Thursday, April 8, 2010

Don Giovanni Bassi

Red, red is the sun,
Heartlessly indifferent to time.
The wind knows though
The promise of early chill.

Don Giovanni, Lately of Rome

Once, long ago, in medieval Rome, there lived a nobleman named Don Giovanni Bassi. Don Giovanni was a wealthy man and a great sinner, known throughout the city for debauching children and defrauding widows. He was also a man of significant influence. The Law was never able to touch him, and Don Giovanni lived in comfort until the day when he woke up, looked in the mirror, and found himself an old man. Now nearing the end of his life, Don Giovanni, a man of faith, began to worry about the punishment that awaited him in the afterworld.

Don Giovanni had surrounded himself with a coterie of learned men, counselors versed in the ways of church and state. Now he called upon his counselors to purchase for him an indulgence for his sins, a document for which he was willing to pay any price. But when his counselors approached intermediaries of the Holy See, they were told that Don Giovanni was too great a sinner to be granted a remission, even under the circumstances of a generous offer.

In despair, Don Giovanni consulted his oldest and dearest friend, the Bishop of Ferrara. Was there any way Don Giovanni could obtain forgiveness on Earth, preferably in the form of a binding document? But the Bishop only sighed and shook his head, counseling penance, fasting, and prayer. Don Giovanni, though he believed in the power of God, was a man who never prayed, for he feared any type of conversation that would lead him to the truth. Moreover, he was a sybarite of longstanding, and penance and fasting were out of the question.

Concluding that he would never be pardoned on Earth or in Heaven, Don Giovanni threw himself into one last desperate flurry of debauchery and sin, protected as he was from the consequences of his acts by his loyal coterie. One morning though, as he was recovering from a particularly wicked round of sinning, Don Giovanni received a visitor from the country.

The visitor, a priest from a small hamlet near Ostia, told him of a merchant who lived in this hamlet: a sinner, and no nobleman, but one who called himself Don Giovanni Bassi. And this merchant Don Giovanni, born in a country parish to an obscure branch of the Bassi clan, had recently purchased an indulgence for his sins. For a small recompense, the priest would disclose to our Don Giovanni the whereabouts of the merchant’s holy document.

The wheels in the mind of our Don Giovanni began to whirl rapidly round and round. Could God Himself be defrauded? This happenstance of the other Don Giovanni might provide the ultimate test of the old sinner’s skill at deception. If only our Don Giovanni could obtain the indulgence granted to this so-called Don, this Giovanni Bassi of Ostia.

Soon the old sinner, disguised as a peasant, was on the road to Ostia. Against the advice of his counselors, he had decided to carry out this important mission on his own. When he reached the hamlet that had been described by the priest, he asked directions to the home of Caterina Bassi, a poor widow and the mother of the merchant Giovanni Bassi. Old and handsome as he was, and looking rather pathetic in his rustic peasant’s costume, our Don Giovanni easily gained admission to Caterina’s home, where he was offered a warm meal and a bed for the night.

The country priest had whispered to Don Giovanni that the indulgence was kept hidden in a bucket at the bottom of Caterina’s well, gone dry these many years. For Caterina’s son was a superstitious man who believed that the indulgence, like some stolen treasure, ought to be concealed from prying eyes. Now, at midnight, Don Giovanni slipped from his bed in the widow’s house and crept out to the well. It was a moonless night, but the old man succeeded in groping his way to the well, and was quietly hauling up the bucket when he heard a rustling sound. Perhaps a creature in the dry brush?

But no sooner had he withdrawn the curled, crisp document from the bucket than Don Giovanni heard a cry. It was Caterina, who had discovered him in the act of stealing her son’s indulgence. A struggle ensued, and, fearful that they might be heard, Don Giovanni was unfortunately compelled to silence Caterina and dispose of her body at the bottom of the well. With no time to lose, he hurried away from the scene, clutching the precious parchment in his hand.

Don Giovanni stumbled along a rough path, hastening along under the dark skies, for he imagined he was pursued by angry villagers. Soon he would reach the harbor, where the old man planned to abandon his disguise and, in the morning, travel in comfort to Rome. But as he scuttled down a steep coastal trail, still clutching the indulgence, Don Giovanni slipped and hit his head on an outcropping of rock.

