Waiting for the call
As you know Bob, I am a historic interpreter at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown from April through October, which means I have an interest in modern folks who interpret1 how it was done in the past2 for a modern audience.
Which is why I am in love with this village in France, who my friend Anj pointed out and who NPR just did a story on. This project’s first goal is to build a castle as it would have been done in the 16th century in that part of Europe. Goal #2 is to educate about the past in a visceral way. At museums like this, visitors engage all of their senses — the continual ting of a mallet striking metal, the smell of an open hearth kitchen — in order to feel how embodied this work was. If only all history could be this enveloping.
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And, yes, I want to go there.3 Who wants to send me to France? I’ll take pictures.
Related: Scott and I watched Netflix’s Barbecue Showdown a few months ago. In one of the episodes, the pit masters had to cook over an open hearth/big bonfire situation. It dawned on me that you could design a whole competition series for historic interpreters. Each challenge would be centered on a specific trade. Like for the blacksmithing episode, you’d be judged on how well you could make a nail. Or the cooking episode would be about how tasty your butter was. One challenge could be about pottery and one about needlework.4 Most interpreters are specialists rather then generalists, which would make it interesting to see how they’d adapt to fields outside of their wheelhouse.5 Plus, just think about the history lessons you could embed in the competition.6
I shall await my call from the History Channel.7
While I wait, some tidbits:
I will read just about anything non-baseball related Ray Ratto writes but this piece about a road rally in Newfoundland is *chef’s kiss.* As a sweetener, this quote: “It's not necessarily a happy ending yet, but it's the ending we have at press time. Remember how God likes to examine your work before setting it on fire.”
I endorse all of these travel truths.
Haas F1 Principle Guenther Steiner kept a diary during the 2022 season. While he’s not a polished writer (why would he be?), he is one heck of a raconteur. He also demonstrates the kind of fatalistic optimism that leads to success in most pursuits that are equal parts skill and luck. Like, say, motor sports and professional writing.
All of the truths about being a person are right here in this story.
I cannot recommend the doc series Wrestlers (photo above) highly enough.11 It’s opera. It’s business. It’s visually and aurally stunning. It takes some turns you really don’t expect. Beyond all else, the music montages are absolutely spectacular and advance the stories better than words could.
NB: there is a difference between an interpreter and a re-enactor. Interpreters are well aware of what year it is and that the internet exists. Our goal is to demonstrate and educate about whatever it is we are doing, like weaving or blacksmithing or cooking. The goal is not to pretend we are in the past but to add context. Example: when you talk about textiles in the 1840s, you also can talk about the Homespun revolution and cotton markets and flax production in Europe v. the U.S.
Re-enactors cosplay like they are in the time period, from language to behavior to the littlest clothing details. Sometimes, there is an educational component but the goal is to convince the visitor they are in that time.
Of course, boundaries between the two are slippery. As I’m typing this, I’m realizing this could be a much broader discussion for another time. Let’s put a pin — but not a safety pin — in it.
Really, I want to work there for a summer. My knowledge of medieval textiles is thin, at best, but I know how to scutch flax and am trainable.
You could shift time periods from episode to episode, too, just to keep it interesting.
I have no idea where to start with making a nail.
FWIW - most of the interpreters I know are delightfully odd and personable humans who would make for great TV.
I don’t know that I know any producers but I don’t know that I don’t so …
Substack won’t let me put the accent on the “e” but assume it’s there in my heart.
I had zero idea that Clara Parkes would be on Articles of Interest and did a full-on double take when she started talking. Also, just to make it clear: SHEEP NEED TO BE SHEARED.
FWIW - I am not a professional wrestling fan. But, as it turns out, I’m a huge behind-the-scenes of professional wresting fan. So there we are.