Marine Café Blog was launched on 25th August 2009. Twelve years and hundreds of posts later, it is still sailing through waters that can be quite choppy at times. Some readers may wonder why. How can a blogger keep going when blogging does not fill his pocket and there will always be those who will bash him for his views? In my case, I have four simple answers.
Seashells are beautiful in and of themselves. But humans are seldom content with nature. For thousands of years, they have been redesigning shells by painting them, making incisions and carvings, or adding some element such as as gold or silver frame. Whether driven by utilitarian, artistic or religious reasons, the act of altering such natural objects whilst preserving their form and structure allows humans to leave their imprint. Long after they are gone, memories of their life and times live on.
Millions of people must be familiar by now with ‘Wellerman’, the song which went viral on Tiktok in 2020. The Wellerman craze does not seem to have died down, so I thought I would share some marine art from where this 19th-century whaling song (no, it’s not a sea shanty) originated: New Zealand.
The following works, except the last one, are from the online collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. I trust that they will give the readers of Marine Café Blog an insight into the island country’s rich maritime heritage as well as its natural beauty.
Edward Lear (1812–1888) was a gifted English landscape painter. However, he is better known as the writer of an original kind of nonsense verse, which is epitomised by his ‘A Book of Nonsense’. First published in 1846, the slim volume contains drawings done by Lear himself. The drawings are wacky, outlandish and often absurd. But some of them make sense to me from a modern, maritime perspective.
In the maritime world, there are some individuals and organisations you can admire and some that can put you off and spoil your day. The following is a list of adjectives to describe those in the second category.
Civility dictates that one should use disparaging words with prudence. On the other hand, honesty and candidness seem more necessary than ever in an industry where seafarers continue to be exploited. When it comes to the rights and welfare of mariners, there ought to be no sacred cows.
On 9th August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a press release ominously headlined ‘Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying’. The IPCC statement painted a grim picture of what would happen in the likely event that global temperature reaches 1.5 degrees Celsius: rising sea level, unprecedented extreme weather conditions, drought, wildfires, etc. Interestingly, some artworks created more than a century ago — long before there was talk of CO2 emissions and global warming — provide a foretaste of what is happening today and what could happen in future in terms of climate change. It is as though the Past were mirroring the Future.
The vast maritime landscape never lacks for the self-conceited and the arrogant. I have met many such characters, too many in fact — cocky young ship officers, hoity-toity manning agents, overbearing union officials, self-important maritime journalists, and smug maritime academics. They all tend to have a bloated sense of their importance and abilities. My encounters with them prompt me to share the following excellent quotes about pride and humility.
“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go,” the American novelist and screenwriter, Truman Capote, once said. Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet may not have felt exactly the same about the fabled city. For sure, though, Venice had an exhilarating effect on these two key figures in the art movement called ‘Impressionism’. Both painters depicted its waters, palaces, cathedrals and sky in colours that continue to bedazzle viewers in the 21st century.
SELF-CONFIDENCE. That is something not taught in maritime academies. Nor is there mention of it in the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). Isn’t this odd? How can there be competency if one does not have faith in oneself and his or her ability to do things well?
Why has Venice fascinated so many artists through the centuries? The German art historian Gustav Pauli gave a straightforward answer in his 1904 book Venice: “Venice had always been one of the most picturesque cities of the world. What could have equalled in fantastic splendour the church of St. Mark, the Doges’ Palce, and their surroundings? — And again was it possible to imagine more delightful street-views, than were offered at every step by the narrow network of canals and streets?”
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a big blow to Filipino seafarers and the manning agents in Manila. Total deployment plunged by 54% in 2020 as the scourge of the virus disrupted supply chains and the normal process of crew change. But two trends could pose an even greater threat to Philippine manning over the long haul. Both have been slowly eating away at the country’s’ coveted standing in the global seafarer market. Yet, they do not seem to be receiving enough attention.
The world of 19th-century art was not exactly kind to women artists. In Europe especially, women were denied entry to art academies. Their works were often shunned by exhibition organisers. Early in her career, Austrian painter Lea von Littrow signed her works “Leo von Littrow” just so they could be exhibited. Despite the pervasive gender discrimination, a number of female artists managed to thrive and even gain celebrity status because of their grit and talent.