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February 27th 2005
Published: February 27th 2005
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A  Venice detailA  Venice detailA Venice detail

A friendly face

Feb 05

Our first morning. We are in the breakfast room of the tourist hotel ‘La Forcola’ in Cannaregio.

At the next table to ours a man is reading from the Venice guidebook to a sullen teenage boy, who is obviously his son. The boy shows no interest whatsoever in his father’s reading, but stares into his yoghurt as if this little pot might save him from the uninvited punishment. The father drones on; “Charlemagne” drone, drone, “Constantinople” drone, drone. I realise that this man intends to read a whole chapter of the guidebook to his captive, even ignoring his own food, so absorbed is he in delivering the unwanted litany.

A woman joins them, small and silent, and the boy doesn’t glance up at his mother, the reader doesn’t break even for breath. “Charlemagne” drone, drone, “Constantinople” drone, drone.

The boy has the look of an animal in chains. He is unresponsive, inert, adopting that stance we sometimes see in the young; there is an invisible wall of disinterest around him and his suffering, but it is a wall which cannot protect him. He focuses on his yoghurt pot with all the
Goatee beardGoatee beardGoatee beard

Goatee beard
discipline of a Buddhist adept, spooning out the pink, soft, liquid mindfully, making every single mouthful count. But, I doubt whether the yoghurt will outlast the onslaught. “Charlemagne” drone, drone, “Constantinople” drone, drone’. What will he do when the yoghurt is finished? Where will he rest his eyes?

Second day. A coffee shop on the island of Murano.

A trendy middle aged couple sit next to us as we sip espresso and mineral water. They are both dressed in black; he wears a hat and goatee beard, she is blonde and attractive. They are Americans. He strikes up a conversation with us about Venetian glass and then quickly moves on to politics. I try to guide the conversation back to safer waters and look over to the woman. She says, “I’m not very sociable at the moment; I have a urinary tract infection - I’m pissing blood!” This sounds like a conversation stopper, but the guy carries on talking about Venetian glass and a chandelier that they broke and want to replace. She says, “They sent a doctor to the hotel; he gave me medicine. God, I just want to go home”. The guy ignores her; no he

The flight home
doesn’t even ignore her. He doesn’t know that she has spoken.

He goes on about this broken chandelier, talking about putting the shards into a mural or some artwork. His wife is silent now. I think that she can feel those shards, right up there inside her urinary tract.

Last day. The plane home.

I have a window seat on the plane. In front of us is an Italian family. As we cross the Dolomites and fly up through Europe I watch the sunset, my head resting on the window. There is a little boy in the seat in front, maybe 7 or 8 years old. We smile at each other behind the seats. He has expensive braces on his little teeth. He is full of life, and makes noises of delight at the snowy mountains under us.

In Bristol, as we are preparing to leave the plane he reaches through the seats and gives me something. It is a tiny coin, an Italian one centime. I am delighted and embarrassed. I say “Is it for me or for you?” He says, “It’s for you.” I show it to my wife, and put it carefully away in my pocket.



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