The song says that summertime is easy; this summer in Southwest France has been hot rather than easy. A canicule struck twice. That word is used to describe the weather when several consecutive days have very high temperatures and the night time temperature does not drop significantly either.
And another spell of 33c + is forecast for the weekend ahead and the days that follow.
So we shutter the shutters in the day time and open them early in the morning to allow what cool air there is to keep the house at about 25C, and fans on everywhere! And then we quickly shutter up again.
Something else that struck twice this summer was that Isabella of Angoulême: The Tangled Queen received a Discovering Diamond review for books 2 and 3! And when the review for book 3 says things like this…
In this particularly complicated period of English and French politics, Ms Lainé picks her way through the alliances and betrayals with meticulous care. Her dialogue concerning negotiations is handled expertly. She neither condemns nor glorifies Isabella’s part in it all and charts her rapid demise with both care and compassion…The writing is quite sublime – so often the scenes are mundane, everyday life, yet they are written with as much enthusiasm the more important passages. This can be read as a stand-alone, but I would recommend reading the previous volumes simply because this one was so good.
I am about to pop with pleasure and a degree of pride!
So August began very well indeed for Isabella of Angoulême.
How would people have managed to keep cool in heatwaves in the 13th century?
There was a period known as the Medieval Warm Period, (950-1250) which has known causes, higher than usual solar radiation and less volcanic activity. Volcanoes spew ash and dust which blot out the sun’s rays. And the ocean played its part too with warmer seawater flowing into the North Atlantic. This warming allowed the Vikings to travel further north than had been previously possible because there was less sea and land ice in the Arctic.
And along with heat came drought, which was very dangerous for everyone. Drought caused famine, countless deaths from dysentery and other illnesses caused by lack of safe drinking water, and the large-scale starvation of farm animals. Another disaster usually associated with heatwaves and droughts was fire, often destroying entire villages or even towns. Wooden houses became tinderboxes, dry peat, forests and undergrowth ignited readily and led to massive wildfire disasters.
To cope with heatwaves the ideas would have been simple, keep inside when the sun is at its peak, work outside early in the morning, soak a cloth in water and wrap it around your neck or put it on your head. And eat carefully because many foods were considered good for summer heat, when people were ‘overheated and dehydrated’. Fruit was considered medicinal especially grapes, figs and lemons. Fruit cooked with honey and put into pastries were very popular.
When I lived in Hong Kong cold drinks were frowned upon in the summer heat, especially by the older generation who thought it would upset the balance of your body. Confucius, Tao and medieval thinking collides! Tepid water was better than iced water and those cold canned fizzy drinks were not to be allowed. Our elderly Chinese amah warmed them up in a saucepan before she gave them to my two young daughters.
A drink that was warmed in medieval times was hippocras, wine sweetened with sugar if you were rich or honey if you were not. It was flavoured with spices; ginger and cinnamon were the favourites. After steeping the wine for a day it was strained through a sieve. In the illustration the sieve is the sleeve of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. He invented this sleeve of several filter bags hanging on top of each other, through which the liquid would seep down. Hippocras was served warm in the winter and we remember it today with mulled wine.
In the trilogy Isabella and Hugh drink wine several times.
Here is mention of wine from Hugh. It is Christmas 1220 and they are spending time together in Lusignan.
A flock of servants helped unpack the carts and Hugh strode into the Great Hall calling for peppery spiced wine and sweetmeats.
Later as Isabella and Hugh begin to fall in love they have a very special meeting.
The chamber was warm and inviting; the hearth glowed. Isabella handed Hugh a cup of the hot spiced wine smelling of the bark of sweet cinnamon. They sat opposite each other, sipping slowly. Hugh saw a beautiful woman tall and upright, very much in control, not the yielding sort.
A MEDIEVAL TABLE
Food and drink and all those domestic details help to make the world of Isabella of Angoulême ring true and give richness to the story.