How I Write of Castles

I realised, after having reviewed castles (and, actually, historic sites of all types: palaces, temples, hills) that I have not said what I look for when I visit these places. While it is not that difficult to get the sense of what I say and don’t say, this might not be too helpful for people looking for some concrete facts or a detailed picture-overview.

Neither of these is in the realm of what I aim to do here. What I aim to do is to offer some snippets of historic curiosities, events which made me laugh or think or cry when I read about these places. That Tantallon’s lords liked going shooting on the nearby granitic outcrop, the Ailsa Craig of the eastern coast, or that James VI heard of his accession at Falklands and made it into a local title, or that a lord Cassilis of Culzean went and shot his umbrella-holder in the rainforests of Gambia…

These are stories which bring these places to life. They illustrate how living people treated each other and themselves in times gone past. What they laughed about and what they might not have enjoyed as much. All of these snippets help me build a better, clearer, window to look into history.

And I visit these places mostly to expand my understanding of history. This understanding takes many shapes. I do not particularly like reading about places and not being able to visualise them in my mind, and yet not many a text would describe Dunnotar Castle as well as the effort of climbing those steps to reach the peak of that peninsula. But this understanding also takes the form of the farmers at Alpsee who have ever lived looking at two or three castles on their nearby peaks. How do they relate to these? Is it a symbol of hope and strength, or does it merely represent wasted fortunes?

Naturally, all of these could be answered by other methods in the modern day. Yet, the feeling of going to somewhere and seeing it in its natural climate — no matter whether the result is a wintery Schloss Linderhof, sunny Mull of Galloway, or a rainy Rothesay — helps put that place into its natural context.

So… what I look for is emotion, a feeling, any feeling, that would relate to this place I am writing about. How this place fits into the world I have seen and into the lives of the people who were involved with it. How a representation of this place can carry the message that was dearest to my heart. How the inhabitants of this place would have looked about in the beginning of their day or at the end of their toils.

Longitude 180° E/W

It was my pleasure to be able to cross the 180° W to 180° E line last year (more or less this day), crossing the Pacific Ocean. The feeling of separation, of being thousands of miles from the closest bit of land, was spectacular on its own.

I am not entirely certain what more I can say. For me, this memory is so real I don’t need to use any more words. For anyone reading, these words are mere lines on a screen.

Thinking about it, I can describe a few more things.

One of these would be the sunshine Central Pacific experienced. I never thought it would be like that. I never thought it could be so warm, so calm, so tranquil. But, possibly the name of the ocean is not that wrong even though it can experience horrendous storms. Fernão de Magalhães may have been wrong in the entirety when he named the ocean, but he definitely grasped the occasion of the quiet sea.

The other thing to describe would be the sensation by which the aloneness feels. Sure, I wasn’t actually alone. There were probably about ten to fifteen other people on the vessel I was travelling, but, in general and in the modern world, that is secluded. The closest islands of Alaska and Hawaii were both more than two thousand kilometres away and even so, uninhabited. The closest inhabited place may have been a small town in Alaska.

Added to this distance across the globe I would add the distance above and below. The space above us is forever unlimited, and the space below is normally of no concern to us. Central Pacific in where we were was probably between three and four kilometres deep, and its inhabitants we can only imagine — the last frontier open to us on this globe is the depth of the oceans.

Only water, boundless water, in every direction. What an experience.

Dreamworld

It is an odd coincidence that lately I have been able to remember my dreams far more than I used to. Coincidence I say because it would also seem that my dreams have become more interesting than in the past. Obviously though, this could only be a reflection of the fact that I remember, by which I also appropriate more importance to these dreams.

When I think of the dreams I have had lately, I have to say that mostly when I wake up I am confused as to whether what happened in the dream might have happened instead on the day before. Since the events I see fall in line with the things I am concentrating on in ‘real’ life, the similarities only confuse me more.

It might be difficult to describe it any better terms unless this feeling has been experienced in person. But, think of this: Of the things I can remember, the most memorable was something that either happened on Friday or in the dream on that day. I haven’t been able to determine which it was up to this point, and I will probably remain unable to do so. Maybe this inability to categorize it as either is the main reason for which I appreciate it that much — the uncertainty I face is fun.

