One of many lovely places I’ve visited in Scotland is Stirling Castle, which has been a royal something-or-other (chapel, burgh, castle, residence) for going on a thousand years. Before that, because it overlooked the most southerly ford for the Forth River, it was a busy commercial center. One of the messages pounded home when you tour the kitchens there is, “Here, they ate better 500 years ago than we do now.”
Almost everything was locally produced (and organic of course). The diet was plant-based, bodaciously fresh, and included surprising variety given seasonal limitations. Fresh water oysters by the bushel, all the fresh-caught salmon you could want, game, eggs most days, a dash of dairy, fruits, greens, honey… picked fresh daily was the norm.
I forget what workshop I was at when somebody pointed that of course all those grand folks in the Regency and Georgian portraits looked lovely. EVERYTHING they wore was bespoke, chosen for the colors, fabrics, and specific fit that made the wearer look and feel great, from handmade shoes to specifically fitted eyeglasses. Even a poor child was dressed in handmade clothes that his family altered to suit his specific size. In a sense, those old guys and gals dressed better than we do.
My eye was recently caught by Salvatore Basile’s new book, Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything. Basile chronicles how an invention that we take for granted now was actually slow to catch on, in part because we had so many other measures for dealing with excessive heat–sleeping porches, siestas, parasols, swimming holes, hand fans, sunken basements, cold meals, iced drinks…. we were pretty savvy about keeping our cool. Not like now.
In a recent Facebook post, I asked readers what they might enjoy about a Regency lifestyle, and the answers included a darker night sky, greater abundance of all natural life, birdsong, scent and spice gardens, peat fires, sun-dried laundry, letter writing and exquisite penmanship, personal libraries of real books, live music everywhere from street corners to pubs to concert halls to family drawing rooms, farm-to-table menus by default… the list was long and varied.
In a time when we are faced with some tough problems–climate change, a pandemic, social media toxicity, an unregulated internet, global wealth concentration–it can be tempting think tech which is part of the problem) will solve all of our problems, and we just need to science our collective behonkis off, and we can make this all come right. I value science (see dad, two brothers, a sister-in-law who ran a Nobel-prize winning lab…), and I hope tech can become more of a blessing than a curse.
But I’m also struck by how often the solutions we had–eating locally and fresh, napping through the heat of the day, making music together instead of creating posts for privacy-mining social media platforms–were arguably better for us and for our planet than the ones we’ve adopted today.
Do I want to live without vaccines, TP, or my bedroom window unit? Nope, but neither do I want species extinction to continue at its present rate while the planet cooks, and social media suffers no consequences for engaging in purposeful, profitable, evil.
Is there any aspect of past lifestyles that might suit you better than modern alternatives? Any old-fashioned habits you keep close or would like to take up? To one commenter, I’ll send–irony alert!–a $50 Amazon e-gift card.