Friday, 12 June 2009

Loverly London

So, that's it for the Venetian output. The Marvellous Matafarri is now back in London for a good long stretch. As and when anything exciting (or not) happens around here, I shall attempt to drag myself away from the reams of secondary literature gathered in Croatia and Venice (surprisingly not that hard to do. I think it's called "procrastination") and put finger to keyboard for your entertainment and delight.

Horrible Handwriting 1,046,148

A tip for posterity; make sure you and / or your scribe / secretary / notary of choice has decent and clear handwriting. I know this is continuing an ongoing theme of this blog but really, I cannot emphasise enough how mind-bogglingly irritating it is to be faced with reams upon ream upon reams of vellum or parchment, packed full of wills, property sales, judicial proceedings, policy decisions or possibly even the answers to world peace and cancer... and not be able to make out a single letter of it.

This has been the lot of the good people of Negroponte, now known as Chalkis on the Greek island of Euboa. The city itself was part of the Venetian “empire” and was one of the first of its protectorates to fall, rather dramatically, to the Turks in 1470. This was not like Venetian Crete in the 17th C when there were loads of warnings that the situation just might end up in favour of the Turks (which it did). This in turn meant time was available to clear the various chancelleries of notarial documents, diplomatic correspondence and various other bits and bobs that collects in administrative drawers over the course of centuries, and ship it all back to Venice.

Not so for poor Negroponte. The locals foolishly bated the Turks by launching a bit of an amateurish sortie against them (burning tents, harrying chickens, that sort of thing... and maybe despoiling the odd Turkish corpse as well) in the spring of 1470: by July it was all over. Definitely no time for bundling up 250 year’s worth of paperwork for posterity’s sake. Although Venetian maritime support did arrive before the final curtain call, due to various degrees of government incompetency (e.g. making a scholar head of the navy. BIG mistake. I can vouch for that.), the galleys held back and the city fell to the Turks. Cue much enslavement of locals, ransacking of buildings and, of course, burning of notarial documents. Nothing destroys a people quite like the destruction of their history and memory.

But back to the 21st C. How does one try and reconstruct life in Negroponte circa 1470? To give the remaining ruins and other artefacts a sort of framework in which to come alive? Hmm... it’s a tricky one. One could try trawling through the thousands of notarial buste in Venice and hope to find something. Or how about a shortcut? Like...the notaries of Candia in Crete? As mentioned above this was another jewel in Venice’s Aegean crown and usefully one with which much trade was done by the Negoponteese. There are not so many notarial buste in the collection as to be nighmarish and Herculean but possibly just enough to get a taster of what the merchants were up to.

Or so you would think. Until thwarted by the truly harrowing and abominable scrawls of Francesco Vlaco (1464-1472), Nicolò Castelfilaca (1467-1497) and Francesco Castelfilaca (1470-1496) that I cannot imagine even passed as handwriting in the 15th C. To the three of you, as punishment for obliterating the posterity of your clients through your horrible handwriting, I condemn you to an eternity of ignominy. To Leonardo Pantaleo (1467-1502) however, I give you a gold star, for being vaguely legible.

And thus mercantile activities of the Negoponteese in Candia are forever lost and I am doomed to languish for an age and more in the notarial archives of Venice. Urgh.

Brits abroad

Good to see that some things don’t change and that an Englishman behaved in as nobbish a manner when inebriated abroad 650 years ago as today. It seems that on the 24th May 1364, Johanes Englesius, hospes, with a group of 10 other men was hauled up for trashing a tavern. Avogaria di Comun, Raspe, 3643, f. 70r


Death of a Notary II

Ah, fear not my patient readers... if there are in fact any out there. Our original notary has returned about 5 folios later. So it was either a holiday or a bad cold that stopped him mid stream.

Death of a Notary

It’s always a worry when the handwriting changes mid paragraph. It’s a bit like that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail when, upon reaching the dread cave of Kyre Banorg, the Knights of the Round Table find "carved in mystic runes upon the very living rock, the last words of Ulfin Bedweer of Regett" which state:

Here may be found the last words of Joseph of
Aramathea. He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail
in the Castle of uuggggggh.

The final word having been carved during the demise of the aforementioned Ulfin Bedweer of Regett.

In my case, I hope I will not be chased out of the Archivio di Stato by a Terry Gilliam-inspired, legendary Black Beast of aaauuugh, although that would certainly cause comment amongst the patrons of the reading room here.

