Captain Cook.

James Cook, born Nov 7th 1728 died famously on a pacific island on his third great voyage of discovery in 1779.  Called at the time the “Sandwich Islands” now known as the U.S. State of Hawaii.

In his lifetime he charted Newfoundland, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Eastern Australia, New Zealand, much of Pacific Russia and North America and vast swathes of the Pacific ocean.

He converted the map of the world from this:

Pre-Cook

to this:

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During his voyages he worked assiduously to limit scurvy and sickness from his crew.  The sailors hated him for forcing them to eat ascorbics such as saurkraut to keep them healthy.

In fact the majority of deaths of his crew occured when they reached what they believed to be the “safe” harbour of Batavia, modern Jakartha in Indonesia.  Here, in the canals carved by the Dutch mosquitoes thrived and the crew were devastated by malaria.

His second voyage confirmed the absence of a “Great Australian Continent” in the South Pacific which was theorised at the time to act as a counterbalance to Europe.  Pure European Centrism!  However he never did succeed in finding Antarctica.

His third voyage was a search for the fabled North West Passage to permit entry to the Pacific Ocean from the North Atlantic.  His voyages mapped out much of the limits of the North Pacific and led sadly to his death on Hawaii.

Finally here is his chart of Newfoundland:

Nufie

 

Inappropriate behaviour.

Women on a women-only carriage in Japan

Crowded commuter trains have become a hotbed of inappropriate behaviour.  When you crush people into tight space, and they are deprived of an armory of normal body language signals, it causes all sorts of difficulties.  Scan the newspapers and you will find multiple reports of subway fiends armed with smart phones sneakily upskirting girls.

Upskirting is a word that is newly invented.  Goosing is another, where passengers (mostly men) press their groin up against another passenger, facilitated by the crowding.  Women are regularly groped and felt up on public transport.  It has become so bad that the Japanese have introduced women only carriages.  Expect the trend to spread.

According the the British Transport Police 70% of their reported offences are sexual assaults on women.  About another 25% of reported offences involve exposure and masturbation.  Those are only the reported ones.  Most incidents go unreported.

Much of this behaviour is coming from men who see an opportunity, take what they want and don’t think about the consequences.  Lock them up I say.

BUT (big but) a small number of these situations are caused by that crowding confusing the normal signals of body language.  In a relatively open space, such as at a bar, if a girl physically turns away from a man it is a clear sign of rejection.  In the confused world of the commuter train the signal can be misread by a man as an invitation to spoon up.  If he does and the woman does not immediately, and loudly, reject the contact, he may think there is permission or even an attraction.

Cultural pressures on women “not to cause a fuss” play into this confusion.  Women find themselves on hellish journeys, pinned by a man and not confident enough to identify this as a sexual assault and to call him out.

An even smaller number of cases involve a mutual affirmation of presence.  A recognition of the situation and a moment of stolen pleasure.  Exactly as decribed in “On the Metro” the poem by Williams below.  C.K. Willams was born on November 4th, 1936 in Newark, New Jersey.  A multi-award winning poet he writes of single, extended moments, intimately observed, with a short-story like quality to his poetry.  He presents people who are exposed and vulnerable which makes him such a good commentator to understand a crowded subway train.

Note:  Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) was a Polish writer whose works were strongly rooted in psychological analysis.  The interesting part for me is how he analyses the creation of identity through interactions with others.  This flows from the works of neo-freudians like Lacan and Sartre and became encoded as transactional analysis with the publication in 1964 of Games People Play by Eric Berne.

 

On the Metro; by C.K. Williams

On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book—Cioran, The Temptation to Exist—and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin—(how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.

I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory—a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.

Dublinvania

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Bran Castle in Transylania – Never a Vampire found.

Vampire hunters of the world where are you bound?  The soaring Carpathian mountains?  The forests of Transylvania?  The dark stretches of the Danube to the port of Varna?  Perhaps the dour English port of Whitby?  You are wasting your time.

If its vampires you want you will find them in Dublin.

