Pack Your Bags!

here, in a traveling state of mind. That's because Pat, Mary Jo and I have been gallivanting around the British Isles after doing the RNA Conference in Leeds, England with Nicola. Since we're on the fly, and summer (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) is the quintessential time for for packing your bags and heading off hither and yon, we thought it would be fun to talk about dream vacations. Where to the Wenches yearn to go? Read on!

Read more

Oranges and Lemons, Say the Bells of St. Clements

Raphaelle Peale (American artist, 1774-1825) Orange And A BookOranges and Lemons,

Ring ye bells at St. Clements.
When will you pay me,
Ring ye Bells at ye Old Bailey.
When I am Rich,
Ring ye Bells at Fleetditch.
     Tradtional Counting Rhyme 

There are any number of interpretations as to what this all means, but I see it mostly a reminder that poetry does not necessarily have to make sense.

Joanna here, talking about Regency oranges.

Those of us with a keen interest in botany will have noticed that oranges — not to mention lemons — don't thrive in the British climate.  Well, maybe down in south Devon where hopeful souls sometimes plant palm trees.  But citrus isn't plucked off the tree on Hampstead Heath or in the Welsh mountains.

What is an orange doing in an old, old counting rhyme?
Not to mention lemons.
How come?

Because the Regency and Georgian folks imported their oranges (and lemons) enthusiastically or grew them enthusiastically in greenhouses.  

Musee carnavalet orangerie exterior Paris 1


I'll just wander off track for a minute to point out that greenhouse in the Regency didn't mean a building all made of glass with a roof of glass panes.  That's Victorian.  In the Regency a greenhouse was a tall room with high windows, like this to the right.

Sometimes, they called them orangeries.
I think not.

In the Regency we're talking about three different species of oranges, just because life is complicated.

Our first guest orange  . . . the bitter one.

The oraOrangeBloss_wbnge is another of those marvelous botanical productions of the Orient, like lychees and tea and peaches.  They've been cultivated in China for four thousand years, in several varieties. The bitter or sour orange, Citrus aurantium— what we'd call a Seville orange — made a complicated journey overland to Europe, piggybacking its way from the Middle East to Italy and Spain with the returning Crusaders.

Here's a picture of an early orange in Van Eyck's Amolfini Portrait of 1434.  This picture records a
Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait full sizemarriage and it's just bristling with nifty references faithfulness and fertility. 

Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait detailSee those those oranges in the Van Eyck painting, over next to the window?  Symbolic as heck.

Oranges were symbolic of marriage, maybe because the plant bears its flowers and its fully ripened fruit at the same time, thus being both the potential fertility of the innocent flower and the fecundity of the plump fruit. 
Queen Victoria wore orange blossoms in her hair at her wedding.  Maybe some of the folks reading this today wore them too.  You can look at that Van Eyck and know the symbol is more than 500 years old.

As a totally unrelated side comment, Isobel Carr points out that the little dog in that picture might just be the earliest depiction of a pet animal in a European painting. 
Its name is Max.
. . . Okay.  I'm kidding about the name.

They called the bitter orange a 'Seville orange' because that's where they were grown and shipped from in Tudor times and beyond. 
Our English, French and other European folks used skin, juice, root, leaf and branch in
medicine and for making cordials and syrups and orange-water for scent
and flavoring.

"Nor can I blame you, if a drop you take,
of orange-water, for perfuming-sake."
John Breval

Seville oranges nowadays are used about exclusively for making that wonderful marmalade you can still pick up in the grocery if you go searching a while for the authentic stuff.  It's the same marmalade they made in Regency times.  When you spread it on your toast, you can think about Elizabeth Bennet doing pretty much the same, except she's sitting across the breatkfast table from Mr. Darcy.

Looking next at . . . 
. . .  Ahem. 
Eyes off Mr. Darcy, if you please.  Thank you.

Turning to this second type of orange, I hear you saying, "What about the sweet orange, Citrus sinensis, my supermarket orange, the ones that the lack of is like a day without sunshine, the ones Nell Gywn sold at Drury Lane?"

