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Full immersion, and fun with it
on 7 January 2017
This was a Christmas gift from my son George. Expectations were guided by the one pound Sterling he paid for it at the school fair.
Boy, was I in for a surprise!
For a week of my life, this little gem of a book transported me to life in year 1250 at the city of Troyes in Champagne, France.
With no exaggeration, this voyage is a true craddle-to-grave job: you're taught how the new class of burghers (the authors avoid the word bourgeois) is delivered into the world by the midwife, schooled in the church and then perhaps at university, or alternatively how it enters an apprenticeship with one of the many new craftsmen.
This was my favorite part of the book, and a five star lesson in etymology for me too, perhaps because I'm not English. So I learned about the tanner and the fuller and the walker and what tenterhooks are too. The emergence and role of the guilds is covered very well, both from a historical and from a sociological perspective.
I also learned the proper etiquette for how a doctor should ask for compensation, which as far as I'm concerned he fully deserved, given his job entailed tasting his patients' urine for sweetness.
The weddings are covered here, the church as an institution and the cathedrals as both objects of art and feats of engineering. You get a good taste for developments in the letters (with many well-chosen and translated samples of poetry and prose) and the arts, including theater.
The whole time, moreover, you're reminded of the underlying structure in which this new class of city-dwellers was formed and (slowly) emancipated, one where power was shared between nobility and the church and only slowly and partially ceded to the ascending classes of craftsmen and moneychangers.
All of which, in turn, rested on the importance conferred to the city of Troyes by the two fairs it hosted, the "hot fair" in August and the "cold fair" in December, to which people would travel from literally the whole of Europe to trade their wares.
The guided tour through the fair is the crowning moment of the book, the point to where the authors build up over the first 200 pages, and you truly feel like you went there yourself.
I don't want to say for sure, but I think many of my dreams over the past few days were set in medieval Troyes!