Thursday, October 22, 2015

Slacking away at Religion

“Who would have thought you a slacker,” said Lady, imaginatively passing by my tables, “since I see you writing here all the time? But where is the parable for last week? You know, the one about the king’s son’s wedding? Though to preserve the Biblical flavor, perhaps we should eschew the Saxon Genitive, and call it the wedding of the son of the king.”

“That does sound better,” I told her. “And really, inventing this religion is much more of a bother than I could have imagined. I see now why Jesus is so completely inadequate, when it comes to the miracles and the parables. This week, for example, the readings are drawn from Ephesians and from John. So I checked that out, and got the usual adjurations about putting on the shield of God, since the devil…OK, let’s bring on the King Jame’s…”

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

“How prescient of the Bible to foresee the presidencies of George W. Bush,” said Lady. “OK—got that message. Now then, moving on to John?”

“Well, the reading—John 4: 46-54, with which I’m sure you’re intimately familiar….”

“I believe I was discussing the passage the other day with Elaine Pagels,” Lady replied.

“Yeah? The Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton?”

“Yes, she calls, once in a while, when a particularly knotty problem presents itself….”

“Good of you to help out,” I said. “Anyway, you undoubtedly remember that Jesus, fresh from turning water into wine—a really superior miracle, by the way—now sets about healing the nobleman’s son. This he does telepathically, since the son is some distance away. Anyway, the nobleman returns home and finds his son was healed at the seventh hour of the previous day, which was just when the nobleman was talking to Jesus. So bam! It’s legit!”

“Good news indeed. So now you’re a parable and a miracle behind. Get to work!”

“You know, I begin to despair, which is a grave sin indeed. Because not only do I have to produce miracles and parables, I’ve also had to listen to three of the darkest cantatas ever written. And here, courtesy of the, is just a teaser….”

By Jesus' grace alone will there be
     comfort before us, and forgiveness,
     for due to Satan's deceit and cunning
     the entire life of humanity
     is a sinful abomination before God.

Lovely,” said Lady. “Nothing like that old time religion!”

“The problem is that Bach is all over the place, emotionally. There are four cantatas for the 21st Sunday after Trinity, and two or three of them are musical incitements to suicide.  Cantata BWV 38 is particularly bad, being drawn—again!—from the psalm ‘out of the depths I cry to you,’ though here it’s ‘out of deep agony I cry to you.’”

“Very nice,” said Lady. “Throwing in the word ‘agony’ does lighten the picture, doesn’t it?”

“Then there’s BWV 109, which is just as bad. In fact, it takes its inspiration from Mark 9:24, which, since you hobnob with the glitteriest of biblical scholars…”

“’I believe Lord; help me in my disbelief,’” finishes Lady.

“Well, you as a poet should understand that, and it may be that I do as well. But anyway, the first three or four movements are all about spiritual crisis, doubt, and lack of faith. And boy, is the music grim! Bach, when he wants to be, can be completely nasty! But then the alto sails in, and sweeps that all away, saying that God never fails anyone, no matter how dark that night of the soul is. Of course, what he doesn’t say is precisely when he will step in and give succor to the unbelieving. In my case, he’s waited for decades.”

“You have to persevere,” said Lady. “And perhaps do some mortification of the flesh. You know, you might fast for forty days and nights. Or have you considered self flagellation?”

“I refuse to consider it,” I told her. “Though I have contemplated doing a pilgrimage from Arnstadt to Lübeck—walking it as Bach did, when he went to see Buxtehude.”

“Excellent idea,” said Lady. “We could crowd-fund it—you can count on me for a generous contribution. But how long would it take?”

“Maybe ten days,” I told her. “Unless, of course, I choose to do it on my knees, which is getting a bit extreme, don’t you think? But the real question is what I do when, at the end of the journey, I arrive in Lübeck just as infidel as I started.”

“Very easy,” said Lady, “Walk back to Arnstadt again!”    

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Past, The Present

And so, I have been called from my well-earned rest back to life, only to be insulted by a half-witted and unemployed “writer!”

He finds my humor lacking, it seems, and makes several condescending remarks about the coffee houses of my day. Might I be allowed a few observations of my own?

I have studied the denizens of the coffee house in which he writes—or rather, I have glanced at them, and gleaned all there is to know. For in my day, people gathered, drank, smoked, and made friends—and occasionally, enemies. There was laughter, there was music, there was above all camaraderie. But in this new coffee house? I find nothing by zombies connected to devices.

