Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Strange Days

January 16, 2021

After I came up with the ‘Strange Days’ title, I began writing some paragraphs on COVID and the situation in the US, but found it all so depressing that I scrapped the lot.

Even the ludicrous factoid that a Peruvian court recently charged Bill Gates and George Soros with creating the Coronavirus failed to amuse me, and I realized I’ve been writing about little else for the past months—it’s bumming everyone out, including me, so I’m going to stop doing it.

Having said that, a few things about this mad circus still make me smile.

So, I got out my cordless razor, shaved my head, and settled down to write about music.

Strange Days, huh? The Doors released the album in 1967—on the 25th of September, missing the Summer of Love by five days. On the cover were a circus strong man, a midget, and a juggler.

It must have been an extraordinary time to live through. Where I lived, press censorship was at its zenith, six years after the start of the war in the Portuguese colonies in Africa and one year before the dictator Salazar fell off his beach chair—he never recovered from his injuries.

The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper, the Jefferson Airplane released Surrealistic Pillow, the Grateful Dead released their eponymous album, and the Stones released two original LPs—Between the Buttons and the more sinister Their Satanic Majesties Request. Clapton’s Cream released Disraeli Gears, and Hendrix released his amazing debut album, Are You Experienced.

If no other music had ever been made, this would be enough to keep me happy for a lifetime—I don’t know why 1967 was such a prolific year—psychedelic drugs most certainly helped, marijuana was more popular than lockdowns, but at the core it was just an incredible collection of talent, bands competing to come up with the best music.

Not only that, but these songs were often recorded on four tracks—bear in mind that any decent home studio these days has one hundred and twenty-eight tracks to play with—and the music is nowhere near as good.

The standard recording technique used back in 1967 is called bouncing, where tracks 1 and 2, or even 1, 2, and 3, are bounced, or recorded, to track 4. You might have drums on 1, bass on 2, and lead guitar on 3, so 4 would now have all those pre-mixed. That way, you free up more tracks on the recorder, but you’re unable to do an individual track mixdown at production stage, so you’re stuck with the volumes and effects you bounced—for instance, if you wanted a bit more delay or echo only on the lead in a particular segment of the song, you couldn’t do that after the bounce.

This excellent YouTube video (if you scroll to my previous post you’ll see the interview with the yellowstone capitol cretin has been removed—I left the link pour encourager les autres) shows how the multi-track was used in Sgt. Pepper. If you run out of patience, the blue track starts around 2:30 minutes in, and the red track (McCartney’s lead vocals) at around the 5 mark.

In 1967, Simon & Garfunkel released a live album recorded in New York, and Dylan released his Greatest Hits Vol. II. It was the first Dylan album I ever owned, though I only bought it some years later.

The cover shows Bob Dylan’s back, clad in a denim jacket—lord knows what happened to mine—sporting his trademark coat hanger harmonica. Uncle Bob’s hair is permed, and he’s clearly in the juices of youth—he turns eighty on May 24th. From the first bars of Watching The River Flow, I was hooked on the blues.

I found all sorts of fun things as I wrote this. One was the quote below from John Lennon about the Sgt. Pepper album.

Sgt Pepper is Paul, after a trip to America and the whole West Coast, long-named group thing was coming in. You know, when people were no longer The Beatles or The Crickets – they were suddenly Fred and His Incredible Shrinking Grateful Airplanes, right? So I think he got influenced by that and came up with this idea for The Beatles. As I read the other day, he said in one of his ‘fanzine’ interviews that he was trying to put some distance between The Beatles and the public – and so there was this identity of Sgt Pepper. Intellectually, that’s the same thing he did by writing ‘He loves you’ instead of ‘I love you.’ That’s just his way of working. Sgt Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn’t go anywhere. All my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with the idea of Sgt Pepper and his band; but it works ’cause we said it worked, and that’s how the album appeared. But it was not as put together as it sounds, except for Sgt Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise. Every other song could have been on any other album.

Another gem was a concert Chuck Berry did in Belgium, of all places. Not in 1967, but two years earlier—if you think his band looks square, watch the audience—they look as if they belong in a Salon de Thé off the Grande Place.

Chuck Berry is a mandatory presence in this article because he influenced all the wonderful artists I’ve mentioned. He once caught Keith Richards in the dressing room picking up his guitar, and promptly punched him in the face—Richards called it one of his greatest hits.

All this procrastination because by now you’re asking, “Out of all this wonderful music, what’s your favorite tune?”

I just can’t go there, sorry. But this is one of the greats, and it is not so widely known.

The lyrics are as LSD as they get, the lead guitar is a classic Hendrix mix of major and minor scales, and this performance is at Regis College in Denver, Colorado—a quick look on the web reveals it to be part of Regis University, a Jesuit school.

Hmm… The Wind Cries Mary must have gone down a storm with the disciples of Ignatius de Loyola. Still, I guess Hendrix was the black pope of electric guitar.

I was going to sign off with an hasta la vista, but instead, quoting a comedian I heard earlier today, I leave you with a slight paraphrase.

