Medieval News

The Food Was Game &
So Was the Kamikaze

Ah, nothing like being nostalgic about old times, when we were a mere few hundred million of human beings being mean to each other. Specially now, when we’re officially seven billion doing all we can to ruin the ground where we run with scissors after each other.
One would be hard pressed to find takers for a one-ticket back to medieval times, though. Dreamers notwithstanding, most of us wouldn’t survive a day amid the carnage that marked the conquests of new worlds we are so enthralled to read about in our heated homes.
Even the type of complain a typical citizen would air to the local authorities would make us all sick. And we haven’t even mentioned the food.
Talking about food and reading, literature has been a great guide for us to safely navigate those troubling times, along with cooking and recipe books that survived the ages.
Authors such as George R.R. Martin, for example, have gone out of their way to stretch the historical similitude of their fictional stories, as well as with the food their characters eat throughout them.

Martin’s multi-volume saga A Song of Ice and Fire has now inspired a site, The Inn at the Crossroads, dedicated “to explore the mouthwatering cuisines favored by the fantastic cultures in the books.”
The Inn site, which has no relation with Martin, serves as a fitting companion piece to his work, by grouping recipes according to the settings where the adventure takes place.
It’s literally all fun and games, and almost as exciting as the cable series based on his saga, Game of Thorns. The editors, though, are the first ones to admit: not all recipes made or will ever be published on the site.
Not included are a recipe for horse roasted with honey and peppers, “a great wedding pie with a hundred live doves baked within to fly out when the crust is broken,” dog sausage, olives stuffed with maggots, and “black swan in her plumage,” among others.
The 13th century was also a busy time for Japan, as it was trying to ward off hordes of invading Mongolians. The other day, University of Ruykyus archaeologists discovered the wreck of one of their ships buried in the mud beneath the seabed, off Japan’s southern coast.
The wooden vessel is believed to have been part of an invading fleet sent by Kublai Khan to conquer the Land of the Rising Sun, but that was miserably sunk by a powerful typhoon.
Now, for World War II buffs, here’s a pearl of irony in the finding, besides that it was near Nagasaki. The typhoon became known in Japan as the “kamikaze” – a “divine wind” that protected a chosen nation.
The Mongolian-ruled Yuan dynasty of China, led initially by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai, tried to conquer the samurai warriors of Japan on two occasions, in 1274 and 1281.
Some 900 ships were sent in the first attempt but failed. They gave it another try with an even bigger fleet and failed again, this time, by the hand of nature.
It’s not clear why, then, seven hundred years later, the Japanese would give the same name of the wind that defeated their invaders, to their own suicide pilots, who also wound up defeated.
In the 1300s, London was a city of 100 thousand with the grand total of eight public latrines, and only the “One Percenters” of the time could afford to have a privy ‘privies.’ No wonder, the city had a street named Shiteburn Lane.
A rare, recently uncovered medieval document, the Assize of Nuisance, lists the most common grievances a Londoner would have just by living in close proximity with what appear then one too many people.
Hint: it had to do with the absolute lack of sewage and ways of disposing waste. One Alice Wade, for example, was even part of a relative minority and had a separate room for her toilet.
Problem was, a toilet was only a hole cut in a wooden platform over a cesspool. The stench could be murderous. A wooden pipe leading to a nearby rainwater gutter made matters worse when it got clogged.
So her neighbors complained. It was all recorded on the Assize in Latin, the language used on most official documents of the time, as case #214. She had to get rid of it or else.
It’s been long known that the invention of high-heel boots had the primary purpose of helping a person walk the filthy streets of medieval cities without literally sinking in the mud, like that Mongolian ship.
Except, of course, it was not just mud and there was no ship.
According to historians, the first toilets built in England were at the Tower of London. Again, they were nothing like the throne Kanye West tells us to watch on his latest album.
And, this being about the British and all, somehow the French got a bit of blame to carry on for that too.
As it turns out, people would use a chamber pot, and once they were done with it, they would open a window and shout out ‘gardez l’eau’ – watch out for the water. Gardez l’eau became ‘loo,’ a word even more incomprehensible to Americans.
This whole post, of course, is in memoriam of Christina Morel, who laid “dead of a death other than her rightful death,” exactly 711 years ago today, the Eve of All Saints November 1, in the Parish of St. Mary de Aldermaiichirche, London.
It is, to this day, the most well documented murder investigation recorded at that time. R.I.P. Christina.

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