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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Europe

Sunday June 25 2017

I’ve been reading Adam Zamoyski’s book about Chopin.  So far, I love it.  And I love learning so much about a fascinating man, of whom I knew just about nothing besides his music, and the fact that he was Polish and is a very big deal in Poland, but that he lived mostly in France.

I have, in particular, learned just exactly how Polish Chopin was, and was not.  His father, Nicholas Chopin, was French.  But when the Polish aristocrat for whom he worked went back to Poland, Nicholas went with him.  In Poland Nicholas married a Polish woman, and Frederick was thus born in Poland, but with his French-sounding name.  It sounds French because it was French.

So far, I have reached the stage where Chopin has played his first few concerts at which he performed, to great acclaim, his first few compositions, most of them for piano and orchestra.  (I am very fond of these pieces, the two piano concertos and the various other one movement works for piano and orchestra.)

As for how Chopin played, Zamoyski supplies this especially pleasing quote, from an unnamed Warsaw newspaper critic:

He emphasised but little, like one conversing in the company of clever people, not with the rhetorical aplomb which is considered by virtuosos to be indispensable.

But Chopin found it difficult working with orchestras, and I’m guessing that this is partly why that stopped, and he concentrated henceforth on solo works.  But as I think the above quote reveals, that probably suited his manner of playing better.

Thursday June 15 2017

I have posted here recently about the design of tube maps.

And I have posted here about how the Roman Empire surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.

But I didn’t expect ever to be posting about both, in the form of the same piece of graphics.  But now, Colossal has a posting entitled The Roman Empire’s 250,000 Miles of Roadways imagined as a Subway Transit Map:

image

If you click on that, you’ll get it big enough to clock all the station names.  (If your eyesight is in the same zone of dodgyness as mine.)

I actually think that this drives home the point, about Rome surrounding the Mediterranean, very well.  Just giving all the various tribes and countries and kingdoms involved a spanking on the battlefield is one thing.  Roman roads are something else again.  A Roman road says: We’re here to say, and we can do it again whenever we want.

Thursday June 01 2017

Incoming from GodDaughter 2, who has been in foreign parts for a friend’s wedding.  She did tell me where, but the only thing I remember for sure is that this is a picture, as luck would have it, of the very same sea, the Mediterranean, that I was posting about yesterday:

image

I recommend clicking on that.  There’s nothing special going on.  Nobody is photoing, apart from GD2.  There are no distant cranes, no container ship on the horizon.  I just think it’s very beautiful.

Taken with an iPhone.

Wednesday May 31 2017

Lincoln Paine, The Sea and Civilization (p. 130):

Octavian’s victory in Egypt brought the entire Mediterranean basin under the command of a single imperial rule. To guarantee the safety of the empire and its sea trade, Augustus (as Octavian styled himself) established Rome’s first standing navy, with bases at Misenum just south of Portus ]ulius, and at Ravenna in the northern Adriatic. These fleets comprised a variety of ships from liburnians to triremes, “fours,” and “fives.” As the empire expanded, provincial fleets were established in Egypt, Syria, and North Africa; on the Black Sea; on the Danube and Rhine Rivers, which more or less defined the northern border of the empire; and on the English Channel. Over the next two centuries there was nearly constant fighting on the empire’s northern and eastern borders, but the Mediterranean experienced a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity during which Greco-Roman culture circulated easily around what everyone was entitled to call Mare Nostrum - Our Sea. It was the only time that the Mediterranean has ever been under the aegis of a single power, with profound results for all the cultures that subsequently emerged on its shores.

There follows (p. 132) a description of the sort of commercial culture that resulted.  Here is some of what Paine says about Ostia:

The remains of the city, which rival those of Pompeii, reveal a town of ordinary citizens rather than wealthy estate owners and their retinues. The essentially rectilinear streets were lined with three- and four-story apartment houses, many with street-level stores and offices. ...

But then, concerning religion in Ostia, Paine addes this:

… In addition to houses, offices, workshops, and laundries, the city boasted an astonishing array of religious buildings that reflect the inhabitants’ strong ties to the Roman east. Side-by-side with temples to the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon and the imperial cults stand Christian baptisteries, a Jewish synagogue, and a host of temples to Near Eastern deities, including a dozen dedicated to the Zoroastrian divinity Mithras, the god of contracts and thus revered by merchants. ...

