The View from behind the Waterfall

Our view from behind the waterfall – Plémont Bay, Jersey

We cheated coronavirus last week – risking the swab test and two weeks quarantine in an expensive hotel – and escaped to Jersey for a short break before school reopened for Young Friend of the Elephants. It’s a tiny island of gorgeous beaches and on the second day when we hiked the north coast, we arrived, with the weather closing in and the rain spitting, to Plémont Bay: a sandy beach with caves in the rock face and a waterfall. It put me in mind, immediately, of one of the favourite books of my childhood: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, the second novel of the Leatherstocking Tales, and arguably Cooper’s best book:

“We are then on an island!”

“Ay! there are the falls on two sides of us, and the river above and below. If you had daylight, it would be worth the trouble to step up on the height of this rock, and look at the perversity of the water. It falls by no rule at all; sometimes it leaps, sometimes it tumbles; there it skips; here it shoots; in one place ’tis white as snow, and in another ’tis green as grass; hereabouts, it pitches into deep hollows, that rumble and crush the ‘arth; and thereaways, it ripples and sings like a brook, fashioning whirlpools and gullies in the old stone, as if ’twas no harder than trodden clay.”

(James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans)

For those of you who haven’t read it, the book is set in 1757, during the French and Indian Wars, and in the episode quoted above the main characters take refuge from the pursuing Hurons in an island cave in the middle of some waterfalls – Glens Falls, in the Hudson River. According to his daughter, Cooper actually got the whole idea for the book when showing the falls to some Englishmen, one of whom commented that it would make an excellent setting for a romance. I looked it up on the internet, but there is nothing you can really see nowadays – instead of the wilderness described in Cooper’s story, it’s now a completely built up area. I suppose I hoped that it had been preserved as a national park!

Leatherstocking Tales is a series of five books, following the life of Natty Bumppo (you have to wonder where Cooper got such an odd surname from), and through his life telling the story of the expansion of the American colonies towards the west in the second half of the 18th century – with the last novels set in the by then independent United States. In The Last of the Mohicans I think Cooper got it just perfect: it’s an enchanting blend of adventure, nature, history and romance, with a sad ending to the story which makes all the difference. In fact, all of the Leatherstocking Tales have an air of melancholy about them as Natty witnesses the wilderness he knew in his youth gradually vanish to be replaced by ‘civilisation’ and Cooper’s descriptions of nature add greatly to the atmosphere of the stories.

Natty goes by several names in the stories, given to him by his Indian friends and by his enemies – I mostly think of him as Hawkeye, sometimes as La Longue Carabine (Long Rifle in French) but never as Natty Bumppo. He was always a bit too holier-than-thou for my liking, however, and I always preferred his Indian sidekick Chingachgook, a classic noble savage (was Karl May’s Winnetou inspired by him?), together with his family. Chingachgook’s wife, Wah-ta-Wah, appears in the first novel, The Deerslayer, and their son, Uncas, is the last of the Mohicans. Except, of course, that he… but that would be telling.

Nagy indiánkönyv – J. F. Cooper

I first read the Leatherstocking Tales when I was ten – my mum gave me a book voucher worth 100 Forints for my birthday – an absolute fortune in those time, especially for a ten year old – and then took me to the bookshop in the Pioneers’ Department Store on Rákóczi Street so that I could spend it. At the time I was obsessed with Karl May’s Indian (as in Native American) adventure novels, and when I saw a massive book in the shop titled the Big Indian Book, costing a whopping 72 Forints, I just had to have it. My mother, who probably hoped that I would get a dozen books of worthwhile literature like Sir Walter Scott or Alexandre Dumas, was horrified. But you know what? I’ve still got the book. It is nothing more, nothing less but the full Leatherstocking Tales – quite as worthwhile as Scott or Dumas actually, as my mother probably came to realise in due course. (By the way, I did also get round to read Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas, and voluntarily, by the time I was twelve, and I warmly recommend them too, along with Robert Louis Stevenson.)

