A Most Grand and Excellent Google Search—Part 2
And so we continue…
Just a few months before, I’d had the pleasure of attending a series of seminars on ancient sacred texts—including illuminated books—at St. Martin’s University just up the road in Lacey. They were given by an international panel of scholars of the Dead Sea scrolls and other ancient manuscripts. They were paleographers, all four of them: experts in early languages, writings and religions. Unfortunately for me, none of them had directly addressed the part of the craft I now needed to understand. Even so, I called St. Martin’s and explained my problem. No one here with that expertise, they said, and suggested that perhaps only Harvard University or Oxford might be able to help.
Daunted by that prospect, and preferring to meet with someone in person, I Googled “paleographer” and added the modifier “northwest United States”. Nothing. Deciding that the expertise I needed was more about the forms of scripts rather than their history, I typed in the words “calligraphy, northwest”. Down in the weeds I found a reference to Reed College in Portland (some forty miles south), and an undated press release. In the last couple of lines was a reference to a Robert Palladino, instructor of calligraphy.
I called the college and learned from the switchboard operator (oof, that’s an outdated term) that no one by that name was on faculty. Not just any receptionist, though, this woman thought for a moment and suggested she transfer me to the office of public information. The director of that office happened to answer, and when I explained who I was looking for and why, she said that while Robert Palladino had retired some years ago, by happenstance she’d just returned from having lunch with him. And yes, she thought he wouldn’t mind her giving me his telephone number.
Robert Palladino. I called him, introduced myself and told him what I was looking for. I described my protagonist to him, and he wanted to know which monastic order my Brother Alphaios belongs to. I told him it’s fictional, the Order of St. Ambrose. I told him a bit about the strange pieces of parchment that were key to my plot line and how I thought Brother Alphaios might work out the mystery.
He said it didn’t sound like a very good story.
Mr. Palladino asked me if I were aware that he was a retired Catholic priest. Whoa! I was not. Father Palladino asked me if I knew that when he was seventeen years old, he’d joined a Trappist monastery and had remained there, cloistered, for the next eighteen years.
What parallel world was this? I’d had no idea.
That was where he’d learned calligraphy, he said.
I asked if we could meet. He said he was eighty-three years old and had just been placed on some heart medication. Could I call back in a couple of weeks?
I did not wait the entire prescribed time to make the second call.
MORE TO COME…
Photo by J S Anderson: Working out the plot line.