Of Crusades

Audrey said in the car the other day that her friend’s mom was going to have a baby.  I said, a brand-new person! She said, New girl new girl, the newest person in the world!

I made fried okra for the first time and it was golden and delicious and  hot and I burnt my tongue and fingers.

Thinking about my mama-lese, I wondered if the patterns are indicative of English’s failings. As in, French and Spanish have alternate endings which delineate who is being addressed. We don’t. It’s a bit tricky. I wondered if the way I say, you is hungry? is my brain’s ingenious way of categorizing Annie as one single individual. I doubt it, but it’s a fancy and fun idea.

The book I’m currently enmeshed in is called “The Crusades,” by Zoé Oldenbourg. It’s beyond fantastic .Her field of expertise was medieval French history, but she’s written some other things as well. I had a copy of “Catherine the Great,” which I mailed off to some bored woman on a military outpost (requested on paperbackswap.com). Interestingly, the address was encoded. I asked my friendly mailman if he knew where it was, but he told me it was a code for a reason. Is it a safeguard against Russian spies who may, even as we speak, be attempting to track historical novels in their peregrinations across the continent? Hmm, Catherine the Great, they might think. A sympathetic officer in the American military. I laughed so hard at Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me when Paula Poundstone said, “How could she be a spy? Did you see what she’s done with the hydrangeas??”

Anyway, this book on the Crusades is fascinating. Oldenbourg has an approach that’s very philosophic; for example, she sets up the mindset of the times by describing the hardscrabble existences of the vassals and their overlords, and then sets the mood by addressing the subject of chansons de geste and the love of fighting for fighting’s sake. She touches briefly and deftly on the history of the Germanic tribes, the Lombards, Visigoths, the Franks (a name which has come to be synonymous with “free.”) She explains the incredible closeness of Man and Nature, which we’ve lost in an age where we don’t have to depend on rain and sun for our immediate existence. In the space of fifty pages (the book is quite a tome), she’s painted a broad picture which lends itself willingly to the introduction of the Council of Clermont in which Pope Urban II gave his famous call to arms.

(I’d like to interrupt right now to cast a fond eye on Annie, who regards herself as keeper of the door. I keep pulling it to because the air is on, but she’ll drop whatever she’s doing to toddle over and push it as far open as possible.)

The nobility, which was pathetic in terms of richesse in comparison to princes in the East, had a penchant for fighting. They valued courage above any other virtue, and in The Song of Roland, he spares nary a line for Aude the Beautiful, but dying, croons to his sword Durandal, “Ah, Durandel, how white and lovely you are! How many relics in your golden hilt…” Oldenbourg points out that this attitude would have resonated perfectly with his audience as the most natural thing in the world. Anyway, fighting was frowned upon by the Church. I was very interested to learn that the Church was far from having as much power as I’d previously heard. So when Urban II made his clever speech, which offered a way to reunite the Greek and Latin Christians while breaking the declining power of Turkey, the nobility seized upon it as a a military adventure sanctioned by Christ and the commoners saw it as a pilgrimage.

Much of this is old news to many of you, but I’m impressed with the approach she’s taking and how exciting it is. She describes the feudal system as “organized anarchy,” which thrills me. I’ll lend it to the first person who wants it when I’m done.

This reminds me of when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came. One of the first things they said was that we were in End Times. (It’s a funny fact that they lost a great deal of their followers when they kept predicting, wrongly, the precise year the world would end.) Anyway, they asked me to name some signs that the world was in its final throes. I rattled off a few from the recent news, but then asked them how they could look for signs when the Middle Ages were so devastating. If I’d lived in the Middle Ages, I’d be positive beyond a doubt that the end of the world was nigh. Plague, famine, infestation, it’s all there. They said, well obviously it wasn’t. An argument beautiful in its simplicity. I shut up. I think I’ve killed them with my indomitable patience. They gave up on me. It’s a relief. I was too polite, too pliant. I respect their right to their beliefs and I find it a bore to argue with nonlogic.

In other news, happy birthday Robyn! Twenty four! We’re going blackberrying Sunday and she’s going to help me make a cheesecake. Went swimming with Joy today at her fancy schmancy pool where we decided it was fine to leave our belongings because everyone there was wealthier than us. (She said they’d be more in the line of embezzlement.)

Off to make dinner. Ashley refused an offer of cinnamon rolls for tomorrow morning, which was distressing because then I’d be making them for myself. I can’t afford it, calorically.

A party is where you get to see all your favorite people at the same time. How cool is that! Mammothrept is a word of Greek origin meaning a spoiled child; literally, one raised by a grandmother.

Jarrod just appeared, magically! The end of this. Speaking of parties!


  • Hey there! Was the Okra slimy? I note that “slimy” feels a little slimy in your mouth when you say it. No doubt you will tell me there’s a name for that. J

  • John Gower!! I don’t know if there’s a name for that… ask the Grand Vazire. I’d love to know. How’s St. Louis?? Yesterday at the Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space I took a picture of the Spirit of Saint Louis and thought of you.

  • In fact, a good many of my comments are “awaiting moderation.” J

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