Further Reading:The novels of James Fenimore Cooper on Project Gutenberg

Seven Quasi-Religious Sayings To Annoy Your Children With

The Admonitions of St Stephen

It’s 20th of August, the day of St Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary (ruled 997-1038). One of the things he’s famous for, in addition to the founding of the Christian state of course, is that he left behind a book titled Admonitions for his son, telling him how to do pretty much everything as a king. We don’t know what Prince Imre thought of all of this, or whether he would have followed any of the advice because he predeceased his parent but my efforts to pass on wisdom to my children invariably elicit the rolling of eyes!

Be obedient to me, my son. You are a child, descendant of rich parents, living among soft pillows, who has been caressed and brought up in all kinds of comforts; you have had a part neither in the troubles of the campaigns nor in the various attacks of the pagans in which almost my whole life has been worn away.

(St Stephen: Admonitions)

Seven Quasi-Religious Sayings To Annoy Your Children With

In the spirit of St Stephen then, here are seven quasi-religious sayings for you to annoy your children with (especially after they argued for half an hour about whose turn it was to empty recycling bin).

Quasi-religious because they're not necessarily come from religious books, although they sound as if they did...

1. Yourself, My Lord, If You Have No Servant

We start with this old Hungarian saying which is my particular favourite, mostly because I’ve never had a servant. It could have been inspired by the Bible but if it was, I never found the original text. The meaning should be obvious: if you haven’t got servants, you’ve got to do it yourself. (Even if you’re Jesus.)

I personally find it a tad more stylish than the standard English “What did your last servant die of?”. And it’s not a bad principle to live by, especially when you consider the following:

2. God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Sounds straight out of the Bible but it isn’t – the idea comes from the Ancient Greeks, although it’s unclear via whom we inherited it. It’s generally attributed to Euripides (the play Hyppolitus) but I couldn’t find the quote.

On the other hand, this is what you do find in Aesop:

A carter was driving a wagon along a country lane, when the wheels sank down deep into a rut. The rustic driver, stupefied and aghast, stood looking at the wagon, and did nothing but utter loud cries to Hercules to come and help him. Hercules, it is said, appeared and thus addressed him: “Put your shoulders to the wheels, my man. Goad on your bullocks, and never more pray to me for help, until you have done your best to help yourself, or depend upon it you will henceforth pray in vain.”

Self-help is the best help.

(Aesop’s Fables: Hercules and the Wagoner)

3. Cleaning the Augean Stables

I don’t remember much of my mother, who died after a long illness when I was thirteen. But one of the few things I do remember was her repeatedly commenting on the state of my bedroom:

It looks like Augeas’s stable.

(Invariably followed by the somewhat despairing injunction to tidy up and pronto.)

The reference, which I had ample occasion to use with both of my own children, is from the Twelve Labours of Hercules, another Ancient Greek myth.

A reminder of the plot: Hercules, the half god, half human hero of the stories killed his wife and children in a fit of madness sent on him by Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera. As a punishment, he had to go to serve King Eurystheus who imposed on him the famous twelve labours. One of these, a task of clearly impossible proportions, was to clean the great cattle stables of King Augeas of Elis in a single day. Augeas had three thousand oxen and their stables had not been cleaned for thirty years…

Hercules solved the problem by diverting the Rivers Alphaeus and Peneus through the stables washing them clean (I often wished I could do the same with my children’s bedroom).

Encyclopaedia Britannica says there is a reference to this story in Homer’s Iliad, but for the life of me I don’t remember anything about that. On the other hand, the story has been illustrated on the temple of Zeus in Olympia:

Photo by Egisto Sani via Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]
For more details about the sculpture above click here.

4. If The Mountain Will Not Come To Mohammed, Then Mohammed Must Go To The Mountain

You would think this originates with the Koran, but no – it’s from the essays of Francis Bacon (where he got the idea from, I can’t say):

Mahomet cald the Hill to come to him. And when the Hill stood still, he was neuer a whit abashed, but said; If the Hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.

