Everybody is somebody


No deep significance to this image — at least I don’t think there is. I do admire the anonymous person’s perseverance in training this branch.  I don’t know if anybody in this branch’s family ever behaved like this.

So there we were, standing around waiting for a friend on the Strada Nuova; you may know (or I will tell you now) that this street is almost always teeming with people surging toward San Marco from the train station and vice versa, with small tributaries feeding into the main flow.  The crowds are usually quite a mix of locals and non.

I hadn’t paid any attention to a little old grey-haired man who had just walked past us; all I saw when Lino said “Oh look” was his back.  He was chunky, sort of like a short Jackie Gleason, and walking at a slow but steady pace, his steps separated by less than the length of his foot.  Not shuffling, exactly, but certainly not striding.

“He was a garbage man in my old neighborhood,” Lino reported, and was known far and wide as a collector-of-things-people-throw-out. “I gave him a Singer sewing machine once and he gave me a huge jug of wine.”  Lino recognizes now that a few liters of cheap plonk were not exactly a fair trade for something which today might be worth a tiny fortune.  And why did Lino have a sewing machine anyway?

It was booty from another of those famous enterprises undertaken by Lino’s brother-in-law, the angelic Sergio who never says no.  One of Lino’s sisters worked in the office of a dentist; the dentist had a father who had worked all his life in the Arsenal.  The father was moving and so Lino and Sergio were recruited to clear out all his stuff.

“So I got the Singer,” Lino went on, “and the old man also gave me a Venetian passo, and some crucibles for melting gold, and a little anvil, and some other things.”  The passo was a treasure; it was folding metal measuring stick calibrated to the system of measurements used by the shipbuilders of the Venetian Republic. One Venetian passo corresponded to about five feet.  The late Nedis Tramontin built 1000 gondolas using the Venetian passo, and when he died in 2005 it was buried with him, as he requested.  Or at least that’s what they said at his funeral.

Of course Lino could see plenty of value in keeping the passo, but no point at all in keeping the Singer, so away it went.  As, by now, had the retired garbage collector.  That’s all there is to say about him?

“He was also the coach of the Italian national women’s volleyball team.”


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  1. Lisa Infantolino says:

    I just read your article on what its like to live in Venice. I live in San Marco and it is so true you will never know the city unless you live here. My husband is Venetian. It is the most beautiful and probably one of the most difficult to live in. I’m afraid that when this generation of Venetians is gone we won’t have much left. I guess we’ll see. Happy New Year

  2. Fascinating stories come from your way! Love getting your blog posts. Looking forward to my return to Venice! All the best in 2018 to you!

  3. Mark says:

    I just love your stories!
    And I once watched a wisteria slowly engulf and crush an abandoned colonial house I passed every day in New England. It fourteen years, but with no resistance, the vine won. So, yes; if that is a wisteria vine, it has relations that behave like that. And there is no guarantee the iron gate will win. 🙂

  4. Sean says:

    What a way to start the year: An O. Henry Award-winning surprise ending!

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Took me by surprise too, believe me. But by now I just think, well, why the heck not? Somebody had to be the coach.

  5. Eva says:

    Nothing else makes me happier but to read stories old and new about Venice. Once visited on 1999 middle October with its aqua alta and fog. Of course, rain follows us everywhere, a unique atmosphere I will never forget. In fact, within the years, I didn’t wish to forget. Nowadays, I decided to make up stories about Serenissima. Your blog is most helpful. And your sense of humour by all means!
    Lots of best wishes from me and Greece.

  6. Wow, what a fabulous story! I love the fact that there are still so many wonderful stories in Venice and I hope that they continue for decades and centuries to come! Keep the stories coming Erla, I really enjoy them.

  7. owen edwards says:

    Aah, Erlamou, wonderful as always. I love stories where
    Lino’s history in Venice figures in. You must be contemplating a
    lovely book of these vignettes. One of us has to get published!

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