Sunday, August 28, 2011

Curiosity, knowledge, the journey, and the hurricane

Art started me on this journey, but along the way I’ve found several areas that called for further exploration and analysis to better understand Anne and her time. I’m examining issues such as destiny, royalty, family roles, marriage, motherhood, education, art, science, medicine, religion (as motivator/explanation/vehicle), culture, differing male and female roles and responsibilities.  How did these influence Anne, in what proportion? What did people of that time know that we don’t?—allegory, spiritualism, superstition.  How different was she from other women of her class? My novel should give my reader more than the story of the characters and the time. I want to elicit new ways of thinking about our lives and era, as well as those. How did people live before science and the scientific method? Most people, of any class, grew up to live the lives they were ordained to. What was it like, despite having so much, not to have a real choice about what one would do in life?

In the back of my mind as I wrote more and grew confident in my work, I realized that I really have to see the places I write about, not only for physical descriptions, but for atmosphere. If not now, when? I’m healthy, I’m able, no one needs me on a regular basis. I won’t have to borrow for the trip. And so I determined, finally, that I would do it! I used my frequent flyer miles to book a trip to France for September. I worked out my own itinerary, which is not that of the typical tourist (I’d seen a lot of those sights on an earlier trip.) Then I decided (with the advice of members of my writers’ group) that since I will be traveling alone, by train, I’d better improve my French. I enrolled in a very good Intermediate French class and felt much more confident in my ability to get around and communicate, and have my time be more productive.

August 28, 2011--We in Manhattan seem to have gotten through the hurricane with little severe damage; although there has been a great deal of disruption. Because of all the early warnings and precautions taken for the last several days, normal activity stopped. People had time to stock up and do what was necessary. So although I spent many hours securing my apartment; taking in all the plants and furniture from my terrace—that means moving everything around to make room in a small apartment; filling pitchers, jars, pots, and pails with water; and cancelling weekend activities, everything is fine for me. Not everyone fared so well, depending on where they live and how seriously they took warnings. I've had time to spend working on the details of my trip, which is just ten days away.  
One of the fascinating things I’ve learned about the life and times of Anne of Brittany is that the court traveled a great deal. There must have been amazing logistics involved, since hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of people would relocate several times a year from one château or capital to another. And they would bring with them furnishings, food, and equipment to take care of the movable court. No hotels or motels along the way—they stayed at the châteaux of the nobles, who would have to be able to accommodate them. I haven’t seen satisfying details of how they managed all this. How long in advance would they send a messenger to say that “We’ll be coming by with 800 people next week.”?  Traveling by litter and barge, Anne’s trip from Lyon to Blois took eight days, and she did it rather often. Now it can be traversed in less than three hours, by train or auto.
I’ve been reflecting on the information we have available now, constantly being updated and refined:  weather maps following the storm, communications from government, utilities, first responders; the knowledge that allows informed predictions so that precautions can be taken. And of course weather is just the current topic; the same is true about disease, nutrition, space, and technology.  With all that, knowledge is not perfect. Compare that to earlier times, when they just didn’t know or understand the forces of nature, the relationships among events and conditions. Copernicus’ major book asserting that the sun is the center of the universe was published in 1543, after all of the characters in Anne’s life had died. And its validity was not established until 1616, by Galileo’s study of the tides.
Curiosity must be a universal instinct, and before the acceptance of scientific method would have had to be fed by imagination, religion, and magical thinking. How fortunate I am to be able to follow my curiosity across time and place.