(Francis Bacon: Of Boldness)

The meaning should be obvious – if something is not going to work, you just have to find a working alternative!

5. Never Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

This tends to mystify people nowadays but that’s because nowadays hardly any of us buys a horse. Looking into the horse’s mouth and checking its teeth was standard procedure to make sure that the horse you were about to buy was healthy…

If I am little eloquent, what is that to you? Read someone more skilful. If I do not translate Greek to Latin properly, either read Greek, if you know the language, or if you know only Latin, do not judge a free gift as the common proverb has it: do not look at the teeth of a horse given to you.

(St Jerome: Commentary on the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians)

Even a saint gets annoyed by ungrateful people…!

6. Not Even Christ’s Tomb Was Guarded For Free

Another old Hungarian saying, this one referencing a story from the Bible, although the Hungarian phrase actually says Christ’s coffin, rather than tomb, which is of course wholly incorrect in itself but does alliterate nicely.

The Jewish priests asked the Romans to set guards on Christ’s tomb to make sure his disciples wouldn’t steal his body and then claim he had resurrected… (But since we’re talking about Christ here, this of course didn’t stop him.)

62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

(Matthew 27:62-66, King James Version)

The soldiers of course wouldn’t have guarded the tomb for free; hence the saying. (Really, these soldiers did very well out of the whole affair: they also cashed in later when they were bribed to say that the body had been stolen – Matthew 29:11-15!)

7. Chanting A Prayer to Buddha Into The Horse’s Ear

The meaning of this Japanese proverb should be clear: Buddha might (or might not) hear your prayer and grant your wishes, but the horse surely won’t… In Hungary we actually say “It’s like talking to the wall” – but that wouldn’t fit into the quasi-religious category 🙂 and it’s a lot less picturesque, anyway!

What are some of your favourite sayings to quote at your children?
Links:Szent István király Intelmei (The Admonitions of St Stephen - sorry, only in Hungarian)

Death in Venice

There’s a cocktail bar in Islington where they have a poster of the film Death in Venice behind the bar. Every time I go there I have a Death in Venice cocktail, and each time I tell myself that I will re-read the book by Thomas Mann, because the last time I read it I was still in secondary school.

I went there last night as part of our belated wedding anniversary dinner (only about four months late on account of the coronavirus lockdown) and I asked the bar tender if she minded me taking a picture of the part of the bar with the film poster. I know it was silly but it is a good poster, a good bar and a good cocktail, and I wanted to take a picture for years:

There was never any hope of the photo coming out good… but I took it anyway.

Most unexpectedly, the bar tender then gave me a present – a book about the history of the bar, complete with the recipes of some of their signature cocktails. I really like the book actually, it’s got some great photos. And I don’t think anybody ever gave me a present for no reason before, so I felt really touched. Obviously, I had to have a second Death in Venice!

So now I’m reading Thomas Mann. 

Have you ever been inspired by a cocktail to read a book?

Rivers of Gold

  • Columbus nailing a gold coin to the mast for the first man to glimpse land…
  • Diego de Ordaz climbing the erupting Popocatépetl to become the first European to see Tenochtitlán…
  • Cortés burning his ships on the beach of Veracruz…
  • Vasco Núñez de Balboa hacking his way through the jungle of Panama to claim the legendary South Sea for his king…
  • Pizarro offering the Bible to the Inca on the great plaza of Cajamarca…

These are just some of the stories from the era of the Spanish discovery and conquest of America. Stories that are capable to fire the imagination: stories about a handful men daring to sail into the unknown, of a handful of men having the nerve to show up on some distant shore and take on entire empires.

And win.

Even if you despise the conquistadors for their greed, cruelty and ignorance, you have to appreciate their audacity and their supreme belief in themselves and in their God; the story of the Spanish conquest of America is one hell of a good story. A story that you want to know more about.

This is why I picked up Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire by Hugh Thomas, a history on the Spanish conquest of America. I was looking for the facts behind the legends, I wanted to understand who the conquistadors were and what motivated them. I hoped to learn more about the lands they conquered, the cultures they came into conflict with. And finally, I expected to read about how all this changed Spain and the world.

