Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Books that made me into a restless globetrotter

The voice of my mother reading aloud pierced my consciousness intermittently. When it did, the fever ensured that her words were imprinted unforgettably into my memory, like light on a salt & silver old photographic print.
Stuck in bed due to a bout of measles, the book I was listening to was the famous ‘Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology’ (Civilta’ Sepolte in the Italian edition) by C.W. Ceram, given to me for my birthday. An intoxicating introduction to history to a 12 year old and likely the trigger of an early passion for travelling, adventure, mysterious places, exotic peoples.

At 15, after good school results (more luck than hard work, I’m afraid), I finally earned the reward I had been pestering my parents for: a school holiday in the U.K., namely to learn English (Italian school holidays were gorgeous three and a half month long summer affairs).
For two wonderful summers I went to an English school in Chorleywood, just outside London. The ‘institute’- rather more an informal and friendly family arrangement, thank goodness - operated as a language school for foreign girls during winter but catered for boys as well during the long European summer holidays. It was a sprawling, lovely old farmhouse in a green, wooded area where I had a fantastic time and, incidentally, learned decent English (and acceptable French, as many of the girls were from there).
My acquired language skills opened up a wealth of reading material of which I readily took advantage of (in later years I would also learn Spanish and Portuguese: easy for me, an Italian speaking person).

I ran into another book that re-kindled my wanderlust by pure chance: one night, idly roaming around the streets of Rome, I happened onto a still open newsstand and started rummaging through the books, new and used, that were on offer. One colorful cover struck me: an anaconda slithering on the jungle floor. Irresistible.
A well thumbed but still decent copy of Colonel Leonard Clark’s ‘The Rivers Ran East’ was staring at me from the counter: I took it home and didn’t stop reading it until I finished it. And then I started it again, foregoing sleep, afraid of having overlooked some detail. Clark’s other epic exploits, ‘Yucatan adventure’, ‘The Marching Wind’, ‘A Wanderer Till I Die’ soon located and purchased, also gave me many hours of pleasure.

My family had a well stocked library so I grew up in the company of London’s ‘White Fang’ and ‘Call of the Wild’, Kipling’s ‘Kim’, Conrad (my livre de chevet is still ‘Heart of Darkness’), Greene, Maugham, Hemingway only to move on to the writings of my hero Sir Francis Richard Burton, T. E. Lawrence, Freya Stark, Wilfred Thesiger, Captain Cook’s Journals or travel staples like Chatwin and Theroux. Darwin, Levi-Strauss and Frazer’s ‘Golden Bow’ provided a good starting point for further pursuits of a more scientific nature.

Talking about travel ‘classics’ I should confess, before being accused of not even mentioning
it within the present short list, that Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ never really did anything for me. I would rather read and re-read Pirsig’s wonderful ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, a profound discourse about - let me oversimplify - how to live. Nothing Kerouac would have appreciated of course, preoccupied as he was with the conformism of playing the anti-conformist.

Whenever and wherever I traveled I always tried to imagine how the places I was seeing and the peoples I was meeting with must have appeared to the first European explorers: old travel journals and diaries are great for this. Sometimes they are comic in their presumption and arrogance, sometimes dramatic for the terrible experiences they recount, often full of surprise at the marvels of nature and man.
I will not presume to point out to informed readers travel or adventure books they are certainly familiar with. I shall however mention a few gems I read and loved hoping that at least a few might have escaped their attention, especially the younger readers’ attention, and that they might enjoy them as I did.

 ‘The Naturalist on the River Amazons’, by Henry Walter Bates, is one of those books that manage to convey rich scientific information while entertaining and fascinating the reader. In 1848, Bates followed Wallace (of Darwin’s fame) to South America in a joint expedition up the river Amazons. Apart from discovering and documenting about 8000 new species during his 11 years of explorations (as Darwin himself attests in his introduction to Bates’ journal), his diary is a great source of information of all kinds - not limited to Natural History - about his experiences up and down the mighty river.

