Pizarro & Atahualpa

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

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.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Demonios escondidos por todas partes (Demons lurking everywhere)

La cita de la semana hoy viene de un ensayo que Mario Vargas Llosa escribió sobre Henry Miller.

Today’s Quote of the Week is from an essay that Mario Vargas Llosa wrote about Henry Miller.

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Mario Vargas Llosa (1936-)

Esta es una de las más importantes funciones de la literatura: recordar a los hombres que, por más firme que parezca el suelo que pisan y por más radiante que luzca la ciudad que habitan, hay demonios escondidos por todas partes que pueden, en cualquier momento, provocar un cataclismo.

(Mario Vargas Llosa:
Trópico de cáncer: Henry Miller El nihilista feliz)

This is one of the most important functions of literature: to remind men and women that however firm the ground that they walk on appears to be, and however brightly the city that they live in shines, there are demons lurking everywhere that, at any moment, can cause a violent upheaval.

(Mario Vargas Llosa:
Tropic of Cancer: The Happy Nihilist)


Moving to Mars

I’m A Martian

I’m a Martian. This might surprise you, as I’m neither green, nor insectoid and have never dug a canal in my life, but I’m a Martian nevertheless – or at least NASA says so.

How To Become a Martian

Register your e-mail address on NASA's Mars Outreach website to be notified of new missions to Mars (see link at the end of the post). 

If you then decide to send your name to Mars, you become an honorary Martian, get your own boarding pass and start earning frequent flyer points. 

You'll be landing on Mars - at least in spirit. 🙂

Truth be told, I haven’t done much about being a Martian in the past three years, apart from watching The Martian (of course!), browsing NASA’s photo gallery and visiting the Planetarium in Greenwich on occasion. Instead of science, that’s mostly just science-fiction.

But today I added a new dimension to my existence as a Martian: I laid in a couch in the prototype of a Martian home. (It was quite difficult to get out of it afterwards but gravity is much lower on Mars, so that should be all right. On Mars, I mean.)

Today, I toyed with the idea of moving to Mars in the Design Museum in London.

Moving to Mars

Mars is there, waiting to be reached.

(Buzz Aldrin: Down to Earth)

A few years ago, NASA actually designed a space craft for just such a mission – straight out of Arthur C. Clarke, with a rotating ring to create artificial gravity – although Nautilus-X has never got off the drawing board and perhaps never will.

Nautilus-X (NASA) [public domain]
But the idea of a manned space flight to Mars in the foreseeable future fired the imagination of not just scientists and engineers but architects and interior designers too. Moving to Mars, the exhibition currently running in the Design Museum, brings together ideas that try to make life on Mars a reality.

There’s a reason why this exhibition is in the Design Museum and not the Science Museum: because it’s about design (which of course is influenced by science).

It’s an exploration of the practicalities of living on Mars – a not yet terraformed Mars. A pioneer existence, much like that of Mark Watney’s in The Martian. Growing your own food, making clothes of packaging materials… Remember: the Martians will have to take everything from Earth, unless they can produce it on Mars. That includes not just food, clothing and equipment but water and air. (Never mind home comforts. Young Friend of the Elephants – very keen to start living on Mars – is still trying to come to terms with the fact that if she was a Martian pioneer the toy elephant she grew up with would have to be left behind.)

The exhibition brings together as diverse items as:

  • a Babylonian clay tablet with astronomical observations and a book by Johannes Kepler,
  • film posters and the latest photos taken by NASA on the ground (by the rover Curiosity),
  • space suits and models of the rovers.

You learn a lot about the red planet on which you’re considering making your home. Did you know that the dust on Mars is as fine as icing sugar and dust storms can envelope almost the entire planet and last months? Or that the atmosphere mostly consists of carbon-dioxide? Did you know that for all that the surface looks like a hot desert, the average temperature is in fact around -60? And so on.

Curiosity’s view of a Martian dune after crossing it, 2014 [Courtesy of NASA]
The best bit, however, the bit that will surely fire your imagination, is the room that shows a potential prototype home on Mars. And not just little models of the various designs that could house such a home to protect it from the environment. You walk into the first Martian home, lie on the couch, look out of the window. You consider the food and how you’re growing it; the clothes and where you get them from. What about a Mars boot grown from human sweat and fungus? Or fashion a la Mars – clothes made out of discarded packaging materials? And by the way, how long does it take to drain a bathtub at a much lower gravity? Actually – given the scarcity of water – will there be a bathtub?

