But does history look like history while it is in the making? Isn’t it true that the common names are always expunged? For surely history is about ideas, vested interests and celebrated names (later to become street names), the names listed in indexes and encyclopaedias? Because no matter how much oral history is set down, the victims of world-shattering events are doomed to disappear. Their interchangeable names appear on monuments and memorials that hardly anyone notices any more, not only their bodies but also their identities are relegated to oblivion.
Pero ¿aparece la historia, mientras sucede, ya como historia? ¿No ocurre que los pequeños nombres siempre se obscurecen? ¿Se trata de las ideas, los intereses y los grandes nombres, los posteriores nombres de calles, los nombres de los índices y las enciclopedias? Porque por muchos libros que hayan aparecido llenos de oral history, todavía es normal que las víctimas desaparezcan tras los acontecimientos. Ves sus nombres cambiantes en monumentos de piedra que ya nadie contempla, no han desaparecido sólo sus cuerpos, también han desaparecido sus nombres.
(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago / El desvío a Santiago)
There are paintings, statues, retables, altarpieces, from small, forsaken churches scattered all over the provincial and diocesan museums in Spain. How can something that was originally in a sense utilitarian turn into a work of art? Utilitarian: an image that served to instruct people about their faith. The frescoes recounted the Bible to the faithful who came to the church and who could not read, the statues were there to be adored, to be invoked in prayer. So now they have been pu ton display in art galleries, side by side with comparable specimens. The content of the story told by the paintings has evaporated for most visitors, only the form counts now. Few people, except students of art history, can still distinguish the symbols of the evangelists, still know about the Old Men of the Apocalypse, are still familiar with the attributes of the martyrs. Religion is transmuted into art, because stories become images that signify only themselves. The twentieth-century viewer observes a narrative that he can no longer interpret, to which he has grown blind.
Por todas partes, en museos provinciales y diocesanos hay pinturas, esculturas, retablos, cuadros de altares de iglesias pequeñas y abandonadas. ¿Cómo puede cambiar algo que seguramente fue un objeto de uso corriente y convertirse en un objeto artístico? Objeto de uso corriente: una imagen para explicar algo a los hombres sobre su fe. Estos cuadros contaban una historia a los hombres que venían a la iglesia y no podían leer, las imágenes estaban allí para ser adoradas, para suplicar algo. Ahora están en salas, acompañadas por otras imágenes del mismo estilo y colocadas en fila. La historia en los cuadros ha perdido ya para la mayoría de los visitantes su significado, ahora cuenta sólo la forma. Únicamente el estudiante de arte conoce aún los símbolos de los cuatro evangelistas, aún sabe algo de los Antiguos, del Final de los Tiempos, aún conoce lost atributos de los mártires. La religión se convierte en arte, el significado se convierte en forma, las historias se convierten en imágenes que sólo se significan a sí mismas. El observador del siglo XX ve una historia que ya no puede leer, porque está ciego para ella.
(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago / El desvío a Santiago)
Update to Mondays’ Weekly Quote / Noticia sobre la cita de la semana de los lunes:
These will continue to go ahead as usual but… for the rest of this month you can expect additional quotes on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays as well. This is because I’m very busy with Christmas and other things (as I’m sure you all are), and as a consequence I’m making very slow progress on some longer posts I’m currently working on. I’ll fit them in between the quotes as and when they get ready but in the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy the quotes!
Las citas de la semana seguirán adelante como de costumbre los lunes, pero … durante el resto de diciembre, también publicaré citas adicionales los miércoles, viernes y domingos. Eso porque estoy muy ocupada con la Navidad y otras cosas (cómo todos) y, en consecuencia, hago un progreso muy lento con algunas posts larguísimos en los que estoy trabajando en el momento. Los publicaré entre las citas a medida que estén listos, pero mientras tanto, ¡espero que disfrutéis de las citas!
