“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, November 28, 2005

setting sail, or something

LI is leaving for an unnamed South Carolina island tomorrow. Probably we will be without a keyboard to hammer on. Instead, we are going to concentrate on the time honored tradition of manfully downing tequila shots while still managing to stay supine in a hammock – not so easy once you are past the first two, let me assure you. There are more dangerous sports, but surely this is a very televisable one. At least as televisable as poker, I would imagine. Still, the cables still haven’t got back to my agent on this.

In the meantime, we recommend highly the story about treasure hunting in last week’s New Yorker. Cynthia Zarin’s story of the emeralds that were dredged from mysterious depths by unknown hands – although covered by a story that specifies both depths and hands – is all about the most romantic of subjects, unearned wealth. To edenically find, rather than to toil and labor outside the garden – even if it is the Octopus’ garden, and the treasure one is digging up was long ago taken from the bloodied populations dying in various mines in Latin America in order to produce wonderful baubles. Here’s Zarin’s backgrounder:
“The Galeones de Tierra Firme fleet had set sail for Colombia, to pick up jewels from the Muzo and Chivor emerald mines, in the dense jungle region north of Bogotá. By 1567, the Spanish had wrested control of the mines from the Muzo Indians, who had kept their location secret for centuries. They forced captive Indians to work the mines until, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, harsh labor conditions and disease had decimated the population. "Muzo and Chivor produced the finest emeralds in the world," Rebecca Selva told me when I visited Fred Leighton. "The mines are fabled. These beautiful things come out of a very dark period of Latin-American history."

In September, 1714, the Galeones fleet sailed to Havana, and waited there for the New Spain Flota, which had left for Mexico in 1712 with orders for textiles and porcelain from the Far East (sent overland through Veracruz), as well as for gold, silver, and jewels. The boats also carried newly minted currency, cocoa, vanilla, paper, brazilwood, and animal hides. The official manifests, sent ahead to Spain, did not account for all of the goods on board: twenty per cent--the "Royal Fifth"-would be claimed as taxes, and many merchants bribed officials to underestimate their cargo. According to the ships' manifests, General Don Juan Estéban de Ubilla, the captain of the New Spain Flota, carried treasure for the Queen on the lead ship, La Capitana.

On July 24, 1715, the combined fleet, eleven boats in all, plus the Grifon, a French ship, which was sailing with the heavily armed fleet for protection from pirates, set off into the Straits of Florida. It was hurricane season. The three-masted galleons were up to a hundred and sixty feet long and forty-five feet wide, and held several hundred passengers and crew. A storm hit on July 30th. By early the next morning, all eleven boats in the fleet had been lost, propelled shoreward onto the jagged worm-rock reefs that edge the coast of southeast Florida. More than a thousand men drowned. According to the manifests, fourteen million pesos (the modern equivalent of about two hundred million dollars) in treasure was lost. Only the Grifon escaped.”

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