Thursday, February 10, 2011

mostly medieval, otherwise history

Last Saturday was the University's Medieval Seminar, run by Continuing Studies. This year the topic was especially interesting (to me) Medieval Lives.
The talks were as follows:
9:00 am Welcome and Opening Remarks
9:10 am Introduction, Dr. Marcus Milwright
9:30 am Everyday Life in Scotland during the Viking Age, Dr. Erin McGuire
10:10 am break
10:45 am Abelard and Heloise: Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Dr. Iain Higgins
11:30 am lunch and film presentation
12:45 pm Medieval Map Project presentation
1:00 pm Byzantine Lives Under Siege, Dr. Evanthia Baboula
1:45 pm The Caliph al-Muqtadir (908-32) and the Fall of the Abbasid Empire, Dr.
Hugh Kennedy
2:45 pm break
3:15 pm Christine de Pizan, the first Man of Letters, Dr. Helene Cazes
3:45 pm Closing Remarks

So overall, pretty cool. Erin kept her audience on their toes by starting with questions to them, and asking them to come up with possible explanations for unexpected grave finds and so on. The Christine de Pizan talk ran out of time before it ran out of interest, which is better than the alternative, but frustrating still.

Above, in a pic not taken by me (I'll check and get the credit right later) you can see the site and the setup, during the talks, while things are quiet. Between lectures, we're 'on', and chatting with the attendees while they get their coffee and biscotti. But during the talks, we may attend them or do other things. In the photo I was losing at checkers to a 7 yr old, while his sister walked the labyrinth. (I evened the score later at 9 man's morris.) The lady on the right is warping a tablet-weaving loom, the lady in dark blue is embroidering, and the lady in light blue is playing a harp
Also, yes, I chose this picture to show off the labyrinth and painted floor and backdrops that I painted my own self. Because I think they are pretty cool, actually.

What I should have been doing was getting further ahead with calligraphing the contract indentures for my apprentice-to-be, Deirdre, whom I'll be taking at the end of the month. Writing out two copies of a longish contract, to be cut apart in a sawtooth pattern (the indenting that makes it indentures, in case you wondered) isn't done in one hour or even two. (I'm hoping to get it finished this weekend.)
But I flatter myself that I was still doing something useful, in keeping the kids amused. We also had a non-rules-based foot ball game with the leather-stuffed ball, down past the catering tables and through the empty part of the hallway.

On Wednesday Mark left for the Estrella event in Arizona, with the van, so I am non-vehicular for a couple of weeks, and forced to get my own dinners. I took today as vacation so I could get started on straightening up & tidying the house--after us getting everything medieval out for the display, and then everything needed for a week's medieval camping, the house was in some disarray. (Shall I admit it? I hadn't finished boxing up the Christmas decorations.)
Today was thus spent moving things around and establishing my laptop and immediate-research books on the kitchen table, next to the woodstove; clearing off surfaces; dusting; sweeping; stacking books; and coming down with a streaming headcold that I finally have to admit was not just a response to the dust kicked up by previous activities.

Writing-related, Cost of Silver: I'd reduced the 20-year span of happiness between major threats to 5 years, and am now reducing it by another year or so, by sending Griffin off to war. The Bishops' Wars, in Scotland, so as to include gritty uncomfortable historical detail and increase wordcount.
Originally, after being turned down by apprentice-girl Alice, Griffin was to find comfort and eventual love with Nan Moray (older than him OMG!!!). In revision, he's going to be a sullen overdramatic young idiot and respond to being turned down by going to 'list for a soldier. So a few thousand words of enduring hardships, seeing nasty things happen, engaging in some himself, staying alive, and coming back sadder & wiser and all, then finding comfort and love with Nan. Must figure out which historical figures he'll encounter.

Do I sound a titch cynical? this is because I've been reading Rebels and Traitors, by Lindsey Davis, a novel set in (shoehorned into?) an exhaustively detailed history of Civil War England and the fall of Charles I.
I should say first that it's well written and often engaging, and Davis knows the times and events surpassingly well. Too well, perhaps, and as someone who loves the details herself, I think I can identify when someone has given in to including something because it is just that cool, regardless of whether it assists the story or characterisation.
This would be a pretty good, fast-moving, eventful novel, if you stripped out the irrelevant detail. This would be a fascinating, detailed 'narrative non-fiction' history if you stripped out the invented characters and plot. But as it is, you have both, for 742 pages, and you may be constantly shifting mental gears between fiction and non-fiction--not to mention keeping track of rather a lot of invented characters and rather a lot of historical ones who have walk-ons to be name-checked but don't affect the plot.
On p.14, I encountered this sentence: 'To set the moment in context, that year of 1634 would see the notorious witchcraft trials at Loudon, the first meeting of the Academie francaise, the opening of the Covent Garden piazza in London, and the charter for the Oxford University Press.'
In case you're wondering, none of those have so far appeared in the actual narrative. Then the exposition continues for a page and 2/3ds, bringing us up to date with events in the Americas, continental Europe, and Wales.
I'm not sure I can pull this off, myself.


Terri-Lynne said...

I would have loved to sit in on that seminar. I've done a couple of "courses" (audio) involving the Middle Ages so far--one being heroines of the High Middle Ages (which included Heloise) and one on the Early Middle Ages, which I found fascinating. I just picked up a course on both the High and the Late Middle Ages. It's dabbling, but I love it so.

Wow...Mark's driving all the way to Arizona? How far of a drive is that??

And PS--Call me a Barbara fangirl, but you can SO pull it off!

batgirl said...

The seminar is a great thing. The talks are taped each year, but I have never found out how one gets hold of the tapes, or if they go into a vault somewhere, never to be seen again.
There's nothing wrong with dabbling! It's all learning, and learning is good. I am a constant dabbler myself, I might as well be a duck for the amount of dabbling I do.
Arizona's not too bad. Sometimes he drives to Pennsylvania - his best time is (I think) 52 hours elapsed time to PA, but I'm not sure what his best time to AZ would be.

Woo! I have a fangirl!