Thursday, 15 December 2011

The history of where you live

Every place has a history, since time passes relentlessly and leaves in its wake an infinity of stories many of which are only known locally and do not bother the world at large. Naturally there are places where a lot happens, and they become part of the world historical heritage. Many history books catalogue these places and people everywhere study these and research events to remember for future generations. Big cities like London, Paris or Delhi have a lot of well document history and a lot of it makes fascinating reading. Other places even if they are smaller become famous through some event that thrusts their history to become of worldwide interest. Events such as a natural disaster, a president getting killed or a world war being sparked usually makes a place unforgettable.

I have lived and traveled through  many places whose history is generally considered interesting. Delhi, for example, where I grew up, has seen centuries of occupiers, invading armies and massacres on a regular basis. Another place I have known is London which also has had a long and colourful past which includes people like Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes and all the Kings and Queens and miserable stories like the plague, the fire and all the killings in the Tower.

However there are an infinite number of places which remain out of the limelight but create a history, which often remains unwritten and this gets either forgotten or passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. How many among my friends would have known anything about Kumasi or Maracaibo, places where I lived for significant periods. I have not seen too many books about the history of these but they had their periods worth documenting. Kumasi was (and is) the capital of the Ashantis who were a force to be reckoned with and rich because of the gold that was to be found in the region. And Maracaibo, well maybe the less said about this one the better.A bit like the wild west which had little to be proud of until oil was discovered in the region.

The place where I have now come to live in Spain (Laredo) has a rich history since it was established by Romans when this part of the world was part of the Roman Empire. However few people outside of this region would have heard of any of it or much less bothered to read about it anywhere. I knew that some books had been written about it but had not yet fully familiarized myself with many periods of the story of this place.

So when an organisation which brings together the 'friends of the heritage' of the town invited me to attend a launch of a new book about an aspect of the history that I did not know about, I decided to accept, and it turned out to be fascinating and I was not disappointed.The book appeared to document the work and times of a series of 'governors' appointed by the King, who were known as 'corregidores' or correctors. They existed in pre-democracy times between the 16th and the early nineteenth century, and their function was to administer justice and represent the King in the region, often with a ceremonial 'baston' with which he was allowed to beat people who misbehaved.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this town of a small population was the capital of the region until it was considered more suitable to move the capital to Santander at the beginning of the Nineteenth century.

Now this book may seem to be not too exciting a project, but if we see it through the eyes of the local population, it could be very interesting. And here is the thing I wanted to get down to..that the history of a place is always interesting for the people of that place. Like people, every place has a story and we only need to be in that place to make it worth discovering that story.
It is the history of our world.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tuesday 13th December

Unlike most of the English speaking world that trembles if the 13th of a month falls on a Friday, the Spanish speaking world reserves such dread if it happens on a Tuesday. As it happens this December 13th did fall on a Tuesday, today!
I happened to be accompanying a couple of ladies (one of whom was Marisol) around Bilbao today and the thirteenth did have its effect. First the strap of Marisol's handbag ripped unexpectedly and the bag rolled to the ground. Having to carry the bag under her arm as a result was no fun either.
Later I was nearly run down by a car as I tried to cross a road. Lets not give too much importance to the fact that I did not wait for the light which would have stopped the traffic for me to cross the road.
There were other happenings today too, like the strong winds all over Northern Spain (and England) and five meter high waves on the beach, however they were not all bad. We found good bargains and had fun shopping. We made it home without any further mishaps which must be enough of a reason to celebrate.
Later I learnt that our local soccer team 'Racing' of Santander won a close game, when its more normal for them to lose.
So I am not at all sure we can justify the fear that the thirteenth can conjure up, even more so on a Tuesday.
Now its after midnight and its neither Tuesday or the 13th any more!

Friday, 9 December 2011

just google it

So it happened, I gave the talk on Information Technology to a group of intellectuals in Santander and one of the points I made was that now-a-days people use search engines as an extension of their memories. I had a picture of a young man with a laptop in his hands to show how one can be talking to friends and at the same time using the computer to help with his memory. I mentioned someone I know who could easily have been the young man in the picture.
And I did something along these lines myself the other day. I was reading my e-book, a Kindle from Amazon, and in one of the pauses a random picture appeared on the screen, which was obviously a page from an old book, with some text which was difficult to read and sounded like latin. It went something like:
Izbriu grit cratuerbum guerbumerat abudomgos
It was an intriguing image and I decided it was worth spending a few minutes looking for what this might be.
So I googled it
A few entries in the list that appeared as a result showed that this same intrigue had attracted other users of the Kindle. No body had come up with a satisfactory answer. One responder had suggested that the text may well be a 'Lorem Ipsum'. This was beginning to sound like a mystery..what was this Lorem Ipsum?
Next search showed that Lorem Ipsum was randomly generated placeholder text that publishers often use to display possible fonts and use as examples.
Not satisfied with this I looked further down the list and found a blog on which someone suggested that they had found the same image on a page in an old book of Gospels and described it as follows 

'This is confirmed as a page of Lindisfarne's Gospels: It's on page 30 of the British Library's online edition of this book'

What is confusing is that the text does not appear to mean anything in Latin! Its obviously nonsense text which is what Lorem Ipsum is supposed to be.

Now this made a lot more sense and I could go back to worrying about more normal things!