Lockdown Diaries: Day 51 (The Romans in Mérida)

Locked Down in London, Day 51:

A day as grey as a prison.

Virtual Escape: The Romans in Mérida

Time to escape to a quiet corner of sunny Spain… and wander among spectacular Roman ruins! Mérida – in Roman times known as Emerita Augusta – in the Extremadura.


Keep safe, keep sane – keep sharing! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 50 (On the Beach)

Locked Down in London, Day 50: War Rhetoric

It was VE Day yesterday and on this occasion, the blog of Collins Dictionaries (to be honest I was not aware that they had a blog and even less that I had subscribed to it, but… 🤷‍♀️ ) published an article, commenting on the war like rhetoric being used with Covid-19:

Some of the political rhetoric deployed in the … fight against Covid-19 employs the vocabulary of battle: war cabinet, an army of volunteers, the frontline NHS staff, an exit strategy. The Prime Minister has even spoken of “a fight … in which every one of us is enlisted”.

(Jeremy Butterfield: It’s VE Day. We’ll metaphor again…)

Jeremy Butterfield certainly has a point. I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen the enemy yet. So let’s leave war rhetoric where it belongs: the war. You don’t fight a disease; you survive it (if you’re lucky). Otherwise how do you describe those who were killed by it – losers?

Virtual Escape: On the Beach

It’s a lovely sunny day today; and I’m escaping to the beach:

Photo by Fabian Wiktor on Pexels.com
Keep safe, keep sane – have an apple and mint lemonade! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 49 (Lisbon Views)

Locked Down in London, Day 49:

Another Friday evening … in lockdown.

Programme choices:


Virtual Escape: Lisbon Views

I really do hope that you’ve got something better to do this Friday night than reading this blog (and listening to the your neighbours’ whining kids). But in case you don’t, come for a virtual walk around Lisbon 🙂 :


Keep safe, keep sane – put your feet up! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 48 (Serenity)

Locked Down in London, Day 48: Overworked

So I worked 3 hours extra today, and then despite of the fact that tomorrow is a bank holiday, I had to agree to work tomorrow as well, to meet all those people’s deadlines who have forgotten that tomorrow, actually, is a day off in the whole country. What makes it even more annoying is that of course I won’t even get paid for it or get time off in lieu…!

So what I need right now is, first of all, a large gin & tonic… and then a book of haikus. To regain my serenity.

Virtual Escape: Serenity

Okay, so I’ve got the gin & tonic, and the book of haikus open. Let’s also add some pebbles on top of each other and a torii gate (totally different religion from the pebbles, but that’s fine by me, I’m not fussy)…

Seven Fragments in Serenity

As on the plum comes
blossom after blossom, so
comes the warmth of spring


the sea darkens –
the voices of the wild ducks
are faintly white


How cool the breeze –
the empty sky is filled with
the sound of the pines.


In calligraphic line
wild geese descend; at the foothills
the moon is the seal.


grasshopper –
do not trample to pieces
the pearls of bright dew


No sky and no ground –
only the snowflakes that
fall without ceasing.


the little fish
carried backwards
in the clear water


Keep safe, keep sane – keep serene! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 47 (Cape Sounion)

Locked Down in London, Day 47:

Every exit strategy that is discussed by governments, scientists, etc. have a common feature – that we’ll have no fun this year. Foreign or possibly even domestic holidays will not be worth taking; restaurants, museums, pools, places of fun will be the last things to reopen.

It sucks. But for most of us, there’s always next year.

Most of us; not all. Spare a thought for those who are terminally ill and this is their last spring/summer when they could have been doing something they wanted to do before their death.

Virtual Escape: Cape Sounion

Like travel to Greece…

Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swan-like, let me sing and die.

(Lord Byron: The Isles of Greece)

Further Reading:The Isles of Greece by Lord ByronLord Byron
Keep safe, keep sane – read The Isles of Greece! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 46 (Hiking in the Picos de Europa)

Locked Down in London, Day 46: Beer Delivery Dogs

According to yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, somewhere in America a couple of handsome golden retrievers were enrolled by a brewery to deliver beer to their customers…

I quite fancy the sight of a couple of handsome golden retrievers delivering my shopping too.

Except… I guess I would only get the vegetables!

Virtual Escape: Hiking in the Picos de Europa

After all that food (not to mention wine) last night at the feast of Attila the Hun, we’d better go for a decent walk! How about the Ruta del Cares, the Cares Gorge Trail, in the Picos de Europa, in Spain?