Astra la Zeneca.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Rat-a-tat-tat

November 1, 2020

Magellan suffered the death of a thousand cuts. Indigenous Filipinos still celebrate his death at the hands of Chief Lapu Lapu’s native fighters—some describe the captain-general cynically today as the Philippines’ first tourist. When I say a thousand cuts, I mean it—the Portuguese explorer was literally filleted. The Venetian Antonio Pigafetta, who chronicled the voyage and worshiped Magellan, wrote:

Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice, but he always stood firmly like a good knight, together with some others. Thus did we fight for more than one hour, refusing to retire farther. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide.

Magellan believed that a few dozen men armed with medieval weapons could defeat a vastly greater number of natives armed with iron-tipped bamboo spears—he put this theory to the test on the beach at Mactan, as fifty Spaniards faced off three divisions totaling one thousand five hundred men—bad odds. The reason for the battle was simple—Lapu Lapu understandably refused to recognize Charles I of Spain (later the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) as his seigneur.

The killing of Fernão de Magalhães by the Mactan people.

After the great mariner fell, the natives proceeded to hack him to bits, displaying and hanging Magellan’s body parts for days after the battle.

The perfectly stupid death of the captain-general, who refused help from two potential native allies—Rajah Humabon from the island of Limasawa, and Chief Datu Zula, from Mactan itself—ended his great adventure.

To quote from the T-Shirt on a Russian girl in Bali last February, ‘bad choices make good stories.’

The merit of the circumnavigation voyage lies in the parts of the world that were hitherto undiscovered—the navigation around the tip of South America, and the Pacific crossing. The rest had all been done by the Portuguese. Vasco da Gama crossed the Atlantic in 1497 on his way to India and subsequent navigators pushed further east through the Indian Ocean, reaching Thailand and then Singapore in the early XVIth century—Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Malacca in 1511.

In essence, three Portuguese captains closed the planetary circle, if you can accept that the stretch between the Philippines and Malacca is not a big ask. In any case, the Strait of Malacca is called that for a reason—it’s narrow (duh)—and any vessel sailing east in those waters has Sumatra visibly to starboard.

The width of the strait is about thirty nautical miles, or ten leagues, so the Portuguese sailors who discovered Malacca by definition also discovered the largest island in Indonesia.

Once Sumatra is at hand, simple line of sight navigation takes you to Java and Bali, and onward to the eastern end of the Indonesian chain. In Bahasa, the word for east is timur, so the former Portuguese colony of East Timor is actually called east-east.

In 1514, a man named Rui de Brito Patalim, captain of Malacca, wrote to Afonso de Albuquerque, governor-general of the Indies, to describe the discovery of East Timor—the letter was passed on to King Manuel I of Portugal.

Digital copy of the 1514 letter written by Rui Patalim announcing the discovery of East Timor.

Given that (a) Magellan reached the Philippines in 1521; (b) the Portuguese had sailed west across Asia to the eastern tip of Indonesia by 1514; and (c) Mactan is at longitude 123.96 E but East Timor is at 125.73 E, i.e. further east; the case is unequivocally made for the Portuguese circumnavigation of the globe—quod erat demonstrandum. QED.

I had a math teacher when I was seventeen who translated QED as ‘quite easily done’. She used to announce this regularly in a broad Yorkshire accent, which caused much mirth. Aye.

What is not QED is the Pacific crossing in three naus, or carracks, even though Magellan profited from the southeast trades, just as his Portuguese brethren did when sailing back from the Cape of Good Hope and riding the Benguela current up to the equator.

Pacific it might have been, after the thirty-eight day crossing of the Strait of Magellan, which the man himself had named Estreito (or Estrecho in Spanish, if I must) de Todos (l)os Santos.

As we all know, Magalhães christened the Pacific Ocean, but due to minor geographic misconceptions dating back to Ptolemy, Pierre d’Ailly, and more recently Columbus, the Portuguese explorer thought the crossing would take a couple weeks, perhaps less—it took ninety-nine days, as celebrated in the Hendrix tune.

As per the standard playbook, the expedition ran out of food pretty early on, even though they had stocked up on penguin meat in South America. Following tradition, the crew ate anything they could get their hands on, including the leather off shoes and tools.

Rats were prized. Caught, sold, and eaten. Not only were rats nutritious, but by this time scurvy was widespread among the sailors—like dogs, rats can synthesize vitamin C, which is why you don’t give your pooch a fruit smoothie and those meeces always have a glint in their eye.

Rat vitamin C is just as yummy as the one in lemonade, and it went a little way to reduce the scourge of scurvy—by then, rats were a bit thin on the ground.

Magellan and his officers didn’t get scurvy—they thought they were made of sterner stuff than the common sailors, and therefore remained in good health, presumably without nibbling Jerry.

The reason is much simpler, but no one ever made the link.

Every morning, the officers were given a ration of quince—a little something the Portuguese call marmelada.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Magaland

October 25, 2020

You’ve been led astray by my title—a poor attempt at humor, as we watch the USA pitch and roll towards election day like the Trinidad, flagship of Fernão de Magalhães.

I’ve predicted over the last weeks that America will bid adieu to the orangutan on Nov 3rd, and nothing’s happened to change my mind. If anything, I’m more convinced now, with all debates done and a whopping fifty-six million votes already cast, compared to one hundred thirty-eight million in total in 2016 (58% of voters).

