When the Lion Smiles

Chapt. 3- Part 6 “Idyll”

They ate in relative silence for the better part of an hour until the meal was exhausted and a desert tray brought to their table.  Martin chose a Napoleon and Andrea a piece of apple torte.  Coffees were ordered and then Martin spoke.

     “May I ask you something?”

     “Yes.”  Andrea replied.

     “Why did the tailor call you The Little Fucking Man?”

Andrea flushed.  “Ah, there is a story for that.  You see a few years ago, on a day that was terribly hot, a large man, an American from Texas in a big hat and awful boots came into my shop.  He wished to have everything demonstrated but purchased nothing.  You see, everything that I must to demonstrate, must to be folded again and put away.  So,”

Andrea paused as he lit a cigarette and then offered one to Martin.  Martin looked around nervously.

     “Don’t say you do not smoke as well?  Are you a priest?” Andrea protested.

     “No, but,” he looked from side to side, “is it allowed?”

     “But of course.”  Andrea said as he blew a large cloud of smoke into the air.  “Ah, yes; America,” he snorted derisively, “no one smokes there anymore.  But what is wrong with you people?  Do you think to stop smoking and drinking and live forever?  What pleasure is that?”

     “True enough.  “ Martin answered as he took one of Andrea’s cigarettes and accepted a light.  It was strong and bitter.  It made him cough.

     “French.”  Andrea pointed out.  “Strong, yes?  I do not smoke them always, just sometimes.  So, to resume; finally this large American cowboy,” Andrea pronounced it in heavily accented English with obvious derision, “decides to purchase a thing of insignificance.  He has a large handful of dollars and he announces loudly to the world, ‘And how much for my strong American Dollar?So I am angry.  My counter is in disarray, it is hot, the air too heavy and you know, I despise the heat, and this shamo, who wishes now to purchase a something for a few simple pennies wishes an even greater discount?  OA!  Still it makes me angry to think of it!  So, I tell him that I can accept Dinars, Rupees, Yen, Pounds, Drachma, every currency in the world but, alas, I cannot change his dollars.  He knows I am to play a vulgar trick to him and so, he becomes enraged, like some crazy animal and he begins to scream and yell!”

The coffees came along with sugar and Andrea stirred a packet into his as he continued his story.  Martin drank his black.

     “This man is yelling, I don’t know what he is saying except every next word was fucking this and fucking that.  Fucking here, fucking there; insane this man, a lunatico!  He is waving his big hat and, how do you say, stamping his big pointed boots to my floor.  He leaves my shop and he is jumping up and down in the street like a devil next to the canal, cursing me even more.  Fucking di li, fucking di la; Everything is fucking, fucking, fucking and me, of course, I am The Fucking Little Man, of the fucking this and fucking that; all because I do not to change his ridiculous dollars.  It was crazy, I tell you Martin, you should have seen!”

Martin was laughing.  Andrea began to chuckle and the two of them could barely contain themselves as he finished his story.

     “Everyone in the campo heard.  Everyone in the proximate campo heard.  On that day, I do not know if everyone in Venice did not hear this wild cowboy from Texas, fucking me here and fucking me there!  So now, to some of my colleagues I am called the Little Fucking Man.  It is tasteless, yes, but humorous, no?”

Martin wiped a tear from his eye.  He had been laughing so hard that he could not help it and his stomach hurt terribly from holding it in.

     “May I ask you another question?”  Martin asked in between gasps for air.

     “Ask.”  Came the reply.

     “The lunch was marvelous but there was one dish that I could not figure out… what is bovolette?”

     “You do not know?”  Andrea asked him.

     Martin shifted uneasily in his chair.  “Uh oh,” he sighed, “do I want to know?”

     “Is a typical food here.”  Andrea said.  “Is lumache, snails.”

     “You mean sea snails?”  Martin asked hopefully as his stomach rolled over.

     “No,” Andrea answered, “snails of the giardino, the garden, you know, they eat your flowers.”

Snails… and garden snails at that.  That explained the odor and the vague taste that Martin recognized could not immediately define. His face drained a bit of color and his stomach rolled over again.

     “Martin,” Andrea cautioned, “do not to be sick here.  Is food, I’m telling you, not unusual.”

Martin looked longingly at Andrea’s wineglass.  A sip or two to rinse out his mouth would do him a world of good.  Instead he poured another glass of water and swished it through his mouth, although, the snails had been eaten more than an hour before.

Andrea was grinning now.  Martin looked at him and smiled weakly.

     “Snails may be a usual food for you here, but not where I come from.  Don’t worry, I won’t be sick, fucking little man!”

