Hector’s Farewell (Why Homer Matters)

Not so long ago I read a book titled The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson. It is 250 pages long, followed by some fifty pages of notes. Today I read Hector’s Farewell, an article of 809 words (I had the computer to count it, I’m not mad!) by Arturo Pérez-Reverte – and it accomplished, without fail, what 250 pages couldn’t: viz. to convince me that Homer matters.

Not that I particularly needed convincing.

I started out blogging some three months ago with dashing off a paragraph lamenting the fact that somebody wrote a long article about Pride and Prejudice and only managed to say what could have been tweeted: that it was a good book. I blithely concluded that much writing about books is a complete waste of time, and then duly proceeded to waste time by writing about books. And now I seem to have come a full circle: I’m in danger of writing a post which, if I’m not careful, will be longer than the article it extols.

I’ll pass the word to Pérez-Reverte instead:

…I was going to see Hector to say farewell to Andromache in real life. And not only once, but many times.

…I saw him say goodbye in various places, with different faces and names, although it was always the same scene. The first time that I was conscious of this was in Cyprus in 1974, when I opened the window of my hotel in Nicosia and saw the sky full of Turkish parachutists. I went down into the street with my cameras hanging around my neck, and as I walked I passed dozens of men saying goodbye to their wives and children to go to battle: brown and moustachoed Greeks, with their shaken faces, hugged their families and then ran in groups, neighbours, relatives and friends, towards the centres of conscription. In the following twenty years I had occasion to see the same men – they were always the same men – in various places of the extensive territory of catastrophes that I traversed then: in the Sahara, Lebanon, Salvador, Chad, Nicaragua, Iraq, Angola, the Balkans… I even witnessed a scene whose similarity to the text of Homer made me tremble, and still does…


…iba a ver a Héctor despedirse de Andrómaca en la vida real. Y no una, sino muchas veces.

…Lo vi despedirse en diferentes lugares, con rostros y nombres distintos, aunque siempre era la misma escena. La primera vez que fui consciente de eso fue en Chipre en 1974, cuando abrí la ventana de mi hotel en Nicosia y vi el cielo lleno de paracaidistas turcos. Bajé a la calle con mis cámaras colgadas del cuello, y por el camino me crucé con docenas de hombres despidiéndose de sus mujeres e hijos para acudir al combate: griegos morenos, bigotudos, que con el rostro desencajado abrazaban a sus familias y corrían luego en grupos, vecinos, parientes y amigos, hacia los centros de reclutamiento. En los siguientes veinte años tuve ocasión de ver a los mismos hombres -siempre son los mismos hombres- en diversos lugares de la extensa geografía de las catástrofes por la que yo transitaba entonces: Sáhara, Líbano, Salvador, Chad, Nicaragua, Iraq, Angola, los Balcanes… Incluso presencié una escena cuya semejanza con el texto de Homero me estremeció, y todavía lo hace…

Although Pérez-Reverte makes a living as a novelist now whose books have been translated into several languages (English included), it is certainly the former war correspondent speaking here. Which, however, does not make him any less convincing. So if you are ever faced with the choice between reading The Mighty Dead and Hector’s Farewell, choose the latter; you’ll save yourself much time. Except there’s a slight catch: you’ve got to be able to read Spanish. So, reluctantly, I amend myself: If you’re ever faced with a choice between The Mighty Dead and El adiós de Héctor – read whichever you can understand!

Throwback Thursday: Originally published on 3 November 2015
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Burns vs Petőfi: Or Whose National Poet Is More S**t?

As far as titles go, this is surely looking for trouble. I mean, I don’t even have to answer the question in the title to succeed in offending the entire population of Scotland and half¹ the population of Hungary. (That would add up to ten million, give or take a few hundred thousand; if you’re pedantic, you can look up the population statistics.)

As you guessed from the title, this post is going to introduce you to some awful poetry. You might be wondering why I want to write about awful poetry, even if this is a literature blog – well, ladies and gentlemen, I suffered Burns’ poetry while reading English at university and Petőfi’s poetry throughout my entire educational career (starting in kindergarten). Now it’s your turn.

Sándor Petőfi
Robert Burns

 

 

vs

 

 

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Are You Smarter Than a Robot?

Well, you’d like to think so. Sure, you can’t calculate the cube of 17,302¹ as fast as Siri but you’ve got a brain that’s capable of solving the kind of problems which cause a robot – your computer, your smart phone, your human shaped domestic slave (if you’re reading this in 3000 A.D.) – to freeze.

Shall we put it to the test?

Image by Geralt via Pixabay [CC0].
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The Guns Fell Silent

A hundred years ago, on the Western Front, effectively marking the end of World War I.

My great-grandfather was conscripted in World War I – was taken prisoner of war and survived. My grandfather was conscripted in World War II and disappeared without a trace, leaving his son born posthumously, out of wedlock. What about your family?

Listen to the moment when the guns fell silent and let’s remember all the victims of war – whether soldiers or civilians. (The recording was released by the Imperial War Museum.)