Mithras was the god of contracts?  Revered by merchants?  I knew about how the Roman Empire took off economically (and degenerated politically) by surrounding the Mediterranean, but I did not know that Mithras was the god of contracts and was revered by merchants.  So, it would appear that proto-libertarianism in the ancient world missed a big chance when Christianity conquered the Roman Empire and prevailed over Zoroastrianism.  Although, a little preliminary googling tells me that some reckon Christianity to have been “borrowed” from Zoroastrianism.  Whatever.  I like the sound of it, and will investigate it more.  By which I mean I will do some investigating of it, instead of the zero investigating of it that I have done so far in my life.

Wednesday May 24 2017

I have already done two postings of bits from Lincoln Paine’s The Sea and Civilization, here and here.  I have now reached the point at which the Romans are making their considerable presence felt, at sea as well as on land (pp. 119-122 – the quote within this quote is from Appian’s Roman History):

Within a decade of Pyrrhus’s withdrawal from Italy, Rome and Carthage were at war. The casus belli was a dispute between the people of Carthage and Messina, Sicily, but it quickly became a struggle for control of Sicily and the western Mediterranean, and it launched Rome on a path to mastery over all of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The first of the three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage took place chiefly in Sicily, where the land war simmered for twenty-three years. But it was the naval war that proved decisive in ending Carthage’s centuries-long primacy in the western Mediterranean and catapulted Rome into the front rank of military, and naval, powers. As Polybius notes, “those who are impressed by the great sea-battles of an Antigonus, a Ptolemy or a Demetrius would doubtless be amazed ... at the vast scale of the [naval] operations” in the First Punic War.

By the mid-third century BCE, Carthage ruled the most extensive empire west of Asia Minor or Egypt, including vast tracts of North Africa, southern Spain, the Balearics, Sardinia, Corsica, and western Sicily. The city itself was on a peninsula about five kilometers wide in the Gulf of Tunis. On the seaward side, it was protected by a single wall, while from the land it was protected by three fifteen-meter-high walls with towers every sixty meters. The walls had two levels of stables - the lower could house three hundred elephants, the upper four thousand horses - and the barracks could accommodate twenty-four thousand soldiers. By the second century BCE, at least, the double harbor complex was probably the most sophisticated in the world:

The harbours had communication with each other, and a common entrance from the sea seventy feet wide, which could be closed with iron chains. The first port was for merchant vessels .... Within the second port was an island, and great quays were set at intervals round both the harbour and the island. These embankments were full of shipyards which had capacity for 220 vessels. ... Two Ionic columns stood in front of each dock, giving the appearance of a continuous portico to both the harbour and the island ... from which ... the admiral could observe what was going on at sea, while those who were approaching by water could not get any clear view of what took place within. Not even incoming merchants could see the docks at once, for a double wall enclosed them, and there were gates by which merchant ships could pass from the first port to the city without traversing the dockyards.

The Carthaginians posed a constant threat to the Romans, who according to Polybius “were handling the operations in Sicily capably enough. But so long as the Carthaginians held unchallenged control of the sea, the issue of the war still hung in the balance.” After a three-year stalemate, during which they depended on their allies’ ships to reach Sicily, the Romans decided to build” 100 quinqueremes and twenty triremes. They faced great difficulties because their shipwrights were completely inexperienced in the building of a quinquereme, since these vessels had never before been employed in Italy.” The initial difficulty was overcome when they seized a Carthaginian patrol vessel that had run aground: “It was this ship which they proceeded to use as a model, and they built their whole fleet according to its specifications.”

Reverse engineering is notoriously difficult under the best of circumstances, but according to Pliny the Elder, from a standing start with virtually no shipbuilding industry of their own, the Roman fleet “was on the water within 60 days after the timber left the tree.” This is all the more astonishing when compared with the three years that experienced Athenian shipwrights had taken to build two hundred ships under Themistocles. Archaeological finds suggest that the Romans may have benefited from Carthaginian construction techniques. Examination of the so-called Punic Ship, a third-century BCE liburnian found off Marsala, Sicily, showed that the Carthaginian shipbuilders had written on the various hull pieces to mark their placement in relation to one another, not unlike the system employed in the Khufu ship twenty-two hundred years before. (A liburnian was an oared vessel-this one had seventeen sweeps on either side-with two men per oar and employed for carrying dispatches and for scouting.) If the ship the Romans used as their template included such builders’ marks, it would have made the job of creating a fleet of ships from scratch far easier than it might otherwise have been.

