Seafarer rights issues and ‘The Sound of Silence’

Seafarer rights issues and ‘The Sound of Silence’

Marine Café Blog recently detailed how Filipino seafarers were being short-changed big time on their remittances. Yet, despite the scale of the problem, the press has not deigned to take up the issue. Nor have I heard the seafarer unions and the bleeding-heart maritime NGOs openly condemn the cheating. The same was true when I first wrote in 2013 about Manila’s maritime flunkeys — i.e., cadets who work as unpaid labour for manning agencies and unions. Why the silence?

I am reminded of ‘The Sound of Silence’ by the American musical duo Simon & Garfunkel. Released in 1965, the iconic song dwells on the theme of apathy and alienation. The third verse especially rings true in light of all the talking about seafarers’ rights and the never-ending violations of those rights:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

In spite of it all, I continue to write candidly about seafarer issues. I have stopped feeling like I am Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to perpetually roll a boulder to the top of a hill, only to see it fall down again. Nowadays I hear myself uttering the first lines lines of the Simon & Garfunkel song:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

So much for self-indulgent ruminations. Just watch and listen to Simon & Garfunkel perform in 1981 ‘The Sound of Silence’ at New York City”s Central Park:

~ Barista Uno

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Six song tributes to old sailors and old fishermen

Six song tributes to old sailors and old fishermen

Enough of the empty slogans. A meaningful, and certainly more creative, way to pay tribute to those who work at sea is through music and song. The following videos feature some of the best songs on YouTube about old sailors and fishermen — those hardy spirits who cut their teeth on boats and have spent many years at sea. The last song is in Spanish, but the lively tune should delight even non-native speakers.

Old Sailors Never Die
Performed by the Swedish group Jazz Pirates — Lasse Collin (clarinet), Mathias Gustavsson (guitar) and Leif Melldahl (bass)

The Old Man and the Sea
Written and performed by American singer Bertie Higgins in honour of his father, Elbert T. (Jiggs) Higgins

The Old Captain
Performed by BRILLIG of Adelaide, Australia

Old Sailor (Wednesday Nite Live Music Festival)
Performed by the seven-member The Dirty Vice Band of Long Island

The Old Skipper
 Sung and recorded in 1937 by Captain Pearl R. Nye

Viejo Lobo de Mar
Composed and sung by Peruvian singer Ernesto Valverde

~ Barista Uno

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12 quotes about old age (for sailors and everyone else)

12 quotes about old age (for sailors and everyone else)

Old age is a topic most people want to avoid. It is almost taboo to talk about it in a materialistic society where youth is admired like some kind of jewel. Sooner or later, however, old age — frequently defined as 60 or 65 years of age or older — will come as surely as the ocean tide will kiss the shore. The following quotes may provide some consolation or even inspiration to those who have reached, or are about to reach, this stage in the voyage we call Life.

Every man desires to live long; but no man would be old.

~ Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting (1706)

Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man.

~ Leon Trotsky, Trotsky’s Diary in Exile 1935 (1958)

Growing old is no more than a bad habit which a busy man has no time to form.

~ André Maurois, The Art of Living (1940)

Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.

~ Francis Bacon, Essay XLII, Of Youth and Age (The Essays of Francis Bacon, 1908)

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 (1970)

The real affliction of old age is remorse.

~ Cesare Pavese, The Moon and the Bonfires (originally published 1949)

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 (c. 1599-1600)

I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.

~ Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (1950)

Age is not all decay; it is the ripening, the swelling of the fresh life within, that withers and bursts the husk.

~ George MacDonald, as quoted in Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

When grace is mingled with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an indescribable aurora in beaming old age.

~ Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (1887)

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 (1875)

Nobler than a ship safely ending a long voyage, and sublimer than the setting sun, is the old age of a just and kind and useful life.

~ Wm. Mountford, as quoted in Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

~ Barista Uno

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10 useful tips on appreciating marine art

10 useful tips on appreciating marine art

I have posted so many articles about marine art that I have now lost count. So it’s about time that I wrote about my personal approach to the subject. I have no pretensions to being an art critic, much less an art historian. But I do have a passion for art that started in my late teens. The world of marine art is so vast that I have to continue educating myself. With that in mind, I should lke to share some tips for appreciating marine art, most of them applicable to art in general.

Give the artwork the time and attention it deserves.

Savour art as you would a cup of coffee. Take your time. Observe closely the distinct qualities of the artwork and enjoy the whole experience. An excellent painting, drawing or woodblock print deserves more than a cursory look. Unfortunately on social media, people tend to glance at a work of art, press the “like” button, and then skip through the rest of the page.

View digital images of artworks on a large, widescreen computer monitor.

Use a widescreen desktop monitor for a better viewing experience (I use a 22-inch monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1080). Looking at artworks on a smartphone or tablet won’t do if you are to really appreciate what you see. If a smartphone or tablet is the only device available to you at the moment, enlarge or view the work in fullscreen. Of course, there is nothing like seeing the actual works in a gallery or museum.

Be familiar with the sea.

Familiarity with the sea enhances your appreciation of marine art. When you get the chance, observe how the ocean behaves — the motion of the waves, their ebb and flow, and the changing colours of the water at various times of the day. Just taking in the sea breeze and smelling the salt water can help you imagine what artists like Claude Monet felt when they executed their seascapes en plein air (i.e., in the open air).

Learn the different types and parts of sailing ships, cargo ships, etc.

You may think that a painting is excellent even though the artist did not quite paint or draw the boat or ship the way it should be rendered. By knowing what the real thing looks like, you can avoid being easily impressed by a work that is flawed in terms of boat or ship design. This is especially true in the case of ship portraits. However, this should not prevent you from appreciating naive art, which has its own merits.

