This morning, my beloved went to war.
Well, not an actual war. At least, not in our time.
As some of you might remember, back in October I posted about the Napoleonic-era reproduction pants that my boyfriend made entirely by hand (even the wooden buttons), following historic reference material. He made them to wear in his battle reenactment group, but I think he might have done it anyway and worn them around the house.
My boyfriend has always been fascinated by history, and as he grew older, the First Empire became his greatest historical passion. He’s become a respected young collector of sabers used in in the Napoleonic wars; a go-to reference for uniform styles, patterns, and materials; and a wealth of knowledge about everything Bonaparte-related.
Now he’s about to take another big step.
The first time he left to spend a weekend with his battle reenactment group, it was a sort of basic training to get to understand the experience and its rules and way of preserving the illusion of being in the early 19th century. For example, participants in the reconstruction can and do bring their cell phones, ID’s, and modern-day cigarettes, but these can only be used in a separate area known as “the 21st century zone”. The rest of the time, the people involved are wearing hand-made (or tailor-made, depending on your sewing skills) historically accurate uniforms of the Grand Armée, eating food cooked by a vivandière (woman who followed a regiment and sold vegetables and meats, as well as prepared meals for the officers), and handling reproduction weapons. If you wear glasses, you even have to get frames that look like the eyewear of the time. These people are hardcore.
This time around, my boyfriend and sixty other members of several reconstitution groups will be reenacting the Battle of Craonne, which took place on March 7, 1814.
I asked if I should attend to watch and show my support, but my boyfriend told me that apart from some large reenactments like the one they’ll be participating in for the 200th anniversary of Waterloo in 2015, the reconstitution groups generally like to keep things to themselves. A crowd of 21st-century dressed, cell phone toting spectators would only ruin the magic.
…The magic that will continue all weekend, with drills and sleeping in historically accurate tents in historically accurate hand-made burlap sleeping bags. In nearly 30 degree (Fahrenheit) weather.
One girl’s hell is another man’s heaven, I guess.
When I found out about the accommodations, I asked my boyfriend why they wouldn’t be housed somewhere, as they had been last time. He explained to me that this time it’s for real, and that to him and the others, two nights suffering from the cold, risking tick- and goodness-knows-what-else infestation by stuffing your sleeping bag with hay, and doing your business in a hole (I asked him what was used for toilet paper in Napoleon’s day, and he didn’t know), is a way to connect with the past.
I can understand that; I’m very glad I don’t have to wear a corset, but if I wanted to really understand how women in my favorite historical period, the Belle-Époque, used to feel, I would probably have to squeeze myself into one and walk around for a while.
My boyfriend may be smart, but he’s not a planner. Though he’s had months to do it, he only really started sewing the gilet à manches (sleeved waistcoat) to go with his pants, about 2 weeks ago. Since then, he’s been sewing almost non-stop from the time he gets home from work, till he collapses into bed in the wee hours. This morning he left for the reenactment. In order to have his waistcoat ready for battle, he stayed up all night.
Buttoned up, as it will be worn on the battlefield.