Because the Carthaginian ships were better built and more capably manned, consul Gaius Duilius determined to offset the Carthaginians’ superior seamanship by replicating the conditions in which the Romans were unrivaled in battle, and to beat the Carthaginians in boarding actions. Central to the Romans’ tactics was the corvus (literally, raven), a boarding ramp 11 meters long by 1.5 meters wide with rails along the sides. One end of the corvus was hinged at the base of an eight-meter-high mast mounted forward in the ship. When dropped on the deck of an enemy ship, an iron spike at the outer end held the corvus fast and the Roman soldiers swept aboard the enemy ship. When Duilius caught a Carthaginian fleet off the northeastern coast of Sicily near Mylae in 260 BCE, the effectiveness of the corvi told early. As the Roman marines swarmed the enemy ships, “the fighting seemed to have been transformed into a battle on dry land.” Carthaginian attempts to round on the Roman ships from astern were ineffective because the corvus could be dropped across a broad arc from port to starboard, thus ensuring that the Romans never lost their advantage. By the battle’s end, the Carthaginians had lost 50 of their 130 ships.

Dissatisfied with the lack of progress in Sicily, four years later the Romans took the war to North Africa and came close to forcing an onerous peace on the Carthaginians before their army was soundly defeated. A relief expedition captured more than 100 Carthaginian ships, but en route home the Romans lost more than 280 ships and thirty-five thousand soldiers and crew to storms. Polybius blames the disaster on the commanders’ utter disregard for their pilots’ advice about the weather and their destination, “the southern coast of Sicily ... a rocky shore which possesses few safe anchorages.” He goes on to draw some general observations about Roman character, their reliance on brute strength, and their stubbornness, and why these are incompatible with success at sea. On land, the Romans frequently prevailed against other men and their machines because they could apply “one kind of force against another which is essentially similar .... But when they are contending with the sea and the atmosphere and try to overcome these by force, they meet with crushing defeats. So it turned out on this occasion, and the process will no doubt continue until they correct these preconceptions about daring and force.” One theory attributes the heavy losses to the corvus, which in an elevated position would have made the ships top-heavy and prone to capsize. If the Romans realized this, they may have decided that the corvus was more dangerous than it was worth, which would explain why it is not mentioned after the start of the North African campaign.

The war dragged on another fourteen years punctuated by triumphant successes and epic failures, none of them conclusive. The keystone of Carthaginian strategy was the security of Lilybaeum (Marsala, Sicily), which the Romans blockaded off and on for nearly a decade, though they lost more than a thousand ships in storms. The Carthaginians were able to slip the blockade at crucial junctures until 241 BCE when a fleet laden with grain and manned by relatively unseasoned seamen and marines was intercepted in the battle of the Aegates Islands north of the port. The Carthaginians lost 120 ships and the Romans took ten thousand prisoners. With no possibility of support from home, Lilybaeum’s position was untenable and the Carthaginians surrendered.

Despite their longer tradition of seafaring, the Carthaginians never came close to victory in the First Punic War. In some respects this is understandable. Carthaginian sea power depended on its people’s role as merchant-sailors. They had never fought a major naval war, and while they were not ignorant of warfare - they frequently fought their Numidian neighbors, even during the war with Rome - it was not a hallmark of their civic life. The Romans’ martial spirit and relentless military ambition enabled them to adapt readily to ships and naval warfare, and once they learned to respect the sea, they mastered it.

More about the corvus here.

Friday May 19 2017

Recently, inspired by those Barcelona Graphics, I had another trawl through all the photos I took in 2005 when I visited Barcelona.

And guess what, here are a few of the photos I took, of photoers:

imageimageimageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimageimageimage

Part of why I did this posting is that I just like how a square of squares looks, and I wanted to do another such posting, regardless of what the photos were of.

