For All Nails #132: Confido in Fabulositate
by Johnny Pez, David Mix Barrington and M.G. Alderman
- FESTE: [...] Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool.
- OLIVIA: Can you do it?
- FESTE: Dexteriously, good madonna.
- OLIVIA: Make your proof.
- FESTE: I must catechise you for it, madonna: good my mouse of virtue, answer me.
- OLIVIA: Well, sir, for want of other idleness, I'll bide your proof.
- Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene 5
Princess Sophia of Great Britain was growing tired of the catechism, but was well bred FN1 enough to try to conceal it. However, Brother Francisco, seated across from her in the far corner of the palace library, was an experienced teacher, and evidently was able to discern her boredom nevertheless. He said, "I think we have spent enough time today with the Quebec Catechism, my child."
Relieved, Sophia answered, "More than enough, I think, Brother."
Francisco nodded. "The memorisation of prescribed responses has its place. Dr. Alvarez tells me your verb endings are improving -- that is a matter of memorisation at first, as well, but as the responses gradually become part of your normal thinking, you come closer to reading Señor Delpino's biographies or to conversing with your new subjects."
"And these answers are supposed to become part of my normal thinking as well?"
"Eventually, I hope, yes. You must know the responses to convert to Catholicism in the formal sense, but it is my hope that this learning will be part of a process that will lead you to a true, deeply held faith."
Sophia shook her head. "I don't know about that, Brother. I don't know that I've ever had any sort of faith."
"Are you so sure of that? You seem to me to be a person of faith." He indicated Sophia's handkerchief with its embroidered words: Confido in fabulositate. "It is a matter of where you place your faith. In 'fabulousness', you would say in English?"
"Oh, my motto. It's just something I came up with a long time ago. Sort of silly, really." Sophia's answer was one she had formulated long since in response to her family's inevitable mockery. The truth was that a lot of thought and soul-searching had gone into the choice of that particular motto, thoughts that she had no intention of sharing with anyone else in Buckingham Palace.
Once again, however, Francisco seemed to see through her evasion. "I don't think so at all. Fabulousness is quite a reasonable thing to pose faith in, perhaps, depending on what fabulousness might mean."
"The quality of being fabulous, I suppose. Not a very good definition, I admit--"
"Might I try to define it?" There was a gleam in the Brother's eye that Sophia recognised. It meant that he was in the mood to play with ideas, to tease out their implications and follow them to their logical conclusions. She nodded her agreement.
"One thing included in fabulousness, I would think, is beauty and style. We must all at times place our faith in beauty and style -- at times they are all that seems to make life worth living. The Church is a great believer in beauty and style, of course, which is why she has inspired and commissioned the greatest art, music, architecture, and writing in the history of the world, for the worship of God and the inspiration of the faithful. The rituals of the Church have developed to have great beauty and style, because these attest to their power and truth. I have observed you, Your Highness, and I can plainly see that beauty and style are important parts of your life."
"But fabulousness isn't just beauty and style," Sophia pointed out.
"No, of course not. The Latin fabulositas means 'the quality of being like things in stories,' if we take it literally. And the Church places great faith in stories as well. The Hebrew stories of the Old Testament tell us of the history and the faith of a great people, and of God's promises to humanity. The Gospels tell us how those promises were fulfilled. Within the Gospels we read of Jesus teaching his followers by telling stories of his own, the parables. We have the stories of those first Christians, and the stories of all the saints of the Church, and other exemplary Christians as well. We can read these stories, put our faith in them, and try to live our lives as those Christians did. The Church's great mission is simply to carry the message of those stories into the world, both in words and deeds. Have I captured your notion of fabulousness?"
"To an extent," said Sophia as she considered the Brother's words. "But there's an aspect to it beyond aesthetics and theology. There's also a political side to fabulousness, or at least there is in Britain."
Francisco seemed genuinely surprised. "I admit that I do not see any political dimension to your beliefs."
