Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Shambles of York

[Click on the images for a bigger, better view.]

Have you heard of The Shambles? It's the Yorkshire version of ambling, twisting, turning, narrow, cobbled streets of medieval York.

However, there's also an actual lane called The Shambles, which is considered to be one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe. It even has a mention in the Doomsday Book (commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1086). The street that you can visit now has been modernized since then with buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries. (Modern is as modern does, eh?)

The name, Shambles, is Anglo-Saxon in origin; shammel meaning shelves, and stands for the shelves that were commonly found in most open-front shops.

The street had many butcher's shops, their homes, and also slaughterhouses. The meat was hung up on meat-hooks for sale on the outside of the shops with smaller pieces set out in shop window shelves for display. Lacking a sanitation system, the pavements of the street were raised on either side of the street to provide a channel for washing off the blood and offal that naturally ended up on the street.

The winding lanes, which surround The Shambles, are so narrow in spots that if you walk down the lane with your arms outstretched, you can touch the buildings on either side of the lane. This is not a design by a drunk architect, a resettling of buildings over time, or the building McMansions in tiny spaces. Medieval towns were deliberately built like this.

In The Shambles, the overhanging timbered fronts of houses were close-set on purpose to protect the wattle-n-daub walls below and also to prevent the meat from spoiling due to inclement weather.

So there you have it. The next time you visit York, be sure to include this spot in your itinerary of places to see.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Medieval Meal for Real by Ivan Day

In his blog, Food History Jottings, Ivan Day tries to dispel many of the myths and outright falsehoods that written about the history of British food. Ivan's website, Historic Food, chronicles his life and all his activities of being a celebrity chef.

In his own words, Ivan Day is an independent social historian of food culture and also a professional chef and confectioner. He runs practical courses on all aspects of British and Italian food history at his home in the English Lake District. He is also the author of a number of books and many papers on the history of food and has curated many major exhibitions on food history in the UK, US, and Europe.

It was by a lucky coincidence that I came across Ivan's blog on a medieval meal at Gainsborough Hall. After reading it, I asked his permission to quote and paraphrase parts of his post and also use his images here. So all the quoted text and images are copyrighted to Ivan Day.

Here're some excerpts from his work for KBS, the South Korean equivalent of the BBC, on authentic English medieval food and dining. For their show A Food Odyssey, KBS didn't wish for the popular versions already available from many sources, but were looking for someone with well-cemented historical research credentials, who was a celebrated chef to boot.

"My aim was to accurately recreate an ambitious medieval meal in a high status household, so we chose to film at Gainsborough Hall in Lincolnshire with its wonderful great hall and kitchen complex. I enlisted the help of the outstanding re-enactment group Lord Burgh's Retinue, who regularly work at the hall. [...] At Gainsborough we filmed a high table sequence led by Paul with full Plantagenet dining ritual, from Latin grace and blessing to washing of hands with an ewer and basin. The table and buffet was dressed correctly for the period and there were demonstrations of carving, sewing, and correct service."

The roasting range in the kitchen of Gainsborough Hall, above, was "probably being used for the first time in four hundred years as it was intended, for roasting a full range of meats and poultry for a high status meal. A goose sawce madame, four rabbits, four mallards, a woodcock, and other game birds roasted on the hand-turned spits."

Here're some pictures of some of the foods that were served at the feast.

A chastelet, a pie made in the form of a castle with different fillings in each tower, awaits a spectacular flambé with brandy before being brought to the table.

An early fifteenth century gingerbread coloured with red sanders wood is ornamented with box leaves pinned on with cloves.

The pièce de resistance: A soteltie waits to be taken to the top table. This was originally made by Ivan's incredibly gifted friend and colleague Tony Barton for his 2003 exhibition, Royal Sugar Sculpture at the Bowes Museum.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Ancient Library of Ephesus

The ancient Library of Celsus is located in the Anatolian city of Ephesus, now part of Selçuk, Turkey. It was built by and named for the Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. Construction on the library began in 117 CE and was completed in 120 CE. The Romans were among the earliest peoples to build public libraries for scholars and common people to come in and peruse the texts. The collections boasted a wide range of topics and local and internationally sourced texts, in the original or copied by scribes.

[Click on the image for a better look.]

