Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Medieval Hospital

Continuing our visit to Hostel Dieu in Beaune, this is the main part of the hospital, with a row of beds on either side of a great hall.

At the far end from the main entrance is a chapel, convenient for helping 'medicine' (such as it was) along or for providing appropriate rites where 'medicine' failed.

I gather it was a major innovation at the time of its building.

For one, there was the provision of art, to help alleviate suffering.  

Also, the nursing sisters were given special training.  

The hospital was referred to as "The Palace for the Poor". 

However, it was terribly over-crowded.  Shortage of hospital beds is a perennial problem for the NHS, but nothing like I remember reading in The Seven Ages of Paris even before we went to France.   

I had to see what was behind the beds.  I think it said there were small
fires for heating, another major innovation.

I remember reading that part out to Bill, but I can't for the life of me find it again, or the bit I'd swear I saw on their website. Anyhow, the story goes that Louis XV visited the hospital and was shocked to see female patients and male patients sharing beds.  

He demanded that separate beds be provided for each gender.  

Theoretically, two men could still share but never mind, he did give a generous amount of money to keep the place going.

This is an 'N' (for Nicolas) and a 'G' for Guigone and the
word 'seule', meaning 'only'.

Consequently there is a room named for him and some of the wine sold under the Hospice label also bears his name.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Manchester City Centre

You may or may not recall that, along with a 'few' photos of Charlotte, I promised to share the sights of Manchester.  When we got back I was asking my friend Lucy if she'd ever been to Manchester.  Not surprisingly, her answer was "No.  When you live in the South of England, Manchester just isn't anywhere on the list of places you think to visit." Truth be known, if you live in the South of England, the whole of the North isn't on that list.  But that's fine; it makes it less crowded for those of us who know about it.

I think Helen was feeling a bit housebound as she was keen to get out and about.  There was a library I was hoping to see and Bill liked Helen's suggestion of visiting the Museum of Science and Industry.   We took the car and then walked around the city, snapping photos as we went.  Helen hasn't toured her home town properly since she took a job and moved there, so it was all new to her as well.

As we passed Manchester Cathedral (I got it confused with Winchester - the silly song, you know), Helen said it wasn't very big for a cathedral. 

Turns out it dates back to the 13th century and is also called Christs Church.  

This area is called the Medieval section. Manchester didn't really blossom until the industrial revolution fueled the enormous textile industry in that area.

I was intrigued by this very skinny building with the multi-story conservatory at the back.  So far as I can tell, it may be the Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants. Apparently there was a bridge built across this ditch and parts of it can be seen if one tours the Cathedral.  The Middle Ages must have been such a charming time to live, don't you think?  Me, neither!

Bill and I both took photos of this lovely Art Deco building.  Turns out it has an interesting history as well, with a pub license dating back to 1730.

Manchester has shopping opportunities such as a Harvey Nicks and Armani; don't you know I'd been hanging out there  were it in Newcastle (That's a joke, son).  

There is an All Saints in Newcastle and funny enough, the crafting ladies were just talking about how all those antique sewing machines they had in their window had disappeared.  Maybe they all went to Manchester?

I just loved this little building.  Apparently other people do as well, as it is a Grade II listed building.   St Matthew's Sunday School building used to be part of this grand structure, now gone.

We stopped for a coffee and saw other grandparents about.  That was kind of fun.  Maybe like ticking the next age category box, that experience felt like I moved into a new demographic category.

The category that has no desire to visit the Cloud 23 Bar that hangs on the side of Beetham Tower, to look down from the tallest building in Manchester.  

Friday, 22 February 2013

Part XXVIII – On Candlelight, Classicism and Curiosity

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen. His sixth chapter is titled Pecuniary Canons of Taste.

We’ll finish Chapter Six with this post.  A while back we noted how easy it is to increase one’s standard of living, but how difficult it is to cut back.   Any retrogression is viewed as ‘a grievous violation of our human dignity.’ This doesn’t prevent us from going back in time, however.  Veblen points out that for the past half dozen years or so (that would be in the 1890s, the Gilded Age, indeed it still holds true today), candles have been the preferred source of light at the well-appointed dinner table, chosen over oil, gas or electric light.  As it happens, candles were no longer the most inexpensive source of domestic light as they were thirty years previously.  He points out that the light they shed is of no use ‘for any other than a ceremonial illumination.’  Doesn’t he sound grumpy?