Scholars from all over the world come here [the Archivo de las Indias in Seville] to sniff around, to browse, to conduct secret investigations, because these portfolios contain everything to do with the colonies – per geographical region, per historical period, everything. EVERYTHING: cadastres, letters of supplication, custodial sentences, decrees, financial accounts, reports of military campaigns, letters from governors overseas, negotiations, plans for the layout of new cities, maps. That must be what God’s memory looks like: every centimetre, every second of every man and every spot on the face of the earth, described and recorded.
Eruditos de todo el mundo vienen aquí [el Archivo de las Indias en Sevilla] a buscar, a rastrear, a realizar el trabajo de detective secreto, porque en estos carpetones está, por épocas, por colonias, todo, TODO: catastros, súplicas, sentencias, órdenes, proyectos, informes de campañas, cartas de gobernadores, partes de navegación, censos o como se llamaran entonces, negociaciones, planos de ciudad, mapas. A algo así debe de parecerse la memoria de Dios, cada centímetro y cada minuto de cada lugar y cada hombre descrito y conservado.
(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago / El desvío a Santiago)
In Britain, they remember their war dead in a way they don’t in my country. They remember the dead not only on war monuments, which is to be expected, but also in handwritten registers lying open in small chapels, in the list of names carved on a stone stone plaque on the wall of a railway station… everywhere.
My grandfather was a nameless conscript who went missing in action in a country he never wished to see, in a war which was not of his choosing. He never married his fiancée, my grandmother, he never saw his son, my father, who was born posthumously, he didn’t even pass on his surname.
So today’s quote, from an 18th century French author, about remembering your war dead touches me.
Quote of the Week
I would like the names of those who die for their country to be recorded and preserved in churches, in registers that would serve as a wellspring of pride and nobility.
España es brutal, anárquica, egocéntrica, cruel; España está dispuesta a ponerse la soga al cuello por disparates, es caótica, sueña, es irracional. Conquistó el mundo y no supo qué hacer con él, está enganchada a su pasado medieval, árabe, judío y cristiano, y está allí con sus caprichosas ciudades acostadas en esos infinitos paisajes vacíos como un continente que está unido a Europa y no es Europa. Quien haya hecho sólo los itinerarios obligados no conoce España. Quien no haya intentado perderse en la complejidad laberíntica de su historia no sabe por dónde viaja.
(Cees Nooteboom: El desvíó a Santiago)
Spain is brutish, anarchic, egocentric, cruel. Spain is prepared to face disaster on a whim, she is chaotic, dreamy, irrational. Spain conquered the world and then did not know what to do with it, she harks back to her Medieval, Arab, Jewish and Christian past and sits there impassively like a continent that is appended to Europe and yet is not Europe, with her obdurate towns studding those limitless empty landscapes. Those who know only the beaten track do not know Spain. Those who have not roamed the labyrinthine complexity of her history do not know what they are travelling through.
El carácter español tiene algo monacal, incluso en sus grandes reyes hay un dejo de anacoreta: Felipe y Carlos construyeron monasterios para ellos mismos y vivie- ron durante mucho tiempo de espaldas al mundo que debían dirigir. Quien ha viajado mucho por España está acostumbrado y espera en medio de la nada un enclave, un oasis, un sitio vuelto hacia dentro, amurallado, a modo de fortaleza, en el que el silencio y la ausencia de los demás causa estragos en las almas.
(Cees Nooteboom: El desvío a Santiago)
The Spanish character has something monastic about it, even in their great monarchs there is a touch of the anchorite: both Philip and Charles built monasteries for themselves and spent much time in seclusion, turning their backs to the world they were required to govern. Anyone who has travelled widely through Spain is accustomed to such surprise encounters, and indeed anticipates them: in the middle of nowhere an enclave, an oasis, a walled , fortress-like, introverted spot, where silence and the absence of others wreak havoc in the souls of men.
