Tag Archives: writers

‘The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England’, by Ian Mortimer – review

The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan EnglandThe Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

People tend to make an anachronistic mistake of assuming that their times are more culturally and socially superior to their previous generations’ times, whereas forty years on an evolutionary scale amounts to a million second on a twenty-four-hour clock, the amount so infinitesimal that it makes you smirk. What makes us set apart from the predecessors of our human civilization is not how they looked but how they looked at the landscapes surrounding their everyday lives, which led to the creation of the ethos of society peculiar to the different historical periods of time. This Thucydidean approach to history as a branch of social science as well as humanity strikes the chords with Ian Mortimer’s perspectives on his Elizabethan ancestors in his scintillating book, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England.

Rich in details and splendid in descriptions that successfully and naturally resurrect the period, Mortimer’s vividly atmospheric accounts of the era transform the people and the landscapes of Elizabethan England from one-dimensional textual elements to animated figures in his engagingly vivacious narrative that strut in the mind’s theater of the reader, commanding attention in every chapter in a way that looks virtually real, evoking a phantasmagorical display of the periodical images. Mortimer is a knowledgeable and witty guide well versed in the English Renaissance with a practical sense of reality, which makes him something of Dr. Who, who pitchforks his wide-eyed volunteer reader to the subject time and then materializes when the reader is in a pickle. He shows the reader both the beauty and the beast of the Elizabethan society at its core with his wealth of knowledge drawn upon extensive research on the period and general erudition without putting a supercilious air of a highly learned man and stands in awe with the reader of the cultural and social progresses of Elizabethan England that began to define the “Englishness,” with which we tend to associate when the name “England” chimes the bell of literature, religion, and geography, all in the collective image of being “English.” Mortimore does this wonderfully with his engaging narrative skills that will not make you bored and skip a page.

Mortimer as a literary Dr. Who aims to bring the gaps of time and space between the reader and the populace of Elizabethan England to elucidate his stance on the truth about unchanging human nature wrapt in a periodical costume; in fact, history is a branch of literature made by artificers and artists with stories full of events, persons, and places that are woven into a tapestry of time, which also reflects how we have become what we are. In light of this, Mortimer is a cross between Herodotus with his entertaining narrative skills and Thucydides with his objective analysis of the historicity of society and culture. At the end of the book, the reader will find William Shakespeare, one of the most notable figures of Elizabethan England, holding up “a mirror to Mankind and shows people what they really are.” This is a cracking read packed full of interesting tidbits on the ways of life in Elizabethan England which he relates with wonderfully lucid insights into the turbulent but magnificent era that marks an indelible landmark in the history of England, and ultimately, of the world.

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Episode VII – Saturday Morning Serendipity at Bonjour Cake Shop

IMG_3843One Saturday morning, Mathilda Bear, who currently works at Bauer Daycare run by Hannah Bauer, stops by at Bonjour Cake Shop to reward herself with a cup of freshly brewed hot French Vanilla coffee with cream and two cubes of sugar and a piece of Ispahan cake that captivates her dormant testing bud and elevates her withered spirit with wonderful rose cream. It’s her weekly treat as a sweet reward for her hard work as a daycare teacher.

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Since it’s Saturday, the proprietress of the cake shop, Laura Collie, is at home with her family, attending to keeping the household neat and tidy, doing laundry,  preparing for special Saturday menu for her family, and probably taking a promenade with her friends late in the afternoon. So Laura has hired Bonnie Poodle, originally from Paris with her two baby twins, named Nena and Neno, both of whom are one-year old with Nena being five minutes older than her brother. The Poodles lost their parents two years ago by a tragic car accident in Paris. Since the death of their parents, the Collies being distant relatives by their mother’s side have invited the Poodles to live in Avonlea to help start new life in a different land under their aegis.

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“Good morning,” greets Mathilda first when she comes into the cake shop. “Bonjour!” is the French reply from Bonnie, who despite the fact that she’s a good English/French bilingual, oftentimes tends to reply in French because her brain’s language facility has already been cemented in her first language. It is said that you can have native-level fluency in acquisition of a foreign language if you learn it before the age of fourteen. Anyhow, Bonnie is getting well adjusted to her new life in Avonlea and likes her new job as a cashier/attendant at her aunt’s cake shop. She likes to talk with her customers with a pretty smile on her face, and always works hard even during a period of lull in the store hours because the word procrastination does not exist in her disposition as it is a hereditary trait in her family.

