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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY SIXTY NINE Montaigne Meets The Duvet

There is something about straight lines in the built environment that betrays the a planner's hand. The city of Mannheim, where George Patton died, is a grid of roads anchored on the Schloss - not unlike cross-hatched Manhattan, where the long avenues are a perfect hundred feet wide, as are the two-way cross-streets, while the alternating one-way cross-streets are only sixty feet wide.

the fan-shaped Karlsruhe

Where we are now, in Karlsruhe, the roads, at the Margrave's command, fan out elegantly and regularly from Karl's 'Rest'. Thomas Jefferson came here once and sketched the layout – which he passed on to the architect of Washington, D.C. Jefferson was, of course a classicist - he was reading Seneca on his deathbed - so he would doubtless have been thinking of Hippodamus of Miletos, the "father of urban planning", who was using grids in 500 BC.

Michel de Montaigne, on the other hand, on his 1580 visit to southern Germany, would have seen little town planning other than a few Roman vestiges and some defensive fortifications. He was, however, particularly impressed by “the private houses, both in town and country ... beyond all comparison better than in France”.

Though Montaigne had only just finished hid decade-long stint writing his Essays, he kept a Journal of his trip through Switzerland, southern Germany and Italy. His purpose was to see Rome – but he also wanted to visit the spas en route, such as Plombieres in Lorraine (where the by-laws, in French and German, forbade “all prostitutes and immodest women to enter the baths, or to be found within five hundred paces of the same under penalty of a whipping at the four corners of the town”). Montaigne suffered the agony of kidney stones and hoped to find relief in the volcanic water.

Goethe was a fan of the Journal. It does have some remarkable stories - Mary, for example, one of a group of women at Chalons who “had secretly determined to put on male attire, and to live the life of men” and was “hanged on the charge of using unlawful appliances to remedy the defects of her sex.”

Michel de Montaigne

Montaigne came into Germany from the south and stopped first at Lake Constance where “we were badly lodged at the Eagle, and we got from our host a sample of barbaric German arrogance and independence over the quarrel of one of the serving-men with our guide.” In another hotel, Montaigne “made trial of the feather coverlets, such as they use in bed, and was full of praise thereof, finding them light and warm at the same time.” And in a third, he came across “a hot room, in which travellers go to get sweated .... and found there several Germans, who were being cupped and bled.”

He made extensive notes about the food being served in Bavaria in that autumn of 1580, and he has kindly offered this guest post on the subject:

“The villagers give their workmen for mid-day meal large flat loaves, made with fennel, and spread upon these a mess of bacon, cut very small and mixed with cloves of garlic.

They have great abundance of cabbages, which they shred with a tool made for the purpose, and then salt the same in vessels for making soup in the winter.

As to fare at table, they have such vast abundance of provisions, and vary the service so widely in the matter of soups, sauces, and salads, that nothing in our own way of living can be found to equal it.

They gave us soups made of quince, of apples cooked and cut into strips, and cabbage salad. They make pottage of all sorts, one of rice which they eat in common, having no separate service of this dish, an excellently flavoured one.

The kitchens are incomparably superior to those of our great houses, and the sitting-rooms are better furnished than with us. They have abundance of excellent fish, which is served at the table with the meat. Of trout they only eat the liver, and they have also great plenty of game, hares, and woodcocks, which they dress in a fashion differing from our own, but a good one all the same; indeed I have never met with meat so tender as that which was commonly set before us.

They serve with the meat cooked plums and slices of apples and pears, sometimes putting the roast first and the soup last, and sometimes reversing this order. As to their fruits, they have only pears and apples, which are both good, and nuts and cheese.

During the meat course they hand round a utensil, made either of silver or tin, having four compartments filled with divers sorts of spices. They also use cumin, or some similar grain with a hot stinging savour, as an admixture to their bread; this bread being made for the most part with fennel added thereto. After the meal they replace the glasses filled full on the table, and offer two or three sorts of eatables which serve to provoke thirst.”

Thank you, Michel.

Two films with Sarah Bakewell, who wrote the recent biography How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer:

- his life-changing experience -

- talking about her biography -

Life is Absurd: How to Live it? - Albert Camus -

Answering Montaigne's question at the Eco Village, Kew Bridge -

Bertrand Russell at 80 talking about his life -

Richard Overton at 109 talking about his life - He passed away aged 112.

Planning Washington DC -

This is Drake giving away $1 million in God's Plan -

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