¡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!

Continue reading “Elephantastic!”

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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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.

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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. 

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)”

The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)

Casus Belli

In 491 B.C. King Darius I of Persia sent out his envoys to the various Greek city states, demanding of them earth and water – in those times, a sign of submission, the acceptance of, in this case, Persian rule. Some city states were cowed into complying while others refused; but the demand went down particularly badly in Athens and in Sparta:

…the Athenians cast these heralds, when they made their request, down into a pit, and the Spartans had thrown theirs into a well; and the heralds were told to take their earth and water to the King from there!

(Herodotus: The Histories, Book VII.133) 

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“Historia narrativa de una forma cautivadora”: Entrevista a Roger Crowley

Leer esto en inglés (texto original de la entrevista)

Hoy vamos a hablar de – y con – uno de mis autores favoritos.

Empecemos con un extracto:

View from the Doge’s prison, Venice / Vista de la prisión del Doge, Venecia

…Pisani podía oír la bulla desde el calabozo ducal. Puso la cabeza contra de las barras y gritó: «¡Viva San Marcos!» La multitud le respondió con un clamor ronco. Arriba, en la sala de los senadores, seguía el debate nervioso. La multitud puso escaleras frente de las ventanas y golpeó la puerta de la sala con una llamada rítmico: ¡Vettor Pisani! ¡Vettor Pisani!

(Perdóname por los errores de traducción,
es que sólo tengo el libro en inglés.)

¿Eso te parece un extracto de una novela?

No lo es.

Es historia – en la forma que la escribió el historiador británico Roger Crowley.

El extracto arriba es de Venecia: Ciudad de Fortuna, el libro de Roger Crowley sobre el auge y la caída del poder naval veneciano. Si quieres enterar por qué el almirante Pisani (1324-1380) – obviamente muy popular – se halló en la prisión del Doge y qué le pasó después, pues ya sabes qué hacer.

(¡No, eso no significa que lo buscas en Wikipedia!)

Continue reading ““Historia narrativa de una forma cautivadora”: Entrevista a Roger Crowley”

“Narrative History at its Most Enthralling”: Interview with Roger Crowley

Leer esto en castellano

Today we’re going to talk about – and talk with – one of my favourite authors.

Let’s start with an excerpt:

View from the Doge’s prison, Venice

..Pisani could hear the cries from the ducal prison. Putting his head to the bars, he called out ‘Long live St Mark!’ The crowd responded with a throaty roar. Upstairs in the senatorial chamber a panicky debate was underway. The crowd put ladders to the windows. They hammered the chamber door with a rhythmic refrain: ‘Vettor Pisani! Vettor Pisani!’

Reads like a novel?

It isn’t.

It’s history – as written by the British historian, Roger Crowley.

The excerpt above is from City of Fortune, Roger Crowley’s book on the rise and decline of Venetian naval power. If you’d like to find out why – the clearly popular – Admiral Pisani (1324-1380) was languishing in the Doge’s prison and what happened next, you know what to do.

(No, I did not mean look it up on Wikipedia!)

Continue reading ““Narrative History at its Most Enthralling”: Interview with Roger Crowley”

Face to Face with My Ancestors (The Scythians in the British Museum)

I went to see the Scythian exhibition in the British Museum on Friday night and I came face to face with a Scythian warrior from over 2000 years ago.

Was this what my great-grandfather 50 times removed looked like?

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Los lusiadas o como Portugal se ganó un imperio

Read this in EnglishThe Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire

Fui a Portugal para una semana con un libro, y volví con dos; lo nuevo está en portugués.

I felt this might be the closest I’d ever get to reading The Lusiads in the original… / Me pareció que esto sería lo mejor que puedo hacer para leer Los lusiadas en su idioma original…

Eso suena muy bien pero no tengas que envidiarme: no logré aprender portugués en una sola semana (echo la culpa a los portugueses, ya que insistieron en hablar conmigo en inglés). Sin embargo, he comprado un libro en portugués, y no cualquier libro, sino la más famosa obra de literatura portuguesa: el poema épico, Los lusiadas, escrito por el poeta nacional de Portugal, Luís Vaz de Camões.

Aunque sólo en la forma de un libro de historietas.

Todos aquí pueden confirmar que el español y el portugués son suficientemente similares para ser posible leer portugués un poquito sin aprenderlo, ¿no? Por esta razón me parece que tengo posibilidad de comprender Los lusiadas cuando el texto va acompañado con MUCHAS ilustraciones. Y un poco mejor: cuando el texto va acompañado con MUCHAS ilustraciones y ya conozco el argumento.

Porque la historia que Luís de Camões narra en Los lusiadas es de la era héroica de la navegación portuguesa: el viaje de Vasco da Gama en 1497-98, cuando él se convirtió en el primer europeo en llegar a India doblando el Cabo de Buena Esperanza. Y el libro con el que fui a Portugal, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire (Conquistadores: Como Portugal creó el primer imperio global) por Roger Crowley, se trata del mismo viaje – y un poco más. (Conquerors es el último libro de Crowley, y desgraciadamente todavía no está traducido al español, pero espero que no tardaría mucho.)

