Lighthouses under the spotlight in super old photos

Lighthouses under the spotlight in super old photos

Lighthouses may look plain and simple. The unromantic would consider them uninteresting, not worth a second look. However, to the observant eye, lighthouses have a certain majesty and elegance which seem to be enhanced by the very fact that they stand far from the madding crowd. All of the following photographs are more than 100 years old, but they remain as alluring today as the lighthouses they depict.

“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” — Alfred Stieglitz

View of the lighthouse of Petit Minou in France (before 1883)
Photo credit: anonymous photographer / Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Portland Head Light, Maine (circa 1902)
Photo credit: Detroit Publishing Co., publisher / Library of Congress

Cape Disappointment lighthouse, Fort Canby, Washington, at the mouth
of the Columbia River (1910)
Photo credit: John Fletcher Ford (c1862–1914) / Oregon State
University Special Collections & Archives

Spring Point Light (circa 1905)
Photo credit: unknown photographer / Library of Congress, USA

Crown Point Light House on Lake Champlain, Crown Point, New York (between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915)
Photo credit: Bain News Service, publisher / Library of Congress, USA

Gratiot Light, Port Huron, Michigan (circa 1900)
Photo credit: Detroit Publishing Co., publisher / Library of Congress, USA

Lighthouse and Jetty, le Havre (1857)
Photo credit: Gustave Le Gray (1820 – 1884) / The J. Paul Getty Museum

~ Barista Uno


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Remembering stranded seafarers through poetry

Remembering stranded seafarers through poetry

The thought of seafarers stranded by the thousands because of the COVID-19 pandemic makes me hark back to a poem in Spanish entitled ‘Perdón si por mis ojos’. It was written by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973), winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize for Literature. I am delighted to share this powerful poem together with my English translation. Neruda describes the inner life of the seafarer against a backdrop of water, rock and seaweed.


Perdón si por mis ojos no llegó
mas claridad que la espuma marina,
perdón porque mi espacio
se extiende sin amparo
y no termina:
monótono es mi canto,
mi palabra es un pájaro sombrío,
fauna de piedra y mar, el desconsuelo
de un planeta invernal, incorruptible.
Perdón por esta sucesión del agua,
de la roca, la espuma, el desvarío
de la marea: así es mi soledad:
bruscos saltos de sal contra los muros
de mi secreto ser, de tal manera
que yo soy una parte
del invierno,
de la misma extensión que se repite
de campana en campana en tantas olas
y de un silencio como cabellera,
silencio de alga, canto sumergido.


Forgive me if through my eyes comes
nothing clearer than sea foam,
forgive me because my space
spreads out without refuge
and does not end:
my song is monotonous
my word is a sullen bird,
fauna of stone and sea, the desolation
of a wintry planet, incorruptible.
Forgive me this succession of water,
of rock, the froth, the delirium
of the tide: so is my solitude:
sudden leaps of brine against the walls
of my secret being, in such a way
I am a part
of winter,
of the selfsame extension that repeats itself
from bell to bell in so many waves
and from the silence like a head of hair,
silence of seaweed, underwater song.

(translation by B.U. © Marine Café Blog) 

Pablo Neruda wrote another wonderful poem, ‘Si tu me olvidas‘ (If you forget me), which deals with the separation between lovers. It is a poem many seafarers can identify with. The English version  is recited by the American singer and songwriter, Madonna, in the following video clip. To read the poem in the original Spanish, click here.

~ Barista Uno


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Day of the Seafarer: Empty tributes amid COVID-19

Day of the Seafarer: Empty tributes amid COVID-19

The coronavirus is deadly but not deadly enough to curtail maritime sloganeering. Paeans to seafarers are once again pouring out in the lead-up to the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ (25th June).

As usual, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is leading the chorus. The theme it has chosen for this year’s celebration is #SeafarersAreKeyWorkers. The hashtag signifies that the IMO expects the message to spread like a virus on social media and sundry places in the internet.

No problem. The entire shipping community and the maritime press will instinctually repeat the message. Never mind if it is stodgy and lacks imagination (aren’t medical professionals and deliverymen also key workers?). The IMO has created a cult out of the Day of the Seafarer, and the cult members are spellbound.

Bandage on the wound

Says the IMO on its website: “The (2020 Day of the Seafarer) campaign encourages everyone to treat seafarers with the respect and dignity they deserve so that they can continue to provide their vital services to keep world trade moving.”

Those words are like a small bandage on the large pscyhological wound of seafarers stranded by the thousands in foreign ports and harbours because of COVID-19. That so many men and women who work at sea have to undergo such an ordeal points to a collective failing of the global shipping community.

One huge anomaly 

It has not crossed anyone’s mind that the Day of the Seafarer is one huge anomaly. In a 2016 article, Marine Café Blog pointedly asked why the annual celebration was being spearheaded by the IMO and not by the International Labour Organisation:

“Indeed, why not the ILO, the UN agency dealing with labour standards and promoting decent work for all women and men? Is it not the ILO that sanctified seamen’s rights through ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and similar treaties that came before? What has the IMO got to do with the rights and welfare of seamen?”

These questions are still relevant in 2020. That nobody is raising them is not surprising. We are dealing with a cult with a church built upon slogans and followers ready and willing to sing the hymns composed by the leader.

