Thursday, 20 February 2014

A Long Walk

Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), pp. 318-323.

For just over four pages, Manson Everard of the Time Patrol walks through twelfth century Sicily. Poul Anderson knows enough of the history to describe what he sees at every step.

Everard walks east on a dry dirt road past mountains, farms and prosperous looking countryside with the sea, bearing a few sails, ahead to his left.

He sees:

houses, sheds, cultivated fields, thatched-roofed cottages, orchards including Saracen-planted date palms, churches, a distant monastery or abbey, peasants - with burdens on heads, shoulders or donkeys - descended from local tribes, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Italians, Normans, French and Iberians - serfs, peddlers, priests, monks, estates with terraces, gardens, fountains and mansions, servants, eunuchs, a golden-chained Norman lord on a stallion and his lady on a palfrey with body servants and guards, a Saracen gentleman and his attendants.

Everard knows that the Normans have given the defeated Saracens good terms: rural Muslims became serfs but urban Muslims kept their property, paid reasonable taxes, lived under their own laws and judges, were free to practice religion and trades, were valued for their learning, sometimes holding high positions at court, provided shock troops and were influencing the language. Orthodox Christians and Jews were tolerated. There was material wealth and cultural brilliance.

He enters Palermo: gorgeous domes, spires, crowded streets cleaner than elsewhere in Europe, in the harbor Mediterranean and Northern ships - merchants, riggers and war galleys - warehouses, chandleries, booths, shops, a laden camel, slaves bearing litters, housewives, a Jewish rug seller, a rabbi with scholars, a Greek tavern, a Saracen potter pausing for prayer, a tool-carrying artisan, beggars, a busking harpist, the walled district of markets and souks, the Friday Mosque, and at last the silk shop that is his destination.

Anderson could, of course, have taken Everard straight to his destination and we would have missed all those rich details.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I agree with you in appreciating how Poul Anderson had Manse Everard giving us such a detailed look at Sicily and Palermo thru his eyes. A lesser writer would have simply taken Everard quickly to the silk shop and more impatient readers would unfortunately skip the richness of detail Anderson gives us.