Five pantegane for every Venetian.

Topi Venessiani

This is the sign that’s posted in the entryway to my apartment building, along with an article from the Gazzettino entitled, Cinque topi per ogni veneziano, Five mice for every Venetian. The written notice states:

Please always keep the door closed, because in the calle there are mice!

Rats, they mean — pantegane in Venetian. There are, in fact, and why not? An unlimited supply of refuse and secret passages for hiding out, living large, and making more pantegane. I recently spotted Spritz having is way with one of the smaller versions. The signora who lives above me couldn’t bear to see even a topo endure a slow, torturous, cat-induced demise; so she shoo-ed off Spritz, scooped up the mauled topo, and deposited him outside the iron cancello, presumably to recover and lead a long, scavenging Venetian rat-life.

There are topi in the calle because they are everywhere in Venice. The first one I saw years ago seriously startled me. Now, should I run into one (and I do, frequently, heading home anytime after dark, especially in summer), just for the heck of it, I try to see if I can make them scamper for cover. They rarely do, but end up instead challenging me to a game of chicken, hoisting themselves up on their hind-parts, regarding me curiously, as if to say (in Italian, of course), …You talkin’ ta me, are You talkin’ ta ME?

Occasionally I succeed in making an intern (who has not yet learned that the pantegane rule Venice) scurry out of sight, or disappear down into the nearest rio; but more often, they hold their ground and I’m the one who loses nerve. In fact, toward the end of this summer, I’ve just started saluting them casually, just as any other friend or conoscenza I might meet along the way home. Bastardi.

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