Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Diesel-Fueled Time Machine on Winter Setting

My  medieval self(ie)
Ok, it's not really a selfie.
I started to memorialize my everyday
Medieval Ellis Island Baba Yaga
Goes to Market look,
but The Teenager stopped me,
because apparently moms
are already lame enough
without being selfie-takers .
For historians, a stint in a place like Nepal should be mandatory. Like basic training in the Army. Literature scholars could use it too. And filmmakers. I can arrange it, for a small fee.

We live here with a foot dipped into Medieval Normal. Not Medieval Exotic (which is the tourist experience), but Medieval Normal. That struck me in a visceral way last evening, as I flipped a shawl over my head against the night's chill and headed down the lane with the other triangular shapes of shawl-encased women, all strolling to the street market where vendors sat at their carts in the dark and children hovered nearby at a fire. I bought, naturally, some turnips. (What else would I buy, dressed in a shawl?)

In our Medieval Normal, water for washing has to be hauled at times from the well, and clothes don't dry if there is no sun.

This morning I woke to the sound of a gayin, a minstrel going house-to-house and singing outside the gate for spare change or his daily bread. (Well, a bowl of rice poured into his sack.) It was normal so I went back to sleep.

Hawkers come down the street chanting their wares, knives to grind, knives to grind. 

The Teenager wears a wool cap inside; my husband has a nightcap. We take sartorial tips from Clement Moore. Mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled down for a long winter's nap  ... 

You don't bundle up to go outside; you bundle up because it's winter. You don't step out of the cold into toasty homes, because they're not. We have no central heating. No matter how privileged you are, you will huddle all winter in shawls and blankets, by sources of heat that come with flames. There'd be a democratic justice in that if the poor didn't end up relying less on heat (since fuel costs money) and more on getting really, really tough. Which they do. Do not mess with a poor person from the "developing world." They will out-tough anyone who hasn't come through a time machine. Although if anyone from the past ever does step through a time machine, take my word for it: Definitely do not mess with them.

OK, Jon Snow, you are hot, but not THAT hot.
Put on a hat. Like your mama says. (Oh. Sorry.)
In our Medieval Normal, we keep candles because we need them, and sometimes have to read by their light. OK, we also watch videos by them, because the not-very-medieval inverter that stores backup power will howl (literally) and plunge us into historically accurate darkness if we suck it dry with a big outrageous modern demand like Lights Plus Video Player. But it does add a dimension to Game of Thrones if you watch by candelight under a blanket. The Wall looks really cold. It is ridiculous that Jon Snow never wears a hat.

Of course, Nepal isn't the past. The Teenager ate a Snicker's bar last night while working on a PowerPoint. We can order pizza, although there are no street names or addresses, so we have to give verbal directions from "the big tree" or draw a map with an X, which is also what you do when you open a bank account or enroll in school or order furniture or, well, anything that involves an "address." Somewhere in the dusty files of Nepali banks and schools and shops must be vast stacks of what seem to be pirate maps. The  customer's address? Yes, we have it right here, X marks the spot. A few paces from ... is that a sketch of a tree or a utility pole? Well, go to the street and you'll figure it out. Which street? Oh, it says right here: "the street by the blue gate, near the school." Blue gate, school, tree. Or utility pole. You'll find it. And anyway, here's the mobile number. It's the modern world, after all. 

A heater! A heater! My kingdom for a heater!
Notice her clothes. "Gaudy," you say? "Warm," I say.
We do have internet, much of the time, and the flames that warm us come from gas cylinders that roll around in cabinet heaters whose turn-on sound of click click causes the instant appearance of the dog. (Everyone seeks comfort, even if they have fur. Unless they're Jon Snow.)

So it's a dip of a foot, not full immersion. Our Medieval Normal comes with gas, google, and HBO on DVDs with Chinese subtitles. But there are moments. And they happen each day. To live partly outside the 21st century Comfort Bubble may sound hard, but it's also an amazing  privilege. How many people have daily moments that touch the past, and live where an ordinary walk to market is a connection across the centuries?

Hmmm. I hope there's electricity right now, and water in the tank, and gas in the cylinder that heats the contraption that heats the water for the shower, because I hate to haul and heat water on the stove to bathe. What did I say again about this being a privilege?

I get it about Elizabeth I and her once-a-month baths. I really do. But Game of Thrones, with the hot-spring water under the castle floors at Winterfell? They were totally cheating.

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