“You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
(Graham Greene: The Third Man)
«En los treinta años que estuvieron los Borgia en Italia hubo guerra, terror, asesinato y derramamiento de sangre —le explica—. Pero de ahí salieron Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci y el Renacimiento. En Suiza tenían amor fraternal, quinientos años de paz y democracia. Y, ¿qué salió de todo eso? El reloj de cuco».
I know we’ve already been to Sicily recently (the lockdown has a lot to answer for)…
…but that was with a 19th century female traveller, Frances Elliot, whose romantic flights of fancy are quite different from what I’m proposing today. 🙂
I don’t remember when exactly I got John Julius Norwich’s book, Sicily: A Short History from the Ancient Greeks to the Cosa Nostra, but I had it on the mantelpiece (where I keep the books I haven’t got round to reading yet) for at least a couple of years. All this extra time in lockdown finally gave me the chance to read it…
About three weeks ago we acquired a family pet, whose name is Ede (that’s Eh-deh, not Eed). We feed it every day and it’s now feeding us in turn, and in fact we’re giving away one of its children today… no, it’s not a hen, much less a cow, although if this goes on much longer maybe we’ll be forced to start a farm!
Ede is a sourdough starter and took five days to grow; much to our surprise it then survived six days without food or water while we were locked down in Lancashire. We feed it regularly with flour and mineral water and then use portions of it to make bread without yeast. The bread is so tasty that half of of the first loaf went within five minutes of coming out of the oven, as we all “tasted” it.
As my contribution to the worldwide fight against coronavirus, I translated the recipe and passed it on to family via e-mail; and a local friend of ours is coming to collect one of Ede’s children later today (she’s collecting it from the doorstep because we’re good and law-abiding citizens)!
“So tell us: where do they appreciate Russians more, this side of the Pyrenees, or the other?”
“Well, I don’t know about the other, but there’s no appreciation at all on this side. For instance, I was in Italy, and they don’t pay Russians a blind bit of notice there. All they do is sing and paint. I mean, one Italian’ll be standing singing, and another’ll be sitting beside him, painting the one that’s singing. And a bit further off there’ll be a third Italian, singing about the one that’s painting. It’d make you weep, and they don’t understand our sorrow.”
Hephaestus, the ugly and ill-tempered Smith-god, was so weakly at birth that his disgusted mother, Hera, dropped him from the height of Olympus, to rid herself of the embarrassment…
Greek Myths by Robert Graves
Well, right there you can see where the Spartans might have got their notions of throwing sickly newborns off the cliffs of Taygetus. But as regards Hephaestus, god of fire and the blacksmith of the gods of Mt Olympus, in this first fall he was lucky: he fell into the sea, where he was found by the nymph Thetys, who duly took him home. A few years later, Hephaestus repaid the kindness by setting up a little undersea smithy and making for her some useful household odds and ends, not to mention some fancy jewellery which caught the eye of Hera. Owing to which not only he was allowed to return to Olympus but was given Aphrodite for his wife. All’s well that ends well, or would have, except that he then said some unwise words to Zeus, who once again hurled him off the mountain… This time he was less lucky, because he fell on hard ground and remained lame for the rest of his immortal life.
Fast forward to Roman times. As we know, the Romans were quite ingenious when it came to engineering (my personal favourite is the corvus, a bridge for boarding Carthaginian galleys, the classic solution to the conundrum of how-to-turn-a-naval-battle-at-which-we’re-****-into-a-land-battle-at-which-we’re-so-much-better), not to mention their various other achievements that clamour for attention. Despite of this, the Romans seemed sadly lacking in imagination when it came to their religion: so much so that they didn’t bother to come up with their own – they merely imported in the Ancient Greek one. And so Hephaestus the Greek became Vulcan, the citizen of Rome. Long live the gods, under one name or another.
Now it so happened that when Hephaestus returned to Hera’s favour, owing to his ability to make fancy jewellery, he abandoned his undersea workshop and set up a new smithy on Mt Olympus. Or at least so says the original myth but myths are subject to change… and Hephaestus is reputed to have forges in more than one place.
The Greeks settlers on Sicily have already noted the place, but ultimately we probably owe the location of Vulcan’s forge to the incoming Romans who have hit on just the spot: a little volcanic island off the shores of Sicily, conveniently named…
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.
