Friday, September 26, 2014

QotD: "The Gulf of Panama ... is one of the calmest spots on the waters of the globe. Too calm." Joseph Conrad

2014.09.21-IMG_1581The discovery of the New World marks the end of the fabulous geography, and it must be owned that the history of the Conquest contains at least one great moment — I mean a geographically great moment — when Vasco Nunez de Balboa, while crossing the Isthmus of Panama, set his eyes for the first time upon the ocean, the immensity of which he did not suspect, and which in his elation he named the Pacific. It is anything but that; but the privileged Conquistador cannot be blamed for surrendering to his first impression.

IMG_20140925_184917 The Gulf of Panama, which is what he really saw with that first glance, is one of the calmest spots on the waters of the globe. Too calm. The old navigators dreaded it as a dangerous region where one might be caught and lie becalmed for weeks with one’s crew dying slowly of thirst under a cloudless sky. The worst of fates, this, to feel yourself die in a long and helpless agony. How much preferable a region of storms where man and ship can at least put up a fight and remain defiant almost to the last. I must not be understood to mean that a tempest at sea is a delightful experience, but I would rather face the fiercest tempest than a gulf pacific even to deadliness, a prison-house for incautious caravels and a place of torture for their crews.

But Balboa was charmed with its serene aspect. He did not know where he was. He probably thought himself within a stone’s throw, as it were, of the Indies and Cathay. Or did he perhaps, like a man touched with grace, have a moment of exalted vision, the awed feeling that what he was looking at was an abyss of waters comparable in its extent to the view of the unfathomable firmament, and sown all over with groups of islands resembling the constellations of the sky?

- Joseph Conrad, Geography and Some Explorers

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