Wednesday, 29 July 2009
Things I did not know, an occasional series
Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I like to know things. Probably in some murky corner of my subconscious I believe that if I know enough I shall never die, or some other twisted version of magical thinking. Whatever it is, despite an extensive education, I have the thirst for knowledge of the autodidact. One of the miracles of the internet is that amazing numbers of facts are now instantly available through the extraordinary thing that is Google. This immediate access to every kind of knowledge is turbo-charged by the Twitterverse and the blogosphere. The cross people like to get very cross about tweeting and blogging, as we all know, because they insist it is so inward looking. I find the diametrical opposite: it is often because of blogs and tweets that I look outward, into corners of the world or areas of thought that I had not previously visited. That too is a sort of miracle. Almost every day I find out something I did not know before, and this gives me an inordinate amount of satisfaction.
So I am instituting a new series on the blog (like a shark, it must keep moving or it will die). Every time I discover a fascinating new fact, I am going to share it with the group. If it gets too pedantic or dull or geeky, just shout at me and I shall stop.
Here is how today's fact originated. A wry little tweet went out this morning: Having SNP guests for supper, shall I offer English or French mustard. Quick as a flash, the reply came back: French, in honour of Bonnie Prince Charlie, who was of course Italian. Bonnie Prince Charlie was an Italian, I thought, surely not. I did all those crazy old risings at school and university, I thought I knew everything about the '15 and the '45. Bello Principe Carlo was not on the agenda at all. So I looked him up. I had forgotten that he was in fact born in Rome, but what I discover that I never knew, and this is my fact for the day, is that his mother was Polish. The great hero of the Scots was a Pole. This is an auld alliance I had never suspected. Charles Stuart's mother was the pious and melancholy Polish princess Maria Klementyna Sobieska. She did not much like her husband, spent a great deal of time praying, and died young, at the age of 32. I have no idea why this new fact pleases me, but it does. I shall no doubt spend the rest of the day trying to work out how to shoehorn it into the course of polite conversation.
And because it is the first of the series, here are some bonus facts for you, in honour of the great nation of Poland. Other famous Poles: Marie Curie, Chopin, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and of course Joseph Conrad, whom I first read when I was sixteen, in awe and amazement that English, which he wrote so beautifully, was actually his third language. That has been one of my favourite facts in the world for the last twenty-six years.