Sunday, January 16, 2011

going to France with 30 teenagers & researching Eleanor of Aquitaine

La Cite, Medieval Fortified Town, Carcassone, Aude, Languedoc-Roussillon, France Photographic Poster Print by David Hughes, 9x12
La Cité Carcassonne, France
When Scholastic asked me to write about Eleanor of Aquitaine for Dear America's Royal Diary series I was thrilled. I couldn't wait to immerse myself in the Middle Ages and imagine what life may have been like for a 14-year-old aristocrat.

Eleanor: Crown Jewel of Aquitaine, France, 1136 (The Royal Diaries)It happened that my son's French class was going to Europe over Spring break and would be touring the Aquitaine countryside. Greg graciously insisted he wouldn't mind his mom tagging along, so off we went with a gaggle of high-schoolers. It was fun seeing history through their eyes and to wander through medieval castles like Carcassonne, where scenes from Braveheart and Robin Hood were filmed.

I learned a lot traveling with these students. It didn't seem far off to think their concerns and interests were similar to teenagers from eight centuries ago: friendship, parental love, curiosity about their future, yearnings for adventure and, of course, cool clothes. The girls loved to shop and, as it turns out, Eleanor loved her beautiful gowns.

On a subsequent trip to Paris, my 17-year old son Cody helped me find Eleanor's crystal vase in the Louvre [photo right]. It's exquisite, about 16" tall. Most of the gems are the size of my thumbnail, in an array of blues and violets, set into silver. It's said that Eleanor was fifteen and newly married to King Louis VII when she gave this to him. The Latin inscription on its base states that after she presented it to Louis, he gave it to Abbot Suger, who then donated it to the Abbey of Saint-Denis in Paris. It's believed to be the only surviving artifact from the royal couple. [This appears on p. 176 of the book.]

It was a blast writing Eleanor: Crown Jewel of Aquitaine. Would I travel again with teenagers? Heck, yeah!

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