Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Travel Tales From The Past: A Venetian Diddler

As an avid reader, I make it a habit of mine to regularly scan through the new additions to that great online collection of public domain books at the Gutenberg.Org website. Currently there are more than 54,000 titles available on the site, and all are free to download (in the ePub and Kindle format), or read online.

Today, on a whim I decided to check out the September 5, 1840 edition of The Irish Penny Journal, and to my delight found the following cautionary tale from a mister Michael Kelly who recounted his experience with a Venetian scammer.

Note: Wikipedia explains that a zecchino or sequin, was "...a gold coin weighing 3.5 grams (0.12 oz) of gold." It was minted by the Republic of Venice from the 13th century onwards.

Oh, and a Capon is a rooster that has been castrated to improve the quality of its flesh for food - although, I hasten to add, not the quality of its sex life! But I digress. Let's get on with our cautionary tale...

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A Venetian Diddler
When in Venice, I had but two zecchinos left wherewith to fight my way through this wicked world. My spirits for the first time deserted me: I never passed so miserable a night in my life, and in shame of my “doublet and hose,” I felt very much inclined to “cry like a child.”

While tossing on my pillow, however, I chanced to recollect a letter which my landlord of Bologna, Signor Passerini, had given me to a friend of his, a Signor Andrioli; for, as he told me, he thought the introduction might be of use to me.

In the morning I went to the Rialto coffee-house, to which I was directed by the address of the letter. Here I found the gentleman who was the object of my search. After reading my credentials very graciously, he smiled, and requested me to take a turn with him in the Piazza St Marc. He was a fine-looking man, of about sixty years of age. I remarked there was an aristocratic manner about him, and he wore a very large tie-wig, well powdered, with an immensely long tail. He addressed me with a benevolent and patronizing air, and told me that he should be delighted to be of service to me, and bade me from that moment consider myself under his protection. “A little business,” said he, “calls me away at this moment, but if you will meet me here at two o’clock, we will adjourn to my cassino, where, if you can dine on one dish, you will perhaps do me the favour to partake of a boiled capon and rice. I can only offer you that; perhaps a rice soup, for which my cook is famous; and it may be just one or two little things not worth mentioning.”

A boiled capon—rice soup—other little things, thought I—manna in the wilderness! I strolled about, not to get an appetite, for that was ready, but to kill time. My excellent, hospitable, long-tailed friend was punctual to the moment; I joined him, and proceeded towards his residence.

As we were bending our steps thither, we happened to pass a luganigera’s (a ham-shop), in which there was some ham ready dressed in the window. My powdered patron paused,—it was an awful pause; he reconnoitred, examined, and at last said, “Do you know, Signor, I was thinking that some of that ham would eat deliciously with our capon:—I am known in this neighbourhood, and it would not do for me to be seen buying ham. But do you go in, my child, and get two or three pounds of it, and I will walk on and wait for you.”

I went in of course, and purchased three pounds of the ham, to pay for which I was obliged to change one of my two zecchinos. I carefully folded up the precious viand, and rejoined my excellent patron, who eyed the relishing slices with the air of a gourmand; indeed, he was somewhat diffuse in his own dispraise for not having recollected to order his servant to get some before he left home. During this peripatetic lecture on gastronomy, we happened to pass a cantina, in plain English, a wine-cellar. At the door he made another full stop.

“In that house,” said he, “they sell the best Cyprus wine in Venice—peculiar wine—a sort of wine not to be had any where else; I should like you to taste it; but I do not like to be seen buying wine by retail to carry home; go in yourself; buy a couple of flasks, and bring them to my cassino; nobody hereabouts knows you, and it won’t signify in the least.”

This last request was quite appalling; my pocket groaned to its very centre; however, recollecting that I was on the high road to preferment, and that a patron, cost what he might, was still a patron, I made the plunge, and, issuing from the cantina, set forward for my venerable friend’s cassino, with three pounds of ham in my pocket, and a flask of wine under each arm.

I continued walking with my excellent long-tailed patron, expecting every moment to see an elegant, agreeable residence, smiling in all the beauties of nature and art; when, at last, in a dirty miserable lane, at the door of a tall dingy-looking house, my Mæcenas stopped, indicated that we had reached our journey’s end, and, marshalling me the way that I should go, began to mount three flights of sickening stairs, at the top of which I found his cassino: it was a little Cas, and a deuce of a place to boot; in plain English, it was a garret. The door was opened by a wretched old miscreant, who acted as cook, and whose drapery, to use a gastronomic simile, was “done to rags.”

Upon a ricketty apology for a table were placed a tattered cloth, which once had been white, and two plates; and presently in came a large bowl of boiled rice.

“Where’s the capon?” said my patron to his man.

“Capon!” echoed the ghost of a servant; “the——”

“Has not the rascal sent it?” cried the master.

“Rascal!” repeated the man, apparently terrified.

“I knew he would not,” exclaimed my patron, with an air of exultation, for which I saw no cause. “Well, well, never mind, put down the ham and the wine; with those and the rice, I dare say, young gentleman, you will be able to make it out. I ought to apologise, but in fact it is all your own fault that there is not more; if I had fallen in with you earlier, we should have had a better dinner.”

I confess I was surprised, disappointed, and amused; but as matters stood, there was no use in complaining, and accordingly we fell to, neither of us wanting the best of all sauces—appetite.

I soon perceived that my promised patron had baited his trap with a fowl to catch a fool; but as we ate and drank, all care vanished, and, rogue as I suspected him to be, my long-tailed friend was a clever witty fellow, and, besides telling me a number of anecdotes, gave me some very good advice; amongst other things to be avoided, he cautioned me against numbers of people who in Venice lived only by duping the unwary. I thought this counsel came very ill from him. “Above all,” said he, “keep up your spirits, and recollect the Venetian proverb, ‘A hundred years of melancholy will not pay one farthing of debt.’”—Reminiscences of Michael Kelly.

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For other cautionary tales of travel scams, read One Ring To Scam Us All, and Another City, Another Scam.

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