The mountain range is called Picos de Europa – the Peaks of Europe – because it was the first thing Spanish sailors returning from America on the caravels saw of Europe. We’re driving there from the little town of Ribadesella in Asturias and as we cross from Asturias into Castile and León on the road sign we see Castile crossed out and the words, ‘This is León’ added in spray paint. An example of Spanish regionality, I suppose! 🙂

But I’m talking too much. Let’s just get out of the car, admire the view and then let’s go and hike the Route of the River Cares. Not for those who suffer badly with vertigo (although as the path is at least one metre wide everywhere, it’s perfectly safe).


Further Reading:Ruta del Cares12 Best Hikes in Spain to Experience
Keep safe, keep sane – go on a virtual hike! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 45 (A Feast with Attila the Hun)

Locked Down in London, Day 45: Three extra hours per day

When I was not in a lockdown, I walked eight kilometres every working day (to work, back & to the pool) and swam about a kilometre. I badly miss the exercise but I figured that I now have three extra hours on every working day to do as I please. Which was putting the house and the garden in order, first of all, and then embarking on a translation of Hungarian historical legends into English for my children – something I’ve been putting off for years! (It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.)

And because Hungarian historical legends invariably start with the legends about the Huns…

Virtual Escape: A Feast with Attila the Hun

…Today I’m inviting you out to a feast. There will be meat and bread served on silver plates, wine will flow, you will have your own cup bearer and there will be songs and clowns to entertain you. Sounds good?

Our host is Attila the Hun – in the West a man of evil repute, but not so in my native Hungary. The man whom we are accompanying to the feast is a Byzantine Greek, Priscus of Panium. In 448-449 A.D. he visited the court of Attila as member of a Byzantine embassy and he left a detailed account of what happened.

Including the feast:

The Feast of Attila by Mór Than [Public domain]. Priscus is the old bearded man dressed in white, with the book of history in his hand (on the right).
A Note Before You Start: 
Priscus calls the Huns Scythians as was customary in his time in Byzantium.


When we returned to our tent the father of Orestes came with an invitation from Attila for both of us to a banquet at three o’clock.

When the hour arrived we went to the palace, along with the embassy from the western Romans, and stood on the threshold of the hall in the presence of Attila. The cup-bearers gave us a cup, according to the national custom, that we might pray before we sat down. Having tasted the cup, we proceeded to take our seats; all the chairs were ranged along the walls of the room on either side.

Attila sat in the middle on a couch; a second couch was set behind him, and from it steps led up to his bed, which was covered with linen sheets and wrought coverlets for ornament, such as Greeks and Romans use to deck bridal beds.

The places on the right of Attila were held chief in honour, those on the left, where we sat, were only second. Berichus, a noble among the Scythians, sat on our side, but had the precedence of us. Onegesius sat on a chair on the right of Attila’s couch, and over against Onegesius on a chair sat two of Attila’s sons; his eldest son sat on his couch, not near him, but at the extreme end, with his eyes fixed on the ground, in shy respect for his father.

When all were arranged, a cup-bearer came and handed Attila a wooden cup of wine. He took it, and saluted the first in precedence, who, honoured by the salutation, stood up, and might not sit down until the king, having tasted or drained the wine, returned the cup to the attendant. All the guests then honoured Attila in the same way, saluting him, and then tasting the cups; but he did not stand up. Each of us had a special cupbearer, who would come forward in order to present the wine, when the cup-bearer of Attila retired. When the second in precedence and those next to him had been honoured in like manner, Attila toasted us in the same way according to the order of the seats.

When this ceremony was over the cup-bearers retired, and tables, large enough for three or four, or even more, to sit at, were placed next the table of Attila, so that each could take of the food on the dishes without leaving his seat. The attendant of Attila first entered with a dish full of meat, and behind him came the other attendants with bread and viands, which they laid on the tables. A luxurious meal, served on silver plate, had been made ready for us and the barbarian guests, but Attila ate nothing but meat on a wooden trencher. In everything else, too, he showed himself temperate; his cup was of wood, while to the guests were given goblets of gold and silver. His dress, too, was quite simple, affecting only to be clean. The sword he carried at his side, the latchets of his Scythian shoes, the bridle of his horse were not adorned, like those of the other Scythians, with gold or gems or anything costly.

When the viands of the first course had been consumed we all stood up, and did not resume our seats until each one, in the order before observed, drank to the health of Attila in the goblet of wine presented to him. We then sat down, and a second dish was placed on each table with eatables of another kind. After this course the same ceremony was observed as after the first.

