P r e FaC e
started thinking about this book over a decade ago
now, but I experienced a defining moment in its
composition at the Medieval Festival in New York
in the fall of 2008. The Medieval Festival is the enor-
mous annual festival held around the Cloisters—the
branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedi-
cated to Western European medieval art and archi-
tecture—in Fort Tryon Park, drawing thousands
of people, many in elaborate costume. “Take the
A- train to the 14th Century,” a sign in the subway
urged. I boarded the train and rode to the far north
of Manhattan to find the park filled for the day with
toddlers bearing plastic swords, men in chain mail,
women in lace- up wench outfits, and food stalls sell-
ing roasted turkey legs and Ye Fried Dough.
Many of the costumes were extravagant and fabu-
lous. But the one that proved revelatory to me was
hardly a costume at all: I saw a young man, softly
playing the recorder while walking alone, wearing a
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