But back to the main point; on the 21st October, 1361 a case was brought against Dominicus de Ruigo, marangonus, qui fuit ad laterand de penelo batiorium et fragend astam dictis penonis. What used to happen once a year was a big punch up between the calafati and the marangoni of the ship-building area of Venice, the Arsenale. Manly men being manly men, that sort of thing. It seems that Dominicus, another 8 marangone and about 4 calafati (FYI Avogaria di Comun, Raspe, 3643, ff. 16v-18r) were all hauled up to officialdom for being somewhat over exuberant in their beating up of each other. In the case of Dominicus though, mid sentence the handwriting and thus the notary changes quite dramatically. This either suggests a holiday or unexpected death thus rendering the scribe in question incapacitated. I would like to hope for a holiday but this being the 14th C, it was probably something decidedly less pleasant, like syphilis, TB or BO. Lovely.

It is these sorts of, at times, mildly macabre musings that keep one going in the archives.

By the way, Dominicus got one month in prison for his efforts.

Venetian Matriarchs

Obviously this one was written at some point in the depths of winter...

I want to be a Venetian matriarch when I grow up. These women own the city in the wintertime, scattering the few tourists aside in their wake as they perambulate about the town. These women have probably birthed a tribe of gondoliers before lunch, their ancestors were possibly doges who ransacked Constantinople or sea captains who kicked Turkish arse at the Battle of Lepanto. The frenzy of battle is only breath away in these Amazons. A flock of American / Indian / Japanese tourists blocking a calle are like lambs in a paddock, suddenly aware their is a wolf somewhere in their midst and they better get out of the way, pronto. The waves of humanity thus part for the Matriarch, a primal sense of respect breaks through all cultural barriers.

The uniform of these women certainly helps. Two fingers up at all the pain and suffering of small and attractively furry animals; the Matriarchs would wear a coat of woolly mammoth if the things were still extant having killed the beast themselves with a particularly poisonous glare. Head to toe in fur of some sort, these formidable, carnivorous creatures could eat a carrot-bothering, alfalfa-munching, mink-snuggling PETA supporter for breakfast should the opportunity arise. Brilliant.

Oh, and they use their power for both good and evil. Don’t even both trying to queue when these women are around. I never though a rugby scrum could ever actually occur in the butcher’s / baker’s / post office, never mind with such elegance. The fur, literally, flies.

Horrible Handwriting

You know, if I could build a time machine and change history in some way, I am sorry to say I wouldn’t do anything selfless for humanity. Examples where my input could help include:

• Making sure Archduke Ferdinand avoided Sarajevo in the summer of 1914
• Encouraging people to wash during the Plague of 1666
• Suggesting King Harold stand a meter or two to the left of right when that Norman arrow was enroute to his eyeball in the Battle of Hastings of 1066.

None of these would be on my “to do” list. In fact, I would be horribly selfish aiding only myself and those barmy few who need to read 15th C notarial documents. I would take aside all the notaries of Europe and say; “Look, for crying out loud. PLEASE write properly. Your 14th C forebears managed it with no worries and - trust me - your 16th C successors will also revel in their clarity of script. Although a significant proportion of your clients are illiterate, there is no excuse for such shoddy handwriting. In centuries to come, scholars (i.e. me) will spend hours agonising over whether the daughter of Elena of Zadar had been taken and possibly assaulted by Francesco and Rupert or if it was in fact a perfectly fair and respectable employment contract, offering Elena’s daughter employment and a roof over her head. Unfortunately, your handwriting is SO CRAP that the key verb looks like nothing more than the scratchings of a Neanderthal, only recently evolved from whatever ape came before, who thought the combination of a stick and some sand might be an amusing way to pass half an hour. Gah.”

Thus I hope to save the world (of mad archival-based types) from migraines, poor eyesight and disturbing interpretations primary sources.

The Medieval Miscellany Reboot. Kinda like the new Star Trek Movie, but not quite as cool. And fewer space ships.

Crumbs... has it really been almost six months since the last post? Oops... on the off chance anybody is still out there I shall stick up a few ramblings I jotted down whilst in bella Venezia. For now, a lovely picture of San Marco to help you get into the mood.

P.S. I did get completely shafted by the weak £ vs all powerful €. On the plus side I think the price hike certainly focussed the mind and ensured the coffee tasted very, very good indeed and the accompanying sugar-charged breakfast brioche was pure ambrosia.