by Vincent Van Gogh
(65 x 95 cm) Oil on canvas
Painted during his stay in Arles this is one of the most revealing of many Van Gogh’s self-portraits as it sheds some light on the greatest mystery of the Dutch artist’s turbulent life: why did he cut his ear? It is known that at the time of the incident Van Gogh was suffering of migraines and hallucinations caused by a new brand of paint thinner he had began using by recommendation of his best friend Gaugin who got a discount from the chemist but stuffed his nostrils with cotton while painting to avoid the poisonous fumes. Van Gogh developed an allergic reaction and a constant itch on his ears deprived him of sleep. This facts combined with an inflammation of his ears and gums led him to believe that the ears had begun to grow at an alarming rate. As a schoolboy he had been teased frequently by other kids who made fun of the color of his hair and pulled his ears to provoke him. This childhood experiences had traumatized young Van Gogh who would suffer a fit of rage if anybody touched his ears. One afternoon, when they were painting the same fruit basket to save some scarce money, fellow painter Gaugin introduced the wet tip of his brush in Van Gogh’s ear when the Dutch genius was not looking and Van Gogh reacted violently. He forced Gaugin to eat his temperas and left the room to hide inside a cupboard for two weeks. He became obsessed with the idea that his failure as an artist was caused by his ears and spent hours every day watching them in the mirror. He was convinced his right ear was getting larger every day and would eventually take over his entire head. This was what he wrote in a letter to his brother Theo dated 1888:
‘ I suffer terribly, my teeth ache and I live in constant fear of my own right ear, it is growing fast and I fear it will very soon occupy my whole head. Oh Theo, you don’t know how lucky you are to have ears that remain attached to your head and do not behave viciously. I have dreams in which I am chased by giant flapping yellow ears and I fear they will stomp me to death if they catch me. I wake up drenched in cold sweat and hear my ears laugh at my weakened condition. I fear the worst and it is taking a toll in my work as I can feel them there murmuring about my work and making derisive comments about the amount of color I use. It is very difficult to watch them and I have to carry a mirror everywhere I go to do so. I live in fear, please send me more money so I can support my miserable existence. Your crazy brother, Vincent.’
This the last known letter to his brother before mutilating himself. He painted the portrait short after and thanks to tribunal records we know that Van Gogh was the plaintiff in a case of harassment against his ears filed in the Arles tribunal. The Van Gogh vs. Van Gogh’s Ears case was swiftly dismissed by the judge as there was no precedent of a man suing his own anatomy and Van Gogh was sentenced to pay the trial costs. This was probably a big blow because that night he visited a local brothel to vent his frustration in sex and absinthe. Unable to work a decent erection he cut off his right ear in a fit of fury, as he had become convinced it was the one culprit behind of all his misfortunes while his left ear was just following the lead of its evil right counterpart. This Van Gogh’s self portrait is revealing in that sense, in the characteristically subjective and emotional style of the Dutch master it portraits his ear as he saw it: a threatening presence looming over the entire head, Van Gogh’s gaze spying with distrust in the mirror. Unfortunately in his state of drunk distress Van Gogh failed to realize that the inverted reflection in the mirror actually corresponded to his left ear, so his agony knew no limits when the next morning he woke up in bloodied pillow with the missing ear resting inside his chamber pot to discover he had severed the wrong ear.
by Hyacinthe Sabater
(152 x 217 cm) Oil on velvet
Known by history as the King Sun for his sunny predisposition and fantastic tannings, Louis XIV was enormously proud of his legs and was selected sixteen times the sexiest European monarch during his reign. The French monarch commissioned this painting to immortalize his legs in the company of his favorite pair of stilettos. Louis XIV shared with his mistress Marie de Roquefort a passion for elegant footwear and the king owned a collection of shoes so extensive that the entire court had to move to Versailles just to store it. Although the entire palatial compound was conceived as an oversized closet still many nobles residing there had to share their rooms with the king’s footwear. The king spent long periods of time locked in his dressing room trying shoes and other fashion complements while neglecting state affairs. Nobility titles and important political posts were awarded to some of his favorite shoes and soon their influence was felt on French economy and politics. Shoe polish production was made a national priority and shoemakers obtained substantial tax cuts and were given virtual immunity before the law. The situation soon generated widespread discontent, specially among the masses of barefoot peasants and the poor, who resented the lavish display of footwear by the king while they had to walk around with cold bruised feet.
While presiding a session of his ministers cabinet one of the presents dared to speak to the king about the growing unrest and denounced the privileges of the favorites. The Duke of Molasses who had bowed skinny legs and absolutely no sense of fashion launched into a description of the riots that were already taken place: mobs of barefoot beggars had torched a shoe store and a group of conspirators had been put to death for attempting to burrow a hole on the king’s favorite sleepers. The king listened to Duke of Morass with affected disdain and when the speech came to an end His Majesty stood up and displaying his legs proudly to the ministers said: ‘Don’t they just look sooo fantastic?’ To everybody’s astonishment he king had managed to remove his embroidered panties undetected using the heel of his shoes while Morass spoke. Louis XIV remains to this day the only European monarch able to perform this feat and his ministers were so impressed by this display that the Marquis of Flateriette slipped a 10 francs note on the king’s stockings. The king was so pleased by this unique skill and the triumph of his looks over the political insight of the nobleman that he ordered this painting to immortalize the historic moment for posterity. The Duke of Morass’ wig was confiscated and the duke, charged with several accounts of ugliness, was sent to prison.
The Damnation of the Pneumonides
aka It’s not raining yet! (1784)
by Pierre Josef-Louis Alphonse Étienne Eugène-François
(170 x 140 cm) Oil on canvas
Artistic merit aside, the famous depiction of The Damnation of the Pneumonides is an indictment of the subrodinate status of women under the patrician society of imperial Rome. The so proficiently rendered scene is a well known classic; Colonius three sons are about to depart towards the forum to stab senator Propicius who had raised taxes on sandals causing Colonius&Sons Sandalmakers great losses. The father wish his beloved sons farewell and wish them luck in their endevour, then reminds them of the bad weather outside and warns of the risk of catching a cold on their way back while putting the family’s umbrella at their disposal. The sons have their lances and swords at the ready but own no umbrella and fear they might have to do their killing under the rain which would ruin all their fun. In unison they raise their extended hands to show their father how they know that it is not raining yet and express vehemently their fear of being mocked by their prospective victim for carrying a girls’ umbrella to the forum. Clearly molified by his heirs’ reckless imbecility the father exhorts them to take their sisters’ umbrella anyway, pointing to the gathering storm outside. Behind Colonius the women weep in despair resigned to be deprived of the only umbrella in the household and foreboding their scheduled afternoon visit to the temple to make offering of a live ox to Jupiter. The artist portrays them leaning against each other, exhausted after a day of housekeeping but impotent to oppose the Roman law that stated male members of the family had preference of use over household appliances in case of rain. After arriving home soaked from the temple they found their father at the table telling gladiator jokes to the brothers who had never managed to kill the senator. The brothers had taken refugee inside a tavern during the storm and forgot the umbrella in a corner when they left as the rain had stopped by then, a custom born, like many others, in ancient Rome and that had persisted to this day. According to the story the sisters eventually rallied against their father after one of them died of pneumonia. The two surviving sisters devastated by the lost of the family’s only protection against that year’s particularly wet weather smothered Colonius with a cushion after the sister’s funeral. The surviving sisters were later slaughtered by the brothers who suspected the mischief when the sisters told them their father had fallen from a tree while chasing a possum. Being possums an Australian aboriginal marsupial and Australia remaining undiscovered at the time the brothers concluded the story to be a fabrication and decapitated their sisters. For this crime the Caesar condemned the fraticides to polish all the marble of Rome using exclusively their tonges.