Well, you won’t really learn any of that from Rivers of Gold.

Without doubt, Hugh Thomas has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject. Unfortunately, however, he is unable to rise above this encyclopaedic knowledge to give his readers the full picture, let alone an analysis. As for the cracking stories? Forget it. Rivers of Gold is a somewhat tedious litany of names, ships coming and going between the Caribbean and Spain, and minor skirmishes between the conquistadors and the local Indians.

We start of with the conquest of the Caribbean in great detail: we learn the  names of many Spaniards who took part in some form or other in the conquering and populating of the Caribbean islands and we are told what happened to their converso (converted Jew) grandfather thirty years ago; they all seemed to have had one. Every minor skirmish and every doomed Indian chief is listed, as are all the changes to the laws governing the islands. We get ship names and cargo lists; the number of Indian slaves brought back to Spain and the number of black slaves taken to the Caribbean. We learn about the disagreements between individual conquistadors or indeed the priests who accompanied them and follow Bartolomé de las Casas in his self appointed role as saviour of the Indians. Much of this (although not all) is of course perfectly valid and useful information. The problem is Thomas provides us with so many list like details that we get completely lost in them and never understand the full picture. The reader simply can’t see the forest for the trees.

Not content with getting his readers lost in details, in the second half of the book Thomas himself completely loses sight of what he set out to write about. His book becomes a narrative of what happened in Spain; we follow the Spanish court around in the wake of Isabella’s death, learn about Ferdinand’s concerns in the Mediterranean, learn about Queen Juana the Mad (although she never did anything with respect to America), become embroiled in Charles I’s efforts to become the Holy Roman Emperor…

What we don’t get? Well… to begin with, we don’t really get the rise of the Spanish Empire as advertised in the subtitle. The conquest of Mexico and Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world are dismissed in a few dozen pages at the end, and we never get to the Incas at all. Among others.

What a wasted opportunity.

Lockdown Diaries: Cinnamon Swirl

My swimming pool has finally reopened at the end of July.

The negatives?

  • You have to book
  • You can only book one session per day
  • Each session is only half an hour

The positives?

  • You’re allowed to use the changing room (far too many pools expect you to get home on the bus in a wet swimsuit or change in their car park)
  • The changing room and the showers have never been cleaner!

But my swimming app has been shut down as of May 31st, due to coronavirus. It used to track my swims, adding up the distances and match them onto a Google map:

Saved from oblivion… a screenshot of one of my completed swimming challenges

Before the app disintegrated on my phone, I managed to copy out the list of the swimming challenges (completed and uncompleted) but not the associated maps… Today I spent 3 fruitless hours on the internet trying to find out where in the world the intriguingly named Cinnamon Swirl challenge (175,665 m) is supposed to be taking place.

I don’t see much point in swimming 175,665 metres without being able to imagine the scenery…

…so I pretended to swim in the Serpentine (Hyde Park) instead.

The Fifth Anniversary

The blog turned five years old today: I never thought I’d get this far!

Along the way,

  • I’ve read a lot of good books (check out the Reading Log)
  • shared some great quotes (why not browse through the section on Books & Literature?)
  • wrote some great posts (too many to list here)
  • and some not so great ones (well, I’m not going to draw your attention to those)
  • I even shared some hard won blogging wisdom.

Most importantly, I had a good time:

It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met.

Yoshida Kenko: A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees
(Essays in Idleness)

I hope you did too! 🙂 Whichever of these countries you came from:

Seven Ways to Illustrate the Classical Unities

Lockdown boredom reached such levels today that I just had to deviate from the routine on the blog to provide both myself and you with a change of scenery. Ladies and gentleman, please enjoy literature discussed – in the form of infographics!

The Classical Unities

But before we start with any infographics, let’s just remind ourselves of those old grammar school days when such concepts as the classical unities were still actually taught in literature classes*.

