Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 11, Part 1

The day of our patroness falls in the fading of winter. Then do we make merry: the journeymen perform the sword dance in procession, leaping and fantastic; the masters light the ruined chapel in the Grand Court with a thousand perfumed candles, and we ready our feast.... I have heard it said that no less than one hundred and thirty-five guilds have members laboring within the Citadel walls. Of these, some (as we have seen among the curators) are too few to keep their patron's feast in the chapel, but must join their brothers in the city. Those more numerous celebrate with such pomp as they may to raise the esteem in which they are held. Of this kind are the soldiers upon Hadrian's day, the matrosses on Barbara's, the witches on Mag's, and many others.
I mentioned the sword dance in a previous post. It's where the Matachin Tower gets its name. Sword dances were performed by certain guilds in the Middle Ages, and there was a similar profusion of guilds. Guilds in the Middle Ages also had patron saints, and threw drunken feasts celebrating the elevation of members to the next guild level. Modern universities take note.
  • St. Hadrian (or Adrian) is the patron saint of soldiers and, amusingly, butchers.
  • matross: a soldier of artillery, who ranked next below a gunner.
  • St. Barbara is in fact the patron saint of artillerymen. Everybody has a saint!
  • Mag: This is probably a short form of Magus. There's no St. Mag, but Mag is a form of Margaret. There are lots of St. Margarets, but the only connection I see is that St. Margaret of Antioch, St. Barbara, and St. Catherine are all in the Fourteen Holy Helpers. This might also be a nod to the character Magwitch from Great Expectations. The name Mag sounds familiar. I feel like I'm missing some connection here.
None but torturers, then, come to the chapel on Holy Katharine's day. Yet each year (knowing we are watched from high windows) we prepare as do all the rest, and more grandly. Outside the chapel our wines burn like gems in the light of a hundred flambeaux; our beeves steam and wallow in ponds of gravy, rolling baked-lemon eyes; capybaras and agoutis, posed in the stances of life and bearing fur in which toasted cocoanut mingles with their own flayed skin, clamber on logs of ham and scale boulders of new-baked bread. Our masters, of whom, when I was made journeyman, there were only two, arrive in sedan chairs whose curtains are woven of blossoms, and tread carpets patterned of colored sands, carpets telling of the traditions of the guild and laid grain by grain by the journeymen in days of toil and destroyed at once by the feet of the masters.
This is a great description of how lavish the feast is. The sand paintings are a nice touch. I knew that Tibetan Buddhists made them, but I learned in my reading that some people make them on the Dia de los Muertos. I find it telling and a bit presumptuous that I found this info under "Modern Culture" on the sandpainting wikipedia page, after they described the sandpaintings of Native Americans, aborigines, and Tibetan Buddists. All those groups of people still exist, I believe. What's so modern about the Dia de los Muertos? capybara: pig-sized tailless South American amphibious rodent with partly webbed feet agouti: agile long-legged rabbit-sized rodent of Central America and South America Yum. Rodent. Interesting that they're both from South America. St. Katharine (Catherine) is an important saint who was condemned to die on the wheel by Emperor Maximinus, but when she touched it, it shattered. He then ordered her beheaded. This is the same Maximinus that beheaded the saint that Thea is named after when she rejected his unwanted advances - he was a busy guy. Wolfe has the Torturers and a mystery woman reenact Katharine's legend. The mystery woman was "tall and slender, though not so tall nor so slender as Thecla, dark of complexion, dark of eye, raven of hair. Hers was such a face as I have never seen elsewhere, like a pool of pure water found in the midst of a wood." Lovely. In the torturer's version, "our patroness is condemned by Maxentius," not Maximinus. Maxentius was another Emperor contemporary to Maximinus. There were apparently four (or five) simultaneous rulers of the Roman Empire in those decades right before Constantine. And this is by design. Seems like a big mess. Wolfe is not one to make that kind of mistake, I think, so he changed the name on purpose. I can't tell what he's getting at, though. Let me know if you have any ideas. I guess I'll get to the symbolism of the actual ceremony tomorrow.

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