As this fascinating show makes clear, colonising the Red Planet will require technical genius – plus an eye for fashion and coffee you can drink upside-down.

The Guardian

Ready to Fly?

NASA Boarding Pass 2020 (template)

On your way out you come across the question posed by the exhibition organisers: Are you ready to travel to Mars…?

Am I ready?!

With a packed rucksack, clutching my boarding pass, and eyes firmly set on the future which I will not live to see… yes.

Links:NASA Mars Outreach (Send Your Name to Mars)NASA Photo GalleryPeter Harrison Planetarium (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)Nautilus-X Project, NASAMoving to Mars (Design Museum, London)War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (Gutenberg Project)

You might also like:The Future in the Past (2001: A Space Odyssey)

Seville of Sweet Wines & Bitter Oranges

Quote of the Week:

Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

Seville of sweet wines and bitter oranges, of dandy horsemen bearing their girls to the parks, of fantastic villas and radiant whores, of finery, filth and interminable fiesta centred around the huge dead-weight of the cathedral: this is the city where, more than in any other, one may bite on the air and taste the multitudinous flavours of Spain – acid, sugary, intoxicating, sickening, but flavours which, above all in a synthetic world are real as nowhere else.

(Laurie Lee: A Rose for the Winter)


Desire (Deseo)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

André Gide (1869-1951)

… every desire has enriched me more than the possession – always false – of the very object of desire.

(André Gide: The Fruits of the Earth)


“…cada deseo me ha enriquecido más que la posesión siempre falsa del objeto mismo de mi deseo.

(André Gide: Los alimentos terrestres)

Seeing Clearly (Ver claramente)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Image by PublicDomainImages via Pixabay

Disciple to Master: “How do you see things so clearly?
Master: “I close my eyes.”

(Zen parable,
quoted in Zen Culture by Thomas Hoover)

Discípulo al Maestro: «¿Cómo ves las cosas tan claramente?»
Maestro: «Cierro los ojos.»

(Parábola zen,
citado en Zen Culture por Thomas Hoover)

La verdad de las mentiras (The Truth of the Lies)

Estaba hojeando – figurativamente, porque de hecho se trataba de un libro electrónico – un libro de ensayos de Mario Vargas Llosa anoche, cuando me topé con la siguiente:

I have been leafing through – figuratively speaking, because it was actually an e-book – a book of essays by Mario Vargas Llosa last night, when I came across the following:

«Los inquisidores españoles, por ejemplo, prohibieron que se publicaran o importaran novelas en las colonias hispanoamericanas con el argumento de que esos libros disparatados y absurdos —es decir, mentirosos— podían ser perjudiciales para la salud espiritual de los indios. Por esta razón, los hispanoamericanos sólo leyeron ficciones de contrabando durante trescientos años y la primera novela que, con tal nombre, se publicó en la América española apareció sólo después de la independencia (en México, en 1816).

“The Spanish inquisitors, for example, forbade the publication and import of novels in the Latin-American colonies with the argument that these ludicrous and absurd – that’s to say lying – books might be  detrimental for the spiritual health of the Indians. For this reason, the Latin-Americans only read contraband fiction for three hundred years and the first novel, which, with this name, was published in Spanish America only appeared after the independence (in Mexico, in 1816).

Al prohibir no unas obras determinadas sino un género literario en abstracto, el Santo Oficio estableció algo que a sus ojos era una ley sin excepciones: que las novelas siempre mienten, que todas ellas ofrecen una visión falaz de la vida.

By forbidding not certain works but an entire literary genre, the Holy Office established something that to them was a law without exceptions: that novels always lie, that all of them offer a falsa view of life.

Hace años escribí un trabajo ridiculizando a esos arbitrarios, capaces de una generalización semejante. Ahora pienso que los inquisidores españoles fueron acaso los primeros en entender —antes que los críticos y que los propios novelistas— la naturaleza de la ficción y sus propensiones sediciosas.

Years ago I wrote a work ridiculing these arbitrary men who were capable of such a generalisation. Now I think that the Spanish inquisitors were perhaps the first to understand – before the critics and the novelists themselves – the nature of fiction and its rebellious tendencies.