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“May I have a medium hot French Vanilla coffee with milk and two cubes of sugar?” Mathilda orders with her eyes gravitated toward the delicious-looking donuts by the counter. ‘”Anything else, miss?” Bonnie asks with a sweet smile. “Hmm, I can’t decide which one I should have because all looks so very scrumptious. I am wrestling with temptation of getting both donuts and cakes. But I can only take one because I have to watch out my figure. What do you recommend, miss?” “Then I’d like to recommend you our Ispahan, a rose-cream filled cake made by our fine patissier Laura, who is also my aunt.” “Oh, is Laura your aunt? Well, nice to meet you! What’s your name?” “I am Bonnie Poodle, and Laura is a distant cousin of my mother from France.” “Oh, I see. Bonnie is a pretty name for a pretty girl! I am Mathilda Bear. I work at Bauer Daycare. I am a regular customer of your establishment. I love coming here after hard days of a working week. I will have an Ispahan, which is actually one of  my favorite delicacies in the world.”

IMG_3823Bonnie thinks Mathilda a bit loquacious but pleasant and affable. Besides, the fact that Mathilda works at a daycare school provides her with a sense of relief that she can take her two baby twins  in the care of Matilda when she’s at work without having to take Nena and Neno to her Laura, whom Bonnie wants to alleviate from loads of responsibilities, so that she can enjoy her own private time with her own friends. So she writes down the address of Bauer Daycare School to check it out on Monday morning when she’s off from work. If all goes well, Bonnie wants to learn a new trade that can help her start a new business of her own in future. What trade it will be, Bonnie will do it just fine.

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The Classic Wisdom on Food and Drink

Food and Drink: A Book of QuotationsFood and Drink: A Book of Quotations edited by Susan L. Rattiner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but it is most well conveyed in quotations from famous writers, thinkers, artists, and many well-known figures in the matters of positive thoughts, great advice and ideas on human existence and humanity. As Oscar Wilde said, “Quotations are serviceable substitutes for wit,” inspirational quotations stimulate our minds to fresh endeavor, gives us a new viewpoint upon our existential matters, and enable us to get a fresh hold upon ourselves and things that are necessary for our human existence, such as elegantly compiled in this charming book of quotations about food and drink.

The cover of the book showing Renoir’s beautiful painting of “A Luncheon Of The Boating Party,” imparts lightheartedness of the subject matters of the book encompassing the festivity of celebrating them both as a pleasure and a necessity. The quotations in this lovely little book, which readers can finish at one setting, comprehends all the aspects of food and drink -ranging from a necessity of our existence to an object of pleasure, from a means to measure our temperance to a touchstone of inculcating etiquette to achieve our self-respect and dignity- with insights, thoughts, and witticism from writers, thinkers, and proverbs. Included in this review are selected quotations from my personal reading of the book.

Food is sacred, a victual for the nourishment of the body and the mind. Therefore, it should be taken in a peaceful, civil manner, as to appreciate its values both physically and ethically. In this regard, Rudyard Kipling seems to disfavor the American way of fast food as we can hear him saying that Americans had a habit of “stuffing for ten minutes thrice a day.” And who says eating alone invokes a sight of pity when Charles Lamb glorifies “Oh, the pleasure of eating my dinner alone!” Aesop also agrees to the importance of eating food with peace of mind as follows: “A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.” Mark Twain’s aphorism of “To eat is human, to digest divine” can become a mantra to reconstitute insalubrious eating habits.

A host of the notable emphasizes on the power of coffee as a tonic to awaken our sleepy senses. Take Johann Sebastian Bach’s humorous claim that without his routine morning coffee, he is just “like a dried up piece of roast goat.” Honore De Balzac concurs with Bach metaphysically because he trusts a cup of coffee to be his Muse by confessing “Coffee falls into the stomach [and] ideas begin to move… [and] the shafts of wit start up like sharpshooter, smiles arrive, the paper is covered with ink.” Accordingly, President Teddy Roosevelt’s immortal approval of good coffee as being “good to the last drop.” still reverberates in radios and televisions.