Two girls—sisters—are slouched on a sofa nearby, and though physically touching, they are worlds apart. Their “smart phones” are feeding them music or games or social media—whatever that is—and they are “connected.” Indeed?

I don’t understand. Where is their mother or father, to tell them to sit up straight? Surely flopping down on a couch and remaining there for hours is not good for them—what of their spines? And have they no chores to do, no rooms to straighten and arrange and clean? They can play no instrument, they cannot sing, they know but one language.

They have the advantages I never had. Yes, I grew up in a family of musicians, and yes, my part of Germany—and especially Leipzig—was at a crossroads in Europe. But how I strived to educate myself—I who, at the age of these girls, knew German, Latin and Greek. Later, I would acquire a bit of French and Italian. Yes, I strove to improve myself, even when my own health suffered, as a child, and I was often absent from school. And how much I had to depend on luck! Were it not for a relative travelling abroad, I would never have been introduced to Vivaldi, and how greatly my music would have suffered!

We had little; we made the most of it. They have everything; they do nothing.

I listen in complete astonishment at my music being played to his ears: what extraordinary achievement! The precision, the passion of these players of the Bach Stiftung! Not a note misplaced, not a nuance lost—I never had the chance to work with musicians anywhere nearing this level! And this “writer” knows no German, but is that a problem? No because the machine keeps playing the divine sounds, and somehow the screen appears with the German and the English translation! There is a church in Boston, apparently, that has been playing my cantatas for decades; they have “uploaded” their translations.

The amount of information is staggering—one could study the architectural plans of any one of Thailand’s 4,000 Buddhist temples, but what do they use the Internet to do? Examine the nether parts of Thai girls!

It was never so easy for me. I walked in 1705 from Arnstadt to Lübeck—nearly 300 miles, all to hear and study with the great organist and composer Buxtehude. Then I walked back again, to an employer who was considerably annoyed with my prolonged absence. Did I care? Of course not—I cared only to learn more, to develop my gifts. The organist I had left in my place did a perfect adequate job—how much skill was needed to plunk out the chorales and hymns each Sunday?

Yes, I walked those hundreds of miles to attain knowledge, but this man who has awakened me, what does he do? He rises in the morning, and his machine feeds him a steady stream of misfortune. I peered over his shoulder, yesterday, and what did I learn? A reporter from a paper in New York, which his machine delivers to him in Puerto Rico, is in a part of India, in which half of the children are stunted.

Are you confused? New York, Puerto Rico, India? Like everybody else, he is everywhere but where he is. Even the air he breathes has been chilled to his liking, so much so that he will take a sweater to the “opera.” Why the quotes? Well, it is opera if you are seeing it in New York, at the Metropolitan Opera. But it is “opera” if you are seeing it as he does, for the affair is being filmed and beamed up to a dish in the sky, which beams it down again to every part of the world!

They have found a way, these modern people, to do seemingly everything. How curious it is that, having done that, they can think of nothing better to do with the riches they possess!

I knew every foot of the ground between Arnstadt and Lübeck: I saw the flowers growing alongside the road, I heard the birds sing, I felt the cold and damp. But today? The trip would be made by a tube in the sky, and how convenient! Except, of course, that they have missed what I savored: the wind on my skin, the fatigue at the end of the day.

What did the trip teach me? That anything worth having can be achieved by patient, methodical, and seemingly endless routine. They marvel at me—these centuries later! How could I have produced such a huge amount of work? The keyboard music alone would have been an enormous legacy, but add in the cantatas, the passions, the B Minor Mass, and then the secular works! The concerti, the suites, the sonatas and partitas for violin! This great mass of music, which is only half of what I had written, the rest being lost! How did the great Bach do it!

I did it the same way I got to Lübeck. I took no short cuts, though if a farmer going to market offered me a ride with the turnips, I gratefully accepted. There was no machine that accepted my “clicks” and delivered the quivering face of Buxtehude. And when I arrived there, unknown and unwashed, and demanding that my talent and youth be heard? He saw my worn shoes, my sun burned skin, and he gave me his seat at the organ.

He taught me much, and when I walked again back to Arnstadt, I had the time to reflect on his words and consider his message. I had the time, you see, to learn and to grow.

Time these “modern” people don’t have!



Friday, October 16, 2015

Knocking Off the God Stuff

“You know, I think all this religiosity is seriously affecting your mood, Marc,” said Lady. “Surely Bach must have written something cheerful? Of his two hundred whatever cantatas, they can’t all be entirely gloomy….”