Veblen says that the perception of beauty has also been warped by the desire for novelty:  if something is ingenious or puzzling, a curiosity, then it is alleged to be beautiful.  He names a number of exotic hand-wrought items which have no function in a developed society, but rather than use his examples, I had another idea.  We sometimes tour grand houses such as those owned by the National Trust and many of those homes include a ‘curio cabinet’ just for the display of odd items picked up on their travels.  The items will perhaps not have cost a great deal at the point of acquisition, but they demonstrate wealth because of the travel required to collect them.

Veblen moans about this need for novelty in domestic and public architecture which, to be fair, was pretty over the top in his day.  In his view the ‘neglected’ sides and back of the buildings were their best features.

To polish off (ahem) some more of Veblen’s examples of how our definition of beautiful is influenced by the rules of conspicuous consumption, we’ll return to his earlier example of a hand-wrought silver spoon. He tackles the Arts and Crafts movement and names William Morris and John Ruskin as among those who highly valued hand-made items.  Of course, hand labour is the most wasteful form of production in a machine age. In order to fulfil all the pecuniary criteria, a hand-made object must display the highest level of skill but may not be so perfect that one could mistake it for machine made.  If it isn’t obviously expensive, it cannot be beautiful.

Another example is Morris’s Kelmscott Press.  Veblen qualifies his case as only applying to the economic question of book production. 
“Even a scientific periodical, with ostensibly no purpose but the most effective presentation of matter with which its science is concerned, will concede so much to the demands of this pecuniary beauty as to publish its scientific discussions in old style type, on laid paper, and with uncut edges. But books which are not ostensibly concerned with the effective presentation of their contents alone, of course go farther in this direction. Here we have a somewhat cruder type, printed on hand-laid, deckel-edged paper, with excessive margins and uncut leaves, with bindings of a painstaking crudeness and elaborate ineptitude. The Kelmscott Press reduced the matter to an absurdity — as seen from the point of view of brute serviceability alone — by issuing books for modern use, edited with the obsolete spelling, printed in black-letter, and bound in limp vellum fitted with thongs. As a further characteristic feature which fixes the economic place of artistic book-making, there is the fact that these more elegant books are, at their best, printed in limited editions. A limited edition is in effect a guarantee — somewhat crude, it is true — that this book is scarce and that it therefore is costly and lends pecuniary distinction to its consumer.”
In this desire to return to old-fashioned designs, Veblen believes
“the canon is to some extent shaped in conformity to that secondary expression of the predatory temperament, veneration for the archaic or obsolete, which in one of its special developments is called classicism.”

This affinity for archaic ideas is a theme he develops further in a later chapter.  For now, it comes to my mind that for many generations a ‘classical’ education was considered befitting of an upper class gentleman.  Veblen says he objects to this canon of pecuniary repute and the relationship with classicism because
“It is a regulative rather than a creative principle. It very rarely initiates or originates any usage or custom directly. Its action is selective only.”
Chapter Seven is Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


You'll have to excuse my repetition here.

Just as in my last post you may have noticed that when I'm really taken with something I photograph it a lot.

We're about to spend some time in a fifteenth century hospital called Hôtel Dieu or the Hospices de Beaune, according to their website though, as you can see, the front door says hostel.

Hospital / hotel / hostel, they all meant much the same back in 1443, if you remember this post about a more local medieval hospital.

It's an enormous place built by a man named Nicolas Rolin (1376-1462) with his (third) wife Guigone de Salins (1403-1470).

I found it interesting that Rolin's first marriage was part of a triple ceremony:  his widowed mother married a man and her two sons married two of the groom's daughters.

This might be an unlucky practice as all three brides were dead within a few years.

Rolin's next marriage brought him more money and status and the second wife lived for at least another 14 years.

He had four children by his first two wives.

He made his third marriage, to Salins (27 years his junior) in 1421 and the following year became Chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, known as Phillip the Good.

Salins' Wikipedia entry says that she encouraged her husband to do charitable acts, but when I was walking through the hospice I was thinking about Veblen's views about why the wealthy endow charities.  I wonder how famous either Rolins or Salins would be today but for this amazing structure.