Of the fifty-six mil, 50% are registered democrats, 30% republicans, and 20% unaffiliated. Worst case, it’s fifty-fifty; best case? eighty-twenty. I’ll keep you posted, if you excuse the pun.

The US voter registration system differs from others. Some nations don’t need one—if you hold a national ID, as you would in Germany or Italy, then you’re automatically eligible to vote when you turn eighteen. But in the US, that isn’t the case, so you fill out a form. That form allows you to register as a democrat or republican, which gives you the right to vote in the primaries. Of course, just because you registered as a democrat doesn’t mean you’ll vote that way, but it is a general indicator.

Just in time to add a touch of mayhem to the race, comedian Baron Cohen released a movie pranking various aspects of US daily life, and showing Rudy Giuliani with ants in his pants.

That’s enough maga talk until after the election—let’s talk about the other maga—the one who sailed round the world. The Portuguese captain was called Magalhães—a man who provoked the wrath of King Manuel I of Portugal by sailing under the Spanish flag, but in fairness Manuel himself had treated the captain very poorly indeed, which created the conditions for Magellan to offer his services to Charles I of Spain.

Magellan was killed in the Philippines on April 27th, 1521, which has led to an argument about whether he circumnavigated the world—technically, since he died along the way, he did not.

His slave Henrique spoke the local Filipino language, which suggests he was a native of that region, although Portuguese documents describe him as a Malay from Malacca, originally from Sumatra.

Since Magellan purchased him in 1511 during the siege of Malacca—when Henrique was fourteen and the explorer was still fighting for his native country—that area of the world was already well known to the Portuguese.

Henrique sailed west back to Portugal after the siege, so National Geographic states that he qualifies as the first person to sail around the earth, albeit with a ten year gap—but of course, that logic also applies to Magellan, who sailed the western route with his slave from Malacca to Portugal between 1511-1512, so the only thing Magellan didn’t do was travel from the Philippines to Malacca—ten days’ plain sailing.

Magellan therefore deserves full credit, since the great feat of the expedition was to round the tip of South America and sail west across the Pacific, which was the missing link in circumnavigation.

The rest of the voyage home was difficult but not uncharted—line of sight navigation around Indonesia, including a stop at the Moluccas, which was the object of the expedition, and then the long trip southwest to the Cape of Good Hope, followed by the ‘torna-viagem’ discovered by Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama.

The armada sailed a more southerly route between Indonesia and Australia, then took advantage of the south equatorial current, a feature of all three major oceanic gyres in the southern hemisphere. By doing so, it avoided the pitfalls of the Indian Ocean monsoon, which killed half of Vasco da Gama’s crew.

The completion of the trip by Juan Sebastian Elcano will have pleased the Portuguese captain’s Spanish enemies, who were both numerous and powerful.

Most distinguished among these was Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos—he had been the chaplain of Isabel la Católica and managed the expeditions of Columbus. By the time Magellan arrived in Spain, Fonseca was the head of the Casa de Contratación in Seville, where I spent some happy days researching Clear Eyes.

Fonseca’s son—sorry, ‘nephew’—was forced onto Magellan as a crew member, along with many other Spaniards whose single purpose was to sabotage the voyage. When the whole business came to a head in Argentina, after the five ships has crossed the Atlantic using the great circle route discovered by Gama, the small but fearless Magellan was confronted with a mutiny of vast proportions, involving the captains of three other vessels.

The Victoria, Concepción, and San Antonio formed the base of the revolt, which took place at Puerto San Julian, located 49o south of the equator—the equivalent of Vancouver in the northern hemisphere.

Their captains underestimated the iron will of the Portuguese navigator—one was killed and two captured, as Magellan displayed a combination of courage and subterfuge matched only by his ruthlessness when the time came to punish the mutineers.

A XVIth century engraving provides an allegorical image of Magellan’s journey. The image appears in a NatGeo piece that questions whether the explorer can be credited with circumnavigating the globe.

This benign and somewhat psychedelic picture of the voyage—all the humanoids have their private parts concealed, an eagle pounces on an elephant in the background, a cherub ringed by St. Elmo’s fire hovers above the captain, and Magellan himself seems to be using a pair of dividers as a microphone to deliver a Karaoke tune—belies the barbary inflicted on the Spanish captains.

Mendoza, master of the Victoria, was fortunate because he was already dead, but that didn’t stop Magellan meting out the same torment as he inflicted on Gaspar Quesada, captain of the Concepción, who was very much alive.

Both were hung, drawn, and quartered. The common practice in the XVIth century was to lower the victim from the gibbet while moribund, stretch him to partly detach the limbs, and then quarter the body. Prior to drawing the half-dead Quesada, his abdomen was opened, and his entrails were removed and burned in front of him—this was before the days of post-traumatic stress.

Both corpses then had head and limbs removed—these were boiled with herbs for preservation so they might be displayed to the crew.

…In the immortal words of the French revolution during the guillotine period, ‘pour encourager les autres…’

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Day The Music Died

October 3, 2020

I was playing in the band last night.

It’s always fun, loud, and late. We tried some acoustic stuff, a little more mellow.

