Would we swap life today with the 16th century?

Would we swap life today with the 16th century?

May I taste your urine please?

I guess that this topic poses the assumption that anything might be better than the stresses and strains of our ever-more-complicated present-day lives; going back to a much calmer, much simpler time, like the 1500s.

But as my American buddy would say, “Hell, No!”

16th Century Dancing
16th Century “Country” Line Dancing

If I was lucky and lived beyond the age of 15, I might just make 30, or maybe even 35, before some plague or other would see to my demise.

I would have worn dresses up to the age of seven, and would have slept on mattresses stuffed with straw or thistledown.

At least my love of football would be catered for – well, an extremely rough version of the game, with no rules, and frequent broken limbs the norm.

When I got sick, the diagnosis would depend on the examination of my urine – its appearance, its smell, and yes, its taste………..

Society was generally violent and callous, and I can’t think of one reason to swap with my life today.

(Except, maybe, the lack of social media and the cowardly bullying and anonymous bile that goes with it. Oh, and not having TVs that show crap programmes like Love Island and Big Brother.)

But the biggest reason of all for not swapping the comfort of present day living is simply this: knowledge.

Back in the 1500s, I would know very little. Imagine, for instance, looking up at the sky at night, and not knowing what the hell was going on up there, not knowing about the galaxies, the stars, the planets, not really knowing anything.

It could be argued that by today’s standards, I also know very little. But here’s the point. I can learn. I Roger Baracan learn every single day of the year. I can gain knowledge whenever I want to. 

Swap with the daily dreary struggle of such a short life in the 16th century? No thanks, I’ll stick with what I have. I like it. A lot.

 

They are exhausted and didn’t do any work.

Years ago I was Educational Director for a unit of the US National Park Service; a colonial farm. I could speak His Majesty’s English, wore leather garters and had a silk ribbon in hair down the middle of my back. I used to be a gentleman.

One of my responsibilities was The Environmental Learning Center. We would completely immerse around sixty children in British life. The year was 1771 and we were proud to be British on that side of the Atlantic. 

In the ELC program, the children wore period correct clothes and learned about living. The only accommodation made was that food was stored on ice in the root cellar. It was out of sight. We didn’t and do not eat fresh (when was the last time you killed and gutted a chicken for lunch?).

Day One: Several school busses arrive and our quite farming life suddenly explodes in laughter and running. Usually, we have several staff backed-up by a couple of our volunteers. There is a short meeting and we show folks how a colonial period tent is assembled. Firewood is carried down to the centre of our settlement (several, small, well done reproduction buildings). And we start building our town. The school staff is frazzled; Park staff and volunteers have been to this rodeo before.

Mulled Cider
Mulled Spiced Cider

The children are excited, everything is new and different. They have been looking forward to this day for months. But first, lunch (called dinner) must be prepared. Parents are shown how to cook on cast iron over an open fire. After dinner we will make dyes from plants we find – “find” God we were good; the children and parents had no idea.

That evening a travelling minstrel walks into town with his fiddle and we learn how to line dance. There are lanterns and candles everywhere and the tavern is serving cider. This is magical… Our Troubadour is a volunteer, during the day he’s an International Law Attorney at the State Department. And that “fiddle” is no reproduction. It is starting to occur to some that they have dropped into a time capsule and they are being transported back.

‘Tis dark now and the teachers order their young wards to bed. The ordinary (tavern) remains open and real Colonial drinks commence to appear. I remain in character and the subject soon descends to politics. These outsiders commence a trifling conversation concerning His Majesty. We (professionals) are a bit taken aback by uncouth behaviour but don’t show any of it. Poor understanding proceeds amongst both groups … one of them mentions the kids and I foolishly endeavour to tell them about our new baby goats. Their ladies appear to have been learned nothing about proper behaviour. We pretend not to notice.