But now that I’ve done this particular square of squares, I am struck by how interested I was, even then, in taking photos of photoers that hid their faces.  I think this preoccupation was sharpened by me being on the Continent, and fearing that photoing people’s actual faces and putting them on my blog might break some kind of Euro-law.  They make more of a fuss about privacy over there, don’t they?  Such was then, and still is, my impression.  And now, of course, I apply the same attitude over here, because: face recognition software.

Also, note in particular photo 2.3, where you can see further evidence of Barcelona’s eagerness to advertise itself with its Big Things.

The light in Barcelona was great, and lots of my photos there came out really well.  Which is why I had so many photos of photoers, and of everything else I photoed with any enthusiasm.

Most of the cameras to be seen here are now historical relics, replaced by mobile phones.  Phones with cameras arrived (and oh look another square of squares (this time 5x5)) in 2006.  This was 2005.

Saturday May 13 2017

I can’t remember how I came across the blog Sleepless in Barcelona.  But I did, and was intrigued that, like London, it seems that Barcelona likes to advertise itself with an assemblage of its most recognisable buildings:

image

I visited Barcelona in 2005 (I got the date from this posting), and I remember thinking then that, like London, Barcelona was an obvious candidate for this sort of graphic promotion.  Like London, it used to have an upper limit to the height of its buildings - caused by religiously motivated legal restrictions, perhaps?  But now, whatever those height limitations were, they had been overcome or set aside, and the occasional bigger building was sprouting up, in the new “recognisable”, “iconic” style.  Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia used to dominate the city in splendid isolation, the way St Paul’s Cathedral used to dominate the City of London, but for a while now, other, secular Big Things have being permitted.

More Barcelona graphic assemblages here, and in lots of other www spots too, if google images ("Barcelona skyline") is anything to go by.

Here is another such piece of graphic promotion, this time more colourful:

image

Just as with London, and with quite a lot of other cities, two of the key breakthrough modern Big Things were telecoms towers.  Montjuïc Communications Tower and the Torre de Collserola.  Both are to be seen on the left side of the above graphic.  I remember noticing both of those very dramatic buildings when I was there, but I also vaguely remember failing to photo them at all successfully.  My camera didn’t have anything like the zoom that my current one does.

Maybe I should pay Barcelona another visit.

Telecoms towers have a typically rather unacknowledged place in the history of modern architecture.  Dating as many of them do from the concrete monstrosity era, they proved, with their popularity and their popularity in particular with picture postcard sellers, that the public vastly preferred amusingly shaped buildings to the usual concrete monstrosities of the boringly rectangular sort.  This caused the Big Thing style to erupt quite a bit earlier than it might otherwise have done.

Sunday April 23 2017

I love it when a metaphor gets mixed.  But here is a metaphor that is not so much mixed as turned on its head.  It’s Samizdata’s Mr Ed, commenting on this, describing how our former PM David Cameron hoped that his EU referendum would see off UKIP and stop it sucking votes away from the Conservatives.  And it looks like that referendum will indeed see off UKIP, but not in the way that Cameron campaigned for.

Says Mr Ed of this referendum:

… a chance to lance the boil ended up boiling the lance.

Patrick Crozier (a couple of comments later) liked this also.

What particularly impresses me is how Mr Ed made use of those double double meanings, both of “lance” and of “boil”.