Florence, City of the Renaissance

Renaissance – rebirth – is the Medieval realisation that the classical world, in particular Greece, has something to offer us. One of the places where you can observe Renaissance best ‘in action’ is the Italian city of Florence, in Tuscany, a northern region of Italy. For all that it’s a famous tourist destination, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you do enjoy immersing yourself in the Renaissance – because apart from that, there’s not a lot else to do.

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Back To School

Autumn is here again with mellow sunshine, golden leaves, conkers in the grass and local teams playing football on the pitches behind our house. The uncharacteristic (for this part of the world) sunshine takes me straight back to childhood: where I come from such sunshine is an integral part of September and the time when you go back to school.

So today, we go back to school – although not as you knew it. The following three stories will let you experience education in a different way, in another place, another time. One story will take you back to wooden desks, inkwells, blackboards and chalk; another will take you to the future; the third one can be considered a ‘school story’ only in the widest sense of the word – think of Mowgli being educated in the jungle…

Enjoy!

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¡Elefantástico!

Read this in English
Mingling with Elephants: Young Friend of the Elephants on Elephant Apprecition Day in Whipsnade Zoo / En la compañía de elefantes: Joven Amiga de los Elefantes en el día de apreciación al elefante en Whipsnade Zoo

El sábado pasado (22 de septiembre) fue el día de apreciación al elefante. ¿Hay un mejor manera de celebrarlo que con unos libros memorables sobre elefantes?

Gente es tan complicada. Dame un elefante cualquier día.

(Mark Shand)

¡Que disfrutes!

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Elephantastic!

Lee esto en castellano
Mingling with Elephants: Young Friend of the Elephants on Elephant Apprecition Day in Whipsnade Zoo

Elephant Appreciation Day is on us again and what better way to celebrate these lovable animals than with a collection of memorable books featuring elephants?

People are so difficult. Give me an elephant any day.

(Mark Shand)

Enjoy!

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Blogging Manual

The Accidental Blogger

I’m an accidental blogger: I started blogging when I got bored with my family pulling faces at me at the dinner table as I mentioned Herodotus… Tolstoy… Xenophon… Arturo Pérez-Reverte… Herodotus…  (You can’t mention Herodotus often enough.)

So I decided to type my clever thoughts into Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s website editor instead until one day he enquired in passing as to what exactly I imagined I was doing on his work computer? “I’ve started a blog,” I replied loftily and he went away.

A week later, in search of something to test his new server with, he uploaded my ‘blog’ – until then only existing on my own desktop – and made it public for the world. After I finished having hysterics at the idea that the whole world now could read my unpolished thoughts, he said he thought it was a blog and blogs, by definition, were meant to be published. He pointed out that blog was short for weblog and as such it was meant to be on the web. Finally, he comforted me with the comment that it was all right because nobody was going to read it anyway.

On this happy note, we left the blog on the server; and it was only a month later that he started to complain about the unfathomable rise of traffic. I realised I made it as a blogger: I had hundreds of readers.

Mostly in the form of spam bots.

The following posts constitute a useful blogging manual for aspiring amateurs. Enjoy this collection of the ups and downs of the accidental blogger (and may you do better):

How To Fail as a Blogger (In Five Easy Steps)

In Defiance

Don’t Read My Blog

Throwback Thursday:
Revisiting the early days of Waterblogged

A Short Pictorial History of Ribadesella

“Of where?” I hear you all saying.

Here:

Ribadesella, Asturias, Spain

Spain’s Best Kept Secret

Ribadesella is a small town in a spectacular setting at the mouth of the River Sella right under the Picos de Europa. Cliffs protect its wide sandy bay. You can surf, swim, go kayaking on the river or hiking in the mountains. Plus there’s a cave with 30 thousand year old cave paintings, practically in town.

Well may you wonder why you’ve never heard of it.

Perhaps because Ribadesella is the place where the Spanish go on holiday. You hardly hear a foreign word in the street. This is a different Spain from the Spain of package holidays.

Enjoy this short pictorial history of the town – brought to you by the Municipality of Ribadesella (and Waterblogged).

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Storybook England: Greenway House

Murder, She Wrote

A well-known murder mystery writer is employed to organise a novelty Murder Hunt at a village fête held at the local rich man’s mansion. The victim is to be played by a Girl Guide, clues are hidden on the grounds and there is a prize to be won for solving the mystery. There’s only one problem: the writer feels that something sinister is going on behind the scenes. She calls on Hercule Poirot..

Call me a fool if you like, but I can only say that if there was to be a real murder tomorrow instead of a fake one, I shouldn’t be surprised!

That is the premise of Dead Man’s Folly, a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery featuring the ubiquitous Belgian private detective and his handlebar moustache.

The crime scene from Dead Man’s Folly – the boathouse.

By no means would I call Dead Man’s Folly one of Agatha Christie’s best books but it has one great merit: she set the book in her own holiday home and herself appeared in the book as one of the characters.

