Spanish Ladies: three versions of an old naval song

Spanish Ladies: three versions of an old naval song

The women of Spain have such captivating beauty that the great Joaquín Sorolla featured them in many of his paintings, including his 1889 Los Guitarristas, Costumbres Valencianas (pictured above). They also inspired Spanish Ladies, a traditional British naval song which is said to pre-date the shanties of 19th-century English merchant sailors. Of the many versions of Spanish Ladies, three have caught my ear. I hope each one of these will delight others who love nautical songs.

A haunting version by Finnian McGurk, folk singer from Portland, Dorset, UK

Rambunctious performance from Celtic Mayhem (Ty Billings, Martyne Wylde
and Jack Stamates)

A beautiful take on Spanish Ladies by Helena Cinto of Zaragoza, Spain

Want to carry and listen to Spanish Ladies on your smartphone? A charming version by Roger McGuinn in MP3 format is available to download here.

Reflections on old salts and a 99-year-old photograph

Reflections on old salts and a 99-year-old photograph

Lewis Wickes Hine (1874–1940) was an American photographer and sociologist who documented the lives of immigrants and workers in early 20th-century America. His 1920 photograph of an old sailor (shown above) is part of the vast Hine collection in the Library of Congress. It is not poignant or powerful like some of his pictures depicting immigrants arriving on Ellis Island in New York Harbor or children shucking and cleaning oysters in Mississippi. Even so, it opens a window to the life of one individual soul. The rather lengthy title says:

An old salt (he is nearly eighty) and still going to sea in spite of the loss of one of his eyes. He was born in Turkey and although he has been at sea 62 years and speaks one language for each of the Seven Seas he finds it profitable to apply for advice at the Seaman’s Service Center, New York City, operated jointly by the American Red Cross and the United States Public Health Service


Also in Marine Café Blog:

Celebrating old salts in paintings

What manner of man would still be working at sea in the twilight of his years? He would have to be tough, physically and emotionally, and be free from dementia. He would have to genuinely love the sea and the nautical life. Seafaring would have to be in his blood. He would have to be like Ishmael, the narrator in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale who declared:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. (CHAPTER 1. Loomings)

Such types seem to be a vanishing breed. In Manila, ship officers not yet in their late fifties sit behind office desks in manning agencies or teach at some training centre or maritime college. One can even find young men and women who are licensed as officers working on shore as fleet managers or superintendents. What sea experience do they have that they should be given such elevated posts? All this should come as no surprise. For many, seafaring does not run in their veins but love for the greenback does.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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14 great quotes about growing old for sailors

14 great quotes about growing old for sailors

Old age is too remote for young sailors to think about. It is a distant shore that lies beyond the horizon, invisible to the eyes of youth in love with life. The time comes, however, when strands of white hair begin to surface like little islands in the sea. They multiply and merge to form a grey, snow-capped mountain. Suddenly, one realises that youth has slipped away like the morning tide. The following quotes can be a source of courage, consolation and perhaps even enlightenment for sailors and others who are nearing the land of old age or have already reached it.

I dread no more the first white in my hair,
Or even age itself, the easy shoe,
The cane, the wrinkled hands, the special chair:
Time, doing this to me, may alter too
My anguish, into something I can bear.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay, from Wine from These Grapes

When I get older losing my hair, 
Many years from now. 
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine.


If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.
You’ll be older too,
And it you say the word,
I could stay with you.
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride,
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.
Every summer we can rent a cottage,
In the isle of wight, if it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera chuck & dave
Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.

~ The Beatles, When I’m Sixty-Four

It is a hard although a common case
To find our children running restive–they
In whom our brightest days we would retrace,
Our little selves re-form’d in finer clay,
Just as old age is creeping on apace,
And clouds come o’er the sunset of our day,
They kindly leave us, though not quite alone,
But in good company–the gout or stone.

~ Lord Byron, Don Juan

New York from the Harbor Showing the Battery and Castle Garden, 1858
Alfred Copestick (American, ca. 1837–1859) / The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The course of my long life hath reached at last,
In fragile bark o’er a tempestuous sea,
The common harbor, where must rendered be,
Account of all the actions of the past.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Old Age

It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better.

~ John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley: In Search of America 

There is only one solution if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life, and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence a meaning.

~ Simone De Beauvoir, The Coming of Age

The real affliction of old age is remorse.

Cesare Pavese, The Moon and the Bonfire

Retired from the Sea, late 19th to early 20th century
Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (British, 1853–1941) / Philadelphia Museum of Art

When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.

~ Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Let’s put a limit to the scramble for money. … Having got what you wanted, you ought to begin to bring that struggle to an end.

~ Horace, Satires

Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty;
For in my youth I never did apply
Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood;
Nor did not with unbashful forehead woo
The means of weakness and debility;
Therefore my age is as a lusty winter,
Frosty, but kindly.

~ William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Age imprints more wrinkles on the mind than it does on the face.

~ Montaigne, Essays

Marine, la nuit, circa 1895
Thomas Alexander Harrison (American, 1853–1930) / Musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper via

I believe in old age; to work and to grow old: this is what life expects of us. And then one day to be old and still be quite far from understanding everything — no, but to begin, but to love, but to suspect, but to be connected to what is remote and inexpressible, all the way up into the stars.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Life

For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Morituri Salutamus”

Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth.

