it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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Canterbury and environs, another book.

Book # 39, Toni Morrison, Beloved

Fantastic. I'm not even going to talk about this book. I just want to savor it silently in my head for a while.

Canterbury was fantastic. And brisingamen and Andrew are heroes of the revolution. (By the way, I've found a place to buy a period plan of the city online. It's a 1588 one, which will serve me nicely. Yay! ( ::gibbers:: The maps... the maps on the walls.... /::gibbers:: ))

Some random notes on the place, not very well organized. The Stour is quite shallow, and probably wadable throughout--in most places, you probably wouldn't even get your slops wet. However, in Master Marlowe's day, before the river was tamed, it would have been subject to fairly serious tides and also some reasonably dangerous spring flooding. Conveniently for my purposes, however, it is deep enough to drown somebody who had been previously beaten unconscious with little trouble.

It appears that parts of the river were channeled in the 16th century; there's at least one Tudor building with its foundations in the riverbed. Also, significantly, a number of the Tudor 9and earlier) buildings are still standing, including several large portions of the city's walls. Even today, you can walk along one rather long chunk of them, probably as much as a quarter of the original circumference. Also, the West Gate is still standing, though no longer attached to the wall. The vast majority of the walls, like many of the old stone buildings, are faced with mortared, knapped flints, which gives them an attractive charcoal-grey color and very pointy edges. Generally speaking, the walls follow the plan of the Roman city (as do the streets) which is interesting because the Roman city was abandoned and a Saxon village with church grew up on the spot, and then a Norman town with castle and cathedral, and and finally a late-medieval/early-Renaissance town with a BIG CATHEDRAL.

I can see some ways in which 16th century Canterbury would have been rather unique, as medieval towns go. First of all, there was still as much green space within as town. Possibly more. Secondly, the streets are broad. By medieval standards, they're practically avenues. Even the lanes are a comfortable width for three to walk abreast, and the High Street, you could easily get two carriages down with plenty of room for foot traffic on either side. To give you an idea, apparently the West Gate was not the widest gate in the city, and I saw double-decker motor coaches roaring through it with inches to spare.

Also, judging by period maps, the back gardens of the houses were spacious indeed.

This town is built for tourism. (Well, literally. Canterbury tales and all that.) And it must have, by the standards of the day, been an extremely pleasant place to live.

Also, did I mention that there's a Roman burial mound inside the walls? I'm going to be doing a potty dance until The Cobbler's Boy sells, now, because I want to put the shiny details in it and also I want to start work on the next one.

Incidentally, Canterbury rests in the bottom of a shallow valley, flanked by downs on all sides. This would have been farmland, scattered taverns and inns, and orchards, in its day. (And much of it still is.)

It's also got loffly ruins; a Norman castle and an Augustinian abbey, that last torn down and/or converted into a palace by Henry VIII.

Christ Church Cathedral is quite wonderful. There are a few pillars of the old Saxon church still standing (Inside the Cathedral) and moreover, the Cathedral itself isn't fussily Tudor. No white-washed, stone-lace filigreed fan vaulting here. No, these are vaults. This is a goddamned medieval cathedral, Jack, and we are not messing around. There is no attempt to hide the fact that the substance levitating something like a hundred feet over your head--borne up by only its own weight, gravity, and a careful application of the laws of physics--is rock. It's not breathtaking the way Henry VII's chapels at Westminster or Cambridge are.

It's just plain awful, in the older sense of the word. Like dragons.

Exactly like dragons.

I was also inexpressibly charmed by the vaults, and their quirky, irregular, no-two-alike pillars. Some have finials carved with flourishes that, on closer inspection, are the interlocking, forked tongues of monkeys. Some have heraldic beasts (chimerae, wyverns, wolves, mer-things) locked in battles to the death. Some have nothing on the finials, but the columns themselves are fluted and elaborate.

Stonemasons. Can't turn your backs on those guys.

We escaped the cathedral just as it was filling up with tour groups, and did the mini-Marlowe tour of Canterbury, which mostly consists of looking at a map and going "Well, when it was here, this place was near where we are now." The "birthplace," to steal the Shakespeare tourism people's terminology, either burned down in the 30's or got blowed up in the Blitz; I can't remember right now. (There are existing photographs. It's now about under where the cosmetics counter of a department store is.) The Marlowe family's later house, on Best Lane, is no longer there. The baptismal church did get blowed up by Hitler. And the old King's School buildings, also no longer there.

Canterbury, much more tasteful about the whole literary greats thing than Stratford-Upon-Avon. Of course, they also have Sir Thomas More and Chaucer to brag on. Not to mention the blood-soaked stone upon which Thomas A Becket was hacked to death by four sword-wielding men.

However, comma, one can still hang around the Butter Market dodging annoying tourists (these days, they don't have pilgrim badges pinned to their hats, but they are still otherwise pretty much the same as the ones that no doubt drove Master Marlowe out of his gourd. And one can come to the somewhat astonishing realization that his notorious street fight of 1592 was, indeed, within sight of the Cathedral gates, then gaudy in gold and red and blue paint, now weathered and gray. (There is work underway to clean the Cathedral, by the way, and parts of that are now restored to their buttery pale golden white.)

After that, we went out to get a look at the Stour in the countryside, and saw along the way a male kestrel, first hovering into the wind, then being mobbed by gulls, which it lost with consummate ease. Not quite a merlin to match the Stratford magpies, but close enough if I'm looking for portents.

The Windhover

To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1918
Tags: 52 book challenge, kit, uk 2006

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