Saturday, May 30, 2015

The sun was fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. Here and there greyish-whitish specks showed up clustered inside the white surf - Conrad #QotD

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Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you -- smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, 'Come and find out.' This one was almost featureless, as if still in the making, with an aspect of monotonous grimness. The edge of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to be almost black, fringed with white surf, ran straight, like a ruled line, far, far away along a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a creeping mist. The sun was fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. Here and there greyish-whitish specks showed up clustered inside the white surf, with a flag flying above them perhaps. Settlements some centuries old, and still no bigger than pinheads on the untouched expanse of their background. We pounded along, stopped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost in it; landed more soldiers--to take care of the custom-house clerks, presumably. Some, I heard, got drowned in the surf; but whether they did or not, nobody seemed particularly to care. They were just flung out there, and on we went. Every day the coast looked the same, as though we had not moved; but we passed various places--trading places--with names like Gran' Bassam, Little Popo; names that seemed to belong to some sordid farce acted in front of a sinister back-cloth. The idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea, the uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the truth of things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion. The voice of the surf heard now and then was a positive pleasure, like the speech of a brother. - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899, 1902)
Conrad has always been one of my touchstone authors and Heart of Darkness and important and key work for me. Conrad doesn't mention Ghana (or the Gold Coast as it would have been known to him) in the book. The references above to "Gran' Bassam" (currently Grand-Bassam in Côte d'Ivoire) and "Little Popo" (currently Aného in Togo) book-end today's Ghana.

One of the geographic features of the Gold Coast was it's poor natural port. In the 19th century, visitors to Accra would anchor off the coast and come ashore in surf-boats (which most travelers despised!). No surprise then that Marlow's French steamer passed by Accra.

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