The Classical Unities, also known as the Aristotelian Unities, and also – not very originally – known as the Three Unities, are the idea, originating in Aristotle’s Poetics, that a good tragedy should have unity of time, unity of place and unity of action. What these exactly mean, you’ll see illustrated below, but first we might as well pickup our trusty old Poetics and read what Aristotle actually wrote:

Aristotle on the Classical Unities

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

On the Unity of Time:

…Tragedy endeavours, as far as possible, to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun, or but slightly to exceed this limit…

(Aristotle: Poetics, V)

On the Unity of Action:

…Tragedy is the imitation of an action; and an action implies personal agents, who necessarily possess certain distinctive qualities both of character and thought; for it is by these that we qualify actions themselves, and these—thought and character—are the two natural causes from which actions spring, and on actions again all success or failure depends. Hence, the Plot is the imitation of the action: for by plot I here mean the arrangement of the incidents.

…Now, according to our definition, Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude; for there may be a whole that is wanting in magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. .. A well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.

…Unity of plot does not, as some persons think, consist in the Unity of the hero. For infinitely various are the incidents in one man’s life which cannot be reduced to unity; and so, too, there are many actions of one man out of which we cannot make one action. Hence, the error, as it appears, of all poets who have composed a Heracleid, a Theseid, or other poems of the kind. They imagine that as Heracles was one man, the story of Heracles must also be a unity. But Homer, as in all else he is of surpassing merit, here too—whether from art or natural genius—seems to have happily discerned the truth. In composing the Odyssey he did not include all the adventures of Odysseus—such as his wound on Parnassus, or his feigned madness at the mustering of the host—incidents between which there was no necessary or probable connection: but he made the Odyssey, and likewise the Iliad, to centre round an action that in our sense of the word is one.

As therefore, in the other imitative arts, the imitation is one when the object imitated is one, so the plot, being an imitation of an action, must imitate one action and that a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.

(Aristotle: Poetics, VI-VIII)

On the Unity of Place:

Yep. All of that.

The Aristotelian Unities

Good old Aristotle never mentioned unity of place. Perhaps he took it for granted. After all, once you’ve got unity of action (clearly the most important thing) and unity of time, how far can you spread it geographically?

Nevertheless any budding writer would do well to chew his way through Aristotle’s Poetics, because the one thing you can notice while he disperses poetic advice with a liberal hand, is that quite a lot of those things which he criticises as ‘bad’ are standard features of a certain kind of literature, ahem, ahem, you know, the kind which is published with glaring metallic letters on the front cover and has no literary merit whatsoever. So if you’re aiming to win, I don’t know, the Booker Prize, you’d better follow Aristotle’s advice; if on the other hand, you’re aiming to be published by Mills & Boon, you’ll do well to follow the exact opposite of his advice…

The Three Unities:

Now then when people started to read Aristotle again in Europe, almost two millennia years later, the third unity was most definitely added, and gained particular popularity in France where several famous playwrights did their best to adhere to it, so if you go out – what am I saying?! You can’t go out and see a play any more, classical French or otherwise.

So to the devil with that, let’s proceed to the illustrations:

Seven Ways to Illustrate the Classical Unities

Click on the gallery to enlarge the pictures.


* You can tell that this post has been inspired by the lack of such things in the literature curriculum of Young Friend of the Elephants - currently home schooling owing to the coronavirus - or, for that matter, in Sophisticated Young Lady's, several years earlier (at the time not home schooling owing to no coronavirus).

Further Reading (or Other People's Take on the Same Topic):The Unities and the Short StoryClassical UnitiesAristotle's Poetics: The Three Unities

Lockdown Diaries: Inmates in Solitary

One of the most bizarre experiences to emerge from the lockdown, at least in our house, is the lonely, self-contained life of the inmates.

You’d think now that we’re all in the house,  we have lots of family interaction: no commuting, we all work/study/live in the same space. And yet.