~ Barista Uno


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Five sea poems full-blooded sailors would love

Five sea poems full-blooded sailors would love

American poet Emily Dickinson once said of poetry: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” (quoted in The Atlantic magazine, ‘Emily Dickinson’s Letters‘). The following sea poems may well induce the same effect. Together they speak of the joy and pain of the seafaring life in simple but heartfelt language. The last poem, Seaside, is a bit enigmatic. The narrator could be a retired mariner or the poet himself whose memories are stoked by “the old unquiet ocean.”

Song from the Ship

by Thomas Lovell Beddoes (English, 1803 – 1849)

To sea, to sea! The calm is o’er;
The wanton water leaps in sport,
And rattles down the pebbly shore;
The dolphin wheels, the sea-cows snort,
And unseen Mermaids’ pearly song
Comes bubbling up, the weeds among.
Fling broad the sail, dip deep the oar:
To sea, to sea! the calm is o’er.

To sea, to sea! our wide-winged bark
Shall billowy cleave its sunny way,
And with its shadow, fleet and dark,
Break the caved Tritons‘ azure day,
Like mighty eagle soaring light
O’er antelopes on Alpine height.
The anchor heaves, the ship swings free,
The sails swell full. To sea, to sea!


At Sea

by Algernon Charles Swinburne (English, 1837 – 1909)

‘Farewell and adieu’ was the burden prevailing
Long since in the chant of a home-faring crew;
And the heart in us echoes, with laughing or wailing,
Farewell and adieu.

Each year that we live shall we sing it anew,
With a water untravelled before us for sailing
And a water behind us that wrecks may bestrew.

The stars of the past and the beacons are paling,
The heavens and the waters are hoarier of hue:
But the heart in us chants not an all unavailing
Farewell and adieu.


The Dream Of Home

by Thomas Moore (Irish, 1779 – 1852)

Who has not felt how sadly sweet
The dream of home, the dream of home,
Steals o’er the heart, too soon to fleet,
When far o’er sea or land we roam?
Sunlight more soft may o’er us fall,
To greener shores our bark may come;
But far more bright, more dear than all,
That dream of home, that dream of home.

Ask the sailor youth when far
His light bark bounds o’er ocean’s foam,
What charms him most, when evening’s star
Smiles o’er the wave? to dream of home.
Fond thoughts of absent friends and loves
At that sweet hour around him come;
His heart’s best joy where’er he roves,
That dream of home, that dream of home.

The ocean said to me once

by Stephen Crane (American, 1871 – 1900)

The ocean said to me once,
Yonder on the shore
Is a woman, weeping.
I have watched her.
Go you and tell her this —
Her lover I have laid
In cool green hall.
There is wealth of golden sand
And pillars, coral-red;
Two white fish stand guard at his bier.

“Tell her this
And more —
That the king of the seas
Weeps too, old, helpless man.
The bustling fates
Heap his hands with corpses
Until he stands like a child
With a surplus of toys.”


by Rupert Brooke (English, 1887 – 1915)

Swiftly out from the friendly lilt of the band,
The crowd’s good laughter, the loved eyes of men,
I am drawn nightward; I must turn again
Where, down beyond the low untrodden strand,
There curves and glimmers outward to the unknown
The old unquiet ocean. All the shade
Is rife with magic and movement. I stray alone
Here on the edge of silence, half afraid,

Waiting a sign. In the deep heart of me
The sullen waters swell towards the moon,
And all my tides set seaward.
From inland
Leaps a gay fragment of some mocking tune,
That tinkles and laughs and fades along the sand,
And dies between the seawall and the sea.

NOTE: Marine Café Blog has a number of sea-related literarary works that you can freely download. Click here to see what is available so far. More books will be added as part of the blog’s efforts to promote the love of reading amongst seafarers.

~ Barista Uno


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Art vs. reality: Claude Monet’s paintings of Étretat

Art vs. reality: Claude Monet’s paintings of Étretat

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.

~ John Lennon

French Impressionist painter Claude Monet found plenty of room for his creative imagination in Étretat, a fishing village and resort on the Normandy coast. He sojourned in the place several times between1883 and 1886. In all, according to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Étretat inspired more than 50 of his canvases.

Monet was enthralled by Étretat’s towering white cliffs and sublime natural arches. He painted them multiple times as though he couldn’t get enough of what he saw. Below is a 2004 photograph of the iconic rock formation, The Manneporte, next to one of Monet’s renditions of the subject.

First picture: Étretat Cliffs in Normandy, France (2004), photo by Donar Reiskoffer (Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 licence). Second picture: The Manneporte near Étretat (1886) by Claude Monet

Reality revivified

Monet was obsessed with rendering changes in light and capturing the moment as the light defined it. In this sense, his goals as an artist were not unlike those of a photographer. He explained his approach to landscape painting thus:

For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value. (Quoted in The Art Story website)

Monet created what one may call ‘impressions’. But he was faithful to what he saw in front of him. Rather than rejecting reality, he gave it a new life and vigour. The following photograph and Monet’s depictions of the same scene underline the point.

Étretat – La Falaise d’Aval – View SW on la Manneporte (2010)
Photo by Txllxt TxllxT, Wikimedia user (Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

The Cliff of Aval, Etrétat (1885) by Claude Monet

Stormy Sea in Étretat (1883) by Claude Monet

Sunset in Étretat (1883) by Claude Monet

~ Barista Uno


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