Sophie wants to learn French. Actually, to hear her tell it, she already is: “I’m learning French,” she declares boldly. Five year-old boldness. To that end I got her a couple of French first word books for her birthday. We have a few French picture books floating around the house too, Green Eggs and Ham, The Princess and the Pea, etc.
So I was looking for an app that might help her to learn. It would obviously have to be one that is audio only since she can’t yet read and write in English. I haven’t found it yet, but I haven’t been looking very hard. While I was looking about I got sidetracked by an app that is clearly not going to work for her but which I found very fun and I think will be useful for me to refresh my very rusty French. (I once knew enough to work my way through a novel in French with the help of a dictionary, but have never had much in the way of conversational French.)
This free online program is Duolingo and I’m really loving it. I’m not sure how much I’d like it as my primary method of instruction, but as a refresher or for drill for a beginning learner, it’s really great. I love the way it switches rapidly back and forth between listening and reading and speaking, between asking me to provide the French translation for the English phrase and then the English from either the written French along with the audio or from just the audio, which I find much, much harder. It uses the computer’s microphone to evaluate my pronunciation as well. It has a lot of repetition, but not so much that I ever got bored with a lesson. Instead, it moved pretty quickly from one new word or phrase to the next, drilling and repeating any time I made a mistake, but letting me advance when I performed well. I’m definitely going to stick with this for a while.
And maybe later I’ll try out the Italian—I know a little bit from my semester in Rome, but I never studied it formally except for that one semester.
Building a Castle
Speaking of French, though not actually related as steps in the rabbit trail. The other day I stumbled across this article about how the jobs of the future don’t require a college degree. It was a short piece, not an in-depth article, but it prompted an interesting discussion on Facebook. But what was even better it contained a link to this site about the future castle of Guédelon. This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. A team of fifty artisans are building a castle in Burgundy, France using the same techniques and materials used in the Middle Ages. All the trades associated with castle-building – quarrymen, stonemasons, woodcutters, carpenters, blacksmiths, tile makers, basket makers, rope makers, carters and their horses – are all working together to complete the castle. It’s like David Macauley’s Castle come delightfully to life. I have a new life goal: to get to France and visit this site while they are still building it. Bringing the kids with me, naturally.
It seems I do have some time. Work on the site began in 1997 and is scheduled to take 25 years to complete.
Guédelon is a field of experimental archaeology – a kind of open-air laboratory.
The aim is to recreate the site organization and the construction processes that might have existed on an early 13th century building site. Unlike traditional archaeology, which is concerned with cataloguing, excavating and analysing an existing structure, experimental archaeology puts this process into reverse. A structure is built from start to finish in order to obtain, following experiments and observations, a set of conclusive results.
Guédelon is a back-to-front archaeological dig.
“My normal work consists of carrying out research on existing ruins…In fact we mentally deconstruct the wall that we are studying. This can take us so far, but it remains an intellectual activity. Today, Guédelon is helping us to put ideas and research to the test. ” (Anne Baud – Archaeologist and Senior Lecturer at Lyon University)
I love this caveat posted on the site:
Guédelon is a genuine building site and not a staged performance. We do not programme demonstrations at set times. The order in which work takes place on the site is determined by the real demands of the construction process itself. Each task, each piece of work is undertaken strictly according to what needs to be done on site at a given moment.
Furthermore, due to its ever-changing character, activity on site differs from day-to-day. For this reason, it is quite possible that on each of your visits, you will see different tasks being carried out.
There are some short trailers and teaser videos on the site and I found a few more on You Tube. Also, there is a longer feature on the building of the vaulted ceiling in one of the towers that you can watch for $3 on Vimeo. I’m putting that on my to do list for the near future.
With delightful specificity, the castle’s imaginary history has it being built during the reign of King Louis of France, the saint. Our family feels especially close to him not only because I grew up in St Louis parish, but also because his younger sister Isabella is one of my Bella’s patron saints.
The historical context
Guédelon has adopted a specific historical timeframe. The start date for the castle’s construction is taken as 1229. Louis IX, the future Saint Louis, was crowned in Reims three years earlier in 1226; too young to rule, his mother, Blanche of Castile, acted as Regent until 1235.
Locally, Puisaye is under the control of Jean de Toucy. To the south-east lies the county of Auxerre-Nevers, controlled by Mahaut de Courtenay; in the north, the Capetian lands of Gâtinais. On the eve of the sixth crusade, Puisaye is enjoying a period of relative peace and stability.
The architectural context:
The future castle of Guédelon is an entirely new construction; there are no vestiges of a former castle in or around the site. The castle’s design is based on the architectural canons laid down by Philip Augustus in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Philip II Augustus, King of France from 1180-1223, is attributed with standardising the military architecture of castles in the French kingdom. Examples of this standard plan include the Louvre in Paris, Yévre-le-Châtel castle in Loiret, or more locally, the castles of Ratilly or Druyes-les-Belles-Fontaines in Yonne.
Castles built to this standard plan have the following characteristics: a polygonal ground plan; high stone curtain walls, often built on battered plinths; a dry ditch; round flanking towers pierced with single embrasured arrow loops, the position of which is staggered on each floor of the tower; one corner tower, higher and larger than the rest: the tour maîtresse; twin drum tower protect the gate.