From ‘Trader Horn: A Young Man’s Astounding Adventures in 19th Century Equatorial Africa’, a book published in 1932 (my copy has a great introduction by John Galsworthy), was born my love of Africa that would never abandon me. An old European adventurer, Alfred Aloysius Horn, recounts his incredible life as a hunter, trader, diplomat, military leader, what-have-you. An ode to being young and brave and the sadness of lonely old age with only memories as companions.
"South with Scott” by Admiral Evans, is a wonderful, engrossing book recounting the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition of 1910.  Despite Scott having been a controversial hero and his reputation gone through various revisions and counter revisions, there is no doubt that his efforts benefitted science and advanced the exploration of Antartica. There is a lovely little museum in Cambridge, the Scott Polar Research Institute on Lensfield Rd., which is worth a few hours of your time (check first if it’s open to the public beforehand).

A little known book by John Steinbeck ‘The Log from the Sea of Cortez” is the diary of his marine expedition to Baja California on a rented boat with his friend Ed Ricketts, a biologist, prematurely killed in an accident. The collection of specimen leaves time to the two great friends to chat, observe, think and reflect. A breath of fresh air: amusing, informative, always intelligent.

‘Tigrero’ by Sasha Siemel, is one of those books you need to put in context (we are talking early ‘20s here) but once you do, there is nothing to diminish the sheer courage of a man hunting jaguars armed only with a spear to protect the Indian farmers of the Pantanal, in the Brazilian Mato Grosso. On the same class as ‘The Man-Eaters of Tsavo’ by Colonel J.H.Patterson, this book is the ultimate classic adventure; it will make you restless and envious.

‘Into the heart of Borneo’, a very enjoyable, funny and fresh account of an expedition to unexplored areas of the region. An odd couple, a naturalist, Redmond O’Hanlon and a poet, James Fenton, set out in the insect infested sauna of the jungle. I have since visited Kalimantan (not the north-west region this book describes) so it was interesting for me to compare ‘impressions’. Reminiscent of Conrad but extremely witty, you will smile, laugh and love every page.

If there is a book that takes me back to the Africa I love and cherish, it is ‘The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood’, a trilogy by Elspeth Huxley. Thika is a nostalgic memoir of growing up in Africa, a loving look at the Kenya of Elspeth’s childhood and a hint at the clouds in its future. Critical but always sensitive and understanding, a joy to read. It should be part of any school curriculum.

Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming of James Bond fame, no mean writer himself, was a correspondent for the Times and a great travel writer. His ‘Brazilian Adventure’, the search for Colonel Fawcett (no book about Colonel Fawcett and the Lost City of Z escaped me after reading this), ‘News from Tartary’, ‘With the Guards to Mexico!’ and others gave me many hours of learning and fun. Look him up: his British dry humor and terse prose, telling us about hostile environments and little known territories makes his writings a pleasure to read. 
Call me partisan but despite Patrick O’Brien millions of fans, I feel obliged to mention his Aubrey-Maturin novels: a fantastic tour de force that will make the reader go back to his books again and again.

Set during the Napoleonic wars, it chronicles the friendship between a Royal Navy captain and a Spanish ship doctor (and Irish-Catalan intelligent agent for the British Admiralty, by the way). Don’t think for a moment this is all boring naval mumbo-jumbo. The meticulously researched and wonderfully written in fascinating period language novels – twenty in all- will be your magic carpet on which to follow the two friends (and their families, troubles and joys) to ‘800 England, Australia, Mauritius, trapped in the infamous Paris’ Temple prison in Paris, spying in Malta, to the Dutch East Indies, Ireland, Sierra Leone, Cape Horn and many more.

Undoubtedly inspired and spurred on by my curiosity and reading tastes, I have visited, worked and lived in many countries and had my share of adventures. Nothing stops you from doing the same though, even if you would rather sit comfortably on your favorite armchair while doing so:  from Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ to Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’, just take your pick. After all books, to paraphrase Prospero, are such stuff as dreams are made on.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Gaza-bound terrorist flotilla meant to frame Israel: you know how; I’ll tell you why.