“In fact, he wrote twenty or so secular cantatas,” I told her. “And I just got done listening to two of them. The first is the Wedding Cantata, and the second is the Coffee Cantata.”

“Bach wrote a cantata about coffee?”

“He certainly did, since it was a big issue at the time. Coffee was relatively new in Germany in the 1730’s, and people were still getting their heads around it. It had a buzz, everybody agreed, but was that a good thing? Was it sent from the devil? So some sects of some churches were banning it—I could tell you which, but the Internet at the café took off last night on a bender, and is lying drunk in the gutter somewhere. If you see it, would you tell it to come back? Anyway, coffee was taking Europe by storm, and the coffee houses of the day were filled with people, all arguing the latest political, social, and religious issues of the day. Must have been lively places….”

“So what’s the cantata about?”

“Well, it’s Bach trying to be light-hearted, which is about as painful as seeing Karl Marx do stand-up comedy. Anyway, a father is distraught because his daughter is spending all her time hanging out in the café, guzzling coffee, and he goes through a gamut of threats to get her to stop. No new ribbons, no new dresses, no going out or even looking out the window. The girl always says no, so what does poppa do? He tries the carrot instead of the stick, and says that he’ll run out and get the girl a husband! So the girl goes into a really lovely little aria about how good poppa is; the little minx does, however, put the word out on the street that any suitor will have to sign a marriage contract. And guess what that specifies?”

“That she can drink all the coffee she wants?”

“Right—and not particularly subtle. So it ends up with the father throwing in the towel, since if granny, mamma, and all the rest of womanhood are drinking coffee, well, how are you going to keep your daughter from doing the same?”


“That’s it.”

“That’s it?”

“I told you, it’s as weak as a wet, sick kitten. But there is some nice music, though.”

“OK—one down. What about the Wedding Cantata?”

“Well, he wrote it about the time that he got married to his second wife, Anna Magdalena. And she was a professional singer, whom he may or may not have heard even before his first wife died. At any rate, it’s for solo soprano, and it’s in turn rapturous and then joyful. No wonder everybody records it….”

“So is that what you’ll play for your wedding?”

“Ugh, let’s not talk about that—I’m getting some serious cold feet about getting married.”

“Why? You’ve been with Raf for what, thirty years?”

“Think it’s 32, but who knows? But anyway, that’s not the problem. The real issue is the time and the organization and the planning of it all. Just thinking about whom to invite is a nightmare, since even if you keep it at immediate family only…”


“There are little tensions in all families,” I told her. “And trying to organize Raf’s family—six siblings, many with titanic personalities—is like trying to herd cats. Anyway, I don’t even like parties, so why would I want to organize one? It’ll be thirty people at least, if everybody comes.”

“So do it somewhere where you can escape and recharge.”

“A thought,” I told her. “But it feels kind of weird, getting my brothers to come all the way to Puerto Rico to see me get married, especially since I am married—though by a justice of the peace with a couple of clerks as witnesses. Besides, we’ve been together for so long—I mean, none of Raf’s or my nephews and nieces have ever not known us. We’re sort of like the Queen, you know—always been there.”

“All the more reason to get married.”

“Then there’s the money,” I said. “And don’t tell me to keep it simple, because absolutely every couple starts down that road, and guess where they end up? Deciding whether they can afford the tray of asparagus wrapped in Norwegian smoked salmon as canapés for the sit-down dinner of Scottish grouse in a truffle sauce. The grouse having been hunted especially by gentlemen of your favorite Scottish clan, wearing their authentic kilts. Oh, and they’ll be flying over the Atlantic to serve the grouse at your table—one Scot per table—since only they know how to carve the grouse. Cheap at $75,000, don’t you think?”


“Then of course we come to the little matter of the favors—you know, the little gifts you’re supposed to give the people who have spent all this money to come to this event that you have spent all this money to provide them. So…”

“Marc, I really think…”

“So that means that we have to commission Nick Quijano—since he’s a friend—to do a special silk screen for the occasion. And Nick is marvelous, as he should be, since his originals go for anywhere in the six figures. So that will consume pretty much all of our vacation money for the next sixty years, but no problem, since we’ve had so many nice vacations already! I mean, who needs more? And we’ll always have memories of our wedding!”

