Sunday, March 7, 2021


Lunch in Venice; An Albino Shade of Pale

A fable

It was hot. 

The Venetian afternoon was sweltering and sleepy. I sat by myself at a cafe table across from San Moise.  S. and I had quarrelled and I eyed my luncheon glass of wine grumpily.  Across the street two giant Africans were selling knock-off purses from a blanket laid out on the ground. They were being watched by two bored Carabinieri.

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo.  Detail of the external stairs.
Venice, Italy.

His sudden appearance startled me. He was huge; six foot three or four, and dressed in white monk’s robes. He had close-cropped pale hair and his skin was white. White as snow. I felt slightly stunned, paralyzed; it was like a dream, like I could see right through him. “Maybe he’s an albino”, I found myself thinking.

He sat down at my table uninvited.  “I’ve been looking for you”, he said.

I blanched.

He got right to the point.  “I’ve been having a lot of trouble with this writer Dan Brown”, he said in sulky tones.  “The guy’s writing all kinds of terrible things about me.  He’s making me sound like a monster.  My lawyers won’t do anything.  You’re a fellow writer.  Help me.  Talk to this Brown character.  Make him understand.”

“Look”, I said. “We’ve been all through this. I can’t do anything for you .  You don’t actually think Dan Brown would talk to a lowly travel writer like me do you?”

“I dunno”, he said. “But, well, you have a blog.  You can at least help me get my story out!  If people just knew the real me. I’m a really sensitive and caring individual. I love flowers and kittens. I actually have a pet Corgi and how wimpy is that?” He paused for a sip of wine – my wine. “But he didn’t talk about any of that in his book. Oh no! He made me out to be a freak and that’s not who I am, you know?”

He realized that he’d gotten off to an awkward start and he held out his hand. “I’ve told you before, call me Silas … or Si,” he said in a forced jovial tone.

I took his hand cautiously.

He turned sulky again.  “But I come off in his book like a ghoul and it’s upsetting. All that Latin stuff!” He frowned. “I don’t speak Latin; didn’t like it when I was in school. Just a couple words, see?”  It was obvious that he’d been drinking before he came in; he was going from sulky to pugnacious.

I felt intimidated by his size.  I wondered if I could just discreetly alert the two Carabinieri.

“And another thing!” He was getting louder and drawing stares from the other patrons. “All that nonsense about the self-torture. It’s just a couple of glancing blows now and again. It’s more for form’s sake than anything. And it’s nothing, nothing!  I’ve hurt myself worse by getting my finger caught in the car door.”

“But what about all that stuff about the nun and Saint Sulpice?” I tried gingerly.  But this was the wrong thing to say.  He started shouting.

“Cheap lies!   Exaggerations!”

He jerked drunkenly to his feet.   “Numquam eram in Lutetiae! NUMQUAM!!“(1)

He raised a giant arm and I covered my face with my hands.  But no blow fell.  I peeked out between my fingers.  He had vanished.  Everyone in the café was looking at me.  I slowly lowered my hands.


It was hot.  

I took another sip of wine. Tourists sauntered down the street towards Saint Mark’s Square as though nothing had happened.  I glanced across the street again. The Carabinieri had left but the African purse-sellers were still there.

I wondered whether S. would like a purse.

(1) “I was never in Paris!  Never!”

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