III: Slate

How the blind can handwrite in braille.

III: Slate
Slate tiles. Photo by Razvan Dumitrasconiu / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is tridi, the 13th of Nivôse, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate l'ardoise, a rock that comes in smooth, flat slabs.

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Turkey calls are made from slate. There's a small smoothed circle of slate encased in wood with holes in the bottom for amplification. It's about the size and shape of a compact powder case. The call also comes with a small awl-sized rod with a blunt end. You rub the end against the slate in a circular motion to get a turkey noise. It's basically an acoustically amplified nail-on-a-chalkboard sound, but less squeaky. Turkeys love it.

There's no doubt the French were in an inventing mood when they came up with this calendar and the metric system and an entire system of government. One of the most important inventors of the period was a French educator named Charles Barbier de la Serre. He was no revolutionary – he was in the king's army at the outbreak and fled to America, where he sat out the First Republic and only returned to his home country once Napoleon I was crowned – but he was definitely within the spirit of the times.

Barbier's obsession was literacy, and specifically how to help those who didn't have the time or resources for a full educational course – people like farmers and his fellow military grunts – learn the basics of reading and writing. To the relief of any schoolchild who has tried to learn French spelling, he was a big proponent of phonetic literacy.

And anyone who's blind uses his tools to this day.

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