I will pause an instant to offer Samuel Pepys' take on orange juice:
"and here, which I never did before, I drank a glass, of a pint, I believe, at one draught, of the juice of oranges, of whose peel they make comfits; and here they drink the juice as wine, with sugar, and it is very fine drink; but, it being new, I was doubtful whether it might not do me hurt. "

Anyhow, these newcomer sweet oranges showed up in the 1500s.  They were called sweet oranges because, well, they were sweet, and China oranges to distinguish them from the Seville oranges which were not so sweet.  'China' because, unlike their bitter cousins, they didn't migrate slowly overland.  They arrived in style by ship, brought by Portuguese and Italian merchants directly from China. 

This is when the orange became a hand-eating f3 Francis Wheatley (English artist, 1747-1801) Cries of London 1792-1795 Sweet China Oranges, Sweet Chinaruit, sold in baskets on the street.  Nell Gywn, before she became mistress of King Charles II and presumably went out of the retail fruit business, was one of the scantily clad young women who sold sweet oranges in the Drury Lane Theatre (sixpence apiece,) for the refreshment of the patrons and as a handy means of expressing dissatisfaction with the performance.

In case you were wondering — as who has not — whether the orange fruit was named after the color,

("Oh look! There's a whole bunch of oranges up in the tree, and some reds over on this tree and look at all those blues down here on the bushes.")

or the color was named after the fruit.  I can set your mind at rest.
The color is named after the fruit.
The word orange meandered into English from the Sanskrit word for the fruit —nāranja — through Arabic, Old Provencal, Old French and Middle English.

Before the Fourteenth Century, folks had to refer to the color as geoluhread.  As in, "Wow. Love your geoluhread i-pod!"  Geoluhread would roughly translate as yellow-red and I am sure we are all grateful to Sanskrit for its intervention into what would have been a dismal shade with a long name.

How common were oranges in Georgian and Regency England?  How expensive? 
In the mid-1700s oranges sold on the street four a penny when hot cross buns were 'one a penny, two a penny'.  That doesn't seem outrageously expensive, does it — two oranges for the price of a bun? 

Zurbaran 1633 still life

lemons and oranges in 1633

Karl Phillip Moritz, about that time, wrote, "All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the
season, sees oranges to sell, and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny."

By 1828, one could speak of "The China, or sweet oranges, with which this country is now so amply supplied, and at such moderate prices that all classes of society enjoy them as perfectly as if they had been indigenous to the climate."  John S. Skinne


Francisco_de_zurbaran about 1630

a really annoyed cup, above

And our third orange? 

It was almost the blood orange.  I mean, there the blood orange was, in Italy, as a
mutation among sweet oranges in the 1600s.  Really no reason it couldn't have been a trade item.
I'd love to add it to the Regency table.

But it looks like they weren't imported.  Mention is made of blood orange trees brought into England as greenhouse curiosities in the 1820s. I suppose some intrepid traveller might have brought back a box of fruit for friends any time. 

Must have been a shock when that first blood orange was cut open at the table for everyone to see.

But the third of the Regency orange trio turns out to be the mandarin orange, the tangerine, our friend Citrus reticulata, which is technically a kind of orange rather than a separate fruit altogether, if we listen to those tricky botanists who dabble in such matters.  Trees were brought to England direct from China — the word mandarin is a dead giveaway — in about 1805. It settled into the greenhouses of England.  Not a fruit for the street crowd.  An exotic treat.  As late as 1817, a botanist could say it was a pity none of the countries exporting citrus to England had established the tangerine as a crop. 

After 1805, your Regency heroine might be offered a mandarin, sensuously peeled, by someone who owns a very fancy greenhouse.  A spiffy little factoid.

Seville orange leMoynCOME buy my fine oranges, sauce for your veal,

And charming when squeez'd in a pot of brown ale;
Well roasted, with sugar and wine in a cup,
They'll make a sweet bishop when gentlefolks sup.


The world would be a poorer place without oranges — and I happen to notice I've got a half-eaten clementine beside me as I write this post.

What's your favorite oranges recipe?  I used lemons to make a fancy syllabub not so very long ago, but I bet it'd be equally good with oranges.  And I love me some orange cake.  Also Benedictine-just-abour-anything.

One lucky commenter gets to pick a copy of any of my books.

A Plethora of Princesses

GirlreadingPat here:

I’m working on the third Rebellious Son book (yeah, I know, finally) and I’m researching European royalty. I’ve always hated books with make-believe princesses, just as I get annoyed with books where everyone is a spy when England really had no such thing. And then I turn around and write one. There ya go, my nature in a nutshell—perverse. Maybe it's that love/hate relationship that works so well for characters!

