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!

Tales of Pirx, the Pilot by Stanislaw Lem

We start with the future, when mankind has reached the stars.

The title provides a clue to the plot of this Polish science fiction novel: it’s the story of how Cadet Pirx, who is not quite as bright and able as some of his classmates but does not lack common sense, makes it through space pilot training. Published in English in two parts as Tales of Pirx, the Pilot and More Tales of Pirx, the Pilot, the loosely connected stories, which occasionally have a comic undertone, take Pirx from a bumbling cadet to merchant ship captain. One of the first science fiction novels I’ve ever read, it made me a fan of the genre and the author both.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

From the future let’s go back to the past: to the streets of Lahore at the end of 19th century where a street urchin named Kim befriends an old Tibetan Lama in search of enlightenment – while on the side he runs errands for a Pashtun horse trader. In due course the horse trader turns out to be an agent of the British secret service, engaged in the so-called Great Game: a ‘game’ of espionage and counter-espionage between the British and the Russians for the control of India. Between them, the Lama and the horse trader change the course of Kim’s life forever.

Which path will Kim follow in the end?

A beautiful evocation of colonial India, its people and its landscape, set against the little known history of the Great Game. The story of the unusual education of a boy and cracking colonial adventure.

Please, Sir! by Frigyes Karinthy

From the streets of Lahore, to the white-washed classrooms of Budapest at the turn of the 19th/20th century. Blackboard and chalk, wooden benches with inkwell, the teacher’s desk on a raised platform in front of the blackboard.

Please, Sir! is a series of humorous sketches in which the author recalls his grammar school years. He might as well have been recalling mine: I attended a Budapest grammar school some 80 years later, but apart from a difference in the grading system and the introduction of co-education little changed in the Hungarian grammar school experience from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to the days of communism.

From the wonderfully evocative description of what it felt like being late to school or being called on to answer the teacher’s questions in front of the class, to classroom pranks and the desperate attempts at explaining away the failing grades in the school report, Karinthy had captured it all to perfection.

Although you might find it difficult to encounter this book outside Hungary, it’s freely available for online reading at the Hungarian National Library’s website both in English and in the original Hungarian.

You might also like:Return From the StarsMore recommended books
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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!

Continue reading “¡Elefantástico!”

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!

Continue reading “Elephantastic!”

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).

Continue reading “A Short Pictorial History of Ribadesella”

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.

Continue reading “Storybook England: Greenway House”

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.

Continue reading “Pretentious Beginnings”

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. 🙂

Continue reading “The Master of Cold Mountain”

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?

Continue reading “El Samurai”

Six Books, Six Continents

Africa

Red Strangers by Elspeth Huxley

Africa has a lot going for it as a continent – like elephants – but somehow it doesn’t often feature among my readings. (That could be because I don’t keep re-reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.)

I read Red Strangers for a reading challenge a couple of years ago and boy, was it a challenge!… But the last paragraph made up for it all.

⇒ A Girl Called Aeroplane

(Do let me know what you think of it!)

Continue reading “Six Books, Six Continents”

The Samurai

…and the Priest

Because The Samurai, this novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, has two protagonists for all that only one of them is mentioned in the title. Two main characters in parallel, united in purpose – yet in contrast to each other.

The purpose that unites them is gaining an agreement for the establishment of direct trade between Japan and Nueva España, New Spain, in exchange for Japan allowing Christian misssionaries to proselytise in the country. What separates them is… everything else, beginning with their reasons for setting out on the embassy. The year is 1613, and the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu has recently managed to unify Japan under his own rule.

The samurai, Rokuemon Hasekura, hopes to get his ancestral lands back; the priest, Father Velasco, dreams of becoming the Bishop of Japan. Their desires will only be granted if their mission is successful…  can they carry it off?

Continue reading “The Samurai”

Matar a Leonardo da Vinci (To Kill Leonardo da Vinci)

Visité Florencia, esta ciudad del arte renacentista, por unos días la semana pasada – un viaje organizado en la última hora, se puede decir. Viajé acompañado por un libro que, muy adecuadamente, lleva un retrato de la ciudad en la tapa: Matar a Leonardo da Vinci por el autor español, Christian Gálvez.

I visited Florence, this city of Renaissance art, for a few days last week – a last minute trip. Travelled in the company of a book which, very appropriately, carries a drawing of the city on the cover: Matar a Leonardo da Vinci (To Kill Leonardo da Vinci) by the Spanish author Christian Gálvez.

View of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo
A word of warning here for English readers: this book review is going to benefit you little since it deals with a book which, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't been translated into English yet - and frankly, no loss if it never will be. With that caveat, please feel free to continue reading. :) (At least you'll know to avoid it if it ever comes out in English!)

Continue reading “Matar a Leonardo da Vinci (To Kill Leonardo da Vinci)”

The Aegean (Aqua & Azure)

 

My last minute entry to the Pic & A Word Challenge Aqua and Azure

You might also like:Sailing the Aegean with Odysseas ElytisThe Caldera of SantoriniThe Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion

Submarine!

