The Northern Penguin

Auk

The final confirmed sighting of a nesting pair of Great Auks was off Iceland on July 3rd, 1844 when a pair were killed.  The Auk became a victim of it’s increasing rarity.  As the species dwindled museums and collectors across Europe competed with each other to secure specimens of the birds and their eggs.  As the prices rose the collectors stepped up the hunt until the last birds were found and killed.

Icelandic sailors Jón Brandsson and Sigurður Ísleifsson strangled the adults and Ketill Ketilsson accidentally cracked the last egg of the species with his boot during the struggle on the island of Eldey.

The Great Auk was the only “modern” bird in the genus Pinguinus.  None of the Antarctic Penguins alive today are related to the Auk and none of them belong to the genus pinguinus.  But it was the resemblance of southern penguin species to the Great Auk that led to them being called Penguins.

An important source of food for humans since neanderthals walked the earth they provided much needed winter protein for native american tribes.  But it was their downy feathers that doomed them.  They were harvested widely for feathers.  They were also used as a convenient source of fresh food by explorers and fishermen, who would herd flocks of them on to their ships for provisions.

The feather collectors used the oily birds as fuel for cooking fires on the desolate rocks on which they lived.

Ah, but those were different times, you say.  We wouldn’t do that these days.  Would we?

Man is still wiping the planet clean of species after species in our pursuance of depletion economics.  Every  business targets growth, and few of them ever pause to consider how this growth impacts the planet.  How much is too much?  How much is enough.  When will we begin to live on this planet within our means?

Because if mankind cannot live within our means, we will go the way of the Auk.

A caution to everybody by Ogden Nash

Consider the auk;
becoming extinct because he forgot how to fly, and could only walk.
Consider man, who may well become extinct
because he forgot how to walk and learned how to fly before he thinked.

 

 

Skerries

LE_Roisin_at_Rockall

A skerry is a small islet or rocky reef, generally uninhabitable because they are washed by the sea in storms.  The word skerry derives from the Norse sker which is a rock in the sea.  It derives from the older proto-indo-european word sker meaning to cut.

Some say this refers to the fact that a skerry is a rock cut off from the mainland.  As a sailor I wonder if it refers to the result should you cross a skerry by accident.  It cuts a hole in your hull.

The SS Norge did exactly that on the Hasselwood rock, on the 24th of June 1904.  A Danish liner, she sank for the loss of 635 people.  Hasselwood rock is a skerry that lies just to the north of the contested Rockall, which lies far out in the North Atlantic between Ireland, Scotland, Faroe and Iceland.

Rockall has been claimed by the UK for many years, but the claim is contested because the rock is uninhabitable.  The huge Atlantic storm waves regularly break over the entire rock.  They officially claimed the rock in 1955, which would have made it the last imperial acquisition of the UK, if anyone had accepted it.  Nobody does.  But they did stick a plaque on the rock.

In 1971 the Royal Engineers and Royal Marines were dropped onto the rock by helicopter.  They used explosives to level a pad on the top of the rock, and this level base was the site for installation of a beacon.  They also installed another plaque to establish that the British owned the rock.

In 1978 the members of the Dangerous Sports Club held a cocktail party on the rock, and stole the 1971 plaque.

In 1985 survival expert Tom McClean lived on the rock for the month of June, and a little bit of May and July.  His occupation record was expunged when Greenpeace spent 42 days on the rock in 1997.  They wanted to protest any attempt to exploit the waters for fossil fuels.  It was around this time that the 1955 plaque seems to have disappeared.

Nick Hancock holds the current record at 45 days.

Visiting and claiming ownership of the rock has become something of a standing joke at the expense of the British Crown.  But Rockall will never become an “Insta” prize.  It is not an easy place to reach and a harder place to stay.  Still, I guess it’s only a matter of time before some intrepid instagrammer loses their life for the shot of a lifetime.

 

The Rock in the Sea; by Archibald MacLeish

Think of our blindness where the water burned!
Are we so certain that those wings, returned
and turning, we had half discerned
before our dazzled eyes had surely seen
the bird aloft there, did not mean? —
Our hearts so seized upon the sign!

