|Photo by Anssi Koskinen from Turku, Finland|
It is now exactly two years since the History Girls began, on 1st July 2011! In that time we've had over half a million hits, almost twice as many from the US as from the UK, where most of us live. Hello to our 74 Followers in Russia and 52 in the Netherlands.
The most hits ever (over 12,000) have been for Leslie Wilson's post on Maria von Maltzen on 23rd July last year. There have been nearly 750 posts. History Girls have come and gone. We've even had some History Boys as guests, starting with Kevin Crossley-Holland; our guest for July (29th) will be Tudor historian John Guy.
High spots have included Hilary Mantel on the publication day of Bring up the Bodies last year and posts from Tracy Chevalier and Ian Mortimer. We are proud to cover both fiction and non-fiction.
We had to disable Anonymous Comments, since they were getting to be a real pain for Admins to monitor and remove. We hope this hasn't proved a problem for those wanting to comment.
We joined Twitter, as @history_girls and have reached 2,000 Followers. And we have a Facebook page.
So a very good couple of years and we are still going strong! As a birthday game, as many of us as possible are going to play Time Machine.
Here's how in works. Ian Mortimer has writte two very successful non-fiction titles called The Time-Traveller's Guide to the Middle Ages and the TTG to Elizabethan England, of which there has been a television version recently.
So you need to enter the special History Girls Time Machine, twiddle a few dials to make it look scientific and take yourself back to whatever time and place you prefer. Tell us why and what your sensations are - good and bad.
I'm going to start us off by setting the dial to Florence, Italy in 1503. I have spent a lot of time there already, researching my novel David, about Michelangelo's statue, so it will be interesting to see how the reality measures up.
I think I should have specified a month. It's cold and rainy and I was hoping to get away from the UK's miserable attempt at summer! The first thing I notice is the noise: hoofbeats, harness, the clanking of swords, market traders calling out their wares and - since I must have arrived at midday - the sound of bells from hundreds of church campaniles.
|Photo by sailko|
I recognise myself to be near the Duomo of Santa Maria dei Fiori, which was as much a landmark then as it is now. If I climb Giotto's elegant Campanile the view below will be much the same as it is today. But I have vertigo, so I think instead I will walk behind the cluster of chapels under Brunelleschi's mighty Cupola and visit the Operai del Duomo.
My clothes are attracting a great deal of interest or maybe it's my short red hair? I'm hoping to see if Michelangelo will let me into his improvised workshop to see the David but he is such a bear, even at 28, that I don't fancy my chances ....
Oh wait - we seem to have had a power cut. Back to the present. Now it's someone else's turn to step into the machine.
My turn, I think, Mary! And I'm on a Viking merchant ship, a knarr, and of course it's midsummer with its long days and short nights, the middle of 'Sun-month'. There's a beautiful blue sky and a light wind: perfect sailing weather. We're tacking up a Danish fjord, with a cargo of greasy, strong-smelling fleeces rolled in the open hold. The square brown sail towers over me, and I can hear the chuckle and truckle of the water running along the sides of the ship and under the bottom boards.
We're getting too close to shore on the port side. The captain, Thorstein, a thick-set man of perhaps thirty-five, calls to his crew to change the tack. The sail takes on a life of its own, flapping, billowing. "Haul!" The yard comes around, the man on the braces hauls down and fastens the sheet to the tack stick, and we've changed direction and are heading back across the fjord on the new tack.
Except for the man at the steering oar, the crew settle down to play dice on the afterdeck. Sailing is easy in such pleasant weather: they have nothing much to do until it's time for the next tack. I trail my arm over the side and look down. Close under the boat, the surface of the water is dark,with clusters of white bubbles. Further away it is shining pewter picked out with silver glitter and little scribbling ripples. Some of the men look up from their dice as a black cormorant dashes past, low above the water.
They don't seem to find my presence strange - maybe they think I'm the captain's wife or sister? Maybe even Captain Thorstein thinks so? At any rate, he sits down with his back against the side and stretches out his legs. He has straw coloured hair and beard, and one eye missing, but he smiles at me. "So," he says shyly, "you wanted to hear tales about trolls?"
I am in a long corridor with frescoed panels: vegetable designs of lotus and papyrus on backgrounds of jade green, bulls-blood red and butter yellow. The black marble floor is smooth and cool under my bare feet. It is hot. But the heat is dry and makes my nostrils prickle. When I inhale, I catch the whiff of an exotic scent – sweet and cloying – that I smelled once in Cairo. I can hear the distant throbbing of cicadas and a strange rhythmic jangling of some kind of cymbal.
Now I hear voices. I don’t understand the language and yet it seems familiar. Greek? Yes, Greek! But not the Classical Greek I learned at U.C. Berkeley. This is a guttural Greek, her words slurred by an exotic accent and his words blurred by tipsiness. I move away from the rhythmic jangling towards the sound of their voices. My bare feet are brown and small. I am wearing an unbleached linen shift and nothing else. I can feel my straight black hair brushing my brown shoulders. I am so slim! Slim and light. My skin is fresh. This time machine has transported me into the body of a ten-year-old slave-girl! What will they think of next?
I am guessing it is early afternoon, the hottest time of the day. But the design of this palace catches a faint breeze that lifts my straight black hair and cools the moist back of my neck.
|blue lotus from Egypt|
Now I can see the arguing couple. They are standing by a splashing indoor fountain near a dining couch. She is wearing a linen shift like mine, but her body is fully developed. She must be forty years old. She has olive skin and a strong nose. Her dark eyes are bold with kohl and greenish-blue shadow. Her hair is glossy and black like mine. But even as I watch, she removes it. A wig! Underneath her frizzy dark hair is shot with silver. She starts to unpin it and it blooms over her shoulders.
The man in the unbelted red tunic steps forward. He buries his right hand in the hair at the back of her head and pulls her forward into a kiss.
She is small. Not much taller than I. He is almost six foot and good-looking apart from a small pot belly. Grey in his hair, too. And it’s thinning. Obviously Roman. I can smell the sour scent of wine, more vinegar than vintage. And that elusive scent again. Now I know! It’s blue lotus. A heavy cloying scent not unlike vanilla or patchouli. But they don’t have either of those here.
For I know now. I am in Alexandria, Egypt about thirty years before the birth of Christ. I am in the presence of Cleopatra and her lover Mark Anthony.
Now they are locked in a passionate embrace, their argument forgotten. I am only the slave-girl, invisible to them. Should I stay or should I make a discreet exit? You decide!