There have been a number of other events as well, but I will not lay them out here. It was more that I wished to describe the general sensation. In a way, it has made me think I live in a dreamworld. Once I lost the capability to define whether a dream had been a dream, the only way to continue on was to say that anything seen in a dream might have happened in ‘reality’ as well. So, if something went wrong or contrary to plans, it would make more sense to avoid it even if it seems as if the original was part of a dream. It pays to be cautious.

In a way, would a dream not be the subconscious’ way of warning us from things we should not do? And all the more so if it does it in a way where the warnings resonate greatly with daily life and results that I would not see come true.

There is also the small possibility that if my dreams feel real, my reality might have become a dream… How would one go about resolving this particular conundrum?

So, as inconclusive as this post has been, I have said what I meant to say. Life feels more like a dream since my dreams have continued on from the experiences of the day, with this sense of similarity acting as an anchor on life itself. I am still here, and so is the day in which I live. The dreams come at night, but the next morning it might feel as if I have just woken from a long yesterday. And I think I am better off for it.

‘From dream to dream we dream, and today we dream anew.’

I wish to write more…

And I don’t. I even have posts that I manage to plan out in my mind whilst out and about. There is just the small and slightly relevant problem that I almost never manage to write them out once I get back home.

I have tried to think of ideas to make me more consistent in my writing, but I will have to see how that works out.

Right now, while watching ‘A Few Good Men’ once again, I thought that I would at least try putting some sort of a note down here that I can try writing more. A friend of mine recently started blogging, and I was hoping that her consistency would make me fall in line as well. Alas, that particular engine seemed to slow down so now I am wondering what would work best for me.

Until I work that one out, I will point out that I have had in mind to write a few words on British imperialism in the modern day, or at least my impressions on something that might be called as such. [And now that I have written it out, I will have to try doing it in least time possible. And maybe comment on ‘A Few Good Men’ as well. I do like that movie.]

Of Greece, and of People

In a similar line to my earlier post on Scotland, I have now returned (well, a week ago it was) from a good twelve days in Greece (the locations: Korinthia and Thera) which were not only very educative in the traditional higher educational sense (of geology and volcanology), but also of people — including myself.

While the locations I saw were not numerous, the time in Korinthia was well spent. Unfortunately, Akrokorinth is something I missed even though my hotel was only fifteen minutes away. Oh the times!.. Yet, there was one ancient settlement that I did get to visit in the region, and that was Heraion/Iraio (Ηραίο). It is difficult to describe the feelings that take hold when I look upon the work of people from two-and-a-half millenia away — what stays from that moment with me though is the consideration that to have their work survive for this long is representative of the great care and skill with which those stones were laid down once upon a time.

DSC01290
Ηραίο

The Thera part of the trip brought to my mind a lot of interesting problems, the majority of them related to history. For example, outside of Fira itself is a small cape and on that cape used to be a settlement-fortress. But as a fortress, the location was not all that useful. So, was the purpose to guard the people or to be guarded from them?

The old city of Akrotiri was quite spectacular (not even to mention that there was a house in that city called The Admiral’s House — what a beauty!) if somewhat lacking in the explanatory side. I dare say the evolution of that side of the island when looked at from a both human and volcanological point of view makes for an interesting story that probably deserves a fair bit of thought. I guess, however, that the one thing that is difficult to figure out is where indeed could there be other old settlements under the meters-thick layer of Minoan eruption sediments.

The Admiral's House
The Admiral’s House

One thought stayed with me the entire time from landing on Thera to leaving the place — it is immensely spectacular to see a place so naturally endowed for being a harbour. If it was in any way more strategically placed, it would be quite easy to lament the Admiral who chooses some other island/town for his flag-station. Looking down at the caldera — there were few fleets that I could think of which would not fit into this amazing enclosure. Sure, by the present day the eruptions have opened nearly a quarter of the bay to marine breezes, but even so one could have hidden and guarded a fleet here for some time. The one impulsive wish I did get was to travel to Truk, to Scapa Flow, to other renown harbours to see what sort of an impact they make. Do they look as good ports as Thera?..

