Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire,
to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of those rules that the biggest fools obey,
Because the sun is much too sultry and one must avoid
its ultry-violet ray --
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they're obviously, absolutely nuts --
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The Japanese don't care to, the Chinese wouldn't dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one,
But Englishmen detest a siesta,
In the Philippines there are lovely screens,
to protect you from the glare,
In the Malay states there are hats like plates,
which the Britishers won't wear,
At twelve noon the natives swoon, and
no further work is done -
But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun.
They put their scotch or rye down, and lie down.
In the jungle town where the sun beats down,
to the rage of man or beast,
The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
In Bangkok, at twelve o'clock, they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
Monday, March 28, 2011
The kind we think of today? Zilch.
Ok, let's back up a touch. They did wear undergarments. Women and men both wore long, white, generally linen shifts or shirts, which served as their basic undergarment. Women and men also both wore stockings, which we can consider underwear, too. Women wore stays and an underpetticoat or two--though many underpetticoats weren't really different from outer petticoats and may have been interchangeable among the lower classes. They also added paniers, hooped petticoats, or bum pads, depending on the decade and the occasion.
Some men wore underdrawers, plain breeches-like garments cut to fit under their breeches. These seem to have been optional and little evidence has been found for them outside of the upper class (mostly because not many such utilitarian garments survived, so most evidence we have is tailors' orders--from people who had the money to employ tailors). This is the closest thing we have to modern-day underwear for men or women.
Pantaloons didn't come into fashion until the nineteenth century, so there wasn't really an underdrawer equivalent for women (that I've found any evidence of). Drawers for women appeared in the Regency era, and didn't become popular until later, and on into the Victorian era. Even then, as this post from Jane Austen's World illustrates, they were often essentially crotchless. (There are some fascinating speculations about gender and sensuality based on the "graduation" from wearing full drawers to these open drawers as women reached adulthood during the Victorian era--unfortunately, the article I read is in a password-protected subscription-based website. If you have access to JStor, give it a search.)
So...ummm...how do you deal with all the things that underwear helps us deal with? Well, men would wrap their knee-length shirts under as a buffer between their, ahem, bits and their breeches (and the reason those shirts were so long becomes abundantly clear). For the montly inconvenience, women fashioned belts not too unlike those our moms and grandmothers wore back in the day (and that I'm so glad we've moved past). The one thing I can't quite figure out--drafts. Petticoats are drafty. At cold-weather events, I usually wear an old, worn pair of silk-blend breeches under my petticoats--and am so much warmer for it. I wonder whether women might have come to the same conclusion and copped their husbands' or brothers' worn-out breeches or underdrawers.
So, that's what's up with underwear.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
This is really not that big of a deal. I swear, it's not. But it bugs me because...
...in the eighteenth century you didn't wear a dress. You wore a gown. To us modern people, gown has a very formal connotation, but in the eighteenth century it just meant a certain shape of garment that you wore over stays and a petticoat. It could be formal, informal, made of gorgeous silk or boring old linen, regally trimmed with silk ribbon and silver tread, or tattered and filled with burn holes. Either way, it's a gown. Now, this is silly of me because, um, authors are writing for a modern audience who understands that a dress is a dress. But my eighteenth-century imbued soul wrings a little bit nonetheless.
The word dress in the eighteenth century wasn't used much as a noun (aside from description of a cultural norm: ie, the dress of the common clown is rather silly). Rather, it was generally used in common speech as a verb, just as it also is today: She dressed herself; she dressed the salad. Using dress to mean preparing something or fixing something up was more common, it seems, than now--we rarely say that we are dressing the chicken when we mean preparing to cook it, yet we do say, as did they, dressing a wound in medical terms.
It was also used as an adjective indicating level of formality. You find that adjective, I've noticed, with military parlance (Dress Blues, Dress Whites) to indicate degrees of formal wear, and this is also how it was used back then--dress and undress indicated the degree of formality (probably still actively used in the military because much of their particular culture is historically based). To say someone was in "undress wear" didn't mean that they were naked or even in their underclothes, but that they weren't dressed for a formal occasion. Court function? Dress wear. Hanging at home with the ladies knocking back a cup of tea? Undress wear.
