Guess the Picture (Adivina la imagen)

I’ve been out and about last weekend – despite of the snow and the freezing wind – and took this picture. It’s of a jaw-dropping exhibit in one of my favourite museums.

Estaba saliendo el pasado fin de semana, a pesar del nieve y el viento helado, y saqué esta foto. Es de una exposición alucinante en uno de mis museos favoritos.

Can you guess what it is? Then leave a comment below.

¿Puedes adivinar qué es? Pues déjame un comentario abajo.

You’ll find the answer in next Wednesday’s post, together with some less cryptic photos…!

Encontrarás la solución en el post del miércoles que viene, ¡junto con unas fotos menos enigmáticas…!


Quote of the Week: What War?

Today’s quote is longer than usual: it’s an excerpt from Flight to Arras, a novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and it captures the utter exhaustion of a squadron of French pilots during the German offensive on France in June 1940.

Like all Saint-Exupéry novels, Flight to Arras too was inspired by the author’s own experiences. Saint-Exupéry served in the French air force and continued to fight after the fall of France. He disappeared during a reconnaissance flight over the  Mediterranean Sea in 1944; his identity bracelet was finally recovered from the sea in 1998. He’s the author of such classics as The Little Prince, Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars.

Quote of the Week:

The major went out, drawing Geley in his wake as if he were a dead fish on the end of a line. It was nearer a week than three days since Geley had been to bed. Like Alias, not only did he fly his sorties, but he carried part of the burden of responsibility for the Group. Human resistance has its limits: Geley seemed to have crossed his. Yet there they were, the swimmer and his burden, going off to the Staff for phantom orders.

Vezin, the sceptical Vezin, asleep on his feet, came teetering over to me like a somnambulist:

“You asleep?”


I had been lying back in an armchair (for I had found an armchair) and was indeed dropping off. But Vezin’s voice bothered me. What was it he had said? “Looks bad, old boy… Categorically blocked… Looks bad…”

“You asleep?”

“I… No… What looks bad?”

“The war,” he said.

That was news, now! I started to drop off again and murmured vaguely, “What war?”

This conversation wasn’t going to get very far.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

More Saint-Exupéry Quotes:Quote of the Week: A Crop of Golden TrajectoriesQuote of the Week: Night

Power and Money (Poder y dinero)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

When someone brought forward a plan for the freedom of the Greeks, which, while not lacking idealism, was difficult to put into practice, he [Agis son of Archidamus] said, “Your words, my friend, need the backing of power and money.”

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

Cuando alguien proponía para la libertad de los griegos acciones no faltas de nobleza, pero difíciles de realizar, [Agis, hijo de Arquidamo] le decía: «Tus palabras, amigo, necesitan un aval de poder y dinero».

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

Out Of This World: The Brighton Space Elevator

After more than half a year of limiting myself to taking holiday photos, last week I suddenly remembered that I used to work my way through the 2016 Dogwood Photography Challenge. For those of you who don’t know, this is a 52-week challenge aimed at helping you to become a better photographer (it’s been extended to 2017 and now 2018 as well) and you can thank it for the only picture of me that you’re ever going to see on this blog – due to the fact that the week 1 challenge required a self-portrait…

Continue reading “Out Of This World: The Brighton Space Elevator”

Ode to Santorini

This summer it’ll be five years ago that I visited Santorini for what then I thought was the first but now suspect was also the only time. I didn’t know the poetry of Odysseas Elytis then even though he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1979 and I did – twice! – graduated in literature. Admittedly, neither of those degrees was in Greek literature but you don’t study literature, in any language, in a vacuum, and my ignorance of a Nobel Prize winning poet seems preposterous in retrospect.

Continue reading “Ode to Santorini”

Implacabile (The Corvette that Never Was)

The Impacabile!

Monostory’s heart sank a little, just a little. The old memory returned: his first ship, the Implacabile, was also a warship… and if she still existed… if she could have taken up her station in Fiume to guard the port… if… and again, if…

(András Dékány: The Black Prince)

I wanted to start this post with the adrenaline-rush of a heroic fight of the Hungarian frigate Implacabile against overwhelming odds during the 1848-49 War of Independence on the Adriatic – as told by András Dékány in his novel The Black Prince

Unfortunately, Dékány didn’t go into sufficient detail.

The legend of the Implacabile lives in the consciousness of the sea-loving minority of the Hungarian public because of András Dékány’s novel. He seduced generations of Hungarian children with it; it forms the background of the protagonist Balázs Monostory. Yet Dékány never fully developed the story of the Implacabile. He contented himself with a handful of suggestive and emotive fragments, like the moment when the Taitsing crosses with Chinese pirates:

The Taitsing surged ahead, running before the wind. She was a wonderful ship, with a wonderful crew.
“The Implacabile!” the joyful memory bubbled up in Monostory.
Yes; the lost, sunk Hungarian frigate sped like this as she charged into battle against the Austrian emperor’s corvette.
“The Implacabile!”

In a novel that runs to more than 400 pages, Dékány only mentioned the ship’s name 13 times. This, however, didn’t prevent him to play expertly with his readers’ imagination and emotions. From the emotive half-sentences he scattered throughout the novel we created an entirely fictitious, glorious fight between the first Hungarian frigate and untold scores of Austrian warships on the bluest of all seas, the Adriatic. And so the legend of the Implacabile was born, thanks to a children’s book.

