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camel of the day 21-3-2020

From – Public Domain

Nikos Pirosmani

is famous enough in Georgia that he’s featured on banknotes.  Like this one:

This is a little ironic given that he never had that many of his own.  But the attitudes that led to this are precisely what makes him a worthy artist hero both to Georgia as an independent state and to Georgia in the Soviet era.

A lifelong artist for cafes and signs, when he came by money he opened a shop himself.  Unfortunately for him (and maybe fortunately for those who want to see more beautiful art, rightly or wrongly) his administrative technique consisted in overcharging the wealthy and giving stuff away to the ordinary peasants.  The ordinary peasants were fine with this, and took enough stuff that he had to return to doing art for a living.

Ho hum.

The critical establishment ridiculed his naive style when he finally got his big break, and he ended up homeless in Tblisi.  Before ending up dead of pneumonia. 

Ho hum.

There is a happiness of sorts to be had in his story, however.  Unlike most artists, with all their petty compromises and grandstanding and intellectualisations of what they do, he was able to – truthfully, simply and beautifully – say this about himself:

“I wanted to paint what I painted”.

Unfortunately for the Scotch Camel, this appears to be the only time he wanted to paint a camel. You can read more about him here: or watch a whole 1969 film about him here (Georgian, with subtitles available).

camel of the day 15-3-2020

Hippolyte Delie, Emile Bechard, the dromedary and the mystery man

…were the partnership that took credit for the photo.  But both the camel, and the gentleman on the camel, deserve high commendation for a great picture – given the length of time that the subject of a photo needed to stay still for at this period.  There’s lots of  Delie and Bechard’s “Egyptological” work associated with the collections of the Musee Boulaq, the ancestor of the current Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but this is the only picture I’ve found that prominently includes a camel.  Which is probably not that surprising, given the patience and stillness required for photography in this period.

Unfortunately, neither of the subjects’ names were recorded.  

This seems, and is, dramatically unfair.  It’s something to give the credit to the photographer when it’s only a matter of capturing a moment (as with the street photography of Vivian Maier, for instance) but surely it’s not right to do so if the effort of maintaining the pose is greater than that of arranging the picture.  Under these circumstances, especially given the relations of power in operation in nineteenth century Cairo, you might suspect there’s something to the idea of a photograph being a stealing of the soul.

I wonder if they ever saw the picture?  Did the rider (or the camel, for that matter) contemplate that someone might be looking at them from the world of a century and a third later and talking about their soul. 

Would they care?

camels of the day 1-3-2020

Today’s picture is brought to you courtesy of the brilliant copyright free digitisation program of the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.  It caught my eye because it shows the sheer scale of the cameline economy of the silk road at its height.

Grote karavaan met bepakte kamelen en gewapende figuren te paard, by Jan Luyken, 1681

What does it tell us?

Nothing absolutely.  It’s not like it’s a rigorous statistical analysis of camel traffic in a given year.  Or as if Mr. Luyken’s correctly drew to scale or perspective (really, check out the vast camels that appear in the middle and far distance in relation to the tress and to the walls of the caravanserai).  But Luyken is clearly not lying about the sheer immensity in the scene.  It’s a little like the feeling of strangeness and uncomfortable recognition you’d get if you’d never before realised the scale of the motorways your everyday life depends upon.

Like looking at your own veins.

Kigali Traffic Jam by Emmanuel Kwizera via Wikimedia Commons.  CC-BY-SA4

Have a good Saint David’s Day.

Camel of the day 24-2-2020

Picture courtesy of Carptrash on wikipedia.

This is one of the first pictures I encountered on searching for camels in Tripoli. It’s not the Tripoli I was looking for, but it led me to an oddity I never knew about before (as well as making me happy by being a camel statue that actually ought to be where it is, unlike the ones I dealt in a previous Camel of the Day post).  This is the astonishing Moorish revival style of architecture that characterises the building this camel and its friend are kneeling in front of. 

Here’s the “Tripoli Shrine Temple”, a secular Masonic building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from distance:

The original photographer’s listed as ‘Sulfur’ on wikipedia, but their link doesn’t work.  Ho hum.

There seems to be something about this style that makes it characteristic of leisure and opulence in most contexts that it’s used in globally, with the interesting exception that it’s the approach that’s been adopted for many of the world’s most famous synagogues.  But it strikes me that the very uselessness and excessive ornamentation of it is exactly what too many of us miss in contemporary architecture.  Just like Brianna Rennix and Nathan J. Robinson point out very articulately (and with really good pictures) here.

It’s better to find our excess in the beauty of the buildings we look at, than in the greed that characterises too much of what happens inside them.  And it’s better again when they have camels in front of them.

Camel of the day 13-2-2020

You’ve always secretly wanted to make an origami camel.  Me too, although in my case it’s hardly a secret. 

This is the most straighforward explainer I’ve found so far that involves making a camel with an even number of legs.  I mean, really, who want to make a three-legged camel? 

Once I’ve tested it I’ll let you know if it can be made to stand up, which is the only awkward bit of this video.

There’s no sound, so put on some music while you watch.

There will be more origami camels.  But these will be subject to a rigorous testing and evaluation process to discover just how viable they for the cackhanded and origamically unskilled.  If you’re particularly proud of the one you make and you think it’ll pass muster with the Camel of the Day quality scrutiny committee, drop us a line. and we’ll make it famous.

camel of the day 11-2-2020

Thanks to John Campbell for putting this friendly smiling camel’s face into the public domain.   Cheers John!

