Thursday, September 22, 2005

The (in)Voluntary Castaway

The story of Alexander Selkirk

He was a large and strong sailor, not yet 30 years old, serving on board the galleon Cinque Ports on it´s voyage on the Pacific Ocean. Captain William Dampier had the ship some 600 kms off the coast of South America, more specifically of what would become Chile.
Alexander was not an easy-going person, he often came into conflict with the people around him, stubborn and unruly as he was. Expectedly, he fell in disagreement with the other sailors. Arguing with the captain himself, he claimed he would rather live on a deserted island than continue the journey on board.
The captain acknowledged his request and presented him Juan Fernandez, an uninhabited island in plain view from the deck. Selkirk approved to be set ashore, requiring only a few tools and some food to ensure his well being.
To Alexander this was just an opportunity to get some peace of mind, as he was certain another ship would soon pass to pick him up. Four sailors rowed him to the island, where he set foot on the sand beach.
However, a great regret struck him instantly. He called to the small boat to be returned to the ship, and that he wouldn´t make any more trouble. But the four men rowing away easily ignored Selkirk´s voice and the Cinque Ports soon vanished beyond the horizon.

The year was 1704, and Alexander counted a musket, gunpowder, carpenter´s tools, a knife, a Bible and some clothing in his equipment.
During an initial period he stayed on the beach, fearing the sounds of "beasts" from within the island. He dwelled in a small cave, fed himself with shellfish and kept a nervous look-out for any naval traffic. We can only imagine how lonely, depressed and remorseful he must´ve felt.
Later he would move to discover the interior of the island, as hordes of sea lions swam ashore and disturbed his habitat.
This proved wise, the inland forests offered a variety of food, which Alexander would never be in shortage of. Wild goats that had been introduced by earlier sailors granted him milk and meat. He brought them down with his musket and cleaned them with the knife. Alas, he soon ran out of gunpowder and was forced to approach them on foot. In the pursuit, he stumbled and fell off a cliff, rendering him severe injury and unconsciousness for two days. Fortunately, the prey had dampened his fall and probably saved his life.

The poor castaway turned to his Bible for emotional support.
"If I ever have the good fortune to escape from this island," he said to himself, "I will be kind and obliging to every one. I will try to make friends instead of enemies."
The Good Book also helped him not to forget his native English.

Two ships anchored in Juan Fernandez during Selkirk´s stay. But since he was a privateer, and the ships were both Spanish, he was forced to hide from their crews. Aboard those ships he would have faced a worse fate than death.
As the situation demanded of him, he made extraordinary use of the equipment at hand. He carpented two huts of wood and stone and designed a knife from barrel rings found on the beach. For clothing he sew goat skins with a nail.
It had been four years and four months from the day he arrived, when finally a friendly vessel entered the small harbor. It was the Duke, coincidentally piloted by the very same William Dampier. The crew spotted the castaway and greeted him, and Alexander was incoherent with joy.
He was able to return to his homeland, where he would reconcile with the people in his village and become famous.
The story of Alexander Selkirk inspired Daniel Defoe to write his novel about Robinson Crusoe, which became one of the most recognized adventures around the world.

Just recently, the National Geographic has performed an extensive archeological study of Juan Fernandez and made several interesting findings. They were able to establish the location of the two huts (see image). Also, by analyzing ashes from a nearby fireplace, human presence could be confirmed for the first decade of the 18th century. Finally, a compass needle recovered beneath the soil was identified as a belonging of Alexander Selkirk after thourough research in Scotland. The full results of the study will be published in the October issue of the magazine.

Today, Isla Juan Fernandez is open for tourism, and can be reached with a twin-propeller flight of two hours, or 760 kms, westbound from Santiago.

Links of interest:
Isla Juan Fernandez Google Earth Placemark
Tourism on Juan Fernandez

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I promised you a woman

If you search on Google Images for "woman face", you will find the reference on page 3.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Roof cats

These cats spread peace and harmony while dozing in the sun on our rooftops.

Until our dog spots one of them, and all hell breaks loose.
At least to him. The cats couldn´t care less.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The King of Patagonia

A quick portrait of Orélie-Antoine I

The self-announced monarch arrived to these lands in 1858 with his mind set from years before to claim what he believed was rightfully his - the southern territories of Chile; Araucania and Patagonia. He was 33 year-old French lawyer Orélie-Antoine de Tounens, who believed the area wasn´t automatically the property of Chile or Argentina, young independent states at the time. In 1860 he signed a declaration of independence, created a hymn and a flag, alerted the press and awaited an official response from the Chilean government. But all he got were ironic comments and slammed doors. And a ticket home offered by the French consul.

Nevertheless, after studying the language and raising funds for his quest, he travelled south to acquaint himself with "his" lands. On the way he had to cross a heavily guarded frontier, the one where the advance of the Chilean troops faced resistance of indigenous people, the Mapuches. How he managed this remains unknown.
To win the support of the Mapuche tribes, he presented himself through an interpreter to some chiefs. Incredible as it may seem he was accepted by this community at war, and in front of a small gathering he made the following statement:

"Make of me the King of Araucania and I will unite the strength of the Araucanian nation, Shout with me: Long live the King!" (freely translated)

How did the son of a peasant come to believe he was the king of a foreign land and people?
One must perhaps think of the romantic and idealist time he lived in, when the world dreamed of discoveries in remote places, and that our Orélie most probably was nuts.