Think how we sailed up-wind, the brine
tasting of daphne, the enormous wave
thundering in the water cave —
thunder in stone. And how we beached the skiff
and climbed the coral of that iron cliff
and found what only in our hearts we’d heard —
the silver screaming of that one, white bird:
The fabulous wings, the crimson beak
that opened, red as blood, to shriek
and clamor in that world of stone,
no voice to answer but its own.

What certainty, hidden in our hearts before,
found in the bird its metaphor?

 

Mad Mann

Gérard Dicks Pellerin 
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Canadian author Elizabeth Smart was introduced to the English poet George Barker by Lawrence Durrell at a writers colony in Big Sur in California.  After an affair Smart became pregnant and returned to Ottawa to have the baby.  The married Barker tried to visit her but her father, a prominent lawyer, notified the American authorities who arrested Barker under the Mann act in 1940.

The Mann act, passed on this day in 1910, is an interesting piece of nominative determinism.  Also called the “White-Slave Traffic Act” it was designed to prevent the for-commerce transportation of female prostitutes.  The act was famously misused by authorities it its lifetime.  Jack Johnson the black boxer was arrested twice and convicted under the act for travelling with a white woman.  She later became his wife.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Chuck Berry, Charles Manson and Charlie Chaplin were also arrested under the act.

When the act was employed to frustrate the affair of two writers it spawned novels by both Smart and Barker.  Smart wrote the poetry prose novel  “By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept”, published in 1945.  Barker published “The Dead Seagull” in 1950.  The couple went on to have 4 of Barker’s 15 children together.

In a bizarre coincidence another Elizabeth Smart, a Mormon from Salt Lake City,  was abducted by Brian David Mitchell and  his wife Wanda Ileen Barzee in 2002.  Smart escaped nine months later and Mitchell was charged and convicted under the Mann act.

To my Mother; by George Barker

Most near, most dear, most loved and most far,
under the window where I often found her
sitting as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter,
gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand,
irresistible as Rabelais, but most tender for
the lame dogs and hurt birds that surround her –
She is a procession no one can follow after
but be like a little dog following a brass band.

She will not glance up at the bomber, or condescend
to drop her gin and scuttle to a cellar,
but lean on the mahogany table like a mountain
whom only faith can move, and so I send
O all my faith, and all my love to tell her
that she will move from mourning into morning.

Happy Juneteenth

England

Juneteenth is a holiday that originated in Galveston Texas, two years after emancipation.  It marks the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read a proclamation that informed the slaves in Texas that they were free.  It is known variously as Freedom day, Liberation day and Jubilee day.

A song closely associated with this day is “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, a negro song thought to have been used by slaves as a code to navigate the underground railroad.  It  has been adopted by English Rugby as an anthem for their team.  It began life when Chris Oti, the first English black player for 80 years, scored a hat-trick of tries against Ireland in 1988.  The RFU is actively working to replace it with a less racially charged anthem.

Here is a poem to America that serves as the polar opposite to the Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” slogan.  It is a perfect Juneteenth poem.  Someone should print LABAA hats.

 

Let America Be America Again: Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

The last king of Rome

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When he was 21 years of age the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered the unconquerable city:  Constantinople.  He is known as Mehmed the Conqueror for this reason.

What is less known is that he presented his rule as a continuation of the Empire of Rome  instead of a conquest.  He named himself Caesar of Rome – Qayser-i Rûm intending his rule to be a continuation of the Roman Civilization that began some 2,206 years before the capital fell to him in 1453.  His successors did not continue the practice, but we may say that Mehmed was the last Caesar, the last Emperor of Rome.

When a man who besieged and conquered the greatest city on Earth comes to your pesky little fort in Wallachia you pretty much know that there is little to be gained by hiding behind the walls.  This was the astute assessment of Vlad III Dracula known as “The Impaler”.  This is how the Night Attack at Targoviste was born.

On June 17th, 1462 the Wallachian Prince threw the dice in a winner takes all gambit.  He assembled his knights and launched attack after attack on the Turkish encampment in an attempt to assassinate the Sultan of the Turks.  It was a night of confusion and slaughter as the mounted knights made charge after charge into the encampment.

Ultimately the attacks failed because they did not kill Mehmet that night.  Ultimately the attacks succeeded because the Ottoman Army withdrew.  Faced with such passionate and suicidal bravery Mehmed realised that his life was in very real danger.  A number of Pashas; senior officers in Tents very close to the Sultan, had been killed.  So the Turks made for home and steered a course south.

On their retreat they encountered a further demonstration of the resolve of the Romanians.  They passed through the “Forest of Death” where Vlad had impaled 23,844 turks (he recorded the exact number in a letter to Matthias Corvinus).  The Sultan and his troops filed past the corpses of tens of thousands of men, women and children.  It was a clear and unequivocal statement of intent from the Romanians to the Turks.

Mehmed II was a poet who wrote under the pen name Avni and many of his poems are dedicated to his lover, a beautiful foreign boy:

The roses of your cheeks, they made my tongue a nightingale.
The locks on your forehead, they made me desire, lose my mind.

If the fruit of love is for lovers, the worry and grief,
thank God, they have many for us, the fruits of your love.

The breeze is powerless to untangle the ends of your locks.
No, it is not easy to resolve the difficulties at all!

What is the relationship came between us, as the nectar from the lips of the beloved,
this poison of grief is halva for me, but for the rival, the poison of assassins?

How many enlightened men became insane by your love!
How many sensible men have gone mad with desire for you!

To what good is the saying: “Let the arrows of his eyelashes murder you!”?
They are brave inexperienced people who hold such remarks.

O Avni! If one day you were on a pilgrimage to the temple of the Magi*
you would have seen the lights of the wine candles illuminating the company!

 

 

 

Friday Night Dinner

Friday Night

Last night we tried out a new restaurant:  Féte du Vendredi Soir.  It’s a bijou (very small) bistro hidden away in the countryside of County Tipperary, near Cashel.  Very hard to find, they have no website and are not on Trip Advisor.  Even harder to get reservations.  But they say you can find all the best people here.  Tamsin Greig is a regular and I heard that Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal have dined here.

We were lucky to get a table for our Wedding Anniversary.  The menu is set, there is no choice.  The chefs decide on it based on what they have available.  One week it could be squirrel, the next it could be soused herrings, always a surprise.  Louise, being a vegetarian, was delighted that our main was a mezze maniche rigate with a wild mushroom sauce.  I love the name of that pasta “striped half sleeves”.

When we arrived we were greeted with cocktails, a big G&T for me and a Mojito for Louise.  Her mint clearly came from the restaurant kitchen garden.  In the bistro you are dining in a half open kitchen, so you can see the chefs at work, smell the bread baking and hear all the clitter-clatter of a busy restaurant kitchen.  A little bit of “Gordon Ramsay” style shouting was going on between the head chef and the maître D which is a form of entertainment in itself, like watching Fawlty Towers.

The vibe was very chill, some great music playing in the background, Lou Reed, Kinks, ELO, Bryan Adams, Mungo Jerry, Rolling Stones etc.  Kind of a psychedelic rock theme.

The food was quite simple, but truly excellent.  When someone gives you a dish of salt, oil and bread it doesn’t sound like much.  But the bread is fresh baked out of the oven, first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and Breton grey sea salt – Gros Sel de l’ile de Ré.  When you taste it you understand the difference between what you can do in your own kitchen and the magic of a trained professional chef who selects the best ingredients.  That attention to the smallest details is what Michelin Stars are awarded for.

The service was excellent, a good balance between personable attentiveness without being intrusive.  Our glasses were never allowed to run dry.

Our journey through the menu was a voyage of the senses.  In a period of quarantine lockdown we had a tour of the Mediterranean.  Olives from Greece, white wine and pasta from Italy, red wine wine from Southern France, then to Canada for the Moose.

Dining here is not cheap, but let’s say no more about the price, because it is worth every penny.

As Bread and Salt; Janina Degutytė (trans Marija Stankus-Saulaitis)

Through a high gate, decorated
with wreaths and slogans…
Through a high gate
I enter
like a guest
the dale,
encompassed by woods, clouds, and flights of swans.
And I accept
with lips chapped by north winds
the black night and the white day
as bread and salt.

Bread and salt

Stay the course

Stay the Course

Sun Tzu and Terence McSwiney agree on this point.  It is not the side that can inflict the most, but those who can endure the most who will conquer.  It is a constant source of argument in military theory:  which side suffers most casualties; winners or losers?

In ancient Greece when battles were decided head to head on the field by two infantry armies it was accepted that the winning side often lost the most men.  By the time one side broke the winning side was so exhausted they were in no fit state to give chase.

This dynamic changed dramatically with the introduction of cavalry.  No horse alive will charge a well formed phalanx, but a routed enemy is manna to the cavalryman.  Any enemy who could not retire from the field in good order was sabre fodder.

The dynamic changed again with the introduction of artillery, especially mobile horse artillery, to the battlefield.  A solid infantry square was safe against marauding cavalry, but sitting ducks for artillery.  Dispersing to avoid the cannon fire opens your lines to the cavalry.  The Napoleonic wars were choreographed by the interplay between infantry, cavalry and artillery.

With the development of the rifle musket in the 1850’s the dynamic changed again.  The effective rifle range switched overnight from 3/4 rounds per minute at around 50 yards to 5/6 rounds per minute at 1,000 yards range.  The days of bright coloured lines of infantry standing toe to toe on the open field were over.  The US Civil War demonstrated that in such circumstances a defensive force with prepared earthworks could wreak havoc on forces attacking over open ground.

In WW1 the Western Front signaled the death of the horse on the battlefield.  The swan song of the horse in modern warfare was probably the charge of the Australian Mounted Infantry on Turkish Positions in Palestine.

Then at the end of the First World War the tiny forces of the IRA fought the all conquering British Army and Militarized Police to a standstill in Ireland, by enduring the most.

By the end of the Second World War it appeared that the infantryman with his rifle was almost redundant in a world of fighters, bombers, A-bombs, Aircraft Carriers and attack helicopters.  And then there was Vietnam when the people demonstrated again that it is the side that can endure the most who will conquer.  Despite overwhelming superiority of the USA in kill ratio and military technology they still lost.

Given the lack of appetite of the American people for losses in war raises many questions for the presence of US forces in far off battlefields like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq or Somalia.  If you are prepared to quit, don’t start.

 

Don’t Quit; by John Greenleaf Whittier
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
when the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
when the funds are low and the debts are high
and you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
when care is pressing you down a bit,
rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
as every one of us sometimes learns
and many a failure comes about
when he might have won had he stuck it out;
don’t give up though the pace seems slow —
you may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out —
the silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
and you never can tell just how close you are,
it may be near when it seems so far;
so stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit —
it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit

Translating Federico

Cordoba

Patio of the Oranges at the Mosque in Cordoba

 

If you follow this blog you know I have a special place in my heart for Federico Garcia Lorca.  Today is his birthday, born June 5th 1898 as Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca.  This translates as Frederick Sacred Heart of Jesus García Lorca.  Which gives some clue to the conservative Catholic religious nature of the Spain into which he was born.

An Andalusian he was born, an Andalusian he died. His birthplace, Fuentes Vaqueros (Cowboy Springs) is near to Granada, one of the three great Moorish cities of Andalusia in Southern Spain.  He was murdered in Fuente Grande (Big Spring) during the Spanish Civil War because as a homosexual artist with a mighty pen he represented everything the Conservative Nationalists were fighting to defend Spain against.  Liberalism, futurism, surrealism, atheism, anarchism, communism, education, anti-capitalism.

Many think the poem below was foreshadowing his death.  The hooks are certainly appealing, the boy born in Cowboy Springs – Vaquero/Jinete.  Born in one spring, died at another.  I didn’t like any of the translations I found, so this is my own from the original.

 

 

Rider’s Song (Canción del jinete); by Federico Garcia Lorca (Trans. D. Clancy)

Cordoba, far and distant.

Black pony, full moon,
and olives in my pack.
Although I know the ways
I’ll never reach Cordoba.

Across the plain, against the wind,
black pony, red moon.
Death seeks me out
from the towers of Cordoba.

How long the road!
How brave my pony!
But death awaits me
before I reach Cordoba!

Cordoba, far and distant.

POTUSterity

Trump Failure

Victor Juhasz: Rolling Stone

On the birthday of Walt Whitman it is interesting to note that the great American poet left some profound poetic tributes to the legacy of his president Abraham Lincoln.

How distant does this seem from the legacy that will follow the current POTUS?

O Captain! my Captain:  Walt Whitman (1865 on the death of Lincoln)

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
the ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
the port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
while follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
where on the deck my Captain lies,
fallen cold and dead …

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d:  Walt Whitman (1865)

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
and the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
and thought of him I love …

abraham-lincolns-death-picture

Riot or Rebellion?

Riot Language

The sun dawns after the third night of rioting in American cities, centered in  Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by a policeman.  The incident was a mirror of a story arc in the hit TV Series: Orange is the New Black.  Poussey Washington is killed by a Prison Guard kneeling on her neck, and Litchfield penitentiary explodes into a riot and an inmate takeover.

It is doubly poignant that today is the birthday of Countee Cullen, a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance which wrenched a black cultural identity from the grasping hands of the white American establishment.  A movement created by the grandchildren of the freed slaves who were shown a glimpse of freedom before being re-enslaved in poverty, landlessness, segregation and a raft of penal laws known now as Jim Crow.

It is triply poignant that this is the anniversary of the memorial day massacre.  “On Memorial Day, May 30, 1937, police opened fire on a parade of striking steel workers and their families at the gate of the Republic Steel Company, in South Chicago. Fifty people were shot, of whom 10 later died; 100 others were beaten with clubs.” (Dorothy Day)

As cities across the USA burn the frightened middle class want the violence to stop.  They are saying that this is not the way to get the message through.  But lets face it – velvet revolutions are few and far between.  Rebellion generally ends up with blood on the streets.  The elite do not give up power easily.

Since 2016 Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand during the National Anthem at American Football Games.  For 6 years you white Americans have turned your backs and closed your ears to this Canary in the Coalmine.  Kaepernick was the gentle force for change.    “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”  The reaction of the white middle class was to criticize Kaepernick as being un-American.

There is a loaded term if ever you had one.  Remember the McCarthy Era and the Committee on un-American activities?

The problem of course is not the black people.  They just want justice and a fair society.

The problem is not the President, the Mayor or the Governor.  They are the grasping establishment who want to keep what they control.  Donald Trump defiles the presidency, tweeting the words of a famous racist from 1967, Miami police Chief Walter Headley who originated the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.  Trump joins the ranks of the Emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome burned, and Marie Antoinette with “let them eat cake”.  But while he is a joke, he is not the problem.

The problem is the police.  In the USA as in no other nation the police are the henchmen of capitalism.  They are the oppressive agents of the establishment.  In other countries the Police Force is there to maintain civil wellbeing.  If the establishment acts against the people then the police eventually protect the people because the police are the people.

When the police in the USA wake up they will see they are standing on the wrong side of the riot.  That is the moment when the riot stops…. and the rebellion begins.

The Wise; by Countee Cullen

Dead men are wisest, for they know
how far the roots of flowers go,
how long a seed must rot to grow.

Dead men alone bear frost and rain
on throbless heart and heatless brain,
and feel no stir of joy or pain.

Dead men alone are satiate;
they sleep and dream and have no weight,
to curb their rest, of love or hate.

Strange, men should flee their company,
or think me strange who long to be
wrapped in their cool immunity.