Could not be more August
August is my least favorite month. It’s so hot and humid in the northeast.1 Plus, we’re in a liminal space where it feels like the summer is over even though it’s very much still here. There’s a frenzy to August that is in direct opposition to its inherent lassitude. I’m 100% ready for flannel shirts and brisk nights. And, yet. Here we are, stuck with this bullshit.
What’s making this August slightly more irritating is working in historic buildings at the Farmers’ Museum. I continue to love the work, mind, and am generally content. But when the weather is factored in with how many layers of skirts I have on, it’s hard to feel enthusiasm for being alive, much less talking about textiles in the 1840s. Weaving is a full-on aerobic event even in the best of times. In this weather, I can nearly wring out my petticoats2 when I leave each day.
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And, yet, we press on. And, also yet, we grouse about it.
One highlight of the past week is a museum visitor who mentioned how much she enjoyed watching Victorian Farm on Amazon Prime. I’ve had this show kicking around in my queue forever but finally clicked play on her recommendation. It is exactly what I’ve need to soothe my August beast.3
Victorian Farm is one of those sorts of programs4 at which British producers excel. Three scholars work on a farm5 using Victorian techniques and equipment for a year-ish. They both do and explain, which is more or less the job of a historic interpreter. Fortunately, these three have editors who help cut their material down to just the most interesting bits.6 7
One the presenters is Ruth Goodman, whose How to Be Victorian I’ve written about before. On the telly, she comes across very much like her voice sounds in her book: practical, maybe a little too gung-ho on 19th century mores and machines, but very much a delightful nerd you’d like to hang out with. The two dudes8 in the series are also great, if somehow interchangeable.9
Yet again, I’m stunned that there hasn’t been an American take on the same period and in the same style. Yes, yes - there have been shows like Ranch House or Colonial House but the focus is on throwing a modern human into a simulacrum of the past. These series want there to be drama, both between the people and their environments and people and other people. The British versions are more about education than entertainment.10 The biggest drama on the Victorian farm thus far has been getting raddle on the ram. It was a nail-biter.
If I thought there was a market for it,11 I’d pitch the heck out of How to Be a 19th Century American in the style of Goodman. But that market really, really doesn’t exist, far as I can tell. Maybe I should frame it as Secrets of the Living History Museum? Interpreters After Dark? No, I’m Not Amish and Other Answers?12
Rather than continue to lament what the U.S. lacks, I’m going to fling myself back into the Victorian farm and continue on into the next century with the Edwardian series. The heart wants what it wants and right now, my heart wants the gentle comforts of endless labor and animal husbandry.
Oh. And it also wants to share these other links with you:
Every now and again, I re-read David Foster Wallace’s This is Water. I understand it in a new way each time.
Capitalism and organized crime kinda look the same from a distance.
<rant> Let me stop the Southerners before they start: I KNOW HOW MISERABLE IT IS IN THE SOUTH RIGHT NOW. I lived in both Texas and Tennessee for years. Here’s the big difference: most places up here are not air conditioned. Or, if they are, the air conditioning is sub-optimal. We’re really good at making buildings warm, not keeping them cool. Also, also: if you don’t want to be mocked for not having the infrastructure to deal with cold, do not shame us for not coping well with heat. </rant>
(and not in, like, a sexy way.)
It’s very much either a show you will love or a show you will not see the point of. I doubt anyone walks away from the first 15 minutes shrugging with a “meh.”
would that we all had this
I would argue that the custom of using urine to keep your indigo pot is interesting but am not sure others agree
they have names, I’m sure
In the second episode, there’s a great montage-y passage where Goodman is breaking herself doing laundry for hours, then moving on to cooking a meal, and the dudes are complaining about getting chilly while building a pig sty. And while I’m not saying the men didn’t work hard, I’m not not saying that either.
One of the other fun moments when watching British TV is when my American ears hear a word that they are certain cannot be a real word for a real thing. Ex: Mangelwurzel. Is it a musical instrument? Used in the laundry? Just made-up nonsense?
There is no market for it. Seriously. I’d like to be wrong. I’m not. (I offer this as a challenge to the universe to PROVE ME WRONG. PUBLICLY, EVEN. (This will not happen.))
Still workshopping titles, which are the hardest part of writing
You don’t even want to know what the MASH units looked like on the front lines. Or maybe you do want to know. I don’t know your kink.