Saturday, April 9, 2011

Things I Did Today
  • Had brunch at Melt, home of one of the best burgers I've had.
  • Went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where the trees are starting to leaf and bloom. Took some pictures. Looking forward to going back next weekend, when spring hopefully will have hit its stride.
  • Had dinner from Oshima.
Thoughts -- Excerpts From The Middle Ages, Part 11: City Life
In the early centuries the houses had considerable yard and garden space in the rear, enough for maintaining a cow and a few pigs. But as the cities grew within their constricting walls, this open space was much encroached upon. The houses lacked air, light, and confort moderne; but people had little taste for privacy. They lived most of their lives on the streets, noisy indeed by day with pounding hammers, screaming saws, clattering wooden shoes, street cries of vendors of goods and services, and the hand bells of pietists summoning all to pray for the souls of the dead.

But at night reigned a blessed silence, broken only by the watchman rattling is iron-shod staff and crying, "All's well!" Nightwalking was prohibited after curfew, at about nine o'clock, as presumptive of ill-doing. There were, of course, no street lights or illuminated shop fronts.

Men met in taverns; women had their social hour when they fetched water from the public fountains, which, as in Perugia, could be the city's pride. All progressive cities had a municipal water system, but it was advisable not to drink the water straight. City water fed public bathhouses, which included sweat baths.

Efforts toward municipal hygiene could not prevail against old custom, which ruled that the street before a man's house was part of his domain. (A relic of this custom is the sidewalk café , which in Mediterranean lands may expand halfway across the road.) The medieval streets were unquestionably foul. Butchers slaughtered animals at their shop front and let the blood run into the gutters. Poulterers flung chicken heads and feathers into the streets. Dyers released noisome waters from their vats. City officials in Italy would throw the fishmonger's unsold fish into the street for the poor, to make sure it would not sicken honest purchasers. Pigs ran free as scavengers, and in London "genteel dogs," though not commoners' dogs, were allowed to roam at will. Flies settled down in clouds to their banquets, but few, besides Petrarch, complained. The walker, perhaps with a perfumed handkerchief to his nose, picked his way carefully, dodging the black mud thrown up by the squash of horses' hooves. And there was always a menace from overhead. Louis IX of France, Saint Louis, received the contents of a dumped chamber pot on his royal cloak. He dismounted and ran to the culprit's lair, finding him to be a student who had risen early to study. The king gave him a scholarship. (The king, of course, was a saint.)

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