Whenever we can manage it, jazz pianist Max Bustreo and I commandeer the piano forte at La Cantina on Campo San Felice, across from the church there. We managed to convene recently on a relatively quiet evening, with pleasant, evening breezes swirling inside and out, along with the contented patrons enjoying Francesco’s gastronomic creations, Andrea’s wine recommendations, and I hope, our music.
As we were getting started, a woman approached a patron in a tense, but seemingly well-rehearsed manner, to ask for a light. I don’t know what made me notice her particularly, but I remember her slightly disturbed expression, and thinking she must have fewer years than the look and lines on her face would imply.
I was inside for a while, then out again; the woman was sitting now on the steps of the church, and a man was tending to her. Andrea went over to check on them both for a moment, and the man, a stocky sort with a kind face, came back over to the Cantina, went inside, then crossed back to the woman once again. A friend noted, “We see her around fairly often, poor thing. She’s pretty much out of her mind.” I went back to singing for the somewhat saner, if now well-lubricated guests at their candle-lit tables.
We finished about midnight, and I went outside myself to enjoy the remaining breezes and my own red-wine reward. I glanced once again across the campo, and there was the woman, sitting on the lower step, her head bowed, her body slumped forward, her hair sweeping down over her legs. The man was sitting behind her now on the step above, and seemed to be supporting her with on leg on each side. She was sleeping, apparently; perhaps for the first time in who knows how long.
I chatted with some friends and a few guests, and when we were ready to leave, they were still there. The man, awake, smoking an occasional cigarette, watching the last of the evening’s passers-by on their way to who-knows-where; the woman, asleep, in the same position she was in at least an hour before: relaxed, perhaps at peace for just a short while. What a gift this man had offered her. Small, temporal, but a real gift, nonetheless. (Of course, when I pointed this out to my eternally pragmatic Giovanni, his response was instead, well, maybe they were both just looking for a little company.)
I don’t think think these things happen only in Venice. I do think you’re more likely to notice them because of how the city is constructed. You run into things. You can’t ignore things. You can’t…for better or worse…separate.
In any case, I thought it was one of the tenderest moments I’d witnessed in a long time, and I hope the lady gets another shot at a moment’s peace sometime soon.