Antonio finished ferrying his last tourist couple in his lovely Gondola and disembarked them at the dropping point. He was in a hurry as he was meeting his fiancée at the Cafe Venezia. He promised her that he would be there at five. The sun was already at the horizon, and the day time tourists were now on their way out. They were scrambling to get back to their boats which would ferry them back to the huge cruise liners docked a little bit away from the Grand canal at the Stazione Marittima, west of the city.

After sunset the ancient and old city would recover from the daily onslaught of these tourists, sometimes reaching even up to fifty thousand in peak tourist season. The localities would breathe a sigh of relief as some semblance of order would come back to their life in Venice after sunset. Antonio was looking forward to meeting Lisa and was hoping to spend a quiet evening with her before they would retire to his modest two bedroom apartment overlooking the Grand Canal. She was studying Art and Design at the Verona Fine Arts Academy and would finish her course shortly. They had crucial decisions to make. She was eager to meet him. Her life was going to take a new turn and she was anxious.

Antonio sat at their favorite table at the Estero bacaro overlooking the main harbor in the distance. They preferred this place as it was away from the hustle bustle of the tourists and was only frequented by localities. Moreover, it was affordable than the overpriced cafes on the main street. He nodded to the familiar waitress to signal his regular order. She knew what they would have; chicken liver tramezzini along with their favorite sparkling orange wine. Lisa joined him shortly. She hugged him and kissed him on the cheeks and settled down.

“Hope you did not have to wait for long.”

“No, just reached in the nick of time. Thought I would actually be late.”

“So, what happened? Did you meet up with those people who had been calling you repeatedly.” She enquired.

“Hmmm…I met up with them finally. They made a proposal. They want to buy out my apartment. They are offering a million and a half euros.”

She was stunned. She couldn’t believe her ears.

“A million and a half. Am I hearing it correctly?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“So what did you say?”

“What should I say? I told them I stay there and I don’t have any other place to go. And why would I leave my city? I have been born and brought up here.”

Antonio had inherited the house which overlooked the Grand canal from his father. He had been a Gondolier too, just like his grandfather. Antonio was the third generation. They were a rare breed now. Just four hundred of them left. He was a licensed gondolier and had recently purchased a new Gondola for fifty thousand Euros. He had obtained his license using his father’s old one. He loved his job and had taken a lot of pain in mastering the technique of steering the gondola. He had cleared all his exams including the one on foreign languages. He was happy that he would carry forward the traditional vocation of his family.

“What did they say to that?” Lisa was still curious.

“They offered me a house too, a beach house in Bibione. About sixty miles north of Venice.”

“It sounds great. You know it, Antonio. It is so much of money and security. You need not ever work again. We will be so comfortable. I can join my institute as a faculty and life will be so much comfortable.”

“I know, it will be. And there is more to it.”

“What more?”

“Well, they sort of indirectly threatened me with dire consequences if I did not take their offer. They have already purchased most of the properties in the vicinity. They plan to start a heritage hotel there!”

“O my god! What are we going to do, Antonio?” She was now worried.

“I told them I will get back to them. I need time to think.”

She was now very concerned especially after hearing about the veiled threat. She discussed it with him in detail. The life in the country appealed to her, rather suited her. She would have to travel daily to the mainland to find a suitable job. She couldn’t work from Venice. But she was concerned for Antonio. She knew how much he loved his work. She remembered the day he got his license. The pride and sense of accomplishment in his eyes was not lost to her. He had kept his promise to his father, his family and to Venice.

“Let’s not be too worried and tense. It’s our house, our life. Nobody can force us to do anything against our wishes. Let us think this over and then we will take a decision. As it is I have told them to wait.” He said. “Let’s go back home. It’s been a while that you were away.”

She squeezed his hand and kissed him again. This time more passionately.

“Don’t worry, I will not force you to do anything. Take it easy. Think it over.”

The next week was busy. Antonio had a couple of meetings with his friends. He had joined the Citizens’ charter and they had protested against the rising influx of tourists into the city. They had demonstrated on the main street and put up banners that said, ‘Venice belongs to us and not tourists.’ They had submitted a memorandum to the mayor urging him to list Venice in the UNESCO world heritage endangered sites.

The following week they demonstrated against the installation of automatic gates to prevent people from getting into the city, whenever the numbers were very high. This the Mayor felt was for the safety of all Venetians as well as the tourists. The city was having a tough time fighting the unbridled commercialization and out-pricing of the local populace by the hotel industry. The population of the city had dwindled from about a million a few years back to just about fifty-thousand now. It was a crisis and Antonio felt that it was his moral responsibility to stand up for the city and prevent its denigration. He was now clear about what he wanted to do.

The following week, he met up with Lisa and they were to have a meeting at the Grand Royale hotel with the Russian group who had approached him. They went at the designated time and were swiftly escorted to the main restaurant where they were alone with the team of negotiators.

“Mr. Antonio, good evening. Nice to meet you again. Hope you have good news for us.”

Antonio and Lisa looked at each other. He was tense and was choosing his words very carefully in his mind.

“Mr. Gorsky, I have considered your offer very carefully. It is a very generous offer I must say. And both of us are tempted to go for it. But I am sorry that I cannot take it.”

Mr.Gorsky was now uncomfortably shifting in his chair and looked crossly at this assistant.

“I have a job for myself as a licensed Gondolier. I have worked very hard for it. It is a matter of pride for myself to have achieved it. It is not only a big achievement for me and my fiancée but also my father, whose dream I have fulfilled. I cannot continue living my dream from any other place but Venice.” He was gauging the reaction of Mr. Gorsky, who by now was furious. He was visualizing his deal falling through and was now likely to become aggressive.

“I would also like to tell you that I discussed this matter with the Citizen’s charter and they have assured me of their support for my stand and cause. We are actively protesting against the relentless onslaught of outsiders on Venice and plan to protect our city at every cost. You will hear more about us, I am sure. Good day.”

Lisa and Antonio left the hotel with hand in hand without looking back.


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Manoj Paprikar
Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession, a gynaecologist. He is an avid trekker, traveller, reader and a writer. He has a blog and has published a book. He plays Table Tennis and loves playing guitar.
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