However, there is also the other side of food when it is indulged beyond the pale, as Ludwig Von Beethoven cautions against gluttony by which man “sinks almost to the level of an animal when eating becomes his chief pleasure.” The Talmud tells us how to eat in moderation as follows: “In eating, a third of the stomach should be filled with food, a third with drink, and the rest let empty.” Desiderilis Erasmus attests to the moderate way of eating by testifying, “When I got a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.”

In fact, moderate eating has been a matter of importance throughout the human history from the ancient time until now. For instance, Ovid counsel for the universal topic does not sound new to readers at all: “Stop short of your appetite; eat less than you are able.” The American Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin gives readers gives readers more detailed advice on the exercising and moderation of eating as follows: “If, after exercise, we feed sparingly, the digestion will be easy and good, the body lightsome, the temper cheerful, and all the animal functions performed agreeable. Eat to live, and not live to eat.” To cap it all, the simplest way of calorie expense is given by the Jewish proverb: “He that eats till he’s sick must fast till he’s well.”

As illustrated above, these witty and reflective quotations about food and drink (mostly about coffee) from the great minds who lived before us are universal in their appeal and still applicable to our ways of life in terms of the manners of understanding the nature and values of eating and drinking as a pleasure as well as a necessity. In this delightful, light-volume of book, readers will enjoy more quotations without a need of contextual interpretation or psychological analysis of the words of motivation, reflection, and humor. This book will make a good companion at a coffee-shop when you wait for someone, rest yourself before heading in to work, or just enjoy your solitary comfort.

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages by Sherrilyn Kenyon

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British Isles From 500-1500The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British Isles From 500-1500 by Sherrilyn Kenyon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although the Middle Ages (roughly from the 5th to 15th century) is often dubbed as “The Dark Ages,” the epitaph coined by the thinkers of the Renaissance, this was the period when many important social institutions, such as universities, hospitals, marriage as a sacrament, and use of surnames, which have become norms of our society, were established. In this book, the author Sherrilyn Kenyon succeeds in closing the great divide of time and space between modern readers and the folks living in the medieval time by presenting general aspects of life in the medieval England ranging from food to medicine and so forth which are not so much outlandishly different from what we are familiar with in one way or another. This review of mine intends to provide the facts on the two of the necessities of the human life, which are food and clothing, plus medicine to share the fun of knowing them and of learning about the misty but not too distant past on an evolutionary clock.

Food
The folks in the Middles Ages were not usually voracious eaters; breakfast consisted of a loaf of bread and some wine for the nobility or ale for the peasantry, partaken of after a daily morning mass. Then between 10:00 AM and Noon, a dinner was served, and supper at the time of sunset was prepared. In the castle of a lord, during a supper time, a traveling minstrel (a wandering singer-songwriter) entertained the host of the castle and received food or coins in return. The most perplexing fact about the medieval table etiquette involves attitudes toward the dogs: food scraps were forbidden to be given out to the dog while the diners were at the table. It further prohibited tossing a morsel of food to the dogs even after the meal.

With respect to the kinds of food mostly available to the folks living in the middle ages, the following were some of the common staples of the nobility and the peasantry:

  • Sugar was a very valuable spice and expensive to import. It was during the 12th century sugar became a common ingredient in England, where sugar imported from Alexandria was regarded prime quality because it was flavored with roses and violets. In fact, England in the Middle Ages seemed to be quite actively engaged in commercial activities in comparison to Spain, France, and Italy as follows:
  • England’s exports: Fish, Cheese, and Ale. Its imports: Raisins, figs, dates, olive oil, wine, almonds, and rice.
    Spain’s exports: Sugar, preserved fruits, and syrups
    France’s exports: Wine
    Italy’ exports: Pies
  • The most common vegetables were onions, peas, beans, and cabbages. However, cucumbers and leeks were considered unhealthy. As for the kinds of fruit, most consumed were apples, plums, pears, peaches, and nuts. Citrus ones, such as oranges and lemons were not seen in England until the Crusades.
  • Speaking of the Crusade, it was said that the French crusaders’ garlic breath disgusted the people of Constantinople for the reason that garlic was used as a main spice to conceal the taste of spoiling meat. There are two other ways to preserve meat: (1) Dry salting by burying meat in salt; and (2) Brune curing by soaking it in a salt solution. However, in many times, the meat, which was a main staple of the noble and the wealthy, became perished, causing a variety of skin irritations, scurvy, tooth decay, and different types of infection.