When evening fell torches were lit, and two barbarians coming forward in front of Attila sang songs they had composed, celebrating his victories and deeds of valour in war. And of the guests, as they looked at the singers, some were pleased with the verses, others reminded of wars were excited in their souls, while yet others, whose bodies were feeble with age and their spirits compelled to rest, shed tears.

After the songs a Scythian, whose mind was deranged, appeared, and by uttering outlandish and senseless words forced the company to laugh. After him Zerkon, the Moorish dwarf, entered. He had been sent by Attila as a gift to Aetius, and Edecon had persuaded him to come to Attila in order to recover his wife, whom he had left behind him in Scythia; the lady was a Scythian whom he had obtained in marriage through the influence of his patron Bleda. He did not succeed in recovering her, for Attila was angry with him for returning. On the occasion of the banquet he made his appearance, and threw all except Attila into fits of unquenchable laughter by his appearance, his dress, his voice, and his words, which were a confused jumble of Latin, Hunnic, and Gothic. Attila, however, remained immovable and of unchanging countenance nor by word or act did he betray anything approaching to a smile of merriment except at the entry of Ernas, his youngest son, whom he pulled by the cheek, and gazed on with a calm look of satisfaction. I was surprised that he made so much of this son, and neglected his other children but a barbarian who sat beside me and knew Latin, bidding me not reveal what he told, gave me to understand that prophets had forewarned Attila that his race would fall, but would be restored by this boy.

When the night had advanced we retired from the banquet, not wishing to assist further at the potations.

(History of Byzantium by Priscus)

I hope you enjoyed eating out after more than 6 weeks of lockdown! 🙂

Further Reading:More details about the Byzantine embassy to Attila, as told by PriscusPriscus of Panium
⇒ If you'd like to know why Hungarian historical legends invariably start with Hun legends and what is the connection between the Scythians, the Huns and the Hungarians: Face to Face with My AncestorsMore about the history of the Huns on the Ancient History Encyclopaedia
Keep safe, keep sane – have a feast at home! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 44 (An Idle Woman in Sicily)

Locked Down in London, Day 44: The Rubbish Dump

Having found that people now dump rubbish everywhere, the council had a change of heart and reopened the local rubbish dump (or as they fancily call it, the reuse and recycling centre).

We can’t go to the pub, a restaurant, the theatre, a museum or a concert – but we can visit the rubbish dump! Whoppee!

Virtual Escape: An Idle Woman in Sicily

Remembering the times when we were allowed to travel – when I was an idle woman in Sicily. 🙂

And we do so with a maverick 19th century traveller, Frances Elliot, who, having unwillingly and laboriously climbed to a look out point on the insistence of her companion, the Doctor, despairs of the view:

Before long the Doctor insists on our climbing the lesser fort of Euryalus to see the view…

What long, low, desolate lines! What a vast saddened plain! Plain, west, towards Lentini and Catania; plain, south, towards Ragusa and Noto; nothing but plain!

Not a fertile vega, dark with mandarin and citron groves, and broken by palms and magnolias, as at Palermo, but ashen, bare, desolate!

Oh! for a dash of red, purple, or orange, on the mountainside! A tawny sunset over ilex woods! or that pure coral tinge which mantles the northern peaks when the sun sets!

And the sea!

Just under Epipoloe there is another plain, boundless as the land; only this one glitters in azure and opaline, fading lines and broad circles breaking its surface.

The sparkle and gaiety of this second plain, with its harmonious ripple and fresh breathing airs, shadowed by great cirrhus clouds that come riding up from the south, make the monotony of the land even more solemn.

On land there are no trees, no houses, except the little heaped-up island-mound of Ortygia far away. There are rocks, ruins, and stones, and the dead, lone look of what was once a great city, trodden out by war and conquest!

But for its history, who would come to Syracuse?

The sun is setting in pale saffron tints over that wide channel, across which the Carthaginians came for so many centuries, Himilcon, Hannibal, Hamilcar, and afterwards Saracen Emirs, and Kaliffs, in fleets of galleys and triremes, their black painted sides outlined in gold and purple; the African captain at the poop, the dusky rowers rising and falling to the banks of oars, the dusky sails set for victory!…

(Frances Elliot: The Diary of an Idle Woman in Sicily)

Although Mrs Elliot above seems to suggest that Syracuse is not worth a visit, nothing could be further from the truth, and in fact, she herself spent about a third of her book there. 🙂

Sicily is in fact a fascinating holiday destination, especially if you love history, the sun, the sea and Italian food. Oh and of course volcanoes!

