Tuesday 24 April 2018

Life in the time of the Moors by Joan Fallon #History #Spain @joan_fallon

Life in the time of the Moors
 by Joan Fallon

My novel The Shining City is set in the middle of the 10th century, in southern Spain.  In this blog, I’m going to explore what daily life was like for Fatima, the wife of the artisan, Qasim and the mother of three sons and two daughters.

Fatima was lucky. The family had moved from Córdoba when the caliph, al-Rahman III decided to build a new city, Madinat al-Zahra, just five kilometres from the old one. In order to encourage people to move out of Córdoba he offered them the money to build a house. So Fatima and her family, lived in a new, stone built house with two storeys and internal patios for cooking, washing, keeping their animals safe and family relaxation.
Madinat al-Zahra

Only the younger two children lived at home now— two had remained in Córdoba. The oldest son was a soldier and was rarely at home, the next son was a potter and unmarried, and although the eldest daughter had learnt to read and write Arabic and could have worked as a scribe, she decided she wanted to get married to a baker and now lived in Córdoba with her husband, his second wife and four children.

Fatima was happy that Qasim had never suggested taking a second wife. Instead when she had complained that they needed some help around the house, he’d gone straight out and bought them a slave—an old man, to be sure, but a good worker and someone they had become very fond of. He slept on the patio with the goat.

The site for Madinat al-Zahra had been chosen by the caliph for a number of reasons, one of which was the abundance of water that flowed down from the neighbouring mountains, the Sierra Moreno. This water was collected in a reservoir and brought into the new city through a series of conduits and then piped to each house. There was always ample water on hand for washing, cooking and irrigation; even enough to have a small fountain on the patio. The city also had an elaborate drainage system for rainwater and sewage and Fatima’s house had its own latrine, which connected directly to it.

Sierra Moreno

The availability of water was important to Fatima and her family because cleanliness was a crucial part of the Muslim religion. Each time they prayed—and that was five times a day—they were required to wash first.

Fatima and her husband slept on bedrolls on the floor of their bedroom, and sometimes when the weather was very hot, they slept on the patio, or up on the roof. Her husband, Qasim always rose at cockcrow. She would fill the bucket with clean water so that he could wash, then he would dress and take his prayer mat out on the patio and pray. Once he’d made sure that all the family were awake and had said their prayers, Fatima would serve them breakfast —fresh goat’s milk from the goat tethered on one of the patios, and bread and honey, or sometimes in the winter, piping hot churros.

She always cooked outside on a small stove, fuelled by oil or wood and each day she went to the market to buy produce. Peasants would come in from the surrounding countryside and bring fruit and vegetables, which they would spread out for sale on mats in front of them. This was where she would buy the spices she needed to cook the tasty tagine that was her husband’s favourite dish and buy the chopped pieces of lamb, which she carried home wrapped in a vine leaf. At least once a week she would buy sticks of sugar cane, and occasionally some sugared almonds or some candied fruit as a treat. Before she moved into the city, she had lived in the countryside with her parents and there they grew their own fruit and vegetables and picked the almonds straight from the trees. She missed that.

If Fatima had time to spare, she would wander around the market, looking at the slaves for sale—some blond-haired and blue-eyed from the north and others, black as night, from Africa—and at the cooking pots, leather tablecloths, plates and bowls, colourful bales of cloth, slippers and much more. Sometimes she would stop on her way home and watch a procession of visiting ambassadors on their way to see the caliph, the paved road leading to the palace covered in rush matting and lined with soldiers. Hundreds of the caliph’s guards would lead the way, followed by a troupe of dancing girls, their bells and beads jangling all the while. Then would come the ambassadors, or sometimes a king from a far-off country. It was all so exotic and beautiful.

Then, last of all, she would make her way back to the baker, to collect her freshly baked bread —Fatima didn’t have an oven to cook her own bread so each morning she took the bread dough she had made the previous night, round to the baker to bake for her.