There was a guy there, sitting in—not jamming, just listening—a bass player with a metal band. He stayed the course—about four hours’ worth—so I guess he was having fun, and even though it was an audience of one, it put an edge on the music.

In the breaks, we talked about this and that. Foremost, about music and musicians. Killer versions of particular songs, old guys still smoking dope who had trouble remembering lyrics, a Brazilian dude who could do more with a snare and a couple of other drums that most guys with a full kit, and of course, gear. Snare drums at two grand? Are you kidding me?

Time to put up my favorite Goodfellas meme (again).

We had a go at singing a very beautiful love song—Baby I Love Your Way, by Peter Frampton. It’s sung in a very high register, so our audience’s suggestion was to detune the guitars—that way, you keep the chord structure, which is also beautiful.

Of course, that means detuning a couple of electric guitars and the bass—hardship duty, really, for just one tune. Not a problem for our friend, “you just need three other instruments tuned to the right key.”

But it was audiences and musicians that we turned to most often. The former have disappeared, and the latter are on their way out.

This disaster is true across the performing arts, but to different degrees—movies now have a sitting room audience, with much viewing going on in sub-zero temperatures, as in Netflix ‘n chill. Soaps are ten-a-penny, with new series—mostly crap—popping out of the woodwork daily.

So I guess actors are still doing okay—all the way from adverts to Oscars.

But where it all breaks down is with live music, and that’s across the board. From rock in bars to elevator music in hotel dining rooms, performers are going through a terrible year.

But let’s face it, rock is particularly bad. Badly paid anyhow, it’s all about crowds, drink, drugs, and excitement—talk about COVID-friendly.

The famous 1970s hit American Pie sings about ‘the day the music died’, widely considered to be a reference to the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.

Van Morrison, seventy-five years old—and now Sir Van, which sounds like a resurrection of British Leyland—is releasing three anti-lockdown songs in protest of scientists “making up crooked facts” to justify measures that “enslave” the population.

He goes on to sing “The new normal, is not normal, We were born to be free.”

I’ve always been a big fan of his, and I think artists need strong support this year that the music died, but this isn’t the way to go, as another chap in his age group recently discovered.

Oops, wrong turn…

The US opposition leaders who’ve come out to wish the orange man a speedy recovery—although I expect they’d suggest that as a precaution he remain in hospital for thirty-one days—have shown America a high road which has been sadly lacking, as seen in the presidential debate.

I too wish him and his family well, and a quick return in full health to whatever the future may bring after leaving the office he currently holds.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Paradigm

September 26, 2020

It’s one of those beautiful words, like palindrome, profligate, or serendipity. I had written scatological, which is a beautiful word, but not a beautiful concept—then I got side-tracked looking at some pretty gross cartoons, and I found one that tickled my fancy.

More palindromic than scatological. Perhaps scatodromic.

Scatodromic? Turns out it means shit passage—some Ancient Greek will be turning in his grave!

The alternative was palinlogical, which unfortunately is an oxymoron (another favorite word), when you consider how senseless the bridge-to-nowhere vice-presidential candidate was.

As if powered by the perfect segway, this brings me to the bun—sorry, I meant nub—of the matter.

When a paradigm shifts (it never changes—for some reason it always shifts), humans have a hard time understanding they’re now in a new reality.

If you go to jail, have a serious illness, suffer a family breakdown, or the bereavement of a relative or a close friend, your adjustment process is a paradigm shift.

If you catch HIV in jail, your wife leaves you, and your poor, heartbroken mother dies, you have a quadradigm to deal with—and this kind of scatos happens.

2020 should be called the year of the paradigm—this is when everything went tits-up. No doubt some Queue-A-moron will discover that Voynich’s mystery alphabet gobbledybook predicted there would come a year where the first half equaled the second, and that would be 20-20. Then someone else will remark that 1919 was the exact center of the Spanish flu, and the plot thickens.

I predict something very tragic will happen in 2121, and since I won’t be around to watch, I’m very confident it will happen.

When a paradigm shifts, everyone runs around like headless chickens wondering when it will all get back to normal. Then folks start talking about the ‘new normal’. When that happens, the paradigm has already shifted.

Before the coronavirus hit, the cruise industry was worth one hundred and fifty billion dollars per year. By mid-June 2020, forty thousand employees were reported stranded on board empty ships, working with no pay.

Chinese tourists were predicted to make one hundred sixty million trips abroad this year. Sounds a lot, but it means one in ten celestials would travel overseas, or perhaps one in twenty took two vacations per year—now that sounds more in line with the egalitarian way.

Tourism is fascinating because unlike most other businesses it thrives on externalities—it sells something it doesn’t make. Ancient monuments, stunning views, beautiful beaches, rainforest… my job is to take you there, and charge a premium for the experience.

If when you depart, a legacy of plastic garbage, increased road congestion, and air pollution remains, the tourism industry doesn’t internalize the costs.

I’ve written about this previously, based on personal experience in major cities that have lost their centers to Airbnb—locals have left the old quarters of Barcelona, Venice, and Lisbon as prices skyrocket and local commerce becomes completely de-characterized, selling American food, Netflix latte, and Chinese souvenirs.