The Damnation of the Pneumonides also known outside academic circles as It’s not raining yet! was commissioned to the painter Pierre Josef-Louis Alphonse Étienne Eugène-François who was the painter with the longest name in France at the time. The theme was chosen by his patron, a wealthy umbrella manufacturer from Reims who had made his fortune selling brocade umbrellas in prerevolutionary Paris. The revolution had caused umbrellas to fall out of fashion among republicans who identified parasols with the monarchy and the painting was intended to vindicate their utility as protective device against the rain.
Self Portrait (circa 1945)
by Magritte’s Hat
(90 x 65 cm) Shoe polish on felt
Initially attributed to the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte this painting is actually a self-portrait and authorship has been conclusively traced to his hat. Living in such a close proximity to the artist’s head for so long it is hardly surprising the hat’s work is greatly influenced by Magritte’s style and themes, as many other artists and headwear were similarly influenced afterwards.
This self portrait finished circa 1945 conveys the tensions existing at the time between Magritte and his favorite hat after an incident that almost broke their lifelong relationship. A few months earlier Magritte had sent the hat to the cleaners and it had been returned to the wrong address. After several formal protests from the Belgian embassy, the recipient, a Chinese a businessman who had reached Shanghai wearing the hat before noticing the confusion, returned the hat to Magritte by steamer boat. The the captain’s records in the ship’s log show that fear of strong winds, a common psychosis among headwear, caused the hat to spend the entire three weeks voyage locked in its cabin. When it finally arrived to Belgium it was out of shape, stained with soya sauce and pigeon droppings and it took several operations performed by a team of the best Belgian hat makers to fit it comfortably again on Magritte’s head that, by all contemporary accounts, was oddly shaped and larger than usual. This ordeal caused a serious trauma and a superstitious fear of pigeons became constant theme of the hat’s future artistic production. After the incident the hat refused to leave Magritte’s head even for laundry which after a while caused Magritte’s head to smell funny and became cause of constant friction between them.
The interdependence between them is reflected in this self portrait where the felt has assumed the shapes of the Magritte’s brain. Some art critics speculate that most of Magritte’s ideas can be attributed to his hat but this seems silly as Magritte never wore his hat while working on his paintings worried as he was of soiling it. The hat’s self portrait depicts a more gloomy landscape than it is usual in Magritte’s works. The pigeon perched on top is a looming symbol of foreboding for the hat, who always felt Magritte was using him to protect himself from airborne excrements and considered his hat a shield rather than his artistic equal. Nevertheless their lifelong collaboration was uninterrupted and fruitful: the hat modeled for Magritte’s paintings countless times and Magritte always consulted the hat about the weather before step out the street. When Magritte died in August 1967 the hat continued a solo career but never accomplished much as it couldn’t leave the spot where Magritte had left it: on top of a garden chair in the backyard of their Brussels home. It finally passed away sixteen years after its owner when as in its worst fears it was carried away by the wind and run over by a tram car near Brussels. It was solemnly buried in a hole by the painter’s grave after a funeral mass attended by the Belgian Royal Family, whose idle members had apparently nothing better to do that day.
Episodium V about how the very pious and bloodstained Franciscan brother Pio de Pollalonga has to get a change of clothes and the also very pious but immaculate and smarter William de Whiskey have to separate and see different things and there is certain confusion and misunderstanding and then the Great Inquisitor bishop Caraquemada arrives and believes there is lunacy and unholiness when he is welcomed by a dirty naked midget dropping from the sky and there is great pandemonium and hilarity but the bishop fails to see the fun and he is enraged
It was no challenge for always resourceful and sneaky William to sneak out of the church and join unmolested the crowd of half sleep monks tottering along the cloister to find out about the origin of the screams, mainly because my master wore a pristine habit while mine looked like a butcher’s apron. He had instructed me to take advantage of the turmoil and creep under the cover of darkness to my quarters to change clothes. I did as he said and I dashed out to my cell thus parting his protective company and custody. I could not witness the part of the events I am about to relate because at the precise moment they took place I was very busy by a tub, struggling with water and soap to wash the blood that incriminated the only piece of cloth I ever owned and that I still wear as I write these lines. But doubt not of the veracity of the account for it was related to me that same day afterwards by William de Whiskey himself and he was the most truthful witness a mortal can demand and he never lied to me but in one occasion, and even then it was only to preserve my innocence and the purity of my Christian soul. It wasn’t until many years later in his deathbed and about to give him the last rites that he admitted to me under confession that he had always been the man in the red suit who descended down the chimney to bring my Christmas gifts. I was fifty-six at the time and I felt moved for the trouble my friend had endured to bring me the same Christmas present year after year but I wished he had realized that I just needed one wooden spoon. But let not the Lord allow my mind to wander into sentimentality and nostalgia and let’s continue the narrative. I will use William’s personal account from his own diary that I kept after his demise and I still use as a pillow. These are his words and my hand shakes copying them for they remind me of my beloved lost friend, although they also shake when I write my laundry list.
Fragments from the diary of William the Whisky.
… after I left the fool God had found suited to put under my wing without bothering asking first I joined the group of lower life forms who call themselves men of God but are more like habit wearing rodents, both in appearance and in behavior. As I had expected they were all gathered in the library doing nothing but crossing themselves and murmuring prayers. After a lifetime of prayer those morons should have learned that God may listen to prayers but rarely attends them, busy as He his trying to understand His own designs that are indeed inscrutable.
Brother Marrano, that repulsive glutton, had found the body of the monk and was victim of a new fit of panic. Although he was not speaking in tongues yet, he acted like a possessed and whatever he was babbling was as incomprehensible as tongues and he moved his fat tongue so fast and so afar from the inside of his mouth that it did indeed looked like many tongues. Repulsive. I had to take matters in my own hands because panic was beginning to spread and fear is more contagious than the plague. I blessed brother Marrano with some strong blows on his head and sent him to fetch the abbot, well aware he would not find him in his quarters. I wondered what the abbot was doing at the church’s crypt. I pretended I was seeing the body for the first time but my pantomime was a waste of time because all the monks were looking to the ceiling waiting for God to come down and rescue them from their pathetic bewilderment. I snatched one of the monks by his hood and asked him if anybody knew who the dead friar inside the book was. It took some time to find a reliable witness who could identify his headless remains.
