Category Archives: travel

British ‘Fuddling’ in Oman

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 63-64:

The proceedings followed the ritual prescribed by Arab tradition, beginning with the conventional exchange of civilities with our host: ‘Ahlan Wa Sahlan’ [Welcome], ‘Salaam Elykum’ [Peace be with you]. We arranged ourselves in a circle on the cushions, contorting our limbs into attitudes that for me at least meant almost unendurable discomfort, and taking care to ensure that the soles of our feet were never facing our host — or any of the guests either. Even when there was business to transact, it was very impolite to mention it for at least the first five minutes, when talk was restricted to irrelevant pleasantries and platitudes. It was also considered very bad manners to speak to anyone during the course of a meal — an excellent convention, in my view — and so all conversation took place beforehand, while the party ate mezze — hors d’oeuvres of bread and goat’s cheese — and drank black coffee poured into small cups by black slaves out of a huge coffee pot from a great height and with unerring accuracy; when we had had enough — it was usual to accept two or three helpings — a guest would shake his coffee cup to show he wanted no more.

Then servants would bring in the meal, a single enormous dish, usually a whole sheep or goat on a vast pile of rice. There were no plates or cutlery, and everyone helped himself with his fingers from the dish, using only the right hand, which he would wash carefully after he had eaten. At the end of the meal slaves would carry round an incense burner, from which the guests would waft the smoke over their beards with their hands; beardless Europeans would make the gestures of wafting it over their chins. As a final ritual the slaves would sprinkle rose water over the guests’ heads. The guests would then rise, shake hands all round, and depart. I must have attended hundreds of these ceremonies, which we called ‘fuddling’, from the Arabic fadal meaning ‘please’; the British troops called them ‘mutton grabs’.

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Albanian Hospitality: Table Tactics

From Albanian Assignment: The Memoir of an SOE Agent in World War Two, by David Smiley (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 1; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 49-51:

Before the meal could be served bread had to be baked, and a sheep or a chicken killed and cooked. This naturally took a long time, and it was not unusual to sit for anything up to four hours waiting for the meal to arrive. During this wait raki and meze were kept in constant circulation, the meza consisting of lumps of cheese, raw onions, cloves of garlic, cucumber in yoghurt, hard boiled eggs, and the liver and other intestines of the animal that had just been killed. The host clearly enjoyed this interval, gossiping and exchanging news, and his natural curiosity was particularly aroused by the presence of a foreigner in his house. Many times I arrived at a house dead tired after a long day’s march, and it was as much as I could do to stay awake; but to go to sleep would have been considered bad manners and I had to force myself to sit up and appear to take a polite interest in the conversation, even though I did not understand it. It was only the raki that kept me going. A very strong spirit distilled from plums or grapes, it had a remarkable effect in overcoming tiredness.

When the meal was ready, a large round table, about five feet in diameter and about nine inches high, would be brought in and placed in the centre of the room. The host would then seat the senior guest in the place of honour, whereupon everyone would move over to the table, each man facing the back of his neighbour and turning his back on the other; in this way, as many as fifteen people could sit at one table.

The food would already be on the table, usually loaves of bread made from maize (huke), dishes of yoghurt (kos) usually made from sheep’s milk, and beans (fasule) of a similar type to Heinz baked beans; the main dish was meat boiled in its own juice, sometimes with a few grains of rice. We ate most dishes with the fingers of our right hands, but a spoon was provided for the more liquid ones, and this was the only piece of cutlery. There were no individual plates and we conveyed the food direct from the communal dish to our mouths. There was an art in eating quickly without spilling too much, for the dishes emptied fast and the slower feeder often went short. McLean used to say that I was good at table tactics. Once the dishes were empty the meal was over, the guests returned to their original positions, and a member of the family removed the table and swept the crumbs and any leftovers through a hole in the centre of the floor to fall among the animals who dwelt below. Once this was done, conversation flagged, mattresses were brought in, the blankets laid out, and in a short time the only noise would be the crackling of the fire and loud snores.

