What I See When I Look in the Mirror

I see a man living in a tall, narrow row home, probably in Milan or Florence during the Renaissance; maybe the 1400s. I have a beard; it’s long and white. I wear a loose-fitting white shirt that’s tethered at the neck not by buttons but by strings. Over that is a tan leather vest, weathered with age and stained with years’ worth of wine spills. I don’t have pants; no, I have “trousers” that tuck into tall boots with large flaps at the top. Upon my white-haired head is a leather cap with a long feather hanging from one side.

On the top floor of my tall and narrow home (which is situated adjacent to other such homes on a narrow street) is to be found my attic, and it is here that I do my work. There’s a wooden desk in the center of the room upon which are to be found many instruments of interest: a wooden globe, a pendulum, an armillary, several alchemical beakers and flasks, a compass, some tattered scrolls and codices, and feathery quills waiting to be dipped in an inkwell. Behind my desk are rows of wooden shelves. These contain multitudes of old books and bottles labelled with all kinds of bizarre stuff like “dragon’s blood” and “mummy ash” and “lark’s tongues in aspic.” A fire crackles in the fireplace adjacent to my desk, and all about the attic are to be found Arabic rugs, spread across the floor.

My wife and children, who know better than to come up here and disturb me whilst I’m at work, are busy downstairs doing whatever it is they do. And so here I sit at my desk, furiously scribbling out secret knowledge onto a bleached piece of parchment. The feathered quill moves rapidly in my hand as I record my thoughts on some alchemical mystery or perhaps a philosophical notion that occurred to me earlier that day.

Eventually, I’ll yell, “More wine!” at which point a buxom servant girl appears with a new flask for my drinking pleasure. I may or may not be engaged in the occasional dalliance with this simple creature.

The space is lit entirely by faint candles, and as evening approaches, the candlelight and fireplace add a cozy, spectral feeling to my peaceful attic. Before the last light of the day re-cedes, I get up from my desk and stand at the window (which, of course, is made of quite ancient and quite bumpy glass). I look out at my medieval city. In the distance I see the spire of some cathedral. The rooftops of the nearby homes obscure my ability to see much…

My life is dedicated to knowledge; the pursuit of it and the distribution of it. Mine is an erudite existence, my days spent either reading books or writing them.

Then I die of the plague.

That’s what I see when I look in my mirror.

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