To Father Thomas Fitzherbert SJ, Illustrissimus Collegium AnglicanumRoma
From Maestro Giacomo Carissimi, Grantville, USA Seventh day of October, in our Lord's year 1633.
Dear and honored father,
How are you? I received your letter today. It was waiting for me at the Church of Saint Mary. I'm glad to know that you came back from Naples and that the Mediterranean sun and the sea breeze improved your lungs more than all the bleedings and enemas of "those damned Italian doctors." I'm also glad Count Malvezzi di Roccagiovine is paying for the publication of your last treatise. I'm sure the Venetian printers will make a wonderful job as ever.
I knew you would be worried about my soul and my well being, but I like to think that my soul is still in the grace of God and I am fine. Tired, yes, but very happy to be here. You must really have strong doubts about the strength of my faith if you think a few weeks in Protestant countries can damage my beliefs so much. I committed sins, true, as anybody else in this world, but for all I am learning here I'm prepared to spend more time in Purgatory. It is really worth the price.
I know my English is still a long way from being perfect, but I thank you anyway for having read those "long pages" of mine and for having given me many hints on how to improve myself. Nevertheless, everyday I spend here helps to improve my language skills. Maybe, in a not too distant future, you won't find my prose too hard anymore.
You have asked me to satisfy your curiosity about Grantville and the Americans. I plan to do so while telling you about the events of the last weeks.
The day after I wrote you my last letter we decided to begin our stay in this town with a visit to Father Mazzare, the man Milord Mazarino referred us to. So we took our horses and rode to the Church of Saint Mary.
The crowd cramming the paved roads of Grantville showed us a place teeming with activity. Do not believe rumors about uncanny magical devices. As a matter of fact, just like in the rest of the world, most of the people walk to their destination. A few, like us, use horses; others use a small iron device called a "bicycle" that uses human power to move people as quickly as if on horseback.
I couldn't see too many of those motor vehicles now famous throughout Europe. I've been told that they are now only used for public service or emergencies. The ones I saw here were certainly impressive: bigger and sturdier than coaches and faster than the fastest horse.
The most impressive sights of them all, I believe, are those flying machines called airplanes. Seeing them climbing to the sky and navigating through the clouds is truly a tribute to the ingenuity of man.
Grantville is certainly a town of marvels, but not the ones a normal person could expect. You won't find here cathedrals and palaces like in Rome, Florence or Venice. Grantville marvels are others, big and small.
I included in the letter a small example of such marvels. It is called a photograph and it is literally a drawing made using light. The device that produces it, a camera, captures the light in a series of lenses and prints it on a special paper that has been dipped in a combination of alchemical materials. As you can see, it depicts reality much better than any drawing can do. One can only wonder how many painters will be able to earn their bread with portraits when this device will be used diffusely in Europe.
I really wish the world wasn't at war, because I believe this town is a gift of God to mankind. It should be preserved and guarded like the most important treasure we have; we could all learn. Any student of what they call their "high school" knows more about science than any member of the Accademia dei Lincei. One could live here thirty or forty years and still learn something new.
Probably the greatest marvel of all is the Americans themselves. They claim to be common people and, like common people, they don't disdain any kind of hard physical labor. Nevertheless, their knowledge and skills are astonishing.
Even if the Americans claim to be all commoners, their government seems different from the republics of the past, because it manages to involve all the citizens and to avoid the creation of a ruling oligarchy. This is a Roman republic without patricians and plebeians, Dante's Florence without popolo grasso and popolo minuto. Or, more accurately, this is a place where social distances are less evident than everywhere else.
Americans are strong advocates of what they call separation of powers (executive, legislative and judiciary) and they use "checks and balances" (one of their favorite phrases) to keep this separation working.
These people don't want guidance by a king because they think every man is born with the same rights of a prince. Each of them is a ruler of his own and a potential head of state. And, just like our kings and princes, they are stubbornly attached to their own personal rights, which, they believe, are received straight from the Omnipotent. They are ready to fight and die for them as are few other people I've ever met in my life.
They have made almost a religion of their own personal liberties. Freedom is venerated here as if it was a pagan deity of the old times. It is a semi-official state cult, the American version of the Romans' Capitoline Triad. They call this goddess "Lady Liberty" and I wouldn't be surprised if in their homeland they raised statues and temples to her.
It is probably for this passion that their laws and customs make this group of individuals work and live together. Each member of this nation can have a saying about how the government should be conducted. Surprisingly, this doesn't bring chaos, but unity and what they call "law and order." Many of them believe that disagreements and diversity of opinion are not seen as a threat, but as an opportunity to improve the wisdom of their decisions through discussion. From what I've learned about their history, I may say their republic in America was the most successful and powerful one since the times of Rome.
I hope my simple words may enlighten you on some American customs, but I am a musician, not a philosopher. I am sure people more entitled than me will write numerous and more knowledgeable tomes about the American society. Books that will help you understand this place much better than my humble ramblings. So, instead of wasting any more paper, let me return to my adventures.