When Don Giovanni awoke, he was no longer in Ostia. Indeed, he knew right away where he was: before him were a set of splendid pearly gates, and all around him were men who looked like officials of ancient Rome, except that they had wings as well as robes.

Fortunately for him, our Don Giovanni had arrived with the indulgence, made out to one Don Giovanni Bassi, still firmly in hand.

Our Don Giovanni bowed humbly before Saint Peter, who asked him for an account of his sins. Ashamed to disclose his past, Don Giovanni described his misdeeds in the vaguest possible terms. Saint Peter, normally a patient man, became disgusted by Don Giovanni’s equivocations and grabbed the indulgence from his hands and unfurled it to read the account of the dead man’s sins.

Don Giovanni could not believe his good fortune, for the pretentious merchant Bassi had gone so far as to style himself Don Giovanni Bassi of Rome, completing the confusion between the two Don Giovannis, one living, one dead. Even better: the indulgence itself, which Saint Peter read aloud to the winged officials, listed sins so small in comparison to his own wicked deeds, that our Don Giovanni, while on Earth, would have been embarrassed to have committed them.

Still, Don Giovanni, merchant of Ostia, had been a sinner. In spite of the indulgence which was in his possession, then, the dead man was to be sent to Purgatory, where for the next 795 years he would be set to work as a legal clerk, transcribing documents in a sunless room.

“Be sure to keep that indulgence with you at all times,” cautioned Saint Peter. “You’re going to need it when you appear before me in later time.”

And so Don Giovanni kept the document always by his side, safely tucked away in a little, locked drawer of his clerk’s desk, where he worked year after year as a transcriber: first using ink and a quill, then a pen, then a typewriter, then a desktop computer, then a laptop, and finally, towards the end of his term as a paralegal, Don Giovanni, now known as DonJon, got to be one of the first in his section to use an iPad.

Finally (!) DonJon was summoned once again to appear before Saint Peter. And so he appeared before him, this time offering a handshake (which Saint Peter declined to notice) and then removing from his pocket the now aged parchment containing his remission of sins. Peter took the document and ordered DonJon to follow him to the Pearly Annex.

“We’ll have to use the scanner on this,” muttered Peter, rustling a downy white wing in what may have been mild irritation.

Fortunately for DonJon, the parchment scanned beautifully.

“And now we’ll just create a file and enter this into our database,” said Peter, obviously proud of his tech savvy.

“When did Heaven go digital?” asked DonJon.

As a former paralegal, DonJon considered himself to be knowledgeable in these matters. Perhaps it would benefit him to chat up Saint Peter.

“Very recently. In the last few years we’ve undergone a complete transformation,” said Peter. “We found we just couldn’t keep up with the traffic, processing sinners from Earth, as long as we relied on the old technology.”

“Really?” said Donjon. “In the legal department where I served for many years, we went digital over a decade ago.”

“I see,” said Saint Peter, somewhat flustered. “But of course, your requirements there are different.”

“Indeed,” said Donjon. “The suits against Heaven are never-ending. We couldn’t rely on legacy publishing to process our documents in a timely manner.”

Sitting at a console, Saint Peter folded his wings and typed instructions on the keyboard of what appeared to be a massive central computer.

“It’s a new age,” intoned DonJon. “We’re proud to be state-of-the-art in my division, to have embraced a new and better way of doing business.”

“Yes, yes,” muttered Peter. “The same is true up here.”

“What about the folks in your division? When did the lightbulb go on to let you know you had to make the switch?”

“Well, once we made the decision in 2005 to move to a database model, we found we began to think differently about our way of doing business. Frankly, we wanted to avoid replicating the situation on Earth, where too many sins go unpunished, penance has become a media sideshow, and true repentance seldom occurs.”

“Very wise,” said DonJon. “And I take it that all of these recent changes are under the auspices of––“

“––God, yes,” answered Peter. “He’s still in charge. What’s your email address?”

“You mean, back in…well, it’s I take it I must go back, then?”