I’m going to be keeping the Camel of the Day page fairly light and fluffy.  After all, we all need more smiling camels in our lives.  But make sure to check out the blog pages in the near future for some very serious writing about politics, society and camels.


camel of the day 8-2-2020

Sometimes the most obvious place is the place to look. 

I told you a while back about the Matson Archive.  Well, this is the fantastic picture that graces its front page.  The title is given as “Egyptian camel transport passing over Olivet, 1918”.  This probably means that they just had, or were just about to, pass by the village of At-Tur, now in East Jerusalem.

Camels of the day 23-1-2020

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 22.09.20

Three Wisemen's Camels, by "Ted", via

I don’t know anything about these guys.  But with looks like this, what does it really matter?

camel(s) of the day 23-12-2019

We’re coming to you today, or at least our featured dromedaries are, from Doha…

The fort in the background is Al Koot, also simply known as Doha Fort.  The photographer, Diego Delso, has a pretty spectacular site of CC-BY-SA licensed images (like this one) here.  Sadly, however, he doesn’t seem to look closer at either camels or the history of the area where this photo was taken.  The first omission is obviously a shame for us camel-lovers, whilst the second is a shame from the point of view of The Great Camel Race game.

I mentioned this game here back in late November.  But you deserve a little more info than I gave you back then.

The Great Camel Race - The Historical Setting

The game takes place, roughly, through the year CE 1908.  It is set in Arabia and the lands (and seas and oceans) surrounding it.

It is built on an elaborate – but plausible – historical counterfactual.  This is that the Sharif of Mecca has come to believe in the idea of an Arab nation, and seeks to raise the banner of rebellion against all the imperial powers at the conclusion of the next Hajj.  He has sent messages to his most promising and trusted warriors, merchants and generals (etc etc) that their forces will be tested in competition (the titular “race”) roughly a year hence, once they have presented themselves for inspection before him in Mecca.

The game structure that results, if played in full, is a complex two-phase game that’s designed to be played across a long night or a weekend.  It portrays what anthropologists might label a “thick description” of the Arab world(s) at the time, or what literary types might call magical realism – or at least as close to that as will be readily playable for people without prior historical or linguistic knowledge. We’ve avoided strict historical accuracy or blatant pedagogy, but real historical figures and events do feature, and there’s plenty to intrigue and provoke players into learning more.

The Board

… will look a lot like this, though there’s been a few minor modifications since this version was made.  Since you ask, each side’s around 22 inches.  That’s 56 centimetres, for those of you in the less “Imperial” parts of the world.

The Pieces

The camel pieces – each of which can represent any number of camels travelling together, along with their luggage and their associated humans – look like this:

Each player can have up to three camel pieces on the board at any one time. Players also have one boat piece. 

nb. We’ve not yet designed / sourced the boat pieces – so if you can recommend a supplier who makes beautiful and hardwearing model ships of the right size (around 3/4 in, 1.5 cm or the size of a 1p piece) and era, give us a shout.

The Cards

If The Great Camel Race has a particular claim to originality (and I’m not 100% sure it does, btw) it’s that it’s been designed to share with more abstract board games such as chess, draughts, Go and Kensington the qualities of openness and absolute rule consistency.  Unlike these pure board games though, it achieves this with the use of cards. 

The possibilities open to each player are entirely dependent upon the cards they hold, and all players can see each others’ cards at all times.

Sadly for our puritan mindset, we couldn’t work out how to make this principle stick in its entirety.  So the exception to the rule of openness is in upcoming cards – whilst all cards are always face up, it is possible to draw more than one new card from the new deck in a turn.  It’s also possible, as a reward for some succesful actions, to look down into the pack and see what cards are approaching.

Cards are used to represent camels, people, boat captains and resources.  For today, we’ll just look at a basic version of one of the camel cards.  These are what determine the attributes of the camel pieces – what they can carry, and how far.


Let’s look at the symbols along the top, from left to right:

Dromedary or Bactrian?

As you can see, this camel’s got just one hump.  You’ll know by now that means it’s a dromedary. As you probably also remember, dromedaries are quicker – which is why all our elite racing camels are dromedaries.

Resource carrying capacity

This camel can carry one lightweight resource along with its rider.  A bag of pearls from Doha, perhaps, if it were one of the camels pictured at the top?


Our elite racing camel can move four spaces in a turn – assuming that she or he is not slowed down by any other camels (or people) they’re travelling with.

It's a race, but speed isn't everything

Each turn in the first phase (the bit we’ve been looking at) represents one month.  Players are aiming to fulfil as many missions as possible in order to collect the right camels, resources, captains and people to win in the second phase of the game – and then get them all to Mecca (or Jiddah) by the end of the year.  Or, conversely, to judiciously use theft, murder, religion, diplomacy, medicine, magic, seduction and railways to achieve that in less purely speed-based ways.

We’ll look another time soon at how some of these things work.  And we’ll see then just how the sleeping pearling town of Doha, in our game as in life, can become the setting of mighty human – and camelid – drama.


Camel(s) of the Day 22-12-2019

It’s a rare and wonderful thing.  I actually know the names of the camels featured today. 

This little bit of caring would, in itself, probably have persuaded me to share the following video.  But more importantly, the artists care as much for humans as they do for camels – and in the right kind of ways; and make video and hooks that communicate their  message clearly even though I understand little (ok, pretty much nothing) of what they’re singing. 

So, here’s Loulou and Abou Nhase starring in the video for Michelle and Noel Keserwany’s excellent 3al Jamal bi wasat Beirut

The humans involved (though sadly not Loulou and Abou Nhase) also feature in the video below. You should just watch this because it’s really good. Again, you’ll get it even if you don’t get the languages.