“Chivalry isn’t dead,” Farrell asserts. “I think that people just don’t recognize anymore what chivalry is. And I think that people who say that chivalry is dead are looking for a chivalry that would have been appropriate in our grandparents’ day, but they don’t recognize how essential these ideals of chivalry still are in our world. I think we still expect chivalry out of our heroes and our role models, and we’re pretty disappointed when we find that they don’t have it. You know, we could talk about everything from Enron to Michael Vick and how disillusioned those situations make us.”
Farrell thinks a great place to see chivalry in action (or in inaction, as it were) is at an informal sporting event.
So he drives toward the Pacific Beach Recreation Center, where athletes gather for pickup basketball.
Inside the Rec Center, 10 to 15 men — black, white, tall, short, youthful, aging — are dribbling and shooting and going through the process of picking teams for the first game of the afternoon.
“One aspect of chivalry, certainly, in the Middle Ages, knights in armor were a pretty competitive lot,” Farrell says, motioning with his slender hands as he talks. “And they loved competing with each other. But they respected what they would have called prowess. A sense of excellence and skill at arms. And for them, somebody could be a respected warrior and worthy of praise, even if they were on the other army, the other team, even if they were an enemy. And so in today’s world, when we see a competitive situation, an attitude of chivalry is when somebody compliments a player on the other team. They recognize that the best competition brings out the best in you.”
Farrell elaborates on this idea. “The medieval knights made games out of warfare in order to inculcate these ideals of chivalry in an aggressive, fast-moving, combative arena where it was difficult. I mean, sure, it’s easy to be chivalrous when you’re sitting at court with the ladies, sipping a cool drink and having a conversation.”
Eventually, one of the basketball players drives to the hoop and scores and lets out a yawp of self-satisfaction, smiling and sticking out his tongue as he runs back down the court.
“The best warriors are ones who don’t brag about themselves,” Farrell says, chidingly. “As Geoffroi de Charny, a 14th-century French knight, says, ‘If you live your life right, other people will talk about you. It’s not your job to talk about yourself.’ ”
Farrell has read dozens of old chivalry books, and he has a dream of writing and publishing a book about modern chivalry someday, but he’s finding that publishers aren’t interested in the subject.
“We can say that chivalry is dead and bemoan the fact that not everyone is an honorable competitor, but that’s just human nature,” Farrell says. “The fact that they had to write books about chivalry back in the Middle Ages indicates that not everybody was chivalrous back then either.”
Tied Up in Knots
“For the real history of knot tying,” Darrell McNurlan says, “you have to look at sailing.”
McNurlan’s sitting on the Blue Note, a 48-foot sailboat in the Harbor Island marina. Waves lap, and sun glints off the harbor water. The only sound besides wind in your ears is the intermittent clank of rigging as boats loll in the water.
McNurlan, 53, is ex-Navy. He used to work on submarines. He teaches classes in traditional sailing and knot tying through Harbor Sailboats on Harbor Island. He also markets a DVD called Basic Knot Tying that runs on PC or Mac. It comes with a two-foot length of rope and teaches the “eight knots that every sailor needs to know.” McNurlan’s been sailing since 1979.
“Back in the early days,” he says, with his gruff and friendly voice, “you’d go out to sea for a whole year, or two years, and you had your basic knots that you actually used for work. And then, in your idle time, you kind of created fancy stuff to decorate your needle cases and your seabags. But almost every knot the sailor ties is useful. Even when it’s decorative, it’s got to have some kind of use. For instance, on sailing boats, they have a binnacle. That’s where the compass is, and the wheel’s attached to it, and they have a stainless-steel grab rail that kind of goes over. That’s a handhold, so if the boat starts to rock or shift, you grab ahold of that. Well, stainless steel gets wet and slippery. So I do decorative rope work on top of that, so when somebody grabs it, they get a firm grip. So even though it’s decorative, it’s got to be useful.”
He gives another example.
“Most able-bodied seamen would have a ditty bag,” McNurlan says, “and the ditty bag was pretty much like their résumé. Because, they’d take an old piece of canvas, and they’d stitch it. So the flat seams and round seams that they’d put this thing together with are the same skills they need to repair sail. And they’d stitch and seam these grommets in there and tie these fancy knots with the ropes at the top, and it was like a way of showing what they could do when they’d go on a new ship, like a résumé.”
McNurlan wears jeans and an International Guild of Knot Tyers T-shirt and looks right at home in a baseball cap and sunglasses and sandals. In fact, he lives on a boat: a 33-foot Cheoy Lee clipper in a Chula Vista marina. Today, onboard the Blue Note, his graying hair blows out from under his hat in the bay breeze.
“There are so many knots,” McNurlan says, emphasizing the “so.” He mentions a book that lists over 2000 of them. “A lot of knots are just variations on a theme,” he says. “But then a lot of them are just very unique knots.”
What are the basic knots that any knot tyer should know?