Venice received thirty million visitors every year, while the locals migrated to Mestre and other nearby towns—now the streets are devoid of selfie sticks and the canals have seahorses and dolphins.

Work has been completely discombobulated—oooh, another juicy word.

Office space in big cities doesn’t know if it’s Martin or Mandy, all the catering industry that surrounds it—both external and internal—is in crisis, urban transport systems are morphing, and a lot of folks have discovered they’re very happy to work from home.

Education is a real issue—social media have been bad enough in destroying direct human interaction, but home schooling takes away the critical factor of classroom interaction. Kids learn more from other kids than they do from teachers.

So… work, leisure, education… what’s left, relationships? In the UK, which never talks about sex, I saw the health secretary blushing with embarrassment this week when asked by a lady interviewer how the rules applied to relationships.

In plain English (my words, not hers), given the current rules of association, how long do two people need to know each other before they can have a fuck?

I don’t know where we’ll end up, but one thing’s for sure—it’ll be somewhere else.

It’s enough to give you a brain pain, so I’ll leave you with a sensible (and palindromic) recipe.

Stressed?Desserts.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Crazy Islands

September 19, 2020

Perhaps because of the travel freeze, I’ve been dreaming about a faraway setting for my next book—it’ll be a historical novel, building on The India Road and Clear Eyes, and will be set in the sixteenth century.

By the early 1500s, Spain was enthusiastically moving towards the New World—by the turn of the century, Columbus had completed his third voyage to the misnamed Indies—while Portugal expanded its reach in the old world.

Cabral sailed for India in 1500, ‘discovering’ Brazil for Portugal in the process. As I wrote in Clear Eyes, Vicente Yáñez Pinzón discovered Brazil in 1499—there is evidence he landed in Pernambuco, a state in the northeast. However, the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed five years earlier, meant that the new territory was on the Portuguese side of the meridian line splitting the unknown world between the two Iberian nations.

The Wikipedia entry for Pinzon credits him with the discovery of Brazil, whereas the entry for Pernambuco categorically states it was discovered by the Portuguese. This is one of the weaknesses of Wikipedia—when you jump to the second page from the first, the narratives don’t match.

Vasco da Gama sailed again for India in 1502 to consolidate the ‘hostile trading’ approach—gunboats were the essence of his persuasive powers to force the locals to grant  trade monopolies to Portugal.

My main reasons for writing Clear Eyes were to debunk the myth that Columbus was a visionary mariner and to provide a balanced view of the two most important seafaring nations of the time, both located in the Iberian Peninsula. I believe it matters that the whole eastern endeavor was well organized and took decades to plan, whereas the attempt to find a western passage to the Indies was haphazard at best.

The most likely setting for my new book is Indonesia—the Portuguese were most certainly there, as evidenced by words such as gereja (church), jendela (window), and sepatu (shoe). Loanwords that appear in other languages are the linguistic equivalent of a genetic marker and tend to be used for concepts or items that are foreign to the country—churches were certainly a XVIth century novelty in Java and Sumatra, and given the climate, windows and shoes likewise.

Of course, the Portuguese were in search of trade, and their quest took them to the spice islands of Maluku, in eastern Indonesia.

The English, with their natural ear for other languages, mispronounced them Moluccas (Molukken in Dutch), but the etymology is clear—these were the crazy islands (Malucas) of the Portuguese, where the ship’s compass behaved in erratic fashion.

The Ilhas Malucas, from a map drawn in 1613 by Dutch cartographer Johannes Blaeu.

But is that really the origin of the name? The Arabs were in Indonesia from the XIVth century onward—which partly explains why Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation—and the spice islands were apparently called Jazirat al-Muluk, the Island of Kings.

Which raises another interesting question: does the Portuguese word for crazy come from the Arab word for king? In Arabic, crazy is مجنون (majnun). Google Translate spells ‘king’ as malik, but clearly malik and muluk are the same word, just rendered differently in the European alphabet.

The crazy islands are the only places in the world where nutmeg and cloves are grown—in XVIIth century London, ladies held an orange stuck with cloves to their delicate nose to ward off the disgusting smell of running sewers.

Indonesia is a fascinating paradox, so I won’t be short of great material, all of it true—and often much stranger than fiction. As an example, Thailand is renowned for it’s third gender—generally called ladyboys—but Indonesia also has an abundance of transgender folks, a perplexing characteristic for a Muslim country.

In Bahasa Indonesia, the word for woman is wanita, and the word for man is pria—transgenders are termed warias, a contraction of the two words. Many warias are sex workers, but other jobs are also popular—when President Obama lived in Jakarta as a youngster, his nanny, Edie, was a waria.

Given the polygamous nature of Islam, some men have both female wives and waria—a somewhat unusual arrangement in the penis-count department.

One of the main differences between waria and ladyboys is that whereas in Thailand, for many transgenders an aspirational aim is to save money for a sex change, warias are not that keen.

The main reason is religious.

We believe we were born as men and must return to god as men.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Tears of Salt

August 29, 2020

Cod is one of my recurring themes—over the last decade, I wrote three or four articles on the enduring battle between Man and the elements—centuries of expeditions to the fishing grounds of the north Atlantic.

