Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Medieval iPods

Thefts of iPods on the subway are up in New York. Those white wires dangling from pockets send a clear signal about the status of the bearer: you have a life that merits a sound track. Well, that, and you know good design when you see it.

Medieval ladies hung their good taste around their waists. Delicately illuminated girdle books advertised the wearers wealth, status and presumably, their literacy. Often these were Books of Hours, collections of psalms and prayers to accompany the canonical hours of the day. The Hours are still kept today, and like the iPods provide a "soundtrack" for a life. Some monastic communities still sing them (that's what the monks are chanting in those CDs), but most people who pray the Hours don't.

The Hours have been a soundtrack for my life for 20 years. The subtle changes in the texture of the psalms and prayers as the day waxes and wanes bring a sense of order to my chaotic existence. The songs have wrapped their way around and through the loss of a husband, the births of two sons, teaching and the laundry. My book of Hours is not the elaborate status symbol of the medieval courts, but a well used friend, whose ribbons hanging from my briefcase send a clear signal to those who can read it: my life has a soundtrack.


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