Finally a young monk recognized a mole on the corpse’s buttocks and I didn’t asked him how he knew of such a mark, his hear-piercing shriek revealed him as a despicable sodomite. The second dead monk was no other than brother Celestino, the same man who had been bathing the abbot when we arrived and who was certainly a sodomite too. During our walk to the kitchen Celestino had spoken into my ear praising in mellow hushed tones the rocky quality of my buttocks and offered to visit my cell to do penitence together, a clear indication of unnatural tendencies according to the classic philosophy treatsies on the subject, and the Greek masters knew a thing or two about sodomy both in theory and in praxis. The death of two sodomites in the same abbey in the same day had to be related somehow but nobody among the congregation knew what the monk had he been doing at library at that late hour reading a book.
Finally brutish abbot Malallet decided to show up after leaving whatever he was doing in the crypt. I noticed how he came from behind of one of the bookcases at the back of the library and I realized there had to be a secret passage connecting the crypt to the library. He was so furious when he saw me bossing around his flock as if they were sheeps that it took him some time to realize there was a headless corpse laying on the table and that sheep have more temper than his pathetic congregation of underlings.
‘ What is this monk doing with his head inside this book? ‘ He asked me, aware perhaps a reasonable answer could only be obtained from me.
‘ This man is dead brother abbot.’ I told him ‘ Somebody has crushed his head with the book lid. I think it is very likely the murderer is the same man who killed brother Panfilo because a similar method has been used in both murders.’
‘ This is an abbey, there is no murderers here. It might have been an accident, maybe a gust of wind closed the lid when the monk was reading the book from too close.’ Replied the foolish abbot and I felt tempted to kick his spermatic sacks. I had to refrain myself and do so uniquely at a dialectical level.
‘ Do you really believe that a gust of wind can lift this tome’s cow leather bound lead lid? And what sort of wind is that blows inside a closed space with maybe the exception of the wind that blows inside your skull.’ I answered, for there was much enjoyment in seeing his head fuming and about to explode. ‘It is obvious that somebody came here tonight, saw brother Celestino reading this forbidden book and closed the lid over his head with all his might. Whoever the murderer was he either came here by chance or followed brother Celestino and killed him ‘
‘ Another of your wild theories brother William and I will be forced to write a letter of protest to the Vatican. You can tell about this to Inquisitor Caraquemada, he will be here soon enough to listen to your theories and pleas for mercy.’
Abbot Malallet ordered the mess to be cleaned and everybody went to morning mass because it was dawn already and nobody would catch any sleep anyway. I excused myself of attending prayers to prepare my exposition on the upcoming scholastic discussion with bishop Caraquemada. My real intentions before meeting my dimwit pupil were to interrogate the dwarf monk and find out why he had left the note that had lured us to the library in the middle of the night and whatever else he knew about the whole rotten and unholy business that seemed to be going on in that evil hole.
The day before I had overheard Malallet instructing brother Mediano to clean the abbey’s chimney in case the inquisitor needed to make a big fire and the abbot had thrown a significant glance on my direction when he mentioned fire. The midget was the only monk small enough to fit inside the chimney and I was already on the rooftop waiting for him when he came out with his naked body blackened with soot. He looked like a coal chunk with arms and suppress hilarity was a difficult task. He had undressed to avoid soiling his small clothes that were piled up by the chimney stack and smeared his body with lard to slip down the narrow funnel. He became uneasy when he saw me there and tried to sneak down again but I grabbed his ankle just in time before it disappeared down the smoke stack.
‘ What do you want? I am just an insignificant and small servant of God. I have done nothing. Whatever you think I did it wasn’t me and if I was I have an alibi. Please let me go brother! ‘ He said while kicking and screaming in a very comical manner that made a difficult not to burst into laughter and remain serene and threatening, or even to remember why I had climbed to the roof in the first place.
‘ Why did you wrote that note?’ I asked trying to control my laughter.
‘ I don’t know what you are talking about! Let me go, I am little and there is little I know, there is even little pleasure in dropping my little body into the void for I will make just a little splash. ‘ He protested.
I hold him over the roof rim that offered a commanding albeit vertiginous view of the distant courtyard’s stone floor and remarkably swiftly for a man of his size he became more collaborative.
‘ Do you remember about the note now?’ I asked him.
‘ I meant no harm. I swear. I just wanted to know about the book. ‘ He said vehemently.
‘ How did you find out about the book? Who told you?’
‘ Brother Celestino did. He came to see me after the novice was killed. They were lovers, did you know that? They liked to have me flogging them while they did sodomy and many vile things that I saw with my own little eyes. They trusted me because I like flogging big men and nobody takes seriously what small people says with their high pitched voices anyway. After brother Panfilo was found dead he came to me and told me to flog him because he had many sins to atone for and flogging always relaxed him. I did as he said and afterwards he cried and told me about the book and the numbers. I wanted to find out what it was about and I wrote them down, for my head is small and there is little space to store big numbers. I went to the library but I couldn’t reach the shelf because I am a little and harmless, in case you haven’t noticed.’
‘ Why did you left the message under my disciple’s bed? ‘ I asked.
‘I left the number under your Franciscan’s brother’s bed so I could follow you both and find out about the book. I followed him tonight and saw how you two met and broke into the library. I was about to follow you upstairs concealed under a bucket when I realized somebody else was in the library. It was brother Celestino and he had a book with him. When he had heard you forcing the lock he had hidden under the desk and waited until you were gone. He didn’t know you were upstairs looking for the same book he had just taken.’
‘ Did you see who killed brother Celestino? ‘
‘ No. I swear. I just saw a big shape in the dark appear behind him and everything happened so fast that I couldn’t see who it was. He closed the lid and brother Celestino’s head exploded and I ran for my life. ‘
‘Mmm. Why were you interested in the book? How did Celestino knew of it? ‘ I asked as I shook him causing ashes to rain down the patio.
‘ I saw Celestino and Panfilo smoke a strange black matter that made them mellow and speak strange things. They gave me some once and I spoke strange myself but I felt higher and closer to God as I never felt before. Celestino told me the book revealed the secret of the origins of the dark matter and I wanted to find out so I could get more.’
My long life devoted the to study of obscure religious matters has unfortunately giving me little chances to hold a naked midget on the top of a roof and I might have miscalculated the true weight of dwarfs because when I realized that the fingers that had been clasped around Mediano’s ankle were hardly grasping his toe it was too late. He plummeted down to the patio to certain death but at the precise moment he was about to land on the cobblestone floor a carriage entered the courtyard and his body pierced through its canvas roof. As the midget dived down I had recognized the papal coat of arms on top of the embroidered velvet rooftop and I found the wisest course of action was to made myself scarce, uninterested as I was in the pandemonium that my actions would certainly unleash.
While William de Whiskey, my respected and wise preceptor was about to toss a midget from the roof of the abbey, I was down on the courtyard witnessing the arrival of the fearsome inquisitor Caraquemada and his retinue. I had finished cleaning my habit and was impatient to reunite with my beloved teacher unaware of the fact that his actions were about to unleash further mayhem and bewildering in the abbey’s community. I never saw the plummeting midget fall but I certainly registered the great commotion that ensued. After the impact that ripped a hole through the red velvet canvas that protected the occupant of the carriage I saw a speeding diminutive black shape running away followed by the inquisitor’s retinue. At first I though that finally God has heard my prayers and sent us some help in the shape of a coal gnome to help us in our predicament but then I recognized the piercing voice of brother Mediano. He ran while trying to give explanations to the soldiers chasing him around the patio. There was much laughter and rejoicing among the witnesses, me included, because the scene was indeed comical and unusual, but there was much less laughter and even less rejoicing when the inquisitor crawled out the carriage screaming in fury and with his smashed mitre around his neck. His red mantle was soiled with black dust and the neck twisted in an awkward angle that seemed unnatural and was certainly painful. We all had to struggle to suppress our laughter for fear of ending the day on top of a heap of firewood when he began to scream in a pitched tone of voice that seemed more suited for the midget his men were chasing than for a prelate of Rome. We all humble servants of God and His Church clenched our fist and with renewed vigor struggled harder not to laugh.