The first appearence of a vampire in literature was the Lesbian Vamire Carmilla, the product of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a Dublin lad who wrote about the Evil immortal countess from a mysterious Eastern territory in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Her lust for blood is equal to her lust for pretty young girls.  Oh, the horror.  One of the short stories in his anthology “In a Glass Darkly” published in 1872 which is simply the greatest title for a book of horror stories.

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Some twenty five years later Dracula was published in 1897 by Bram Stoker rounding off the key elements of the canon of vampire lore, Van Helsing, Count Dracula, the demented human servant, the many brides of Dracula, wooden stakes, garlic, sacred weapons, lack of reflections and so on.

It is quite likely that Stokers imagination was fired by the stories of Sheridan Le Fanu.  While he never travelled to Eastern Europe himself it is known that in London he was friends with Ármin Vámbéry a hungarian Jew and fellow writer,  who regaled Stoker with tales of the Carpathians.

So from the pens of two Dublin writers of the late 19th Century we derive a body of vampire lore that has evolved into libraries of books, comics, graphic novels, films and television series.

Fangs for the memories guys.

Except…. it’s all lies.

There was Lord Byron with his poem The Giaour back in 1813

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
and suck the blood of all thy race;
there from thy daughter, sister, wife,
at midnight drain the stream of life;
yet loathe the banquet which perforce
must feed thy livid living corpse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
shall know the demon for their sire,
as cursing thee, thou cursing them,
thy flowers are withered on the stem.

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And then there was that night on Lake Geneva in 1816 during the year without a summer when Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and John William Polidori competed to write the scariest horror story.  The night that gave us Frankenstein from the pen of Mary Shelley.

Polidori wrote “The Vampyre”, and published it in 1819 in The New Monthly Magazine where the unscrupulous editor attributed it falsely to Lord Byron to up his sales.

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Happy Birthday Horatio

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Horatio Nelson needs no history lesson here, you know who he is.  Today is his birthday and he was born in 1758.  Despite leaving parts of himself all over Europe this tiny man had a huge impact.  He clearly liked his sun holidays did Horatio, and he used to get up to some crazy antics.  He left his arm behind in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797 after one holiday.  He lost his eye in Corsica in 1794 and rumor has it that he lost his heart in Naples in 1798 to Lady Hamilton.

Nelson was ennobled as the First Duke of Bronté and it is this title that gave us the famous Brontë family, Anne, Charlotte and Emily.

The father of the three Victorian writers was born Patrick Prunty from County Down in Ireland.  Patrick attended Cambridge University and perhaps found that his Irish Heritage was a handicap.  These were the days when Europe was in turmoil as Napoleon demolished the Ancien Regime and spread concepts such as the rights of man, enlightenment and republicanism.  Ireland rebelled in 1798 seeking independence from the United Kingdom.  There is even a theory that his own brother was a rebel.  This highly political environment must have been a concern to a young protestant Irish student of divinity.

So Patrick Prunty changed his surname and adopted the name of Nelsons dukedom to become Patrick Brontë.

Fall, leaves, fall; by Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
lengthen night and shorten day;
every leaf speaks bliss to me
fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow
blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
ushers in a drearier day.

The Testaments

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The long awaited and instantly famous sequel to The Handmaids Tale has been released at last.  The Margaret Atwood novel is already shortlisted, prior to publication, for the Booker Prize.

On this day I am happy to feature one of her poems.  I empathise with the angst of postcard writing, what do you say and why bother?  You’ll be home before it arrives.  I get the disjoint between the hyperreal simulacrum of the holiday paradise and the reality of a place where humans actually live, generally on a lower income level than their visitors.  I see behind the curtain.  I went to Disneyland and where others saw fantasy I saw plastic.

“Wish you were here”.  A phrase that always made me uncomfortable.  On the one hand it sounds like you are saying “I wish you were here”.  But why?  Are you bored without them?  Do you need them to entertain you?  Can’t last a week on your own?  How desperate do you sound?

On the other hand maybe it says “Don’t you wish you were here?”  Sucker!  I’m on holiday and you’re stuck in wet, cold. miserable Milton Keynes, Mullingar, or Midland Michigan.  Sounds positively mean to say that.

Maybe you just want to tell them you have time to revisit some old favourites and listen to some decent music.  “How I wish, how I wish you were here, we’re just two lost souls, 
swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.”