Visits to Chatham Historic Dockyard, home among others to the diesel-electric submarine HMS Ocelot, and to the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth, home to HMS Alliance, a submarine built at the end of World War II, means I’ve got some photos of the outside and inside of the submarines to share. (Click on the gallery to enlarge photos.)

This being primarily a book blog, the photos are accompanied by a book list – half a dozen books set on submarines. Not a definite list, by any means; I have heard of several others well spoken off (but I haven’t got round to reading them yet). If you’d like to recommend a book on submarines that you enjoyed, please leave a comment below.

Continue reading “Submarine!”

The History of England in a Dozen Maps (La historia de Inglaterra en doce mapas)

1. Doggerland (8000 B.C. / 8000 a.C.)

“Dogger. Gale warning.
Gale warning issued 14 March 03:43 UTC¹.
Wind southeast 4 or 5, increasing 6 to gale 8. Sea state moderate, becoming rough or very rough. Weather: occasional drizzle. Visibility good, occasionally poor.”

Shipping Forecast, issued 14 March 17:25 UTC, Met Office

If you ever heard the shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4 (an oddly soothing recital except when it’s inserted into the middle of the nailbiting finish of a test match), then you know that Dogger is one of the forecast zones in the North Sea.

Si has oído, alguna vez, el shipping forecast, es decir, el pronóstico marítimo, de BBC Radio 4 (un recital extrañamente tranquilizador (excepto cuando lo leen durante el emocionantísimo final de un partido internacional de críquet), sabes que Dogger es una de las zonas pronósticas marítimas en el Mar del Norte.

How Britain became an island. Illustration by Francis Lima via Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA 4.0]
Up to 8000 B.C. Britain was connected to the Continent by a land bridge and Doggerland was above sea level. But as glacial ice melted after the last ice age, sea levels rose: Britain became an island, while Doggerland went to the bottom of the deep blue sea…

La mapa arriba ilustre como Gran Bretaña se convirtió en una isla.

Hasta 8000 a.C. Gran Bretaña estaba conectado al continente con un ‘puente’ de tierra y el territorio de Doggerland se encontró arriba del nivel del mar. Al terminar la era glacial, el nivel del mar se elevó: Gran Bretaña se convirtió en una isla, mientras que Doggerland se hundió al fondo del mar…

Recommended reading:We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome

Continue reading “The History of England in a Dozen Maps (La historia de Inglaterra en doce mapas)”

Hic Sunt Dracones

Here Be Dragons

Close your eyes and imagine one of those old maps which were illustrated with caravels and and fantastic sea animals, where the blank centre of Africa was marked terra incognita and faraway islands were labelled with the warning, Hic Sunt Dracones, Here Be Dragons¹. Is your pulse racing yet? Maps have an intoxicating power for those addicted to travel; historical maps are similarly intoxicating for those addicted to history. Since I’m addicted both to travel and history, you can imagine in what state maps leave me…

(Hic!)

Aquí hay dragones

Cierra los ojos e imagínate uno des esos mapas antiguos, ilustrados con carabelas y animales marinos fantásticos, donde el centro en blanco de África se marcaba terra incognita e islas del ultramar se marcaban con la advertencia, Hic Sunt Dracones, aquí hay dragones¹. ¿Te acelera el pulso? Mapas tienen un poder embriagador para los que son adictos al viaje, y mapas históricos tienen un poder semejante embriagador para los que son adictos a la historia. Como que yo soy adicto a ambos, puedes imaginarte en que estado me quedo después de admirar unos mapas…

(¡Hip!)

Map of the Pacific Ocean by Ortelius, 1589. The ship drawn out of all proportions in the southeast quadrant is Magellan’s Victoria, the first ship to circumnavigate the globe. [Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]
Which is perhaps why it occurred to me the other day that there are worse ways of summing up a country’s history than by examining a handful of telltale maps. A few countries immediately spring to mind as excellent candidates for this kind of exercise: I’ll start with my adopted country, England.

Quizás por eso me ocurrió la idea de contar la historia con un puñado de mapas elocuentes. Unos países se ofrecen inmediatamente como candidatos excelentes para este tipo de ejercicio: voy a empezar con mi país adoptivo, Inglaterra.

And since this pretends to be a book blog, I’ll throw in a handful of book recommendations too!

Y como eso pretende ser un blog de libros, ¡voy a añadir unos recomendaciones de libros también!

I hope you’ll enjoy The History of England in a Dozen Maps (coming tomorrow), the first post in what I hope to turn into a new series under the title of Mapping History.

Espero que os guste La historia de Inglaterra en una docena de mapas (saldrá mañana), el primer post en un series nuevo que intento con el título Mapping History (Historia en mapas).

Notes:
¹ Wikipedia tells me that hic sunt dracones doesn't actually pop up on any map. Well, it's still a good phrase. :) It does appear, however, on the Hunt-Lenox Globe near the eastern coast of Asia and it might have been referring to the Komodo dragons. It might have.

¹ Wikipedia me dice que la frase hic sunt dracones, de hecho, no aparece en ningún mapa. Bueno, aun así se queda una frase encantadora. Se aparece, sin embargo en el Globo de Hunt-Lenox Globe, cerca de la costa oriental de Asia y pudiera referirse a los dragones de Komodo. Pudiera, dije.