Stratfor gives us a good, if incomplete, background of the Gaza crisis. In any case, it teaches an excellent lesson in propaganda techniques.

A somewhat ‘closer to the truth’ analysis comes from Atlas Shrugs; Pamela seems to have a much deeper vision of Erdogan’s aims to (re)establish a Caliphate or at least imitate Iran’s medieval revolution.

Without going into Turkey’s recent purges of secular elements in the judiciary and the army, of which you are certainly painfully aware, it is clear that Erdogan finds convenient to align himself – for the moment – with the big bully: Iran.

The two have recently slapped the US administration in the face and are still laughing and boasting about it; the “uranium enrichment” farce has worked in a least two ways: first, it has emasculated whatever sanctions Obama meant to submit to the Security Council by showing – falsely – Iran’s good faith, and second, it has given a boost to Erdogan’s reputation and ambitions.

(Note: Lula was lounging about in a drunken stupor as usual, but he’ll gain from the meeting as well)

And here are my two cents: I think it is very likely that, during the infamous meeting Iran-Turkey-Brazil, other issues were discussed: the most important of which is the use of “professional” terrorists (and al-Qaeda elements, probably from Iran itself) in the Turkish NGO flotilla directed towards Gaza.

The whole operation had three advantages for Turkey’s Erdogan and Iran’s Ahmadinejad:

1) It would inevitably provoke Israel to use force, therefore giving an excuse to Erdogan to cancel Turkey’s alliance with Israel and proceed with the islamization of the country

2) As a consequence, Israel would no more be able to use Turkey’s airspace to reconnoiter the region’s terrain or attack Iran (as it did at length before attacking Syria in 2007)

3) Great propaganda value (this phase has already started in earnest)

Israel’s first priority now is to show the world that she is the victim and not the aggressor; failing this, the plot against her will proceed, perhaps even to the point of a war, justified by a world opinion shaped by terrorists and shared by idiots.

Posted via web from Captain Marlow

Monday, April 26, 2010

Latest from the Captain

  • Mugabe often said he'd transform Zimbabwe in the perfect Maoist state; he surely kept his promise.
  • I'd recommend to US friends & foes to disregard whatever comes out of this administration; it won't last & it's not America
  • If ur shy, introverted, become a muslim; nobody in the pc West will dare to mock u anymore. http://bit.ly/buO33e
  • @travelfish u ignore that skin clearing creams are the 1st selling product in Africa & Caribbean...
  • @brooksbayne the Tunguska batch, I think
  • I just signed the pledge to RememberNovember, do the same by visiting http://RememberNovember.com
  • "Researchers “Addicted” to Bogus Internet Studies" Yup. Nowadays, this is what passes for science on BBC, CNN & NYT
  • Ciao Fini! http://bit.ly/aYNIv9
  • Panic about volcanic ash over Britain which closed British airspace for five days was completely unfounded. http://bit.ly/9vVwba
  • Is this how NYT hopes to survive? Writing for vegan pacifist gauche caviar pinkos like it was the 60's? http://nyti.ms/aAaG4h
  • "Chomsky Warns of Rise of Far Right in US" Which is of course a natural reaction to Far Left policies http://is.gd/bHPax
  • Let me get this straight: Obama is profiling air travellers but Arizona can't profile immigrants? http://is.gd/bHPvW
  • “Four years of talking down to me and asking me to pay for it.” http://is.gd/bHRDq
  • A Southern accent now...these ppl have no dignity http://is.gd/bHTAy
  • “We Are All Israelis” http://is.gd/bHUsr Faster, please!
  • Mark Steyn cleans the floor with Bill "Pardons for Sale" Clinton. http://is.gd/bHW0d
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Posted via web from Captain Marlow