The Portuguese have fished bacalhau in Newfoundland since the XVth century—the earliest records are from 1472, when the Azorean captain Joao Vaz Corte Real first made landfall, christening the territory ‘Terra dos Bacalhaus.’

There are multiple stories of Portuguese journeys further west—and a statue of his son Gaspar in front of the confederation building in St. John’s. The Corte Real family were mariners and armadores—fleet owners—and in search of the lucrative cod grounds, it is entirely possible that the sons, or some of their captains, made landfall and explored parts of eastern Canada.

In these exploits, Joao Vaz and his two sons Miguel and Gaspar were covertly encouraged by the Perfect Prince, John II of Portugal, who was banned by the 1479 Treaty of Alcaçovas from securing overseas possessions north of the Canaries—Las Islas Afortunadas.

All this took place well before the time of John Cabot, the man credited with the European discovery of Canada; there is a strong possibility that the Bay of Fundy was named by the Azorean explorers—with a maximum depth of one hundred nine fathoms, the name  Baía Funda (Deep Bay) is most appropriate—phonetically, the English pronunciation of the two words is practically identical.

Almost all the cod fishermen from mainland Portugal came from one of three locations: the southeastern Algarve, particularly the area around Fuseta, the central town of Aveiro, and the northwestern village of Vila do Conde, near Oporto.

Aveiro has been famous for centuries for its salt—sal, in Portuguese—from which the word salary derives. Considered the best in Europe, it was essential over the centuries for preserving food—and thus surviving winter—prior to refrigeration.

To the south of Aveiro, the small fishing village of Ílhavo was the main source of men who joined the yearly campaigns run by the Salazar government for fishing the Grand Banks.

Some of the men who spent six to eight months of the year fishing for bacalhau in Newfoundland and Greenland, using tiny boats called dories.

The council built a museum to honor the Campanha do Bacalhau, and they have a digital site where you can find any fisherman by name—because of the national obsession with administration, particularly during the control-freak period of fascism, a very complete database is available, which even tells you whether each person had a catholic wedding!

Surnames in Portugal, as in other countries, are regionally distributed—in the photo I selected, most of the fellows called Manuel Pata are from Ilhavo. One of them was a ship captain—I wonder if you can guess from the face which one. If you search for Guerreiro (Warrior), almost all the men are from the Algarve.

The museum is of course conditioned by COVID-19, but it remains open, and its main exhibits are in two adjacent halls, one of which houses a replica of the upper part of a two-mast schooner (lugre, in Portuguese)—although the ones that went on the campaigns that began in the 1930s were four-masters.

Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to board the vessel—I didn’t see any kids on my visit, but there’s nothing kids would remember better than scampering around on the huge deck.

Other parts of the display are less interesting, but next to the ticket office there’s an amazing metal sculpture of a cod—I spent some time trying to discover who made it, and how I can get one for myself—stay tuned.

A few of the old lugres have survived—the Creoula is a naval training ship, and the Santa Maria Manuela was bought and rebuilt by Portugal’s largest cod producer—it now belongs to a major food retailer.

The ship was named after the owner’s wife—she had sixteen kids, so maybe she had the patience of a saint.

Trawlers gradually replaced line fishing, and when the United Nations approved the Law of the Sea and the creation of Exclusive Economic Zones, the game was up.

Life was harsh on board the schooners, with men sleeping at the bow, two to a cot, for only a few hours a night. Fishing started at dawn, which during spring and summer at higher latitudes means 4 a.m., and work often ended only at midnight, by the time fish were salted, livers and tongues removed, gear repaired and stowed.

Brave men, escaping poverty, providing for their family, and paying a terrible price—many of the men were back on the ships every year, during which their children grew up without a father. Dories got lost at sea and in the fog—the Grand Banks are the foggiest place on earth.

Now, how about that captain?

He’s the young guy with the mustache in the bottom row.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Land Ahoy!

August 9, 2020

I spent the week on a boat—a truly responsible vacation in these virus-ridden times—a couple of anchor lengths from the nearest vessel, no strangers around, about as self-isolated as you can get.

The boat was moored five hundred feet from shore, in about three fathoms of water, on the lee of a barrier island in southeast Portugal.

Around me, a number of Spanish yachts, escaping the confusion in their own country, and a few charter craft. At sea, your neighbors change all the time—some folks were day trippers from nearby marinas, others settled in for a few days.

The view from the top, taken with a drone hovering over the mooring area. The beach is just visible on the windward side of the barrier island.

Near my thirty-six footer, small bream meandered, and a dozen grey mullet appeared to live under the hull. Mullet have a varied diet: they’re very fond of detritus and thrive in pretty disgusting conditions—not my cup of tea—but they’re certainly popular in parts of North America.

Years ago, I used to sail every few weeks in a small, open fishing boat on the great estuary of the Tagus—going out in the early morning, with the beautiful city of Lisbon to the northwest, and watching the sun rise over the water.

I’d head out to the tidal flats—about one third of the one hundred-twenty square miles of estuary are dry at low water—that once housed one of Europe’s most important oyster grounds; as we passed the main outlet ditch of the local brewery the smell of hops and malt was thick in the air—back in the day, the effluent went straight into the water.

