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Monday, March 31, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2964 - 2967

 2964. In the middle of the presentation of the ground-plan talk the old monk stood up and shouted out, “The Archbishop eats cantaloupe in  his rooms in the middle of the night.” 

 2965. The Archbishop could see in an instant the sort of situation he had to deal with, and the other monks expected this embarrassment to end as soon as it began but the old man did not sit back down, but repeated his foolish accusation over again even louder, and then a third time. Finally he had to be forcibly restrained and removed from the hall.

 2966. That evening the Archbishop did not return to Milan, he became violently ill with a stomach ailment. He went to bed in a feverish sweat and in the morning he was in the grip of a raging fever. The next afternoon he was in a coma, and he died in the evening.

2967. Word came from Milan just as he was expiring, asking about the Archbishop, and warning that there was a food poisoning epidemic in Milan brought about because of some spoiled cantaloupe that was sold in the city some days before. Three priests had died of the ailment, and the message inquired about the health of the Archbishop.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2960 - 2963

 2960. “When God created the sun and the moon and the earth He had them try cubes for their shapes at first, and when that didn’t work out he tried pyramids. Only later did he hit on the spheres. This is why five has always been more than four, and less than six, there had to be a reason for that.”

 2961. All of this the old man said strictly to himself, and it would not have even been remembered and recorded except for the events that were to follow, which seemed to shed a light on the supposed meaning of what he was saying. 

 2962. The archbishop did not hear anything of what the old man had been muttering but continued with his presentation, unfolding another parchment with a ground-plan of the new edifice. The monks did not know what a ground plan was so he began to explain it to them.

2963.  This archbishop, by the way, was not the archbishop with the ornate robe with the diamonds and rubies, this was his predecessor. He did indeed have the robe, but it had not yet achieved the elaborate form it had years later.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2956 - 2959

 2956. Then the Archbishop of Turin came to the monastery to give an important presentation. He had with him a set of plans for the reconstruction of the chapel that was on the monastery’s grounds. This chapel had not been used since the roof had caved in years ago. It had been build in the romanesque style, and the archbishop had with him drawings showing an enlarged chapel which was going to incorporate the new pointed arches.

 2957. The monks of the monastery had been hearing strange rumors of the new pointed arches and they did not know what to make of it. First of all they could not even imagine what the term, “Pointed arch,” meant, and there was nobody who had yet seen one. What was known was that these pointed arches had been invented somewhere in France, and so the Italian monks of the monastery were prejudiced against them to start with.

 2958. The archbishop began his presentation by belittling the existing chapel and criticizing its construction. He did not come out and say it, but he implied that it was the old-fashioned half circle arches of its doors and windows that were responsible for the collapse of the roof years ago. The archbishop was very proud of his presentation and especially with the drawings on parchment which explained, in a kind of schematic way, the shapes of the doors and windows in the new style.

2959. Then, it the middle of the silence occasioned by the unfolding of the drawing, while everyone was bending over a big oak table trying to get a better look, the old man started muttering to himself. This is what he said.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2952 - 2955

 2952. Monastic institutions both then and now have a very high tolerance for the occasional character whose personality and actions over the years become erratic or even psychotic. The monastery in some ways is like a prison, and if in prison a man commits a crime what is to be done with him? He is already in prison.

 2953. There is solitary confinement, and solitary confinement is the punishment in one way or another that is administered to anyone who lectures strangers at bus-stops, informing them of things they have no need to know. And it doesn’t matter how urgent the speaker’s motivation may be.

2954. Actually the more urgent a stranger’s unwanted advice is, the more rapidly solitary confinement is brought to bare on this sort of activity. By “solitary confinement” I obviously am referring to the social ostracism that is experience by all of those individuals who go around arguing with themselves or strangers.

 2955. So it was with the monk who talked to himself. The only adverse effect for him was a certain loneliness that did nothing to ameliorate his condition.

Images 2952 - 2955 by, Duchenne de Boulogne: 1862 French

Faldoni, parts 2948 - 2951

 2948. But he did not finish his sentence because noticing the others in the garden he instantly stopped speaking and began carefully examining the buds on the rose bush just in front of him. As the visitors to the garden passed him he seemed to hunch up his shoulders and squeeze himself into himself as if any space he took up was an imposition on others. He was a very timid man, aware of his failings and the awkward impression he made on everyone. 

 2949. But the old man’s malady was not a static one, it was a disability in the process of taking over his entire personality bit by bit, and the other monks became aware of the degeneration of his condition when at dinner he would exclaim, apropos of nothing, peculiar comments about things of no concern to anyone, in a loud voice yet speaking to no one in particular. 