En efecto, las novelas mienten —no pueden hacer otra cosa— pero ésa es sólo una parte de la historia. La otra es que, mintiendo, expresan una curiosa verdad, que sólo puede expresarse encubierta, disfrazada de lo que no es. Dicho así, esto tiene el semblante de un galimatías. Pero, en realidad, se trata de algo muy sencillo. Los hombres no están contentos con su suerte y casi todos —ricos o pobres, geniales o mediocres, célebres u oscuros— quisieran una vida distinta de la que viven. Para aplacar —tramposamente— ese apetito nacieron las ficciones. Ellas se escriben y se leen para que los seres humanos tengan las vidas que no se resignan a no tener. En el embrión de toda novela bulle una inconformidad, late un deseo insatisfecho.»

Indeed, novels lie – can’t do anything else – but this is only part of the story. The other part is that, lying, they express a curious truth, which can be only expressed covertly, dressed up as something it isn’t. Said like this, it sounds like goobledygook. But, really, it’s very simple. People are not content with their lot and almost all – rich or poor, genius or mediocre, famous or unknown – wish to have a different life from the one they live. Fiction appeared to satisfy – in a deceitful way – this appetite. It’s written and read so that human beings could have the lives that they can’t resign themselves to not having. All novels are born from dissent, from unsatisfied desire.”

(Mario Vargas Llosa:
La verdad de las mentiras / The Truth of the Lies)

Algo para pensar por la tarde de un sábado de lluvia.

Thought for a rainy Saturday afternoon.


Apropos of The Discreet Hero

I’m trying to get my mind round the fact that I’ve just finished a book which mentions Justin Bieber. I mean, Justin Bieber, you know, the pop star (if he’s still a star, that is, because I have to admit I’m not that up-to-date about these matters). The significance of Justin Bieber in this context is that he hasn’t been around for all that long. Not long enough, in my mind, to make it into a book. Hot diggety dog! I actually finished reading a book that’s set, like, now.

The book in question is The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa. I recommend it. 🙂


Octubre (October)

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)

Durante cincuenta y seis años – desde cuando terminó la última guerra civil – el coronel no había hecho nada distinto de esperar. Octubre era una de las pocas cosas que llegaban.

(Gabriel García Márquez: El coronel no tiene quien le escriba)

“For nearly sixty years—since the end of the last civil war—the colonel had done nothing else but wait. October was one of the few things which arrived.”

(Gabriel García Márquez: No One Writes to the Colonel)

Appreciating Russians

Quote of the Week:

Venedikt Yerofeev (1038-1990)

“So tell us: where do they appreciate Russians more, this side of the Pyrenees, or the other?”

“Well, I don’t know about the other, but there’s no appreciation at all on this side. For instance, I was in Italy, and they don’t pay Russians a blind bit of notice there. All they do is sing and paint. I mean, one Italian’ll be standing singing, and another’ll be sitting beside him, painting the one that’s singing. And a bit further off there’ll be a third Italian, singing about the one that’s painting. It’d make you weep, and they don’t understand our sorrow.”

(Venedikt Yerofeev: Moscow Stations)

Musashi: The Master Swordsman of Medieval Japan

The Battle of Sekigahara… anyone?

Well, I’d never heard of it either before I read Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel, Musashi.

Which brings us to the next question: Miyamoto Musashi, anyone?

Your answer, of course, is in the title of this post: Miyamoto Musashi was one of the most famous – if not the most famous – swordsman Japan ever produced. Already in his lifetime he became a legend.

Continue reading “Musashi: The Master Swordsman of Medieval Japan”

Why You Shouldn’t Lose Your Shield (Por qué no deberías perder tu escudo)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Plutarch (c. 46 AD – c. 120 AD)

When someone asked why they visited disgrace upon those among them who lost their shields, but did not do the same thing to those who lost their helmets or their breastplates, he [Demaratus] said, “Because these they put on for their own sake, but the shield for the common good of the whole line.”

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

Al preguntarle [a Demarato] alguien por qué entre ellos deshon- raban a quienes tiraban los escudos, y, en cambio, no a los que arrojaban los yelmos y las corazas, contestó: «Porque se revisten de esto para su propio beneficio, pero del escudo en beneficio del frente común.»

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

Fifty-three Minutes

Quote of the Week:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

“Good morning,” said the little prince.