“Marc, you don’t…”

“Of course, you could see this as our contribution to the Puerto Rican economy—currently in crisis—since I’ve got it into my head: this is Puerto Rico, and a tropical paradise. So it’s obviously a destination wedding, which means that…”

“It’s certainly not a destination wedding…”

“…so boutique hotels—I mean, is my brother the Pulitzer-prize-winner gonna stay in a Hotel 6 or 8 or whatever the number is? Of course not, so let’s see, El Convento—with its charming atmosphere of 17th century Spanish Colonial architecture, and its rumored ghost of the founding abbess doña María del Pilar del Zaragonza whatever she was….

“Marc, you’re being completely…”

“Then the tours! You can’t have your guests wandering around aimlessly all day, bored out of their minds by the white sandy beaches and the azure skies and the emerald water, can you? Nay, nay—so you’ll have to hire fifteen or so carriages authentically designed to mimic the early nineteenth century style, each pulled by 8 pasofinos to go deep into the mountains, where guides dressed in authentic jíbaro garb, specially created…”



“Marc, you are being completely crazy! This isn’t a destination wedding, and you don’t have to do all this stuff. We got married in a courtroom, and there was a murder trial on one side, and a rape trial on the other.”

“I remember—but wait. I thought you had a real wedding, and you put up the French side of the family at the Atlantic Beach Hotel.”

“I did!”

“Lady, how could you!”

“Well, they said they wanted something cheap, and something on the beach, and…”

“Lady, the Atlantic Beach is one step up from—wait, the Atlantic Beach is a gay bathhouse. If not—quite frequently—a brothel!”

“Well, Nico’s family was a little puzzled at how very friendly the other guests were, especially to the male members. But we assured them it was that famous, Caribbean zest for living. Anyway, they loved it!”

“Only you could get away with it. Can you imagine if I did it? It would confirm everybody’s worst suspicions….”

“The point is…”

“I finally figured it out. I don’t want to have a wedding! But…”


“I want to have had one!”      

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Musings on Marriage

“You know, that cantata—BWV 162—actually wasn’t as middling as I thought it was,” I told Lady. “And in some respects, it’s far more interesting than the other two….”

“How so?” said she.

“Well, the text that Bach chose is so unlike the text for the other cantatas for the 20th Sunday after Advent. It actually fits much better with that dreary parable.”

“Oh dear,” said Lady. “First I have to deal with poets all week, and now you present me with parables. Remind me.”

“The king who can’t get anybody to come to his son’s wedding. And then when he does, some guy shows up badly dressed, so he’s banished and sent away, to great weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

“Ah yes,” said Lady, “a not-too-subtle reference to those who refuse to marry their soul to the son of God—and we all know who that is. Interesting how the religious so often intersects with the erotic. Look at The Song of Songs—pretty steamy stuff.”

“Yup, and that’s true for the cantata BWV 49; even the title, “I Go and Seek with Longing,” makes it quite plain. So in this cantata—which has no choir, by the way—we have the bass being Jesus and the soprano being the soul. And it’s clear, they can’t wait to get it on. It’s really less about the wedding than it is about the consummation.”

“Religion as the great sublimation of the erotic,” said Lady. “I always get a kick out of seeing a nun, and silently saying to myself, ‘ah, one of Christ’s many brides…’”

“Quite a metaphor,” I said, “if it is a metaphor. Should we do a Google search? Something like, ‘are nuns really the brides of Christ?’”

“Well, they’re wearing wedding rings, aren’t they? Though it begs the question, if nuns are the brides of Christ, what exactly are priests?”

“Well, obviously they’re not going to go there,” said Lady. “So they skip from husbandry—not the correct word, I know, but is there husbandhood? Anyway, they go straight to being fathers, never husbands.”

“Curious,” I said, “so men are not to be given religious eroticism, but women are? A woman can lust to be united with Jesus, but a guy cannot? Women—those delicate, pure, sexless people, until seduced, of course, by the devil?”

“Yup, we, the weaker sex. Sorry, bud—we get to marry Jesus, you get to venerate Mary.”

“There’s something seriously screwy about that. Anyway, I think BWV 162 is much more on track, psychologically speaking. Because the bass aria that begins the cantata puts it right out there: He’s going to the wedding, but he sees the bread of life and the poison of the soul. And he continues the contradictions all the way through the piece. Heavenly beams and hellish flames—you know, that sort of thing….”

“Not sure I follow,” said Lady.

“Well, every wedding represents the birth of a new person, because marriage changes you. You know that. And isn’t it obvious that a bad marriage will be more about hellish flames than about heavenly beams?”