"That's because you haven't grown up in Britain," Sophia said. "The NRP talk about 'renewing' Britain, but what they really mean to do is to build up a whole new society in the guise of 'restoring' the old one. They actually reject a good deal of this country's culture, claiming that it's decadent or superfluous. They've banned all the works of the old Aesthete school of art, and the Symbolists and pre-Raphaelites as well. They go round knocking down lovely old buildings and putting up blocks of flats in their place. They've consciously rejected beauty and embraced ugliness. You've seen those posters they put up, Brother, and all that vulgar sculpture. They're deliberately vulgar and brutal, because that's the sort of society they want to establish."
Francisco was nodding now. "And your faith in fabulousness is a reaction against this 'culture of vulgarity' you say the NRP wish to create here."
"That's it," said Sophia. "And I give you fair warning, Brother. As Queen of New Granada, I'll be doing all I can to encourage the spread of fabulousness there as well."
Smiling a conspiratorial smile, Francisco said, "Well, I am a Spaniard and not a New Granadan, so I cannot comment knowledgeably about New Granada's culture. That is Dr. Alvarez's specialty, so to speak. However, as a Spaniard, and as a loyal son of the Church, I can tell you that I would not be at all displeased to see more of your sort of fabulousness there. And neither, I feel sure, would His Majesty."
Sophia felt her mood lighten, as it always did when Francisco mentioned Fernando. "Do you really think so, Brother? About His Majesty, I mean."
"Yes, Your Highness, I do." His smile now gentle, Francisco added, "If I might continue our discussion of faith, it seems to me that there is another kind of faith that you already possess. Have you not faith in the man you plan to marry?"
Sophia considered. When you really thought about it, how well did she know Fernando? Was she perhaps taking him on faith, so to speak? But marrying Fernando was the right thing to do, that was clear. She answered: "Fernando is a man who inspires confidence, as you well know."
"Confidence, you say, that Latin word confido again." The monk never strayed far from the schoolteacher, Sophia thought. "Yes," he continued, "my King is a remarkable man, and well deserves your confidence. When he undertakes a task or a commitment, you can be sure that it will be fulfilled if it is at all within his power. If you are wise, you will put your faith in him, and put your faith in your marriage as well."
"There's a difference?"
"Oh, quite. Though it is not something God has chosen for me, I do know something about marriage, and faith is an important part of the successful ones. When husband and wife have faith in their own marriage as something larger than either of themselves, they will be more willing to compromise, to sacrifice. A Christian marriage is a Christian society in microcosm, each member autonomous but placing faith in the love of God and the love of their fellow members, each supporting the other for the greater good and for the glory of God."
"That doesn't sound much like the Christian societies I've seen. Or most of the marriages, for that matter," said Sophia dubiously, her own parents' marriage uppermost in her mind.
"My poor child, I know it is difficult to see the ideal in a world filled with sin and unhappiness. But true Christian societies exist in stories of the past, do they not? Jesus and his apostles. The small communities to whom St. Paul addressed his letters. The followers of St. Francis of Assisi, who founded my own order. And we do not find them only in stories. For a time I lived in a closed community in Spain, with others of my order, devoting ourselves to prayer, labor, and study. In New Orleans, I served the chapter of the Knights of the Immaculate among the students, Fernando's chapter. I think they lived with each other as true Christians in a spirit of Christian love."
Choosing her words carefully, Sophia said, "I understand what you mean, but for someone who's been living in Britain for the past ten years, the idea of sacrificing yourself for the sake of a larger purpose is bound to have certain sinister overtones. There have already been too many people in this country who've chosen to surrender their own autonomy in return for a place in a vast organisation. Some of us still value our ability to think for ourselves. Forgive me for being so blunt, but how would joining the Church be different from joining the Nats?"
