Remember the story of Walter Raleigh spreading his cloak over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth? I mostly remember cartoonists making fun of the tale (i.e. the woman would step on the cloak and sink in up to her neck, etc.). But still, I was raised to make the chivalrous gesture whenever the opportunity arose—holding the door, yielding my seat, drowning in the Atlantic, etc.
On my honeymoon just such an opportunity came up in the romantic location of the ancient arena in Verona, Italy—Verona, the setting of Romeo and Juliet, of Radio Kiss Kiss, and the sister city of Fresno, California. Kathi and I were all dressed up and waiting to watch the great Verdi opera Aida. We could smell the elephants. There had been several rain delays and much of the crowd was gathered in the trattorias around the square, eating pizza and pasta and drinking wine while waiting for the gates to open. We were sitting next to Brian and Jill Keogh, a vacationing couple from Dublin, Ireland, and every few minutes there was an announcement in Italian, then German, then English (“It’s like the war,” Jill said) saying that the Verona meteorologist predicted “the current atmospheric disturbance” would end soon and the show would go on. Then, after saying that six times, the loudspeaker said “the current atmospheric disturbance will shortly exhaust. We ask that you seek shelter. We appreciate your patience.” This struck us as funny, as we had all sought shelter long ago.
Finally they announced that we should enter the arena. I stuffed napkins in my pocket so I would be able to wipe our seats off and protect Kathi’s beautiful dress (one of the famed trio of wedding dresses), but I soon discovered these were inadequate for the job. Ever resourceful, I began to tear my umbrella apart, slowly peeling the fabric away from the wire spokes. It’s harder than you might think. My goal was to create a cover for the seat, like Walter Raleigh with the puddle.
“Signore,” I heard the man seated behind us say. After he said this several times I finally stopped working on the umbrella. “You can buy the seat pad,” he said, pointing at a hawker who was carrying a stack of these handy items. The woman who was with him kindly taught me how to hail the hawker (“You must be forceful!” she said) by saying “Signore, per favore,” and I made the deal. I stuffed the broken umbrella under my seat and we settled down to watch the show. Of course it was rained out after one act.
Which reminds me—don’t forget to check out the first video, the second video, and the Facebook page for my book, How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons, which will also be coming out soon as an opera in Italian.