Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In spite of what the Portuguese traders told their Brazilian sailors under their breath as they emptied their ship holds of Moluccan feathers, & contrary to what the barefoot convicts grunted to each other during their cruel, unending ardour of hauling huge Huon pine logs through trackless rainforest to the frozen river's edge, not all his trade was complete madness.

For the pine, the oil of which he claimed could be used as an aphrodisiac & a cure for the clap, making it a doubly virtuous wonder that both promoted & protected its adherents in the torrents of love, he extracted the finest silk cloth from India. For a horde of sulphur-crested cockatoos he had painted to resemble baby macaws & trained to recite melancholic verse in the manner of Pope & several songs of passion in the earthier argot of their convict trainers, he gained fourteen Brazilian caravels & seven cannons, which he promptly exchanged for a principality in Sarawak that a Levantine merchant had won in a game of tarok on his way south to the fabled kingdom of Sarah Island, the subsequent sale of which financed his palace & the new wharf.

--Gould's Book of Fish, Richard Flanagan (2001)


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