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The poetry of medieval maritime travel

I have been reading Arab navigation manuals and travelogues, and there is such poetry in the navigation manuals in particular. It is the liminality of the navigation texts in particular – between art and science, familiar and wholly other.  I just love the enumeration of the principles of navigation for example, by Ahmad Ibn Majid […]

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Medieval Arab Naviation

“More interesting is the testimony of Ibn al-Mujawir who reports that in 626 A.H./1228-9 A.D. a ship arrived in Aden from Qumr (Comoros or Madagascar); the art of navigation of the people of Qumr impressed him as superior to that of the Arabs. In fact, the route between Aden, Mogadisho, Kilwa and Qumr, which traditionally […]

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Fouq El-Nakhl: Masaculinities aboard the ship

“and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with the magic.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick   The first incident of its kind happened last night.  Hopefully, also the last.  I was in the wheelroom in the dark, keeping easy company with my favourite ship’s officer and favourite cadet. One of the below-deck officers who had […]

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About Today: Steaming the security seas

10 February 2015 Everything anticipated our entry into what I can only call security seas. There are ships that do not send signals: they turn out to be warships of a sort, small, compact, going only at 7 knots with a marking of F571 their only distinguishing feature off the coast of Yemen. There is […]

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A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes: The factory at sea

9 February 2015 20.00 “Going forward and glancing over the weather bow, [… the] prospect was unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I could see.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick For the next few days, we shall be traveling on the sea in a monotony of sunshine, humidity, warmth, and reading […]

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Stand-Up Beer Hall

Stand-Up Beer Hall Walter Benjamin Sailors seldom come ashore ; service on the high seas is a holiday by comparison with the labour in harbours, where loading and unloading must often be done day and night. When a gang is then given a few hours’ shore-leave it is already dark. At best the cathedral looms like a dark promontory […]

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Pirates Pirates Pirates

They are EVERYWHERE!  Here is Michael Dirda writing about campy pirates: Many [film pirates] are also distinctly camp. The first pirate most of us encounter is Captain Hook, who, as played by Cyril Ritchard in the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan, glories in the mincing affectation and extravagance of a boisterous drag queen (there were, […]

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By the Sea

A truly beautiful book, Abdulrazak Gurnah’s By the Sea is full of quiet insight about leaving home, about families, about illegal immigration, and about malice.  It has a brilliant humour.  Here is a bit about  a madrasa, a chuoni on the island of Zanzibar: Chuoni, that was where we went to learn the aliph-be-te so we […]

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The docks as a non-place

Francisco Goldman and Jean-Claude Izzo speak to each other through their respective novels, The Ordinary Seaman and The Lost Sailors.  Both are stories about waiting in the docks, literally, in a floating metal tub full of holes.  Both tell stories within stories within stories – which is what you do when you are waiting.  And waiting.  When […]

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Rime of mariners ancient or modern

I think I read the Rime of the Ancient Mariner some years ago when i was young, but like a great many great works of literature, it is a poem that is wasted on the youth.  Its sense of regret, loss, of cussedness, of deadened lives and of an anxiety so overwhelming that cannot be overcome […]

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