Mediterranean brilliance hit me like a bolt of lightning; the whole of human life was enacted on a single, fabulous, public stage against a careless backdrop of thousands of years of sublime art. Colours, foods, markets, clothing, gestures, language: everything seemed more refined, more vivid, more vibrant…
Gondolier awaiting custom, Venice
Street market, Venice
Traghetto (ferry), Venice
The Molo with the view of Sta Maria della Salute, Venice
whhheeeeᴇᴇᴇᴇᴇᴇᴇᴇEEEEEEEE! The scream of jet engines rises to a crescendo on the runways of the world. Every second, somewhere or other, a plane touches down, with a puff of smoke from scorched tyre rubber, or rises in the air, leaving a smear of black fumes dissolving in its wake. From space, the earth might look to a fanciful eye like a huge carousel, with planes instead of horses spinning round its circumference, up and down, up and down. Whhheeeeeeeeeee!
Small World by David Lodge
In response to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: New Horizon.
A few weeks ago, when I was writing about Egyptian poetry, I made the point that reading poetry in translation is a deceptive exercise since you’re not reading the same poem that poet had, in fact, penned. You might like the translation but quite possibly would not like the original or vice versa. A sonnet by Petrarch today in two different English translations will serve to illustrate the same point… and the Venetian balcony at night will serve to illustrate the sonnet.
Un soneto de Petrarca (Un balcón en Venecia por la noche)
Hace unas semanas, cuando escribió sobre la poesía egipcia, he señalado que leer poesía en traducción es un ejercicio engañoso, porque no estás leyendo el poema que el poeta, de hecho, había escrito. Así que te puede gustar la traducción, pero lo original no, y viceversa. Hoy un soneto de Petrarca con dos traducciones ingleses servirá para ilustrar la misma idea… y el balcón de Venecia servirá para ilustrar el poema. El texto original italiano está abajo de los versiones ingleses si quieres leerlo – no hay que hablar italiano para apreciar la cadencia bella del idioma de Petrarca. (También puedes encontrar un enlace abajo para la traducción española.)
There’s a new exhibition about to open in the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich, titled Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity. For the sake of those among you who ‘didn’t win first prize in the lottery of life’: Lady Hamilton is famous for being the lover of Admiral Nelson, the victor of Trafalgar and the saviour of England.
I first heard of Nelson when I was about seven and the Hungarian Television broadcasted the 1941 black-and-white tearjerker, That Hamilton Woman. Being too young to grasp that the handsome Royal Navy officer on screen was in fact Laurence Olivier, rather than Nelson himself, at the end of the film I was left with a life-long admiration for Nelson, a life-long dislike for Bonaparte and a complete unawareness of who Laurence Olivier was.
The oranges of the island are like blazing fire among the emerald boughs,
And the lemons are like the pale faces of lovers who have spent the night crying.
Two widely quoted lines from an obscure poet. If you can name the island this quote refers to, I’m impressed. If you can also name the poet, you know far too much about literature and history – would you be interested in writing a guest post for me?
As for the rest of you, the hoi polloi, the mere mortals 🙂 reading this:
I wrote the weekly photo prompt post this week for Bloggers World, and as luck would have it, I was invited to write it on the subject of doors. Or entrances. Exits and gates. The means of leaving and entering enclosed spaces, basically. Owing to the limitations on that forum, I was only allowed to share one door to play the part of the challenge prompt.
So here come a few more doors, constituting my reply to the weekly photo challenge by Bloggers World and being this Sunday’s miscellany.
Rare & precious: a garden
Street of Assassins: inn door
Ordinary door on an ordinary house…
Old door in new doorposts
Those who don’t gaze heavenwards will miss this fresco – St Mark’s Basilica
A pocket-size palazzo’s entrance at the end of a narrow passageway
Doors matching the rest of the decor in Museo Correr
A succession of doorways in Palazzo Grimani
The best doorway of them all: leaving only by boat
I should re-brand this blog Waterblogged: Dry Thoughts On Damp Venice the rate I’m going.
I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand.
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV. by Lord Byron
I blush to admit it here but before I read City of Fortune, before I stood on the Bridge of Sighs myself, looking out at the view towards St Mark’s Basin, I used to be under the impression that the Bridge of Sighs in Venice had to do with sighing lovers, like some sort of a Juliette’s balcony. In fact, the Bridge of Sighs connects the Doge’s Palace to the new prisons on the other side of the canal and the sighing was done by the condemned men as they were led across the bridge, this being their last glimpse of the views of Venice.