“Absolutely,” said Lady, “and I see what you mean. I look at Nico, sometimes; his marriage to me certainly put his life on a different track. Yes, he’s happy with me, but sometimes I wonder: how would his life have been if he had stayed in France?”

“Or if you had moved to France….”

Lady shuddered.

“But the effects of a marriage are more subtle, I think. So subtle that no one ever knows—even the couple themselves—exactly what is going on in a marriage. Though I do have this theory: you can tell when a person has been physically loved. Don’t know how, but you can.”

“Something about the energy, I think,” said Lady. “But I know what you mean. I would have been an absolutely different person, if I hadn’t married Nico. And even if I had married somebody just as good—well, I’d be different.”

“It’s such a risk, when you think of it. You’re tying your life to another person, but what will happen to him or her? There was a point when I thought I had rheumatoid arthritis—just as Raf’s mother does—and one of my first thoughts was how much his parent’s lives had been changed by that disease. So how would it have changed ours?”

“Well, there’s also the possibility that your spouse could win the lottery,” said Lady, always of a more cheerful mind.

“Very true,” I said. “Raf’s been trying for years, up to the point of consulting an astrologer, who told him the precise time to obtain the winning ticket. So there he was, in the bodega in Chicago, and the lottery was something obscene like 60 million. So what does he do? Joins the line—which has snaked up and down all the aisles of the store—and then, when he gets to the cashier, he announces that he’ll have to wait for three minutes, since the time wasn’t auspicious….”


“Well, we were younger then,” I said. “Though I nearly went from being married to being widowed. Chicago is a hard-scramble town….”

“So I’m told,” said Lady. “Anyway, are you telling me that you now like the heaven-and-hell cantata better than the religiously erotic one?”

“I think they’re both good,” I said. “And both valid, though for some, one may be more valid than the other.”

“Well, I’ll go with the religiously erotic,” said Lady. “That’s how it worked out for me.”

“Me too,” I told her, “not that there haven’t been a hellish flame or two….”   


Monday, October 12, 2015

Death, More Than Life

When death comes, life comes as well, like a gale blowing through the house. The tears are closers to the eyes, then, but the laughter as well; the stories of good times, of joys shared, of triumphs too are as much a part of grief as the sobs, the wails, the wrenching loss. I know that now, I knew that then—but after my first wife María Barbara died, I felt a grief I had not suffered in all my life.

She was as much a part of my life as—well, as I was. Which meant that with her death I had died, too; who, then, was this shadow that was left behind? Who was playing the music, directing the choir, fighting the bureaucrats, testing the organs, conducting rehearsals? Couldn’t they see that I was dead?

A death that can be shared is a death that can be tolerated, but who was it who could share this death? María Barbara’s sister, of course, was in the house, and was grieving as well, but she had had a month or two to adjust, as well as the chores of raising her nephews and nieces and running the household. And she had a sharp temper, accompanied by a biting tongue that never was fully kept in check.

There were friends, of course, and there were those greatest of remedies: work and routine. And so I resumed my daily tasks, and to the outside world, I was little changed. Ah, but inside! I had lost not just the woman who had borne my children and raised them, but who listened to me as I protested the many indignities I had endured.

“Think,” she would say, “think, Sebastian, before you send that letter.”

And then she would explain that the prince or the elector or the town council—whoever it was that had enraged—may have had very good reason for doing whatever they did. At last, I would agree not to send the letter until I had reread it the next day. And how many of those letters did I send? Few, very few.

She calmed me. At night, there was no greater pleasure than falling asleep next to her; I would feel her gentle breath against my chest, as we embraced, and I would marvel—what great fortune had sent her to me? For she understood me both as a man and as a musician: as my second cousin, she knew the family tradition of music-making well indeed.

I was twenty-one when we married, but how much had I done already? I had secured an appointment at Weimar as court musician, later become organist at St. Boniface’s in Arnstadt, and then given that up to study, for four months, with the great Buxtehude. And so I fancied myself a man of the world; I had no doubts about my abilities, whether recognized or not.

But who was I, as a man?

Every wise man knows it: a man is nothing until he marries. And the truly wise know something else, as well: a woman mothers a child, but the wife mothers the man.

Yes, she taught me as much in my manhood as my mother taught me in my childhood. Did I know death? I thought I did: it had first entered my life when I was six. A few years later, it carried away first my mother and then my father. There was, I felt, nothing it could teach me. But how little prepared I was for the years 1712 and 1713!