A little “Engrish” in Georgetown, Penang

Monday, April 12, 2010

Latest from the Captain

  • Beta Blackberry twitter app seems very nice, solid and fast; I'll keep u posted.
  • Lots of rubbish flying around the net about Bangkok red shirts; follow @bangkokpundit if you want to know http://bit.ly/9RSACK
  • Quite happy w/ Twitter for Blackberry; give it a try and let me know.
  • Obama To Host Nuclear Conference http://bit.ly/9wKRgv The incarnation of Affirmative Action keeps BS#itting his way thru life
  • Enjoy! How many times can you find urself in agreement w/ islamists after all? http://is.gd/boX2w
  • Obama's false accounting for defense; New START now counts 1 bomber (which can contain up to 20 bombs) as 1 bomb. Result: useless treaty
  • @KurtSchlichter Watch Chuck Norris flicks over & over again!
  • The most important thing to this president is how you feel and what you say, not all those annoying facts. http://is.gd/bpaDQ Funny!
  • Would you fly on a Tupolev? http://is.gd/bpaTV
  • "Lo sfregio di Praga" Che schifo... http://is.gd/bpcdd
  • "Da oggi il mondo è più sicuro, hanno detto Obama e Medvedev" Continuiamo a prenderci per il c%lo. http://is.gd/bpcnE
  • Dopo il sequestro Mastrogiacomo http://is.gd/bpdet ho pochi dubbi che Emergency sia coinvolta http://is.gd/bpdi6 Strada e' un estremista
  • L'Unita', toccato il fondo da tempo (e io pago...), continua a scavare imperterrita http://is.gd/bpdsO
  • "In Sudafrica uccidere un bianco non è reato" qualcuno comincia ad accorgersene. Grazie ai mondiali di calcio? http://is.gd/bpdzh
  • "Vietnamese Prime Minister said the elections in Burma should be fair, democratic, with the participation of all parties" http://is.gd/bpf21
  • Dicono che questa sia l'età dell'egoismo. Sbagliano. E' l'età dell'ipocrisia. http://is.gd/blkxz
  • "Ahmadinejad wants to relocate 5millions from Tehran over quake fears" http://is.gd/bpfpz This stinks to high heaven.
  • "NO COMMENT" Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
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Posted via web from Captain Marlow

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Latest from the Captain


  • La Russia sostiene di voler combattere il terrorismo islamico ma appoggia regimi islamisti http://is.gd/b7S46
  • se Silvio non avesse vietato Le trasmissioni di Floris e Santoro avrebbe vinto anche Puglia, Basilicata e Liguria. http://is.gd/b7T9h
  • The MDC’s political dominance : change is inevitable. Faster, please. http://is.gd/b7U26
  • Take it w/ a pinch of salt (from Debka): G8 skips Iran sanctions to boost secret US opening to Revolutionary Guards. http://is.gd/b7U9i
  • Olavo de Carvalho on Communism in Latin America. Don't miss it! http://is.gd/b7UzZ
  • Good Ole Movies: Billy Budd (1962) http://post.ly/WvXg
  • Good Old Movies: The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) http://post.ly/Wvoh
  • Good Old Movies: To Have and Have Not (1944) http://post.ly/Ww9Q
  • Recruiting Somali pirates against Iran? Why not! http://bit.ly/dbyXsy
  • Bolton 2 Netanyahu: 4 God’s sake get on w/ it before Obama destroys U; the fate of the free world rests on yr shoulders.http://bit.ly/dhRNlp
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Good Old Movies: To Have and Have Not (1944)

Forget Hemingway, this film has very little to do with the novel of the same name. Nevertheless, it is one of my favorite movies. Why? Because Humphrey Bogart is in it, because Lauren Bacall is in it and because Walter Brennan is in it!

“Slim” is as sexy as she can be. When she sings “Am I blue” with Hoagy Carmichael at the piano you’ll get shivers down your spine.

The bond between “Steve” and “Slim” is immediately evident (and we all know how it ended up...). However, I have always wondered if my favorite cinematographic couple’s chemistry would have worked in “Casablanca" (“To have and have not” tries unsuccessfully to remix all of Casablanca elements): would Bacall have been better than Bergman? I must admit that Ingrid Bergman is much more appropriate than Lauren Bacall for the part of saintly companion to a Resistance hero; had she been played by “Slim”, she and Rick would still be making wild love in Paris!