In any case, it wasn´t long before the "monarch" was found by a patrol of the Chilean Army. They spotted him resting under a tree on a beach and watched him for several moments to ensure he wasn´t aware he´d been sighted. Then he was approached, lifted to his feet and demanded to accompany them.
Orélie Antoine de Tounens, 36 years of age, carrying a suitcase, a mattress and a french-spanish dictionary, was being arrested for usurping Chilean territory by claiming himself King of Araucania and Patagonia. Much later, when he would be asked why he didn´t at least think of founding a republic, he would say "that form of government was turned down by the araucanians, who have a fond memory of the Spanish royalty".

He was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in an insane asylum, but thanks to the efforts of the French government he was eventually deported. Before boarding the ship back he had to swear to never come back. But just as he arrived in France he began to prepare for his return, by writing manifests and letters, forging coins, appointing officials, founding two periodicals with short lifespans and applying to meet with Napoleon III.
His efforts to win sympathies and financial support were successful and six years after his expulsion from Chile he was returning to Araucania.
This time entering through Argentina, he faced a situation quite unlike the one he had left. The Army´s "pacification" of the lands had been devastating to the indigenous tribes. The Mapuches were surprised as well, since the Chileans had informed them their king was executed. De Tounens began to mobilize his subjects and attracted the attention of the Chilean authorities once more. This time a price was put on his head, but Orélie was protected by the Mapuches.
After a few years and due to a financial drought, he was forced to return to France. He announced to be seeking a bride so he could ensure his legacy would be carried on. But he never had any children nor managed to return to his realm, despite several attempts on the latter.
He died alone in 1878 and was buried in anonymity, not far from his native village.
More than 50 years later, the township gave him a tomb stone which reads: "Here rests Tounens Orélie-Antoine I, King of Araucania and Patagonia."

But this was not the end, as Orélie I has had many successors. When he died, a relative assumed the post as Achille I, later came Antoine II and Antoine III, who in turn handed the title over to the current holder, Prince Philippe I who resides in Paris, now at the age of 79.

Long live the King, as imaginary as his kingdom might be!

Freely translated from an article by Cristóbal Peña and other sources on the Web.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Evening light

View from our offices this evening. Note the snowy peak behind the hills.
This is Cerro Manquehue, reaching 1500 m above sea level
(900 m above Santiago). The snow indicates how cold it is,
just 5-6 degrees when I left home, this must be
one of the coldest days of this year.
Manquehue means "Place of Condors"
in the native tongue.

I captured this scene on my way
to the bus one morning.
The name Andes comes from Quechua,
the language of the Incas, and means
Ribbon of Fire. A suiting name,
considering 10 % of the world´s
active volcanoes are found in Chile.

Friday, September 02, 2005

My job

I think it´s time I told you what I do all day here. After all, my job occupies most of my time and energy so it should receive some attention on the blog.
I will take today as an example of a normal day at work:
I got in by 9.30 and greeted the nice men who are painting our new office space. Yes, I´m the first to move in here. It´s just next door the old office. So I´m enjoying some peace and quiet, which is great for concentration. I´m also experiencing the fumes from the paint. If they influence me or not, I´m not sure. The walls are painted in white and neon green, and that will surely have an effect on me sooner or later.
Today we are working on a television commercial for a large Asian car maker. My job is to create a white road that becomes a curve of the logo, and append this to a filmed shot of a road, thus ending the commercial. I do this with a 3D graphics program.
So I check on the rendering (calculation) I´ve left on during the night. It turned out as I wanted.
I´ve been on this project since late last week, and today we are presenting it to our clients.

The chain of command is this:
- A client wishes to make a tv spot, so they contact their advertising agency.
- The agency comes up with the idea behind the commercial, which is approved by the client, and contracts a commercial producing company and the director for the project.
- The director does the necessary filming and appoints a post producer to supervise the post production, which includes everything from color correction, editing, overlaid graphics, sound, music and speaker.
- The post producer turns to the 3D department requesting visual elements to be added.
- The 3D department (in this case, me) gets on the job.

Yep, that´s how it works.
Naturally, all instances must approve the spot before it can be aired. But don´t kid yourself - this process can go awfully fast! It has happened more than once that I´ve laid the final hand to something by lunch time and when I turn on my tv that same night it´s already being broadcast!
Everything is fast in this business, for a normal project you will probably have no more than 3-4 days. On one hand it means working in a hurry until late hours, but on the other you know when you will be "free" again. The projects can´t mess you up for long periods of time.

We eat lunch in a really small meeting room. For a chilean, eating alone is depressing so everyone tries to fit at the table. Quite different from the culture I´m used to. As well as the topics of conversation, which really don´t have a lower limit. You may hear things a Swede would never share about himself or his personal life, and I quite admire their openness with each other.

So, right now I´m expecting news from the presentation. What will the people from the agency say? It will have a great impact on the days to come, I sense. Let´s hope they´ll only ask for minor changes, because I really need to start on the next project - a classic ladies´ commercial including blue liquid absorbation.

Whatever happens, I´ll be closing the shop in a few hours and heading home.
Fridays are special.