"There is no need to ask forgiveness for this, my child," Francisco assured her. "I have been here less than two months, but I can see for myself the sinister aspects of the NRP. And the resemblance to the Church is no coincidence, I think. Sir Geoffrey Gold's party would not be the first organisation to model itself on the Church, and my heart foretells me that it will not be the last. They have taken the sense of belonging, the sense of community, that is one of the Church's greatest gifts, and twisted it to serve their own ends. The forms may be similar, but the spirits that animate them are poles apart. The NRP is animated by a spirit of pridefulness, of the desire for power and mastery, of worldly dominion. The Church is, and always has been, animated by a spirit of humility. All that we do, we do, not for our own sake, but as an offering of devotion to God."
Seeing the look of skepticism on Sophia's face, Francisco added, "It is true that some within the Church have lost sight of this from time to time, and surrendered to the temptations of pride. That is only to be expected in an institution made up of fallible beings such as ourselves. But always at the heart of the Church is the love of God, and the desire to praise Him."
Her skepticism unallayed, Sophia said, "It seems to me from what I've read of history that humility has been the exception rather than the rule."
"It can seem that way, yes," said Francisco, serenely unperturbed by her remark. "It is the nature of history to record every episode of iniquity while a thousand acts of piety go unobserved. And yet, I firmly believe that an organisation whose practices are at fundamental odds with its principles could not long endure; certainly not for as long as the Church has endured."
"If you can call it enduring," said Sophia, "after all the schisms and antipopes and whatnot."
"Nevertheless, endure it has," Francisco insisted. "In spite of all the troubles you allude to, in spite of the break with the Easterners, in spite of the Great Schism, in spite of the proliferation of sects, the Church has endured. And that, I believe, is testament to the genuine piety that forms the Church's foundation.
"And so, to finally answer your question, the difference between joining the NRP and joining the Church is that all of us within the Church, from the Pope on down, seek to serve God rather than a temporal ruler. The Mohammedans refer to their faith as Submission to God's will, which is a wonderful way of illustrating the point."
Sophia's eyes widened in surprise. "You're citing the Mohammedans as an example of true piety?"
Brother Francisco smiled at her. "The Church teaches us to regard other faiths with love and respect, for they are all true to some degree. Of course, they are also false to the degree that they contradict the Church's teachings, but that is only to be expected. And it is from the truth of her teachings that the Church's authority derives, as opposed to the truth of the teachings deriving from the authority of the institution, as seems to be the case with the NRP."
"Well, it may be submission to God in theory," Sophia pointed out, "but in practise it's always submission to the Church hierarchy. We've got a Church of our own in England, and the head of that church is my father. That doesn't give me a great deal of confidence, to use that word again, in the spiritual authority of any man."
"Such is the tragedy of the Anglican heresy," said Francisco seriously. "Your father's namesake Henry VIII thought he was wiser than Pope Clement, and better fit to lead the English Church. He may well have been right, but he established a system whereby the leadership of the Church passed with his crown to his heirs, some of them less suitable than himself. It comes as no surprise to me that you should lack faith in such a church. However, I think perhaps you go too far when you say you lack confidence in any man. After all, you say you do have confidence in Fernando."
"Well, Fernando's not a spiritual authority, is he?"
"No," Fransisco replied, "but he is your husband-to-be. In entering into a state of matrimony with him, you will be surrendering a certain amount of your personal autonomy to him, just as he will be surrendering a certain amount of his personal autonomy to you."
"That's different," Sophia insisted. "I've met Fernando, and I do have faith in him. I know that I can trust myself to his care, and that he won't abuse that trust. You're asking me to submit myself to the authority of men that I haven't met, and that I don't know I can trust not to abuse that authority."
"And yet, the analogy is still a valid one, I think," said Francisco. "You say you have not met these men to whom you must submit, but in fact you have. Fernando is one, and I myself am another. When you have joined the Church, I will be your confessor, just as I am Fernando's. Do you believe that I would abuse that authority?"
"I don't believe that, Brother, no. I suppose that I have faith in you as well. But that's still a long way from putting my trust in the Archbishop of Bogotá, or the Pope either for that matter."
