23 Dec 2007

Let's call it 19th century

Submitted by Karl Hagen
I'm now in England for Christmas, after spending a week in Ireland. We stayed in a lovely rural area in Claire, and one of the spots we stopped was Bunratty castle, a fifteenth-century structure that has been quite well restored. Like many other castles, it is cramped and has lots of narrow staircases, not at all like the Hollywood image of spacious luxury. You can understand why so many aristocratic families tended to abandon their castles for more comfortable dwellings. We stayed for what was billed as a medieval dinner. I came hopeful, but braced for high camp. All in all, it was entertaining, certainly far superior to the Medieval Times travesty in the US. (Dining in a real castle lends an air of authenticity that the US places can't hope to emulate.) The entertainers were dressed in costume, and made some real attempt at getting everyone into the mood, but the dinner itself was really a fairly modern affair. They provided no spoons, but did offer forks and knives. (It should have been spoon and knife.) There was a potato-based soup, more potatoes with the meat (very Irish, but utterly non-medieval), carrots, and turkey (neither, again, medieval). There was live music too, very well done, and very traditional, but again not quite old enough to count as medieval. I wonder why it is that none of these soi-disant medieval dinners ever seem to make an attempt at more realistic meals. It's not impossible. In grad school, I held an annual banquet for other medievalists, and was able to pull off a tollerable approximation, although I never went in for SCA-style attention to detail. Perhaps the people who run these meals have a better sense for what their customers will tolerate than I do, but I can't help think that they sell their clientele short, and that most people would tollerate a greater degree of difference than the organizers give them credit for. Although I had a good time, I find it disappointing that even in a venue that is fundamentally medieval, it seems to be enough to slap a thin veneer of the old over an event to justify calling it medieval. It's rather like those bad historical novels that are merely modern characters in fancy dress.