Further Reading:Oranges Like Blazing FireAn Idle Woman in Sicily by Frances Elliot 
⇒ More books on travel in the Mediterranean by Frances Elliot - available on Project GutenbergA Brief Overview of Sicily's Fascinating History
Keep safe, keep sane – read a book on Sicilian history! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 42 (Cherry Blossom Viewing)

Locked Down in London, Day 42: Olympics in Quarantine

The Two-Tailed Dog Party in Hungary (I did hesitate whether I should be naming political parties here but the name add spice to the story!) is going to run a quarantine olympics this month – events include:

  • Speed Disinfecting
  • Indoor Gazing Into the Distance
  • Synchronised Couch Movement
  • Pancake Making Commentary
  • Toilet-roll Tower Building

Virtual Escape: Cherry Blossom Viewing

I don’t know about you but where I’m sitting, it’s raining cats & dogs and you can’t stir out without getting soaked to skin, with or without a mac. So we need a double escape here, one from this extremely tiresome quarantine and the other from this extremely tiresome weather…

This is the time of the cherry blossom and the Japanese loved to view them for centuries. So today, we’re going to go cherry blossom viewing… with a 17th century poet, the master of haiku, Matsuo Basho!

Cherry Blossoms

cherry blossom viewing –
admirable it is to walk
ten or twelve miles a day

with the sun darkening,
on the blossoms, it is lonely –
a false cypress

with a fan
drinking sake in the shadows –
falling cherry blossoms

(Knapsack Notebook by Matsuo Basho)


Further reading / You might also like:Karantén olimpia 2020 (in case you want to participate) :)
⇒ Matsuo BashoFour Seasons in Japan - with Matsuo BashoThe Dark Side of Life (in Nine Haikus)The Master of Cold Mountain
Keep safe, keep sane – view some virtual cherry blossoms!

Lockdown Diaries: Day 41 (Virtual Museums)

Locked Down in London, Day 41: Homeschooling

An Ofsted inspector inspected his own homeschooling arrangements and found his school ‘appalling’:

The headteacher is eminently qualified but is regularly seen wearing nothing but dressing gowns and underpants. This sets a very poor example to the pupils. Also in the evening, both members of staff are often observed drinking alcohol in front of the pupils…

Read more (BBC)

Virtual Escape: Virtual Museums

How about going to the museum today? Which we can only visit virtually of course!

There are lots of candidates for a day at the museum, actually. Some of the museums are doing a great job in trying to make their websites more engaging and their collections genuinely accessible online. You’ll find a selection of links below.

In the meantime, enjoy this fleeting visit to the British Museum – sadly they’re not one of those whose website rose to the challenge of virtual museum visits! (Click the gallery to enlarge the pictures.)

Virtual Museums:National Gallery, LondonMuseo del Prado, MadridRoyal Museums GreenwichScience Museum, LondonHistoric Dockyard, Chatham
Keep safe, keep sane – visit a virtual museum!

Lockdown Diaries: Day 40 (Of the Aegean)

Locked Down in London, Day 40: Holiday flight

An e-mail from my airline regarding my upcoming holiday flight – the one we postponed from April – left me in the quandary: do I transfer the flight to July (my only remaining free holiday time), do I accept the voucher that I can’t use and try to swindle my way round the fact that it’s not transferable, or do I sit tight and hope that the airline will cancel the flight and I can get my money back?!

On the subject of holiday flights: I saw the following video a while ago, and probably you all saw it by now… but just in case somebody missed out, something to cheer you up!

Virtual Escape: Of the Aegean

No comment:

The archipelago
And the prow of its foams
And the gull of its dreams
On its highest mast the sailor waves
A song

Its song
And the horizons of its voyage
And the echo of its nostalgia
On her wettest rock the betrothed awaits
A ship

Its ship
And the nonchalance of its summer winds
And the jib of its hope
On its highest undulation an island cradles
The coming

(Odysseas Elytis: Of the Aegean)

Further Reading:Sailing the Aegean with Odysseas ElytisOdysseas ElytisA Look at Greek Poet Odysseas Elytis's Best Poems
⇒ In case the video didn't work for you: Holiday flight
Keep safe, keep sane – keep smiling! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 39 (Lassie Come-Home)

Locked Down in London, Day 39: Self-Isolation

If your kids are anything like mine, they’re spending the entire lockdown in self-isolation – absolutely voluntarily. Which is what their normally do anyway, whenever they’re home: ensconce themselves in their bedrooms, facetiming their friends/boyfriend (as the case might be), all – the – bloody – time.