”Good Morning,” said the salesclerk. This was a salesclerk who sold pills invented to quench thirst. Swallow one a week and you no longer feel any need to drink.

“Why do you sell these pills?”

“They save so much time,” the salesclerk said. “Experts have calculated that you can save fifty-three minutes a week.”

“And what do you do with those fifty-three minutes?”

“Whatever you like.”

“If I had fifty-three minutes to spend as I liked,” the little prince said to himself, “I’d walk very slowly toward a water fountain…”

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince)

How to Live like a Local in Budapest (Summer Edition)

The Expat Goes Home

The trouble with being an expat is that you end up being a stranger to your own hometown. In your absence things move on; after a few years you being to feel alienated. The post How to Live like a Local in Budapest two years ago was born of the experience of visiting my own city with the eyes of a tourist: I was trying to show off the attractions – especially the unique ones – to my children. It was a wintery experience of Budapest, however, so today, you’re going to get the summer edition. If it’ll inspire you to visit one of the most lovable and liveable cities in Europe, good. 🙂

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge spanning the Danube, Budapest. Photo by Anon. via Pixabay.

Continue reading “How to Live like a Local in Budapest (Summer Edition)”

Tacitus vs the Newspapers

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

…during the Second World War he [Jorge Luis Borges] had considered giving up his habit of not reading the papers (because it made more sense to read the classics), but had decided instead to spend some time every day reading Tacitus on a different, early war. In a world like his, in which events repeat themselves ad infinitum, his decision was not without logic and Tacitus had the advantage of a superior style while, in his view, the content remained essentially the same.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Don Quijote y el escudero vizcaíno (Don Quixote and the Biscayan Squire)

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616)

Todo esto que don Quijote decía escuchaba un escudero de los que el coche acompañaban, que era vizcaíno; el cual, viendo que no quería dejar pasar el coche adelante, sino que decía que luego había dar la vuelta al Toboso, se fue para don Quijote y, asiéndole de la lanza, le dijo, en mala lengua castellana y peor vizcaína, desta manera:

—Anda, caballero que mal andes; por el Dios que crióme que, si no dejas coche, así te matas como estás ahí vizcaíno.

Entendióle muy bien don Quijote, y con mucho sosiego le respondió:

—Si fueras caballero, como no lo eres, ya yo hubiera castigado tu sandez y atrevimiento, cautiva criatura.

—¿Yo no caballero? Juro a Dios tan mientes como cristiano. Si lanza arrojas y espada sacas, ¡el agua cuán presto verás que al gato llevas! Vizcaíno por tierra, hidalgo por mar, hidalgo por el diablo, y mientes que mira si otra dices cosa.

(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha)

All this was listened to by a Biscayan Squire who accompanied the coach. He hearing that the coach was not to pass on but was to return to Toboso, went up to Don Quixote, and, laying hold of his lance, said to him: ‘Get away with thee, Sir Knight, for if thou leave not the coach I will kill thee as sure as I am a Biscayan.’

‘If,’ replied Don Quixote haughtily, ‘thou wert a gentleman, as thou art not, I would ere this have punished thy folly and insolence, caitiff creature.’

‘I no gentleman?’ cried the enraged Biscayan. ‘Throw down thy lance and draw thy sword, and thou shalt soon see that thou liest.’

(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote de la Mancha, transl. by Judge Parry)


Note for English readers: 
You might wonder what this was all about? 
Regrettably, the English translation doesn't convey the joke - which is based on the Biscayan squire's bad Spanish. Understandably perhaps, this episode is generally omitted from most English versions; the version above renders the exchange in correct English. (And I had to consult three different translations before I found one that included it at all!) 
If you read the whole chapter, however, you may still find it enjoyable. You can find Parry's translation on Project Gutenberg:
⇒ Don Quixote of the Mancha (chapter VI - following on from the adventure of the windmills). Enjoy!

No One Is Above the Law (Nadie está por encima de la ley)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Plutarch (c. 46 AD – c. 120 AD)

When someone inquired why he [Demaratus] was an exile from Sparta, being a king, he said, “Because her laws are more powerful than I am.”

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

Cuando uno le preguntó [a Demarato] por qué estaba exilado de Esparta, siendo así que era rey, le respondió: «Porque sus leyes son más poderosas que yo.»

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