Thursday, April 12, 2007

research happy things

Alright, blogs are useful in one way. When I want to hop up and down and do the happy dance over some petty triumph of research or plotting or characterisation, and nobody in my real life is likely to do anything but say 'well, that's good' in a 'smile, nod, and hope she goes away' sort of voice, I can come here.
In the root story, Little Brother and Little Sister, the queen is done to death (it's unclear what happens to her body) in the following way:
they carried the weakly Queen into the bath-room, and put her into the bath; then they shut the door and ran away. But in the bath-room they had made a fire of such deadly heat that the beautiful young Queen was soon suffocated.
Straightforward, right? Except for where she gets to and how she returns to feed her baby and so on. But don't mind that for now. What's important is that I have a major scene to write that takes place in a bath-room. A royal bath-room. (Badstube, in the original German.)
Which looks like what? Where in the palace would it be? Steam bath or immersion? Water heated how? What's the floor made of? And so on.
Sure, I can go and look at Ingres, though his Turkish Bath is a bit more crowded than I think is plausible for the plot--in fact it's hard to make out the decor, so well-fleshed is the room. The Small Bather is likelier, if a more modest establishment.
I've been looking at a nice Victorian book advocating public bathhouses and laundry houses to improve hygiene in the cities. I've been looking at books of architecture. I was even courageous enough to google sauna and "bath house" and found a useful short history of the Finnish Sauna, with the following amusing notes:
He probably means the people in northern Germany, especially near the Baden area, who are rather loose with their morals. Among these people there are some who are so loose and degenerate in the hot baths that they even drink and sleep and allow themselves all kinds of evil and other foolishness in the baths. If such immodest creatures were found with their customs in Nordic bathing places, they would immediately be carried out and thrown into the deep winter snow drifts with the risk of being smothered. In the summer they would be thrown in ice cold water and left some time without food.

Which is interesting, but doesn't necessarily help me. So back to the bookstacks, where today I was lucky. First I found Die Bauernhausformen im Baltischen Raum (Farmhouses in the Baltic, roughly) with lovely drawings of rustic saunas and bath-rooms (Badestube, here) both set in the earth like a root-cellar and combined with a summer kitchen in one long building. There's the bath-house on Midame's farm, that Myl can remember wistfully, to establish the idea of steam baths.
Then a guidebook to The Royal Palace of Visegrad, with complete floorplans (as far as excavated at the date of publication) including the stove, the fuel storage, the water supply and drainage, the two rooms, one the sudatorium, the other not cleared but probably cool baths.
As a backup, I have Whitehall Palace, by Simon Thurley, an account of the excavations, including a sunken pool (Charles II did all right by himself) and a possible steam bath heated by a huge ceramic-tiled stove.
So now I can get it right. And I'm probably going to steal Visegrad for Alard's palace, because why not? It had great plumbing. And add some 1700s decor, to bring it up to date.

I'm ludicrously close to 75k, and still have about half the plot for the court section to go. Some ruthless cutting to come, clearly, but not until all the first draft is done. Then I'll put it away for a couple of weeks and draw maps and floorplans.


avo said...

Would you draw some maps and floorplans for me too? I'm terrible at it, but eventually I'm going to have to design a bakery / coffeehouse, and possibly some other businesses in the shopping center. :)

I just finished reading the latest issue of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet last night, and thought of you. One of the stories was written in this wonderful late 1700's northern German voice, as told by a burgher who falls in love with a mysterious woman who shows up at his village market once every year or so selling eggs from all sorts of wild birds. (I also thought of a story Lucy wrote, about a Russian bride who sees a ghost.) Anyway, it occupied a weird place between fairy tale and historical fiction that I thought you'd like. And now all of this research.

(Even odder: one of the stories in the same issue was about political prisoners kept in bathtubs. Only one of them could leave their tub at any one time, or they all got shocked.)

Yay for research, and best wishes on improving the lot of the lowly bathtub.

batgirl said...

Woah, synchronicity!
I've been meaning to subscribe to Lady Churchill - this may be the sign and portent that I should do it. For an extra twist of oddness, I'm a sometime member of the Amnesty International Letter-Writing Network, so the political prisoners would connect as well.

The first thing I do for maps and floorplans is get out my graph paper. Then I find books with related illustrations, and enlarge the illos to the size I want to work with on the graph paper, so I have reference points. Then I mess around with it to fit the story.
But sure - shopping malls shouldn't be too hard to research.