Hunger's Brides
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"Sor Juana's library / studio at the convent... "

Sor Juana's window

from a description beginning on page 704 of Hunger's Brides...

Sor Juana has waited years for the Archbishop's permission to purchase her cell. Then one day, without warning, he sends his men to take an inventory of the contents of her library, and of her studio, which houses an extensive collection of musical and scientific instrument, and curios. She has understood his warning. That any cell he allows her to purchase will be one stripped bare...


The soul of Teresa of Avila is a palace, one of the most beautiful that has ever been. That we may understand a little, she presents it as a palace of passageways reaching inward, an enchaining of seven chambers or abodes. In the innermost, on a priceless rock-crystal throne waits her Beloved.

       My soul waits at the top of ten steps, behind a lacquered folding screen in the Japanese style. It is a long narrow room undivided that houses my studiolo and library. Here is where the Inspector will wish to begin his list; it is this room that contains the most priceless of marvels; in this chamber my Beloved rests.

       But before entering the gentlemen may wish to get their bearings, to fix this particular arrangement in their minds. At the top of the stairs, there, to the left, is one of three doors connecting this room to the other two. Just inside the doorway is a second folding screen, also in the Japanese style but decorated with scenes from Mexico's past and streets.

       Nine varas in width by ten in length, the upper storey is six varas high. Three rooms: on the east side, a sitting room with dining table, a bedroom with a desk; the third room runs the full length of the west side and occupies a third of the total width. The geometry will not be difficult, though the accounting may so prove. While there are writing desks in every room, here by the window is the largest. The window has been altered, is large and low; as the Inspector sees for himself, the view across the rooftops is to the south. Note the step-ladders, the shelves built to line the walls from floor to ceiling - the workmanship is excellent. Note carefully the openings cut to the exact contour of the window, the fireplace and doorways; see the hooks set in the dim top shelves from which to hang a lantern while one searches. The four transverse display cases stand at two vara intervals, each successive case from the south window a little wider than the last to catch the light. Take note that all must be dismantled if they are to leave this room. Yes the cot and the reading chair by the fireplace, these come out easily.

       That space beside the stairs, there behind the low shelf? No, not a hidden stairwell, a chimney shaft.

       If we think of the library as a window, looking out from an enchanted palace, then the prince's studiolo is the world brought in. To stock the cave of the magician, the workshop of the alchemist.

       Its elements are to be deployed with care, in sections and harmonious intervals. The studiolo is a theatre of the soul, the mind is its orchestra; its sweetest solos are played on its finest instrument, admiratio. We may imagine this instrument of wonder as a slender violinist seated, a little nervously, among the reeds and flutes and clarions. In the ideal arrangement featured here, in which the library and studiolo flow one into the other, the two chief sections - perhaps think of these as the strings and the winds - consist of instruments of spirit and sense, the upper and lower choirs. And yet this business of upper and lower is really a convenience, for the instruments are free to move about, and really owe it to themselves to do this. So it happens that we so often find logica down in the kitchens, where the knives come out.

         But you will want to get under way. First, the musical and audible instruments, since this is a sort of auditorium. No, I do not play them all unfortunately, but quite a few. Clay flute, clavichord, vihuela, violin...There you see an echo chest, here two automatons that dance and sing. Try them if you like, they are very lifelike. One pendulum, which, courtesy of Signor Galilei, we can use to regulate the tempo by lengthening and shortening the string. One musarithmetic box such as in the famed studiolo of the Reverend Kircher at the Jesuit College in Rome. Oh yes, the Jesuits have these too. Bigger. One music box, one speaking trumpet, one conch shell trumpet, yes, a caracol. I was just coming to that.

       If you don't mind, I really must sit down, I really must stop a moment. You would not consider coming back another day? Surely the Inspector must see this will take a little while. What you are asking is the inventory of my soul.


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