The Gold Doubloons

I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t want to stay in the hotel room. If I’m in a foreign country I want to be out and about, eating up the scenery, drinking up the difference, because it won’t be long before I’m back home.

So after Stuart took me on the Van Morrison tour, I had him drop me at the Ulster Museum.

Like I said, I could live in a museum. I love to learn. I love to be taken away. I love to marinate in what once was.

Even though it was quarter to four and the museum closed at five.

But it turned out there was no admission fee and I was there to see the exhibit on the Troubles and I could probably cover that so I dove in.

But I was overloaded. That’s the problem with travel, especially overseas, you’re tired and your heart says carry on but your brain says no go and all the words run together and you’re chalking up miles, but the experience is nearly worthless.

Furthermore, the Troubles exhibit wasn’t linear. I want to start at the beginning and move forward. The only problem being sometimes you don’t get to the end or you have to rush but you never really know what’s important, or most important.

And after finishing the Troubles I climbed the stairs to discover…

An exhibit on the industrial revolution that had been so much better done at the Titanic Museum. More in depth with better commentary. Not all museums are created equal, and not all have descriptions that are decipherable.

So I wandered out into the atrium and ended up in a room about 1916, World War 1.

Have you been to the Imperial War Museum in London? Put it on your list, but after the Churchill War Rooms. Neither of them rate number one in the guidebooks, but both are at the toppermost in my world. The War Rooms were underground just barely and you learn so much about Churchill, a complicated gent who saved democracy, the gravitas is palpable. You wonder what the inhabitants did after the war. When their lives were no longer on the line. That’s the conundrum, when you can die you never feel more alive. And it’s not only adrenaline junkies who thrive on this.

As for the Imperial War Museum… They’ve got a V-2 rocket in the main hall, when you enter. You know, the kind that the Germans dropped on London.

And there’s an incredible concentration camp exhibit, but in the bowels of the building there’s a facsimile of trench warfare. We forget how combat has progressed yet stayed the same. As in there’s so much new technology, airplanes became a factor in World War I, but the essence of warfare stays identical, senseless dying as generals try to obtain land.

And in the 1916 exhibit they had a machine gun. Which was used to mow down the enemy. I got scared just looking at it.

And when I exited the exhibit I entered the 1500s.

Now that seems a long time ago, five hundred years, half a millennium. But as I started to read I stopped, because it all seemed so modern.

You see we think everybody before us lived in the Dark Ages. But this is not true. They were positively up to date, the people after us are gonna laugh at our lifestyle. I remember marveling that my mother grew up without television (my father never watched the box), but I grew up without internet. And the concept of having a computer in one’s palm seems so revolutionary. A hundred years from now? Not so much.

So I’m breezing along, thinking the museum’s gonna close soon anyway, and I can get released after paying my dues, when I encounter a whole exhibit on the Spanish Armada.

Didn’t we study that in the fifth grade?

To say I don’t remember much…the truth is I don’t remember anything at all. And when I got to the end and read why the British succeeded and the Spanish failed I was suddenly intrigued and went back to the beginning.

Spain had a veritable navy, 130 ships. How’d they pay for that, who manned them?

As for England… Their fleet wasn’t as big and their ships were smaller and therefore more nimble, which turned out to be a huge advantage.

Now the reason they had this exhibit at the Ulster was because…

After being beaten, licking their wounds, what was left of the Armada decided to return to Spain with its tail between its legs via the North Atlantic, they sailed around Ireland and…

Disaster. The maps were bad…don’t take Google and Waze for granted. Scurvy was rampant, they didn’t know they needed vitamin C. And the boats were battered and the weather was horrible and…

Ships were blown ashore and 5,000 men died and…

History was coming alive.

But this was all maps and words, and after finishing them I went to the display cases.

Turns out they found a ship, in the last century. Kinda like the Titanic but with a lot less publicity. And what they excavated…

It wasn’t like today, where only the poor and lower classes go into the military. The rich went too. And they brought their jewelry with them. If you were wealthy, you wore a gold chain around your neck.

They had two of them. Worn by the sailors nearly half a millennium ago. How cool is that?

But then I saw these quasi-round gold and silver disks. And the description told me…

These were gold and silver doubloons. That the rich took their money with them.

Which had my head spinning. They’re on these barely maneuverable (manoeuvrable?) ships far from home dressed up like dandies and they’re carrying their cash, which anybody could steal, status was everything, even on this ship long ago. And there was social stratification, he with the cash lived better.

And I’m thinking it’s so long ago and so different.

But then I saw the outfit of someone from the same era, a peasant, the clothes were found in a bog that preserved them, and they were leather and looked like something out of “Robin Hood,” although riven with patched holes and I realized…

They were just like you and me.

And then the voice came over the intercom telling me it was time to go, but…

I still can’t get the image of the gold doubloons out of my head. Cash money, just sitting there.

The gold and silver doubloons

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