Proverbs may sound banal and old hat to some people. But these short, pithy sayings which have been handed down from generation to generation have much wisdom in them. They are like small fruits from mankind’s living tree of knowledge. The following are some such proverbs which seem quite suitable for certain players on the maritime stage.
Shanties (shipboard work songs) are fun to listen to because of their typically jaunty rhythm and hilarious lyrics. One exception is the popular ‘Leave Her, Johnny’, which was sung by 19th-century sailors on the Atlantic Ocean packet trade. Despite its dash of humour, this shanty tells of the trials and tribulations of seafarers.
One has to be a sailor to experience a storm of sea. However, there are enough storms on shore that are just as horrible. I do not mean the ones weathermen track with satellites. I mean the trials and tribulations which all mortals undergo — what Shakespeare’s Hamlet called the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” in his famous ‘To be, or not to be‘ soliloquy. The following works of art may well serve as allegories of life in these troubled and troubling times.
Those who exploit seafarers — and there’s a legion of them — have no need for a guide. The thing comes naturally to the greedy and the shameless. But if there were such a guide, it would probably include the following items, the first seven of which pertain to manning agents:
I have just spent several days searching online for artworks that depict the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay (also known as the Battle of Cavite). My search yielded a good number of interesting pieces. However, I found none that was created by a Filipino artist. This comes as no surprise. Although Filipinos pride themselves in being a “maritime” nation, the country has a paucity of marine art. Indeed, it lacks a tradition of such art — the kind of tradition that one finds in England, the United States, the Netherlands, Spain and other traditional maritime countries.
What is it about pirates that makes them so appealing to many people? They are essentially dislikeable characters. Captain Jack Sparrow, the main protagonist in the Pirates of the Caribbean fantasy film series, may not be the murderous type. But he is a rogue, a trickster who uses subterfuge and bluff to achieve his ends.
Nobody delights in war except warmongers. War is synonymous with death. It is horrifyingly ugly. Samuel Butler, the 17th-century Engish satirical poet, called it “the artificial plague of man”. Oddly enough, however, there is something beautiful about battles at sea, especially those involving frigates and other sailing ships built for warfare. The following works of art are some of the best I have seen on the subject.
“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us,” wrote Franz Kafka, the German-language Bohemian novelist. I don’t know if ‘Close Encounters in Maritime Manila’, an e-book which I published in 2018, is sharp enough to cut through the figurative sea. That sea is frozen hard in the hearts and minds of many local folks.
Like countless people around the world, I am fascinated no end by seashells. Just looking at them is a source of great pleasure. It can even be therapeutic. Someday, I might write a poem on the subject. In the meantime, let me share the following three verses and a haunting song about seashells. Relax and enjoy.
What legendary creature could be more popular than the mermaid? Since the days of silent film, this mythical being with the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish has been featured in more than 60 movies. She has graced countless children’s books. Her image greets coffee drinkers as they order capuccino at a Starbucks counter and drink from the cup with the twin-tailed mermaid logo.
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?
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.
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.