And the people… let’s just say that there was plenty of opportunity for reflection on a variety of topics. The Mediterranean Sea always does seem like a very good place to go to for thinking — the combination of warm air, a sea breeze, the gleaming moon, waves breaking against the coast, the dark skies, and potentially a glass of the local quality drink make for a very beautiful moment. Pensiveness is certainly enhanced by this atmosphere. And it makes one wonder…

DSC_0054Also, over the course of this trip I could see that Dutch music is becoming more and more to my liking. I am not entirely certain why, but De Dijk’s line ‘Swalkend op de oceaan’ is a part of the cause.

Of Forgiveness

Forgiveness — the ability to forgive anything (or near enough anything) — is quite an important part of everyday life as I see it. I guess, the question is why we need this emotion and why it could be useful, assuming it is so.

I would say that the main quality of being able to forgive lies in oneself: it removes any shackles that we might have to the present or the past, and it allows us to look into the future. A mistake will not make us downtrodden for we know that it was meant to happen — and as soon as it did, it was gone, it could keep us back for no longer. There are new heights to be conquered, and we may not allow ourselves to think that yesterday’s hill-top was as high as our heads could see.

I am not sure if these words make as much sense as I would like them to, but that is the main impression I have. If I position myself into a situation that someone else has been in, I can imagine making that mistake — a mistake that would require forgiveness from someone else. And by that same logic, if I can see myself stepping into it, I can also forgive myself for failing to avoid it. And if I am to forgive myself, I will also forgive others.

Indeed, I think it this empathy that makes me forgive nearly everything (forgive, yes, but not forget — there is a marked difference between the two). The fact that I am more or less able to position myself into a similar situation and go through the very same motions also means that I understand the steps which led to it (as much as someone else can). And it is this understanding that gives the ability to comprehend a situation entirely. Once that has been achieved, could a grudge or a complaint really be kept?

And, I guess, in the end that makes me slightly too understanding, too forgiving: for I see other people who try not to put themselves into the shoes of their compatriots and yet they decry others’ attempts at life. I could not do that, and that counts as strength and weakness both: strength for I try to know the struggle within other people, and weakness for allowing conflicting points of view in one mind.

But as there are no bounds, there are no limits. It is all a question of “If I was there, would I have been wise enough?” And always the answer is the same: “Maybe.”

A pointer on happiness…

I have been writing on rather serious topics lately, or at least that is how it seems to me. In a way, I like writing more serious things because I feel there is more reason to that. In any case, there are plenty of topics that I think about quite regularly and a number of them fall into the more serious category. One of these is “happiness” and how to maintain it.

This stems from me thinking that one of the main goals of life in general is for a person to remain happy. Therefore, it is very important to establish how exactly that can happen and what are the limitations we set upon our happiness. Because, in the end, it is only us who allow our happiness to be limited by other factors.

One way I tend to maintain my own happiness is by ignoring things that make me unhappier. Or, rather, that is an odd way of putting it when I mean is that I try to ensure that everything I do would add to the sum of how contented I am at any given moment. If I deem something to subtract from that, I avoid that action as much as humanly possible.

And, yet, even though that is what I do, I also avoid avoiding things for the sake of not liking them. There is a very important moment that comes by daily which asks how exactly can I make “this” beneficial for myself — how can I make sure that even if I don’t really enjoy this action that it would work for me, and by that how it would contribute to my day.

The second very important method could be summed up as “avoiding bullshit”. By this I mean that I have no wish or patience for things that take up my time and effort while only causing me grievance. Indeed, why should I waste myself on things that don’t give anything noteworthy back?

And I guess that’s the distinction that needs to be made: the border between what helps one be more positive in some way and what doesn’t. And when that distinction is made, let’s stay on that better side of that border!

What do I keep an eye out for these days?

I’ve often lately thought that the newsitems we see daily go very much into the same categories. This category could be summed up as “trouble”, but I would rather call it “life”. The problem with this “life” is that it is nearly always the same.

I’ll expand on this in a bit, but if we assume that a modern person should keep oneself aware of what is going on in the world there is only so much that one can do — for we have established a set of boundary criteria within which we exist. This means there’s a certain amount of news-sites to be visited, and a certain type of blogs to be visited — depending on the exact interests of a person.

