Friday, March 19, 2010

Spit-Turner to the King

How would you have liked to be the person that turned the spit that roasted the meat for the king? It could have happened, as there was indeed such a position listed in the king's household at the end of the 15th century. Wow - official Royal Spit-Turner - mom will be so proud! This terrific book by R.J. Knecht that I've been reading (The French Renaissance Court, 1483-1589. Yale University Press, 2008) is marvelously detailed with tidbits like that one. It's not trying to prove a big thesis, but it is trying to tell me everything, absolutely everything, about life in a French court from 1483 to 1589. I love that kind of descriptive history, because there are always surprises within it: a detail that doesn't quite match up to the big narrative. There's a running joke in the original sources he uses and it involves how much the Italian ambassadors to France complain of the uncouth qualities of the French. I knew that I was getting in deep when I burst out (I mean really burst out) laughing at the following phrase of another forlorn Italian ambassador who was following Fran├žois Ier and his incredibly cumbersome court from hunting lodge to hunting lodge: "His majesty did not stay longer than a day, but departed suddenly with his usual company and explores the strangest places in the country while chasing the poor deer."

This calls for another picture of a medieval spit-turner! Ooo, wonder if you could have been Royal Sauce Guy, too? Of course, there was a "saucier" - and if you were good enough, you were magic! Now, lest you think the 15th century was a decadent time of royal debauchery, do know that the king's court was still itinerant (it's really only Henry III (reigned 1574-1589) who settled down in Paris) - the may have had a spit-turner, but he still roamed with his entire staff and furniture from castle to lodge to castle (ok, that does sound pretty decadent, actually). I read about half of the book today taking notes, hunting down bibliography. It's a very internal history in that it really doesn't take on the court internationally, more just within its own (ever-shifting) national borders. And yet, Fran├žois Ier worked out treaties and truces with the Turks!! I'll have to read another book for that side of the story. In the meantime, I think that I may actually end tonight by continuing with the Knecht book - I finished the 1887 guide to the Morbihan (the rest was just a list of the towns in the departments) and am too tired for both the Rohan dukes book and dear D'Artagnang (who is just getting one scrape after another). So, a quick update on the wee ones, and then off to nerd land on a Friday nite!

Here is my petite femme extraordinaire, reading one of all-time favorite books - it's a reprint of a 1959 book by the Czech author Miroslav Sasek entitled This is Paris and it whets the kids' appetite for the city each and every time. Here's Iris reading about Notre-Dame (not quite as exciting as the Eiffel Tower to the kids, but there you have it). The book even has an image of a Breton woman with a coiffe who is "a Breton peasant from the countryside on a visit to Paris" - guess the Breton 19th-century lasted into at least 1959, eh? The book is great - has all the landmarks of the city. I can't believe we're going to be there with them in July. I still have to pinch myself every once in a while that we're here, and I can read a book most of the day, and actually put two thoughts together (the Women's Studies course really started coming together today as well, but I'll just let you know when that one's done!).

This was our chocolate mousse break during our screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (Just look at Eleanor's face - could she be eating her mousse with more ferocious gusto? yikes!) Oliver finished the 7th book again today (he's been rereading - it must be really good!). Always makes me wince a little bit to think of him reading in school (boy does that sound wrong! - but I mean reading Harry when he could be learning French - but I think that I'm looking at it all wrong if I think of it that way). And yet, Oliver's teacher said that he is starting to speak in class (!) and that he made a joke today (!!), a little play on words, and that his verb conjugations are excellent (!!!). So three cheers for Oliver - nary a word of French for his mum, so I just have to go with my hungry imagination if I'm to conceive of Oliver speaking French. The girls, meanwhile, for the first time spoke French to each other - it wasn't much of a conversation ("Pousse-toi!" "Non! pas du tout"!) ("Move over!" "No way!"), but it was still an exchange, oui? :-) Anyhoo, we watched the Potter movie and snuggled on the couch - add that it was raining outside and you can count me so cozy. It looks like it's going to rain all day tomorrow which dashes my plans for romping around and picnicking at the megaliths, but Sunday looks better, so we may get out after all. The rain kept the kids in bed this early morning, but they're determined to get croissants tomorrow - entirely successful baguette run this afternoon, this time it was all three of them and they got three KinderSurprise eggs, too (good for them). Think tomorrow we'll just go to the market and (oh, this is nice and odd) go buy Oliver some sweatpants as they are required for his "Atelier Cirque" ("Circus Studio") all next week - can I tell you how excited he is that he'll be learning to juggle? Move over Dickens, come on down P.T. Barnum!!!

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