre, también.» Yo no me di por vencido. «¿Incluso en Budapest?» la pregunté. «En cualquier lugar» me declaró. «La verdad no depende de la geografía. Lo que es verdad en Inglaterra es también verdad en Hungría o en el norte de Borneo y en Venezuela y en todas partes del mundo.»

(George Mikes: Prólogo a Como ser un extranjero)

Covadonga (All That Has Moved Is History)

Quote of the Week:

It is not time that stood still here, although one would like to think so, it is the mountains. All that has moved is history, and all that has breathed are the seasons. Hot summers, harsh winters and the activity of man in between. Always the same: hunters, shepherds, farmers, descendants of Cantabrians and Goths. Never subjugated by Moors…

It is from here that the reconquest of Spain began. Reconquest is the proper word, but the prefix “re” encapsulates a long work of nearly eight centuries culminating in the victory of the Catholic Kings at Granada, and which began when the first Asturian king, Pelayo, defeated the Moorish troops at Covadonga in 718.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Pen Mightier than Sword (Pluma más poderosa que espada)

Authors with Sword in Hand

Throughout history, there were soldiers who wielded the pen with as much as skill as they wielded the sword; sometimes better.

Autores con la espada en mano

A lo largo de la historia, hubo soldados que manejaron la pluma con tanta habilidad que la espada; a veces, mejor.

Most of the literary output of these soldier-writers was, understandably, autobiographical: descriptions of battles and campaigns they took part in. A classic example of this is Xenophon’s Anabasis, better known as The March of the Ten Thousand, a gripping account of the retreat of ten thousand Spartan mercenaries in the wake of a lost battle across hostile territory, from Mesopotamia all the way to the shores of the Black Sea. Another is Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s The Conquest of New Spain, a similarly gripping (at least in the abridged version) account of how four-hundred desperadoes under Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico and overthrew an entire empire in the process. I warmly recommend them both.

La mayor parte de la producción literaria de estos soldados-escritores fue, naturalmente, autobiográfico: descripciones de batallas y campañas en que lucharon. Un ejemplar clásico de este tipo de libro es La anábasis de Jenofonte, mejor conocida con el título La marcha de los Diez Mil, un relato emocionante de la regresa de diez mil mercenarios espartanos después de una batalla perdida, a través de un territorio hostil, todo el camino desde Mesopotamia hasta las orillas del Mar Negro. Otro relato que es semejante emocionante (por lo menos en la versión abreviada) es la Historia verdadera de la conquista de Nueva España por Bernal Díaz del Castillo, que narra como cuatro cientos aventureros bajo el mando de Hernán Cortés han conquistado Mexico y derrocado un imperio entero en el proceso. Os recomiendo ambos libros.

But in addition to these authors, there were a handful of soldiers who are better known by literature professors than by military buffs; a handful of soldiers who are more famous for being authors than for ever having been soldiers.

Pero además de esos autores, hubo un puñado de soldados, que son mejor conocidos por profesores de literatura que por aficionados de la historia militar; un puñado de soldados que son más famosos por ser autores que por su pasado como soldados.

Meet five of them.

Aquí abajo puedes conocer a cinco de ellos.

Continue reading “Pen Mightier than Sword (Pluma más poderosa que espada)”

Great Task (Tarea grande)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

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

Confront the difficult
while it’s still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching 63
(Transl. by Stephen Mitchell)


Acomete la dificultad por su lado más fácil.
Ejecuta lo grande comenzando por lo más pequeño.

Lao-Tse: Tao te king LXIII

Six Mouse Clicks

The most boring type of blog post?

A book review.

They all follow the same predictable pattern – understandably. After all, a reader will rightfully expect information about the plot, the characters and the style of writing, with some tidbits about the author. The result, as with any genre writing, is a complete lack of creativity.

That is why, although Waterblogged is ostensibly a book blog, I was never really in the business of writing book reviews. Nevertheless, over the past three years I found myself writing a handful. There are books that are so good that you can’t help recommending them to others.

(There was, of course, an exception. You’ll find it here.)

Six reviews; six mouse clicks.  Six books you will want to read.

Fiction – English-Speaking Countries:

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Fiction – Spanish-Speaking Countries:

Death in the Andes

Fiction – Rest of the World:

Moscow Stations

History:

City of Fortune

Biography:

The Novel Life of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain

Autobiography:

The Bible in Spain

Throwback Thursday:
Revisiting the early days of Waterblogged