Locked Down in London, Day 33: The March of the Penguins
Yesterday was the Queen’s birthday; in London normally there would have been a parade. Not this time but at least some subjects of Her Majesty got to celebrate:
Virtual Escape: Sailing on the Spice Fleet
Today’s we’re not only escaping whichever room we’re locked into; we’re going back in time!
In particular, we’re arriving home on the Spice Fleet of Venice on a cold winter night from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the end of the 15th century:
Landfall brought all the vicissitudes of life. People returned with gold, spices, plague and grief. Failed admirals came clanking in chains, triumphant ones with trumpets and cannon fire, trailing captured banners in the sea, the gonfalon of St Mark streaming in the wind. Ordelafo Falier stepped down the gangplank with the bones of St Stephen. Pisani’s body came packed in salt. Antonio Grimani survived the disgrace of Zonchio and became a doge; so did Gritti, the spy. Marco Polo, wild-eyed and anonymous, burst through the door of his house like Ulysses returned – and no one recognised him.
Felix Fabri came on the spice fleet of 1480 with the weather so cold that the oars had to break the ice in the canals. He arrived in the dark, just after Christmas. The night was clear and bright; from the deck the snowy tops of the Dolomites glimmered under a large moon. No one could sleep. As dawn rose, the passengers could see the golden roof of the campanile glinting in the sun, topped by the angel Gabriel welcoming them home. All the bells of Venice were ringing for the fleet’s return…
(Roger Crowley: City of Fortune)
Those of you who have been with me long enough know that the irrepressible 15th century German monk, Felix Fabri, is one of my favourite historical characters.
I first met him in the book quoted above, and since read his travel diaries. Felix travelled to the Holy Land twice in pilgrimage in the 1480s; the second time he went from the Holy Land to Egypt and sailed back from there on the Venetian spice fleet. Sadly, the second part of his diaries dealing with his travels from the Holy Land to Egypt and back to Europe, full of evocative little details such as belching crocodiles in the Nile or the snowy tops of the Dolomites, has never been translated. Unless you can read Latin, you have to rely for these details on H F M Prescott’s book, Once to Sinai: The Further Pilgrimage of Friar Felix Fabri.
Further Reading: ⇒ Fables of Felix Fabri ⇒ The Wanderings of Felix Fabri (e-book)