Bishop Caraquemada had a reputation that preceded him and it made the black legend of the Inquisition look grey in comparison. Eustaquio Craquemada had been born into a family of small landowners in the city of Calatayud and showed an early interest in inquisition: as a child he had denounced his own mother to the inquisition . At the age of six e had accused her of witchcraft for forcing him to eat a particularly nauseating chickpea soup. He presented the soup as evidence and it was so revolting that his mother was burn in the stake after the inquisitor tried a spoonful. Seeing his predisposition for cruelty and mercilessness the inquisitor sent him to Rome where he could apply his talents to the service of God and get paid an handsome salary for something he would have done for free for it was in his nature to be cruel and vile. As inquisition apprentice young Caraquemada introduced an innovative procedure to severe the ears of the heretics in a specially painful and slow manner that is known as Caraquemada’s twister in his honour. The Great Inquisitor, always interested in new fashionable forms of investigative procedures rewarded the promising young inquisitor with a post for him in France.
France was at the time and still is a fertile ground for heresy and hence the most coveted post for any young and ambitious inquisitor wanting to fight heresy and climb the tribunal’s hierarchy. There was plenty and variety of many different unholy heresies of all classes and conditions, some of them so wild and strange that half the population were considered heretics while the other half were blasphemers in the eyes of the heretic half. These are some of the heresies inquisitor Caraquemada found and fought there:
Animalbaptists: The animalbaptist believe in the holiness of livestock and their beliefs had earned outrage among churchgoers for it was the custom of animalbaptists to baptize their animals in the churches, leaving the baptismal water turbid with mud and feces. The most radical elements of this sect believed wild animals to be feral because they are not baptized and they began a campaign to baptize all sort of beasts and pests. The Pope proscribed this practices when the bishop of Tolousse lost his arms bitten off by a bear some animalbaptists were attempting to baptize disguised as a baby.
Carpentarians: The carpentarian heretics regard wood instead of bread as the body of Christ because Jesus had made a living a carpenter at beginning of his career as professional messiah. Carpentarians celebrate a form of heretical mass in which they have communion eating hosts made of sawdust and drinking varnish. The carpentarian heretics are one of the most conspicuous sort of heretic due to their custom of wearing clothing made of wood to honor their faith and capturing them is unchallenging for even the heavier inquisitors because the weight of their garments make them very slow and easy to catch. The Inquisition devised a torment using termites specially tailored to break the will of members of this sect that proved so effective that the group disbanded and the few survivors retired to live naked on top of trees.
Indolentians: The indolentians hold the believe that the End of Days is coming and it is not worth to do anything because it will be ruined any day anyway. In accordance to their believes the activities of this movement are so scarce and far apart in time that their members are usually mistaken by common lazy vagrants. This heretics wear dirty rags and long entangled hair and their appearance is unkept and vile in general.
Tricrhromatics: The trichromatics hold the heretic believe that the Holy Trinity is just one God painted with three different color coatings. Members of the trichromatic faith are easily recognized for their custom of repeating every action and word three times. Listening to them speaking is amusing at first but becomes boring after a while and soon any good Christian feels compelled to throw them into a fire to save their wicked soul and his own sanity.
Fornicarians: The unholy fornicarian heresy claims that human souls belong to God but the flesh is entitled to as much enjoyment and fornication as it can take. The fornicarian is probably the most dangerous heresy in the Vatican list of heresies because most people find more enthralling three minutes of copulation than three hours listening to a man speaking Latin. Fornicarians communicate among them using their tongues in a repugnant manner, shaking them far out their open mouths and rolling their eyes. Men and women of this sect fornicate in abominable manners an their vices turn their flesh putrid and vile but they seem to enjoy their belifs so much that they never give it up.
Morons: The heretic sect of the Moron Brethren are the followers of a disgruntled dumb serf who claims he was visited by angel Moroni who told him that God’s only source of amusement is watching mortals behave in an erratic and comical manner. According to Moronic teachings only the most laughable and amusing followers will achieve salvation and be allowed into heaven to amuse God with their moronic behavior. Morons are recognizable by the strange ways they exhibit in public and private although caution must be exercised as they can be easily mistaken by common imbeciles.
Iconoplasts: The iconoplasts are a dangerous band of heretic vandals who are against religious icons, particularly against depictions of the uglier saints. They travel across Europe carrying a buckets of lime and applying a coat of plaster on religious art they dislike or find offensive to their beliefs.
All these and many more heresies were found by Caraquemada in France and everywhere he went. He also had extensive experience dealing necromancy and black magic but none of these experiences had prepared his neck to withstand the landing of a blackened midget on his head and he was visibly disturbed when he emerged from his carriage. He barked orders to his guard to catch brother Mediano who had vanished into the orchard and who, due to his size, could have be hiding anywhere. It was probably only the timely appearance of William what spared brother Mediano from spending that evening laying on burning coals. William appeared from one side door of the abbey and walked leisurely along the courtyard pretending to admire the architecture of the abbey as if he didn’t know what had happened. When inquisitor Caraquemada saw him coming he summoned his guard to form around him and to protect his spermatic sacks with their shields, spears ready. Caraquemada watched every movement of William from a safe distance as my beloved mentor approached me and greeted me in a very pious manner instead of with the customary slap on my head.
‘ Oh! What is going on?’ Said William in a very effective rendition of surprise when he reached my side pretending absolute dettachment from the pandemonium unraveling around us. He gazed towards bishop Carquemada who was trying to regain his composture assisted by his bodyguards and I could see William’s face twitching to supress his giggling, then he spoke to me.
‘ His eminency has arrived althought it seems he had run in some trouble with his headwear. We must go and greet him, we are all men of God after all.’ That said William walked towards the party gathered on the centre of the courtyard with me on his tail. My devotion for my mentor dragged my humble body through the invisible wall of fear the infamous inquisitor inspired on me while I prayed to God he would not ask impertinent questions about my damp habit. Such a prayer did not went unanswered because when the startled Caraquemada recognized William he locked his vengeful stare on him and I became invisible to him. Caraquemada motioned the guards to protect his groin with their shields and to stay at readiness at both his flanks but William paced straight to him with slow long strides, hands folded inside the wide sleeves and a beatific smile on his face.
‘ Stand where you are brother William de Whiskey, I still don’t know what just happened, but I am sure is not coincidence finding you here.’ Said Caraquemada leveling his crooked staff in William’s direction.