So...it's a silly pet peeve but a (I hope) potentially interesting historical aside that the term gown applied to everybody. Like here:
In one of Francis Wheatley's late eighteenth century "Cries of London" prints, the working-class woman selling and the middling-sort buying are both wearing gowns--the seller's likely of linen, the buyer's of a finer silk (check the pretty sheen of the fabric). (OK, the seller might be wearing a caraco. I can't quite tell if it's a super-rucked-up gown or a shorter garment. Point stands. Plus--I love the Cries of London.)
As an aside, petticoat as a noun in historical fiction also tends to crop up as a nuissance word. This is because we eighteenth-century folks mean "skirt" when we say petticoat, and later folks mean "undergarment skirt" when they say it. In eighteenth-century parlance, a skirt is "the edge of a garment" according to contemporary dictionaries (or, in one volume, the edge of countries--weird!)--usually referrering to the loose flappy bit on the bottom of many eighteenth-century items. Such as, of course, gowns. The skirts are the part that hang loose from the fitted waist.
So, there's your fashion language lesson for the day. Hope you at least enjoyed the pretty picture (I did).
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Then you get a closer look...
And in addition to the rust, the paint on the carriage is worn away to almost nothing and the wood is starting to split.
So you sand the heck out of the iron barrel, taking all the rust off, and buff down the wood and pick a nice, pleasant, greenish-blue-grey that matches what you seem to remember the carriage being painted in the first place.
And then you paint. Flat black Rustoleum on the barrel, a nice exterior flat paint on the wood.
At some point you realize that you've gotten some blue-grey on the black and some black on the blue-grey, so you spend a few hours detailing the whole thing.
Then you finally finish, and it looks very pretty.
Also--some answers to good questions:
Anachronist asked how much the cannon cost. Well...good question. I think this one was purchased used (not by us) for about $8000. You could probably swing it for less if you found someone extra nice to make the carriage for you. Anachronist also asked if anyone has tried to steal it. You know, we're really overprotective and worried about that, to be honest...but nope. We keep it locked in a trailer.
It just uses basic old black powder--we use 1F or cannon-grade. Ironically, when we sanded off all the buildup on the barrel, we found the manufacturer's mark that said to fire black powder only. Fortunately, we already knew that.
Carrie asked if we needed a license. I'm no international legal expert, so I can only answer for us--in our state, we don't. In fact, many states treat educational reproductions differently than "normal" firearms--in my state, you can actually bring reproduction and antique weapons onto school property (with permission) for demonstration purposes (which we think is pretty fab as education is what we're all about. And kids learn more about history when a cannon is involved for some reason).
And the obvious question--what did our neighbors think?!? Well, the sweet older lady who used to own our house was enthralled. But the cranky hippie next door was annoyed that it was pointing at his defunct school bus (yes, you read that right).
Anything else? Hit me up in the comments!
Friday, March 18, 2011
And that I'm actually giddy about it.
I made my intentions to work on this project official to myself, and abandon the tentative steps on a WWII era homefront-set novel I'd been scratching at, less than a month ago. I'm now a quarter of the way through the first draft. This has never been my modus operandi--I'm nearly always a sloooow writer. Like a slow loris:
Except with writing instead of arboreal movement.
Not this. I'm zipping. I'm salivating to put my fingers to keyboard (well, not literally--all that drooling might short circuit my laptop). I'm pounding out 1000 words a day without blinking. I can't wait to keep this story moving.
I just wanted to tell you that I'm excited. And that I'll post more when I've finished a draft and developped some confidence that I really can tell this story, even though it's different in nearly every way from everything I've ever tried before. And to excuse myself for not posting more about writing specifics recently and in the near future.
And, of course, to share that adorable slow loris picture. I love me some strepsirrhini primates. (Umm, minored in anthropology with a concentration in bioanthro. I really like primates, ok? Insert requisite PSA that primates don't make good pets despite their adorability here. But I don't need to tell you all that.)
Thursday, March 17, 2011
So why do we celebrate Saint Patrick's Day? I mean, I've a strong love for soda bread and Guinness, so any excuse. But beyond that, I think that this is why:
King of 'Shanty--cartoon depicting poor Irish as ape-like
I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country...to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.