Como quizás os habéis dado cuenta, recientemente fue demasiado ocupada para escribir posts con regularidad, especialmente para escribir esas largas posts sobre Heródoto que necesitan investigaciones adicionales…
As you might have noticed, recently I have been too busy to be able to blog regularly – especially writing those long posts about Herodotus, involving additional research…
Desafortunadamente, por el momento espero seguir ocupada, pero tengo muchas buenas citas para compartir, de modo que la Cita de la semana se convertirá, al menos temporalmente, en La cita del día. Empezando hoy.
Unfortunately, in the near future I expect to be even busier but I have lots of good quotes to share, so that Quote of the Week will become, at least temporarily, Quote of the Day. Starting today.
Y, por supuesto, estoy siguiendo escribir posts más largas siempre que tengo el tiempo!
Of course, whenever I have the time I’m still writing longer posts as well!
La cita del día / Quote of the Day:
…bañaba todos los días mi vista en la visión eterna de la mar, de la mar eterna, de la mar que vio nacer y verá morir la historia, de la mar que guarda la misma sonrisa con que acogió el alba del linaje humano, la misma sonrisa con que contemplará su ocaso.
…every day I bathed my sight in the eternal vision of the sea, of the eternal sea; of the sea that saw history be born and will see it die; of the sea that preserves the same smile with which it received the dawn of mankind, the same smile with which it will contemplate its sunset.
Porque Gredos es lo eterno; Gredos vio a los iberos llegar a España, y vio a los romanos, y a los godos, y a los árabes, y verá acaso pasar a otros bárbaros; Gredos vio morir, en uno de sus repliegues, al emperador Carlos V.
Because the Gredos is eternal; the Gredos saw the Iberians arrive to Spain and saw the Romans, and the Goths, and the Arabs, and perhaps will also see other Barbarians pass; the Gredos saw the Emperor Charles V die in one of its hollows.
Y en brazos estremecidos del Tajo va a pasar este arroyo de Goya [el Manzanares] por la hoz del río de la imperial Toledo, la del Greco, del río que sacaba fuera el pecho en tiempos de Don Rodrigo. Y se enlazan dos tragedias, pues también el Manzanares, el que oyó los fusilamientos del 2 de mayo de 1808, el que vio brotar en sus orillas los trágicos caprichos goyescos, cuando corría con fuego, sintió la tragedia de la vida. Y el Tajo lo lleva en sus brazos estremecidos a dejarlo al pie de Lisboa, en la mar de los conquistadores de Indias.
(Miguel de Unamuno: Orillas del Manzanares)
And in the trembling arms of the Tagus, this stream of Goya [the Manzanares] will pass through the sickle of the river of imperial Toledo, that of El Greco, from the river that stuck its chest out in the days of Don Rodrigo. And two tragedies are linked, because also the Manzanares, which heard the executions of May 2, 1808, which saw the tragic Goyesque caprices rise on its banks when it ran with fire, felt the tragedy of life. And the Tagus carries it in its trembling arms to leave it at the foot of Lisbon, in the sea of the conquerors of the Indies.
If you thought the Suez Canal was the brainchild of Ferdinand de Lesseps in the 19th century, today’s quote will make you think again. Enjoy this 15th century explanation of the attempted construction of the Suez Canal and its significance from the pen of the German monk, the curious and open-minded Felix Fabri, who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt in 1483.
I particularly like his somewhat dismissive reference to a ‘certain Spanish king in our time’ whose ships failed to get to India but instead discovered… well, America!
Note about the author picture
Unfortunately, I was unable to find a picture of Felix Fabri so instead you get a statue of Anonymus - ie. the Nameless - the unknown chronicler of early Hungarian history from the 1200s. It seemed appropriate, since they were both monks, and their faces unknown. The statue is in Budapest, in front of Vajdahunyad Castle.
⇒ Anonymus on Wikipedia
Quote of the Week:
In this place, and in the hill-country at the end of the Red Sea, we saw the stupendous works of the ancient Kings of Egypt, who essayed to bring the Red Sea into the Nile ; wherefore they began to dig through the mountains of the isthmus at the head of the sea, to divide hills, cut through the midst of stones and rocks, and made a canal and a waterway to the city of Arsinoe, which is also called Cleopatridis.
