12/05/2005

Avast, Ye Mateys! [DECEMBER 4, 2005]

Well, we’ve had a pretty exciting past couple of weeks here in Cádiz. A trading boat from the Swedish East India Company, the Götheborg, had been sitting in port replenishing her cargo and supplies for the long months ahead as she prepared to round the Cape of Good Hope and head to China. The last we saw of her was on Monday, though, as the beautiful lady set sail for her next destination. The Chinese trade, they say, is a lucrative one and the wooden vessels come back from the Orient filled to the brim with treasures undreamt of. Porcelain, tea, and exotic spices are but a few of the riches they bring us Europeans. I wouldn’t mind joining the Swedes on their journey – if it weren’t for the threats of jaundice and scurvy on the high seas – but I’m a lowly lily-livered land lover. Arrgh, her blue waters are no mistress for an English teacher/amateur writer such as I. I would have probably ended up spewing forth all over her polished starboard (Or is that the port-side? I always get the two confused...) as the lass set off on her treacherous journey to the East.


FIRE CANONS OFF THE PORT!!! (Or was that the starboard?)

Aye, aye... I know what you’re thinking, but this is not a historical piece and I’m not talking about the XVII or XVIII Century. There actually was a boat from the Swedish East India Company, a wooden vessel and fine seafaring specimen she was, arrgh, sitting in the modern port of Cádiz as tankers, cargo-ships, and cruise-ships were conducting business as usual. But now, instead of plundering the rest of the world and bringing riches back to Europe so that we on the continent might powder our wigs and scoff at the primitiveness of others, the Götheborg is actually sailing around the globe on a diplomatic "public image" mission. The crew are no longer a motley bunch of cutthroats and vagabonds lured onto the Seven Seas by promises of adventure, glory, and untold wealth, but well-educated multi-lingual tour guides willing and able to answer any questions you might have about their country. These Swedish buccaneers no longer brandish crooked daggers and deadly muskets, but hand out pamphlets and set up tents filled with informative little tidbits about that country to the north none of us really knows all that much about. Yes, the Swedes have come a long way since the 1700s. And they’ve even managed to open up a few IKEAs in the meantime.


Thar she be in all her beauty... Tis a fine vessel worthy of the name GÖTHEBORG

The Götheborg, as our multilingual Swedish tour guide told us in impeccable English, will be following the original journey of other ships that once sailed for the Swedish East India Company and will also be stopping off and informing the locals about the nation of Sweden and its customs. But don’t you worry! We have been assured that they have more than enough pamphlets printed in the appropriate languages to answer any questions that might be posed by other visitors in Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, China, Singapore, Malaysia and by the helpful employees of the Suez Canal that will undoubtedly ask them what the hell are they doing sailing around the world in a wooden ship from the XVIII Century.


My girlfriend's lovely picture from the deck which
she begged me to include with this article

After I had absorbed all the Swedish trivia I could, it dawned on me to seek the answer to the one burning question that was on both my girlfriend’s and my mind: What on earth does a wooden Swedish ship have to do with Cádiz? Well, our blonde Scandinavian tour-guide had an answer to that one too. In fact, she had something even better – a tent containing an historical exhibit written in both Spanish and English.


Historical images of the port of Cádiz and maps of the old trade route to the East Indies

As it turned out, once a viable sea route was discovered to the Kingdom of China, merchants from Europe were eager to begin trading and reap the financial benefits that such a route could provide. In 1587, the Portuguese established the first East India Company and, throughout the 17th Century, they, along with the Dutch, British, and Spanish, controlled a monopoly on Europe’s insatiable thirst for tea, porcelain and spices from the Orient. But the Swedes soon battled for an opportunity of their own and, in 1731, the King of Sweden founded the Swedish East India Company. That’s where Cádiz comes into the picture. The only things the Chinese wanted from the Europeans was silver and the Spanish had a lot of it. So, before setting off for the long journey to Canton, the Swedes would stop off at Spain’s southernmost and busiest Atlantic port, a.k.a. the place I call home, and sell the Spaniards some quality Swedish goods in exchange for newly minted Spanish silver coins which would then be used months later to buy goods from the Chinese. Confused yet? Not quite sure what on earth the Swedes could possibly sell the Spaniards that would fetch them that much silver and make it such a profitable venture to sail halfway across the planet? Well, the Swedes sold them plenty of rope and, most importantly, quality furniture with a sense of style specifically designed for the modern fashion conscious homeowner... all at a low, low reasonable price. I guess some things just never change.


IKEA - "affordable solutions for better living"

But alas, the Götheborg has now set sail and departed the ancient port of Cádiz. She’s probably somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic now, steadily steering towards her next destination as her crew prepare to set up tents and hand out those countless pamphlets. I, for one, will miss those Swedish swashbucklers. The sight of tall, blond men and buxom blonde ladies roaming the streets of this Spanish port were a welcome relief from the countless short and dark-haired locals one is used to seeing. And even if those blonde sailors from the north were nothing more than, arrgh, the notorious Scandinavian scourge of the North Sea, well this ol’ land lover wishes them a safe and tumult-free journey as they brave the high seas. Canton and numerous other cities await, ye brave adventurers... as does another market for your well-crafted and stylish, yet affordable, interior design products.

7 comments:

Can't sit still.... said...

Interesting, witty and informative post...wish you wrote more than once a week! :-)

ViVi said...

Arrrrrrr matey!

Um... I don't really have anything to add to that. Just taking the opportunity to talk like a pirate where I can. :)

J.Doe said...

I liked the photos of the ships, especially the one your girlfriend begged you to include.

Cynthia Rae said...

The husband and I have been wanting to go to Spain for quite some time now. How luck for you that you live there!

The ship looks beautiful, but like you I am a land lover. I have long suffered from motion sickness.

And now let us all take a moment of silence for IKEA... I love to shop there!

Cyn

Lori said...

It's funny even back then people would go out of their way for a deal....Your girlfriend was right to have you include that one pic....All the pics was great...but I liked that one the best!!!

Have a great day!!!

Expat Traveler said...

wow - I think I got my history lesson for the week. :) Isn't it amazing what you can do when you snoop around a bit. There's a nice ship that sails on lac leman that looked a bit like that but smaller I am sure.

Kimberley said...

Hello! What a great post, being half Swedish/half Norwegian. Those vikings and their descendants got around, but that is part of the process when you're really great with boats.

Thanks for coming my way as well - there is a new post or two for you when you have a moment.

Best, Kimberley