They only come out to eat! 🙂

Virtual Escape: Lassie Come-Home

Today’s escape is specifically for our facetiming kids… It’s time they turned off facetime for a wee hour and picked up a good book instead – dare I say, out in the garden?! 🙂

I’m sure you all know the beautiful collie Lassie, of come-home fame. But I wonder how many of you actually read the book? Yes, dear friends, the book by Eric Knight – which by the way is mostly set in Yorkshire and Scotland, in the time of the Great Depression, and is a very good animal story – and whose storyline basically bears no resemblance to any of the films / film series you’ve seen.

Time to go back to the source!

Here’s the first chapter to get you (your kids & grandkids) started:

Everyone in Greenall Bridge knew Sam Carraclough’s Lassie. In fact, you might say that she was the best known dog in the village – and for three reasons.

First, because nearly every man in the village agreed shew as the finest collie he had ever laid eyes on.

This was praise indeed, for Greenall Bridge is in the county of Yorkshire, and of all places in the world it is here that the dog is really king. In that bleak part of northern England the dog seems to thrive as it does nowhere else. The wind and the cold rains sweep over the flat moorlands, making the dogs rich-coated and as sturdy as the people who live there.

The people love dogs and are clever at raising them You can go into nay one of the hundreds of small mining villages in this largest of England’s counties, and see, walking at the heels of humbly clad workmen, dogs of such a fine breed and aristocratic bearing as to arouse the envy of wealthier dog fanciers from other parts of the world.

And Greenall Bridge was like other Yorkshire villages. Its men knew and understood and loved dogs, and there were many perfect ones that walked at men’s heels; but they all agreed that if a finer dog than Sam Carraclough’s tricolour collie had ever been bred in Greenall Bridge, then it must have been long before they were born.

But there was another reason why Lassie was so well known in the village. It was because, as the women said, ‘You can set your clock by her.’

That had begun many years before, when Lassie was a bright, harum-scarum yearling. One day Sam Carraclough’s boy, Joe, had come home bubbling with excitement.

‘Mother! I come out of school today, and who do you think was sitting there waiting for me? Lassie! Now how do you think she knew where I was?’

‘She must have picked up your scent, Joe. That’s all I can figure out.’

Whatever it was, Lassie was waiting at the school gate the next day, and the next. And the weeks and the months and the years had gone past, and it had always been the same. Women glancing through the windows of their cottages, or shopkeepers standing in the doors on High Street, would see the proud black-white-and-golden-sable dog go past on a steady trot, and would say:

‘Must be five minutes to four – there goes Lassie!’

Rain or shine, the dog was always there, waiting for a boy – one of dozens who would come pelting across the concrete playground – but for the dog, the only one who mattered. Always there would be a moment of happy greeting, and then, together, the boy and the dog would go home. For four years it had always been the same.

Lassie was a well-loved figure in the daily life of the village. Almost everyone knew her. But, most of all, the people of Greenall Bridge were proud of Lassie because she stood for something that they could not have explained readily. It had something to do with their pride. And their pride had something to do with money.

Generally, when a man raised an especially fine dog, some day it would stop being a dog and instead would become something on four legs that was worth money. It was still a dog, of course, but now it was something else, too, for a rich man might hear of it, or the alert dealers or kennelmen might see it, and then they would want to buy it. While a rich man may love a dog just as truly as a poor man, and there is no difference in them in this, there is a difference between them in the way they must look at money. For the poor man sits and thinks about how much coal he will need that winter, and how many pairs of shoes will be necessary, and how much food his children ought to have to keep them sturdy – and then he will go home and say:

‘Now, I had to do it, so don’t plague me! We’ll raise another dog some day, and ye’ll all love it just as much as ye did this one.’

That way, many fine dogs had gone from homes in Greenall Bridge. But not Lassie!

Why, the whole village knew that not even the Duke of Rudling had been able to by Lassie from Sam Carraclough – the very Duke himself who lived in his great estate a mile beyond the village and who had his kennels full of fine dogs.

For three years the Duke had been trying to buy Lassie from Sam Carraclough, and Sam had merely stood his ground.

‘It’s no use raising your price again, Your Lordship,’ he would say. ‘It’s just  – well, she’s not for sale for no price.’

The village knew all about that. And that was why Lassie meant so much to them. She represented some sort of pride that money had not been able to take away from them.

Yet, dogs are owned by men, and men are bludgeoned by fate. And sometimes there comes a time in a man’s life when fate has beaten him so that hemust bow his head and decide that he must eat his pride so that his family may eat bread.

(Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight)

Further Reading:
⇒ Well - Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight of course. :)
⇒ Eric Knight
Keep safe, keep sane – keep sharing! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 38 (Sketches of Spain)

Locked Down in London, Day 38: A Hair Cut

Well, I could really do with one by now… what about you?

