Excessive Edifice

Santa Ana El Salvador

Photo © ihohj pho via Google Street View

I watched the new Divine’s expression. They stared at the massive Hall with its countless swirls and spires. Impassivity dissolved into disgust.

“As gaudy as I’d heard. You should never have allowed this.”

Twenty years ago, as third-rank councilperson, I’d voted against it. But as mayor, all mistakes were mine.  “Yes, Your Orderly.”

The Divine indicated the stately Entovanite temple, opposite. “The faithful must be horrified.”

Many, yes. Others called it “modern.” I nodded.

Sensing hesitation, the Divine lectured. “One flower in your hat adds beauty. Would one thousand flowers improve that?”

No, Your Orderly.”

They flung their hand dismissively. “Entovan rejects ostentation. Remedy this.”

“But…” I steadied my voice. “All that work, wasted?”

They considered. “Entovan rejects waste. The structure is sound. Remove only the decorations. Give one to each household, matching quality to rank.”

Imagining the endless disputes, I began planning my retirement. Let this mistake be the next mayor’s.

Word count: 150.  Written for this week’s What Pegman Saw challenge. This week, Pegman takes us to Santa Ana in El Salvador.  Big thanks to Karen and Josh for hosting this challenge, which is always so much fun!  I encourage you all to click on the link to read the other stories inspired by the sights in this city, and to contribute your own!

I fear that my title pun is even harder to get than usual, so I’ll just spell it out: the main definition of edifice is a large, imposing building but it can also mean a complex system of beliefs.

World/Story notes: As is so often the case, the “small” story I imagined would have required at least twice as many words.  For those who want more clarification: The building they’re examining is the new city hall / government building, which sits across the central square from the (larger) temple to Entovan. Entovan is a deity of order and progress and the religion is associated with great advancements in agriculture, city design, roads, and government, although during the time of this story (toward the end of the Pyanni empire), adherents have decided that past progress was good but new ideas are risky, and have adopted oddly reactionary attitudes.  Entovan is a gender-neutral deity* and the adherents and clerics (especially the head Divines) use several types of gender-neutral pronouns, for which I substitute “they/them” given that I’m writing in English.

In an earlier version of the story the mayor was regretting that she’d ever complained about the previous high Divine being scatterbrained and noncommittal, because at least that one was friendly and also didn’t get angry if you occasionally slipped and called them “him”. That version of the story also had the Divine explain that having one (small) monument for each household would be sufficient for them to proper meditate upon without being excessive; the Divine estimated that in a city of this size, there should be enough decorations to cover the top seven or perhaps eight levels of social hierarchy.  The mayor correctly imagines how impossible it will be to get most people to agree that the size and quality of the monument assigned to them accurately reflects their exact social rank, once they see the size and quality of the monuments their neighbors have. I also just liked that image, of someone arriving in this city for the first time later on, and seeing every home in the better districts decorated with somewhat-matching pieces of carved stonework, and wondering how that happened.

* To be more precise, all deities in Eneana are gender-neutral given that they have no bodies (and thus no DNA or genitals). But mortals and their religions often impose gender onto their images of the gods and other gods don’t seem to notice or care much.


18 thoughts on “Excessive Edifice

    • I appreciate that, Crispina, thank you! Especially since I was so frustrated this week that I cheated and spent twice as many words explaining myself! Ah well, the story is always longer than what’s on the page, I suppose.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Actually, Joy, I honestly don’t think your notes are needed. What your notes say you want to convey, you have indeed conveyed! The observation that nobody would accept that the decoration was properly matched to rank is shrewd and amusing. And I love that the mayor’s response is to start planning her retirement!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Penny, that’s really nice to hear. And yes, the mayor seems to be much more shrewd about what this order will mean, in terms of disputes among the people, than the Entovanite Divine does. But then, it’s the mayor who’s going to have to do it, while the Divine gets off the hook. If I were the mayor, I’d be looking for a graceful way to bow out too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the world you’ve created here. In its way, this conversation reminds me of those that took place between the planners of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago where one party argued for classical ornate while the other was a proponent of the lean, modern style. They both got their way, though the classicist got more of what he wanted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Josh. I’m not familiar with the debate you mention, but it does sound like something that’s played out in various forms over many generations. It’s reassuring to know that my fictional idea has a real-world counterpart, and you’re the one who would know! It gives me that much more excuse to be spending my time working out philosophical and practical debates between members of my made-up religions, which is otherwise a fairly questionable pursuit. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! And yes, Eneana is (in places) extremely detailed. But there are SO many more details to work out, which makes it even more exciting. If you’re interested in that, check out the tabs for “About Eneana” and “Major Societies” at the top of the page.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well there are still many places of the (mental) map that are blank (“There be dragons!”), but if you read back through my flash fiction stories, you’ll get to see an awful lot of parts of Eneana. Welcome to my world!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love where you went with this. You capture a timeless debate that I’m sure happens all the time. I have to agree with Penny–it’s rich that the complaints have the mayor planning her retirement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Karen! That last line wasn’t originally part of the story, but when I realized what it would actually mean to try to divvy up all of these decorations of different sizes and quality of carving and somehow have it match everyone’s idea of how the aesthetics appropriately matched their (very specific) ideas of social ranks… Whew! Yeah, I’d want to get out of that too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Kelvin, I’m so glad it came across that well. And I’m especially happy that you picked out that particular line. I spent a lot of time on it, trying to figure out how to convey that it’s not that the Entovanite cleric just doesn’t like anything new, but that the religion/philosophy is essentially minimalist when it comes to decoration.


    • Interesting – I’ve been watching a lot of historical documentaries lately but I haven’t run across that series yet. It looks great, thanks for the recommendation! And yes, not all monks were as holy as they should have been (although there were plenty of good apples, I would guess). On a related note, I just learned in one of my resource books that the Black Plague disproportionately killed off priests and monks, because they were working with the sick (so that was good of them). Which meant that afterward, the church was desperate and had to reach farther afield for applicants. They had to fill those parish slots, so they couldn’t be quite as choosy as before about selecting only truly holy, dedicated men or firing the ones that displayed poor behavior.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It makes sense to me too, I’d just never thought very much about which people the plagues would wipe out faster, and what the effect would be. And yes, I have that video series saved to my watch list!

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.