All of Fatima’s children had been educated—her husband was very keen on education, even for the girls—but only one was at school now, the youngest daughter. She was the clever one in the family and she wanted to become a doctor. It wasn’t unusual. There were lots of female doctors in the city, and lawyers and scribes. She was pleased that her youngest child had such high aspirations and her husband agreed with her. He would have liked his younger son to have studied more, but he was happy to work alongside his father and live at home.

Once a week Fatima and her youngest daughter would go to the public baths. There were two days a week when the hamman was open for women and she looked forward to it. It was not just the opportunity to bathe in hot water, but a chance to sit and chat to her friends. She would always have a massage and wash her hair. Sometimes the hairdresser would cut her hair for her and give her a manicure, but what she enjoyed most was the deep pool at the end of the session where she could lie in the water and soak until all her aches and pains disappeared.

Fatima took great care with her appearance. She wore a plain robe over her tunic and although she always wore a scarf around her shoulders, she rarely veiled her face—few women did in al-Andalus— and her head was uncovered, except for a close-fitting cap.

By and large, Fatima was happy with her life. Sometimes she missed living in the countryside but after so many years of marriage, she had become content with city life and there were so many more opportunities for her children there. If only her sons would get married and provide her with more grandchildren, then her life would be complete.

Joan Fallon

Joan Fallon was born in Dumfries, in Scotland, the only child of a Scottish mother and an Irish father, but spent most of her formative life in the south of England.  She left school at sixteen, instantly regretted it and spent the next fifteen years catching up on her education.  She earned her teaching certificate and became a primary school teacher in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, but continued with her studies at the Open University, then a fairly new institution.  Despite having a full time job, a husband and two young children she obtained an honours degree in History and Literature.

The sudden death of her son, when he was only seventeen, prompted her to make a career change and she took a post-graduate diploma in Management Studies.  For a number of years she worked for Missenden Abbey Management Centre (then part of Brunel University) as Principal Lecturer in Leadership and Behavioural Studies, before successfully launching her own management and development company.  Among her clients were the Foreign Office and the Environment Agency.

She then decided to settle in Spain, where she completed an Open University course in Creative Writing and began to devote herself to writing fiction.

If she had to name a writer who had influenced her work she would be hard pressed to answer - her reading taste is eclectic and ranges from Turgenev and Stendhal to William Boyd and Hilary Mantel. A natural storyteller, her novels, almost invariably, centre on a strong female character and explore the emotions and relationships of her protagonist.  Many of her books are set in periods of recent history, such as the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, and are meticulously researched.

Palette of Secrets, a contemporary story about an elderly woman who is haunted by her mysterious past has been published by S&H Publishing Inc in Virginia.

Joan has also written “Daughters of Spain”, a non-fiction book based on authentic interviews with a number of Spanish women of all ages and from all walks of life; this was first published by in 2009 and a revised edition came out in 2014.

Joan now lives in the south of Spain with her husband, where she has become passionate about both the language and history of her adopted home.  This passion is reflected in the books she writes.  She also has a web site dedicated to all things Spanish www.notesonspain.com

The Shining City

This is the story of a city, a city that is now in ruins: Madinat al Zahra.  The year is 947 AD, a time when southern Spain is under the rule of the Moors.  The ruler, Caliph al Rahman III is rich, powerful and cultured.  His lands are, at long last, at peace and the capital, Córdoba, is considered to be not only the most beautiful city in the civilised world but also the seat of learning and culture.  Against this background we meet the artisan Qasim - he and his family have moved to Madinat al Zahra to make their fortune as potters. 

Qasim is a good husband and father.  He works hard, says his prayers and keeps out of trouble.  But Qasim has a secret; his past is not what it seems.  When a stranger arrives asking questions about him, he is worried that his secret will be discovered and everything he has worked for will be destroyed. He has to take action.

The Shining City is a BRAG Medallion honouree.

1 comment:

See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx