Hogging and Sagging

ZhengHe

July 10th 1405 is the supposed date of departure for the first of the “discovery” voyages of Admiral Zheng He.  There is a lot of hyperbole given out about these voyages and many Chinese compare them to the European voyages of discovery.  There is also a lot of boasting about the size of the ships involved.

Zheng He was a Muslim eunuch, scion of a famous Persian lineage which served the Mongol Empire.

The notion that he “discovered” anything is a little silly.  The Arabs had been sailing the seven seas since Sinbad was a boy in the 9th century and by the 15th Century when Zheng He weighed anchor their trade routes were well documented.  All he did was follow the Arabic trade routes to establish the bona fides of the Chinese Court from Africa to the far East.

The other great claim is that he built the largest wooden ships in the world.  It may be true that they were the largest when they were sailing, but it is debatable if they were as big as claimed.  There are limits to the size of vessels imposed by physics.  The largest documented wooden sailing ship, the Wyoming at 137 metres, was a six masted schooner built in 1909 in Maine, USA.  She suffered horribly from hogging and sagging in heavy seas.

Hogging occurs when a ship is on top of a wave supported by the middle section.  A very long ship can bend down at the fore and aft sections, since they are unsupported.  The opposite, sagging, occurs when the fore and aft are supported on two waves, leaving the mid-ship suspended, causing the vessel to sag in the middle.

The cumulative effect of hogging and sagging over time is to twist the planking in the hull, causing leaky seams.  Wyoming needed constant work at the pumps to keep her from flooding.  She eventually sank in heavy seas in 1924.

The Chinese claim Zheng He’s flagships, his nine masted treasure ships, were even longer and much wider than the Wyoming.  They probably employed a very different type of construction, far bulkier and more rigid.  Also the nine masts were likely far shorter than those of an American Schooner.  Chinese Junk Rigs use shorter masts with fully battened sails.  It would be no surprise that a ship the length of Wyoming would need more, shorter masts to drive it.

The fleet of 317 ships carrying 30,000 men was undoubtedly impressive and you get the sense that these voyages were intended to leave the world in awe of the power of the Ming dynasty.  The intention may have been to exert Chinese control over the Indian Ocean trade.

Ultimately it was not the Chinese who subdued the Indian Ocean.  Vasco da Gama returned to Portugal from India in 1499, just scraping in as the 15th Century voyager who had the most significant impact on world history.  He set out with 4 ships, none longer than 30 metres, and 170 men.  Sometimes size is not everything.

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 
a-1640xl
pc065135
09-01-04

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.

Chicken Marengo

ChickenMarengo

One of my bucket list meals is to eat a proper Chicken Marengo on the 14th of June.  It is very difficult to get the dish, and this is reflected in the difficulty of getting a decent free to view photo of it.  The free photos of Chicken Marengo on the internet are dreadful, and seem to be taken by people who don’t know what they are cooking.

First let’s understand the Battle of Marengo and why it was such a celebration and so important to Napoleon.  Bonaparte had just returned from his victories in Egypt and was appointed First Consul of France, but he was at this stage just another lucky general.  Defeating Mamelukes was just not the same as defeating a scientific Western army like the Prussians, Russians or the mighty Austrians.

Napoleon took his army over the Alps into Italy in a moment subsequently celebrated with heroic portraits of the Emperor astride a prancing stallion on the mountainous tracks.  In fact he crossed on a mule.

His army was in bad shape.  Many of his troops were barefoot, starving and sick.  The French moved over the country in loose formation to maximize the ability of the men to live off the land.  This spread a wide net to catch the Austrian Army, but ensured that the French would be weak when the two sides engaged.

The French fought a number of battles in the Italian campaign but matters came to a decisive head at Marengo on June 14th, 1800.  At first when the retreating Austrian army turned to fight Napoleon thought it was merely a diversionary tactic by the rear-guard to cover the retreat.  But the Austrians had other ideas.

Napoleon spent the morning fighting, and losing, and praying that his calls to his distributed divisions would bring him reinforcements in the afternoon.  The Austrian commander Von Melas, was so sure of victory that he handed mopping up operations to his inferiors and retired from the field with his senior staff.  When Louis Desaix, commander of Bonaparte’s reinforcements arrived ahead of his 6,000 men Napoleon asked his opinion of the situation.  The legendary comment:  “This battle is completely lost. However, there is time to win another.”

And win they did, an unexpected and highly significant victory that assured Napoleon of his place at the top table in France.  The Austrians came to the negotiation table and ceded Italy.

After the battle the story goes, Napoleon’s chef was in a conundrum.  He was supposed to make a meal to celebrate a great victory but had little to work with.  He sent his foragers out in the local area to see what they could find.  They came back with a chicken and some eggs, crayfish, tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, oil.  The chef chopped up the chicken using a military sabre because his cooking equipment was miles away, escaping an expected defeat.