And suddenly Peter rose from his chair, an imposing presence, and he spread his wide wings, saying,

“You will receive notification of our decision in due course.”

Back in Purgatory, DonJon waited with some degree of impatience for his inevitable admission to Heaven. Now that his term of service as a paralegal was complete, there was little to do but sit around and play with his iPad.

One day, out of sheer boredom, DonJon decided to google his name. To his surprise, when he googled Don Giovanni, up came several links to an opera by an Austrian composer. When he googled Don Giovanni Bassi, however, he found to his consternation that an unsuccessful American Ph.D. candidate had written a thesis entitled “The Historical Roots of the Don Juan Legend,” in which the legend – for he had apparently become one – of Don Giovanni was traced to the scandals surrounding one Don Giovanni Bassi of Rome.

The thesis writer had even unearthed a document bearing the deathbed confession of a Bishop who had once been a village priest. Herein the churchman told of his complicity in the murder of one Caterina Bassi, an old woman who had been strangled and dumped at the bottom of a well. The Bishop begged God’s forgiveness for a sin committed in the days when he was a humble priest, for the sin of leading the murderer to the home of Caterina Bassi in exchange for rich payment. That the woman had been killed by a namesake of her son, Giovanni, from whom the killer stole an indulgence, was the unarguable conclusion indicated by the Bishop’s confession.

In sheer panic, DonJon inquired into Google’s right to post this information. The laws governing slander in the afterworld were severe. Supposing he could have the link removed? A few of his colleagues in the legal division promised to look into the matter, but advised caution, for the link to the obscure thesis had already replicated the story of the deathbed confession a thousandfold.

One day DonJon received an email from Saint Peter. The email contained a link to an audio recording. Too excited to scan the contents of the email, Donjon clicked on the link and heard the following proclamation uttered in a velvety baritone:

“Vengeance is mine. I shall repay.”

Scanning Peter’s polite email, Donjon read something about a demotion, which would be fully explained in the pdf. attachment.

When Donjon downloaded the pdf. file titled “Transit Instructions,” he learned that he would shortly take up residence in a new department. Blinking in dismay, he read:

“… for the murder of Caterina Bassi, on August 4, 1215, in the course of committing a theft of property: one parchment, made out in the name of Don Giovanni Bassi of Rome…for the remission of sins…said indulgence having been proven fraudulent by a Google search revealing links to an authenticated document…the last confession of the Bishop of Padua... orders the demotion of Mr. John Bassi to Inferno 7…this judgment signed and sealed by the High Court…issued without right of appeal…Mr. Bassi to be turned over to the Transit Authority…transferred to Inferno 7….there to reside to the end of his days.”



BrrIamCold said...

I love it!!!! SO I have never read Don Juan, and I don't think I've seen the opera Don Giovanni. I was reading the first half as an education on the story, but then once he gets to the pearly gates it gets really clever! I started laughing out loud when I read that he was the first to get the ipad. And I love how Heaven has to use computers to keep up with all their sentence processing and how Don Giovanni gets exposed via google. This is so witty. How did you come up with this idea? Did you just read Don Juan?

I look forward to more of your posts!

- Tanya

Unknown said...

I haven't read any Don Juan literature for a
while, though I did go to the most recent SF Opera production of "Don Giovanni." Fabulous singing, but stark, dark costumes and stage set. Guess I'm a philistine cuz I kept worrying about the actors slipping and falling on the tilted stage.

Glad to have prompted an lol moment...

My inspirations were a story by tigerb, Tolstoy's "God Sees the Truth But Waits," and two books about the tech revolution: "Remix"" by Lawrence Lessig and "Newsonomics" by Ken Doctor.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

A reader suggests two alternative endings:

For the ending I was anticipating some final punch line, like "And that is just was Donjon did. He resided in the infernal depths cursing for eternity the Googleization of heaven."

Or "So Donjon was sent to suffer the infernal
flames for eternity, a fate made even worse when the Transit Authority snatched from him his beloved iPad, not to inflict a further punishment but simply because Apple had not extended its marketing reach into hell . . . at
least not yet."

(From a Commentary by Michael Morrissey)