 2950. He would put a spoonful of gruel into his mouth, chew and swallow, but then suddenly exclaim, “The vicar is unqualified to put out fires in sundry places, he knows very well that it takes three vats of water to convert a pound of dirt to mud the consistency of barley soup.”

2951. After saying such things, again he would look around in an embarrassed fashion and quietly resume eating with his head hunched over as if ashamed of himself, as if even he had no idea what he had been saying or what it could possibly mean.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2944 - 2947

 2944. People in possession of this sort of thinking were never confused by such obvious contradictions as: “Since we all die, we must all be guilty of the selfsame terrible  sins what ever they might be.” 

 2945. How did the cantaloupe question come about? It was an upsetting event that occurred at the institution about twenty years before the events of our story. There was an elderly monk who had always seemed a little odd to all the other inmates of the institution. He was one of those sorts that often could be found talking to himself.

  2946. At that time, he was about seventy, and although he sometimes talked to himself,  he was well enough aware of the norms of his polite society to know that it was looked upon askance and so when his private soliloquies were notices he would stop speaking, look away and assume an attitude of serious contemplation of whatever happened to be in his immediate environment. 

2947. For example, one day he was standing in the rose garden in the middle of a winding path and he seemed to be engaged in an argument with no one in particular. Some other visitors coming upon him unexpectedly heard his exclaiming, “He never would have gone into that trade except for his missing finger, that missing finger pointed,  indicated, suggested that it was the only way to determine what was ...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2940 - 2943

 2940. So the friar convinced Faldoni of the opposite idea he set out to put into his head. He left the cell and went to his room and sat down to write up his defense, knowing full well that it was a hopeless task. 

 2941. There were about a hundred monks in Faldoni’s monastery at the time of these events, and of those monks there were only three or four who even knew who Faldoni was. First of all he was not a monk himself but only a person whose job it was to hoe and weed the gardens as a common servant. As we said before, he only became involved in painting and church decoration because of a large project that needed extra manual labor to complete.

 2942. But once it became known that the person whom they often saw digging in the garden was most likely to be burned at the stake for theft and blasphemy, Faldoni became the talk of the institution. A question went round the dining hall and remained unanswered, the question was this, “Does the gardener eat cantaloupe in his cell in the middle of the night.”

2943. This question had a long history in the institution, and had a peculiar origin, and an odder meaning. To eat cantaloupe, at that time, suggested that the person in question was, unknown to anyone, indulged in some activity that was forbidden in the institution. The naive belief of the time was that such activities led inevitably to death, and when persons were tried and convicted by the courts, it was simply a form of hastening the inevitable. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2936 - 2939

 2936. “They say that the Archbishop of Turin had a silken robe that has six hundred diamonds and rubies embroidered in the border of the hem, the cuffs, and the collar. And the robe of the Archbishop is, as I have been saying, proof positive that he is in possession of the word of God, because otherwise how could he possess such a garment? It has to signify something.”

 2937. But they say that one time a Cardinal showed him too little respect and so he sent his robe to the tailors and had another hundred rubies sewn into the hem, even though it was beginning to be so heavy the seams were beginning to burst.

 2938. And now the friar’s sarcasm was beginning to show to such an extent that he felt sure that Faldoni would understand what he was driving at, but the painter still just nodded his agreement. Finally the friar said. “Are you listening to me Faldoni, do you understand what I have been saying to you?” “Yes,” answered Faldoni.

2939. “Then tell me, what is it that I have been telling you, go on and repeat what I have said so that I can see that you are listening to me!” Faldoni stretched out his hand and pointed to the paintings on the wall of his cell and said, “The paintings I have painted show that I am innocent.”

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2932 - 2935

2932. But as beautiful and as moving as what the friar said to Faldoni was, it did not seem to have any effect on him. It was one of those situations like where the rich give advice to the poor and it falls on deaf resentful ears. 

The living can’t give advice to those about to die, or the rich explain their imagined secrets of success to the poor. The truth is only useful when you find it yourself, and Faldoni, although he said nothing, was unwinding the secrets of his little universe in his own mind as the friar rambled on.

What the friar was trying to do with his sophistries and analogies about mosaics was to praise the possessions of the church to such an extent that the very fact that such treasures existed was perhaps not a proof of anything at all. The friar was thinking that ideas that needed a gilded  setting for their presentation might be, for that very reason, suspect.

