Paramaribo – the turning point

Paramaribo – the turning point

Paramaribo – because the Artemis is not a small yacht

 Map of Paramaribo…as it turns out, there really aren’t a whole lot of places you can anchor a large yacht along the coast of Suriname. Up a river is about the only bet, which is why you find the Artemis, highly recognisable and all, limping up-river to Domberg after running afoul of some dirty weather off the northern coast of South America. 

That, and Paramaribo is one of the spots that an ex-vampire sea-faring businessman might legitimately be expected to be familiar with. It started life as a Dutch trading post in the early 17th century, briefly became British territory, and got taken back by the Dutch in 1667. It’s also home to one of the oldest synagogues in the New World, the Neveh Shalom. 

It’s one of the few places mentioned in Death is for the Living that I haven’t actually been to, which meant that I spent a lot of time staring hungrily at sun-drenched photographs and harbour guides while the snow fell outside my window. The only spot along the South American coast I’ve been to is Isla Margerita, which is a considerable distance to the Northwest of Paramaribo – no real help when you’re trying to figure out logical landing points for a 70-foot yacht with storm damage.

If you take a look at the map insert, you’ll see that if you’re sailing South from Guadeloupe, aiming to stay well clear of stray landmasses, but happen to run into the trailing edge of some bad weather sweeping in from the Atlantic, Paramaribo is a logical spot to wind up – especially as your other options for a considerable distance up and down coast are shallow scrapes in the coastline which may or may not offer anchorage for something as large and as heavy as Artemis – or any kind of convenient access to the supplies required to mend sails, fix roller-reefing gear, or any of the other minor dents and scrapes.

It’s also a logical place to expect that the local vampire clan might have a substantial footing, along with a number of unaffiliated others keeping an eye on the doings of that substantial footing, leading to a pivotal point (sorry, couldn’t resist) in Artemis‘s voyage.

A Midsummer stroll

A Midsummer stroll

Taking a Midsummer stroll

…to my local grocery store, and then looping back long the highway.

Stream at MidsummerHaving visions of grime, graffiti, and optional gore? Yeah, not so much. This is one of the many reasons I landed in Canada fifteen years back and I’m still here. Spring in BC is when everything with roots makes like a triffid and grows like mad, and today, at the official transition from spring into summer, it’s warm, slightly rainy, and the paths are surrounded in every shade of green. That, and all the little streams have plenty of water.

My path followed this stream for quite a long way, punctuated by occasional happy dogs, and my turn beside the  highway included a patch of purple flowers. One of my other favourite trails in the area is lined in buttercups, which are one of the few flowers I actually know the name of.

One of the other nice things about this area is that mid-morning on a showery Sunday it is quite possible to walk for an hour and encounter only about five other people. This is just as well, as it seems that everyone has decided that physical distancing is far too difficult, and no one has a clue how long two metres is anyway. Much easier just to wear a mask under your chin and do what you want.

Between family and work drama, it’s been an interesting few weeks, and having crawled out from under my cats, I found myself in need of some perspective (sounds better than ‘I got up cranky AF’). Because of that, and because lockdown hasn’t been good for my non-existent exercise routine, I headed out for a walk. I’d say ‘I headed out for a walk in the forest’ but that’s the main option in this area (did I mention the phrase ‘things growing like hell’?), and hopefully the photos add any missing context.

Holiday plans

Despite the fact that I’ve been working from home since mid-March (which has been fantastic, and I wish I thought this meant my office was actually going to update their remote work policy once the crisis is over), I’m looking forwards to a few days off at the end of next week, even though what I’m actually going to do, as non-essential travel is still discouraged (in a very polite and Canadian manner) in the province, is sit on my ass in my apartment and read a bunch of new books I’ve laid in for said time off.

Honestly, three months into lockdown, and having not actually been outside Vancouver since autumn 2018, I do hope that at some point in the foreseeable future I will be able to at least take a trip to the Island for a change of scene without endangering myself or anyone else. However, despite the number of ‘ooh, look, VACAY AT LAST!!’ photos growing on social media, I’m not yet at the stage of cabin fever where ‘fuckitol’ looks like a good prescription, so books, cats, and tea stash it is. With some luck I’ll even get some more editing done.

Creek and flowersAlso, if we’re being honest, there’s a lot of worse spots to be stuck for the long term than Vancouver. Even the scabbiest parts of the city that I’ve come across are still pretty liveable, and where I’ve wound up is very far from a scabby bit. I really can walk to the store via a trail that could be the wilds of planet XZ472 in StarGate (and may have been, since most of StarGate was filmed in BC…), and there are a lot of other, even nicer, trails around.

Plus, my cats very much approve of this lockdown thing, and people working from home. It means their human is around pretty much full time in case of boredom, hunger, or a need for belly-rubs.

If you want to see (a lot of) photos of cats and how we spend our time in lockdown, my ‘author’ Instagram is a must-have resource, and you can follow me here: https://www.instagram.com/j_c_steel/

Etymology Excavation: quarantine

Etymology Excavation: quarantine

Etymology excavation: Quarantine

Quarantine as we know it today comes from the C15th Venetian word ‘quarantena’, and meant ‘forty’. Forty days was the required isolation period for ships before they were allowed to off-load in Venice or ports controlled by Venice during the outbreak of the Black Plague.