We’re all in different rooms; not just because some of us increasingly crave privacy but because of work demands: there are all the phone calls, video conferences, webinars and online lessons to participate in at random times of the day. Then there are our different work habits: I like to work with music on; my husband likes to work in complete silence. Young Friend of the Elephants likes to ‘work’ with her door shut so that she can Facetime her friends instead.

Surely as a minimum, we share all the meal times? No. We all get up at different times and trickle downstairs one by one; all end eating breakfast alone. Lunch? Seems absolutely impossible to organise because everybody is on a different schedule. What’s left is dinner, just like when we were not locked into the house, and the rare occasions when people coincide by the kettle in the kitchen. I’m on my tea break now and I can’t find a single soul in the house who’s available for a five minutes’ chat.

My sister said her family was no different. And yours?

Captain Michales

Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis: A Book Review

Captain Michales is a wild man. His own family calls him the Wild Boar; and when he invites his companions to one of his drinking bouts – which often last for days – not only they dare not to say no, they dare not to stop drinking either, not even if it makes them miserably sick.

Even so, Captain Michales is no wilder than his country, Crete.

The cover of the 2nd Greek edition in 1955 illustrates the spirit of Captain Michales and the book perfectly [Image via Wikipedia}
Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, Freedom and Death, is set at the end of 19th century when Crete was still a – reluctant – part of the Ottoman Empire. The island saw  a series of rebellions against Turkish rule throughout the 19th century before eventually it became independent and finally united with Greece in the 20th.

Kazantzakis himself was born in Megalokastro (today’s Heraklion) in 1883 and in his autobiographical book, Report to Greco, he hinted that the figure of Captain Michales was inspired by his own father: in the novel he’s describing the world that he grew up in.

A harsh and chaotic world.

Relations between the two groups of inhabitants of the island, the Greeks and Turks, are turbulent to say the least: ethnically motivated murder is a daily occurrence, family vendettas drag out for decades and law is practically non-existent. This forms the background of the novel, which is a story of friendship, jealousy, murder and vengeance, embedded in the larger story of the fight for Cretan independence.

The hero, Captain Michales, is a larger than life figure from the town of Megalokastro. The other chief characters are his Turkish blood brother and at the same time enemy, Nuri Bey; Nuri’s wife Eminé, who strikes passion in more than one man’s heart; Captain Michalis’s extended family, his rivals, his friends and neighbours in Megalokastro; not to mention the Pacha in charge of the island and the spiritual leader of the Christians, the Metropolitan.

In addition to the actual plot line, the novel is like a caleidoscope of colour about life in Megalokastro in that particular moment, strongly emanating the atmosphere of the time and place – for Kazantzakis writing it must have been like reliving his childhood.

It is a memorable book, but brutal: brutal like the hero, and brutal like the times and the country in which he lived. Not for the faint hearted.

Captain Michales stretched out his hand and raised the severed head by the hair like a banner. A wild light haloed his face, which was filled with an inhuman joy. Was it pride, god-like defiance, or contempt of death? Or limitless love for Crete? Captain Michales roared:

“Freedom or…”


Lockdown Diaries: The ‘New Normal’ in the Swimming Pools

I stopped counting the lockdown with Day 70, 6 days ago, when we managed to get to the seaside in Lancashire and I actually got to swim – for the first time since my pool closed in March. It’s true that the water was barely above knee deep as it was low tide but on the plus side this meant its temperature was perfectly acceptable, instead of being 14 degrees as it would have been at high tide.

Trips to the sea however come round relatively rare in our lives (for all that this is an island); so it was with great excitement that I noticed recently in the news that talk began of the reopening of swimming pools in a month or two’s time.

Photo by Pixabay on

But without the changing rooms.

Well, arriving already wearing your swimsuit is no major hardship and you can stuff your clothes and purse into a waterproof swimbag and leave it by the poolside. But as for going home… I can’t quite see myself wearing nothing but a dripping wet swimsuit on the bus, among fully dressed fellow travellers!

And what about in winter?

(Perhaps they should take this back to the drawing board.)