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Pen Mightier than Sword (Pluma más poderosa que espada)

Authors with Sword in Hand

Throughout history, there were soldiers who wielded the pen with as much as skill as they wielded the sword; sometimes better.

Autores con la espada en mano

A lo largo de la historia, hubo soldados que manejaron la pluma con tanta habilidad que la espada; a veces, mejor.

Most of the literary output of these soldier-writers was, understandably, autobiographical: descriptions of battles and campaigns they took part in. A classic example of this is Xenophon’s Anabasis, better known as The March of the Ten Thousand, a gripping account of the retreat of ten thousand Spartan mercenaries in the wake of a lost battle across hostile territory, from Mesopotamia all the way to the shores of the Black Sea. Another is Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s The Conquest of New Spain, a similarly gripping (at least in the abridged version) account of how four-hundred desperadoes under Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico and overthrew an entire empire in the process. I warmly recommend them both.

La mayor parte de la producción literaria de estos soldados-escritores fue, naturalmente, autobiográfico: descripciones de batallas y campañas en que lucharon. Un ejemplar clásico de este tipo de libro es La anábasis de Jenofonte, mejor conocida con el título La marcha de los Diez Mil, un relato emocionante de la regresa de diez mil mercenarios espartanos después de una batalla perdida, a través de un territorio hostil, todo el camino desde Mesopotamia hasta las orillas del Mar Negro. Otro relato que es semejante emocionante (por lo menos en la versión abreviada) es la Historia verdadera de la conquista de Nueva España por Bernal Díaz del Castillo, que narra como cuatro cientos aventureros bajo el mando de Hernán Cortés han conquistado Mexico y derrocado un imperio entero en el proceso. Os recomiendo ambos libros.

But in addition to these authors, there were a handful of soldiers who are better known by literature professors than by military buffs; a handful of soldiers who are more famous for being authors than for ever having been soldiers.

Pero además de esos autores, hubo un puñado de soldados, que son mejor conocidos por profesores de literatura que por aficionados de la historia militar; un puñado de soldados que son más famosos por ser autores que por su pasado como soldados.

Meet five of them.

Aquí abajo puedes conocer a cinco de ellos.

Continue reading “Pen Mightier than Sword (Pluma más poderosa que espada)”

Six Mouse Clicks

The most boring type of blog post?

A book review.

They all follow the same predictable pattern – understandably. After all, a reader will rightfully expect information about the plot, the characters and the style of writing, with some tidbits about the author. The result, as with any genre writing, is a complete lack of creativity.

That is why, although Waterblogged is ostensibly a book blog, I was never really in the business of writing book reviews. Nevertheless, over the past three years I found myself writing a handful. There are books that are so good that you can’t help recommending them to others.

(There was, of course, an exception. You’ll find it here.)

Six reviews; six mouse clicks.  Six books you will want to read.

Fiction – English-Speaking Countries:

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Fiction – Spanish-Speaking Countries:

Death in the Andes

Fiction – Rest of the World:

Moscow Stations

History:

City of Fortune

Biography:

The Novel Life of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain

Autobiography:

The Bible in Spain

Throwback Thursday:
Revisiting the early days of Waterblogged

Pretentious Beginnings

It’s hard to believe – especially given how small the readership is – but the blog is actually turning 3 years old this month. This prompted me to look back on the early days and I have to admit: I was the typical swaggering, pretentious, self-important blogger who thinks that her opinion matters.

Er… nothing changed there then.

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The Master of Cold Mountain

Don’t you know the poems of Han-shan?
They’re better for you than scripture-reading.
Cut them out and paste them on a screen,
Then you can gaze at them from time to time.

Don’t you know the poems of Han-shan? Don’t you know Han-shan, the hermit and accidental poet, the legendary Master of Cold Mountain, the early Chinese Zen philosopher?

Well, if you don’t, it’s time you got to know him. 🙂

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El Samurai

Read this in English: The Samurai

…y el sacerdote

Porque El samurai, esta novela por el autor japonés, Shusaku Endo, tiene de hecho dos protagonistas, aunque el título sólo menciona uno. Dos personajes principales en paralelo: unidos en el propósito pero, al mismo tiempo, con un marcado contraste entre los dos.

El propósito que une el samurai Rokuemon Hasekura y el padre Velasco es negociar privilegios comerciales con Nueva España para los japoneses a cambio de que los misioneros europeos puedan predicar al cristianismo en Japón. Lo que los separa es… pues todo los demás, empezando con sus razones para participar en la embajada. El año es 1613, y el caudillo Tokugawa Ieyasu acabó unificar Japón bajo su propio mando.

¿Y la recompensa para los dos protagonistas después de un viaje arduo cruzando dos océanos? El samurai espera que recobre sus tierras solariegas; el sacerdote sueña de hacerse el primer obispo de Japón. Pero sus Señorías sólo les conceden sus deseos si consiguen la misión …  ¿pueden hacerlo?

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