Virtual Escape: Sketches of Spain (A Passing City)

Let’s lay back on the grass in the garden or the park (whichever you can get to) and play Miles Davis:

Today we’re escaping to an inaccessible Spain – and not just inaccessible because of the coronavirus but because the Spain of a while ago: we’re going to tag on to one of Federico García Lorca’s field trips around Spain with his university literature professor in 1916-17.

Lorca’s prose is like reading poetry, and his Sketches of Spain go very well with Miles Davis’s.


Blue sky. Sunny tranquility. Gleaming white sheep scramble between the gums of fortified walls and leave a vaporous haze of silver in their wake. The city rings its metallic horns as mellifluous as immeasurable honey.

Wrought iron… Explosions of solemnity. Austere, noble, rather squat, their bells still, the lordly churches profiled against the smoke curling from chimneys are triumphs of Romanticism, their weathervanes are crosses, hearts of snakes, their realm of gold hidden under mossy green… The hills’ monstrous claws are like yellow opals… The light shimmers over the medieval city… Things are in musical repose…. It is a bright morning.

(Federico Garcia Lorca: Sketches of Spain)

Further Reading:
⇒ More excerpts from Lorca's Sketches of Spain: Granada & CastileSketches of Spain by Federico García Lorca (book review)Federico García Lorca (biography)A few of Federico García Lorca's poems in English translation
Keep safe, keep sane – keep sharing! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 37 (Climbing the Popocatepetl in 1519)

Locked Down in London, Day 37: Agoraphobia

I dreamed I was on a bus that was getting more and more crowded, until we were all squashed against each other like sardines in a tin… and my neighbours leant towards me, breathing out pestilential air into my face.

It was only a dream. But if the government doesn’t stop the lockdown soon and the media doesn’t stop the constant scaremongering, I wonder how many people will emerge with newly acquired agoraphobia?

Virtual Escape: Climbing Popocatepetl in 1519

The Popocatepetl in Mexico [Photo by christopheducoin via Pixabay]
Today’s escape takes you not only to a different continent (this being subjective – maybe that’s where you live) but also to a different time.

What do you say to climbing the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl with a Spanish conquistador: Diego de Ordaz, one of the men of Hernán Cortés, and getting the first view of Tenochtitlán ever by a European?



… the volcano near Huexotzinco… was throwing out more fire than usual while we were at Tlascala. All of us, including our Captain¹, were greatly astonished at this, since we had never seen a volcano before. One of our captains, Diego de Ordaz, wishing to go to see what it was, asked the general’s² permission to climb it. Permission was granted, and Cortes even expressly ordered him to make the ascent.

Diego took two of our soldiers and certain Indian chiefs from Huexotzinco, who frightened him with the information that halfway up Popocatepetl – for this was the volcano’s name – the earth-tremors and the flames, stones, and ashes that were thrown out of the mountain were more than a man could bear. They said the guides would not dare to climb further than the cues of those idols that are called the Teules of Popocatepetl. Nevertheless, Diego de Ordaz and his two companions climbed on till they came to the top, leaving the Indians below too scared to make the ascent.

From what Ordaz and the two soldiers said afterwards it appears that, as they climbed, the volcano began to throw out great tongues of flame, and half-burnt stones of no great weight, and a great deal of ash, and that the whole mountain range in which it stands was so shaken that they stopped still, not daring to go forward for quite an hour, until they saw that the eruption was over and the smoke and ashes were getting less. They then climbed up to the crater, which was very round and wide and about a mile and a half across. From the summit they could see the city of Mexico and the whole lake, and all the towns on its shores. The volcano is about eighteen or twenty miles from Mexico.

Ordaz was delighted and astonished with the view of Mexico and its cities. After gazing at them for some time he went back to Tlascala with his companions, and the Indians of Huexotzinco and Tlascala regarded his climb as a very brave deed. When he told his story to Captain Cortes and the rest of us, we were greatly astonished. For we had never seen or heard of Popocatepetl as we have today, when many Spaniards, including some Franciscans, have climbed to the crater.

When Diego de Ordaz went to Castile he asked His Majesty to grant him the volcano as his coat-of-arms, which his nephew, who lives at Puebla, now bears.

