While humans by nature have a perpetual need for company, we all need to be alone sometimes. No, not the solitude of quarantine or imprisonment, but the solitariness born out of choice and free will. To be able to step back from the noisy crowd is to be free in the real sease of the word. As the following works of art show, there is something beautiful and almost sublime about this freedom.
A crowded beach speaks eloquently of the human condition: the perpetual need for company. People not only congregate there to enjoy sun and sea. They desire to mingle with others and be part of a larger fellowship.
This is why many are whining about the coronavirus lockdowns. To be forced to stay at home is not essentially different from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange withering away in London’s Belmarsh Prison. One is deprived, not only of freedom of movement, but of human companionship.
With so much din and clamour over seafarers’ rights, many people could be forgetting that the exploitation of child is a far greater problem. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 152 million are victims of child labour worldwide (see the ILO facts and figures here). The following 19th-century paintings should serve as a Labour Day reminder of this ugly ever-present reality.
People are being bombarded daily with news of the coronavirus pandemic. Many must be tired of the subject. So why would Marine Café Blog share artworks that depict past plagues? First, because they remind us that massive outbreaks of diseases are nothing new. Second, because art can help us deal with our own emotions and sublimate them into some form of activity — such as doing something creative or helping others in these dark, tumultous times.
The Tao Te Ching is a jewel of a book ascribed to the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (6th century BC). It offers precious insights into Taoism, its central concept of the Tao, and a way of life marked by harmony and tranquility. But there’s another good reason for reading this classic text: it is rich in poetic metaphors.
My friend Frankie the Sage Cat is smarter than some pundits who appear on television to give their two cents’ worth. But he’ll never be invited to guest on any show. You see, Frankie’s views can be a bit far-out even when it comes to the shipping industry. He’s an iconoclast at heart, always ready to criticise institutions and people’s cherished beliefs. This was evident once again during Marine Café Blog’s latest conversation with the fellow.
What did Blackbeard, one of history’s most famous pirates, look like in real life? I believe we will never know for sure. Blackbeard, byname of Edward Teach (or Thatch), lived from around 1680 to 1718 — long before the advent of photography. He is typically shown sporting a luxuriant beard (hence the nickname), but that does not really say much about his true countenance.
It is not only the fragility of life that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted. It is also the fragility of the thing called “globalisation“. Borders have been sealed off. Nations have barred the entry of ships and planes. The flow of tourists and migrants is put on hold. Suddenly, the global village Canadian futurist Herbert Marshall McLuhan wrote about in the 1960s seems to have exploded and scattered into self-contained little islands.
Entire cities and countries are in lockdown because of the coronavirus. Millions are forced to stay at home, marooned like the pirate in the 1903 drawing by American illustrator and author Howard Pyle (from his Book of Pirates). Humans being hopelessly social creatures, it is a miserable state of affairs. Even so, I hope the following works of art, together with my random reflections, would help mitigate the misery of those who are not used to being isolated from the crowd.
Plagues do not come very often. But when they do, they cause a great deal of fear and consternation. The present coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted supply chains, wreaked havoc on stock markets, and sent people panic-buying in the supermarkets. The following quotes should provide some food for thought and perhaps even solace in this terrifying time.
There is a culture of greed in maritime Manila which reminds me of Gustave Doré‘s drawing of the greedy and indulgent pushing rocks in Dante’s Inferno. Not all have succumbed to the greed. I have known a few spirits whose kind-heartedness and generosity have helped preserve my faith in humanity. However, many folks, particularly in Manila’s manning community, have capitulated to Mammon, to the siren call of money. The following are two of my personal encounters with them, both excerpted from my e-book, Close Encounters in Maritime Manila:
To be sure, not all manning agents are bad. Some are scrupulous and treat seafarers fairly. In Manila, however, there is a culture of greed to which many crewing companies have succumbed. I am reminded of an 1881 illustration (pictured above) from the 19th-century weekly newspaper, L’Illustration européenne. It shows an old man taking bags of gold coins to his deathbed and exclaiming “Alas, must I leave you my dear lambs”.