So to make my princess credible, I started digging around to see what royalty there was as Napoleon’s juggernaut crushed Europe. Deposed royalty would work fine. My heroine favors a more Mediterranean look than Nordic, so I played around with the most obvious target—Italy. Italy at this time wasn’t the Italy we know now.   As you can see from the map, it’s a bunch of diverse provinces, each with their own version of royalty and probably all related to each other—a veritable plethora of princesses for me to play with.

My book is set in 1809, and by that time, Napoleon had taken a wopping bite out of Tuscany and Corsica-france-seascape-winding-roadof course, Corsica.  (photo credit) But at the time France acquired Tuscany, the Duke of Parma was granted Etruria, and that was my aha moment. Skimming through the history, I could see land along the coast line was swapped like playing cards. Napoleon could declare himself King of Italy and give provinces to his sisters and brothers and call them anything he liked, and turn Italy into a dozen duchies, so why shouldn’t I? So somewhere on that Ligurian coastline (annexed by France in 1805), I created the grand duchy of Mirenze. So, my princess wasn’t really a princess except in her own country, which wasn’t really her country anymore. I do love the way my perversion comes together.

Princess(Princess Clothilde 1861) But as we look at these maps and realize how Napoleon almost single-handedly pulled Italy out of its feudal roots and into the 19th century, we’ve got to give the man some respect. Instead of a few dozen warring provinces and states with multiple leaders stabbing each other in the back and marrying their cousins, he eventually created a modern country with civilians instead of serfs. Put another way, he created a United States of Italy, except he had to put on a crown and ruin the effect. Europe did love its crowns.

And then he married all the aristocrats off to his plebian family and called them equal(that's one of his descendants in the photo)—except now Napoleon’s family hobnobs with half the aristocracy of Europe and aren’t faring too badly in the U.S. either. Did you know that a descendant of Napoleon's sister Caroline Bonaparte is actor René Auberjonois of Star Trek, Boston Legal, and numerous other productions? And a descendant of one of Napoleon's brothers was a US Attorney General. I guess that’s about as close to aristocracy as we have in this country. Pretty good job for an old Italian country boy.

So I think my princess-who-isn't-a-princess should be believable enough, I hope.

I’m not entirely certain why we enjoy reading about the aristocracy and royalty, but it certainly gave me a chance to play with culture and social clashes since my princess is actually a sailor’s widow and teaches school.

How about you? Do you prefer royalty to working class or vice versa? What is it about the fantasy that so appeals to us, especially Americans with no aristocracy to speak of?

The Palio de Siena—A Race for the Ages

AP-avatar Cara/Andrea here,  As the resident Wench “jock,” I occasionally jog off from the ballrooms and country houses for a swing through the history of sporting traditions. Tennis and golf—games grounded in the lawns and links of Great Britain—have been past subjects. But today, as I’m straying farther afield . . . I’ve just returned from an idyllic trip to Tuscany, where I was lucky enough to experience (sort-of) one of the most famous sporting competitions in the world—the Palio de Siena, a rough-and-tumble bareback horse race that originated in the Middle Ages.


Heart and Hooves
Palio-flags-2 The first thing to understand about the Palio is that it is much more than a mere sporting event. Passion, pageantry, pride—centuries of traditions and rivalries whip up emotions to a frenzy for the extravaganza that takes place each summer in the ancient hilltop city of Siena, Italy, as the 17 Contrade, or neighborhoods, compete against each other for the ultimate bragging rights as the Palio champion. The spectacle, a colorful gallimaufry of Medieval pomp and splendor, includes costumed rituals, ornate banners, the blessing of the horses in the Church, and a whirlwind ride around the dangerously steep and sharp turns of the Piazza del Campo.

Pageant-1 Piazza-di-Siena The Palio has its origins in the 14th century races that used to be run through the narrow streets of the city. Apparently the citizens of Siena enjoyed a variety of rather violent games when they weren’t at war with their neighbors, for the central square was often the site of boxing brawls, jousts and bull fighting. When the Grand Duke of Tuscany outlawed the pitting of man against horned beasts in 1590 (no doubt preferring to keep his soldiers in fighting shape for human opponents) the Contrade, or neighborhoods of the city, began to organize races in the Campo. The first ones were run on buffalo and donkeys, but in 1656, horses became the mounts of choice and the Palio as we know it today galloped into its special place in history.