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bath: The Happening Place in History

Anyone who has visited Bath, England comes away with loving memories of a city rich in history and beauty. As Samuel Johnson [1709–1784] wrote: "Let me counsel you not to waste your health in unprofitable sorrow, but go to Bath and endeavour to prolong your life." For seventeen centuries, the City of Bath has hosted visitors from all walks of life believing exactly that. There's this fan of Bath, H.V. Morton, who in 1927 wrote: "I like Bath. It has quality. I like Bath buns, Bath Olivers, Bath chaps, Bath brick, Bath stone (which to my London eyes is the beautiful sister of Portland stone), and watching the Bath chairs dash past." Honestly, do you see any denizen of a Bath chair (AKA wheelchair) wanting to dash about the steep hills of the city?


Please visit the Risky Regencies blog is see the rest of my post on the City of Bath.

This is my second post for the Riskies. The first post is here all the way from April 2008. I'm so chuffed to be writing for them. The Riskies was the first blog I visited when I started my Internet adventures in 2006. That it dealt with the Regency period of British history and featured authors writing romance stories set in that time period were definitely its biggest draws. I since have stayed on as a reader all these years because of the personalities of the authors writing the blog. So do join me there.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What Time Periods are Part of Historical Romance?

This summer, the Seattle Public Library is challenging its adult readersto read widely across the romance genre. To aid this process, the library blog has created a hand-dandy detailed checklist of subgenres and sub-subgenres.

The subgenres included are: contemporary, historical, paranormal, inspirational, romantic suspense, young adult, new adult, and a miscellaneous section.

The contemporary subgenre, for example, includes these sub categories: Straight Contemporary, Cowboy, Cop, Military, Sports-centered, Tattooed, Pets and Vets, Small Town, Firefighters, Medical, LGBTQ, and Multicultural/multiracial. You can also write in your own.

When I looked at the historical sub-subgenre categories, at first glance, I thought it was very inclusive: Regency, Rome, Middle Ages, Victorian, World War II, 1950s, Men in Kilts, Asian, Flappers, and Pioneer/Cowboy/1800s American West. Some might consider this sub-list to be not very inclusive since, for example, LGBTQ and Tudor among others are not listed and neither are many international categories, such as Egyptian, Middle Eastern, etc.

Then again, some readers might consider the list to be a little too inclusive, since historical romances are considered to be stories set in time periods prior to the Great Wars.

Since I was on the fence there on what exactly went into the historical romance bucket, I threw out the question to the authors, readers, editors, and agents on my Twitter list to see what people thought of this. Here are some of their responses:

‏@IsobelCarr I think Mad Men, Masters of Sex, & tons of BBC/PBS shows have shown ppl like 40s-60s as "historical"

‏@Miranda_Neville WWII & later seem really popular in hist fic - or mainstream fic

@esisogah will say that I know of several hist rom that are Downton insp. from NY publishers

And there were other such responses. What it seems is that while publishers of other fiction are pushing the boundaries on historical fiction, there's no consensus on what romance publishers are willing to publish.

Readers are television viewers, too, and at least in that medium they are branching out of the strictly "Before the Great Wars" line for historical dramas. So there's very likely a demand for romance novels set in those same time periods that are not currently being catered to by the publishing industry.

As we move further and further into the twenty-first century, we will even see the 1970s-era culture coming under the historical umbrella. (Ahem, that means, I will officially become historic. My children already consider me prehistoric.) I wonder if and when romance publishers will follow suit.

[Edited 7/25/14: The new rules for the RITA award by the Romance Writers of America states that historicals are those written about time periods prior to 1950.]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Typical English Countryside

Image copyrighted by

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2014 TBR Reading Challenge: Word Wizard by Richard Lederer

As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on Word Wizard: Super Bloopers, Rich Reflections, and Other Acts of Word Magic by Richard Lederer.

Lederer enjoys setting language issues to verse to better illustrate his point. "In letter play, beheadment is the lopping off of the initial letter of a word."

     The prelate did relate a tale
     Meant to elate both you and me.
     We stayed up late and ate our meal,
     Te Deum sang in key of e.