El catolicismo explicado a las ovejas (Catholicism Explained to the Sheep)

O, una reseña irregular de un libro que todavía no he leído

Y lo que, además, no han traducido al inglés, así que la mayoría de los lectores de este blog no podrían leer. Hoy, vosotros los hispanohablantes tenéis la ventaja. 🙂

Or an Irregular Book Review about a Book I Haven’t Yet Read

And which is not translated into English anyway so most of you will be unable to read it!

El título: El catolicismo explicado a las ovejas

Pues, el título es alucinante, ¿no?

Todavía no lo sé si el autor es católico o no; o si es católico, que parece probable, si es de hecho un creyente o no. (Ya que ser católico y ser creyente son dos cosas muy distintas.) De todos modos, lo de las ovejas se puede interpretar en dos maneras:

  • la religiosa: Jesús es el Buen Pastor y sus cristianos son las ovejas – como es bien conocido
  • la agrícola: las ovejas son famosos por ser animales estúpidas (también tímidas, pero eso nos importa un pepino aquí)

Total que es un título entretenido que me gusta mucho. (Y también lo gustaba a mi hermanita quien me regaló el libro para mi cumpleaños.)

Si eres un autor no publicado, toma nota: un buen título ayuda mucho en vender tu libro.

The Title: Catholicism Explained to the Sheep

Well, it’s a fantastic title, don’t you agree?

At the moment I still don’t know whether the author is Catholic or not; or if he’s Catholic, which seems probable, whether he is a believer or not. (Since the two is no way the same.) At any rate, the titular sheep can be interpreted in two ways:

  • the religious: Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Christians are the sheep – as is well known
  • the agricultural: sheep are famous for being stupid (and for being shy as well but we don’t give a toss about that here)

In summary, it’s an entertaining title, and I like it a lot. (So did my sister who gave me the book for my birthday.) 

If you're an unpublished author, take note: a good title goes a long way to sell your book.

El autor: Juan Eslava Galán

Juan Eslava Galán es un autor español, que escribe sobre la historia – ficción y no ficción. El catolicismo explicado a las ovejas no es el primer libro de Juan Eslava Galán que tengo. He leído cuatro y intento leer más, empezando, por supuesto, con El catolicismo… 🙂

Juan Eslava Galán (1948-)

The Author: Juan Eslava Galán

Juan Eslava Galán is a Spanish author of historical books – fiction and non-fiction. Catolicism Explained to the Sheep is not Juan Eslava Galán’s first book that I’ve got. I’ve read four so far, and mean to read more, starting, obviously, with the Catolicism… 🙂

La propaganda en la contraportada

Que dice:

Un libro valiente que responde a muchas cuestiones que atormentan hoy el alma del creyente:

¿Es Dios psicópata? ¿Por qué aconseja el robo y el asesinato?

¿Por qué instaló a los judíos, su Pueblo Elegido, en la única parcela de Oriente donde no hay petróleo?

¿Por qué el Ángel de la Guarda anota en su Libro Mayor los orgasmos de cada católico?

¿Por qué el Espíritu Santo es una paloma en lugar de un ornitorrinco, como sería más lógico?

¿Era puta la Magdalena o todo se debe a una confusión?…

Pues yo no soy una creyente, pero si quiero las respuestas… 🙂

The Blurb

Which says:

A brave book which answers many of the questions that torment the soul of today’s believers:

Is God a psychopath? Why does He advise robbery and murder?

Why did He settle the Jews, his Chosen People, in the only corner of the Middle East without oil?

Why does the Guardian Angel note down in his big book the orgasms of the Catholics?

Why is the Holy Spirit a dove instead of a duck-billed platypus, which would be more logical?

Was Mary Magdalene a whore or is this just a misunderstanding?…

Well, I’m not a believer, but I would like to know the answers! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 70 (The Sea! The Sea!)

Locked Down in Lancashire, Day 70:

After more than two months in lockdown, we went on our first genuine day out…

…to the sea.


A vast sheet of water, the commencement of a lake or an ocean, spread far away beyond the range of the eye, reminding me forcibly of that open sea which drew from Xenophon’s ten thousand Greeks, after their long retreat, the simultaneous cry, “Thalatta! thalatta!” the sea! the sea!