‘ There is no coincidences His Eminence, only God’s whimsical will. I am sorry, lately it seems to be His divine will to befall upon you only calamities and misfortunes. I just wanted to greet His Eminence on His Eminence’s arrival’
‘ Cut that unholy crap brother William. I am here because you have failed in your task, the new Pope has sent me to unravel this unholy mess and find out who is staeling his cheese. His Holiness has promised to make me Cardinal if I find why the supply of the holy cheese is being jeopardized. ‘
‘ What about the dead monks? ‘ Asked William.
‘ What dead monks? ‘ Said the bishop his hangered expression turning into perplexity.
‘ Since we arrived here two monks had been killed: the first in the most cheesy fashion and the second literally smashed by literature. I haver reasons to believe both murders are related to the stolen cheese. ‘
‘ I have not time for riddles and wordplay brother William. I have a running nose and my back is killing me. Since the last possession I succesfully exortized by burning the possessed I have been feeling bad in my stomach. I can hardly take second servings. I will have the abbott brief me in thiese matters and if there is any discrepancy between your ramblings and his account I will glady include your wild depositions in my investigations. I will retire to rest now. Be ready tomorrow morning because we’ll start the hearings. It’s Inquisition time!’ Said Carquemada and then left still shielded by the impenetrable rows of armed guards.
Episodium IV about how the very pious and scared Franciscan brother Pio de Pollalonga and the also very pious but not so scared but still smarter William de Whiskey visit the library again but this time is dark because they go there out of opening hours and they have to carry a candle and discover a book that tells the story of the knight Crusader Federic de Mallet who traveled to the Holy Land to crush some infidels’ heads and saw the many things and prodigies that tend to happen in those distant lands and how he and his men found many skulls to crush everywhere they went and there was much slaying and carnage and some goriness too and he met some Infidels and discovered some unholy but interesting things.
That night, after retiring to my quarters for the night I sneaked out of my cell and went to meet William de Whiskey at the cloister as we had decided, so we could do further sneaking into the library. The abbey’s cloister is one of the few cloister in the Christendom built round instead of square. The reason for this peculiar configuration is that the founder of the abbey of Lalechera was a very fast Dominican who liked to run while he transited the corridor reading his Bible and had problems negotiating sharp corners. This singular layout allowed the cloister of Lalechera to be used on Sundays and Passover celebrations as racetrack for the monks who organized competitions riding serfs around although betting on the result was considered improper and banned, as was the participation of extremely obese monks after a peasant perished at the end of a race he had won carrying brother Marrano de Cazorla. When I arrived to the cloister it was deserted and only cold beams of moonlight passing in between the arches illuminated the corridor with a dim pale glare. I couldn’t have seen William unless he had a torch in his hand so I waited. I waited for quite a long time hidden in the shadows. Old tales of ghosts and spirits came to burden my soul with fear as I waited. I remembered the eerie story of Grinnaldi the Ghost Jester. Grinnaldi was an Italian court jester who was tortured and beheaded by the King of Sicily for making a joke about the peculiar soft sounds the Queen whispered during the act of fornication. Apparently the King of Sicily didn’t find the joke so hilarious as all the other members of the court and he had Grinnaldi skinned alive and beheaded. From that day Grinnaldi’s beheaded skeleton appeared every night on the king’s bedroom and pestered him with unsolicited jokes that were so unfunny that eventually drove the monarch to madness.
My thinking of spirits and ghosts did little to control my fears and apprehensions and I began to feel a pressing need to urinate, pressing with special zest against the internal walls of my bladder. I approached a solitary statue of Saint Pancrass and under his concealing shadow I relieved my pressing need murmuring a prayer to the Virgin Mary thanking for the relief I felt and forgiveness for my sacrilegious irrigation of one of his saints but I got a punch on my nose instead. It was William’s beloved stone-hard fist that I recognized instantly used as I was to its attentions. William was a true master of disguise and was concealing his presence in the cloister posing as a statue when I decided to christen him with my humble bodily wastes.
Under the cover of the night William used his cross to break open the lock of the library’s door, an useful trick he had learnt as novice in a monastery with a particularly stingy cellar master. We have visited the library during the day but at night it was dark as the belly of the Devil and in my thoughts I cursed my luck of being born in the Dark Ages. Always dependable William’s foresight had made him bring a candle and under its flickering light he inspected the Roman numerals carved on the bookcase’s sides while I hold the candle. Soon we realized there was only twelve bookcases and we had to climb the stone staircase to the upper floor where the section containing blacklisted books was located. Those were books written by heretics and infidels or simply books that the Pope had found boring or distasteful. William forced the lock again and soon we were inside. The upper floor had no windows and it was pitch dark. We were surrounded by towering bookcases loaded with dusty volumes that made me sneeze loudly and earn a new admonition from William that this time took the form of a crushing blow with a tick volume of the Koran which is the sacred book of the Saracen and contain many lies and nonsense and it really hurts when it smashes your head.
We soon located the nineteenth bookcase. William climbed on my back to reach the sixth shelve and search for the hundred-fifty ninth volume. This took him some time because he felt great liking and affection for forbidden books and he was not supporting a stocky Franciscan on his back. He leisurely flipped through the pages of each of them and made erudite commentaries while the hot wax of his candle dripped on my forehead causing me great discomfort and my eyebrows to vanish for some months afterwards. My legs had began to falter when he reached the spot on the shelf where the book was supposed to be just to find it empty. The book had been taken and there was only a wide empty space between the other tomes.
It was in the precise instant when William was dismounting my shoulders to great relief of my crushed collarbones that we heard a loud noise coming from downstairs. It sounded like the slap of a giant hand crushing a not less gigantic insect. William quickly extinguished the candle with a blow not to reveal our presence. We descended slowly and with great care down the spiraled staircase feeling the walls with our hands and praying not to break our pious noses. The floor level was bathed only by the moonlight that managed through the narrow slits of the cross-shaped windows and in the darkness complete silence reigned unchallenged. Nobody seemed to be there so William lighted our candle again and what we saw would have frozen the blood on our veins had it not been an already familiar scene.
In one of the reading tables there was a thick massive volume with the body of a monk sticking out from between the pages. First we thought, or at least I did, that he had been used to mark the page but when we saw the pages soaked in blood we realized his head had been crushed between the heavy pages of the tome that somebody had closed violently while the poor monk was still reading. It was just like the macabre episode in the kitchen although this time the cheese had been replaced by a book. There was no way to know who the unfortunate victim was because his head was smashed beyond recognition and divine intervention would have been required just to collect all the bits, not to mention reattach them to build a human skull. The title on the book’s cover was Crushing Accounts & Trustworthy Testimonies of Prodigies, Marvels & Amusements from The Crusades to the Holy Land and the not less crushed brains of the unfortunate monk were splattered precisely on page one thousand and nine, the same page mentioned in the mysterious note I had found under my bed.
I was so terrified by the dreadful sight of the shattered monk’s skull smeared over the open pages that I fell on my knees and I promised God I wouldn’t read a book in my life if I was allowed to leave the library with my head in one piece. William joined my prayers whipping my head with his hardwood rosary until I regained control of my senses. Then he had me clean the scattered brains and wash the blood using my robe so he could read what was written on the pages without having to ruin his own clothes. The thick bloodstained volume was a collection of knights’ accounts about their experiences during the Second Crusade, celebrated after the first had been cancelled due to bad weather. The book gave advice about good hostels and inns in the route to the Holy Land and of chivalric forms of entertainment and amusement between battles against the infidel. In page one thousand and nine there was the personal account of a French crusader and this is what it said.