He made a sauce of the tomato, onion, garlic and herbs and “borrowed” some Cognac from Napoleon’s personal supply. He fried the chicken in olive oil, boiled the crayfish, fried the eggs and added some rough bread from the military supplies.

Although the chef was embarrassed at the rude assembly Napoleon loved it and refused to permit changes to the recipe.  He considered it a lucky dish and called for it frequently.

The truth is a proper Chicken Marengo is just not very photogenic.  It is a rough peasant meal and that’s how it should look.

If you go to a restaurant and they offer you Marengo with pasta, rice, or potatoes, it’s not Marengo.  If they replace the crayfish with lobster thermidor or Dublin bay prawns then it’s not Marengo.  If they serve it in a Provencal sauce – not Marengo.

 

 

 

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

Венера-6

Venera6

On May 17th 1969 the Soviet Union dropped the Venera 6 probe into the Venusian atmosphere, one day after deploying the Venera 5 probe.  While the USA were focused on putting men on the moon the CCCP were continuing their series of explorations of Venus.

The Venera program ran from 1961 with the failure of Venera 1 until the successful  Venera 16 stopped sending data in 1984.

The Venera 5 and Venera 6 probes were deemed successful missions.  Each operated for over 50 minutes as they descended by parachute through the atmosphere, sending back data to Russia.

In 1972 the Russians recorded the first successful landing of a craft on another planet with the Venera 8 lander.  Venera 7 had landed successfully but rolled awkwardly and was able to send back only very limited data, so was deemed a failure.

In 1975 the Venera 9 lander returned the first images from another planet.

If Nasa and the Soviet Union had maintained the momentum of the 1960’s and 70’s we would have a colony on Mars today.  Now it seems that Mars may be the story of commercial space exploration.  SpaceX, the Elon Musk led agency is working on the Big Falcon rocket to ship cargo in 2022 with a plan to send men in 2024.

The Russians and Europeans have developed the EXOMARS2020 program combining an ESA Rover and an ROSCOSMOS landing platform.  To this day the Russians are still building the best launch vehicles.  If you want to put a man in space you talk to the Russians.

NASA have a rover mission on the books for 2020.

The Chinese plan a Mars landing in 2020.

The UAE Space Agency also plan a Mars mission in 2021.

It may now be time to start thinking about how the solar system will be carved up.  Will it become a new Antarctica, dedicated to science in favour of national or commercial interests?  Or will the solar system become another “Scramble for Africa” as nations and businesses compete to establish exclusive ownership of areas of planets, asteroids or even areas of space?

 

Emporium

Emporium

For some reason when I hear the word  “Emporium” I always think of a Victorian style sweet shop, with high ceilings packed to the rafters with shelves choc-a-block with jars of the most tempting treats.

An Emporium is more than a shop.  It is a shop with notions.  It is a shop that has ambitions to become a chain, an empire, to gain imperium, a shop fit for an emperor.

The truth is that it has nothing to do with latin terms such as imperator or imperium.  The root of the word emporium lies in Greek, where emporion was the word for a trading post.  Greeks were great traders and most of their colonies began life as simple trading posts.

The oldest city in France, Marseille, began life as an emporion of the Phokaians.  Founded in 600 BC by Greek traders from the Bay of Smyrna, the modern Turkish city of Izmir.  Civilized Greeks from Asia minor trading with the hairy barbarians of the wild west.

So now that I know this I guess when I hear about an Emporium in future I will think more along the lines of one of these.

Trading Post

Fishing for what?

Chania

I was in Crete back in the early 1980’s and came down with a bit of a bug in Chania.  I didn’t feel up to much and ended up spending a day by myself.

I saw all these guys fishing the old Venetian harbour.  So I found a tackle shop and bought a cheap fishing pole.  I stopped at a bakery and bought a couple of bread rolls.  Then I set up at a lamppost on the harbour, baited my line and started to fish.

One of the many stray cats emerged from the shadows and sat beside me on the off-chance that I might catch something.  I dangled my hook in the water and attracted a shoal of gudgeons too small to catch, which nevertheless made free with my bait.

A tourist stopped and asked “Deutch?”.  “Nein” says I “Irlander”.  “Hollander?” he asks.  “Nein, Irland, EeeerLand”.   In halting English he asks how the fishing is.  I say it’s so-so. And he moves off.

My French was marginally better, my leaving cert honours French facilitated the skeleton of a conversation and that guy went off satisfied, with a dreamy gait, head in the clouds of fond memories.

His place is taken by an English tourist.  He tells me of the great fishing he did as a youth. And so the day progressed.  I realised that what I lacked in fish I more than made up for in tourists.  Mostly middle aged men with fond memories of fishing as lads, who saw in me the hyper-real simulacrum of their perfect youth.  I caught story after story on the wall of that ancient harbour.

I did eventually catch a couple of tiddlers, much to the relief of my cat.  And when I packed up and collapsed my pole I judged it a day well spent.

