The Fawlty Code, Chapter 8
Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família
Crossing the western half of the Mediterranean from Italy to Spain involves a fairly short flight, which meant that Roger, had to fill in Plantard at break neck speed. Despite the world-historical significance of Roger’s discoveries, Plantard was, unforgiveably, tired, and had considerable difficulty in keeping up with Roger’s train of thought.
“As you probably know, Catalonia was always the place most hostile to Franco’s rule… a dissident left wing sort of territory… the last part of Spain to be subdued by the nationalists at the end of the civil war. Now, just twenty seven days (or three cubed days) after the last episode of the first season of Fawlty Towers, Generalissimo Franco dies and is replaced as head of state by the young Juan Carlos, who Franco believes will defend the traditions of Spanish fascism, who will continue an authoritarian and repressive form of government. Within a very short period, however, Franco’s cherished authoritarian ideals lie in ruins and Spain achieves a remarkably swift and orderly transition to multi-party democracy. On British television meanwhile, the preceding weeks leading up to Franco’s death are filled with the antics of a subversive Catalan, outwardly cringing, inwardly restless, as he struggles with the flailing, inefficiently autocratic rule of Basil (basileus) the King. Yet events in Spain will eventually demonstrate that the “king” is no autocrat but depends upon a play of balanced but competing forces… (whether the “king” refers to the de facto King Franco or the de jure King Juan Carlos is unclear and the roles may oscillate – in fact they almost certainly do – Franco who is king no king gives way to Juan Carlos who is king no king) The Catalan’s ally is the American Polly, a name suggestive a parrot, one who repeats, one who reinforces. She no more repeats the autocracy of Basil, however, than Basil is truly a king. Polly is, in any case, short for Apollonia, the patron saint of dental torture. Polly therefore stands for a peculiar ability to withstand an extremity of pain – that which is tested by trial and therefore in a state of competitive proximity to Manuel the suffering redeemer. The king meanwhile is a slave of Sybil, the voice of prophecy. He is trapped by a vision of implacable futurity, a voice that cannot be gainsaid and which he dare not defy. The Catalan himself is Manuel, cognate with Immanuel, the messianic deliverer and the light of the world, the keystone rejected by the builder, perhaps the light of representative government following the decades of dictatorship in Spain. The Catalan himself is in exile, a temporary enforced exile, yet he is clearly a messianic figure in the context of Torquay. What else happens in 1975? Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community is confirmed by referendum, North Vietnamese troops overrun Saigon. Inspired by the BBC’s obvious nod to “Apollonian” dentistry, Steven Spielberg makes a film called Jaws. Meanwhile, back London, Malcolm Mclaren agrees to manage a fledgling band called the Sex Pistols. But something about all of this doesn’t quite add up…”
Plantard’s face was flattened and (further) distorted against the thick window, exhausted by something or other he was fast asleep. Roger prodded him awake again with some sharp digs. Plantard struggled to remember something, anything about the year 1975, as though the effort of speaking was less than the effort of trying to listen to Roger.
“International Year of ze Woman. Year of la Femme. Zat is 1975. Fawlty Towers is timed to celebrate ze eternal feminine.”
Roger grunted, irritated at something so obvious yet so vague and continued to think out loud for he own benefit.
“Women’s Year. Of course… rather obvious though. The sort of thing that would appeal to symbologists… eternal feminine mumbo jumbo… Meanwhile, as I said, something about all of this doesn’t add up. Numerologically, the drama of Fawlty Towers is beset with a tension between threes and fours, the same tension that produces the energy vulgarly referred to as “pyramid power”. The twenty seven days between the end of the series and the death of Franco is three cubed, a superinflated three, a three that is destabilisingly obvious. The number 27 itself proves beyond any reasonable doubt the complicity of the BBC in the death of Franco. Only the most determined imbecile could deny it. Yet the fours are equally numerous and significant in the series. The four characters, the four years between series… it is as though the number three is being undermined deliberately, as though a tension between them is being staged. Which is why I’ve come to the conclusion…”
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the tarot inspired ballet Fawlty Towers is an attack on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, an attempt to introduce a fourth term into the Christian concept of the Divine. By squaring the triangle, they hope to upset the grammar of Western civilisation and rule the world. The triangle will remain within the square but the square will rule.”
“Holy Rhombus!” Plantard supplied an involuntary exclamation.
“Holy Rhomus, indeed. Holy Rhombus.”
“Ahh see. And ze Church, she ’as always traad to zupress zis owysay, “fourth term”.”
