November, 23, 1634
My dear father,
You said to write home with my impressions of Grantville, and so I am penning the lines to you before my ideas are all scrambled together by the sheer horror of it all.
First, let me say that I arrived safely. For once rumor has not exaggerated. The roads are as well-made as any the Romans ever built and over 1,200 years newer. They are as well-patrolled as rumor suggests and few indeed are the bandits or road agents that dare openly ply their trade near Grantville.
The inns are even more marvelous than rumor states. Unfortunately, the prices are also even more marvelous than rumor suggests, but I only plan to be here a few nights.
Let me state, categorically, that the idea that the devil created Grantville is wrong. The devil could not possibly have imagined this place! God must have done it for reasons of his own and it stands as irrefutable proof that mere humans will never understand His thoughts.
They claim to speak English. This is either a delusion or an outright lie. I’m not sure which. They firmly believe that if you can’t understand them the first time they say something, you will understand if they just speak louder. If that doesn’t work, try adding blasphemy and a few profanities. If there was a fine for the use of the words “okay” (like the French d’accord), “dude” (young man), and “cool” (half the words in the English language), half of Grantville would be beggared and the government could dispense with all other sources of income.
An Ami told me that we English were nice folks, but we were wrong to believe that simply because we invented the English language, that meant we were the ones who spoke it correctly. (I translate his remarks from the local patois—called “Redneck” into human speech).
They say they are so fond of children, but they give them milk to drink! And yet, if you dare give that poor child a beer to kill the vile taste, they will have a hissy fit (one of the few useful up-time phrases that were poured down upon me) and swear that you are trying to kill the child. They say milk is good for children, and beer is bad for them.
They let any fool who can get his claws on a printing press take a chamber pot full of vile ideas and dump it upon an unsuspecting world. And yet, if you bid your housemaid to take a chamber pot full of vile things and dump it upon an unsuspecting gutter, they will swear you are trying to murder them by unleashing the plagues of Egypt upon them and they will have another hissy fit like unto the prophet Jeremiah discussing the shortcomings of the heathens. (Another thing, most of them would have no idea who the prophet Jeremiah was or what the plagues of Egypt were and they prefer it that way).
It was at this point I began to understand how an up-timer could write a novel about a child who chased her cat into a mirror and emerged into a strange land where all logic was distorted. It is like a midget writing a novel about being short.
They believe in Universal Education and in making it so costly that no poor person could possibly afford any.
They celebrate Halloween and have many Scotch or Irish customs about it including Jackie’s Lantern. (Though they do not use turnips but a much larger fruit called a pumpkin). However, they have no idea what All Saint’s Day is.
Here, the anarchists and rebels have better discipline than any king’s army ever dreamed of, and better organization than most. They use the terms “democracy” and “republic” as though they were interchangeable. However, even if they can’t define either term they are still the fiercest republicans to ever draw breath. “Death to all nobles!” they constantly cry. This is why they adore Princess Kristine Vasa. It is why they risked so much to help Queen Maria Hapsburg. It is why they call their most beloved singer “The King” and give to him the respect more decent folks reserve for saints. It is also why they are Gustav Adolphus’ most loyal vassals and call him “Good King Gus.”
They call Europe “third world.” What are the first two, Heaven and Hell? Given the average Ami’s level of religious knowledge, probably not. Still, in a way it is reassuring that I don’t understand them. It proves I’m not yet insane. (At times I felt some doubt about this).
Asking a local where I might get a cheap meal and wishing to avoid the politics of the Golden Arches, I went to a place that serves pizza. The best I can describe a pizza is to say it looks like somebody already ate it, lost it, then set fire to the remains. It looks nastier than anything even the French have ever done to God’s honest victuals. However, if you can get it into your mouth, it is not bad at all and not really poisonous.
They say tomatoes are not poisonous and tobacco is. Worse, they have the effrontery to eat them and not die. They make them into a sauce which they put on everything. They will take potatoes, oats, barley, and anything else nasty they can grab and brew it into a weird, godless, horrible alchemical mess that could gag a maggot and scare a wolf. Then, they will put it between two pieces of bread, drown it in their tomato sauce, put it into their mouth, swallow it, and claim that is good for you. Yes, and the majority of them will not say grace before they commit this atrocity. They will, however, charge you a fortune for it.
But, they will not eat horse meat. (A young man at the counter said, “So many of them are a horse’s ass, it would be cannibalism. If you tell them you eat horses, then they will be disgusted.”)
What is poisonous is the hotel manager. He has filled most of the ground floor of the hotel with small stalls selling things you don’t need at prices you can’t afford. In Robin Hood’s time innkeepers were often in league with bandits. In Grantville they have “cut out the middleman,” as they say. He is a greedy, grasping, conniving, avaricious, swindling Shylock who would steal the pennies off a dead man’s eyes then add an extra charge to your bill for “room services,” or skin a flea for the hide and tallow and charge you extra for having a pet in your room. In short, the manager is a typical inn keeper, but shrewder than most. He may be the one person in Grantville who is not crazy.
Still, in Grantville the problem is not finding things worthy of being in a curio cabinet. A five minute stroll down any street would fill all the curio cabinets in England, and half the madhouses as well. Even at these prices I have found some curios for your curio cabinet. The ring with a chain is to keep keys. The small puzzle cube on the end is called “Rubik’s Cube” after the maniac that invented it. The idea is to twist it until all the pieces on all the faces are the same color. Perhaps it is trying to solve these puzzles which has driven them insane. The book of drawings is called a “flip book” or a “thumb book” because if you use your thumb to flip the pages fast enough, the picture appears to move. This is one of the principles behind their “moving pictures,” though there are many others.
I purchased one of their “fountain pens” (a marvelous substitute for quills, seldom blots and never needs dipping or sharpening) earlier, so I jot down these impressions while they are still fresh. I could easily fill a hundred more pages, this pen makes it far easier to write. Still, I have spent all evening writing this and it is meant to be a letter, not a novel. Their custom of putting lanterns on poles to light the streets means that shops do not have to close at sundown. Even though it is far past nine o’clock at night, I mean to go out and find a tavern and have a few drinks before retiring.
I will leave with this final thought. If Hell is God’s prison, Grantville is clearly his insane asylum.
Your obedient son