The other day I mentioned we’d been to Old Salem to see how the Moravians lived, but that day we would be hanging out at the pool. Well, we’ve done a lot of hanging out at the pool since then. Normally, I like to do a lot of culturally enriching type sightseeing when I travel, but this time I’ve been a very indulgent mother, and when the kids want to go to the pool, to the pool we go. We did drag them off to Durham to see the magnificent Gothic Duke Chapel, but then it was back to the pool again toute de suite.
I don’t know what other people think about when they are in the pool (how nice the water feels? am I getting too much sun? do I look fat? is that cute guy looking at me?) but I’m too old for the cute guys to look at, and am a historian, so I was thinking about the Moravians.
Look at the clothes those people wore. The old Moravian buildings have been restored and are staffed by people who wear completely authentic Moravian clothing, made in the old Moravian manner in authentic Moravian workshops. We watched a tailor punch buttonholes with an awl (with which Elizabeth cut her finger because “Don’t touch the tools” means “Go ahead, I double-dog dare you” in kid-language) and sew the edges with linen thread that had been spun from flax on a bona fide 18th-century spinning wheel.
The lady in the long Moravian dress said linen is very cool, but still, that was a long dress with long sleeves and there was an apron and a cap and I don’t care how cool linen is, I still say my sleeveless cotton sundress and sandals are a whole lot cooler.
Speaking of cooler, the old Moravian buildings are air-conditioned now, because not only would tourists like me not set foot in them in July otherwise, but the museum would have a devil of a time getting employees to work in them. Throw in the long dresses and breeches and that would be the end of it. So, the place is authentic except for the air conditioning, which is a pretty big “except.”
So that’s what I was thinking about when I was swimming slowly on my back in the pool just before sunset, feeling cool and comfortable and lucky to be alive at a time when I could float around in cool water in a very modest one-piece swimsuit that the old-time Moravians would have called me a shameless whore for wearing.
As a historian, I love history. But I don’t romanticize it. The world was a very hard place before the 20th century. Even in places where you could wear cool clothes and swim to your heart’s content, like Hawaii before Captain Cook found it and the sugar-planters and the missionaries came, life wasn’t as easy as it is for us today. Besides having as their staple carbohydrate poi, which I think is just awful, those carefree Hawaiians practiced human sacrifice.
The Moravians didn’t have to deal with the specter of being an offering to Pele, but they didn’t get to swim naked in the ocean either. As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, it’s always something; if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Either you’re stuck in a long dress in a sweltering house or you have to eat poi and worry about ending up under the cornerstone of a heiau.
But not me. I’m a 21st-century woman, and for that I am very, very thankful.