Clothing
Despite the class differences, there was a little difference between the styles of clothing and the types of fabric worn by the nobility and the peasantry at least during the early middle ages due mostly to limited trade caused by poor travel conditions. Merchants and peddlers could not travel far with their carts and wagons as a result of such poor road conditions and a peril of highwaymen. So Nobles made their fashion statements with jewels as accessories for their garments. When the power of kings and nobles grew stronger, they also controlled the roads, decreasing the risk of robbery and violence. Consequently, this new social mobility led to an increase in trade, bringing a greater variety of fabrics and colors. Moreover, the term “Fashion Police” was originated from this period when this deputy of the nobility literally patrolled the streets and checked all to make sure they were wearing clothes appropriate to their social class.

Medicine
I was especially interested in this subject due to my recent urgent medical treatments. What was it like being a patient of painful ailment? Contrary to my previous beliefs of barbarian methods of curing the sick without anesthesia and other superstitious ways of treating common diseases, the medieval doctors were actually quite competent to heal the wounded with surprisingly inventive surgical tools and remedies that can be adopted to tend to the modern day patients. Also, Jewish doctors armed with the knowledge of Arabic and Greek were most highly esteemed and exclusively employed by kings, nobles, or wealthy merchants in their castles or manors. Also, many women were licensed to practice medicine equipped with knowledge of various remedies passed from their elders. Some of these women specialized in eye diseases.

The common types of ailments in the middles ages are as follows:

  • The most common diseases in the middles ages were dysentery, epilepsy, influenza, diphtheria, scurvy, typhoid, St. Vitus’ Dance, St. Anthony’s fire, stroke, heart disease, and leprosy. On the contrary, tuberculosis, cancer, alcoholism, and venereal diseases were rarely recorded despite the author’s thoroughly extensive research.
  • Also, doctors believed in the importance of preventive medicine, advising people to refrain from taking a nap because they followed the Greek belief that the body was made up of four humors that were sanguine, choler, phlegm, and melancholia and three spirits.
  • Interestingly, women gave birth in a sitting stance to allow gravity to streamline the delivery process. Moreover, anesthesia was used in surgeries in the form of a sponge soaked in the juice of opium, ivy, or lettuce and then dried in the sun. It’s re-soaked in water and held to the patient’s nose and mouth whenever it was needed.

Further to the notable medieval medical achievements as listed above, here are some interesting information on how the folks at the time tried to cure their physical weaknesses which I think might benefit us:

  • Acorn: A woman carrying it will have the eternal youth
    Amethyst: the possession of it will prevent you from falling into drunkenness
    Blackberry: If you eat it, it will relieve you of diarrhea
    Camphor: It wards off infections
    Cold: Drinking a warm cup of barley tea will cure you of cold,
    Coughs: A pint of vinegar with a quarter ounce of finely grounded licorice will stop you from coughing.
    Dandelion: A cup of dandelion tea acts as a laxative
    Peppermint: Its tea will relieve you of bloatedness and relieve you of gas.
    Rosemary: If you wash your hair in water full of rosemary, it will make your hair grow.
    Rosewater: Apply it to your inflamed eye for treatment.

To encapsulate, this easy-to-read book is a great guide to the ordinary customs of the middle ages that are compiled by the author’s diligently thorough research on the social/cultural aspects of the medieval England. In fact, as the title of this book presents, it will be also an excellent reference book for writers interested in creating stories set in this time period. Besides, the book shows readers that however arcane or backward the way of life in the medieval time may look to be in our modern standard, the medieval folks lived in what they imagined as “modern” time compared to the ancient Greek and Roman times. Therefore, we should cast away our fallacy of the human ego that makes us look back at the past and think we are better than they were. After all, the medieval was not altogether a grim and gloom dystopia ruled by religious didacticism and scientific ignorance.

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