(Bernal Díaz del Castillo: The Conquest of New Spain)

¹ Hernán Cortés
² Still Hernán Cortés. :) Evidently, Bernal Díaz was not really bothered by what military rank Cortés should go by; he was the chief and that was that.
Further Reading:Mexico's Popocatepetl Volcano Spews Ash and Gas into the Sky (video)Bernal Díaz del CastilloThe Memoirs of the Conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo (Project Gutenberg)
Keep safe, keep sane –  travel in time! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 35 (Dockside)

Locked Down in London, Day 35: A Day in the Office

A day in the office nowadays consists of: opening our new parasol, putting out the seat cushions, setting out the laptop hood, and then carting out the work laptop and assorted necessary paraphernalia to settle down for the day in the garden, typing away merrily (okay, perhaps not so merrily), next to the lilac tree. And then a family lunch, again in the garden, followed by more work, before it’s time to pack the lot away, and buzz off for a walk in the neighbouring streets.

I think I could get used to working from home, especially on sunny days… although I do miss my swimming with almost physical pain by now!

Virtual Escape: Dockside

Nobody reads blogs on Friday night – well, I suppose I hope nobody does, meaning that everybody has better things to do with family and housemates even in these sadly limited times!

But just in case there’s anybody around in need of escaping: today we’re escaping to the dockside. When I was a child, I used to spend lazy summer hours sitting on the embankments of the Danube watching history flow by – I can regonise the sentiment in today’s poem:


by Amna Ahmed

Sat by the water for hours. Watched nothing but water, how it was spelt out by light;

its mass like silk blown in slow-moving wind,

or the glitter of fisted diamonds that flickered and kicked
as the waves caught the light
from the bounce of the sun and I squinted my eyes and saw every one

of those diamonds that tickled and swam,

or how the light lay like a curve
in a ripple of time, on that wet pool
and I thought of a painter
jig-sawing brushstrokes of yellow
over the salty sea-blue.

(Can you even remember the times when you could just walk or take public transport to go wherever you felt like?)

Further Reading:
⇒ More about - Amna Ahmed (!)
⇒ Poems on the Underground
Keep safe, keep sane –  keep reading poetry!

Lockdown Diaries: Day 34 (The Windmills of Don Quijote)

Locked Down in London, Day 34: Weary Face

Is the lockdown ever going to end?

Virtual Escape: The Windmills of Don Quijote

Remembering happier times… Campo de Criptana, Castile-La Mancha, Spain. Don Quijote country.

At this point they came in sight of thirty forty windmills that there are on plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, “Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God’s good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth.”

“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.

“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”

“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the millstone go.”

(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote de La Mancha)

Further Reading:Don Quijote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Project Gutenberg)
⇒ Castile-La Mancha, Spain - turism
Keep safe, keep sane – start reading Don Quijote! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 33 (Sailing on the Spice Fleet)

Locked Down in London, Day 33: The March of the Penguins

Yesterday was the Queen’s birthday; in London normally there would have been a parade. Not this time but at least some subjects of Her Majesty got to celebrate:

Virtual Escape: Sailing on the Spice Fleet

Today’s we’re not only escaping whichever room we’re locked into; we’re going back in time!

In particular, we’re arriving home on the Spice Fleet of Venice on a cold winter night from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the end of the 15th century:

Landfall brought all the vicissitudes of life. People returned with gold, spices, plague and grief. Failed admirals came clanking in chains, triumphant ones with trumpets and cannon fire, trailing captured banners in the sea, the gonfalon of St Mark streaming in the wind. Ordelafo Falier stepped down the gangplank with the bones of St Stephen. Pisani’s body came packed in salt. Antonio Grimani survived the disgrace of Zonchio and became a doge; so did Gritti, the spy. Marco Polo, wild-eyed and anonymous, burst through the door of his house like Ulysses returned – and no one recognised him.

Felix Fabri came on the spice fleet of 1480 with the weather so cold that the oars had to break the ice in the canals. He arrived in the dark, just after Christmas. The night was clear and bright; from the deck the snowy tops of the Dolomites glimmered under a large moon. No one could sleep. As dawn rose, the passengers could see the golden roof of the campanile glinting in the sun, topped by the angel Gabriel welcoming them home. All the bells of Venice were ringing for the fleet’s return…

(Roger Crowley: City of Fortune)

The snowy tops of the Dolomites glimmered under a large moon… [Photo by kv15031969 via Pixabay]
Those of you who have been with me long enough know that the irrepressible 15th century German monk, Felix Fabri, is one of my favourite historical characters.

I first met him in the book quoted above, and since read his travel diaries. Felix travelled to the Holy Land twice in pilgrimage in the 1480s; the second time he went from the Holy Land to Egypt and sailed back from there on the Venetian spice fleet. Sadly, the second part of his diaries dealing with his travels from the Holy Land to Egypt and back to Europe, full of evocative little details such as belching crocodiles in the Nile or the snowy tops of the Dolomites, has never been translated. Unless you can read Latin, you have to rely for these details on H F M Prescott’s book, Once to Sinai: The Further Pilgrimage of Friar Felix Fabri.