This trench was first begun by Sesostris, King of Egypt, before the Trojan War, at a great cost, and afterwards Darius, King of Persia, attempted to make it, but left it unfinished. Afterwards it was completed with consummate art by Ptolemy II, yet in such a manner that the ditch was closed up and would open to himself alone.
By this work the men of old meant to join together the East and the West, for the Nile runs into the Mediterranean, so that if it entered the Red Sea and the Western Ocean into the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, the Persian and Barbarian Sea, even to the Indian Sea in the East. Thus ships from India, Persia, Arabia, Media, and all the kingdoms of the East might freely come to Greece, Italy, France, Ireland, England, and Germany, whereas otherwise ships from the countries of the East cannot come beyond the end of the Red Sea, where Arabia Deserta joins Egypt, neither can ships from Western countries come further than Alexandria, which is the boundary of Asia and Africa; albeit in our own time a certain King of Spain has essayed to find out a way from the Western Ocean – that is to say, from the outer sea, which lies without the pillars of Hercules – into the Eastern Ocean and Indian Sea. But his attempt has been in vain, although he is said to have discovered some valuable isles which hitherto were unknown.
Now, in their attempt to join together the East and West in this manner, the Ptolemies, Kings of Egypt, had two objects in view – first, that they might bear rule over both, being, as they were, in the middle between them; secondly, that there might be a road to all parts of the world for merchants and merchandise, and that the Egyptians might take toll and custom-dues from the merchandise of all the world, seeing that the road must needs pass through their land.
And of a truth it would have been a glorius work if they had completed it ; for then men could have sailed into Egypt from Venice – nay, from Flanders and Ireland – and could have gone up the Nile into the Arabian Gulf, come to the cinnamon country, and reached the exceeding wealthy land of India, whereof we are told among other marvels that it has two summers and two winters in one year, an mountains of gold – real ones, not mere figures of speech – and that there are forty-four different countries in it. Then also through the Indian Sea would have been a way for us Westerns to Persia, Parthia, Media, Araby the Blest, Sabaea, and Chaldaea, and the peoples of the East would have had a way whereby to come to us; and so by this work the three principal parts of the world – to wit, Asia, Africa, and Europe – would have been brought together.
(The Book of the Wanderings of Brother Felix Fabri by Felix Fabri)
…during the Second World War he [Jorge Luis Borges] had considered giving up his habit of not reading the papers (because it made more sense to read the classics), but had decided instead to spend some time every day reading Tacitus on a different, early war. In a world like his, in which events repeat themselves ad infinitum, his decision was not without logic and Tacitus had the advantage of a superior style while, in his view, the content remained essentially the same.
La primera vez que oí hablar de Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, mejor conocido como El Cid, tenía unos diez u once años. De hecho, no había oído hablar de él en absoluto: lo vi en una película que dieron en la tele en Hungría. Fue una película de Hollywood de 1961, titulado El Cid, con Charlton Heston en el papel del Cid y Sophia Loren en el papel de Doña Jimena. Os recomiendo si os gustan las películas románticas. 🙂
La cita muy romántica – en el sentido literario – de esta semana es, entonces, de Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, escritor y rector de la Universidad de Salamanca en su tiempo.
I first heard of the Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid (The Lord), when I was about ten or eleven. Actually, I didn’t exactly hear of him: I saw him in a film, shown on Hungarian television. It was the 1961 Hollywood epic, El Cid, with Charlton Heston as the Cid and Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena. I recommend it to anybody with a romantic turn of mind. 🙂 The Cid was a Castilian knight in the eleventh century, who fought the Moors during the period of the Reconquista, that is, the reconquering of Spain from the Moors.
This week’s very romantic – in the literary sense – quote is from Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, a Spanish essayist and rector at the University of Salamanca in his time.