Doing a bit of math I worked out that Rolin lived to the age of 86 but was only survived by his wife by eight years.

She died at the age of 67.

If I remember right, she fought to keep control of the hospice after Rolin's death but was ousted by his powerful sons, one of whom was Cardinal Jean Rolin.

Her own son, Antoine, merely served as Chamberlain to the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold (son of Phillip).  I think she ended her days in a convent.

Monday, 18 February 2013


We went to Manchester last week to visit Charlotte.  

Bill offered to do some gardening work while we were there, but the weather wasn't conducive. 

I think that was just an excuse to invite ourselves over anyhow.  Bill is besotted with his grand-daughter and I can't blame him.

For someone who doesn't like children much, for someone who prefers puppies to babies, I sure have found myself attracted to this kid.  

For one she's a good-natured thing.  She happily entertains herself with various toys and makes contented baby noises now and then.

She's alert as well as placid, particularly in the morning when she's looking around at everything. She gives the impression that even at five months she's taking it all in, a sharp observer who just doesn't say much.

Finally, she's easy to make smile or laugh.  

I found that just shaking her striped toy with the ribbons for its mane and cooing 'Pony, pony, pony!' just tickled her no end.  

I'd feel a complete idiot doing this as a rule, but everyone in that house is reduced to baby talk so it doesn't matter so much.

I'm looking forward to seeing her again next month at Bill's birthday party!

But don't worry, you won't have to wait another month for more baby pictures. we took Charlotte and Helen with us when we went exploring in Manchester.  I have some wondrous sites to share! 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Part XXVII – Beautiful Animals and Women

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen. His sixth chapter is titled Pecuniary Canons of Taste.

Last week we discussed beauty, expense and serviceability in cutlery, flowers, jewellery and lawns.  Veblen also addresses how the expensiveness or exclusivity of various items influence how beautiful we perceive them to be.

Take domestic animals, for example.  Barnyard animals such as fowl, pigs or goats are useful and so not particularly enviable as pets.  Instead, exotic birds, cats, dogs and fast horses are far more desirable, as they are (or were in Veblen’s time) items of conspicuous consumption.  Veblen does argue that the cat isn’t quite as reputable as the others as it can be useful (as a ratter) but also because
“…the cat’s temperament does not fit her for the honorific purpose. She lives with man on terms of equality, knows nothing of that relation of status which is the ancient basis of all distinctions of worth and repute, and she does not lend herself with facility to an invidious comparison between her owner and his neighbors.”

He allows the exception to this might be an Angora cat, on account of being expensive and therefore more beautiful.  No doubt today there are other breeds even more expensive and so more desirable, but please don’t try to convince me that those pathetic bald things are anything but a product of sick minds and genetic abuse.

Dogs are better as status symbols, being completely useless.  A dog’s ‘unquestioning servitude’ to his master strikes the right note. Veblen is likely not a fan of these creatures, however, saying that the dog is the ‘filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the nastiest in his habits.’
“For this he makes up in a servile, fawning attitude towards his master, and a readiness to inflict damage and discomfort on all else. The dog, then, commends himself to our favor by affording play to our propensity for mastery, and as he is also an item of expense, and commonly serves no industrial purpose, he holds a well-assured place in men’s regard as a thing of good repute. The dog is at the same time associated in our imagination with the chase — a meritorious employment and an expression of the able predatory impulse. Standing on this vantage ground, whatever beauty of form and motion and whatever commendable mental traits he may possess are conventionally acknowledged and magnified. And even those varieties of the dog which have been bred into grotesque deformity by the dog-fancier are in good faith accounted beautiful by many. These varieties of dogs — and the like is true of other fancy bred animals — are rated and graded in aesthetic value somewhat in proportion to the degree of grotesqueness and instability of the particular fashion which the deformity takes in the given case.”
So nothing has changed then.  Any attention given the dog is useless and without gain as well, so that devotion to one’s dogs also fits with the canon of expensiveness.

