Madrid | Power over stormy waters

By Limor Shiponi

While my group mates visited Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, I chose to visit Museo Naval de Madrid. I hoped to find something about piracy and was curious in general – naval and marine stuff tickle my imagination. Besides, the Spanish Armada appears in one of the stories I tell and now I had the chance to see what kind of power was considered. Meeting soldiers at the entrance, I realized that the Spanish naval fleet is still called Armada and that the museum is a military establishment which is open to the public.

There were not many visitors but those who were there were of the curious kind that have the drive and patience to look at stuff like that for hours. Although the space isn’t large, the collections are rich and interesting including art, replicas, ethnography, documentation, maps, scientific tools, furniture, arms, sails, uniforms, daily utilities, restorations – just name it; a lot of shiny brass pieces, numerous portraits of admirals and paintings documenting battles. I got curious about the technique of capturing a battle at sea at a time no cameras were available; obviously, the ships were not exactly posing very stably… turns out most of the pictures were painted from memory while using ships at shore as models. Many things captured my attention and made me ponder, two of them more than others: cartography and arms. Maps were scribed by hand and accumulated along time, adding more and more information about coastlines, establishments, political powers and especially about the sea – routs, currents, winds and underwater topography. Each map was safely guarded and tended since you couldn’t send someone to buy a new print.

The amount of arms and weaponry is surprising, I saw tools of war I never knew about some of them ridiculous but still deadly. What left me pondering was this collection…

Tools for face-to-face combat designed to slash, crush, dice, behead, tear, puncture, spit and cause any other kind of deadly damage to other human beings. All of these tools are well crafted consuming hours of attention and expertise only to damage as well as possible. Comparing to modern weapons which are designed to do exactly the same and way “better” these tools sent shivers down my spine since they suggest you needed to actually be present and very close while killing another human. The modern tools might make us feel we are doing a neater job. No artistic or storytelling ideas concerning this collection…

Hoping to find something about piracy turned into the understanding that it’s all a matter of intention and semantics – if you’re not defending and still attacking, you’re most probably around piracy in any case although you could call it “seeking new opportunities”.

6 thoughts on “Madrid | Power over stormy waters”

  1. Had a similar experience at the Museum of Western Life in LA, where they have a whole room full of cases of revolvers – all they way from very early, heavy unsophisticated things very clearly designed and manufactured with one end in mind, to inflict maximum damage, to exquisitely crafted late 19thC presentation pieces.
    All of them repellent in what they represent of our impulses to damage and destroy, but equally fascinating, beautiful even.
    Makes me shiver again, remembering it.

  2. I agree they are fascinating, otherwise I wouldn’t be looking at them. Interesting to note that being in the military you never feel that way about your weapons. You just hope you won’t need to use them and that if you do you create only ‘necessary’ damage. You just want the darn war to stop. Strange gap here.

    1. Did a lot of work around these ideas a while ago whilst working on a version of ‘Mad Suibhne’ – got a long way to go with it, but it’s a very rich vein. One of the snippets that’s stayed with me is the notion of ‘the warrior’s heart’ – an Irish idea which is a poetic version of what today we’d probably call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
      Can’t help thinking that it all started to go wrong when we invented ways of killing at a distance – if you absolutely *have* to do it, you should also *have* to look the other one in the eye…the old courtesy makes a lot of sense, in some ways.

      1. Who is Suibhne? curious. Sounds Gaelic or something close.

        I’ve been busy with these ideas too, especially around my program ‘Honor Price’ and the claim that warrior’s lingo is violent. After speaking to several I understood this is a misconception. Warriors don’t talk and boast about killing and even if today they use way more deadly weapons, their silence is connected to the old courtesy.

        1. Suibhne (pronounced ‘Sweeney’, more or less) is old Irish story – great king and warrior, ‘bloody-handed man of battles’ goes mad, lives in tree as bird speaking poetry, flees when anyone tries to approach him. Finally talked down out of tree but hag ( the Morrigan, war goddess) tricks him and he flees again…finally killed by accident many years later.
          Famous tragic figure in Irish culture, written about by folks as diverse as WB Yates, Flann O’Brien and Spike Milligan !
          I used this as part of a programme called ‘Over the hill heroes’, on the theme of what happens after the battle is won, but it’s a huge story and could easily form the basis of a rich programme all on it’s own.
          Love the phrase ‘Honour Price’, btw…sounds like we’ve been approaching more or less the same ideas from different directions…again 🙂

          1. Now that you say Sweeney I know what you’re talking about – amazing, rich story and having Yates, O’Brien and Milligan on your side makes my sigh (read>jealous).
            Yes, we have been approaching very close idea from different directions, the heroine in my story managed to keep away from getting mad (the meaning you suggest in your comment) through being mad (talk like a pirate’s day I think?) and continuing her battles along life. She just, at a certain point, switched weapons. Died in peace at the age of 73 – not bad for a renaissance figure 🙂

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