Essentially, if no one showed any signs of any infectious diseases after that 40-day period, Venetian officials would give them their certificate and let them disembark. If infection broke out, it would run its course shipboard, and any survivors who made it 40 days from the end of the outbreak with no further signs were then considered clear.

Even today, ships waiting for Customs clearance in a new harbour will fly a solid yellow flag (the ‘Q’ flag), which is basically a self-declaration that they have no infectious diseases aboard and are safe for Customs agents to board and clear. A ‘Yellow Jack’ flag, with alternating black and yellow quarters, means the opposite – the ship has an infection aboard and is under quarantine.

Venice was not the first example of an established quarantine system. There are documented examples of it going back as far as the 7th or 8th centuries in India and the Middle East. A lot of these earlier quarantine systems were fairly ruthless in their application, and more or less consisted of running the sick or those suspected of being sick out of town to live or die well away from other people.

The root of the word ‘quarantena’ goes back even further, to Proto-Indo-European ‘kwetwer’, or ‘four’, with offshoots in languages from French to Gaelic to Persian to Latin.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

Cortiian physiognomy

Cortiian physiognomy

Cortiian physiognomy

The Cortii are a distinct humanoid sub-species, legally recognised by interstellar governments as having met all the markers for recognition as a separate race.

Physically, we know the Cortii are based on artificially-generated bodies. Cortiian scientists have clearly managed to overcome some of the key challenges with the full cloning process, and Cortiians in active service show none of the health defects or challenges to independent thought that clones usually face.

The majority of Cortiians fall in the upper third of the height range for humanoid variants, a compromise that gives them a slight disadvantage in heavy gravity environments and smaller, closed environments, but which demonstrably gives them an advantage of reach and speed.

In colouring, they tend towards a mid-tone shade. Prolonged time in a closed environment leaves the majority pale or sallow, but even moderate exposure to ultra-violet light darkens skin tone quickly. Very few Cortiians observably experience burning in strong light environments short of severe over-exposure. Hair colour tends towards absolute shades, potentially as a result of the cloning process, and black, blond, and red are more common than in most humanoid species. Brown and other intermediate shades are rarer although not unknown. Induced shades such as greens and blues have not been observed to occur naturally. Eye colour shows a usual range.

Cortiians show an average range of genders and appear as a species to have very little by way of fixed sexual orientation.

Dissection has revealed that Cortiian bone structure is slightly denser and noticeably more resilient than the humanoid average. It can be conjectured that this results in cracked bone where most humanoids would suffer a fracture. Muscle tissue has been likewise modified, adding a little mass, but offering greater strength and resilience. Certainly, Cortiians heal observably faster than average; slightly faster under adverse circumstances, and significantly faster when able to rest and provided with sufficient nutrients.

Cortiians have slightly enlarged sinuses, resulting in a tendency to high, angled cheekbones. Analysis of nasal nerves indicates a high probability that Cortiians possess very acute olfactory senses. Eye sockets tend to be deeper, providing better-than-average protection to the eye itself, and eye structure shows that Cortiians have at least limited vision into infra-red and ultra-violet, as well as enhanced distance vision.

They also demonstrate resistance to a wide range of adverse environments, and metabolise a number of common compounds faster than average, especially those used in sedatives and other related medications.

Studies up to this time have failed to isolate the precise modifications that result in these variations, or in successfully reproducing the effects.

What we can learn from myths and legends

What we can learn from myths and legends

Myths and legends

Hercules and the Aegean. Persephone and Hades. Midas. Myths and legends are often seen as cautionary tales, like the precursor to Aesop’s fables, but I put it to you that in many cases, this may simply be bad publicity, or even that they were ideas whose time had not yet come.

Let’s take a serious look at Hercules and the Aegean stable legend, for example. I mean, you have one seriously over-muscled demi-god with an atonement complex, and a lot of mucking out to get done. In ancient Greece, you’d usually have people for that kind of thing, and so employing a demi-god for it was seen rather as bringing in a ringer, especially as he expected to get paid for it. However, in this day and age, the idea of hiring a cleaning service has clearly come – whether by sheer dumb luck or stereotyping, I can hardly move online without falling over someone telling me my house needs cleaning and they’re the girls and boys for the job. Hercules’s idea of domestic labour for the highest bidder is clearly sound: he was simply unfortunate in being born about 3,000 years before online advertising.

Or what about Persephone and Hades? Persephone, daughter of Demeter, wound up married to Hades, lord of the underworld, but Mommy threw a fit, and Persephone ended up spending six months in Hades and six months with her mother (we all know those mothers-in-law…). However, shocking as this concept was at the time, when the female role in society was basically that of a rather underprivileged servant, of which Hades was essentially deprived, in this day and age couples living apart is increasingly common. The involvement of the mother-in-law I can’t speak to, but fairly clearly, another revolutionary idea that was simply several thousand years ahead of its time.

I find myself wondering what we’re looking at today that’s seen as dangerously revolutionary, that will seem like a good idea in another few thousand years. Both genders getting paid the same for doing the same job, maybe. Or maybe looking after the environment (although, thinking about it, if we don’t grow a collective brain about that sooner than several thousand years out, we’re unlikely to be around in several thousand years…)

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