Re-watch it, if only for “Eddie” doing the forgetful drunk and “Cricket” playing and singing…

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Posted via web from Captain Marlow

Good Old Movies: The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

Great movie with a young but convincing Mel Gibson and a very sexy Sigourny Weaver. The collapse of the Soukarno regime in Indonesia in 1965 and Soukarto’s take over.

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Posted via web from Captain Marlow

Good Ole Movies: Billy Budd (1962)

Go to IMDb page

Information © IMDb.com

Fantastic moral drama based on Melville’s novel. An excellent Peter Ustinov, a terrifying Robert Ryan and a surprisingly handsome (if not beautiful) and innocent-looking Terence Stamp at his debut (I think).

If you haven’t watched it, do it now; if you have, watch it again!

Posted via web from Captain Marlow

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Latest tweets from the Captain

  • Un'analisi equilibrata della sconfitta della sinistra in Italia. http://is.gd/b6865
  • BOTTOM STORY OF THE DAY: Ricky Martin confirms he’s gay. Who’s next — Elton John? http://is.gd/b69tE
  • A Buddhist Monk awaits alms outside my hotel in Phnom Penh Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
  • Some more dirty background to the Obama made Honduras crisis. http://is.gd/b6cmk
  • Drone Attacks Are Legit Self-Defense, Says State Dept. Lawyer. Another "Bush was right" I suppose. http://is.gd/b6cJC
  • I hope that bloody wussy has watched the last 24 episode...might learn what a President should be...
  • After weeks of lies BBC has to admit Berlusconi's "big gains"; I hate these monotesticledcommieveganwarmistwussies! http://is.gd/b7oXZ
  • Have We Gone From Watching Movies to Just Looking At Them? Good point; watch this space (I love lil known good movies) http://is.gd/b7qHp
  • It Could Destroy Italy 'At Any Time'. No, it is not Di Pietro but an underwater volcano. http://is.gd/b7vCl
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Monday, November 23, 2009

#Honduras forgotten in the midst of even bigger Obama's blunders

I have always been extremely curious about this Administration treatment of Honduras in the aftermath of Zelaya's attempted coup and puzzled by the blatant way in which Obama leaned in favor of Chavez and his dangerous games in Latin America.

Now, thanks to Fausta, we finally understand why Obama has again changed his position by 180" (an automatic translation of the excellent Montaner article follows):

• The State Department found that the Honduran institutional support to the dismissal and arrest of Zelaya was virtually unanimous and held firm, despite sanctions and cancellation of visas. The legislature and judiciary, the churches, the army and, according to surveys, 80% of the population, preferred Zelaya from power.

• The report of the legal department of the Library of Congress on the removal of Zelaya, requested by a legislator, left no doubt: Zelaya had been removed from office and replaced by Micheletti under Honduran law. Expelled from the country was probably illegal (perhaps due to leave jail), but both require restitution was like asking the Hondurans who violated the law.

• The new government of Honduras, deftly, had moved the debate within American society, through Congress and Senate Republicans and the Obama administration was paying a political price for supporting internal antidemocratic stance contrary to the interests and values the American people.

• At the State Department circulated two pages compiled by U.S. intelligence in which the alleged crimes were recorded and complexities of the intimate environment of Zelaya with drug trafficking and corruption. There was no point placed in the same side as Washington remained in the country Palmerola military base, supposedly dedicated to monitor and control activities related to family and friends who performed his contradictory protected.

• He did not seem wise to encourage the artificial survival of a regime that was active in the field openly Chavez, allied with Iran political family. Chavez, who until recently was classified as a whimsical trouble associating itself with Iran and provide support for the development of nuclear weapons has become a dangerous enemy.

However enlightening, this doesn't explain why their initial approach was so totally wrong; I have read many theories about it, but only one fits the facts: Obama and his "experts" wanted to be seen to side with the weak (with the people, on the side of democracy, protecting the oppressed) but they completely and utterly misunderstood the situation.

Posted via email from Captain Marlow