The reward of blog-crawling on a rainy day was a post on "Harlequin Foods" at Victorian Paris. I knew that "pot-luck" soups were sold by street vendors to the poor, but get this: There was an entire trade in leftovers or rogatons from the kitchens of palaces, noble houses, fine hotels, embassies, and so on. The cook or the footman sold them to a vendor or reseller who came to the back door, and they began a journey of sorting and distribution until they reached a stall in Les Halles, where they might end up on a patchwork plate of mixed scraps more or less artfully arranged. In that form, they were called arlequins, probably because their patchwork appearance resembled the costume of the Commedia dell'arte character, Harlequin.
Picturing a World
In the satirical medieval chantefable, Aucassin et Nicolette, the hero famously says he'd rather to go to hell where the handsome clerics, brave warriors, and lovely ladies go, than to heaven with dreary, ill-dressed, and pious. To my eye, the angels who manage to stay in heaven here look anxious, while the fallen are having a blast. Was there a touch of Aucassin in the artist, or do time and cultural distance make it hard to read expressions right?
Via Manuscript Art
A while back, Jackie Morris's otters on luggage tags gave me an idea for a story about a group of women artists working in a small city after a second pandemic. A time-travel story knocked it aside. Now, here comes Grace Ponder's deck of Yarn Tarot for Crocheters, Knitters, Spinners, and Weavers with the just the clue to jumpstart the neglected luggage-tag story again.
I was so taken with Chris Wormell's illustrations for Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, that I pre-ordered their new collaboration on Lyra's Oxford even though I treasure a first edition of the 2003 book with John Lawrence's woodcuts. The new one will be out soon. You can get a taste of it at Take a Look at Lyra's Oxford. Incidentally, The Artworks website looks like a source of inspiration for story ideas or details. More soon.
Blog post alert: Alert, alert! Ancient ghost discovered on Assyrian exorcist's cuneiform tablet! That it was found it at all is marvellous. That there were magicians and exorcists with libraries 3,500 years ago –well, how's that for inspiring historical fantasy?
Blog post alert: Oh, the clowns! Oh, the story! Oh, the potential inspiration for fiction in the picture itself or its rediscovery by an eccentric aristocrat's niece! Read Tiepolo drawing of gnocchi clowns found in attic and go for it. (NB: I posted this ahead of time, just before going computer-less. Please cross your fingers that all goes well.)
A new computer arrived for me on Friday. In cleaning up this one to prepare for transferring files, I came across a picture I took in Maine years ago. Makes me happy just to look at it! I'll meditate on that beautiful place during the no-dobut stressfull days ahead as I learn to navigate a new system, new programs, etc. Hope you enjoy it, too, even if it has nothing to do with books, Paris, or writing.
Blog post alert: Gorgeous photographs of apples in an Orchard of Kent celebrate England's Apple Day. Everyone—historical novel writers in particular—should do themselves a favor and seek out heirloom apples to savor the tastes of the past. For more about apples and Apple Day, click here.
As for today's image: I chose it partly to respect the copyright of the Spitalsfield Life photographer, Rachel Ferriman, and partly to celebrate Pavel Machotka's illuminating study, Cézanne: The Eye and the Mind, which I finished reading this morning. Written by a deeply learned art historian who was also a painter, it explains such things as the difference between what the wrist and the forearm do as well as how colors relate or the effect of brushstrokes in vivifying or stabilizing a composition. A wonderful resource.
I admit I've been reading more than writing in the last few weeks, so here's another recommendation. Last night I finished Pat Barker's new novel, The Women of Troy, a sequel to The Silence of the Girls (2019). I read each compulsively in big gulps. Troy ends full of possibilities for another installment. I hope she writes it!
This month, my library book club is reading What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad. When I picked up my copy, the librarian told me she had asked four different people what happened at the end and received four different answers. After reading the novel, I can see why. We sometimes send around questions ahead of time, so this month I did and led off with one about genre. I think it's helpful in evaluating other books, too, or even thinking about our own writing.