 

Fishing On The Susquehanna In July: by Billy Collins

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure — if it is a pleasure —
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one —
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table —
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia,

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandana

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

Courage to face despair.

argoo

Tim Severin’s reconstruction of The Odyssey Ship

Jessie Redmon Fauset was born this day, April 27th in 1882 and was one of the contributing poets to the Harlem Renaissance.   More importantly her work portrayed images of African-Americans as working professionals, challenging embedded racial stereotypes.  As literary editor of the NAACP magazine “The Crisis” she promoted the work of writers including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay.

She taught a generation of African-Americans to honestly represent their racial qualities and to celebrate them; to be black, and be proud.  She challenged the inbuilt racism of African-Americans themselves where lighter toned people looked down upon the darker and few drops of mongrel white blood were valued over pure black ichor.

She tried but was arguably less successful at teaching women to represent their gender qualities and to celebrate them.  She is now recognised for her work as a feminist and her promotion of feminist writers.

The poem below derives from Homers Odyssey and the tale of the Lotus Eaters.  But it appears Fauset has taken her cue from Alfred Lord Tennyson who wrote of Ulysses as opposed to Odysseus and used the ‘Lotos’ spelling in his poem “The Lotos-Eaters”.

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
in the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
on the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.

 

‘Courage!’ He Said; by Jessie Redmon Fauset

ULYSSES, debarking in the Lotos Land,
struck the one note that the hapless Ithacans
travel-sick, mazed, bemused, could understand,
and understanding, follow.

‘Courage,’ he said, ‘remember, is not Hope!’
He left the worn, safe ship, spume-stained and hollow.
‘To be courageous is to face despair.’
And through the groves and ‘thwart the ambient air
resounded reedy echoes:
‘Face despair!’
But this they understood.
And plunging on prepared for best, and most prepared
for worst, found only in their stride
a deep umbrageous wood,
and grassy plains where they disported; eased
and bathed lame’ feet within a purling stream
and murmured: ‘Here, Odysseus, would we fain abide!’
But neither the stream’s sweet ease
nor the shade of the vast beech-trees,
nor the blessed sense
of the sweet, sweet soil
beneath feet salt-cracked and worn
brought to them even then,
(still fainting and frayed and forlorn),
such complete recompense
as the knowledge that once again
facing the new and untried,
they had kept the courage of men!

What Folly

Desert_View_Watchtower_Panorama

The original definition of a Folly was “a costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder”.  In this regard the Marino Casino in Fairview, Dublin, Ireland is the perfect example of a folly.  Constructed by James Caulfeild, the 1st Earl of Charlemont on his grand estate, it was built as a residence for his daughter.  A diminutive and perfect example of neo-classical Italian style architecture constructed in the 1760’s and 1770’s.

Caulfeild and his architect, William Chambers, spent a fortune on the dwelling to construct an optical illusion. They toured Europe for inspiration, sourced materials from all over the world, such as the timber used to construct the parquet floors.

From a distance it looks like a single room pavillion decorated with columns, porticos, urns and classical friezes.  Within it is a perfectly proportioned and very human scale three bedroom house with kitchen and workrooms in the basement, reception rooms on the ground floor and bedrooms hidden on a second story that is invisible from outside.

The beauty of Marino Casino is that it is the only building remaining after the destruction of the Charlemont Estate.  Built to enhance the view from the main house, it now stands as a kind of symbol to the impermanence of power.  Like the head of Ozymandias.

The photo above shows the Indian Watchtower at Desert View on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  It is neither Indian nor a Watchtower.  It is another beautiful folly.

Designed by Mary Colter, the american architect born on this day in 1869.  She was one of very few females in architecture at the time and developed a reputation as a perfectionist.  The Desert View Watchtower is a classic steel and glass erection of the 1930’s which is then veneered to present itself as some ancient relic of an Indian Nation that never was.  Built to look like a renovated ruin, a common tradition in folly building.

In classical landscape gardening a folly served as a focal point for the gaze.  It helped to frame a view.  The follys themselves took inspiration from ancient Greek and Roman temples, Crusader commanderies, Norman keeps, Tudor mansions or even natural features like gorges or caves.  Wealthy young men and women might pick up some “souvenirs” of their grand tour of Europe and these could be cemented into a folly to give it more authenticity.  The follys of England and Ireland serve in this regard as a testament to the vandalism of the upper classes, the pinnacle of which is Lord Elgin’s Marbles in the British Museum.

There was a good side to the folly story.  During the Great Hunger in Ireland follys were constructed as a form of famine relief.  Pointless work to build useless buildings as an excuse to give money to starving families.  In those days it was unacceptable to Liberal Protestant Victorians to just hand out free food to Irish Catholics in distress.  There had to be a work ethic!

Ozymandias; by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
who said “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
tell that its sculptor well those passions read
which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
and on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away.”