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Albanian Hospitality: Peasant House

From Albanian Assignment: The Memoir of an SOE Agent in World War Two, by David Smiley (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 1; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle p. 49:

The peasants whose houses we stayed in had a much lower standard of living than those who lived in the bigger towns. Built of grey, locally quarried stone and red roof tiles, very few of them had windows on the ground floor. On entry, two reasons for this became apparent: the ground floor was usually occupied by livestock — sheep, goats, chickens and very occasionally a mule or a cow; and it had defensive advantages, for entry to the house was limited to the door, and with no ground floor windows an enemy was unable to creep up and shoot into the house. Wooden stairs led to the upper floor, which was normally divided into two large rooms — one for the guests, and the other for the family. The entire family slept in the latter, and the women, whom we seldom saw in Moslem houses, did their cooking there. In the richer houses the windows were of glass; others only had wooden shutters, but all had thick iron grills. Wells or streams in the villages provided water; paraffin lamps or candles were the only source of light at night, apart from the fire.

As one entered the house the host led the way upstairs to the guest room, usually the larger of the two. Normally it was sparsely furnished except for some rugs on the floor and a large wooden chest containing blankets. Coffee was served immediately, and in cold weather glowing embers were brought in from the fire in the other room, and a blazing fire would soon be burning. While drinking coffee, the guests had to indicate whether they wanted to stay the night by removing their boots, whereupon the host would shout to the womenfolk to prepare a meal. If it was an Orthodox or a Catholic house, a girl or woman would come in at this stage to wash, and sometimes massage, the feet of the more honoured guests — I found this a great relief after a long march. In a Moslem house this duty was usually performed by the son of the house, or some rugged old warrior servant.

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Albanian Hospitality: Host Code

From Albanian Assignment: The Memoir of an SOE Agent in World War Two, by David Smiley (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 1; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 48, 51:

Skender Dine, Gjin Marku and I stayed in four different villages, and I was able to observe, as well as learn from my escort, a number of Albanian customs. The most important concerned the laws of hospitality. On arrival at a house the guests would be met at the front door by the host, who immediately relieved them of their weapons, which he would usually hang on a wall of the guest room. This gesture meant that from then on, the host took upon himself the responsibility for his guests’ lives. I slightly cheated over this custom, for in addition to the big Colt .45 automatic in my belt, I always had a small .25 that fitted into a hip pocket without showing.

Besa was the Albanian expression for these laws. If, to his unending shame, a guest was killed while under his protection, the host would then have a blood feud with the murderer and his family. Until this was avenged, the host could not clear himself of this dishonour, and his neighbours at meals would even show their disapproval or contempt for him by passing the coffee to him under their knees (a symbolic action implying ‘I piss in it’).

On leaving the house the following morning, the host would usually accompany his guests for the first mile or so of their journey, and it was not until he had said his farewell and turned for home that the beza was no longer binding.

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Capetown & St. Helena, 1842

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 159-160:

Cape of Good Hope is always hailed by the home-bound sailor with as much delight as Cape Horn is with fear. Here we found much shipping lying quietly at anchor. The view of Cape Town from the ship’s deck is indeed novel. On either side of Table Mountain are seen the crags of Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak. The broad, flat top of Table Mountain is always overhung by a great cloud, and when the cloud spreads out and covers the whole town with its broad shadows, it is then termed by Jack before the mast “the devil’s tablecloth.”

To the south, on the hill, stands the world-renowned observatory, where Sir John Herschell discovered the planet which once bore his name, but is now called Uranus.

Cape Town is an old Dutch settlement, and everything wore a Dutch look. Almost all the people we met were Dutch. Both men and women were short and stout, with full, rosy cheeks. They all dressed in the old Dutch fashion.

On the 17th we got under way, and took our departure from the Cape of Storms, shaping our course for the island of St. Helena.

On the morning of the 19th Joseph Sylva, a Portuguese boy, who had shipped at Oahu, died. In the afternoon his body, with two roundshot, was sewed up in his hammock, and committed to the deep. Brave little Joe is now sleeping beneath the blue waters with others of the ocean’s heroes.

After a run of thirteen days, we came to anchor in the roadstead of the Valley of Jamestown, island of St. Helena. Here we found six American and two English ships, one from Sweden, and a Dutch sloop-of-war, at anchor. The island of St. Helena is nothing but a large, barren rock, uprisen from the sea, and so steep that only a short distance from the shores soundings cannot be obtained with a deep-sea line. The only landing place was Jamestown. The population, at this time, including the garrison, … numbered about four thousand, and all lived in the Valley of Jamestown. Meats, vegetables, and fruits we found very scarce and extremely dear. Rum, however, was plenty, and quite cheap. It was not made here, but was sent out from New England, America!

