"Is there no other reason, Gabriel Valls?" interrupts the prosecutor, with speciousness in his voice and a smile on his face that is aimed at the other members of the Tribunal, a smile that, for all its complicity, does not erase the bitter sneer on his mouth. "You cannot be telling me that this is the only reason. Your people would walk on their hands when it comes to money, as we all know, but in this case, it is not all about money …"
"I cannot speak for others, Your Reverence. Ask them. For myself, of course not, Your Reverence."
"Do you accept that, for you, money is not everything?" The prosecutor is on the attack, as gleeful as if he has felled the prisoner with a mortal shot. "And why is that?"
"I want to be able to show my beliefs fearlessly, and to comply freely with the obligations of my religion."
"Do you accept, then, that you are a Jew?"
Gabriel Valls takes his time in answering. He looks out through the window again. The bright blue sky stands out against the garland of a flock of birds.
"Do you accept that you are a Jew?" he insists.
The prisoner turns to face the prosecutor. He holds the gaze that aspires to be a leopard's but is only a genet's.
"Yes, Your Reverence. I accept that."
The members of the Holy Tribunal jiggle their bones in their chairs, fidgeting uneasily. Valls' statement seems to have awoken them from the drowsiness into which they have subsided after the recess. The faces of all of them are newly infused with religious zeal. They observe Valls implacably. More than one of them would like to set about directly thrashing this natural enemy who imperturbably declares his crime with the same equanimity as he would show when commenting on the fine weather and the heat that is now well and truly installed.
"But, like the other residents of your street, you were baptised, were you not? Therefore, if you have received the sacrament of baptism, you have no choice but to live in accordance with Christian laws."
The baptism of my forebears was imposed by force.
The judge from Béns is smirking. He has made some wagers that Valls would introduce complications with this one.
"No one can consider that he is obliged to receive a blessing so great as baptism", interrupts the Inquisitor, who tends never to speak because it is the prosecutor’s job to examine the prisoner. "They could have chosen to leave Christian lands, to go away or to let themselves be killed like the Maccabees."
"That applies to the converts of 1435, Your Reverence", Valls swiftly exclaims."In our case, we never had that option, which, however, I consider to be unjust. One has to be very strong to choose death, Your Reverence. If baptism is put on one side of the scales and death on the other, they are not of the same weight."
“It is dreadful to listen to you", the Inquisitor interrupts.
"Christ rose from the dead on the third day", the prosecutor solemnly intones. "No one can doubt that. It is proved."
"Proved for those who believe it, but not for those of us who do not. We Jews do not persecute Christians. We respect those who embrace the new law. This does not mean that we do not suspect they have erred but neither do we believe that they must therefore be burned at the stake … Would it not be simpler, Your Reverence, to think that all of us who have lived a good life and freely complied with the requirements of our faith might go to the heaven of Yahweh or to that of your God? I understand that some Christian kings have forbidden attacks on synagogues because they are houses where the name of God is praised."
"We do not persecute Jews, Gabriel Valls, make no mistake about that. We pursue Christians that do not know how to be Christian. If all of you had gone to those other lands at the time of the expulsion, you could keep on practising your false rites without anyone punishing you. Only by word and deed could we convert you …"
"I do not consider myself a Christian, Your Reverence."
"Your hubris displeases us, Valls. It will only lead you to the stake and to eternal fire thereafter. There is no other God than God the Father, three Persons in one God. There is no salvation outside of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome", the Inquisitor avows.
"No one, Your Reverence, is more concerned than I am to be saved and to go to heaven."
"Your Reverence, your Christianity would be nothing without our Judaism."
"That is enough of your blaspheming. Repent your words. Beg our pardon immediately."
"I have not wished to offend you in any way."
"Accept that you are mistaken. Abhor your Old Testament Law at once."
"Being a Jew, Your Reverence, means being unable to stop being a Jew."
The Inquisitor rings a bell on his table. The scribe raises his quill and passes his hand over his forehead. As the sun rises, the heat becomes more intense. A Holy Office official asks permission to enter. The Inquisitor tells him to prepare the torture chamber. The scribe reads what he has written in measured tones.
The case being proved against Gabriel Valls Major, he must be condemned and we sentence that he shall be subjected to torture, which shall be of the kind and duration that we determine in order for him to tell the truth of the matter for which he is accused … If, under this torture, he should die, or be crippled as a result, or if one of his members should be mutilated, it will be entirely his own fault and his own responsibility, not our own, for having wished to remain an apostate and for refusing to accept our holy religion.
Covered in blood and unconscious, Valls was dragged to his cell two hours later.
(From Dins el barrer blau (In the Last Blue), 1994, p. 380-386)
* * *
It is true that our identity is also defined by our acceptance of moral commitments that enable us, in each case, to choose what we need to do, what is best, most proper and most appropriate. Grandmother, who would never have suspected that I wasn't her granddaughter, always told me that I had, perforce, to sit with my legs held tight together because, if I didn't, people would think I was some bastard child, picked up from the children’s home or bought cheap from gypsies who were passing by … Yet my mother never as much as mentioned such possibilities. Even when the cook told me the story of Patufet, the boy who was born in a cabbage, the boy who had no mother or father, a story she loved, Cecília, her words like a whiplash, reminded her that she'd forbidden her to tell me stories like that, which were so inappropriate for children because they could create states of anxiety, and she'd order her to tell me the story of Cinderella who became a princess since it was so much more suitable for my age and temperament.
They also say that our identity is determined by civilisation, tradition and even the nation to which we belong, the culture in which we have grown up. Mine, like that of so many other people of my generation, and maybe like yours if you grew up in the years that followed the Civil War, is more grounded in the twentieth century than the twenty-first and there are even times when I think we are more nineteenth-century than anything else. Recently – and what an irony this is! – I have often felt closer to the simplicity of Grandmother’s beliefs, the routine of country days and tasks, than to the maelstrom of Internet, which of course I use and have used, and with some success, to find references to Cecília Balaguer’s lover. Although I consider myself to be a secular person and define myself as agnostic, I can’t renounce the Catholic tradition either, a Catholicism sometimes without a God (which I still keep writing with a capital letter) that has enabled me to feel in tune with the liturgical calendar, and that I am bolstered by a certain mellowness that was left in me by the piety of my grandmother and my aunt who, though she was ingenuous and a village woman, was strong and had her feet firmly on the ground. But, since not very long ago, only one or two decades, the sway of two thousand years of Christianity has been diminishing and, with that, the apparently immutable beliefs of my childhood, which my grandmother, much more than my mother, instilled in me, have also waned. This change, the transition from a religious society to a secular one, which should be a symptom of the rational development of the human being, of human critical capacity, is not really like that, I believe. We've abandoned God and yet we still swallow hook, line and sinker, any nonsense they tell us …
Maybe what's happening to me is that my agnosticism only makes sense when I feel I am surrounded by Catholics … I've often thought that ever since nobody has been praying for me – since the deaths of my grandmother and aunt – things have only got worse for me. The substitution of a sense of the sacred by rampant consumerism doesn't seem to have modified the human condition very much and it hasn't brought us more freedom or greater hegemonic capacity either. We are still creatures that are dependent, not on God but on market-product gods, on latter-day priests that restlessly and relentlessly preach that the only way to earthly salvation, to instant happiness, is through the possession of this or that item, which is almost always advertised on TV.
I know that when our surroundings become strange to us, when we don't like the reality of our milieu and it no longer seems our own, it means that we have suddenly got old and then we plunge into melancholy …
(From La meitat de l'ànima (Half the Soul), 2004, p.142 - 144)
Translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark ©