Medieval Crafts

Would You Rather Find a Job or
Be a Vagabond 500 Years Ago?

If you’ve been feeling left out of this so-called gig economy, imagine how you’d fare in another time. As in traveling back in time to, say, 500 years ago, just to check one of London’s job listing boards circa 1550. In fact, who hasn’t imagined, from the safety of one’s mind, of course, how Medieval townsfolk went about their business?
You could meet Cornelis Bos, for instance, who enjoyed drawing what looks like taxis driven by satyrs. Have a chat with Willielmus de Lench, a grain thresher, or try a brew with Matild de Grafton, an alewife, all common names and occupations of the time. Or you could find easier pickings as a jarkman, another word for vagrant.
There are plenty of records about that particularly gruesome time to be alive anywhere, but as the saying goes, history is told by the powerful. So while you may be wise to King Arthur and his gallant knights, there’s no word about their ostler, the guy who’d take care of their horses. Which, as most occupations of poor people, would run in families.
Don’t be discouraged though. Even if we may not find a suitable position for a person of your qualifications, you still may learn a thing or two about how people would make a living then, some of the common surnames that have survived to these days, and the surprisingly variety of outlaw types populating the era.
Oh, and throughout this post, check the exquisitely elaborated 1550 art of Cornelis Bos. You may as well pick a few interesting subjects to use in your next job interview, so to give the recruiter a bone to chew, while you think about how to answer that minefield of a question they all love to throw at you: so, what have you been doing all this time?

As anyone may have already noticed, a lot of traditional surnames have originated from common occupations, geographical locations and even physical characteristics. In English, that’s likely the case if your last name is Baker, Brown, Blacksmith, Coleman, Taylor, White and so on.
But you’d be surprised with the bulk of professions still relevant, five centuries and a whole universe of technological advances later. People still work in government, or for someone, have their own business, or simply own a crooked idea of what it means to make a honest buck.
One could argue, though, that few thieves or professional criminals would’ve dressed up as wealthy people then, while now, heyday of sorts for the lying business, we may have one at the White House. But really? What when they’d pillage and burn to the ground a whole country? That’d assure them graces and riches from aristocracy and royal titles to boot. So, it all always comes down to being humans.
For the government, you could be a catchpole, a ‘chicken catcher,’ a hayward, an officer in charge of fences and hedges, and a liner, who’d set property boundaries. You wouldn’t want to mess with a bailiff, who could arrest and execute you, but you could be friends with reeves, which was how church wardens were called, and wouldn’t hurt you to know a master of the revels, those in charge of court entertainment.

At large, there were military and religious occupations, sailors and scholars, flora and fauna laborers, your usual share of artists and entertainers (we heard that a bard, some Shakespeare dude, is quite good), and an infinitude of craftsmen and merchants, a category to which alehouse keeper Matild belonged to, as did olde pal de Lench.
But perhaps it’s under the ‘regular folk’ lists where demand for a variety of skill sets would get you by, as well as some of those names could be found. Did some traveling? you could be a palmer, someone (more)
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Curtain Raiser

No Time to Stand Silent, Colltalers

Once again, the Trump administration is being universally shamed. But this time, its brutal policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, and worst, invoking the Bible to justify it, is enough to make even the most autocratic leader to look as compassionate as a nun.
That brings us to the World Cup in Russia and its awkward media coverage in this country. With Team USA out, it’s been hard to show Russians as fun, sports-loving people as they are, while casting President Putin as a long shadow over the U.S. president and politics.
The quadrennial soccer tournament that mobilizes over a billion people around the world, is in itself, a force to be reckoned with. For ages, tyrannic rulers and politicians of all stripes have taken advantage of its appeal. Futból, as every sports, often serves well political regimes.
Mussolini may have had a hand in Italy’s 1934 win, and possibly four years later, when it repeated the feat in next door France. Even the Brazilian squad that enchanted the world in 1970 was forcibly ‘adopted’ by generals of the military dictatorship that ruled the country. And corruption-ridden FIFA, the sport’s governing body, is still at it, as shown by how it granted the cup’s next edition to the cruel Qatar regime.
These are such dark times, though, that even the best example of sports as metaphor to the power of equality over prejudice is half forgotten today. When black American runner Jesse Owens won the 1936 Berlin Games, he indeed humiliated Hitler, the Nazis and their white supremacy credo.
To be fair, there’s been a backlash of sorts, not to the game itself, which is ever improving, both athletically and commercially. It does need both to compete with other giant U.S. sport franchises. But it’s exactly this intersection of power and money that’s cut down part of its popular appeal. Speaking of Italy, which has also not qualified, and soccer-crazy Brazil, this cooling effect is all but palpable. Cue in the media, then.
In Italy, a perennial candidate to win, political turmoil may be affecting, perhaps not coincidentally, ratings for the games which are reaching new lows. With that, as the host nation is not expected to go all the way, record five-times winners Brazilians are likely to watch as their tormentor Germany equals their record. No wonder media giant Globo, crucial government partner, is airing promos non stop, to little effect.
Brazil, shattered by a process of dismantling of its young democracy, is reflecting an unusual apathy towards the Seleção, the national team, once a source of pride that, much to Brazilian disappointment, suffered a historic, and most embarrassing, loss to Germany. It happened when the country was hosting its second ever cup, Continue reading

Final Cut

Writing About the Departed With
Art (or Sending Them Off to Hell)

Writing one’s own obituary is almost as hard as accepting compliments. Or stopping self-congratulating. Some do it for fun, but writers have turned them into an art form. A tough editorial beat, they may actually outlast both newspapers and print journalists. For now, though, every media vehicle has a file stuffed with celebrity obituaries. Just in case.
summation of somebody’s life, they’re far from the niceties-ridden cliches of yesteryear – or when penned by family and friends. Still, some are not above using them to settle scores with the deceased, as it happened to Popeye, June, and Kathleen. Not that they’d care.
Many would be surprised that the written take on the classic eulogy, resembles an actual tombstone: title, brief vital info, and epitaph, all condensed between a few hundred to a thousand words, give or take the departed’s station in life. ‘A tight little coil of biography,’ as Marilyn Johnson put it to the NYTimes, when she published Dead Beat in 2006.
‘I try to get into the head of the person,’ says Economist’s Ann Wroe, about writing Prince‘s obituary. Her paper was a late comer to death notices, but for over a century, they’ve been a distinct feature of the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and the Times. The genre did experience a renaissance of sorts, though, in the early 80s, according to Johnson.

Jim Nicholson, of the Philadelphia Daily News, is often cited as making an imprint on obituary writing style. He did find ways to give a patina of relevance to the life of even the most obscure stiff, by adding unusual details, dug out of interviews, and without resorting to redundant figures of speech or phony superlatives.
But no one could’ve devised what’s now a trend: the final tirade, designed to highlight not virtues but cruel flaws and unforgivable slights that the now – good riddance! – dead supposedly imposed onto the writers. Truthful or spiteful, it’s catching on and there’s no telling when it’ll, well, die out. Thus, mind your ways, or it may happen to you too.

Leslie Ray ‘Popeye’ Charping, 74, died Jan. 30, in Houston, Texas, after battling cancer for years. A regular, nice obituary will go on, mentioning his good deeds, and loved ones he left behind. But Shiela Smith and Leslie Roy Charping, his two children, would have none of that.
In their brutal eulogy, they wrote that ‘Popeye’ lived 29 years ‘more than he deserved,’ and listed ‘being abusive to his family, and expediting trips to heaven for the beloved family pets,’ among his hobbies. Not ones to find anything nice to say about him, his kin added a few more choice ‘qualities’ of his.
As ‘he did not contribute to society’ and ‘possessed no redeeming qualities,’ lovely Shiela and Roy chose neither to hold any service nor ‘prayers for his eternal peace,’ in lieu of the lack of apologies ‘to the family he tortured.’ ‘Leslie’s passing proves that evil does in fact die.’

Cornelia June Rogers Miller, 86, died Feb. 23, in Gainesville, Fla, hardly knowing that her death was not going to be missed, at least for one of her daughters. Posted anonymously four months later, her obituary went viral, raising charges of plagio, and causing a bitter sibling ruckus.
‘Drugs were a major love in her life as June had no hobbies, made no contribution to society (see a pattern?) and rarely shared (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Hope Is a Heavy Load, Colltalers

Tomorrow, two men whose word is worth less than their underwear, will meet to define our future. It won’t probably work due to many petty and major issues, but that’s not even what the world fears the most: worst is if these overgrown toddlers show their dislike for each other.
For if either U.S. President Trump or the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un storm out of the negotiation table, their fragile ego unforgivably wounded, there won’t be any adult left to disarm the nuclear threat. We’ll be back to the lethal phase of watching them exchanging insults.
What makes this such a delicate issue is Kim, who’s be been ahead of Trump at every turn, growing frustrated that his efforts towards détente are not being taken seriously. And the American growing bored, an integral part of his volatile temper. In both cases, we’d be toasted.
Even though peace prospects in the peninsula must be credited to South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, in fairness, his counterpart did his homework and took steps to back up his intentions. Trump, though, used public abuse as a way out of committing to the talks, and may have only come back to it due to one factor: his delusional desire of receiving the Nobel Prize, which would be dead in the water if there were no meeting.
For even as these two peas in a pod make up to an admirable cliche, Koreans have an immediate survival interest at stake in tomorrow’s event. Americans, however, don’t seem to have it at all clear what even a single nuclear strike means to a civilization-ending world war.
We’ve just had a sobering sample of Donald’s self-attributed ‘powers’ of negotiation, during the gathering of the G-7 group, the allies that are traditionally the sole reason U.S. leadership in the world has been so incontestable. Without them, we’re a deranged bully in need of a stop. A photo of the meeting went viral last week, encapsulating the current global perception of our president: a round of obviously concerned world leaders, headed by Germany’s Angela Merkel, seems to pressure a seated, arm-crossed Trump, whose expression of childish defiance is so familiar to every parent. It’s a cartoonish but no less dangerous depiction, that’s painfully embarrassing America before the world.
He’s not just arrived late to the annual meeting, but Continue reading