St. Helena is celebrated only because of its being the place of Napoleon Bonaparte’s confinement and death.

 

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Filed under Britain, France, military, Netherlands, science, South Africa, travel, U.S.

Antarctic Dangers, 1840

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 69-70:

January 20. At two o’clock this morning the sun and moon appeared above the horizon at the same time, but in opposite directions. The moon was full. The effect of the sun shedding his deep golden rays on the distant icy mountains and the surrounding icebergs was beautiful beyond description. We witnessed a sea-fight between a whale and one of his many enemies, a killer. The sea was quite smooth. A short distance from the ship was seen a large whale, lashing the smooth sea into a perfect foam, and trying to disengage himself from his enemy. As they drew near the ship the struggle became more violent. The killer, which was about twenty feet long, held the whale by the lower jaw. The huge monster seemed to be in great agony, and spouted blood. Suddenly the whale threw himself out of the water, at full length, the killer hanging to his jaw; but all his flounderings and turning flukes were useless, as the killer still maintained his hold and was getting the advantage. He soon worried the whale to death. After the battle, the ship appeared to be floating in a sea of blood. During the last few days we saw many beautiful snow-white petrels either up in the freezing air or on the ice-floes.

January 22. Weather foggy. This morning we found bottom with eight hundred fathoms of line. The arming was covered with slate-colored mud. In the afternoon we took a second cast of the lead and found bottom at three hundred and twenty fathoms. The bottom same as before — slate-colored mud. The Peacock, while boxing off the ship from some ice under her bows, made a stern board which brought her in contact with an iceberg with such force as to crush her stern and larboard quarter boats, and carry away her bulwarks to the gangways. While getting out the ice anchor to heave the ship off, she gave a rebound which carried away her rudder and all the stanchions to the gangway. This second shock caused the ship to cant to starboard, when both jibs were given to her just in time to carry her clear of the iceberg. She had not moved more than a dozen lengths before a huge mass of ice fell from the iceberg in her wake. If this had happened twenty minutes before, it would have crushed the ship to atoms. As soon as we gained the open sea, Captain Hudson very wisely put the ship’s head for Sydney, where she arrived in a shattered and sinking condition. For several days the weather had been foggy.

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U.S. Sailor’s View of Sydney, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle p. 61:

Portions of the island of Australia were visited by the Spaniards as early as the year 1520. The Dutch, when they captured it in the year 1606, named it New Holland. When the English took possession of it they named it New South Wales. It is now called Australia. It was to this place that England used to transport her convicts, and from this fact it was named the pickpockets’ quarter of the globe. Sydney is its capital and seat of government. George Street is the Broadway of Sydney. The Cove — God save the name! — is the old Ann Street of Boston; South Street of Philadelphia; River of Styx, Norfolk; Sausage Row, Cincinnati; Five Points or the Hook of New York; Hog Lane of Canton. In fact, it is more than the Ratcliffe Highway of London. There are plenty of old Fagins and old Fagin’s pupils living here. Here you will find all nations mixed up together, eating, drinking, singing, dancing, gambling, quarreling, and fighting. Inns abound here, for which the English, you know, are celebrated. Here is the Sailors’ Inn, the Soldiers’ Inn, the Ladies’ Inn, Punch-Bowl Inn, Shamrock Inn, Thistle Inn, the Ship’s Inn, King’s Arms Inn, and others too numerous to mention, not forgetting the Dew Drop Inn.

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Filed under anglosphere, Australia, Britain, language, migration, military, travel, U.S.

Runaway Sailors, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 54-56:

On many of the islands of the Pacific there were runaway convicts from Hobart Town and Sydney, the Botany Bay of Great Britain. There were also many runaway sailors and many who had not run away, but who had been driven off by bad usage. The next morning after our arrival, an American whaler, hailing from New Bedford, came into port with a red shirt fluttering to the breeze from her fore-rigging.

