Felix in the Bath

The Wanderings of Brother Felix Fabri

I was reading Felix Fabri in the bath the other night (and I did not dropped him into the tub), when I very appropriately I came across the passage of his visit to an Arabic bath house in the city of Gaza. Enjoy! And if you ever have the chance to visit a Turkish bath in Budapest or a Moorish bath in Spain – do not miss the experience!

For those of you who don’t remember who Felix Fabri was (or have never heard of him): He was a German monk from the city of Ulm who made two pilgrimages to the Holy Land in 1480 and 1483. He was blessed with an inquiring mind, an eye for detail, a photographic memory and the gift of the gab. He does at times bore you to tears with the many indulgences (plenary and otherwise) which he collects by kissing the various most holy places in the company of his fellow pilgrims but he can most entertaining when he goes beyond the details of the religious pilgrimage and talks about people, foreign customs, novel experiences or travel mishaps. Of which, as you can imagine, there was plenty of in the 15th century while touring an enemy land!

A Turkish bath in Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Trey Ratcliff via Flickr [CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0]

A NOTABLE HOT BATH, WHEREIN THE PILGRIMS MERRILY BATHED TOGETHER WITH THE SARACENS

…this bath at Gazara is the most costly one that I have ever seen.

In front of the hot-room there is a vaulted building which encircles it like the ambulatory of a cloister, in which building there are many cells, without any beds, but floored with mats and plaited palm-leaves. Each cell is merely closed by a curtain. In these cells those who wish to bathe undress and dress themselves, and in the same cells there hang clean cloths with whcih those who wish to go into the bath cover themselves, from the navel to the knees, instead of breeches and girdles, so that one is completely covered both before and behind.

In the midst of this cloister there is a fountain which plays through many pipes out of a marble column, and all the walls and the pavement, both without and within the hot-chamber, are cased with divers kinds of polished white marble, so that he who passes over it must be careful and walk warily, lest he slip, even as one who walks upon ice.

The hot-chamber itself is like a square tower, and the dome or vault which covers it has no roof over it, but has many round holes, of about the size of a man’s head, closed with windows of glass of divers colours, through which there comes a dull light, but enough. In this hot-chamber there is no furnace, neither does one feel the heat or smoke of a fire; but in one place there is charcoal beneath the pavement, whereby the marble pavement is heated, and hot water which runs along a channel hollowed in the stone fills the whole rom with heat. On the other side cold water comes in.

The chamber, as I have said, is square, and has no light save what comes through the holes in the dome. On the first side there is extreme heat and hot water; on the second there is coolness and cold water; the third side is free and quiet; in the fourth is the door; in the middle is temperate heat.

The master of the bath himself most kindly and courteously waits upon the bathers, frequently rubbing, washing, and anointing with smegma, or other fitting ointment; for they cure weakness of the limbs in the bath. If anyone feels pain from any cause, the bathman rubs, anoints, presses, and stretches the place where the pain is felt, until he either cures it or alleviates it…

In the bath men and women never meet, but the women have their own proper baths, and the men likewise; neither do the men have women to rub them, nor do the women have men, but men wait upon men, and women upon women.

(The Wanderings of Felix Fabri by Felix Fabri)

Links:The Wanderings of Brother Felix FabriOnce to Sinai: The Further Pilgrimage of Friar Felix Fabri by H.F.M. PrescottNarrative History at its Most Enthralling: Interview with Roger CrowleyFratris Felicis Fabri Evagatorium in Terrae Sanctae, Arabiae et Egypti on Project Gutenberg

 

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Asturias Is Spain…

…And The Rest Is Conquered Land

There’s a popular saying in Spain, principally in Asturias, a province on the Bay of Biscay in Northern Spain, which goes:

Asturias es España, y lo demás tierra conquistada.

Asturias is Spain, and the rest is conquered land.

It makes reference to the Battle of Covadonga, 722 A.D. when the troops of Don Pelayo, king of Asturias, defeated the invading Moors. The battle is considered the starting point of the reconquista, the reconquest of Spain from the Moors (a long process of wars which ended with the taking of Granada in 1492). Legend would have it that Pelayo and his 300 defeated an army of 180,000 Moors. Historically speaking, it’s more likely that the Moors were not quite so numerous, nor Pelayo’s lot so few but – why spoil the legend? It’s still a famous victory for those defending their homeland.

Don Pelayo in Covadonga by Luis de Madrazo y Kuntz, 1855. Courtesy of the Museum of Prado

As a consequence of Don Pelayo’s victory, Asturias has never been conquered by the Moors which explains the above saying.

Covadonga

I dragged my hard-tried family to Covadonga last summer. Similarly to the time when I dragged them (screaming) to Delphi, once again they couldn’t quite grasp why I wanted to visit some godforsaken historical site, but all my sins were forgiven once we got there.

When you see the location – a gorgeous gorge – you can readily understand how a small army could defend the place. The battle site is commemorated by a church, a statue of Don Pelayo and a little chapel on the other side of the valley (dedicated to the Virgen of the Battles who aided the forces of Pelayo) set into the Santa Cueva, the Holy Cave, right on top of a waterfall on Mt Auseva. All very spectacular and well worth a visit for the beauty & atmosphere of the location alone, even if you want to ignore the historical connotations.

(Click on the gallery to enlarge the pictures.)

Al Quama entered Asturias with 187,000 men. Pelayo was with his companions on Mount Auseva and the army of Alkama [sic] came to him and pitched innumerable tents in front of the entrance of a cave. Bishop Oppas climbed a hill opposite the cave and he spoke to Pelayo thus:

“Pelayo, Pelayo, where are you?”

The man so addressed appeared at a window and replied:

“Here I am.”

