Thursday, February 22, 2007

"La Venezia Appasionata"

He said little as they paddled their way along the sunken streets, only the top floors and roofs of the taller buildings were still above water. What centuries of rising tides could not accomplish, an earthquake did in one day as the foundations of Venice, Italy gave way and the entire city collapsed like an elephant standing on a pallet of eggs.

Archaeologists owned the city by day, looters and pirates by night. His hired-on partner and he wouldn't risk any kind of motor, gas or electric, because that meant that they would surely be discovered. Their night vision goggles seem to pick up the signature of the pirates more often than the houses, their paddling slow and methodical to match the gentle lapping waves against the buildings.

Not many knew of her whereabouts, yet their window was shrinking and it was only a matter of time before she was found.

The levees, sea walls and breaks yielded to the Adriatic, and the sea helped the lagoon reclaim all. The once magnificent buildings and homes when they weren't doing their impression of a certain tower in Pisa, collapsed onto each other like a house of cards to a sudden gust of wind. He lived there off and on for about five years, and he believed that he knew the city by heart. But that was from a street level that no longer existed and once he left what was once the Grand Canal, all bets were off just like his favorite reference points.

Sure, he'd recognize a church steeple here, or balcony where he held a woman there, like a Romeo and Juliet that had finally consummated their passion. But now? It was one huge green slime-covered crap shoot. He had tried to triangulate using satellite photos from the Internet in comparison with known archaeological digs, but all that went out the window in the darkness.

GPS did absolutely no good here, the pirates had figured out ways to manipulate or jam the signals so that everyone who relied on it would become disoriented, and thus become, the easiest of prey. So they rowed onward, silently and for the most part, aimlessly.

His partner's head whipped around at him in askance as he stopped them in the water by grabbing onto an eave, despite the algae effecting his grip. A boat of looters glided some fifty yards away and the looters had on night-vision goggles too. One of the looters deliberately took his time in aiming a rifle at them when the spotlight of a pirate speedboat blinded the looter.

The looter screamed at the intensity of the light and at being discovered. He blindly fired at the pirates. The pirates returned fire and cut the looters down in a hail of red tracers. He and his partner slowly rowed backward as the pirates descended on the looter's boat like nocturnal vultures.

It's said that "it is always darkest before the dawn" and in this case, no truer words were spoken. He had to give up on her, someone else would find her, though they wouldn’t appreciate half as much as he did and they wouldn't take care of her as tenderly as he had.

She was the truest of loves, she gave all and asked nothing in return. And all he wanted to do was bask in her warm beauty just for another moment, but it seemed that only memories would do from here on out. Or would it? Because in the pitch black of the four A.M. darkness with only a quarter moon to light the way, he saw a white fin on a nearby roof.

The fin was actually a rudder from a radio-controlled P-51 Mustang replica airplane that one of the neighborhood kids used to buzz everybody in the piazza (plaza) with. He and the next-to-last girlfriend that he had went for a romantic walk when the kid pushed things too far and the plane nearly hit them. The girlfriend waited until the kid turned his back to them and she jostled the punk, sending his remote to the ground and the plane up on a roof.

Here was the perfect reference point, faintly glowing in the night. He rowed over to the building that the plane was perched on and brought it back to the boat, after an incredible amount of effort. If he couldn't find her, the plane would be the consolation prize and proof to himself that he at least came close. They then rowed due west across what he subconsciously knew to be the piazza boundaries.

He now recognized his grandfather's mansion, though without the aid of the plane, he wouldn't have known it at all. Someone had repainted the building and changed the tiles on the roof from terracotta to blue. Though the house looked like no one had lived there for centuries, something greater than hope told him that she was still waiting there for his return.

The window of his grandfather's office was still intact, somehow. He used a glass cutter and suction cup to open it as quietly as possible, then he climbed in.

As the sun rose over Verona, some one-hundred and twenty miles east of Venice, his partner gave him a warm tap on the back.

"She's-eh-prettier than you deescribed," his partner sung in that strange British English accent that always sounds odd coming from Italians. He nodded and beamed. Taking that beauty in again and reveling in the role of both lover and savior.

"My grandfather would broker deals and ransoms between art thieves and the authorities. But that doesn't mean that he always gave the authentic artifact or art work back to them. Whatever sits in the Mauritshuis, in the Hague, is not the real Vermeer. This is the real 'Girl With A Pearl Earring."

Note: JJ's inspiration was obviously, Hurricane Katarina and the flood of New Orleans. His starter sentence was “he said little as they paddled their way along the sunken streets...”

I had lived in Venice, Italy, here and there, between 1984 and 1986. The Adriatic will reclaim her eventually, despite the best efforts of the world's engineers (as well as all the king's horses and all the king's men). Beyond carbon-dating, it's next to impossible to tell whether a painting was done by the original artist.

Also, some artists would let their students and assistants do a painting for them, here and there. Not to mention, experts can be bribed and museums would lose both financial patronage and attendence, if they were to reveal that they've been showing fakes for several years.

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