Friday, June 20, 2008

Day 129. A sizzling game of domino

Today was a full day. I started with a visit to the Naval Museum, which, together with zoological gardens, is a favorite tourist occupation of mine. The one of Madrid is a particularly fine one, with many paintings of heroic battles (in many of them, alas, Spain lost against England), models of ships and old nautical instruments, and some very impressive documents. Among them Spain’s copy of the treaty of Tordecillas, which in the late 1490’s divided the new discoveries of the world between Spain and Portugal along the 45 degrees west meridian.

They also have a nice collection of nautical charts and old maps, among them the 1500 map of Juan de la Cosa, in which for the first time America is being represented (on the left, in green). One can recognize the shape of the Gulf of Mexico, and of Cuba and Hispaniola (or Santo Domingo), but the Florida and Yucatán peninsulas are missing. My Oceanography students might remember that there is another chart, the Pizzigano map, whose date is in discussion but which might be as old as 1480 (that is before the arrival of Colón in America in 1492), in which Puerto Rico and Florida might already been represented; the Pizzigano map has been used by Menzies to support his idea that Chinese navigators had reached the Americas in 1421. Going back to the Cosa chart, note the vertical green line, which is the demarcation line established by the treaty of Tordecillas.

After leaving the naval museum I went for a long walk through the Barrio de las Letras, which is where some of the great literary figures of the Golden Age of Spain used to live (e.g., Lope de Vega or Quevedo). It is a charming portion of the city, with lots of narrow but luminous streets, and shops of unique character.

I got home in time for dinner, which in Spain is sometime between 1 and 3 pm, because I wanted to spend some time with Estrella and Armando. Indeed, after a good repast, throughout which I was encouraged to “eat some more” until I was almost at bursting point, Armando and I sat to play domino, a favorite pastime of him from his many years in Cuba. The set he has he inherited from Estrellas father, and is more than 100 years old; unlike modern sets, this one is cut in a rich, dark wood, polished like ebony by the hands of hundreds of players, and has up to 9 suits. I could tell right away that I was in front of a master, who was kindly toying with me, now and then making a gentle joke. We played for a couple of hours while Estrella took a siesta, and after she woke up she sat down to play with us. All of a sudden the spirit of the game changed. As I have already told you Estrella likes to chat, so she kept an uninterrupted flow of domino comments as she stepped up the pace of the game. She is a good player, so Armando became all of a sudden quiet and intent; his posture changed, and the chips started flying into position as the two of them became more invested in the game. Mind you, Armando is as sharp as a tack, and was quick to notice the small “trampas” that Estrella tried to pass by him. After another couple of hours it didn’t look like we were reaching an ending point, so I suggested a final tournament of five games. OK, here we go: Armando 1, Armando 2, Estrella 1, Horacio 1, and . . . with a huge grin he tossed in the winning chip and scored Armando 3! What fun :)

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