On the north wall of the cabin, there was, however, one thing to arrest a visitor’s attention: you could see a ship’s flag here, spread out. The flag was rather faded with time but it was a ship’s flag – a rare object. The flag of the Implacabile, the first Hungarian Navy frigate, sunk ten years earlier and commanded by Balázs Monostory, was the only decoration in the cabin of the captain of the Taitsing.

The flag, saved when the frigate sank, had accompanied Balázs Monostory for ten years. But so far he failed to realise his plan of handing it over to his leader, Lajos Kossuth, a man in exile just like the owner of the cabin himself.

Gabriela Malatesta’s eyes clouded over as she looked at the flag. Red-white-green. Those same colours formed the flag of the Italian patriots.

The fragments of information actually shared by Dékány in The Black Prince add up to this:

  • The Implacabile was a Hungarian frigate, intended to defend the harbour of Fiume but has never taken up her station to do so
  • Her captain was Balázs Monostory
  • She fought the Austrian corvette Condor – incidentally also commanded by a Hungarian officer – off the coast of Istria on the Adriatic during the 1848-49 War of Independence
  • During the battle, the sailors of the Implacabile used hand bombs fabricated on board in the manner of the Italian carbonaris 
  • She sunk after the battle and her shipwrecked sailors were rescued by a passing Turkish warship

But what’s the truth – if any – behind the legend? Did the Implacabile even exist? And if she did, did she ever fight a warship of the Emperor of Austria on the Adriatic?

Continue reading “Implacabile (The Corvette that Never Was)”

Socrates on Wisdom

Socrates, 470-399 BC. [Public domain image via Wikipedia]
The great Greek philosopher, Socrates, left behind no writings. What we know of his teachings and sayings came to us via his students… in particular, Plato.

Quote of the Week:

I only wish that wisdom were the kind of thing that flowed… from the vessel that was full to the one that was empty. (Socrates)

Plato: Symposium

When It Clears Up

Quote of the Week:

Photo by danfador via Pixabay [CC0]

If I wished to see a mountain or other scenery under the most favorable auspices, I would go to in in foul weather so as to be there when it cleared up. We are then in the most suitable mood, and nature is most fresh and inspiring. There is no serenity so fair as that which is just established in a tearful eye.

(Henry David Thoreau: Canoeing in the Wilderness)

Four Seasons in Japan – with Matsuo Basho

“Haiku”, it is said in Japan, “began and ended with Basho.”

Translator’s Introduction to The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa and Other Poets by Sam Hamill

Two weeks ago, in the conclusion of The Four Seasons in Japan, I promised that I would revisit haikus, with a specific focus on Matsuo Basho (you know: the first, the last and the only… in other words, the greatest writer of haikus), so:

  • first a little introduction to Matsuo Basho’s life and poetry
  • followed by part II of The Four Seasons in Japan

Enjoy. 🙂

Continue reading “Four Seasons in Japan – with Matsuo Basho”

More Final than Pompeii

Quote of the Week:

Selinus (Seliunte), Sicily. View of the Marinella di Selinunte and Temple E as seen from the acropolis of Seliunte. Photo by Matthias Süßen [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Fear in a handful of dust. Stillness and sun-petrified ruins. Here lay the ancient city, running north and south, overlooking the sea and the memory of its ships.

Here, then, was all that was left of great Selinus, called rich and powerful by Thucydides, with silver and gold in its temples and a treasury of its own at the shrine in Olympia. One of those sad disputes, with which the Greeks destroyed their promised land of Sicily, destroyed this city.

In 409 B.C. Hannibal and the Carthaginian army razed the walls of Selinus to the ground. Selinus, ‘City of the Wild Celery’ (and we had passed wild celery as we climbed the headland), was extinct by Strabo’s time. It had been a monument to the vanity of human wishes even when the Roman galleys swept past that bright bay…

“More final than Pompeii.”

(Ernle Bradford: The Wind Off the Island)

Don Quijote y el ventero andaluz (Don Quixote and the Andalusian inn-keeper)

Don Quijote & Sancho Panza, Cervantes Monument, Madrid. Photo by Michael Gwyther-Jones [CC BY 2.0] via Wikipedia

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Viendo don Quijote la humildad del alcaide de la fortaleza, que tal le pareció a él el ventero y la venta, respondió:

—Para mí, señor castellano, cualquiera cosa basta, porque ‘mis arreos son las armas/mi descanso el pelear, etc.’

Pensó el huésped que el haberle llamado castellano había sido por haberle parecido de los sanos de Castilla, aunque él era andaluz, y de los de la playa de Sanlúcar, no menos ladrón que Caco, ni menos maleante que estudiantado paje…

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

Don Quixote, observing the respectful bearing of the Alcaide of the fortress (for so innkeeper and inn seemed in his eyes), made answer, “Sir Castellan, for me anything will suffice, for

‘My armour is my only wear,
My only rest the fray.'”

The host fancied he called him Castellan because he took him for a “worthy of Castile,” though he was in fact an Andalusian, and one from the strand of San Lucar, as crafty a thief as Cacus and as full of tricks as a student or a page.

(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote)

Easy Promise Never Kept (Promesa ligera nunca cumplida)

The Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

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

He who lightly promises is sure to keep but little faith; he who is continually thinking things easy is sure to find them difficult. Therefore, the sage sees difficulty even in what seems easy, and so never has any difficulties.

(Lao Tse: Tao  Teh King 63:3)

El que promete a la ligera
merece poco crédito.
El que todo lo encuentra fácil
difícil le será todo.
Por esto, el sabio en todo considera la dificultad,
y en nada la halla.

(Lao-Tse: Tao Te King  LXIII)