East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Somewhere, beyond the sea…


I’m stealing an idea from my friend Claire, over at the Scribblings blog, and I’m doing a post about the sea and I.
After all, the sea is quite on topic hereabouts – we talk adventure and exoticism, and the sea is one of the many ingredients of many, many adventure stories, and quite a lot real life adventures too.

the sea2

So, I’ll start with something close and personal.
My father was so taken with the sea, that he actually ran away from home to join the navy when he was 16.
His five minutes of C.S. Forester ended with his family going to Genoa to bring him back.
He never sailed, never served in the navy or anywhere else.
So he decided I should become a sailor.
When I was five.
51JewO6FXPL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_And being he himself taken by the sea in a romantic, unrealistic, Captain Blood-inspired manner, my father proceeded to torment me for a decade about the joys of the hard life on the sea, climbing up the masts during storms and risking to drown day in day out, surrounded by rough guys that would break a weakling like me.
Oh, and of course keelhauling, which my father would describe with particular glee, terrifying me.
Basically my father dreamed for me a career on the Bounty, without any of the perks.
And such was his power of persuasion, that when the time came to serve my country in the then compulsory military service, and I was asked on a form to list three branches of the service in which I’d like to be assigned, I wrote…

1 . Air Force
2 . anything but the Navy

… and left the third line blank.
I was promptly assigned in the Air Farce, and served my country playing Dungeons & Dragons in a switchboard bunker.

And yet, despite my father’s horror stories, I grew up loving the sea.
Not my father’s rum, sodomy and the lash version of the sea, but the sea I saw on the telly, in the documentaries of Jacques Cousteau and Folco Quilici.
I used to watch a show called Avventura – I think I already mentioned it – that used Procol Harum’s A Salty Dog as an end titles track, and showed us all the best documentaries.

So, if my father had dreamed of becoming a pirate because of the movies, and his childhood dreams led him to run from home and then to ruin my childhood giving me nightmares, I dreamed of becoming an explorer because of TV documentaries.
Those were my heroes. The explorers, the deep-sea divers.
Jacques Mayol, Sylvia Earle. Thor Heyerdahl.
And considering that there was no Oceanography in Turin University, I took Geology – because, dinosaurs.
And in the end I became a Paleontologist… but not working on dinosaurs, working on fossil plankton. I had came back to the sea, but my way.

EdgeOfTheSeaI spent one month every summer, through my childhood and adolescent years, by the sea. On the Ligurian Riviera, or sometimes across the border, in France – Menton, Nice, Monaco, the Camargue.
I did not care for swimming and sunbathing.
I read lots of books, and I explored.
It was there that I discovered that the edge of the sea – to quote Rachel Carson’s beautiful book – is a world, a country fullof surprises, and the sea is meaningless without the interior. The Camargue swamps, the Appennine valleys leading down to the coast, with their small villages and Romanic churches and old stories about Saracen pirate raids.

I also spent ten days between the mountains and the Atlantic in Scotland, when I was a student there.
My friend Claire describes her Atlantic experiences as

a flat, grey, dull, very cold thing

To me it was a different sea, with a different land backing it, and it was beautiful.
It rained a lot, yes, but watching the dark clouds rolling in, sheets of rain like gauze draperies hanging beneath, and the occasional, incongruous blade of sunlight, was beautiful, and breathtaking.
Different beaches, different seasons.
Or maybe just different people, with different stories.

I still can’t swim – the effect of what happens when you are five, and they throw you in at the deep end to apply the swim or sink theory of swimming teaching.
I sank.


But yesterday, while I was clearing the way for the tech to go up the roof and hook me with the 21st century, I found an old duffel bag of my father’s.
So after the tech had done his gig, I sat on my bed and I opened.

And it would be fun, and romantic, to tell you that I found a compass and a sextant, but I did not.
The bag was full of old movies, in VHS – Captain Blood and The Black Swan, The Bounty (the one with Marlon Brando) and Gregory Peck as Hornblower and what else. Even Jim Cameron’s Titanic.
There were westerns too, and war movies. Each one still sealed in it shrink-wrap, buried there for over a decade.
And at the very bottom, under a brand new, still-in-its-package windcheater1, I found a copy of Jacques Cousteau’s Secrets of the Mediterranean.
Sealed, shrink-wrapped, never opened, never watched.
Buried deep.

I think I’ll watch it tonight.
Then maybe post about it.

  1. high quality, and just my brother’s size… that’s a birthday gift problem solved and money saved – my brother’s birthday being next week. ↩

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

10 thoughts on “Somewhere, beyond the sea…

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this up-close and personal account. it reads so well. I was quite taken by its magnitude. Nothing like genuine family memories to ‘anchor’ the tale πŸ™‚
    Your insights and experiences ring true.
    Please send birthday well wishes from me to your brother β€” my bday is also next week, the 17th. Speaking of family, I was born on my mother’s birthday πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a marvelous lapsus “Air Farce”. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Poor man! Lucky that you found your own way back to the sea, after all. I’d never considered the potential for disaster of transgenerational unreality… Especially when the next generation is still of an age when it’s hard to know the unreal part of the adult’s thoughts. Hm.

    (And my Atlantic experiences were Noirmoutier, in Vendee, and Swansea, in Wales… Flat, grey, dull.)

    Liked by 1 person

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