Account of the adventures and tribulations of the very pious and humble servant of God Federic de Martell known as the Bonecrusher who went to the Holy Land to do the Lord’s will with relish and on top of a horse.
July. Year of the Lord of 1119
We have crushed a serfs’ revolt in the Languedoc. Their skulls were weak and frail and there was little enjoyment in crushing them. My men feel uneasy. They want to do some slaughter and bloodshed so we join the Crusaders. They give us a brochure. It says the infidel’s skull is thick as steel and there is great enjoyment and amusement in crushing it.
August. Year of the Lord of 1119
We cross the Alps into Italy and slaughter a village of possessed heretics who speak in tongues and tried to hamper our advance. Later we are informed those people were speaking Italian and throwing us flowers. The weather is not good and I have a hole in my boot. The men are bloodthirsty and spirits are high. I must remember to hone my blade, it makes strange noises when I slice a head.
September. Year of the Lord of 1119
We arrive to Genova to board the ship that will take us to the Holy Land. In spite of the Plague hostels are overbooked. We lay siege to one hostel with good views of the bay and slaughter the owner and his guests. Free accommodation after slaughter. Some men die of fevers and there is rats and lice on the rooms. Nobody to complaint because we impaled the owner. Poor service. Not recommended unless for short stay. The ship we have commandeered is dirty and overpriced. We slaughter the captain and begin our trip. Important: remember sharpening the sword, it took me three hours to behead the roughneck of the captain.
December. Year of the Lord of 1119
Christmas and still no wind. We celebrate the birth of Our Lord eating some comrades who died of scurvy. Men hungry and bored. No wind. We slaughter some pages for New Years Eve dinner. Still no wind. One of my men suggests fishing for food. We slaughter and eat him instead. God does not send wind yet. Remember to sharp the blade.
May. Year of the Lord of 1120
We sight Holy Land and praise the Lord. The land is flat, dry, hot and Jesus didn’t come to welcome us. There is great disappointment and there is a little less Lord-praising. We slaughter some onlookers. We steal their horses and continue towards Jerusalem. The blade. Sharp it.
Late May. Year of the Lord of 1120
Praised be God! Finally we sight Jerusalem and lay siege to the city. Great bloodshed and slaughtering. The men are happy with so much carnage. We crush many infidel’s skulls and there is much rejoicing and we thank the Lord for His blessings. Jerusalem is beautiful seen from outside although it doesn’t look like the brochure. My sword is almost blunt and I ask the Lord to remember me to sharpen it.
September. Year of the Lord of 1120
Victory! Jerusalem has fallen. We enter the city and kill everybody. Great slaying and bloodbath. Crushed infidel skulls everywhere. The Saracen king is an effeminate man who wears long golden garments and claims to be somebody else. This is Byzantium and he is an Orthodox patriarch, he says. Whatever. We slaughter him and pillage the city. There is so much raping and burning that I forget to sharp the blade again. Further skull-crushing later and quiet evenings of slaughter by the waterfront. Men in good mood and sticky with blood.
Late September. Year of the Lord of 1120
Letter from the Pope. His holiness is furious. Mea culpa. This is not Jerusalem. Sorry. Who ever heard of a place named Byzantium anyway? We do some farewell slaughtering and board another ship. There is something I had to remember but I don’t know what it is. Slaughtering of fish. Boredom. Slow winds.
December. Year of the Lord of 1120
We sight Holy Land on Christmas eve. Auspicious. We disembark and do some slaughtering to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. We ride towards Jerusalem. Rumors were true: Saracens heads are fun to crush. There is much bloodshed on the way and the men celebrate. Only one worry in my head. I feel I forget something.
February. Year of the Lord of 1121
Lost in the desert after beheading our guide. Legends not true: headless infidel cannot give directions. Men are mutinous because the lack of slaughter. We try to slaughter some stones but there is no bloodshed and there is great sword-chipping instead. Word-chipping, that reminds me of something, but what?
June. Year of the Lord of 1121
Still lost. No water. No food. No bloodshed in sight. Men more mutinous than ever. Talks of slaughtering me. God has forsaken us. Specially me. We eat our horses and there is great discontent and bewilderment when we realize that we have to walk. The good news: I remember what I had to do. Sharp my blade but there is no infidels around and no slaughter to do. Why bother?
August. Year of the Lord of 1121
More lost than before. Nothing to eat. We wander Eastwards or what looks like Eastwards to me. Whatever Eastwards is. A man ate some sand and it was poisonous. Everything is unholy and vile in the land of the infidel. I miss crushing heretic heads near home. Heresy! Men talking about slaughtering God. I pray God for a miracle. I have faith. He is merciful and wise and He will help his humble servant.
Late August. Year of the Lord of 1121
Everybody is dead! I am captive of the infidel and I have been castrated. I thank merciful God for sparing my life. Infidels are strange men with strange noses and strange garments. They are cruel and evil and do vile things like slaughtering and bloodshed. I am taken to a fort on top of a mountain which is also vile.
September. Year of the Lord of 1121
I am an eunuch now. I take care of the harem of the King of the Mountain. There is much debauchery and fornication and I cannot take part. I curse God, but not very loud. He could hear me. He could befall some more calamities over me. Pestilence. Leprosy. Baldness.
Christmas Eve. Year of the Lord of 1121
No Christmas tree and no presents. This is the land of the infidel and it shows. The King of the Mountain is powerful and feared in this land. Many prodigies and occurrences: I lost one sandal. The warriors of the king are called assassins. They do much slaughtering and bloodshed for his king. I envy them for that. And because they still have their member to do fornication. When they rest of so much bloodshed and slaying they smoke a dark matter of strange smell and they become deponent and humorous. It is Christmas and God has forsaken me. Some infidels offer me dark matter to smoke. I might try and see.
Late December. Year of Allah of 543
Converted to Islam this morning before breakfast. The sun is shinning and birds sing in the garden. Life is beautiful! Praised be Allah whoever He is. I smoke dark matter every morning and my health seems to improve. Miracle! Praised be the Prophet, peace be upon him. Making new friends among my captors. Presented with a hat I think is a handkerchief an I blow my nose on it and there is much laughter and enjoyment.
February. Year of Allah of 543
My Muslim brothers take me with them to slaughter Christian infidels. We ambush a caravan of pilgrims to Jerusalem and there is much slaughter an bloodshed. I feel like at home. They let me crush some skulls but I soon realized I need training. I crush my feet instead. I smoke some dark matter and I feel better. Hashish! That is the name of the dark matter. Praised be Allah for giving us the dark matter.
May. Year of Allah of 543
I have been promoted to cellar master. I take care of the stocks of foodstuffs and hashish. Busy days. Little time for slaughter and bloodshed. Even less time to keep this diary.
