The Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire

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.)

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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”

Elephants & Herd Instinct

Elephant herd in front of Mt Kilimanjaro. Photo by Diana Robinson via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Quote of the Week:

For the herds of wild elephants show no resentment when domesticated animals join them. They have none of that herd instinct directed against the stranger that one finds in cattle, in small boys and among many grown-up men. This tolerance is just one of the things about elephants which makes one realise they are big in more ways than one.

(Lt.-Col. J. H. Williams: Elephant Bill)

The Future in the Past (2001: A Space Odyssey)

We live in the future that we used to read about: our smartphones bear more resemblance to The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy than to Bell’s telephone and there are people living on a space station above our heads. When I first read about helicopters and submarines in Jules Verne at the age of twelve, they were already reality; it was then difficult to grasp that to the author all this had been a fictional future. Good for Verne. There are plenty of contrary examples: books in which the authors were so wildly off the mark that we can only wonder at what they were thinking. Science-fiction? In many cases, the word science ought to be crossed off.

But not in the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Continue reading “The Future in the Past (2001: A Space Odyssey)”

Religión (Religion)

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week

Juan Eslava Galán (1948-)

La religión es como gaseosa: una vez abierta la botella solo es cuestión de tiempo que pierda el gas.

Religion is like a fizzy drink: once the bottle is open, it’s only a question of time before it goes flat.

(Juan Eslava Galán: Historia de España contada para escépticos / The History of Spain Told for Sceptics)

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⇒ El sitio de web de Juan Eslava Galán

Image credit: Conchiare via Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Livy on History (Tito Livio sobre la historia)

Titus Livius (59 BC – 17 AD)

Quote of the Week:

Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu foedum exitu quod vites.

(Titus Livius: Ab Urbe Condita, Praefatio)

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The Beauty of Patterns (The Rabbit Problem)

Decorative tiling (azulejos) in the Plaza de España, Seville

Shells and galaxies curl in spirals, stripes run down on the sleek hide of tigers and zebras, waves and sand dunes rise in crescent shape. Some patterns – like the leaves of a palm tree – win you over with their strong, simple lines, others – like crystals and snowflakes – with their intricate geometry. And mankind copies nature: floral motifs proliferate in embroidery, decorative tiles combine into complex matrices, spiral staircases rise towards glass ceilings. The geometry of architecture, natural symmetry, repetition and variation…

The beauty of patterns seduces the eye and the mind.

Continue reading “The Beauty of Patterns (The Rabbit Problem)”

Quote of the Week: A Crop of Golden Trajectories

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Toulouse in 1933
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

Each burst of a machine gun or a rapid-fire cannon shot forth hundreds of these phosphorescent bullets that followed one another like the beads of a rosary. A thousand elastic rosaries strung themselves out towards the plane, drew themselves out to the breaking point, and burst at our height. When, missing us, the string went off at a tangent, its speed was dizzying. The bullets were transformed into lightning.

And I flew drowned in a crop of trajectories as golden as stalks of wheat. I flew at the centre of a thicket of lance strokes. I flew threatened by a vast and dizzying flutter of knitting needles. All the plain was now bound to me, woven and wound round me, a coruscating web of golden wire.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

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Throwback Thursday: The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?

Last month when I reposted Return from the Stars for Throwback Thursday, it went weird and hardly any of you got to see it. I sought enlightenment from support and they told me I was doing it all wrong. I'm trying their way now.

The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?

Originally published on 9 October 2015

Why Homer Doesn’t Matter

Now that’s a heading that nobody should have been expecting from me, given how I go on and on about Homer whenever I have nothing better to do. But I have finished reading The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson, and put it down with the feeling that sadly, it failed in what it set out to do: namely to convince skeptics that Homer mattered, that Homer should still be read, perhaps even studied, because he’s relevant to our lives.

CONTINUE READING →

Quote of the Week: Hokusai on Art & Ageing

Beauty on a summer morning by Hokusai (1810) – detail

From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about fifty, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of seventy, nothing I drew was worthy of notice.

At seventy-three years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects and fish.

Thus when I reach eighty years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.

Hokusai: Postscript to One Hundred Views of Mt Fuji, 1834.

Beauty on a summer morning

Hokusai painted Beauty on a summer morning when he was forty. It’s one of those which he didn’t think were “worthy of notice”. (Just saying.)

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The Persian Letters of Montesquieu

Thirty-odd years ago I thought that the French author Montesquieu was enlightened, witty and clever. I based this opinion on reading his Persian Letters, an epistolary novel which details the experiences of two Persian travellers, Usbek and Rica, in France in the early part of the 18th century. Last month I picked up Persian Letters again… and found out what a change thirty-odd years made.

Continue reading “The Persian Letters of Montesquieu”

A Book with a History

The book is green with golden letters, cloth bound. Sunlight faded the spine into autumnal yellow so that you can no longer make out the title and the author very well. When you open it, the yellowed pages rustle, feeling slightly stiff to the fingers. The title page is followed by the picture of the author printed on smooth, glossy paper that contrasts with the coarser pages that follow it. I turn the pages and think: they don’t make books like this anymore.

And then there’s the way it smells. The smell of decades which lingers on  your fingers even after you put the book down.

Continue reading “A Book with a History”

The Book Vargas Llosa Dares Not Re-Read

Picking up where I left off on Monday night… that is, the problem of re-reading books.

The Dangers of Re-Reading
Or
The Book Vargas Llosa Dares Not Re-Read

A few days ago on Zenda Libros I read the transcript of a group interview with three authors: Mario Vargas Llosa, Arturo Pérez-Reverte and Javier Marías. One of these I’d follow to hell, another won the Nobel Prize and the third one is still on my to be read pile.

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Last Lines (Últimas líneas)

Some books have unforgettable First Lines – others have unbeatable endings… (And some have both, with some pretty impressive stuff in between.)

Unos libros tienen inolvidables primeras líneas – otros tienen insuperables finales… (Y algunos tienen los dos, con algo muy impresionante en medio.)

Continue reading “Last Lines (Últimas líneas)”