Mr Ed has some metaphorical fun
Anti-BREXIT demo signs
Azure Window broken
Signs
World War One questions
A new stadium for Chelsea
Somebody needs to invent electronically changeable paint
Scum?
I never thought that we could win
How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party
Bridge in Germany with houses on it
On comments – and some commentary on some Brexit comments
Brexit graphics
Referendum day graphics
The Union Jack’s near death experience(s?)
Some thoughts on the Izzard effect
A good morning
Brexit - the movie - here!
Brexit Kenny photos
Incoming horizontality from Simon Gibbs
Feline Friday at Samizdata
My latest meeting went fine
Looking in at the Zaha Hadid Design Gallery in Goswell Road
Van Art
Steven Johnson on how technology (such as the Magdeburg Sphere) grows science
Brexit as a clash of pessimisms
Toegangsbeveiligingsproducten
Barcelona owl
Anti-drone drones
Cat and cubs
Bike fishing in Amsterdam
Syed Kamall MEP wins by playing five and losing five
Matt Ridley on Epicurus and Lucretius
Four towers joined together by two bridges
Ronald Harwood on Karajan
A viadukt and a tunnel
Jim Glymph gets Frank Gehry past the limits of what is buildable
Another The Wires! Building in Japan (plus more Dezeenery)
London Biggin Hill “Jet Centre”?
William Hague on the collapse of the centre left
Cranes and a bridge (but not in a good way)
Londres
How David Irving put himself on trial
Paul Johnson on Mozart and Da Ponte
Paul Johnson on what the young Mozart was up against
Strange London buses
A forgotten war
Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
Big cat scan
Photo-drones fighting in the Ukraine and a photo-drone above the new Apple headquarters building
Non-faceless architecture in Rome
Marginal Eurostar economics
Pictures of Guy Herbert
The “colorful and curvilinear forms” of Herr Hundertwasser
Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown
PID at the Times
Cat photo and cat news
Football comment
Umbrellas!
Brazil 0 Germany 5 after forty minutes
GARBAGE SHED AND JUMP INTO THE SEA IS PROHIBITED
Emmanuel Todd talking in English (about how the Euro is doomed)
Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything
Lego bridge in Germany
Movable bridges
Michael Jennings photoes Cape Bojador
Friend on telly
Michael Jennings photos the bridges of Porto
Relocating the Porto bridge
Eurostar before St Pancras
Sperm Bike
Art gallery made of scaffolding
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Emmanuel Todd links
Pictures from Georgia and Warsaw
Michael Jennings - pictures of globalisation
Steven Pinker’s description of The Enlightenment
Michael Jennings on how the taxis at Skopje airport are an evil racket and what he did about it
Malta Day procession
Outage
More shiny new headquarters buildings
76 operas and a monument in the wrong place for Hermann the German
Friday link dump
Gormley’s South Bank Men
A Spanish geography lesson
A Spanish high speed train bridge and a Spanish aqueduct
Delayed action Dubrovnik cat
The Brusio spiral viaduct also looks like a toy train layout
303 Squadron in the movie and on the telly
Two bridges in Portugal
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom blog posting title of the day
Two real cats sighted in Spain!
My sleep and luggage and bus and fluid travel hell
In Alicante
Possible holiday interruption
How some cats are dividing Cyprus
Reds against Blues in Munich
Stepping forward into the abyss!
Luxembourg church in hill and Luxembourg footbridge
A great Johnathan Pearce Britain-can-dump-the-EU blog posting - and the value of informative titles
Polish anti-semitism - a history lesson at last night’s dinner
Making the IOC feel important with a personal lubricant
Changing faces of Europe
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
“Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore …”
Toys and big toys
Sheep under wolf’s clothing
Might Gordon Brown pull an EU referendum rabbit out of the hat?
Africa is big
Mahler’s 9th in Vienna in 1938
Photo of some foodski
Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
The new Lowe look
Terence Kealey on the Wright brothers and their patent battles
I predict that Germany will win
Computer blues
What I have seen so far while abroad
Nanpu Bridge in Quimper
Keyboard blues
Were any of them really that nice?
Eurovision sense from Squander Two
Wired bridges
The IPL is a new face for India but Harbhajan slapping Sreesanth is no big deal
The Messina Suspension Bridge is on again
Eusociality
Billion Monkey Alan Little?
Dominic Lawson on Herbert von Karajan
Brian Hitler!
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
Underground art
Eurostar says goodbye Waterloo hello St Pancras
On the appeal or lack of it to Young Europeans of “capitalism”
Old cranes - new cranes
Free trade explains the success of the Swedish Model
Gatito
Another link to a friend and that’s your lot today
Other people’s photos (2): New architecture in Hamburg
Geoffrey Blainey on Ivan Bloch - the man who predicted World War One
Tourists on the move
The extreme memes spread by moderate Muslims
I’m back
Antoine Clarke talks with me about votes for women (and teenagers) – and about Sweden
Brian and Antoine democracy mp3 number twelve
I also miss Transport Blog
Brian and Antoine mp3s now into double figures
The latest Brian and Antoine mp3
Election Watch podcast number three
“What on earth gives every computer owner the right to exude his opinion, unasked for?”
4th Generation Warfare in the middle of an advanced Western Country