You’ve got complicated questions. We’ve got complicated answers. Today, we’re excited to debut Ask Fortunato, a new advice column in which Signor Giovanni Fortunato, of “The Cask of Amontillado” fame, answers all your deepest, darkest questions. Fortunato is a true Renaissance man: connoisseur of wine and of art, expert gemologist, respected business leader, man-about-town, and generous supporter of this periodical. We invite our readers to share their inquiries with Fortunato via post; currently, they may be sent to the Palazzo Montresor.
I am a long-time admirer of yours, and must thank you SO much for any advice you can offer regarding my question. I am by nature a dreadfully nervous person, one likely to be found retiring to a secluded corner to calm my overexerted senses when I find myself compelled to attend social gatherings. I stay at home entirely when the supreme madness of Carnival is upon us, for fear of the fervid frenzy of the crowd. And yet I find I crave the companionship of others rather than a life of complete solitude, lost in an echo chamber of my own haunted thoughts. As the bon vivant you are, what advice can you share with me on how to make friends with fellow revelers at parties?
Friendship—true friendship! That elusive gift, that rarest vintage, that treasure without price. I have had many friends throughout my life. I am a man of great standing, a man well-known, well-respected by his peers, a source of gaiety and good cheer in any social gathering. Surely my absence will be noted. Surely my Masonic brothers will mount a search party when tomorrow, at the banquet, I do not make an appearance. The Lady Fortunato, when I do not return home tonight, perhaps…? Ah, no, most likely she does not expect me home—it being Carnival. She knows…she knows my habits are extravagant. She will not expect me home. But surely, in two or three days’ time…if I can hold out that long…
What was I saying? Friendship. A most sacred connection. Yes. One might think that the discovery of some shared passion ought kindle a friendly, genuine warmth between you and another of your fellow men—I myself forged many friendships whenever some fellow countryman learnt of my prodigious expertise in oenophily—in wine. Ah, the many jests I have shared with others! Strangers all at first, but soon true bosom companions over our cups as the wine and the night flowed onward! Or so I believed.
The wine does not flow down here, beneath the ancient river. The water flows onward above my head—heavy, steady and dark, a never-ending stream moving inexorably forward, moving relentlessly onward as does the world above me, as I stay confined to this spot, my cup empty, my voice hoarse, a crick in my neck and an ache in the arms that have spent the past few hours in frantic pulling upon the bonds that keep me captive.
Montresor must have known my remarks were mere jests! He is a strange man—of noble blood, certainly, but always a strange man, were the words whispered among my brothers and I when he deigned to join the public festivities—his sour and self-righteous airs befouling our vivacity. I meant nothing, I swear it; it was all in jest.
Timido! I confess my thoughts are scattered, but I should counsel you to be careful in your friendly jests with others, and careful especially in whom you count among your friends.
I am a young merchant, newly arrived in the city and desirous of advantageous connections with whom I might engage in business. What advice can you give for me to improve my station and enhance my chances at prosperity?
I remember my own early days in business, learning the trade, hopeful that Dame Fortune would smile upon my work, that through my own efforts I might rise from my already good fortune into the greatest possible influence. And my business is thriving. My seat on the council is uncontested. The Grand Duke himself takes my counsel on matters relating to foreign trade. I am respected, even feared, wherever I go. I did all the right things, didn’t I?
The thing you must remember, Ventiquattr’ore, is that in business, all is competition—even your closest colleagues may betray you at any time. This has always been my experience, and I comported myself accordingly. Better, thought I, to attack before being attacked—and often I was ruthless when to me it seemed necessary. Oh, I said I valued the collegial relations for my peers, but at the end of the day, I cared to profit by them, by whatever means it took.
I remember Marinaio—a friend of old—a childhood friend, perhaps 2 or 3 years younger than myself, with whom I spent many happy moments in my youth hunting and sporting and chasing after the girls of the village. He was a true friend, and loyal. Early in my career, he was eager to get his start in business as well, and had learned of an enormous, unclaimed cargo of Madeira, in which we might invest. He fronted the cost on credit, and I promised to divide it with him when the ship—still en route—arrived at port. The ship was lost to a terrible storm—the entire cargo and nearly all hands sinking to the briny deep, save one half-mad sailor who washed ashore, raving of the horrors of the sea. Marinaio was ruined. I would have been as well—my resources were much smaller in those early days—and yet no contract had been signed, no formal agreement beyond that of our handshake. Marinaio would be ruined either way—even half the cost of the cargo was his entire resources. Why not save myself? And so I claimed no such deal had been made. I took my funds and invested more wisely. I continued to rise; I married well, the eldest daughter of a most noble and influential family; I grew wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. And Marinaio—I never heard from him again.
This is just how you must conduct yourself, though! There can be no room for kindness—only self-interest! This is what I have always thought—and this is what has always served me well—what gave me the home, and the wife, and the success I enjoy today! And yet! I find a growing terror in my gut that this was not the right course after all. Where is Marinaio today? What bonds grip him? He was penniless after the ship went down…I thought myself lucky to escape that fate. But now I find myself sealed up in a living death. Did this ghastly fate await me the entire time? A recompense for my previous sins, my cruelty toward others? But what else could I have done? This is the world that we live in—it is kill or be killed. I killed for many years. But perhaps we are all killed in the end. We are doomed—all of us—complicit in a system that will destroy us.
For the love of God, Montresor!!!
