Grilling salmon led me to contemplating several nonfiction library books, such as “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England” by Ruth Goodman and “Courtesans & Fishcakes” by James Davidson.
Davidson’s book looks at the ways the ancient Greeks lived and loved, while Goodman’s covers the same topics for 1600 England. One of Goodman’s chapters, “All Kissy Kissy,” looks at how popular smooching by kissing hands was in Good Queens Bess’ day; however, Goodman cited “Chirologia,” a 1644 book by John Bulwer, stating Bulwer was “a divine” whose book was intended “to help preachers communicate by employing hand gestures in their sermons.”
Bulwer was “an English physician and early Baconian natural philosopher,” according to Wikipedia, and didn’t graduate from college, so he couldn’t be a minister. He did obtain a degree in medicine and became pals with Francis Bacon who called hand gestures “Transient Hieroglyphics” and suggested that he study them, and soon, “Chirologia: or the Natural Discourse of the Hand” was published. Bulwer wasn’t interested in deaf communication (although he apparently adopted and raised a deaf girl) but in describing “gesture as a universal character of reason.”
Bulwer described the hand-kissing fad then popular, mostly among men, as follows: doff your hat, “step forward in an elegant bow,” take the target’s hand, and plant your lips “squarely on the center of the back of their hand.” However, if your kissing target was socially superior, or a woman, you hovered your maw “a fraction over the hand in a move that implied you didn’t feel worthy.” When hand kissing became passe’, “the person of lower rank kissed the back of his own hand and then gestured, with the kissed back of the hand, towards the object of his devotions.” Face kissing was popular, too. Erasmus wrote that in England, “whenever a meeting takes place, there is kissing in abundance … you are never out of it.”
“Courtesans & Fishcakes” was particularly relevant to salmon grilling, for no people on Earth have ever appreciated eating fish like the old Greeks. Sicily produced the first cookbooks, and soon thereafter the Greeks followed packing them with recipes for preparing every sea creature possible. The Greeks adored wine, too, aging it but ignored vintage, and drank watered and flavored versions: “The wine itself, in the raw and undiluted form rarely tasted by the Greeks, was often sweet and … towards the upper end of the potency scale at 15-16% … usually had bits of grape and vine debris floating in it,” and was “somewhat tannic.”
Archestratus, a famous gourmand, recommended “Bybline, the wine that hails from holy Phoenicia.” “Contra Archestratus,” Davidson opined, Bybline “probably came not from Phoenician Byblos, but from an area in Thrace.” Having once lectured on American public library practices in Bulgaria, the ancient Thracian heartland, I was told that they invented wine-making and believed it after tasting phenomenal dollar bottles of their incredibly good wine, and learning that Dionysius, the Greek’s mythological god of wine, arrived in Greece from the Balkans, aka Thrace.
Britannica tells us ancient Byblos, called Gebal in biblical times and known as Jubayl today, was 20 miles north of Beirut and the leading Phoenician trading center. Along with their alphabet, the Greeks imported so much Byblosian papyrus that “byblos” became their word for “book or a collection of books.” “Biblos” was the Roman spelling, and St. Jerome, the patron saint of librarians, referred to the his collection of holy writings as the “bibliotheca.” That’s why libraries in France are “biblioteques.”
“Librarie” was 14th century French for “a collection of books,” from the Latin “libraria,” a booksellers. It came from “liber,” Latin for “book, paper, parchment,” which originally meant “the inner bark of trees,” which was sometimes used as a writing medium. Following a trip to France I had to edit my calling card. Turns out that “rogue” in the raffish “rogue librarian” under my name has very bad connotations there and so “rogue librarian” means something akin to seller of naughty books, or adult bookstore owner in France, where bookstores are “libraries” and libraries are “biblioteques.” Now my revised card reads “feral librarian,” which doesn’t sound nearly as fishy, at least in French.
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.