The Old Man of Venice

In Venice, a Young Boatman Steers a Course of His Own

The old man, tall as a mast, lean and wiry, sat in the bow of the boat, his long beard flowing down over his chest. He took the oars in his hands and used them with a vigor that suggested he could make them do any sort of work but in the end they seemed to drag. He wore a faded vest and a pair of faded trousers and, as an additional touch, a pair of sandals.

The place was Venice, in a little harbor called Le Meridione, not ten kilometers from the Grand Canal. The boatman was Vannucci, but, since it was the summer months now, the name was superfluous. He was no longer the old man of a hundred years gone, but was called simply Vannucci. He was from the northern part of the peninsula where Venice is found, where the sun rises in the sky at noon and sets at sunset. His name was Pio Vannucci, and he was the son of a fisherman and the eldest of his family. His parents were of the same blood, he knew how to read and write, and the family lived a simple life on the mainland.

At noon, the sun rises in the sky at noon, and at night it sets at sunset. The summer was long and the heat still felt good. It would be the season for fishing and for making salt, but the family needed money and so the lad started out to go to a merchant for the purchase. The merchant refused and the young man took the direction of Venice where he could buy his own goods. The merchant had in stock an array of merchandise, but Vannucci had the sense to realize that none of it was worth very much.

The merchant had an odd accent, a sort of drawl, and a pair of spectacles that magnified the eyesight of whoever listened to him. In the end, Vannucci gave the merchant a gold coin that he himself was not inclined to use. He asked for something else instead, something that he could not pay for with gold. That was the problem that

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