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Caravels (Carabelas)

Caravels were the preferred ships for discovery of the Portuguese and the Spanish in the 15th and 16th century on account of their seaworthiness, speed and manoeuvrability, not to mention their shallow draught which allowed the close exploration of unknown coasts. Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama and Columbus all sailed in caravels; one of Magellan’s ships was a caravel too. Having recently read a book about Portuguese explorers and visited Portugal, I noticed these famous ships (perhaps understandably) were just about depicted everywhere…

Carabelas fueron los naves preferidos de los navegantes portugueses y españoles en la era de los descubrimientos en los siglos XV y XVI, debido a su navegabilidad y velocidad, por no mencionar que por ser barcos de poco calado los navegantes pudieron acercarse más a las costas desconocidas. Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama y Cristóbal Colón navegaban en carabelas; uno de los naves de Magallanes también fue una carabela. Como acabo de leer un libro sobre los navegantes portugueses, en mi viaje reciente a Lisboa me fijaba en como esos barcos famosos eran representados en todas partes (tal vez con razón)…

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The Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire

Leer esto en castellano

I went to Portugal for a week with a book and came back with two; the new one is in Portuguese.

I felt this might be the closest I’d ever get to reading The Lusiads in the original…

This sounds grandiloquent but you needn’t turn yellow with envy: I did not manage to learn Portuguese merely in one week (I blame the Portuguese who insisted on speaking to me in English). Nevertheless, I acquired a book in Portuguese, and not just any book but the most famous piece of Portuguese literature: the epic poem The Lusiads by Portugal’s national poet, Luís Vaz de Camōes.

Although only in the form of a comics book.

Any Spanish speaker will testify to the fact that if you can read Spanish, you can read Portuguese to a very decent degree. Consequently I fancy my chances of making sense of The Lusiads when accompanied by LOTS of pictures. Better still: I fancy my chances of making sense of The Lusiads when accompanied by LOTS of pictures and when I already know the plot.

Because the story Luís de Camões tells in The Lusiads is from the heroic age of Portuguese navigation: the journey of Vasco da Gama in 1497-98, when he became the first European to reach India by rounding the Cape of Good Hope. And the book I went to Portugal with, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire by Roger Crowley, treats the same journey – and a bit more.

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Lengua e imperio (Language and Empire)

La gloria “será nuestra, que fuemos los primeros inventores de obra tan necessaria”

En 1492, la primera gramática del castellano fue escrito por Antonio de Nebrija (1441-1522), un humanista renacentista español educado en las universidades de Salamanca y Bolonia (Italia). Y ni siquiera era la obra sólo la primera gramática del castellano; era la primera gramática de cualquier idioma moderno de Europa, y punto. La primera gramática del inglés no fue publicado hasta casi un siglo más tarde (en 1586), lo del francés en 1550.

The glory “will be ours, as we were the first inventors of a work so necessary”

In 1492, the first grammar of Castilian – the language better known as Spanish to English-speakers – was written by Antonio de Nebrija (1441-1522), a Spanish Renaissance humanist, educated in the universities of Salamanca and Bologne (Italy). And not only it was the first Spanish grammar; it was the first grammar of a modern European language, full stop. The first English grammar was only published nearly a century later (in 1586), the first French one in 1550.

La gramática de Nebrija /Nebrija’s Grammar. (Biblioteca Gonzalo de Berceo) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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Hero Under the Death Sentence (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés II)

Continued from Save the Trinidad (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés)

Sometimes people have the misfortune to live in ‘interesting’ times. Exciting, even. In the case of Spain, in fact, it’s difficult to find a period of history when the times were not ‘exciting’ – so it shouldn’t come as surprise that the excitement in Cayetano Valdés’s life not ended with Trafalgar, but rather, it began.

I mean you’d think there he was, sitting ashore in the naval ports of Cádiz and Cartagena, figuratively licking his wounds… having been promoted to senior officer, safely behind a desk in an office, pushing paper in the grand Spanish fashion, into quiet old age – since there wasn’t much of a navy left for him to command, right?

Wrong.

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Save the Trinidad (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés)

Date: 14 February 1797 
Place: The Atlantic, off Cape St Vincent (Portugal)

If you’re English and into naval history, you will recognise the time and place as the Battle of Cape St Vincent – one of nine, that is. (Clearly it was a popular place for enemy fleet rendezvous.) This particular Battle of Cape St Vincent was the one which became famous for Nelson’s Patent Bridge for Boarding First Rates1 so you’re now settling in for a nice read about Horatio Nelson and various associated heroics of the Royal Navy, right? Let’s go:

It was a cold and foggy day…

Er, no. It was a cold and foggy day but you should have taken a look at the title perhaps.

Rather than detailing Nelson’s heroics of which you can read on plenty of other websites, I’m going to write about a Spanish naval officer: Cayetano Valdés, who had been cast in the role of having to save the Santísima Trinidad, the pride of the Spanish navy, the largest warship of its time.

Twice.

A topic that you won’t find much discussed in English elsewhere (for entirely understandable reasons).

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A Sense of History

History (from Greek ἱστορία, historia, meaning inquiry) is the study of the past…

History is asking questions.

?

And answering them.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time. May the great and wonderful deeds – some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians – not go unsung as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other.

Herodotus: The Histories, 1:1

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