Of course fast horses are expensive, wasteful and useless in productive terms.  Horse racing is aesthetically pleasing and therefore popular.  While horses are not servile in the way that dogs are, it is gratifying to the horse owner to have a horse that can beat the neighbour’s horse, much in the same way that larger gems or bigger houses are gratifying, in that they feed the owner’s sense of aggression and dominance.  Of course, race horses are unsuited by nature of their build and temperament to doing any productive work. 

I’m sure it will be a gross exaggeration, but I’ll make the claim anyhow that class-conscious folks here in Britain are keen to establish themselves as ‘horsy’ if they can at all stretch to the claim.  A women I’d just met one evening told me out of the blue that since retiring she’d gone back to riding horses, something she’d missed since her childhood.  She didn’t actually smirk when she said it, but something about the way she shifted in her chair made me think of the word ‘preen’.  Funny enough, Veblen says that
“In this country [the US], for instance, leisure-class tastes are to some extent shaped on usages and habits which prevail, or which are apprehended to prevail, among the leisure class of Great Britain. In dogs this is true to a less extent than in horses.”

Apparently, even if an English horse isn’t as beautiful as an American horse, the English one will be preferred as ‘reputably correct, if not aesthetically true’ and this applies to all things horseman-like, the clothes, the riding method, the tack, etc.

When we apply the canons of pecuniary taste to women, Veblen says
“It is more or less a rule that in communities which are at the stage of economic development at which women are valued by the upper class for their service, the ideal of female beauty is a robust, large-limbed woman. The ground of appreciation is the physique, while the conformation of the face is of secondary weight only.”

Certainly during the Victorian era, women were expected to bear a lot of children in order to have a male heir in a time of high infant mortality.  If that is what Veblen meant by ‘service’ then perhaps he is correct.  There was a time during the late 18th century when being very thin and pale was fashionable and the flimsy clothing styles seemed to help women to achieve the frail health required to be stylish; I'm not sure if Veblen's observation holds true during that period.

Older novels tell us that girls were keen to have a ‘nice nose’, 'soft hands' or ‘bright eyes’ but I couldn’t comment on whether it was in the past more important to have a pretty face or a good figure.  However, we do know that in poorer societies where food is dear, a woman with a plump figure has been considered more attractive than a skinny one.  The opposite is true (at least amongst women’s opinions) in developed societies where food is plentiful.  I won’t try to debate why so many of us wrestle to keep a healthy weight, only to say that whatever option is the more expensive, that is the one held in the highest esteem.

Other markers of wealth that have been considered beautiful are tiny feet, dangerously high heeled shoes, hobbling or tight skirts, extraordinarily long fingernails, painfully tight stays or corsets, ridiculous bustles, very long and full skirts, extremely tall hair dos and/or hats, fine and impractically fragile clothing.  All are markers and makers of women who are useless, non-productive show pieces for the purpose of enhancing the reputation of their men.  To have usable feet, a normal waistline, to wear trousers, etc., were considered vulgar, common and indecent in spite of the fact that many of these fashionable and expensive requirements involved a hideous distortion of the female form.
“But the requirements of pecuniary reputability and those of beauty in the naive sense do not in any appreciable degree coincide. The elimination from our surroundings of the pecuniarily unfit, therefore, results in a more or less thorough elimination of that considerable range of elements of beauty which do not happen to conform to the pecuniary requirement.”

So, I gather, is Veblen’s explanation for why some really ugly things are sometimes considered to be ‘beautiful’. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


The largest city near to Meursault is Beaune, about 9 km (6 miles) away.  We cycled there one day to see the sights.  There were plenty things to see.


There were children's facilities in this city centre park.

No idea how old this building is, but isn't it grand?


Lots of little side streets seemed designed just to highlight another wonderful building.

Just in case any Brits got homesick...


I think Dali and his work are strange. But no stranger, perhaps, than coming upon someone who keeps odd objects on display in their courtyard.



I think I've seen something similar outside a residential care home in Whitley Bay, come to think of it.  This French one is more...artistic.


Bill and I were both enchanted by this tiny bit of 'park' at the intersection of three small roads.  


Behind it was an old, building.  We both found it beautiful, strange as that sounds.  I couldn't help but wonder what stories it could tell.  

There is no doubt a great deal more of Beaune to see, but we spent most of our day seeing what is probably their leading attraction.  Three guesses what the next post will be about?