Sunday, November 22, 2009

Item From the Past: The Bayeux Tapestry

Google News ran this tag line for an ABC News story this morning: "Shortly after making his first ever spacewalk, Bresnik, 42, experienced another first: His wife gave birth to a baby girl back in Texas while he orbited 200 feet above the earth."

I clicked through to the story itself, and of course the text read the correct "200 miles." But I had to laugh at the thought of the new dad astronaut floating by office buildings and over treetops. You'd think he could have come to Earth from only 200 feet to be with his wife at a time like this.

That's another thing. Regarding the capitalization of Earth, as in the planet Earth, the AP Style Guide says, "Capitalize earth only when using it in association with the names of other astronomical bodies that are capitalized," which seems to imply that if referring to the planet to by itself -- say, "Major Tom never came back to earth" -- lower case it. That's never made any sense to me. When talking about dirt, lower case. When talking about the orb on which we live, upper case, same as the continents, countries, states, cities, towns and streets on which we live. What do the other planets have to do with it?

Fifteen years ago we visited Bayeux, France, which I remember being a delightful little town. We went for three reasons: ultimately to catch a ferry across the Channel from Cherbourg, but before that to see D-Day beaches and other related sites, and to take a good look at the Bayeux Tapestry. I can't remember when I first heard of it. Maybe it was from Paul Freedman, formerly a professor at Vanderbilt, now one at
Yale, from whom I learned a great many things about medieval Europe, some of which I remember even now.

The Bayeux Tapestry is exhibited in a revamped 17th-century seminary, now a museum entirely devoted to it. Note the ticket refers to Queen Matilda's tapestry; Matilda, William the Conqueror's wife, is sometimes associated with its creation. No doubt school groups and the like show up from time to time to see the tapestry, along with some tourists in the summer, but on a weekday in November, I was the only one there besides a guard (Yuriko wanted to rest, and hadn't come). It's behind glass, or probably sturdy clear plastic, illuminated in a way that doesn't harm the fabric, I suppose, but which still makes it vividly easy to see. Bishop Odo himself probably didn't have such good lighting.

It's an astonishing, intricate piece of work -- actually an embroidery, despite the name -- made even more so for being a 900-year-old graphic novel. One that continues to inspire:

The link to the animated Bayeux Tapestry, for Facebook readers.

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