Jules Verne: The Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Lockdown is over.

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 69 (In Rome with Quevedo)

Virtual Escape: In Rome with Quevedo

Evasión virtual: En Roma con Quevedo

Francisco de Quevedo 1580-1645

Much earlier in the lockdown I wrote about some books I’ve got that would make me look good if I dropped dead with them in hand but which I have never read: an anthology of Quevedo’s poetry in the original was one of them.

Mucho antes en la cuarentena, escribió sobre unos libros que tengo; libros que me harían lucir si me muera con ellos en la mano, pero que nunca he leído: la antología de la poesía de Quevedo en el original idioma fue uno de ellos. 

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A Short History of Sicily

I know we’ve already been to Sicily recently (the lockdown has a lot to answer for)…

…but that was with a 19th century female traveller, Frances Elliot, whose romantic flights of fancy are quite different from what I’m proposing today. 🙂

I don’t remember when exactly I got John Julius Norwich’s book, Sicily: A Short History from the Ancient Greeks to the Cosa Nostra, but I had it on the mantelpiece (where I keep the books I haven’t got round to reading yet) for at least a couple of years. All this extra time in lockdown finally gave me the chance to read it…

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 68 (Livin’ La Vida)

Locked Down in Lancashire, Day 68: Livin’ La Vida

Okay, so it’s not Spain. But it’s rural Lancashire, with views across the valley from the window, with hedges, drystone walls, palm trees (!) and brooks within walking distance and the sea within driving distance. And driving to places is allowed. 🙂

No virtual escape today, sorry. I’m just going to soak up the countryside and sniff at all the flowers.


Keep safe, keep sane – enjoy the flowers! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 67 (Anywhere But Lancashire)

Locked Down in Lancashire, Day 67:

Up on the motorway to Lancashire – instead of having fun in Spain as once planned – to attend to some family affairs while we’re still on holiday. At least we’re now also allowed non-essential travel, so we hope to fit in some hiking too!

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 66 (I Brought My Life This Far)

Locked Down in London, Day 66: Politicians

For the past few days, the row about whether a certain politician who broke the lockdown rules by travelling to visit family at some 200 miles’ distance (for childcare reasons) should resign.

In the circumstances I don’t believe that his reason for travelling was acceptable; but that’s just my personal opinion. What I do know for a fact on the other hand is that my family made sacrifices in the interest of public health instead of doing what was the best for us (as I believe did many others!) – while this mother****** did the exact opposite. Ergo, he should resign.

(Of course he won’t.)

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 65 (The Cíes Islands)

Locked Down in London, Day 65:

I just remembered: yesterday, if it wasn’t for the coronavirus, we’d have flown out to Galicia.

This would have been the holiday that would have replaced the one that was cancelled in April. Is this depressing or what? At least now we finally grasped that there was no point in rescheduling; instead we’ve joined the ranks of those hopefuls who are expecting their money back from the airline…

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Lockdown Diaries: Day 64 (Day Off)

Virtual Escape: Day Off

It’s Saturday night. My boss wanted me to work in the weekend – again! Why? Because she’s got neither a cat, nor a dog and is bored out of her mind in lockdown.

You know what? I’m taking the day off.

I hope you have something ever so much nicer to do than reading my blog for a virtual escape but if your need is desperate, there are 63 days worth of virtual escapes in my

⇒ Lockdown Diaries

P.S. If you just want a chat about books or Herodotus, I’m up for that. 🙂 Leave a comment below.

Keep safe, keep sane – see you tomorrow! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 63 (Sunset Sailing)

Virtual Escape: Sunset Sailing

A few years ago we holidayed in Malta – I wish we could go there right now! – and one we went on an organised trip with a small sailing ship to the Blue Lagoon and the island of Gozo where we had the good fortune to see the Azure Window – which collapsed in a storm the year after. While we were on the way back to Valetta, the sun set on us…

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