The fort as seen while approaching along El Puente de Las Bolas,
“the Bridge of the Balls.” Cannonballs, that is.
As I mentioned my last post on Lanzarote’s Piracy Museum, Spain’s Canary Islands are dotted with historic forts. As a stopover on the way to and from the New World, these islands off the west coast of Africa naturally became a target for piracy. Every port had at least one fort to protect it.
Last summer I went to visit some of my in-laws and the World’s Coolest Nephew in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and disappointed our dear editor John O’Neill by missing the Piracy Museum.
Well, I just got back from another trip to Lanzarote, and this time I made it there! The Piracy Museum is housed in the 15th century Castillo de Santa Barbara and is a delightfully cheesy tourist trap. You get cardboard cutouts of pirates, a mock up of a ship complete with a cabin boy taking a dump, televisions playing old pirate movies, and of course a big Jolly Roger. You even get a bit of history.
El Castillo de Santa Barbara, built in the 15th century to protect
the port of Teguise from pirate attacks. It was extensively rebuilt in the 16th century and
now houses a piracy museum. Photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero
When I told Black Gate‘s editor, high guru, and overall generalissimo John O’Neill that I was headed to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and would visit a castle that had a piracy museum, he was over the Moon. What fantasy blog wouldn’t want an article on that?
Unfortunately for him, I spent my week eating, swimming, and learning to play Grand Theft Auto 5 with my son and nephew. When I finally got around to driving out to the castle, it was closed. Yeah, I failed in my job as a travel writer because I enjoyed my vacation too much.
But the island itself is worth a look, and its history is fascinating. Lanzarote lies in the Canary Island chain just off the coast of Western Sahara. It’s volcanic in origin, with a dramatic coastline ringing an interior that looks like something from a post-apocalyptic movie.
Last week I wrote about how I spent a month living in Tangier working on my next novel. Luckily my family came down with me for part of the time, and since it was my son’s first trip out of Western Europe I wanted him to enjoy himself and open his eyes a little. So what do you show a ten-year-old in Morocco? Well, besides the Casbah and the medina market, what better than an old pirate port?
Asilah stands on Morocco’s Atlantic coast and like many of the country’s ports started out as a Phoenician trading center about 3500 years ago. It’s most famous as the last base of the famed Barbary pirates, who started being a menace in the early Middle Ages. Their heyday was from the 15th to 19th century, when they terrorized shipping in the Western Mediterranean and the Strait of Gibraltar. Several European interventions, including the United States’ first overseas adventure, failed to stop them. The rampant piracy was one the excuses the French and Spanish used to establish colonies throughout North Africa.
Extolling the virtues of Tim Powers to this audience is probably preaching to the choir, but if you haven’t yet read On Stranger Tides, get thee to Amazon. It was the first Powers I ever read. It’s still my favorite.
The fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, neither based nor inspired but rather “suggested by the novel by Tim Powers,” is so-so. It has a clumsy first act, full of cameos and nudge-nudge references to the original film; and the leaden action and fighting choreography is wound into slow-motion by the editing. The biggest problem is POV: the story shouldn’t have had Jack as the main character but rather should have, like Curse of the Black Pearl, focused on the straight man (here, the missionary Philip) whose path intersects with Sparrow’s. That said, it’s not as bad as some of the reviews say. I found the mermaid sequence in Whitecap Bay delightful and I’ll gladly pay $9 to watch Geoffrey Rush channel Robert Newton (or to listen to Penelope Cruz’s accent) anytime. The film’s biggest stars are actually the percussive guitars of Rodrigo Y Gabriela who, along with Hans Zimmer, give the score a Spanish Main emotion missing from the previous installments.
If only the filmmakers had adapted Powers whole cloth! In the 1987 novel, 18th-century puppeteer John Chandagnac — or Jack Shandy, as he becomes known — accidentally falls in with pirates and thereby enters a heretofore unknown world of sorcery and West African animism. The buccaneers of the Caribbean, it turns out, are magicians who can manipulate spirits. Blackbeard himself is a master warlock, but having become infested with vodun loas, must seek out the Fountain of Youth to banish them; he keeps them at bay by drinking gunpowder and burning slow matches in his hair. And he’s not even the main antagonist. Shandy must meanwhile race to save his love from a horrific plot involving zombies and body swapping.