Then the bishop said:

“I judge, brother and son, that it’s not hidden from you how a little while ago the whole of Spain was united under the government of the Goths and shone more than other countries for her doctrine and science, and that, nevertheless, the entire united army of the Goths could not withstand the force of the Ishmaelites; can you defend yourself on this mountain top? It seems difficult to me. Listen to my advice: return to your agreement [ie. resume paying tribute to the Moors], you will enjoy many goods and enjoy the friendship of the Chaldeans.”

Then Pelayo replied:

“Did not you read in the Holy Scriptures that the church of the Lord will become like the mustard seed and grow again by the mercy of God?”

[…]

Alqama[sic] then ordered the combat to begin, and the soldiers took up arms. They raised the slings, the catapults were prepared, the swords flashed, the lances were brandished, and arrows were launched incessantly. But at once the magnificence of the Lord was shown: the stones that came out of the slings and arrived at the house of the Virgin Santa María, who was inside the cave, turned against those who shot them and killed the Chaldeans. And since God does not need spears, but gives the palm of victory to whomever he wants, the Chaldeans began to fly …

Chronicle of Alfonso III (Cronica Rotensis)

 

You may also like / Quizás también te gusta:Asturias, el secreto mejor guardado de los españoles (Asturias, the best kept secret of the Spanish)
⇒ A Brief (Literary) History of the Reconquista - coming to this blog soon!
⇒ A Short Pictorial History of RibadesellaThe Chronicle of Alfonso III, Cronica Rotensis (in Latin)Ulysses Found (or our trip to Delphi)

Thirty Pieces of Silver

14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests,
15 And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.

(Matthew 26:14-15, King James Bible)

In case anybody is any doubt, this is not a religious blog and those who seek salvation, better seek elsewhere. Instead, here we are concerned with the famous story of Judas selling Jesus to the Jewish high priests for the now proverbial thirty pieces of silver; or to be precise, with the actual thirty pieces of silver.

Thirty coins.

And their legend, as told by Brother Felix Fabri in his diary of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Continue reading “Thirty Pieces of Silver”

Las verdaderas historias de… (The True Stories of…)

Hace unas semanas he escrito unas líneas sobre Alonso de Contreras, un soldado español del siglo XVI, cuyas memorias inspiraron la vida del capitán Alatriste, el conocido héroe de Arturo Pérez-Reverte.  Cosa que al parecer no le gustó a casi nadie (pero a mí sí que me gustó escribirlo). Si no lo has leído, puedes encontrarlo aquí:

Capitán y español (Las vidas de aquellos capitanes)

A few weeks ago I wrote some lines about Alonso de Contreras, a Spanish soldier from the 16th century, whose memoirs inspired the life of Captain Alatriste, the well-known hero of Arturo Pérez-Reverte. A piece that apparently almost nobody liked (but I did like writing it). If you haven’t read it, you can find it here:

The Three (Spanish) Musketeers

Bueno. Como mencioné en ese post, Alonso de Contreras no fue el único soldado español que escribió sobre su vida. Hoy os voy a recomendar dos libros más; porque, creed me, la historia es mejor que la ficción.

Anyway. As I mentioned in that post, Alonso de Contreras wasn’t the only Spanish soldier who wrote about his life. Today I’m going to recommend you two more books; because, believe me, history is indeed better than fiction.

Continue reading “Las verdaderas historias de… (The True Stories of…)”

The Three (Spanish) Musketeers

Leer esto en español

A murderer at the the age of thirteen, exiled from Madrid… what future would have had a boy like that?

Well, it seems that he had a pretty interesting future. So interesting that later he considered it worthwhile to write his memoirs. So interesting in fact that these memoirs gave life to a character in a well-known – at least in Spain – novel. And this character, in turn, gave life to a character in a TV series…

Do you know who they are?

The Surrender of Breda by Diego Velázquez [Courtesy of the Museum of Prado, Madrid]
If you have seen the original Spanish version of this post, you may have noted that it contains several quotes by Eduardo Marquina. They are from his play En Flandes se ha puesto el sol, The Sun Has Set in Flanders. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an English translation of this work, and I most definitely draw the line at trying to translate poetry. My apologies, but apart from a brief excerpt, you'll just have to do without.

Continue reading “The Three (Spanish) Musketeers”

Capitán y español: Las vidas de aquellos capitanes

Read this in English

Asesino a la edad de trece años, desterrado de la Villa… ¿qué futuro habría tenido un chico como aquello?

Pues parece que tenía un futuro bastante interesante. Tan interesante que más tarde le valdría la pena escribir sus memorias. Tan interesante, de hecho, que estas memorias dieron vida a un personaje en una novela muy conocida. Quién, a su vez, dio vida a un personaje de una serie de la televisión…

Capitán y español, no está avezado
a curarse de herida, que ha dejado
intacto el corazón dentro del pecho.

(Eduardo Marquina: En Flandes se ha puesto el sol)

Te adivines ¿de quiénes se tratamos?

Las lanzas o La rendición de Breda por Diego Velázquez [Gracias al Museo del Prado]
Continue reading “Capitán y español: Las vidas de aquellos capitanes”

Twelve Books in Twelve Months (2018)

For certain unfortunate reasons I don’t wish to detail here, I struggled to keep the blog going last year and, as you might have noticed, there were times when weeks went by without me being able to publish any other post than the weekly quote. Nevertheless, I still did manage to read a few books… so to start the new year off (may it be better than the last), let’s look back on some of last year’s readings.

Books you might enjoy – or you’ll want to avoid! 🙂

Continue reading “Twelve Books in Twelve Months (2018)”

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.)

¡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!”

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”

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

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. 

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) 

Continue reading “The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)”