"About the Archbishop of Bogotá I am not qualified to speak, as I know little about him" said Francisco. "About Pope Adrian, however, I know a good deal. Thus, I can with some confidence (to use that word yet again) assure you that he too is worthy of your trust. The Philippine Church has played a major role in repairing the social damage that was done there by Kramer Associates, and His Holiness himself was instrumental in pursuing that role during his tenure as Archbishop of Manila."
Sophia, however, found her thoughts returning to her fiancé. "Brother Francisco," she asked, "do you believe in fate?"
He didn't comment on the seeming incongruity of the question. He just said, "I believe that Our Lord is working towards a final design of which only He is fully aware, but of which we mortals can sometimes glimpse some small detail. Do you believe that you can see such a detail?"
"If it doesn't sound impertinent, I believe I can." She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. "For most of my life, it seemed to me that my own fate was bound to be an unhappy one. I'd be married off to one of my father's vile cronies (and believe me, all of his cronies are quite thoroughly vile), locked away in some manor house in the Midlands, and spend the rest of my days watching my own children grow into a perfect, perfectly dreadful copy of my family. And then one day my father, for quite horrible reasons of his own, inadvertently allowed me to escape my fate. Instead of being Lady Doncaster, I'm going to be Queen of this exotic, magical country. Instead of some decrepit Earl, I'm going to marry the most wonderful man in the world." She paused again, then gave Brother Francisco her brightest smile. "You know, I'm beginning to think that perhaps God knows what he's doing after all."
With a slight smile of his own, the Brother said, "I'm sure that God finds your faith in Him encouraging." Glancing at the ormolu clock to his right, Francisco concluded, "But I see that it is time for your next lesson with Dr. Alvarez." Rising from his seat, he smoothed out his brown robe and added, "Tomorrow we can resume the catechism."
Sophia rose as well, saying, "It was certainly an interesting discussion, Brother."
With a smile, Francisco said, "For me as well." Bowing his head, the Spanish monk turned and made his way through the library to the door. Sophia walked over to the table and stood by her usual seat, watching as Francisco greeted Dr. Alvarez.
Sophia had come to understand that there was a muted rivalry between the two men, born of their not-quite-congruent origins and purposes. Just as Brother Francisco was, among his other roles, a personal representative of King Fernando, so Dr. Alvarez was a personal representative of Prime Minister Elbittar. Just as it was the Brother's task to prepare her for her place within the Church and within New Granada's freshly-minted royal family, so it was the Doctor's task to prepare her for her place within New Granada's social fabric and its still-evolving government.
Just who it was that Daisy represented, Sophia hadn't quite worked out. Elbittar? Fernando? Both? Neither? Was there some third interested party within New Granada of which Sophia remained unaware? For all her apparent guilelessness, there was something enigmatic about Daisy.
Dr. Alvarez joined Sophia at the table, and after seating themselves the two resumed their conversation in Spanish. The Doctor, Sophia noted with some apprehension, had with him a rather thick book. Sophia saw the name Cervantes on the spine.
Catching her look, Dr. Alvarez placed the book on the table and said, "If there is a single work that holds within it the soul of Hispanic civilisation, FN2 that work is Cervantes' Don Quixote de la Mancha. It is to Hispanic civilisation what Homer was to Classical civilisation, or Shakespeare to Britannic civilisation. It is the epitome. To understand Cervantes is to understand the Hispanic soul." He fixed her with an intense stare. "If you wish to reign over a Hispanic people, Your Highness, then a knowledge of Cervantes is indispensable. You will now have the opportunity to gain that knowledge firsthand, in Cervantes' original Spanish."
Placing a hand atop the book, Dr. Alvarez concluded, "For the next two weeks, we will go over this book from cover to cover." He opened the book, then turned it around on the table so that it lay before her. Sophia set her own hand on the book to hold it open, and began to read aloud. "En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme . . ."
Two hours later, Sophia's voice was growing raspy, her throat was parched, and her mind was lost in the world of a crazy old petty nobleman, with Dr. Alvarez acting as tour guide. It actually came as a shock to her to close the book and find herself in the library rather than in the dry, dusty landscape of sixteenth-century Castile.
Dr. Alvarez was nodding in approval. "An excellent beginning, Your Highness. We will resume tomorrow where we left off. In the meantime, your assignment for tonight will be to translate the biography of Antonio Nariño in your copy of Delpino." Rising from the table, Dr. Alvarez bowed to her before turning and leaving the room. Sophia would have preferred to remain in the library, even if it meant spending the rest of the day reciting Cervantes, but knew she couldn't. Picking up Don Quixote, she followed Dr. Alvarez out of the library.
It was time to get ready for dinner.
"Now this is more like it," said Daisy as she gave Sophia's hair another brushing. Lately, Sophia had taken to dressing up for dinner, something Daisy regarded as a definite step in the right direction. Tonight Daisy was expressing her approval of a frilly, floor-length number in dark green velvet with matching gloves, a low back, and more lace than Sophia ordinarily wore in a year. Daisy had also talked her into wearing a pair of diamond earrings, though Sophia had hesitated at wearing a tiara.
"But it looks smashing," Daisy insisted. "Besides, think how much your father will hate it."
Sophia found Daisy's logic compelling. She decided to wear the tiara.
"Now that you're the Queen-to-be," Daisy liked to say, "you don't need the protective colouration from that black clothing."
Initially, Sophia had been inclined to dismiss Daisy's analysis of her clothing preferences, but now she wasn't so sure. Had she been trying to hide from her family? She did get an odd feeling of invulnerability from her change in wardrobe. Of course, it would have been equally correct to say that the sense of invulnerability was a consequence of her altered circumstances, and that her changing tastes were simply an outward manifestation.
Whichever it was, Sophia found that she was no longer intimidated by her mother's criticism, no longer infuriated by her father's boorishness, and no longer annoyed (or at any rate, less annoyed) by her brother's inanities.
Entering the larger and more ornately decorated of Buckingham Palace's two "private" dining rooms, Sophia saw that the usual (since Harry's departure) four places had been set at the table, and that her parents had already taken theirs. Her father ignored her entry, as he usually did, while her mother frowned and said, "Is that how they dress in South America these days?"
That led her father to bark his short, unpleasant laugh and say, "They'll soon be turning you into a proper Dago wench, eh? A few weeks of that tropical sun and they won't be able to tell you from the nigs. Mind they don't pack you off to the cane fields by mistake, haw haw!"
"Good evening mother, father," Sophia responded serenely as she took her seat. "I hope you've both had a splendid day. I know I have."
"Getting your daily Dago lessons, eh?" her father said with another guffaw.
"It was really rather invigorating," Sophia replied in flowing Spanish.
Her father's mean jocularity was instantly transmuted into anger. "Here now," he growled, "none of that nasty heathen lingo! When you're at table you'll speak in a plain Christian tongue or by God I'll ... " His tirade stumbled to a halt as he realised that he couldn't credibly threaten her in any way. It drove her father mad to hear her address him in Spanish; she had no doubt that he believed she was secretly insulting him. Which she was, of course, in a subtle way.
In any case, her father's helpless anger was interrupted by the arrival of her brother, who greeted her with a sneering, "Huh, all tarted up for the grandees, are we?" before slumping into his seat.
"Blasted infernal cheek," her father rumbled at her.
"Speaking of cheeks," her brother said, "has anyone heard from Harry lately?"
"Not that I know of," Sophia said.
"Apparently," her mother remarked acidly, "he's forgotten he has a family."
"Lucky bastard," her brother said feelingly, and Sophia added her silent agreement. "Still," he continued, "at least the Navy haven't given him the boot yet. Bit of a record, isn't it?" FN3
"I blame those disreputable friends of his," her mother said. "Perfectly horrid."