I suffer from a vexing cough, which neither bloodletting nor increasingly large doses of mercury have yet to palliate, and as such I am losing much faith in my doctors. As a man of much experience, what treatment would you recommend for such a persistent condition?
One’s health must always be one’s chief concern and lodestar. I am quite sorry to learn of your tussive vexations. I myself have spent the past few hours coughing in violent fits, as the hideous moisture of these primordial crypts is imbued upon my overstrained lungs, the subterranean damp pervading my impressively vital and active body (I have been assured by many lovely, supple companions that I remain quite vigorous for a man of my not-so-terribly-advanced years), and enfeebling me more and more, leaving me weak, and afraid. If I had my health, perhaps I might yet tear these shackles from their sockets, and then…?! I know not, but I must do something.
No, this oppressive damp seemed not so sinister when I first stepped into the Montresor catacombs, the promise of the Amontillado before me, beckoning me onward. (Amontillado! Was it all deception, then?) And there was Montresor himself beside me, all innocence, urging caution, concerned for my health—or seeming so!—and still drawing me deeper and deeper into this envaulted, dew-soaked pit of treachery.
Avoid damp quarters, Tossire—avoid long, secluded walks in the dark and vaporous underground, wherein fetid moisture collects and hangs thickly below the turbulent roar of an uncaring river—yes, even avoid such walks with a man you trust—with a man you believed to be your boon companion! Avoid such intimate spaces as wine cellars, secret tunnels, and foul catacombs, where your hoarse exhortations fall dully against the stones and bones of centuries past. Avoid the dangers that such intimacy brings you. Trust no one but yourself.
On matters related to wine, I confess I am sadly ignorant. My wife and I are newly married, and wish to entertain at our home, and to provide pleasing refreshments to our guests. What advice can you give for choosing good wines at dinner?
It is my chief passion, wine. It made my fortune, through my wiser later investments, and it is a pleasure in itself—at meals—at night—at any time. It has been a constant throughout my life, as true a companion as any man—truer.
Congratulations upon your marriage, Gaudente. I wish you many happy years of wedded bliss. My own wife does not drink wine. She claims it gives her no pleasure. Few things seem to! She has always been particular. I confess I have never understood her—her changeable moods, her strange insistence that I behave some way or another, rein in my habits and preferences, do her bidding. I am Giovanni Fortunato. I cannot be ordered about by any woman, even the daughter of a duke and niece of the Pope.
Of late, though, her father and brothers have been colder to me. Of late, it has been harder to get an audience. Perhaps I should have tried to understand her better. But what man understands his wife, or needs to? Why should it matter? We did things just the way every couple of our station does—she making eyes at the Duke’s favorite lute player, and I enjoying the company of the many, many lissome young women who flit about the court, smiling upon me, asking for favors. This is just how it is done. So, why does our matrimonial discord now weigh so oppressively on me—heavy as that damned river roaring without pause over my head, infusing my thoughts with an endless tumult??
I couldn’t tell you a thing about what my wife likes, Gaudente. I know everything she does not like—my drinking, my fornication, my many pointed jokes that so often get misinterpreted (they are all merely jests, I swear it!)—sometimes even the way I speak or breathe. I know she hates it all—a hatred that has only grown over our many years together, and that she tolerates for the sake of the fortune I have brought her powerful yet precariously-funded family.
I couldn’t tell you what she likes, though, and that lack of knowledge now poisons my mind.
What does your wife enjoy about wine? What vintages make her happy? Try different bottles with her, ask her opinion, buy in greater quantities accordingly. I am sure she will steer you right.
A full-bodied Medoc is generally sufficient.
I write you in a state of great consternation and hope earnestly that you might provide some guidance. I consider myself a patient man, but I find myself continually insulted and derided by a close colleague—a man I once considered a friend—who yet insists on behaving as though I am an inferior, a figure of fun to be mocked publicly among our mutual acquaintances. He claims such behavior is all in jest, but it rankles deeply and I am reaching a boiling point at which I will no longer be able to laugh it off with good grace. What advice can you give me on how to confront this boor and give him the comeuppance he truly deserves?
I don’t deserve this treatment, Montresor!!!
Even at my worst, even at my most inconsiderate, my most snobbish—and yes, Montresor, I thought little of you—thought you were squandering your ancient name and considerable fortunes with your miserable and dour personality—thought you were a useful connection but a complete, friendless bore—even then, I didn’t deserve to be sealed up alive, Montresor!
But I understand now why you did it.
I wish I had the chance to make amends to you, Montresor. I do not know for how much longer the air will hold out—or whether the detestable moisture of that churning river overhead will poison it, and me, before it does. But I wish I could have done things differently.
I think of your coat of arms, Montresor, which you described to me moments before condemning me to my living death. “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.” There is one question which I did not ask—my mind too befogged by the De Grave. Are the Montresors the human foot, or are they the snake? My mind is troubled by this, because in either case, the ending is not happy. If the Montresors are the foot, they shall be poisoned. If they are the snake, they shall be crushed. The world we find ourselves in destroys us both; the cycle of retaliatory behavior in the end destroys both parties. So it is with myself and Marinaio—so perhaps it shall be for you.
And so it is that you are held in a captivity just as intractable as mine, Montresor, until you mend your ways! Until you learn, as I did too late, that this self-interest, this insufferable pride, will ultimately undermine you, will keep you just as tightly bound as I find myself!
Although I must remark–and you must admit—that these are much heavier chains.
What outfits are fashionable for Carnival this season?
Above all else, avoid motley. How quickly the jester’s merry bells turn mocking.