The problem with all the information coming out of these news-sites and blogs for me is that it is more or less the same. Take, for example, BBC News: there’s probably some new article around every day which says that we are doing worse, and the Government is doing worse, and people are generally doing worse. How much of this am I supposed to take? Why is there nothing which broadcasts the new heights we can achieve?

Certainly the world is not in a happy spot at present, but I tend to be somewhat more positive about the general state of affairs than “everything is bad”. This needs a certain set of mind though.

This set of mind has brought me to expect a few good essays on people and philosophy and the general state of life (not to be confused with livelihood) every week. The places where I find these are varied, but there are a number of sources that help. For some reason or another, I’ve found that the Australian media is of particular quality here — the Sydney Morning Herald is my favourite publication therein. They have a rather interesting lifestyle section that I try to read every now and then, and I find SMH to be slightly better than the rest of media with regards to politics.

Because when we come down to the basest of levels, a certain awareness of politics must be preserved. I find, however, that the British are going round and round, achieving more or less nothing at present — I could try guessing the news daily, and I would probably get the items half right. There’s more that I am unaware of in Australia which also makes it slightly more interesting, but I get the feeling that there’s more happening there — more happening with a real sense of direction for the place as well. [Not to mention there’s a set of comedians as brilliant as John Clarke and Bryan Dawe who manage to make the politics into a very good performance.]

This is not true at all for Europe as I see it right now, and that probably has made me slightly despondent in looking for reasonable news from the Continent. But that in turn has made me appreciate certain things more: there’s a fair amount of good essays that do relate to people and education and technology, and there’s a certain look into the future with the question “What is coming up for us?”. And this is what I have been looking for — not the downtrodden tune of the news but something that would act as a whetstone for my mind.

I’m afraid though that I haven’t found any good collective place for this type of journalism, so whenever I do find anything it is more due to chance. And, yet, I know that they are out there — and that gives me hope. And that hope gives me the strength to look, and to share, when I can.

On Where People Live

For I had a discussion yesterday… and that discussion centered itself around the question of what would the place have to be so that I would want to live there. It is in itself an interesting question, and not quite how we posed it in our conversation, but that is probably how I tried to answer it.

Now, there were two points: my friend said that the sea, or the ocean, whichever one we specify, is important. It has to be there. There is no other way. I said that a river would do. There is no need for my mind to witness the torrents of the sea while it could be the small turbulences of a river that could give me all the comforts that my mind could want.

The argument here was that the other person thought that the wilderness of the sea was something that was important in itself. That this was the important part to her, and that she longed for it where she presently lived. I can see that, and yet I cannot. The sea is everywhere, and if it is in your soul, it will be there a thousand miles from the coast. And I think that might be the worst part about it — it is there and it can be sensed, but not touched. Not smelt. Nor felt.

But me? Why did I say what I did? I think it is that I would much prefer to have a small garden by a quietly flowing river. It would give so much more opportunity to think. It is not that I don’t want the sea, but I can live with the sea being further away. It is there. It won’t go anywhere. What I want from where I live is a water that doesn’t move as fast, a water that would allow itself to be shaped into a garden of peace and tranquility. And if that is not possible, then a gently sloping river through my lands will do just fine.

But probably, in my mind’s eye, I see something much like one of those gardens where the stones are arranged in a set order and water flows around them. And where one can sit down and close the eyes that otherwise need to see things. For in my garden, seeing would be a hindrance to experiencing beauty.

Which is probably why I would not want the sea to be in my garden but rather a short walk away. I can stand the walk if I want to see the sea and talk to the waves, but I don’t think I would kindly take to them talking to me when I would prefer to listen to quiet sounds of running water…

Sundays

The wonders of the world are passing.

Sundays are interesting. Waking up early (half seven), drinking tea, listening to music, reading news, observing what’s going on…

Faint ideas that tomorrow will be worse.

I think I might have sorted out what is going on next year and the year after. Well, to be fair I kind of replanned the entire "future section". We’ll see what happens, a few contingency plans ready in my mind as is.

And this quote came to my mind (relating to studies but also otherwise // and it took me a considerable time to actually find it in the book): 
"Anyone who toadies to those above him and treats those below him with hauteur lacks confidence in his own resources and competence."
— Ryotaro Shiba