This is sheer brilliance, and there are many instances of brilliance throughout the book. Sidney Sheldon calls Lederer "The True King of Language Comedy." And I concur. I have been a long-term fan of his Anguished English books. So a few years ago, when the opportunity arose to attend a talk by him, I jumped to it with alacrity. Turned out, he was just as funny in person as in his books. Sometimes people are good in one forum (speaking or writing), but rarely in both.

He charmed the entire room with his anecdotes, witty replies to questions, and his hilarious dramatization of the difference between lay and lie. Then in a funny "contradiction" to his demonstration, he recited his poem, titled Take the Money Enron:
     The difference between lay and lie
     Has fallen into deep decay.
     But now we know from Enron's shame
     That Lay and Lie are just the same.

He was the consummate showman that day with the urge to teach and to explain. That persona also comes through in this book Word Wizard as well. The book is a collection of his best and most popular pieces. Here are some highlights.

Bloopers: Lederer considers himself a watcher of word-botchers. Lederer says, "These masterpieces of mangled messages are far funnier than anything I could fabricate from whole cloth, even cloth with a lunatic fringe." For example, this is a headline in a small-town newspaper: "Grandmother of eight makes hole in one"—would this be a murdering grandmother or a golfer? Another example from a student essay: "The equator is an imaginary lion that runs around the world forever." Gray Davis, governor of CA once famously said, "My vision is to make the most diverse state on earth, and we have people from every planet on the earth in this state." Lederer chastises him, "Oh, how the mighty have fallen—usually on their mouths." One last example from a student essay: "Romeo's last wish was to be laid by Juliet."

Verb Tenses: English is fraught with some of the most irregular verb tenses of any language. For example, a woman asked a Boston cab driver where she could get scrod. "I didn't know that the verb had that past tense," muttered the cabbie. Another example from A Tense Time with Verbs:
     The verbs in English are a fright.
     How can we learn to read and write?
     Today we speak, but first we spoke;
     Some faucets leak, but never loke.
     Today we write, but first we wrote;
     We bite our tongues, but never bote.

Lederer believes that "When a reader performs aerobics of the mind and push-ups of the brain to explore a linguistic concept, language play becomes language power." So here are some word patterns to add to your vocabulary.

Kangaroo Words: smaller, sub words that are synonyms to the main word and with letters in the same order. For example, diminutive and minute, flourishing and lush, blossom and bloom.

Spoonerisms: oops, slips of the tongue that occur in conversation. For example, loving shepherd and shoving leopard, punny phony and funny pony, speeding rider and reading spider.
     See a clever, heeding rabbit
     Who's acquired a reading habit
     Sitting on his money bags
     Reading many bunny mags.

Homonyms: clusters of words that are spelled differently but sound exactly the same. For example, a naked grizzly is a bare bear, a pony with a sore throat is a hoarse horse.
     One night a knight on a hoarse horse
     Rode out upon a road.
     This male wore mail for war and would
     Explore a wood that glowed.

Anagrams: a new word created out of the same letters of another word. For example, I, a magnate gateman who patrols these portals with your kind permission, have the impression that you brand me a blabbing, babbling funfair ruffian, a has-been banshee, a tearing ingrate, infield infidel, and errant ranter.

Trigrams: three anagrams of the same word. For example, alerting, altering, and relating; do you observe the obverse of the very verbose?; he will be busy mastering emigrants streaming into the tent.

Making the case for Lost Words, "the winking out of words of our youth." For example, "Back in the olden days, life was a real gas, a doozy, a dilly, and a pip; flipsville, endsville, the bee's knees, the cat's whiskers, the cat's meow, and the cat's pajamas; far-out, nifty, neat, groovy, ducky; beautiful, fabulous, super, terrif, sweet, and copacetic. We'd cut a rug in some juke joint and then go necking and petting and smooching and spooning and billing and cooing and pitch woo in flivvers, tin lizzies, roadsters, hot rods, and jalopies in some passion pit or lovers' lane."

Lederer's love of reading blossomed at a very early age and since then, through books, he has conversed with "thousands of people, ancient and contemporary, learned and light, who have set their humanity to paper and crafted language into literature." He considers himself privileged to have had access to all of this knowledge, for as Ben Franklin once said at a dinner party in Paris, "A lonesome man on a rainy day is one who does not know how to read."