‘ That’s it.’ Said my master William. ‘Some pages are missing. Somebody must have snatched them before we came. I am afraid that we won’t find out tonight how Federic de Martell managed to come back or why. ‘
‘ How do you know he ever came back? It seems to me he was having a great time slaying and smoking dark matter and doing heretical things.’ I pointed out.
‘Your head is hollow as a church bell. Who wrote this account if not Federic de Martell? How did it get to this abbey? I have read before another account about this intoxicating black matter. Some Venetian merchants following the Silk Route wandered away of their path because silk is a very subtle and slippery fabric. They found themselves in the company of a caravan of Bedoiuns that wandered the desert in camels, that are like deformed horses and have protuberances in their backs because they haven’t been baptized. The merchants smoked some of that sticky substance and their judgment clouded and there was great turmoil and rejoicing among their numbers and one of the merchants tried to take his pants through his head.’
‘ What does all this have to do with the cheese? And the dead monks? What are we going to do now? The first light of the morning soon will be here and after the morning prayer the monks will come here to find me covered in blood. It is not going to look good. ’ I said fearing to be mistaken by a criminal and hanged. God did know I killed nobody but sure the Almighty was not going to bother wear witness at my trial to save the neck of His humble servant.
‘ You are right this time. We must go of we will get in trouble. Let’s go. ‘ Said William and we closed the book an left.
We headed back to our quarters through the cloister. It was still dark and we saw candlelight through the arches at the far end. On the dim trembling light of the candle we recognized the spherical shape of brother Marrano coming in our direction. His wide bulk blocked almost the total span of the corridor and our way to the cells. There was no way we could pass unnoticed unless by unlikely divine intervention we were transubstantiated into thin transparent slices of glass so we turned back and entered the door that gave access to the church chapel. Through the keyhole we saw him pass by the door, he seemed in a good mood in spite of the late of the hours. He was humming a popular Gregorian tune and following the rythim with his feet causing the paving stones to shake. He was heading towards the library and we anticipated very soon he would be running back in opposited direction and proclaiming the End of Days in panic.
Before that happened something else did. We heard a noise coming from the altar and the protective hand of the Lord might have been upon us for a change because instead of befalling some new calamity upon us we were concealed under his shadow and the monk who had caused the disturbance never detected us. He had enterd the church through the main door and was carrying a torch. Under its orange glare we saw he concealed a package wrapped in cloth and he went straight to the trap that gave access to the crypt. While he opened with his own key we recognized the hideous bearded face of the abbot that dissapeared intside after taking a furtive glance around the nave and still failing to see us. We were wondering what was he doing there at such a late hour when the not for anticipated less bloodcurling scream of brother Marrano reached us from the library.
‘ Either brother Marrano has found the body or somebody woke up hungry in the middle of the night and decided to slaughter a pig for snacks.’ Said William.
Episodium III about how the very pious, tired and sticky Franciscan brother Pio de Pollalonga and the also very pious an not less tired but more sticky and smarter William de Whiskey visit the library and see many books and learn about the high pitched voice of a furious Inquisitor and about how brother Pio obtains great amusement out of seeing a midget and obtains later a much less amusing blow in his head for his poor understanding of Roman numerals and excessive liking of flattery and there is hunger and they go for supper.
The library of the abbey of Lalechera was famous in all Christendom for his collection of beautifully crafted recipe books and cooking manuals. It was said somewhere in its shelves there was a copy of Frigidus Magnum’s treatise on necromancy and ice-cream making that contained recipes of cold sweets that had been inspired by the Devil but that tasted so good that the king of France Louis the Obese offered Provence with all serfs included to anybody who could obtain a copy for his royal kitchen. Also were famous the books on fishing and farming that dealt with scholarly matters like the spiritual nature of edible fish and the question of the soul’s immortality in chicken. There was richly illuminated bestiaries with monstrous beasts with many horns and many eyes but little chance of being invited to a wedding. There was a richly decorated Bible autographed by God but the calligraphy was illegible and the dedication rude and merciless. There was navigational charts showing the route to Catay and Cipango in the Far East where people are all heretics and fornicate on the top of trees. There was travelogues about the Spice Islands that are dull and uninteresting in spite of its name. There was a learned but nevertheless comical treatsie about the inhabitants of the Antipodes who walk upside down and always lose their hats and who cause great repulsion when they defecate. There was volumes on pharmacology and botany dealing with poisons and deadly herbs that enjoyed great popularity among those prelates who wanted to advance up the hierarchy of the Church. There was accounts of the customs of the faraway kingdom of a Christian king that pestered his subjects so frequently that got the nickname of Pester John. There was leather bound thick tomes of alchemy that told of how lead can be transmuted in all sort useful utensils but refuses to become gold and stick stubbornly to their initial plumbic condition causing many alchemist to become deponent and sour. There was dark treatsies of necromancy and demonology with ancient black pages written in blood whose reading was more amusing than the Bible in spite of the awful reviews they always got in Vatican circles. There was pious books written by holy saints and fathers of the Church about how to unmask heresy and blasphemy using only an iron rod and some chunks of burning coal. There was witchcraft books allegedly written by women which is lunacy because it is well known that women cannot write or perform intellectual labors. In short, there were many books in there and it was there where I found out what a book was and I was very pleased that they were so heavy because William had told me they contained wisdom and those were certainly well stuffed.
The monks of the abbey took great pride and care of the books they spent their lives painstakingly copying from other books because monks are not very original thinkers and wear the same robe and haircut all their life. The scribes sometimes grew so fond of the volume they were assigned to copy that some of them slept with them on their bunks for fear of thiefs which caused some volumes to smells funny afterwards. William once told me the story of a Benedictine who was copying a particularly salacious book for which he developed such an affection that abandoned the order and requested a Papal dispensation to marry the third chapter but was burned instead and the book blacklisted. Most of this priceless volumes were aligned on the maze of shelves that constituted the library of Lalechera although some specially thick and sturdy books had been used to build an armchair for abbot Malallet and while other helped to balance his skewed table, a practice that William considered barbaric, specially when we entered the abbot’s office and there was not a single chairs for our molified bones. The abbot quickly sat in his throne made of books and smiled.
‘ That was a very interesting exposition brother William’ He said and laid his feet on the table making great display of comfort and coziness in front of us who had traveled for months through inhospitable regions on horseback and had our bodies aching and sore.
‘ Thank you but I am not here to hear vain compliments from a man covered in cheese ‘ Replied William ‘ I have crossed Europe to ensure the Vatican pantry and His Holiness palate get their share of Tetilla Gallega. The new Pope is French and a true gourmet, he told me he will canonize every goat of this lands if that is what it takes to resume the production of this delicacy. I personally dislike cheese because it makes look those who eat it like mice but His Holiness…’
‘ His Holiness is dead!’ interrupted the abbot, then quicly added ‘Shall his soul rest in peace. A messenger arrived three days ago with the bad news. He choked with is soup that had an ox’s rear quarter inside. A new Pope has been elected and the Inquisition has been commissioned to investigate the case. An inquisitor will be here tomorrow and I am sure he will be very happy to discuss these matters with you brother William. You have some pending business with him, or so I heard.’ Said the abbot with clear delectation.