The conversation continued in a similar vein throughout dinner. Sophia had once found it excruciating, but now it felt like some tired sitvit blaring away half-forgotten in the corner. She ate her meal in silence, keeping her mind occupied by translating bits of her family's conversation into Spanish. When the meal was done, she excused herself from the table, ignored her family's parting shots, and returned to her rooms, where Daisy already had the bath running for her.
Following a nice long relaxing soak, Sophia lay on a sofa clad in her dressing gown, and opened up her copy of Vicente Delpino's Lives of the Great Men of New Granada and her Spanish grammar and set to work translating Delpino's account of the career of Antonio Nariño. Like Admiral Rodriguez, Nariño had played a prominent role in the Carlist Wars, defending Cartagena and defeating Spanish armies at La Gayra and El Callao. Unlike Rodriguez, whose mulatto heritage barred him from a political career, Nariño had gone on to serve as New Granada's second Premier from 1814 until his declining health led him to resign in 1821, two years before his death.
The translation went fairly quickly, and by nine o'clock she was done. By then Daisy had rejoined her, and as Sophia put her books away the New Granadan said, "What do you feel like doing tonight, my princess? Chess? Cards? Music?"
"Nothing too demanding, I think," Sophia answered. "Let's see what's on the vita."
NRVS 1 FN4 was showing a dreadful sitvit called "The Osbournes", NRVS 2 was showing a seven-year-old David Flin film called "From Prussia With Love", and NRVS 3 was showing a ten-year-old episode of "Space Saga". Sophia opted for the Flin film.
The David Flin films were all variations on a theme. The hero, a suave, dinner-suited British spy, traveled around the world bedding gorgeous lady spies and foiling the evil plots of foreign supervillains. In "From Prussia With Love" the supervillain was Flin's archnemesis, Dragan "The Dragon" Antulov. Sophia had never read any of the Nigel St. Hubbins books on which the films were based, but she had read that in the originals Antulov was an agent of the German Empire, rather than the free-lance megalomaniac depicted in the films.
"From Prussia With Love" had apparently begun at eight, so when Sophia began watching, the film had already reached the bit where Flin was taken captive to Antulov's secret lair to hear the master criminal explain his latest plot to take over the world.
Antulov, seated in a stylishly modern grey chair with a Chihuahua in his lap, was lecturing Flin in a deeply resonant, Croatian-accented voice. "Tomorrow, there will be a scientific conference held in the Royal Albert Hall. FN5 Every important scientist in the United Empire will be attending. What the authorities don't know is that a dozen of these scientists have been replaced by identical animatos FN6. Each one contains a subcritical mass of uranium. When the twelve approach each other closely enough, the uranium will achieve critical mass, and the conference, along with London itself, will be obliterated! Mwahahahaha!"
"You'll never get away with it, Antulov!" Flin declared sternly.
"That is where you are wrong, Mr. Flin. Once I have eliminated you once and for all, nothing can stand in my way! Guards! Seize him!"
As the Dragon's uniformed goons dragged Flin away, Daisy pointed out, "But if he blows up London, won't the British just assume it was a German attack and retaliate? After that, it won't matter how many scientists have been killed in London, because the death toll on both sides will be in the millions."
Puzzled, Sophia asked, "Haven't you ever seen a David Flin film before?"
Daisy shook her head. "Back before Fatherland Day the British were the enemy. And since then they only show Hispanic films in theatres and the vita."
After that, Daisy commented at length throughout the rest of the film. She pointed out the unnecessary complexity of Antulov's plan to kill Flin, and how careless it was of him to leave Flin alone after suspending him above the piranha tank. After that it became a contest between them to see who could find the silliest plot devices.
When Sophia found herself losing points to Daisy because she was too busy yawning to speak, she knew it was time for bed. She bid Daisy good night, brushed her teeth, climbed into bed, and drifted off to sleep.
The princess dreamed in Spanish.
Forward to FAN #133: The Mancunian Candidate.
Forward to 12 September 1974: The Garden of Forking Paths.
Forward to New Granada: It's a Nice Day to Start Again.
Forward to Great Britain: Where Are They Right Now?
Return to For All Nails.