The friar was indulging in sarcasm, plain and simple, but sarcasm, which is only stating the opposite of what you actually think, is always lost on the simple man, who assumes at all times that people mean what they say. But the friar was no about to give up, and so he turned to a more outlandish argument. He said.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2928 - 2931

 2928. Excited by his idea of the mosaics the friar went on. “Now imagine you are the workman working on that mosaic. You are up there on the scaffold a hundred feet above the ground. You have been told to cement three hundred various little stones of ultramarine blue into a section of a dome in a space mapped out by someone else who died four years before.”

 2929. You have no idea what those blue stones represent because you have not yet had the opportunity to view the dome from a distance, and even if you could you would not be able to figure it out because it will not be complete for another ten years.

 2930. You Faldoni, are like one of those little ultramarine blue squares being cemented into the dome, an immense sphere the radius and the diameter you could never imagine. You will never have the slightest idea what part you play in that picture because you had no part in its creation, and you could never get back far enough from it to see even a tiny corner of it.  But the design exists, and you are a part of it.

2931. And even if, some thousands of years from now, some of those stones should fall out, be swept up and thrown away, or ground under foot, the little void that remains where it once was still tells your story. That little empty space says, “I existed, once I existed. I was beautiful, and in my absence am yet more beautiful.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2924 - 2927

 2924. No, the Friar took a subtle indirect approach, and his words seemed to imply the very opposite of his intent. He said, “One thing is obvious to anybody Faldoni, and that is that the Holy Roman Catholic Church is in possession of the absolute truth, and we can be confident that anything they decide to do is divinely authorized.”

 2925. “ How do we know this, where is the proof?” he asked rhetorically, even though he did not expect an answer. “All you have to do is go to Rome and have a look at the buildings of the Vatican. How, I ask you, how could such structures have ever been built unless the builders were being guided by the mind of Jehovah himself.” 

 2926. Not seeing any reaction from Faldoni, the friar went on, “And not just the structures, but the decorations. Consider just the mosaics. Workman had to glue and cement all of those millions of tiny odd shaped stones and pieces of glass and after months of constant labor all of those little fragments of different color stones and chips of glass, when seen from a distance, coalesce into astounding images. Don’t you think so Faldoni?”

2927. Faldoni nodded his agreement, but in that way that people nod at the end of another person’s sentence as a gesture of politeness, and to show that they have been listening all along even when in  fact they have been day dreaming of something unrelated all along.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2920 - 2923

 2920. The friar expected Faldoni to offer him a long list of explanations and justifications for the theft of the ultramarine blue pigment, and he was prepared to attempt to select some ideas to use for a defense for obviously he would be expected to say something. But what he found was a prisoner completely ready to accept his condemnation, and not willing in any way to defend himself.

 2921. But the friar had to do his job in one way or another so he began to describe the fate that awaited his client, hoping that fear of this event would spur Faldoni into offering some explanations. Faldoni’s reaction was to say nothing, but a shiver passed over him from head to foot. The friar was unable to go on with that approach and so he tried something else.

 2922. He began to suggest, in a roundabout way, that the Church authorities and the judges were perhaps not really qualified to decide questions of right and wrong, even though they had set themselves up in these positions of authority, giving themselves the right to determine questions of life and death of  whomever came into their grasp.

2923. The friar did not come out and actually say anything so dangerous, for this reason. He considered Faldoni to be a simpleton, and since he was a simpleton, if the friar said anything obviously critical of the judges then Faldoni might simply turn around and go and report him to the same police officers that had locked him up to begin with.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Faldoni, parts 2916 - 2919

 2916. People in Faldoni’s situation were often tempted to run away if the opportunity presented itself because the outcome of his trial was such a forgone conclusion that any type of vagabond life on the run would have seemed better that what he had to look forward to. But, although Faldoni had no inclination to escape, still a guard was placed at his door. Actually his cell was guarded by two men, one in the day and one in the evening.

 2917. Faldoni’s fate would have already been decided, and his person would have already been disposed of if not for a scheduling problem that delayed his trial. But a delay in a trial seems to be an inevitable characteristic of trials in general since time immemorial.

 2918. The appointment to defend an already condemned man was in no way a position anyone ever sought. It was very dangerous to present too vigorous an argument because the likely result would be to involve oneself in the crime and suffer the same fate as the criminal.

 2919. With this in mind a certain humble friar of the district named Friar Thomo, who was recently arrived and knew nobody in the area, was sent to have a chat with Faldoni in order to ask him a few questions and then prepare a defense to present to the judges.