 

Postcards; by Margaret Atwood

I’m thinking about you. What else can I say?
The palm trees on the reverse
are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
What we have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and the smell
of backed-up drains, too sweet,
like a mango on the verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitoes
& their tracks; birds & elusive.

Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one
day after the other rolling on;
I move up, it’s called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but never
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child howls & howls
on the pocked road to school.
In the hold with the baggage
there are two prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of queasy chicks. Each spring
there’s race of cripples, from the store
to the church. This is the sort of junk
I carry with me; and a clipping
about democracy from the local paper.

Outside the window
they’re building the damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone’s
crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
can’t be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you’re a mirage, a glossy image
fixed in the posture
of the last time I saw you.
Turn you over, there’s the place
for the address. Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on
& on, a hollow cave
in the head, filling & pounding, a kicked ear.

 

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Happy Birthday Ibn Jubayr

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Born Sept 1st 1145 in Muslim Valencia Ibn Jubayr is remarkable for the journal he left of his Hajj.  Travelling through the islamic world at the time of the 3rd Crusade he encountered a world where lands were changing between Muslim and Christian rule and he wrote of the cordial relations that existed between the common folk while their armies slaughtered each other on the battlefields.

Because he kept an excellent journal Jubayr became a vital source for other writers.  When the ageing Ibn Batuta dictated his travels to his scribe the resourceful Ibn Juzayy used Jubayr as a source to fill in colour and detail in Batuta’s account.

Jubayr was secretary to the ruler of Granada.  A pious muslim he was forced by his lord to drink seven cups of wine.  Afterwards overcome by remorse the ruler filled the seven cups with gold dinars and presented them to Ibn Jubayr.  The secretary thus funded was able to afford the passage to Mecca to cleanse the sin of consuming the wine.

I love how Islamic poetry is turgid with verses extolling the ferment of the grape.  So common are these poems they have a particular name for them: khamriyyat.  I like this stanza from Abu Nuwas the 8th Century Persian poet.

“Don’t cry for Layla, don’t rave about Hind!

But drink among roses a rose-red wine,

a draught that descends in the drinker’s throat,

bestowing its redness on eyes and cheeks.

The wine is a ruby, the glass is a pearl,

served by the hand of a slim-fingered girl,

who serves you the wine from her hand, and wine

from her mouth — doubly drunk, for sure, will you be!”

 

Tanegashima

On this day in 1543 a group of Portuguese travelling on a Chinese Junk were blown off course and became the first Europeans to land in Japan.  They anchored at the island of Tanegashima.  While on the island they demonstrated their firearms to the local lord Tanegashima Tokitata who was clearly an astute and entrepreneurial individual.

Tokitata immediately purchased two matchlock  arquebuses from the Portuguese and had his smith break them down and reverse engineer them.  The smith was able to replicate all the parts except for the helical drill to create the hollow barrel.  The technology did not exist in Japan and the Portuguese travellers did not bring that technology with them.

Tokitata arranged for a return visit and next time the Portuguese brought their own smith who demonstrated the technique to the Japanese.  As a result the musket was introuced to Japan.  It quickly revolutionised the Japanese battlefield.  Tanegashima prospered on the manufacture and sale of muskets.  Sales averaged 30,000 per year over the following 10 years.

The Japanese went on to customise and develop firearms on a track independent from other nations, and introduced innovations not found elsewhere.  For instance a lacquer rain cover on the firing lock to allow firing in the rain.

The arrival of firearms changed Japanese society.  A farmer could be trained to become a soldier in a few weeks, whereas traditional Samurai spent decades learning the craft of sword, bow and staff.  The Sengoku period saw 35 years of internecine chaos fuelled in part by the arrival of firearms.  This was brought to a conclusion in 1600 by the Battle of Sekigahara when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as the dominant shogun and established the 250 years of stable peace of the Edo period of Japan.

The other great technology introduced by the Portuguese to Japan was fried food.  The technique was unknown in Japan before the Europeans arrived.  To this day Tempura is known in Japan as the “Portuguese Method”.  As with the firearms the Japanese experimented using local ingredients and created something quite different from the original introduction.

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