“P’raps it is, owysay, about mariolotary, trying to feminaaze ze Divine bah giving Mary a full plaass in trinitaarian symboleezm.”
“Yes, I’ve thought of that. But that’s too obvious. The fourth term has to be something stranger than that – more paradoxical and yet mathematical. Which is why we’re going to Barcelona. We’ve all been duped by an earlier form of substitution. Even Lord Strangelore. You see, when they tried to show Fawlty Towers in Spain, there were problems. Problems with Manuel – the official line was Spanish viewers would not want to see a Spanish waiter being insulted and mocked and slapped about by a bunch of English actors. But clearly the truth is far more sinister. Clearly Manuel would have meant too much to a Spanish audience… would have revealed too much about the structure of the divine refracted through the experience of recent politics. He had to be replaced… and was redubbed as an Italian waiter called Mario. Mario. Now do you understand.”
“Of course not. Now, tell me again, what eez “Fawlty Towers?”
Together, Roger and Plantard breezed into the most expensive hotel in Barcelona. Roger booked two rooms for them, in his flawless Catalan, inwardly chuckling at and despising the nearby American tourists who had decided to insult their incipient hosts by talking in Spanish.
Plantard claimed to want to lie down for a while, which made Roger suspicious. He dragged Plantard out of the hotel against his will and together they scurried about the city to enjoy and interpret the Gaudi (to enjoy because interpret the Gaudi) and meditate on the role of Barcelona in fastening the Fawlty Code.
The famous unfinished Gaudi masterpiece towered above him, its bumpy and improbable spires prodding the sky with cheeky abandon, its glutinous liquidity a deliberate ripost to all architectural traditions of right-angled thinking. He had stood in front of a great many European cathedrals in the course of his professional travels. But this was, without a shadow of a doubt, the funniest, a surreal sandcastle of a cathedral that defied the oncoming tide, the environmental apocalypse, economic meltdown, armed with nothing more than its own sense of fun.
Together, Plantard and Roger stared back at the cathedral, resembling, for just a moment, nothing better than tourists. Plantard muttered something about needing a thing called “rest” and tip-toed away backwards. Roger could not be expected to spare Plantard another glance, and nor did he.
Was the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família ever intended to be finished? Perhaps it never should be… the many fractious ghosts of the nineteen thirties still needed to be appeased. The incompletion of the Cathedral represented some lack of closure within Spanish history as a whole and it was certain that Fawlty Towers’ relationship with the regime of Generalissimo Franco bore a crucial, but crucially indirect relation to the state of the building. Perhaps it was the European counterpart of the infamous haunted Winchester House in California, endlessly extended and prolonged with extra porches and gables so that the spirits of Winchester Rifle victims might be suitably confused and placated. Perhaps if the Cathedral were ever finished, then the mummified corpse of General Franco would rise from the dead and destroy Spanish democracy.
So many questions… Roger recalled again, Manuel’s endless “Que?” – the “what” that is confused with the name Watt (not coincidentally the title of an early work by Samuel Beckett) and which is an oblique pun on the “Quay” of “Torquay”. A spurious anglo-spanish etymology would have the town called “what tor?”, in other words, which mysterious artificial hill are you after? Take your pick? Glastonbury itself was just such a Tor and somewhere perhaps there was a grail (or two or three or four) beneath one of them. What Tor? What Tor is key? Where is the secret buried? Then again, those threes and fours should perhaps take him to Egypt. What is a pyramid if not the interpenetration of threes and fours? Four triangles on a square base? Or the pyramid in the Louvre? How anti-trinitarian is the Paris pyramid? Or Las Vegas…?
Emboldened by his customary scholarly contempt for mainstream religion, Roger shoved his way past some elderly worshippers and burst into the building, looking for the right kind of door and the right kind of staircase. Largely as he expected, the Cathedral contained a hidden door three quarters of the way up one of the stairwells to the top of one of the famous Art Nouveau ice cream cones. Roger tried knocking three times, then four, then three again, and a panel slid back to reveal a medium sized chamber. He crept in and the door slid back behind him. In a surreal yet strangely appropriate way, the room he was in seemed much wider than the exterior diameter of the tower. Tied to a comfortable chair, as he expected was Mario. Or Manuel. Or whatever his name really was. He was gagged but sleeping and looked rather peaceful. At home.
The Fawlty Code Part 1
The Fawlty Code Part 2
The Fawlty Code Part 3
The Fawlty Code Part 4
The Fawlty Code Part 5
The Fawlty Code Part 6
The Fawlty Code Part 7