Further Reading:Fables of Felix FabriThe Wanderings of Felix Fabri (e-book)
Keep safe, keep sane – immerse yourselves in history!

Lockdown Diaries: Day 32 (Climbing Kanchenjunga)

Locked Down in London, Day 32: Where Is My Money?

Today we got a refund for one of the many things that was cancelled on us due to everything closing. Yippee! I celebrate the fact that we did get one refund and in fact in a couple of cases our direct debit for services that we subscribe to but can’t use at the moment was frozen – but what about the rest? There are at least half a dozen companies, museums, a school, etc. that owe us money and not a peep out of most of them…

What about you people?

Virtual Escape: Climbing Kanchenjunga

Remembering happier times… when we climbed the Kanchenjunga!

(Click on the gallery to enlarge the pictures.)


Kanchenjunga here (as I’m sure you all guessed) is not the mountain in the Himalayas; it’s a mountain in the Lake District in England, and in real life it’s known as the Old Man of Coniston. It’s called Kanchenjunga in Arthur Ransome’s children’s book about the Swallows and Amazons and we climbed it because we love the books! (See the link below for more information and pictures about our following in the footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons.)

Further Reading:In the Footsteps of the Swallows and AmazonsLake District
Keep safe, keep sane – keep sharing! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 31 (Loch Ness)

Locked Down in London, Day 31: How Long Can You Stand Quarantine? (A Poll)

Now think about how long you could stand it if you were “shielded”: staying in your bedroom alone, although you’re allowed to open the window; no physical contact with your family/housemates, talking to them only through the closed bedroom door; no exercise or entertainment except what can fit into your bedroom; eating alone in your bedroom; disinfecting the bathroom every time before and after use…

The UK government thinks people who need to be shielded can – should – cope like that for 12 weeks.


Virtual Escape: Loch Ness

Merely typing Day 31 in the title was unutterably depressing, therefore I decided that we need to inject a certain level of silliness in today’s post.

Now imagine you’re up in Scotland, along the shores of Loch Ness:

Loch Ness, Scotland [Photo by Je535 via Pixabay]
Not the most scenic lochs of the Scottish Highlands perhaps but undoubtedly the most famous on account of Nessie.

So as I said you’re walking around the lake… minding your own business… and then you hear this:

Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl?
Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl.
Drublhaflablhaflubhafgabhaflhafl fl fl –
gm grawwwww gfr frawf awfgm graw gm.
Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgbrlgabrl fok splfok!
Zgra kra gka fok!
Grof grawff gahf?
Gombl mbl bl –
blm plm,
blm plm,
blm plm,

(The Loch Ness Monster’s Song by Edwin Morgan)

(If you ever want to type that up, better learn touch typing first!)

Further Reading:Survey results reveal average number of days people can bear to self-quarantineThe Loch Ness Monster's Song read by Robert Crawford on the Edinburgh Book Festival (video)
Keep safe, keep sane – keep reading poetry!

Lockdown Diaries: Day 30 (Hiking Vulcano)

Locked Down in London, Day 30: Our New Pet, Ede

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)!

Virtual Escape: Hiking Vulcano

Remembering happier times… so today, we’re climbing Vulcano again, off the coast of Sicily, in glorious sunshine.

We arrive by ferry from the Sicilian town of Milazzo; and as we’re disembarking we’re assaulted by the overpowering stench of rotten eggs. Don’t panic! The smell is pervading the harbour, that’s true, but not the entire island; it comes from the nearby mud baths. Start the climb towards the crater and the smell will fade away, soon to be dispersed entirely by the sea breeze.

It’s an easy climb; small children and school groups are doing it too. As you go up, you will see the seismologic equipment (and the scientists working it) – this volcano is dormant, not extinct.

Seismographic equipment

The views open up as you climb:

View from halfway up

And on top, you’re rewarded with the sight of a classic geography textbook volcano (well, it is called Vulcano!). Sniff at the sulphur and touch the ground: it’s hot.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

An unforgettable experience even if you’re not a geologist.

Happy climbing, amici!

Further Reading:
⇒ For those in need: recipe for the sourdough starter & and the sourdough bread made from it
⇒ I'm not the only one who thought their pet needed a name: Your Amish Friendship Bread Starter Needs a Name
Keep safe, keep sane – bake bread!