A Ride Through History
  Bell-tower So, now let’s saddle up—in a manner of speaking— and take a quick ride through the details of the Palio. There are two races each year, based on religious calendar of the Catholic Church: July 2, which celebrates Feast of the Visitation, and August 16, the day after the feast of the Assumption, which celebrates the Virgin Mary. (The August date was added in 1701.)  In 1729, the race course was formalized as a circuit around the perimeter of Piazza del Campo. (Wooden barricades are put up and dirt is laid over the rough cobblestones for the two races, which circle the square three times and last less than 2 minutes.) 

Siena-duomo That same year also saw the limit of ten horses established, as the full complement of 17 too often ended in a melee of blood and broken bones. The annual slots rotate—the seven who didn’t race the previous year are automatically in, with the three additional places  Pageant-3 chosen by lottery. To avoid Machiavellian maneuvers (chiefly doping and bribery, though in the past horses were sometimes be poisoned by rival Contrade) the mounts are also chosen by lottery a week before the race, and no purebred horses are allowed. As you can imagine, these days elicit much cheering and gnashing of teeth throughout the city.

Palio-flag Caterpilars, Dragons, Porcupines . . .
The rivalries between the 17 Contrade are fierce. For natives of Siena, they are “Caterpillars” or “Giraffes” first, and Siennese second. The residents of the neighborhoods sport their own heraldic colors and beasts (my favorite banners were the Eagle and the Dragon, though the Porcupine was pretty cool too.)  In the weeks before the races, the ancient grey stone walls of the city come alive with Contrade flags, and, you will see people around the city sporting their allegiance in the form of lovely silk scarves.

Drappellone They are all vying to win the “Rag”—the Drappellone or Palio, which is a hand-painted banner, created by a different artist e
ach year—and the strategies go far beyond pounding hooves and sweating horseflesh. Preventing one’s arch rival from  winning is almost as important as one’s own victory, so the plotting and secret alliances between the contestants puts the  Borgias to blush. Tradition holds that the biggest loser is the horse that comes in second. On the course, jockeys must contend not only with the treacherous turns and steep slopes but also with flailing nerbi (a whip made of a dried bull’s penis) flying elbows and deliberate kicks. In other words, all’s fair in love and Palio!

Spectator seats for the race run dear. A good one can cost over $1,000, though one can brave the crushing crowds and try to get a rail position on the center infield. Where admission is free—but be prepared to get there hours early and withstand the hot Tuscan sun. So I decided to simply enjoy the energy and color of the city by visiting two days before the actual race. And to my delight, I discovered yet another tradition of the Palio . . .
Main-square Squaring Off
  At around 5 pm I took a stroll to the Campo, simply to see the course and the splendid bell tower that is an iconic image of Siena, but it quickly became clear by the fast-growing crowds that something special was starting to happen. Troops of children filed in to bleachers by the bell tower and serenaded Crowd the square with lusty exuberance—I was told that the songs were the Siennese equivalent of college football fight chants. Another spectator informed me that the whole hoopla was because the horses were about to come out for a practice round, something that traditionally happens on the three evenings preceding the race.

Girls-singing  Sure enough, the square quickly filled up to full capacity, and the reserved seating on my evening was packed with club members from the different Contrade. (I merrily began to climb up to an empty seat, much to the horror of the locals, who made it quite clear that tradition banned interlopers! A closer look revealed that no women were in Crowd-2 that section of the stands—they had their own enclave over in the corner.) The police quickly closed off the square with barricades, and a cannon blast signaled that the horses had entered the track. Amid wild cheering, they loped around at an easy canter, simply to become familiar with the noise and the twists and turns. Still, it was an amazing experience to feel the thrum of excitement making the very stones come alive.

Horse-5 After the three laps, the horses were each led off, followed by a procession of men from their Contrade singing at the top of their lungs. On the actual Palio day, the race is preceded by the Corteo Storico, a colorful medieval pageant of flag twirlers, costumed processions and traditional cavalry charges.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to experience the main event, but my small taste of the Palio was still a special experience. The chance to  witness living history, with all its rich traditions and colorful Horse-3 pageantry was truly memorable.

So what about you? Is there an historic event, be it sporting, musical, religious . . . whatever, that you would love to attend? Please share!