When we had visitors on board—particularly women—the skipper would pound the hull with his boot and the mullet would start jumping. Invariably, a couple of large fish would leap into the boat, and someone would reach over and tip them back into the water.

The little fish that wandered around my houseboat prompted me to buy a rod—while I was at it, I bought a lure to try and jig some cuttlefish. I had a lot of fun messing around with both, but the fish managed to eat the bait rather than the hook—apparently mullet are particularly good at delicately removing worms or mussels from the line without touching the hook at all.

The boat had a rubber dinghy with an electric motor—barely powerful enough to oppose the current, but very ecological. The wealthy folks on the yachts were content to sunbathe on deck and occasionally lower a jet ski and shatter the calm—no one seemed keen on going ashore.

A COVID dream come true—empty beach for miles and miles.

The outer rim of the island never had anyone on it—you could close your eyes and imagine yourself cast away by pirates. One morning, far away to the west, a small group appeared, bent double near the waterline, picking surf clams. Near them, a fishing rod was buried into the sand, the line extending way out into the Atlantic.

On my last evening, the boat ran out of water—it was more of a nuisance than a problem, but it reminded me that the Portuguese sailors of The India Road were constantly faced with the challenge of shipping enough fresh water for the next leg of their journey.

The all-important refilling of the water barrels was known as the aguada—after Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, he dropped anchor at what is now Mossel Bay—the bay of mussels.

It was the third day of February, and the bay became known as Aguada de São Braz—the Portuguese sailors regularly named bays, capes, and rivers after saints, whereas the Spanish often used royalty.

The coastline therefore became a litany of holy men and women, all of whom had their own assigned day.

São Brás (Saint Blaise), in a painting from the Basilica of San Giulio, Italy.  This saint is particularly good for throat ailments—he might come in handy during these troubled times.

Today is Saint Theresa‘s day, so a Portuguese mariner during the XVth or XVIth centuries might well have named an African Cape or a Malayan island in her honor if the occasion arose.

A nautical chart from that period—and the Portuguese were renowned for their cartography at the time—presented a verifiable timeline that could be cross-checked against a ship’s log. These maps are therefore special, since they contain information about both time and space—and since points of interest were named by different expeditions, we can use the dates to validate the various journeys.

That’s why we’re certain that the first white man to set foot in South Africa, on February 3rd,1488, was Captain Bartolomeu Dias, the sailor who opened up the India Road.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Forego

August 1, 2020

It’s official—the summer vacation, that great European institution, has been beaten by a virus.

Today is the first of August, and a Saturday at that—throughout Europe, that means packed highways as tourists head south and immigrants head home—in case you’re not a local, both travel in the same direction.

But not this year.

Europe is suffering a second round of COVID-19 and politicians are battening down the hatches.

Both Americans and Europeans will forego their traditional holidays, or perhaps we should spell it for ego—politicians have truly screwed this one up, inflated by their egotistical notions of power and self-absorbed in the egoism of electioneering.

Instead, the power lies with the virus, which, unlike the politicians, applies a simple, effective, and consistent strategy. Its requirements are a host, i.e. humans, and a mechanism to spread.

As soon as it finds a host, it uses the typical tools of any coronavirus to propagate: it replicates at a high rate inside the organism and then expels the troops to the environment by making the host sniffle, sneeze, and cough.

Apart from those involuntary lines of attack, humans are for the most part quite content to assist in voluntary ways—they touch themselves and each other, talk in close proximity, travel and live in close quarters, use air conditioning in restaurants—familiarity breeds contempt.

As a result, Americans are drifting in a morass of unhinged and aimless policy (that was the smallest ‘p’ I could find) mainly (mis)directed by hapless politics.

Brazil is a disgrace, compounded by poverty, and it is only one of various Latin American hotspots.

And Europe, still reeling from the first wave, is now gathering steam for the second. Weird ideas like safe corridors for holiday travel, discretionary quarantine impositions that vary in time and space, and bizarre and contradictory advice are rife.

You will, for instance, be pleased to note that Her Majesty’s Government requires no quarantine when traveling to the British Antarctic Territory—bear in mind that may change overnight due to an infected penguin.

Vacation is a first world concept, so the virus has only whipped the Western World, but in so doing, it has demonstrated how easy it is to bring civilization to its knees.

The second wave came early to Europe, it was scheduled for the fall—contrary to the orange man’s empty wisdom, this virus seems quite comfortable with the heat.

And the current flavor of the virus has undoubtedly mutated, but we’re not sure how, and we don’t seem concerned. Is it more virulent? Has it adapted to target younger people? Older?

In the US, all the evidence points to a continuing first wave—both the virus and the debate continue to rage, both now focusing on re-opening schools—Mr. C. is rather looking forward to it.

The late fall will bring the third wave to Europe (the artist formerly known as the second wave), because Europe will once again bring this summer spike under control—by September, the curve will again be flattened, three weeks hence amnesia will resume, and five weeks later Mr. C. will have another go.

But by then it would be winter, as Neil Young famously sang, and Mr. C.’s friends will all come out to play.

In the U.S., as November 3rd approaches, confusion mounts. There’s no guarantee the first wave will subside, and if it does, the second will be rearing its ugly head.