Andrea chuckled long and low.  Yes, he liked this American.

     “So, tell me,” Andrea began as he lit another smoke, “do you come with a tour?”

     “No.  Why?”

     “I am curious.  Most Americans come with a tour.  They visit twenty countries in three days or something.  Is disgraceful!  They see everything and nothing.  Is a pity.  You have made a good decision to come alone like this; unless it is that you only stay for a day or two.  Then it is a pity for you like the rest.”

The restaurant was nearly devoid of customers now.  Only Andrea and Martin and a few others remained, mostly Italian clientele enjoying their long lunches.

     “No.  I intend to stay for at least two weeks, maybe three.  It depends.”  Martin would not tell him why; it would better to leave it unsaid.

     “Oh, but this is good for you!”

     “Why?”  Martin asked.

     “Is this way.  Venice is called The Living Room of the World.  There are two ways to visit a living room.  If you were to take a tour, then you would enter and see that perhaps by a window, there was a chair.  You would say to yourself, ‘If I lived here, perhaps I would sit and enjoy to see the world pass by.  Perhaps I would savor a coffee there in that corner or a cordial here, next to the fire.’  But it would only be a thing to think about.  But, if you do not come with a tour but come to enter as if you belonged, then you would not think about sitting, or drinking or seeing, you would do these things as if the living room were your own.  This is the way to experience Venice!  Do not to simply look at it, but to live it, breathe it, eat and drink as we do!  It is in this way that you make Venice a part of your heart and soul, not just a place you took many photos of.  There are excursions to take, yes.  You should visit the Square of San Marco and the church.  You should see the Academy of Arts and some of the other great sites but mostly, you should wander the streets and simply experience the life of Venetians.  Don’t be afraid to be lost!  Lost is not knowing where you are, yes?  Ma!  If you do not board the train or the ferry, you shall always be in Venice!  Then you know where you are!  Someone can tell you where to go or you will take a Vaporetto until you find a familiar place but lost you will not be.  You will be in Venice, the world’s most beautiful city!  How shall it be sad to be lost here?”

Martin thought on what Andrea had said.  He was right.  It was what he and Andrea had been doing all morning since they had met in his shop and though an expensive few hours, it had been the most enjoyable in recent memory, even for the remembrance at the open window and the snails he had eaten at lunch.  He looked about him, though the restaurant had been full just twenty minutes earlier, presumably with more than a few tourists, they were all gone now and he was still here doing like the Italians; lounging and conversing with his friend over coffee and desert instead of hurrying off for the next attraction like a child at the circus.  He cocked his head to the side and listened; he heard no English being spoken, only Italian.  It was true then.  He was not simply visiting the Living Room but using it as if he were at home.

Andrea lit a third cigarette and then offered one to Martin.  Martin refused, pulled one of his own Marlboros out and lit it instead.

     “But,” Andrea continued, “You must take care my friend.”

     “In what way?”  Martin asked as he blew out his match and threw it into the ashtray.

     “A tour would offer a protection to you that is not enjoyed when you travel alone.  The law here is different than your own and there is no guide to warn you of the danger of trespass.  As you have seen for yourself, in your ignorance, it is easy to do a small injustice that will anger those less patient than myself.  And it is just as easy to make a something improper that would cause the law to be undone and anger the Polizia, the police.  My friend, you do not wish to be in legal troubles with the police here.”

Andrea leaned forward with a serious face as he spoke.

     “You see, I have been to America, last year in fact, and I know of your rights to call an Avvocato, uhm… how do you say in English; yes; a lawyer, in the event of arrest.  I also know that they must to make you a release within two days or to charge you with an offense.  But here is not true.  There is no privilege to call unless they make you one, and they do not have to charge you with an offense to arrest you and keep you for a very long time.  Yes, years!  It happened to a friend of mine.  She was in the prigione, the prison for three years, an innocent woman before they allowed her to go home!”

     “My God!”  Martin exclaimed.  “What did she do, I mean, how did she finally convince them she was innocent?”

     “She did not convince them.  After three years investigation, they convinced themselves and they freed her.”

     “But what about bail?  Don’t you people have bail here?”

     “Bail?  Ah, you mean the habeas corpus.”

     “Well, I’m not sure exactly…”

     “Yes, yes, I have seen enough of your television to know that of which you speak.  It is possible but at the pleasure of the court and is very expensive.  You see, she was charged with a drug offense, very serious this and they did not wish to let her out even if she could make the money.  In America, they make the case and then they make the arrest.  Here, they arrest and then investigate.”


When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.

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