The first two children had come earlier: first a girl, and then Wilhelm Friedemann.  And can there be any greater pleasure for a man than holding his first child in his arms? But almost from the start of her third pregnancy, it was obvious that something was wrong. She gained little weight, and seemed more fatigued than she had with the other pregnancies. She would stop in her chores, gasp, and look far off, as if willing herself to be somewhere else.

“You must tell her to rest,” said Friedelena Margarita, and I did so. But did I persevere? Did I insist that she take to her bed, when she laughed and said that she would later, or the next day? No, I was busy, with a man’s affairs of providing for the family, coupled with my own daemon of composing. And so I assumed that all would be well, and no man need bother himself with what were, after all, women’s affairs.

I did notice, however, that Friedelena Margarita was watching her closely, and often I came upon them when they were arguing quietly about some chore or other. But was I surprised? No, they were as different as could be: María Barbara gentle and uncomplaining, her sister harsh and demanding.

Soon there was tension in the house, as the sisters seemed to grow both closer and yet more angry with each other. I began to hear Friedelena’s voice get sharper; as well, I imagined that I could hear muffled sobs? Could it be that María Barbara was crying? But why?

“She must see a doctor, and if you won’t see to it, then I shall,” said Friedelena.

It was late in the evening, I was yearning for bed, and I was impatient, too, with the tension. Was I not master in my own house? Was I to be treated so by a woman—admittedly a second cousin—whom I had taken in when nobody else had done so? And was there to be no peace in my own home?

I spoke sharply: “My wife will see a doctor when and if she pleases. Who better than she knows what is happening in her body? She must be the judge of whether to go to the doctor or not!”

To this argument Friedelena was deaf.

“Indeed, she is the last person to know that she needs help. She doesn’t want to trouble you, or to put you through the expense of a doctor’s visit, or the expense of hiring a woman to care for her and look after the house when the doctor tells her—as he surely will—that she must take to her bed.”

Her voice was rasping at all times; now, it was particularly unpleasant. And is it any wonder that I—already the greatest of Bach’s, the preeminent musical dynasty of Germany—would be especially sensitive to the qualities (good or otherwise) of the human voice?

And so we argued bitterly, and as always in an argument, neither side became less adamant. At last I rose to go to bed. She, of course, would have the last word.

“Be it on your head, Sebastian, when those babies are born still, if born they ever be at all!”

I very nearly ordered her out of the house. I went to bed trembling with rage, and it was there that María Barbara found me, perhaps an hour later. She sought to appease me, and pleaded for me to forgive her sister. But had not my authority in the house been challenged? Had I not been virtually ordered as to how to act in my very home? Was it not she who should apologize. Still raging, I turned my back on my wife’s pleas, and tried my best to sleep.

The days that followed were awful. The two sisters were barely speaking; Friedelena and I ignored each other. Worse, I grew impatient with my wife: could she not see that she should side with me, her husband? How could she plead her sister’s cause, when it was I who had been insulted? Shouldn’t she cleave unto her man, as the Bible bade her to do?

Any man knows—a pregnant woman can be moody, changeable. And a man also knows that all things blow over: was I to stay at home amid the intolerable tensions of two sisters, one of them great with child? Wasn’t it easier to stay a bit later in the church, inspecting the progress of the organ restoration, which was being done at great expense? Wasn’t it in fact my obligation, since it had been I who had convinced the church and town to pay handsomely for the work?

Did I absent myself deliberately? I wish I could say no, but it pains me to admit that yes: I had grown tired of the tensions and the squabbling and the suppressed anger. Friedelena at last chose to speak.

“You have abandoned your duties as husband, Sebastian. Never before has your wife needed you more, and where are you to be found. Smoking your pipe and drinking beer with friends in a public house, while your wife languishes at home, too tired to drag herself to bed. What manner of man are you? How can you treat your wife thus?”

It was now very late in the pregnancy; we were all very much on edge. But did I pay more attention to my wife? No, even though I came more and more often upon her as she stood, breathing shallowly and rapidly and looking far away. And I noticed that more and more often, there would be a dampened rag in the bathroom.

She told me later—while I had been at the public house with my friends, she had repaired to her bed, the rag clenched between her legs to try to stanch the flow of blood. She knew something was wrong: there were pains she had never had with the other two pregnancies. There was the blood—minor on some days, worse on others. And there were the contractions that would come and go—contractions that shouldn’t have been there.

And so it was no surprise to her when she gave birth to twins; the boy, Johann Cristoph died within moment of the birth. The girl, María Sophía, lasted barely three weeks.

It was then that I discovered whom I had married.