I Am Umberto Ecos Maid


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There was no room for the salmon.

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I pulled out two roomy drawers of the dresser and emptied the contents of the bar into them, then refrigerated the salmon, and thought no more about it. The next day, when I came back into the room at four in the afternoon, the salmon was on the desk, and the bar was again crammed almost solid with gourmet products.

I opened the drawers, only to discover that everything I had hidden there the day before was still in place. They replied that the information had to be given to the central computer, but because most of the staff spoke no English, verbal instructions were not accepted. I pulled out another two drawers and transferred the new contents of the bar, where I then replaced my salmon. The next day at four P. The bar was crammed with bottles large and small, and the four drawers of the dresser suggested the back room of a speakeasy at the height of Prohibition.

I called the desk again and they told me they were having more trouble with the computer. I rang the bell for room service and tried to explain my situation to a youth with his hair in a bun; he spoke only a dialect that, as an anthropologist colleague explained later, was heard only in Kefiristan at about the time Alexander the Great was wooing Roxana. The next morning I went down to sign the bill. It was astronomical. I tried to explain, but the clerk, with a betel-blackened smile, assured me that this was what the computer said.

None of the engines would serve the purpose. In fact, now that the light was fading, watery through the gray window-panes, I felt fear again at the prospect of hiding among these animals, for I dreaded seeing them come to life in the darkness, reborn in the shadows in the glow of my flashlight. I dreaded their panting, their heavy, telluric breath, skinless bones, viscera creaking and fetid with black-grease drool.

How could I endure in the midst of that foul concatenation of diesel genitals and turbine-driven vaginas, the inorganic throats that once had flamed, steamed, and hissed, and might again that very night? Or maybe they would buzz like stag beetles or chirr like cicadas amid those skeletal incarnations of pure, abstract functionality, automata able to crush, saw, shift, break, slice, accelerate, ram, and gulp fuel, their cylinders sobbing. Or they would jerk like sinister marionettes, making drums turn, converting frequencies, transforming energies, spinning flywheels.

How could I fight them if they came after me, instigated by the Masters of the World, who used them as proof—useless devices, idols only of the bosses of the lower universe—of the error of creation? I had to leave, get away; this was madness.

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I was falling into the same trap, the same game that had driven Jacopo Belbo out of his mind, I, the doubter Nor would I be here now, alone on this hill, while dogs bark in the distance, in the valley below, as I wonder: Was that really the end, or is the end yet to come? I decided to move on. I abandoned the chapel, turned left at the statue of Gramme, and entered a gallery.

It was the railroad section, and the multicolored model locomotives and cars looked like reassuring playthings out of a Toyland, Madurodam, or Disney World. By now I had grown accustomed to alternating surges of anxiety and self-confidence, terror and skepticism is that, perhaps, how illness starts? This was a museum of technology, after all. Jacopo Belbo, though he was far away, was trying to draw me into the hallucinations that had undone him. You must behave like a scientist, I told myself.

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A vulcanologist does not burn like Empedocles. Frazer did not flee, hounded, into the wood of Nemi. The woman who catches you has to die in the end, and if possible by your own hand. So long, Emily, it was great while it lasted, but you were a robot, you had no heart. The transportation section happened to be right next to the Lavoisier atrium, facing a grand stairway that led to the upper floor. The arrangement of glass cases along the sides, the alchemical altar in the center, the liturgy of a civilized eighteenth-century macumba—this was not accidental but symbolic, a stratagem.

First, all those mirrors. You step back, find yourself for a moment, but move a little and you are lost.

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This catoptric theater was contrived to take away your identity and make you feel unsure not only of yourself but also of the very objects standing between you and the mirrors. As if to say: You are not the Pendulum or even near it. And you feel uncertain, not only about yourself, but also about the objects set there between you and another mirror. Granted, physics can explain how and why a concave mirror collects the light from an object—in this case, an alembic in a copper holder—then returns the rays in such a way that you see the object not within the mirror but outside it, ghostlike, upside down in midair, and if you shift even slightly, the image, evanescent, disappears.

What was Lavoisier trying to say, and what were the designers of the Conservatoire hinting at? For that matter, a normal mirror, too, is an illusion. Consider the individual looking back at you, condemned to perpetual left-handedness, every morning when you shave. Was it worth the trouble of setting up this hall just to tell us this?

Or is the message really that we should look at everything in a different way, including the glass cases and the instruments that supposedly celebrated the birth of physics and enlightened chemistry?

A copper mask for protection in calcination experiments. Quelle delicatesse, M. If you really wanted to study the kinetic theory of gases, why did you reconstruct so painstakingly the eolopile—a little spouted sphere that, when heated, spins, spewing steam—a device first built by Heron in the days of the Gnostics to assist the speaking statues and other wonders of the Egyptian priests?

Ur-Fascism by Umberto Eco

And what about this contraption for the study of necrotic fermentation, ? A fine allusion, really, to the putrid, reeking bastards of the Demiurge. A series of glass tubes that connect two ampules and lead through a bubble uterus, through spheres and conduits perched on forked pins, to transmit an essence to coils that spill into the void Balneum Mariae, sublimation of hydrargyrum, mysterium conjunctionis, the Elixir!

Or this apparatus for the study of the fermentation of wine. A maze of crystal arches leading from athanor to athanor, from alembic to alembic. Those little spectacles, the tiny hourglass, the electroscope, the lens. Or the laboratory knife that looks like a cuneiform character, the spatula with the release lever, the glass blade, and the tiny, three-centimeter clay crucible for making a gnome-size homunculus—infinitesimal womb for the most minuscule clonings.

Or the delightful little apparatus for analyzing the combustion of oil, and the glass globules arrayed like quatrefoil petals, with other quatrefoils connected by golden tubes, and quatrefoils attached to other, crystal, tubes leading first to a copper cylinder, then to the gold-and-glass cylinder below it, then to other tubes, lower still, pendulous appendages, testicles, glands, goiters, crests This is modern chemistry? For this the author had to be guillotined, though truly nothing is created or destroyed?

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Or was he killed to silence what his fraud revealed? The Salle Lavoisier in the Conservatoire is actually a confession, a confession in code, and an emblem of the whole museum, for it mocks the arrogance of the Age of Reason and murmurs of other mysteries. Jacopo Belbo was reasonably right; Reason was wrong.

I had to hurry; time was pressing now. I walked past the meter, the kilogram, the other measures, all false guarantees. Then, the counting machines that proclaimed the triumph of the quantitative but in truth pointed to the occult qualities of numbers, a return to the roots of the notarikon the rabbis carried with them as they fled through the plains of Europe.

Astronomy and clocks and robots. Dangerous to linger among these new revelations. I was penetrating to the heart of a secret message in the form of a rationalist theatrum. But I had to hurry. Later, between closing time and midnight, I could explore them, objects that in the slanted light of sunset assumed their true aspect—symbols, not instruments.

I went upstairs, walked through the halls of the crafts, of energy, electricity. No place to hide here, not in these cases. I began to guess their meaning, but suddenly I was gripped by the fear that there would not be time to find a place from which I could witness the nocturnal revelation of their secret purpose. Now I moved like a man pursued—pursued by the clock, by the ghastly advance of numbers.

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