- Cambridge historian Charles Kingsley, letter to his wife from Ireland, 1860
A "White" face and bone structure contrasted with an "Irish" face and bone structure--the Irish face is shown with features characteristic of apes.
Though we often characterize racism in America as being a "black and white" issue, our ancestors both here and abroad managed to complicate and convolute the issue of race far beyond skin color. The Irish were caricatured as base, akin to monkeys, and more closely related to "Negroes" than "proper" white people like the English. (The disgust I feel at the comparison to Africans being a bad thing is enough for another post entirely.) Degrading the Irish through monkey-comparisons and slurs reduced them to something less-than-human--and, in the wake of the potato famine and other social/political issues, a people whose needs didn't really matter and who could be denied their voice.
So, it's because of this:
A creature manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro is to be met with in some of the lowest districts of London and Liverpool by adventurous explorers. It comes from Ireland, whence it has contrived to migrate; it belongs in fact to a tribe of Irish savages: the lowest species of Irish Yahoo. When conversing with its kind it talks a sort of gibberish. It is, moreover, a climbing animal, and may sometimes be seen ascending a ladder ladden with a hod of bricks.
Satire entitled "The Missing Link", from the British magazine Punch, 1862
An Irish servant, depicted as oafish, brutish and with ape-like features, as well as red hair (and boats for feet--dang!), causes domestic problems for the poor, docile white mistress.
that I celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. The Irish weren't the only group to be marginalized in America's history, and other ethnicities were disparaged across Europe and elsewhere, too. But there's a story of overcoming there--and overcoming intact. Because if any of these cartoons has a grain of truth, I think it's this one:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
This is a common three pounder. He is a reproduction of an eighteenth-century British artillery piece. He lives in a trailer in my backyard. His name is Milton.
Let's break Milton down into his component parts. The part that makes Milton a cannon is the tube--the black iron cylinder riding on the other part, the carriage. You can strap a tube to a log and it's still a cannon. A carriage without a tube is just, well...wheels and some boxes. Milton is a common three pounder--cannons are classified by the weight of shot that fits down their bore. So, Milton fires a three-pound solid shot. If he wasn't such a pacifist--because really, Milton doesn't fire much of anything besides powder. He's "common" because he's not "light." Some pieces were designed specifically for mobility on the field, and are known as "light three pounders" or "grasshoppers."
Not Milton. Milton is as heavy a three-pounder as they come.
As I said, we fire powder. It's just black powder, the kind that pretty much any muzzleloading weapon uses, but we do use a coarser grain than hunting rifles or muskets. We wrap about a cup of powder in an aluminum foil cartridge with a half-cup or so of cornmeal for back pressure. Yes, we use aluminum foil--it's safer than the fabric bags or loose powder used in the eighteenth century. Less chance of, you know, accidentally blowing something up when it's encased in metal instead of flimsy cloth.
Even though Milton only fires powder, the resulting report is very loud (you'll see a lot of ears being covered in these shots--plus we're all wearing modern earplugs--eighteenth-century artillerists were likely half-deaf) and sometimes you can capture the flash on film. Like here:
A few notes on safety. Even though we aren't firing live rounds, the concussion from the explosion actually can cause injury. So--rule number one of cannon safety--don't ever get in front of the cannon. Artillery crews yell at you for that. Also, there's a chance that a stray spark could ignite a cartridge and the gun could go off while we're unprepared. To clarify, that would mean potentially: a) firing an implement across the field; b) injury to the crew if they're too close to the barrel c) worst case, gun explosion. To avoid that, we clean the barrel very carefully between each firing. We also keep the powder box far away from the smoldering stuff required to fire the gun (more down the post on that). Also, as a final precaution in case the gun did fire while we have an implement (see the sponge-headed sticks in the pics above and below?) down the barrel, we never wrap our hands or arms around the implement. That way, we're less likely to lose an arm if the worst happened.