Saint Mary's simplicity and small dimensions would surprise you. At a first glance you would think it is a very poor rural church, but you would be wrong, because in that church there are more books and knowledge than in many of our cathedrals.
Even without all the paraphernalia and privileges that are common in our clergymen, Father Mazzare is definitively a man of God, a true pastor of his flock.
He received us in his office. The room was quite simple and spare but for the huge amount of books and a wooden crucifix on the wall in front of his desk. I was captured by a large picture on the wall. It was a photographical representation of the pope who was the head of the Church in 1999. You will be surprised to know that he was—will be, perhaps I should say—Polish, the first non-Italian pope in many centuries.
Apparently the Catholic Church at the end of the twentieth century is quite healthy and spread all over the world. (They told me there are African cardinals and Chinese bishops!) But from what I later learned it has changed much from the one we know now. A council in the twentieth century stated that all the rites and the Bible must be translated in local languages and supported many other changes. Somehow the Church has become more similar to the Reformed churches. Oh, don't worry. They are not heathens. Priests are still not permitted to marry, even if this has become an issue in many sectors of their time's church. I know that Father Mazzare is preparing a compendium on the Catholic doctrine of the twentieth century, and I suspect that soon you will receive a copy of it from the father general, so I won't waste more time on this topic.
After we introduced ourselves, we gave the parish priest Monsignor Mazarino's letter of recommendation and explained our intents. There was a bit of confusion, at first, because it seems that the monsignor is known in Grantville as "Mazarini." But once that was clarified, Father Mazzare listened carefully to our words and then suggested that the place that would offer us the better chances to learn about future music was the school. There I could find most of the material I needed, like music recordings, music sheets and modern instruments.
He asked me if I spoke Latin and if I was interested in teaching Italian and Latin at the school. I told him I had more than ten years of experience in teaching and I could help teaching music, too.
"I can do that for free, as a token to have access to such an amount of knowledge." I added, "I have financial resources of my own."
"Perfect, maybe we can find you a job; especially if you don't mind not being paid. But there is an important issue here. Do you have any problems in having female students and working together with female teachers?"
He must have seen the barely contained surprise on my face because he explained another thing that makes this place so unique. Here women have the same rights as men. They receive the same education, have the same jobs and they can, if they want, enlist in the army.
"I would do my best," I answered. "After all, if I want to stay in this town I must learn to not have any preconceptions about what I find alien and new."
"When in Rome . . . " Father Mazzare told me, smiling, in his very good Italian free from any regional inflexion.
I must admit that, despite some moments of shyness, embarrassment and clumsiness, due mostly to my absolute inexperience in dealing with women, that later I found that many of them are better students and better musicians than their male counterparts. Here ladies like Vittoria Colonna or Artemisia Gentileschi are not the exception, but the rule.
With us still in the room, Father Mazzare used another of those amazing American devices called the telephone and called the high school principal. The telephone, familiarly called phone, someway converts voices and noises in an energy similar to the one of lightning (of which the Americans are masters) and sends it to another of those devices even at a very long distances. If we both had a phone and there was a line between Grantville and Rome we could talk to each other like we were in the same room. Awesome! Or, when said like some of my students do, totally cool!
Once the phone call was over, Father Mazzare told us he had scheduled a meeting for the day after and offered to come with us to the school. Then he asked if we wanted to take a walk with him in the afternoon, sort of a guided tour to Grantville. Finally, he invited us for lunch.
"I'm quite busy with other chores this morning, apparently Tino Nobili can't wait. But, maybe, I have something to keep you very busy with while you wait. Something I've no doubt you'll find quite interesting. Please follow me."
So he led us to his small apartment and offered us something to drink. Then he showed us one of those music playing devices Monsignor Mazarino told me about when I was still in Rome.
He pressed some buttons on it, took a small box with the name "Gloria, Music for Worship and Praise" printed on the lid and extracted from it a shiny circular mirror with a hole in the center. We finally saw a compact disc. The priest invited us to sit, put the CD in a black box and pushed another button. In a few seconds the room was filled with the notes of a composition named "Gloria" by a musician of the future named Antonio Vivaldi.
Thank God for the chairs we were sitting on. I have had months to somehow prepare myself to the richness of the music and still I was so stunned, dazzled, and inebriated that I'm not sure my legs would have been able to sustain my body.
I don't think I will ever forget the expression on Girolamo's face and the tears on young Johannes' cheeks while they were listening to these engrossing and sophisticated harmonies. Harmonies created by people born in another time and in another universe. The names on the CD box said the composers were Bach, Handel, Mozart, Faure, Elgar, Bruckner and many others.
We immersed ourselves in that music for hours, playing it over and over again. There was no reason to talk among us because the music was communicating more than mere human words could ever have done.
In all this musical rapture, I felt a little worm gnawing at my mind. I could not stop worrying about how difficult it would be to adapt my knowledge, my skills, my tastes and my style to this new world. In just one CD there were hundreds of sounds, harmonies, tones, chords and instruments that I never heard before. More than ever, I understood how much study and application this research would require. Again, I felt my confidence shattering. Was the task I had given myself too Herculean for a single man?