Pay attention to the way the artist used colour, form, texture and other artistic elements.

A work of art represents the intentionality of a creative mind. The elements that comprise it are not there by accident. There is a reason why the artist used certain colours or why he placed the ship at a certain spot on the canvas. That said, an artwork is more than the sum of its parts. It can convey a certain mood or atmosphere which you should be aware of.

“Savour art as you would a cup of coffee. Take your time. Observe closely the distinct qualities of the artwork and enjoy the whole experience.”

Ask yourself how the work of art affects you visually, emotionally and even intellectually.

Art can affect people in different ways. The thing is to be conscious of why you react to a work of art the way you do. What is it in the artwork that contributed to your feeling calm, sad, happy, angry, perplexed, etc.? Step back for a moment after viewing the work and focus on your subjective feelings (I call this “aesthetic distance”).

Take the time to learn more about the artist’s life and his milieu.

Not everyone has the time to read biographies. However, one can get key facts about an artist and his works from the internet– e.g., museum and auction house websites, Encyclopedia Britannica, and the good old Wikipedia. Knowing where the artist lived and studied; his family and social environment; and which artists influenced his style can enhance your appreciation of his works.

Familiarise yourself with the different art movements and styles.

Learn the main characteristics of the various styles and movements (Realism, Impressionism, Post-Imressionism, Fauvism, etc.). This will enable you to see an artwork in its historical context. An artist may be following a certain art tradition but has introduced some innovations of his own. Knowing this leads to a better appreciation of his artistic output.

Read online reviews of art exhibitions and articles about particular artists.

Those who write about art reviews for leading newspapers and magazines usually know what they’re talking about. They may have a degree in art history in addition to possessing a discerning eye. Their insights can help increase your understanding and appreciation of the subject artist.

10 Don’t be intimidated by art critics.

Many art critics are fond of using fancy phrases and highfalutin jargon. Their academic approach can leave you feeling cold. It is best to trust your own instincts and judgements, provided that you do so with a basic understanding of what makes for good art. Yes, there is such a thing as bad art.

~ Barista Uno

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Remembrance of sailing ships and their splendour

Remembrance of sailing ships and their splendour

Let’s face it. The ships of today can’t hold a candle to the splendour of the sailing vessels that used to roam the oceans. Certainly not the monstrous mega cruise ships or the dreary container ships often celebrated in the shipping world. Here’s a nostalgic look at the former beauties of the sea as portrayed by various artists.

Review of the Black Sea Fleet in 1849 (1886), by Ivan Aivazovsky (Russian, 1817–1900) Courtesy of

In this stunning oil painting, Ivan Aivazovsky pays tribute to the might of the Imperial Russian Navy and the magnificence of sailing ships. By bunching the warships together, their masts and billowing sails slightly tilted under a radiant light, Aivazovsky evokes a sense of military power and patriotic pride.

Battle in the Chios Strait on June 24, 1770 (1848) by Ivan Aivazovsky (Russian, 1817–1900) Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sailing ships in the days of yore looked resplendent in battle. In Aivazovsky’s painting, a Turkish and a Russian warship slug it out in a prelude to the famous Battle of Chesma (Çe?me), which took place during the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) and saw the defeat of the Ottoman navy. Additional details about the painting can be found here.

A Ship on the High Seas Caught by a Squall, Known as ‘The Gust’ (c. 1680) by Willem van de Velde II (Dutch, 1611–1693) Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The sea has no respect even for beautiful sailing ships. Willem van de Velde II’s painting conjures the kind of terror that only hardened sailors know. Yet, there is something strangely beautiful about the way the ship depicted is struggling against the wind and the waves. One may be reminded of Dylan Thomas’ poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ with its powerful refrain: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Ships at Anchor (c. 1650–c. 1707) by Willem van de Velde II (Dutch, 1611–1693) Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

A sailing ship at rest can look as enticing as Francisco de Goya’s La maja vestida (The Clothed Maja). Here, Dutch Golden Age painter Willem van de Velde II shows his masterful technique as well as the Dutch affinity with the sea.

Full-Rigged Clipper Ships (c. 1860) by unknown American artist Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Clipper ships hogged the maritime limelight in the mid-19th century because of their beauty, grace and speed. This work by an unknown artist may be categorised as “naive art” given its lack of sophistication in artistic technique. Even so, it is a charming expression of the appeal that clippers held when they were prima donnas of the sea.

Folding Screen with the Arrival of a Portuguese Ship (c. 1600 – c. 1625) by anonymous painter from the Edo-period (1600-1868) Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Rijksmuseum has an interesting historical note on ths artwork: “The arrival of Portuguese ships in Nagasaki Harbour was quite an attraction in the early 17th century. This is what is taking place here, with the merchandise being unloaded at the left and the captain under a parasol at the right. Such screens were probably made for the Japanese merchant class, which made a fortune from the lucrative overseas trade with Portugal. They depict the foreign contacts in a nutshell for the Japanese spectator.”

Calligraphic Galleon (dated A.H. 1180/ A.D. 1766–67) by Turkish calligrapher ‘Abd al-Qadir Hisari Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The old sailing ships were veritable works of art. No wonder they captivated artists and calligraphers of the Islamic world. The MET’s annotation to this gorgeous piece is worth a read (click here).

Sailing Ship – off Coast of Maine (1876) by William E. Norton (American, 1843 – 1916)
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Age of Sail may be no more, but sailing ships, like this one gloriously depicted by William E. Norton, will live on — so long as artworks abide and there are eyes that see.

~ Barista Uno

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