It’s been a while since I’ve been at the blog: our summer ended up chock-full of away-from-the-keyboard adventure (and inspiration). There are those who consider it impossible to get much writing done if you don’t log off. I get a lot out of the Internet, as far as research goes: old-school facts and figures, maps and photos and nowadays videos and accounts from a wide range of people. I get enough that I forget that stumbling through a specific physical space gives you ideas that a general read-about doesn’t.
The big adventure was a trip to France (and yes, I knew this would be better than googling it!). One of my favorite spots from the research perspective was Guédelon Castle, in central France,* where they’re building a castle from scratch using medieval building methods. The location was chosen partly because the right kind of rock was available near enough to transport with horses and carts, which was my first moment of “Oh! Right!”—what are the consequences of living in a particular world.
The grounds are largely open to the public—they fence off the parts that are under construction, but we could get close enough to see what they were doing, on scaffolding built with wood and ropes. In fact, one of the outbuildings is the rope shop, where you can crank the spindle that twists up more rope. Stonemasons are on site, cutting rough blocks for the walls and finer pieces to decorate doorways and arches. The kitchens are up and running and feeding the visitors crackers hot out of the ovens.
I’m not planning on writing a historical story any time soon, so it wasn’t the you-were-there-ness that had me riveted. One part is that I like seeing how things work: what tools are used, what the steps are in putting something together. Attention has to be paid to all these early stages so that later stages don’t fail: the site, for example, is strategic for defense but also for building supplies. The masons carefully level every stone they put in a wall, whether at the bottom or the top.
Another treat was the anthropologist’s attitude of respect for another culture. Information about period building techniques came from illuminated manuscripts, and one of the questions Guédelon’s builders have is how do these play out in real life (rather than dismissing them as primitive, or only possible in a feudal society). One surprise to me is how few people it’s taking to build the castle.
If you want to read more, there’s a blog about the day-by-day building progress at Guédelon.
Coming home, we took the Paris Metro and regional trains to get to the airport, and one departure was delayed due to the illness of a passenger, according to the notices. I’m skeptical (and the novel brain is plotting) in light of this link about Paris’s underground life (thanks, Christian).