The orang-u-tan will inevitably be thrown out, but the vote will take a while to count, with accusations of rigging spreading faster than Covid in a south Texas barroom.

One thing we should have learned by now—little Mr. C loves uncertainty and confusion.

The year is 2020, and we could be back in the Dark Ages—medical knowledge is replaced by whimsy, and the US stock market surges on borrowed cash while Main Street wilts.

And humans do what they love best—mass debate.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Deposition

July 12, 2020

There are six monarchies in the European Union.

Back in the days of the EU28, The most emblematic monarchy, and certainly the one that had most Netflix seasons, was the British royal family—a source of parody as far back as I can remember.

Some of the European monarchies are so self-effacing as to be almost invisible externally. I doubt that many Europeans could tell you whether Denmark is a monarchy or a republic, and the same is probably true of Belgium or the Netherlands.

Kingdoms are a paradox for me, having grown up in a republic. On the one hand, European kings have been institutionally neutered, so the practical consequences of having a head of state who is elected or one chosen by god are similar, at least in systems where the executive power lies with an elected government. On the other, divine right has always struck me as an aberration.

In countries such as France, which have a presidential system, power is vested in one man—this requires strong institutions to ensure balance and equity. if there’s one thing humans discovered over the last three thousand years in their quest for social structure, it is that you cannot put too much power in the hands of a single person.

Put another way: if you give someone power, they will abuse it.

The political castration of the European monarchy does project the power of the prime minister—in the UK, Bojo is not concerned with trivialities such as presidential vetoes, as the head of government of a European republic might be.

The monarchy generates affection, even love, whereas presidents don’t—hardly anyone knows about the family of the head of state of Austria or Portugal, but the comings and goings of blue blood are a source of constant discussion—almost as if their antics are happening in your own family, or to a close friend.

The Brit royals supply an endless source of gossip—internal plots and power grabs, financial scandals, adultery, and even the recent Epstein drama—plenty of material for the coming Netflix n’chill season.

Spain, and particularly the ex-king of Spain, comes a close second. I’m not sure the Spanish love their royals as the English do, and the country has twice been a republic—it’s first bout lasted exactly one year, when the king was replaced by a dictator in 1874—not a huge improvement on the status quo.

On April 14th, 1931, a second, ill-fated republic was born. It led to the gruesome Spanish Civil War—less than four generations ago, for anyone who thinks this is ancient history! Many young people these days are lucky enough to have a grandparent in their eighties, and they will recall these events from childhood memories.

Franco, who was a big part of my youth, took power in 1939 and became the longest-serving dictator in modern European history, from 1939 until 1975. In 1947, the Caudillo declared that he was in fact a regent for the Spanish king—in so doing, he took a leaf out of history—many an illegitimate ruler has used the umbrella of regency to govern.

In the meantime, Prince Juan Carlos was educated in Spain, after some resistance from Franco. In 1975, just after the Portuguese revolution, Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias finally ascended to the Spanish throne.

Franco’s hold on power was over. In next-door Portugal, where the new king of Spain had spent his childhood, revolution was in the street.

Demonstration in central Lisbon for gay rights in 1974. Revolutionary street art, seen on walls that had never been touched by graffiti, was often very funny.

The anarquists, known locally as Anarcas, had some of the funniest wall art, and certainly the most pithy sayings. Liberdade às sardinhas em lata, or freedom for tinned sardines, was one of them—another was Franco no espeto, a play on the phrase ‘chicken on the spit’, a local delicacy.

The concept of the ageing Spanish dictator on a rotisserie skewer was irresistible to a country with new-found freedom, rooting for its neighbors who were still imprisoned in the straightjacket of fascism.

Over the years, the Spanish king has been involved in a number of scandals, in true royal tradition. Several of these involved the fair sex—a Castilian Catedrático once told my father, lowering his voice to a stage whisper, “Los Borbones son muy mujerengos!

Whether or not that’s a general trait of the male members (excuse the pun) of the House of Bourbon, it certainly applied to Juan Carlos. Spain doesn’t have the tabloid enthusiasm of the British press, but of late the more ‘serious’ papers have been referring to the retired monarch’s ‘ex-friend’ Corinna Larsen.

The Spanish have a habit of dropping the hyphen, so the lady in question, once married into the aristocratic Wittgenstein family, is euphemistically referred in the Spanish press as the king’s examiga, or exfriend—the implication is she dropped more than a hyphen.

The scandal now consuming Spain provides some much-needed light relief from COVID-19, and adds some spicy seasoning to the whole affair.

It includes alleged threats to the examiga by the Spanish intelligence agency CNI, and more recently, revelations that Juan Carlos received a one hundred million dollar gift from Saudi Arabia’s king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, for his role in ‘facilitating’ a contract for a high-speed rail link between Mecca and Medina, known as AVE del desierto.

The project cost sixteen billion dollars, so a hundred mil is small potatoes—less than one percent—but the king apparently placed his gift in Switzerland, and subsequently used the money to help his examiga buy property. The lady in question allegedly told a prosecutor in 2018 that she received sixty-five million euros from the monarch—at the time still king of Spain—out of ‘gratitude and love.’

Now that’s a whole lotta love.

And it probably explains why the former king decided to step down in 2019.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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