Day Two: Morning breaks and the children are no longer running. Breakfast must be prepared and we need more wood. Afterwards, dishes for sixty must be washed. Despite all this, we are excited because we get to visit the neighbour’s farm. 

Farm House
The Farm House

The farm family awaits our arrival and need help tending to a number of chores. I’ll help by herding turkeys through the tobacco. The birds are expert at spotting Horn Worms and ridding the crop of the beast.

After supper, we welcome a traveller on his way to the Royal Capitol, Williamsburg. He regales the assembled company with stories of his travels. In real life, the Traveller is my friend and volunteer Harrison. During the day he is a writer for Time-Life history books. His knowledge is incredible and even the children are now beginning to understand what they have stumbled into. Every word is the truth and the candles again create an air of magic. Engrossed, the outsiders fire questions non-stop into the evening. 

Its bed time and the children need no prompting. No ghost sounds, no flashlights shine inside canvas tents. For the first time, they are learning history and it’s physical. The mood is changing. We sit around the fire and it looks like a movie set.

Day Three: They get up and more chores await. The food is excellent and I’ll cut the little guys some slack. But we still need to keep our town running. We learn how we get wool… and depending on the time of year flax, into a fabric. Most are stunned at the amount of effort: an acre of flax will yield about a tablecloth of linen. Of course, we are only making little wool balls, toys for the children to take home. The girls will stitch and decorate their pockets.

After lunch it’s time to strike camp. The latrine must be buried and screens removed. The children are visibly dirty, hot, and tired. I feel good… for the first and only time in their entire lives, they know history. They understand what going back to a simple life would be like and they want no part of it. They walk, nobody runs.

Yellow busses will transport them back to a time where a shower, Mario & Ligui await. I’m sure they will all be in bed early tonight and sore tomorrow. But they learned about the simpler life on a farm. Photograph of Dean LewisHistory books are a joke and now they know the brutal secret. Except they don’t — no trees were felled and no wood cut. They are exhausted and didn’t do any work. 

 

 

 

 Anyone need a magic carpet?

…as I write this blog I’m flying high in the sky, at 31,000 feet above with the ground speed of approximately 950 kilometers per hour. I fly to the city of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, covering countless miles. I’ve never been there before yet. Being so high and fast, I understand that back in the 1500s even the Magic Carpet from the Arabian Nights could be on par with me. 

I also know that there are so many other things that people never dreamt of in the 16th century. First of all, it would take about a year via the Urals and Siberia to get to the shores of the Pacific. By the way, at that time the lands where the contemporary Vladivostok is situated now were a part of China and Russians haven’t heard anything about this part of Earth. In fact, my compatriots of the times couldn’t even get to Siberia yet!

Yeah, that’s easy: just imagine that people of the 25th century would think of us and how far would they go…

What else? The life span was definitely shorter and I am not even talking about various countless uncurable – and even curable – diseases. I mean, the quality of life really did suck then. Moreover, from 1547 to 1584 Ivan the Terrible was the country’s tsar so it was an especially funny time in Russia. 

Fur Traders
16th Century Russian Fur Traders

I mean, what is the point to trade the time of today – the time I am living now – for such a gloomy epoch? 

Yes, it was the time of the Great Geographical discoveries. In Russia it meant going further East, towards the rising sun, beyond the Urals mountains, deeper and deeper into Siberia, the land of unknown, rich and mysterious. 

 

Probably it would have been the only thing that would attract me to live in that age: be a part of the Cossack team bravely conquering the yet undiscovered lands, fearlessly fighting the local tribes in search for furs… only to die like a brave heart in a fight on the shores of the nameless Siberian river… I suspect it would have been better than to rot alive under the mighty and ruthless tsar back in Moscow.

To make a long story short, my answer would be ‘No’. I wouldn’t swap my life today even for a life of an Our Rusuk Blog writer Sergeyadventurer in the Russia of the 16th century. I am fine at home in my time and space. And no magic carpets, please. I’ll go for a Boeing 777. 

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