When a man-of-war’s man sees that signal he well knows that there is difficulty between Jack before the mast and the officers of that ship. Our commodore was soon on board the whaler and listening to Jack’s yarn. He was told that they were two years out; that they were full of oil, had plenty of provisions, and were homeward bound; that they had been put on short allowance; were short-handed, five of the crew having died, and three being sick in their bunks from ill-treatment; and that they were so tyrannically abused that they had taken charge of the ship, confining the officers below in the cabin, and had steered for the nearest port. Our commodore, who acted as arbitrator, soon settled matters, and the whaler sailed for the United States a week afterward, with several of our invalids on board of her.

A whaler’s crew are not paid by the month, but have a lay; that is to say, the captain has one barrel out of every thirty, and Jack before the mast one out of about every five hundred. At the end of a voyage, through much abuse and tyrannical treatment by the officers of the ship, Jack before the mast is often fairly driven from the ship. This is called desertion. Then his lay falls to the owners, if the captain does not contrive some way or other to secure it.

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Filed under economics, labor, migration, Samoa, travel, U.S.

Perils of Pago Pago Bay, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle p. 54:

ON the 10th of October we came to anchor in Pago Pago Bay, on the south side of the island of Tutuila. This is another rendezvous of our whalers and South Pacific traders. Ships seldom enter or leave Pago Pago Bay without a great deal of “going about,” “tacking,” “wearing,” “luffing,” “letting go,” and “hauling.” Then one must be very careful, or the ship will get “in stays or irons.” If this happens, the alternative will be to “box her off” or to “wear her round on her heel.” Entering this harbor is something like beating up the Straits of Balambangan, when the ship’s yards have to be braced chock up in the wind’s eye to keep the monkey’s tails from getting squeezed in the brace blocks.

One of the most frequent bits of nautical jargon in this book is “splice the mainbrace,” which has its own article on Wikipedia giving a detailed account of its evolution and current usage.

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Doubling Cape Horn, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 33-34:

On the 30th of January a strong land-breeze began to blow, which obliged us to get under way and beat out to sea. The weather now began to grow cold, the thermometer ranging from 50° to 45°. Our ship glided through the water like a thing of life. For several days many whales, seals, and porpoises showed themselves on the surface of the water. The porpoises differed from any I had ever seen before, in having a stripe around their necks. We captured several of them, and this made a fresh mess for all hands round. The next night at midnight we had a view of the rugged peaks of Terra del Fuego, and at twelve o’clock we entered the Straits of La Maire. The land here presents rather a dreary appearance. The high peaks on either hand are covered with snow, even in midsummer.

At sunset we passed the straits and again entered the open sea. We doubled Cape Horn in our shirt-sleeves, with studding sails set on both sides, below and aloft, and left it under close-reefed top-sails, with our pea-jackets on. We had but just rounded the cape and arrived in the South Pacific, or summer seas, when the wind suddenly shifted to the south, blowing a perfect gale from the regions of perpetual ice and snow. The change of temperature was sudden and keenly felt, and made us hug our pea-jackets closely about us. Such is the life of a sailor — from one extreme to another. Cape Horn is in latitude 55°48′ south, and sometimes vessels are driven as far as 60°, in order to get round into the Pacific. Cape Horn is called the “stormy cape.” It takes its name from the peculiar hornlike shape of its rocky mountain heights, which terminate the land. Be it fair or foul, rain or shine, in all weather and at all seasons, Cape Horn is a terror to the sailor, and many a long yarn is spun in the forecastle by poor Jack as this much-dreaded point is approached.

On the 18th of February we came to anchor in Orange Harbor, Terra del Fuego, or, as the name implies, the “land of fire.” This is the first harbor on the western side of Cape Horn. The cape was discovered by Magellan in the year 1519. It was at this spot that the celebrated circumnavigators, Captains Cook, King, Fitzroy, Laplace, d’Urville, and others used to make their rendezvous and lay in a supply of wood and water. The harbor is land-locked, and is the safest on the coast. It has many small bays, the best of which is Dingy Cove. Here boats may enter to obtain wood, and from its banks game and fish may be taken in great abundance. Everything about has a bleak and wintry appearance and is in keeping with the climate, yet the scenery is pleasing to the eye.

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Filed under Argentina, Chile, Pacific, science, travel, U.S.