La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:
La Reconquista! ¡Cosas tuvieron nuestros Cides que han hecho hablar a las piedras¡ ¡Y cómo nos hablan las piedras sagradas des estos páramos! Reconquistado su suelo, Castilla, que había estado de pie, se acostó a soñar en éxtasis, en arrobo sosegado, cara al Señor eterno.
(Miguel de Unamuno: Por las tierras del Cid)
The reconquista! The things done by our Cids which have made the rocks talk. And how the holy rocks of these plateaus talk! Having reconquered her land, Castile, who had been standing, laid herself down to dream in ecstasy, in peaceful bliss, with her face to the eternal Lord.
It being not only Monday but the 5th of November, for today’s quote of the week we’re going to remember the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
The First Suicide Bomber in Britain
To cut a long story short, in 1605, the much persecuted Catholics hatched a plot to blow up Westminster while Parliament was in session and the king, James I, in attendance. A cellar below the building was filled with barrels of gunpowder and Guy Fawkes was left to ignite to fuse. If he succeeded, he would have gone to heaven (or hell) with his victims, but as history would have it, he had been apprehended in the act.
The day when the plot failed, known as Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes’ Night, is still celebrated in England with fireworks and bonfires.
When I first lived through it, in the near aftermath of the Second Iraq War, I had the worrying sensation of having been transported to Baghdad, because the explosions around the house went on all night. You get used to it eventually, and one year long ago, when Sophisticated Young Lady was not yet sophisticated, nor yet a lady, and Young Friend of the Elephants was even younger than she is now, I’ve even gone to the trouble of making a ragdoll ‘guy’ to burn at the stake of our garden bonfire.
Guess if it rained that year.
Quote of the Week:
The fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
View of the Basilica from the cave church of Covadonga, Asturias
Quote of the Week:
It is not time that stood still here, although one would like to think so, it is the mountains. All that has moved is history, and all that has breathed are the seasons. Hot summers, harsh winters and the activity of man in between. Always the same: hunters, shepherds, farmers, descendants of Cantabrians and Goths. Never subjugated by Moors…
It is from here that the reconquest of Spain began. Reconquest is the proper word, but the prefix “re” encapsulates a long work of nearly eight centuries culminating in the victory of the Catholic Kings at Granada, and which began when the first Asturian king, Pelayo, defeated the Moorish troops at Covadonga in 718.
Fear in a handful of dust. Stillness and sun-petrified ruins. Here lay the ancient city, running north and south, overlooking the sea and the memory of its ships.
Here, then, was all that was left of great Selinus, called rich and powerful by Thucydides, with silver and gold in its temples and a treasury of its own at the shrine in Olympia. One of those sad disputes, with which the Greeks destroyed their promised land of Sicily, destroyed this city.
In 409 B.C. Hannibal and the Carthaginian army razed the walls of Selinus to the ground. Selinus, ‘City of the Wild Celery’ (and we had passed wild celery as we climbed the headland), was extinct by Strabo’s time. It had been a monument to the vanity of human wishes even when the Roman galleys swept past that bright bay…
Seville harbour – only a few hundred yards of dock set on the banks of a slow river, fifty miles from the sea, yet once the greatest harbour in the world, and still, in the legends of man, the most important. Columbus, Pizarro and Fernando Magellan, the Santa María and the little Victoria – from here they sailed to find a new world, or to be the first in all history to encircle the globe.
(Laurie Lee: A Rose for the Winter)
El puerto de Sevilla – sólo unos pocos cientos de yardas de muelle en las orillas de un río lento, cincuenta millas del mar, sin embargo, en otro tiempo el mayor puerto del mundo, y todavía en las leyendas de la humanidad, el más importante. Colón, Pizarro y Fernando de Magallanes, el Santa María y el pequeño Victoria – zarparon de aquí para encontrar un mundo nuevo, o para ser primero en toda la historia en la circunnavegación del globo.