Dead Can Dance

The Hotel for the Departed, a City of
Mausoleums & a Coffin-Making Class

In the age of transcontinental traveling, it’s not easy to be buried in your hometown. Unless you choose to live where you plan to die. But for your grieving loved ones, nothing like a hotel to send you off in style. Better yet, why not build your own coffin?
Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. Like our ancestors, we angst about what to do with the deceased and imagine those we’ll leave behind will surely grieve over us. By then, though, the great absentee of this party – us – won’t care one way or another.
We build crypts, enact rituals and come up with ways to memorialize the lives that were, so to transcend, or rather forget, the natural fact that once we’re born, we’re ever closer to the end. But even as we’re off and running towards oblivion, there’s still a lot of candles to light up.
Granted, there are those who truly couldn’t care less. Others never saw a life they didn’t want to murder. And yet, another class of hopefuls spend their waking hours, and loads of cash, trying to outlast the unrevealed count of the days already allotted to their name.
For when that moment comes, regardless of who you’ve been so far, monk or gambler, pious or psychopath, well, it will come. Regardless. The only thing that it’s up to you is whether you’ll ease into that night, or resist. Word of caution, though: it won’t make a damn difference.
Creeped out yet? Let’s climb an ancient mountaintop, where each family has its own mausoleum. From the distance, the remote village of Dargavs looks like a collection of medieval white houses, popping up at the tip of one of the five ridges of North Ossetia, Russia.
It’s only once you get closer, after a trying three-hour trek through steep hills, that you realize that the structures are actually stone crypts where locals have been burying their loved ones for centuries.
The ‘city’ is an ancient Ossetian cemetery and each family knows (more)
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Curtain Raiser

After the Kids, They’ll Come for Us, Colltalers

1,475 children, held at the U.S. Southwest border last year, and forcibly split up from their families, are now unaccounted for. The admission, by a Human Health Services official, sums up the chaotic patchwork of immigration laws, and the Administration’s turn to draconian policies.
In other 2017-related news, at least 4,645 Puerto Ricans, not ‘only’ 64 as the president boasted, have died in consequence of Hurricane Maria. That’s 2.5 times the number of victims of 2005 Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush’s second catastrophic blunder, after the invasion of Iraq.
For some time, many authorities in the American Caribbean state have been claiming that the official death toll from Maria had been grossly under counted. The Harvard University study released last week shows that they were not just right, but the grim figure may actually increase.
That’s a lot of people to die, or be ‘misplaced,’ due to extreme incompetence and lack of empathy. But as it was with Bush, don’t expect Trump to express remorse. Rather, just as Iraq still burns after all these years, the mostly at dark Puerto Rico will hurt for a long time, unfortunately.
As this administration continues to paint hard-working immigrants, undocumented or not, as mostly criminals and not part of what made this country so powerful, we all stand to lose character and perspective of what it means to be American. All we know, however, is that it’s not it.
While a comprehensive legislation Continue reading

Unanswerable Prayers

Between Prediction & Petition,
We Beg to Differ With Our Lot

Someone once said that faith was created so man could argue with fate. Or god. Or whatever the hell we weren’t pleased about. A last ditch effort, our first and ultimate resort against reality, as we can’t change the outcome, and evidence usually points the other way.
David Bowie’s death was too much? A petition demanded his immediate return. Falling oil prices? That’s because the year started on a Friday, according to a Medieval prediction. A woman remained a virgin after her new born? 2000 years and many still care to vouch for that.
We simply can’t allow the thought that things may happen at random. Unable to accept that everything around us out-scales us by physical distance and impossibility of time, we choose not to ever be ready to hand over our self-appointed role of comptroller of the universe.
Which, as most things, remains as oblivious to our existence as a cat is to frantic calls to come back at once. We’ll scream, and curse, and swear we’ll move mountains if necessary. But the cosmic enigma, and that little ball of fur, won’t even give us the benefit of a glance.
So we create our temples, and churches, and rituals, and commandments. So to make sure that we won’t be forgotten. And our deeds on this planet will last. And our presence will be memorable. We’ll do that even knowing full well that our ashes will be scattered.

That’s what we do; we’re convinced that if we tell a story enough times, it’ll become part of the historical record. Science may have amassed crushing evidence against it, but we’ll still recount our tales as if there’s a purpose to it all. We’ll still do it, bless our bleeding hearts.
The Zibaldone da Canal, a compendium of relevant issues to 14th century merchants, such as Arithmetics, spices, weights and (more)
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