Sunday, December 2, 2007


I've always realized that I'm not a normal healthy person, because reenactments of historical happenings bore me to tears. The worst of all are reenactments of military battles in which lines of soldiers in colorful clean uniforms stroll slowly across green fields, towards other lines of soldiers in clean uniforms of another color, while firing blanks from their fake muskets, giving rise to a lot of noise and smoke. Every now and then, several actors are programmed to fall to the ground, enabling them to take a rest until the next scene of the reenactment is planned to start. There's no blood, of course. Those quaint tailor-made costumes are costly, and it would be stupid to stain them with tomato sauce. There's no mud either, because reenactments of battles generally take place in fine sunny weather, when the organizers can expect to attract crowds of onlookers with their children.

Not surprisingly, in the reenactment domain, the champions are Americans, with their Civil War. [Click the above photo to visit their so-called reenactment headquarters.] The male participants can dress up to look as handsome John Wayne or Clark Gable. They can sip Kentucky bourbon whiskey and talk about their business affairs while waiting for the action to start. Unlike Hollywood extras, they're not paid, of course, but they don't have to spend their time dodging out of the way of crazy Red Indians on horseback.

In the Old World, a popular reenactment theme is that of life in a medieval village. Everybody knows that medieval folk spent most of their time dancing to medieval music, and watching jugglers [who also bore me to tears]. In those days, young ladies looked like creatures painted by Botticelli, and life was constant medieval revelry.

Recently, on TV, I saw a program about the reenactment of people in prehistoric times crossing the Alps on foot. Over a period of several months, two Swiss guys were trained for the challenge by a team of experts. Everybody was determined that every aspect of the reenactment—to be filmed by a TV crew—should take place in as authentic a way as possible. So, the two brave fellows had to be clothed in a prehistoric style, feed themselves as best they could along the way, and find a cavern to sleep in, or build a shelter, every evening. They were shod in specially-made prehistoric sandals, but these soon fell to pieces. And when one of the walkers ended up with infected blisters on his feet, he had to see a medical practitioner and receive a shot of penicillin. They were unable to catch any fish, and soon ended up so hungry that, when their itinerary brought them alongside a Swiss hotel, they asked for food. In general, the fact that we were able to follow the reenactment of this adventure on TV meant that the two latter-day prehistoric walkers were never really as far removed from civilization as TV-viewers were supposed to believe.

As a child, I was thrilled by a film about the raft Kon-Tiki on which the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and five companions drifted from South America to islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They were trying to prove that this is how Polynesia was populated.

Today, there's a major maritime reenactment on the horizon. Turkish adventurers intend to demonstrate how the great French Mediterranean city of Marseille was founded in Antiquity, around 600 BC, by Greek settlers from the port of Phocaea in Asia Minor.

The instigator of the project—a Turkish archaeologist named Erkurt Osman—has built a replica of an ancient boat, to be rowed by four dozen oarsmen:

If all goes well, the boat—named Cybèle, after the Phocaean goddess—will be leaving next April from the tiny port of Urla, near Izmir, and the crew should take some 45 days to cover the 1,500 nautical miles to France. After Marseille, the boat will find its way along canals up to Paris, where it will be displayed in the context of France's celebration of Turkey throughout the year 2009.

No, I didn't make a mistake in that last sentence. The reenactment of the ancient voyage of the Phocaeans will be the prelude to celebrations of France's links, not to Greece, but to Turkey.

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