There are roughly six crew positions on the cannon. Two are at the front of the gun, two are behind the wheels, one is one the box (ode to a powder monkey here), and you also generally need a gun commander. In a pinch, the gun commander may serve on the gun in one of the positions. The folks on the front of the gun clean the barrel between firings and load the piece--these positions are the Worm position (uses a device to pull out debris) and the Sponge/Ram position (sponges the gun and rams down each round). One of the fellows behind the wheel tends the vent--he keeps his thumb on the touchhole to maintain a vacuum, and primes the gun when it's time to fire. The other fellow has a simple enough job--he tends to either a burning bit of "slow match" (treated rope that burns slow and hot) or a portfire (much like a flare, for wet conditions) and then, when the command is given, fires the gun. I say "roughly six" because you may also use additional folks for ferrying rounds or minding the portfires sometimes used to fire the gun. In eighteenth-century artillery regiments, more men operated off the field ferrying loads of powder and water to the pieces on the field.
Cannons were used on the field, on shipboard, and in the defenses of forts. The only difference between a shipboard cannon and this field piece is the carriage. Naval guns were on naval carriages--stout, less mobile little things.
Versatile field pieces can be moved with some good old-fashioned teamwork and elbow grease--and larger pieces/longer trips could have relied on oxen or draft horses. British Major-General William Phillips famously noted, when presented with an "impossible" terrain to move artillery over, that "Where a goat can go, a man can go. And where a man can go, he can drag a gun." (Gun, as a generic term, is often used to describe artillery pieces.)
Monday, March 14, 2011
Our cannon is real. We get asked that a lot. Yes, it's real in that it's solid matter, a dedicated reproduction of an original, and could in fact kill you. It's a common three-pounder, to be more accurate. It's made of cast iron, as many eighteenth century cannons were, and has a barrel in which to load rounds and a touchhole by which to fire them off. It's set on a wooden carriage so we can cart it from here to there. It would, if we wanted, fire a three-pound solid shot--or any variation of ammunition thereof.
What we do with it, of course, is not real. We don't fire real ammunition, just rounds of black powder packed at the end with a little cornmeal to give back-pressure enough to effect a big boom. In essence, the cannon is nothing but a noisemaker when we have it on the field at a tactical demonstration, just as all the other muskets and rifles do no more harm than the drums.
Except when you're standing at the mouth of the gun, waiting for the next round to be brought from the ammunition box, and the infantry is advancing and their volleys are persistent and heavy, and the round takes too long in coming. Your heart begins to beat a little faster, and when the round comes you move like clockwork, grounding the piece with a firmly laid hand and setting the round resolutely inside the barrel. You step off, clap your hands over your ears when the sergeant bellows to give fire, but watch for the telltale flame that says the gun has fired successfully. Then you step through the cloud of sulpher smoke back to your position and damn it all but the infantry haven't fallen back, and in fact their muskets are now levelling in your general direction.
You begin your rote task of cleaning the debris from the barrel of the gun, the tool scraping the bits still stuck inside, but they won't come out. You try again. Brisk motions that usually work fail to catch the pieces of unburned cartridge inside the gun. The infantry fires another volley. It sounds bloody close, but you don't turn to look. That's your officer's job. You try again, give a curt nod to your fellow artilleryman standing at the touchhole, let him know to try that last-resort trick you learned. You shove the pieces to the back of the barrel, he sticks his pick down the touchhole to hold them in place, and you twist the junk onto your tool.
Drums in the background rattle off the command to prime and load as you yank the debris from the gun. Stubbornly, you shove your hand to the side, asking for the next round. You feel it land in your hand.
And none of this is real. But it's crazy, in the moment of a smoke-clogged (fake) battlefield, with (fake) muskets advancing toward you and (fake) cannon rounds your only (fake) salvation, how things begin to feel...not at all fake.
Fiction isn't real, either. Those characters, those places, those problems--all fake. Made-up. Just black powder plots with some cornmeal prose wizardry to give enough meat to the story. So why is it that, while you're sitting in a perfectly safe chair, turning pages like your life depends on it, it feels so real?
Because the writer put you there. Dumped you right in the middle of a smoke-clogged battlefield and gave you enough tactile detail and emotional heft to make it feel real to you. Now, I will argue though it's not currently in vogue that there are times to keep the reader at a distance. But it should be a deliberate choice, with carefully crafted walls. In most cases, you as the writer want to plop your reader into a minefield of experience and let them feel they might blow something up at any moment.
Thoughts? What books have felt especially immediate and real to you? What techniques made them so--or what techniques do you use? Any questions on cannons? Should I do a full-length cannon post sometime?