Ben Crowder

Blog: #history

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For the last year or so I’ve been rereading some of my old journals each day, to remind myself of my past. My memory tends to focus almost entirely on recent personal history — the last year or so — and if it weren’t for this ritual, I honestly don’t know that I would really ever think about my life before that, except for when my kids ask me stories about my childhood.

I’m learning some things about myself I’d completely forgotten about — apparently I was very interested in art right after my mission, for example, and even almost majored in it. (I’d thought I didn’t really get into art until ten years ago. Whoops.)

The other thing I’ve noticed is that the parts of my journal that mean the most to me now are the little bits about the other people in my life, friends and family, particularly those I don’t much interact with anymore and those who’ve passed on. It’s almost magical to me how fondness from the long ago past can be resurrected with a mere word or a phrase.

Lately I’ve been reading a history of the Borgias, taking place in the late 1400s. In reading about some of the people who died young back then, I got to thinking about death (which if I’m honest is something I think about often — memento mori and all).

Separation of spirit and body aside, the main sting of death seems to be the separation from loved ones. For me, anyway, that’s what would hurt most. Sure, there are a lot of things I still want to do and a lot of books I still want to read, but I wouldn’t be devastated if I had to give that up. But not being there to help my wife raise our children? Utterly awful. (And the same goes for losing my wife or any of our kids.) I know there would be some measure of divine peace given, but I also know there would also be a deep, unavoidable flood of sorrow.

A mildly comforting thought I had while reading the Borgia book, though, was this: that particular sting only lasts up to roughly a hundred years. Past that point, everyone I knew and cared about in life will have also died. No more separation (at least not based on living vs. dead). Less devastation. Lots of happy reunions on the other side.

A hundred years is a long time, of course, but it’s also finite. And hopefully the Second Coming happens long before then. (That said, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if it’s still more than a hundred years off.)

Occupations in 1292 Paris

I just finished reading Life in a Medieval City, by Joseph and Frances Gies, and in the notes on page 236 I found this interesting list of occupations taken from the Paris tax list of 1292:

  • 366 shoemakers
  • 214 furriers
  • 199 maidservants
  • 197 tailors
  • 151 barbers
  • 131 jewelers
  • 130 restaurateurs
  • 121 old-clothes dealers
  • 106 pastrycooks
  • 104 masons
  • 95 carpenters
  • 86 weavers
  • 71 chandlers
  • 70 mercers
  • 70 coopers
  • 62 bakers
  • 58 water carriers
  • 58 scabbard makers
  • 56 wine sellers
  • 54 hatmakers
  • 51 saddlers
  • 51 chicken butchers
  • 45 purse makers
  • 43 laundresses
  • 43 oil merchants
  • 42 porters
  • 42 meat butchers
  • 41 fish merchants
  • 37 beer sellers
  • 36 buckle makers
  • 36 plasterers
  • 35 spice merchants
  • 34 blacksmiths
  • 33 painters
  • 29 doctors
  • 28 roofers
  • 27 locksmiths
  • 26 bathers
  • 26 ropemakers
  • 24 innkeepers
  • 24 tanners
  • 24 copyists
  • 24 sculptors
  • 24 rugmakers
  • 24 harness makers
  • 23 bleachers
  • 22 hay merchants
  • 22 cutlers
  • 21 glovemakers
  • 21 wood sellers
  • 21 woodcarvers

The Society of Creative Anachronism has a more detailed page listing the French occupation names and a breakdown by gender. For example, there was one male hangman (bourriau), one female mole trapper (taupiere), four male pike-makers (piqueeur), one female tart seller (tartriere), one male log floater (atireeur de busche), etc. Fascinating stuff.

The tax list was published by Hercule Géraud in 1837 in Paris sous Philippe-le-Bel, which is conveniently on Google Books (the list itself, “Le livre de la taille de Paris pour l’an 1292,” is a bit later in the book).

Reading goals for 2015

I recently came across a post about reading goals that got me itching to go and do likewise. I’ve had numeric goals in the past — read X books this year — but I’ve realized I’m less interested in the total number of books read and more interested in the types of books I read. (It’s also a grudging acknowledgement that this mortal life is finite and there’s no way I’ll be able to read all the books I want to. Such a sad thought. But there are massive libraries in heaven, right? I’m banking on that.)

Here, then, are my reading goals for 2015:

  • Read more books I wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in. Basically, expand my horizons, both in fiction and nonfiction.
  • Read more science fiction and fantasy classics. I did read the Foundation books in 2012–2013, but most of the time I tend to read newer stuff. (I guess I did also read The Stars My Destination earlier this year. I didn’t like it at all.)
  • Read more literary classics. Specifically, I want to read at least War and Peace and Dante’s Divine Comedy, and hopefully the Dostoevsky novels I haven’t yet read. Yes, I know, this isn’t the first time I’ve made a goal to read War and Peace. But this is the first year I’m going to actually do it, so help me. (I’ve read enough 1000-page epic fantasy novels by now that I can handle the length just fine.)
  • Read more nonfiction. Specifically, more history and biography. I’ve been reading more nonfiction this past year (Rubicon, Lies My Teacher Told Me, Food Rules, Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn, Stuff Matters, etc.) and it’s been quite enjoyable. Right now I’m reading and loving Edmund Morris’s Rise of Roosevelt, the first of a three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and Blake Harris’s Console Wars, a history of Nintendo and Sega in the 1990s.

Any of you have reading goals or happen to be reading something particularly interesting?