‘ Bishop Caraquemada!’ Yelled William in disbelief. ‘The man whose spermatic sacks I kicked in Aberdeen.‘
‘ Your deductive powers serve you well again brother William. I am told he is enduring great hardship and mockery these days, since the Aberdeen incident his thundering voice has acquired a comical high pitched tone, not unlike of that of a castrati. A very beautiful timbre for a chorus singer but not fully adequate to promulgate anathemas or interrogate heretics. It is said that heretics and witches are not burned any more under bishops Caraquemada’s custody because they perish of excessive laughter during interrogation. The gossip in Rome is that he has commissioned a special set of pincers with your name engraved on them and he intends to use them during the investigation that is going to be conducted here. He sent message that you should stay here because he his eager to see you again and finish that scholastic controversy you had regarding the Holy Trinity. Now it is better you are rest in your cells to rest because you will need all the vigor you can muster for the upcoming dialectical duel although I advice you to shave your own spermatic sacks because I hate the smell of burning hair. Good evening brothers Franciscans, go with God.’
A small monk named Mediano guided us to ours cells through the maze-like corridors of the abbey. The layout was narrow and difficult to navigate as it has been designed by a master builder with an excessive liking for wine who had placed arches and pillars in the most inconvenient places causing many newcomers to fracture their skulls while wandering around during the night. Peter of Flintstone had been a celebrated builder of the Romanesque period who pioneered the economic notion of slicing a circle to obtain two arches and use the rest to make a millstone. He also was the first man to realize capitals looked much better on top of columns instead of at the bottom as it was the custom in the lower Middle Ages. This notion cost him his life when some disgruntled masons tired of climbing up columns dropped a buttress on his head, an incident that explains the hatred and contempt for masons the Roman Church had ever since.
When we arrived to the cells brother Mediano showed first my master William to his quarters and then I followed him towards mine. We descended a narrow spiral staircase to the underground floor while brother Mediano informed me with a malicious smirk on his face that my cell had been originally a dungeon. It had been redecorated although somebody had forgotten the shackles bolted on the walls, some of them with yellowish old bones still clinging inside the manacles. Brother Mediano told me before leaving that if required some assistance for my spiritual exercices of penitence he would be in his cell with his whip and eager to help if any flogging was required. I declined his generous offer and thanking him for his kindness I told him to go with God and as far from me as he could.
I was left alone in my dark windowless cell that smelled of death and sweat but at least had a roof. An oak plank a has been placed to serve as bed and in an unusual display of munificence and prodigality a coating of varnish has been applied to serve as mattress. I immediately noticed a paper sticking out under the so-called bed and I picked it up because we Franciscans are clean and austere people and dislike things that stick out. It was a piece of parchment with something written on it. Thanks to the patient tutelage of William I had mastered a certain degree of understanding of letters and I tried to decipher the message’s content. It said: ‘Xix vi clix xlix miv’. I didn’t understand what such a gibberish meant but I figured it had to be latin as I had heard senior churchmen spoke it before and it sounded equally unintelligible. I ran to William’s cell to get his advice and translation. I stormed inside without knocking first and he promptly admonished for my rudeness with a slap on my head when I caught him naked and using a razor to prepare his groin for the upcoming hearings with inquisitor Caraquemada. A second mighty and well deserved blow befell on my head when he realized the cryptic message was just a string of Roman numerals and while he elucidated for my miserable persona the meaning of the message I rubbed my head with a wet rag.
‘ Look, these are XIX-VI-CLIX-XLIX-MIV. They are indications to find a book in the abbey’s library. The library shelves are numbered, the first number is nineteen, that is the nineteenth bookcase, the second number is for the shelf: the sixth. CLIX is the hundred fifty-ninth volume of the row while MIV, one thousand and nine, stands either for a page number or a chapter from the book that we’ll find there, although I anticipate is the page number because a book with so many chapters would stick out the library’s walls and reach Jerusalem. I also suspect this message has been written by the diminutive monk that show us to our cells.’
‘ How can you possibly his eminence know that? ‘ I said in total astonishment.
‘ Didn’t you notice that he was a midget? And if you didn’t why were you giggling like an idiot all the way here? God in his infinite liking for practical jokes made some exceptionally small men and other freaks so princes can have entertainment in their courts and common folk find consolation to their hardships in the fact for some people are more unfortunate than themselves. Midgets have a distaste for capital letters and for great things in general. That is explains why he wrote the numerals using minuscules causing your confusion. And please, I beg you for thousandth time you stop calling me ‘his eminence’ I am just a humble servant of God and I don’t like laudation and bottom-kissing.’
‘ Yes, my master. Thank you master.’ I said.
‘ Just brother William for Christ’s sake and stop kissing my feet that they get all sticky afterwards.’
‘ There is still some cheese between the toes and I am hungry’ I replied.
‘ You are right this time. It is almost dinner time. We must join our hosts at the refectory but before we will make some plans and preparations for a visit to the library. Tonight!’
‘ Monks are not allowed to go out by night, in fact we are not allowed to go anywhere any time without a Papal dispensation.’ I said trembling of fear and foreboding, although I wasn’t sure what foreboding was: I imagined forebodings were dead souls that wandered abbeys and other old stone buildings at night wearing a sheet and scaring those who dare walk around at late hours. When William explained that those were called ghosts I felt great relief and we went to eat with the other monks.
The refectory is the hall where all monks have their meals together on a very long table with a single not less long elongated plate named porcinarium. The only monks excused from attendance are those particularly rude and vile who are segregated and have their meals in the pigsty. Everybody must finish their food and the monks are reminded of the many serfs outside whose poor children have nothing to eat, the fact that their toiling on the fields put the food in the refectory’s table in the first place is mercifully omitted. During supper is customary to have a monk read passages from the Bible or some sacred book, which is said to have beneficial effects in the digestive process although is difficult to understand what it is read because the monk in charge has always his mouth gorged with foodstuff and his diction hindered by mastication. Holy books used for this perusals are always soiled and smeared with food and I found myself once a half eaten desiccated onion that some impious monk had used to mark a chapter of the gospels of Mark.
The abbey’s refectory was roomy and laid in the shape of a spoon instead of a cross because the cross-shaped layout is exclusive of churches and cathedrals. The refectory table was presided by abbot Malallet. At his right was brother Marrano, who ate his ration faster than anybody else and picked leftovers from the abbot’s plate when he wasn’t looking. At his left there was a very old monk named Cegato de Peor, because he was blind and he had been chosen as caretaker for the forbidden books of the library that included basically anything not written in Latin and by an author whose name does not start with the word ‘Saint’. He repeatedly stuffed his food in the abbot’s face by mistake but the abbot never complained and ingested it without protest, even when it was inserted in his ear. William pointed out that the old blind monk had to have a some powerful ascendancy over the cruel abbot because otherwise the blind monk would had been already thrown into the abbey’s moat. All the Dominican brothers sat in silence and very erect on the bench, the only monk dispensed was brother Mediano who because his shortness couldn’t reach the table and ate standing up on top of the table. Like a jester he tried to amuse his sour brothers by jokingly bathing his feet inside the soup contained in the porcinarium but nobody seemed truly amused and some monks chased him and thrown him into a well confirming the black legend about the lack of humor of the Dominicans.