~ William Butler Yeats, The Coming of Age with Time

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Sea, sky and the sublime: Caspar David Friedrich’s art

Sea, sky and the sublime: Caspar David Friedrich’s art

The art world has not run out of praise for the 19th-century German painter, Caspar David Friedrich (shown in the above inset, a portrait by fellow German artist Gerhard von Kügelgen). Perhaps it never will. Peter Schjeldahl, art critic of The New Yorker magazine, had this to say about a 2001 Friedrich exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:

The pictures don’t give; they take. Something is drawn out of us with a harrowing effect, which Friedrich’s use of color nudges toward intoxication… One doesn’t so much look at a Friedrich as inhale it, like nicotine. Friedrich is an artist of dusky fire, of twilight that sears. It is well worth sticking around for his shuddery pleasures, laced with something cold and weird. (‘Inspired Lunacy’, The New Yorker, 1st October 2001 issue)

Friedrich’s art has the capacity to more than intoxicate. It evokes a sense of the sublime. No picturesque landscapes for this artist. He goes beyond what is beautiful in nature. He takes us from land to sea to sky, ushering us into the realm of the sublime — that which is great and immense beyond comparison and before which we experience a feeling of awe that borders on the religious. The following visual compositions by Friedrich show why he has been called Germany’s greatest Romantic artist.

The Monk by the Sea, circa 1808–1810
Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)

One of Friedrich’s most famous paintings, The Monk by the Sea (Der Mönch am Meer), is also one of his most enigmatic. Could the tall figure with the Teutonic blond hair standing on the shore like the trunk of a barren tree be the artist himself? What is the monk thinking about as he gazes out to the dark sea? We shall never know. Interestingly, the foreground consisting of land and water occupies only a fifth of the canvas. The rest is all sky. Friedrich seems to be suggesting that there is something greater and loftier than man and nature.

Moonrise ( (Mondaufgang),, circa 1835–1837
Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)

For Friedrich, nature was not only an object for artistic contemplation. It was a vehicle for communing with the divine. In this sepia ink and pencil drawing, the entire scene is bathed in lambent light. It is beautiful but mysterious. The two men seem to be frozen in awe as they gaze at the rising moon, their backs turned towards the viewer. It is a subtle invitation to take part in a  transient encounter with the sublime.

Ships in the Roadstead, probably circa 1816–1817
Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)

Like many of Friedrich’s works, Ships in the Roadstead (Schiffe auf der Reede) shows a fascination with death and decay. The stark silhouttes of three sailing ships call to mind the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Calvary. Adding to the religious overtone is a full moon that lights up part of the sky in the background. To the believer, there is life after death.

Night in the Harbour (Sisters), circa 1818–1820
Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)

Night in the Harbour / Sisters (Nacht im Hafen / Schwestern) is an intriguing piece. Two sisters are standing on a balcony overlooking the harbour. The woman on the left has her right hand resting on the shoulder of her sister. Is she trying to comfort her? In the background are the silhouttes of a cathedral and the masts of ships that stand erect like sentinels on watch. A small dot of a moon at the top of the canvas provides the only light to the sombre landscape.

On a Sailing Ship, circa 1818–1820
Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)

The image of a couple holding hands on a sailing vessel can easily give rise to a cheesy, hackneyed painting. In On a Sailing Ship, Friedrich avoids sentimentalism and elevates the subject to the level of sublime art. Like the two men on the shore in Moonrise (Mondaufgang), the man and woman in this painting are facing the horizon. Somehow we get the sense of being on the same boat with them. We find ooutselves seated behind the mast near the stern on a homeward journey.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Five things the maritime industry should have less of

Five things the maritime industry should have less of

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.

~from the Tao-te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The shipping industry is trying hard to reduce emissions from ships. Well and good. Global warming is bad enough without shipowners adding to the problem. But what about the excess of other things in the maritime world? The following are five examples. They need to be reduced in the name of moderation, one of the virtues prescribed in the Tao-te Ching, the classic of Chinese philosophical literature.

Maritime Conferences

Conferences, particularly the two-day variety, are the bane of the maritime world. Just about every topic serves as the bone around which conference organisers try to wrap some meat. Why have these talkathons when experts’ papers can be uploaded to the internet for others to comment on? Ah, but that would mean no junkets for maritime executives.

Slogans and Speeches

These are twin epidemics for which no vaccine has been discovered. The source of the sloganeering sickness can often be traced to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) headquarters in London, where word-spinners always come up with something new for the World Maritime Day and the Day of the Seafarer. 

Press Releases

Press releases are filling maritime news websites to the brim. Editors probably cannot be blamed for gobbling them up. Maintaining a pool of correspondents costs money. But enough is enough. Readers deserve more than paltry, self-serving press releases.

Maritime Certificates

Just as plastics are filling the oceans, certificates are inundating the shipping world. Ship officers have a trunkful of training certificates, more than the number a medical doctor can dream of. Maritime companies are not exempt from the certificate mania. Despite it all, serious marine accidents are still happening.

Manning Agents

Manning companies are not known to protect the rights and welfare of seafarers. On the contrary, many are patently anti-seafarer. They should be wiped out from the maritime landscape and replaced with union-operated hiring halls.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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