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Authors: Harry Cipriani

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BOOK: Heloise and Bellinis
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“How much do you want?”

“Seventy dollars.”

TU give you fifty”

“First I’ll break your nose, and then 111 blow your shed apart with a grenade,” George replied with that quiet air of his.

“Seventyll be just fine,” the undertaker agreed, “Leave it inside.”

As they walked off, the exhausted Mrs. Svejk murmured, “Thanks.”

“My name is George—George Smith. And you?”

“Heloise Svejk.”

“Are you hungry, ma’am?”

“Very hungry and very thirsty”

“Come and have a hamburger with me at Harry’s Bar.”

“Thank you, but won’t it be rather expensive?”

“No problem.”

For a moment, George had actually thought about how slim his finances were. You have to understand that soldiers weren’t being paid as much as they had been just after the Second World War, when a martini at Harry’s Bar in Venice went for fifty cents. At the time we are speaking of, soldiers were paid very little, and a martini cost thirty dollars. But Harry usually gave credit, and it was the only place they could possibly go.

The bar was right around the corner. Nobody was there except for Harry, behind the counter. The place was very clean, it was cool, and nothing smelled.

“Hello, Private Smith, how are you?”

George couldn’t figure out how Harry always remembered his name. Maybe it was because of all the money he owed him.

“Fine, thank you, Harry. Can we get something to eat?”

They sat at the corner table on the right, by the door. Harry brought two frosty martinis and two large glasses of ice water.

Tve got some marvelous caviar that just arrived from Iran, Would you like to start with that?”

George glanced at Mrs. Svejk. “Sure, why not” he said.

George realized at once that Mrs. Svejk was a real lady She was sipping her second martini and ate the caviar with utter indifference, as if she had been nibbling at it for hours on end.

‘‘Fantastic!” George exclaimed. He thought the caviar was fantastic, and he thought it was fantastic that he was there with Heloise.

“It is good, she agreed.

They ordered lobster thermidor, and Harry poured the Chablis into a chilled carafe. George felt rather dizzy, and Mrs. Svejk smiled at him for the first time.

“You’re a good person,” she said.

‘And you’re beautiful. You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

“Don’t be silly!”

“No, I mean it.”

END OF CHAPTER TWO

INTERMEZZO
BETWEEN CHAPTERS TWO AND THREE

Dear Abelard,

Here is the first part of the manuscript of my first novel. 1 think it’s an achievement that I got this far. I don’t think it’s too bad, and I’m sure that if I showed it to my cousin Wanda she would swoon as soon as she got to the part about the tug in love with the pilot boat. I only put that into the book to satisfy your natural predilection for thinking and saying stupid things. Wanda would say that the bearded man’s desire to hold the tugboat in his hands is just one of the deviations that the French psychologist Lacan so efficiently described.

As you know, 1 used to see a lot of him. Whenever he saw me, he would say, “Oh, comme vous étes gentil!” The only reason was that I had helped him ship a Murano-glass vase (or maybe it was a lamp, I don’t remember) to one of his incidental concubines.

This Lacan always traveled with a large retinue. He was larger than life, and he was fully conscious of the fact, which is why he did so many strange things. At ten o’clock one morning he came into the lobby of the Cipriani Hotel in his underpants, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He just wanted to infuriate the hotel manager, whom he couldn’t stand. But he was perfectly fine with us. The only out-of-the-way thing he ever did in the years I knew him was to let out an inhuman howl one evening at dinner at Harry’s Bar in Venice.

“Silence!” he wailed.

I think he was rather disappointed that no one took the slightest notice of him. People just went on talking. Which is fairly normal. I mention this for the benefit of anyone who might take it into his head to show off when I am around. And that includes you, of course.

To get back to my cousin Wanda—and may her psychologist rest in peace, that’s one woman I’m glad I never met. She deserves a place in the
Guinness Book of World Records
for making my cousin do more stupid things than anybody in the world. I remember once when Wanda and I went sailing together on Lake Garda just off Torri del Benaco. We were both sixteen at the time. I saw the blond hairs poking out from the crotch of her bathing suit, and I was terribly upset. You see, I had intended to become a priest, but at that moment I realized I could never observe the vow of lifelong chastity. Since I was a young man of principle, I would have to give up the idea of becoming a priest, and it was all her fault. We slept in the same room that summer and, for some reason I never understood, before turning out the lights she would show me how good she was at belly dancing. The result was that I didn’t get any sleep but daydreamed all kinds of wicked, indecent things. She really was good, so good that if she had decided to dance in the souk in Tangiers, instead of teaching Latin in Verona, she would have made a name for herself, and a lot of money as well

Wanda gave me a detailed description of every sensation she felt in her lower groin the irst time a fellow in Verona kissed her on the neck. If it hadn’t been for my strict Catholic upbringing and all the incredible stories I had been told about cousins needing a papal dispensation, I would have been delighted to make a pass, even without the Vatican’s approval And may lightning strike me if she wouldn’t have liked it too. What a lightning bolt I missed!

END OF THE INTERMEZZO BETWEEN CHAPTERS TWO AND THREE

CHAPTER THREE
In which the friendship of George and Heloise reaches a crucial point
.

“Where do you come from?” Heloise asked.

“I’m from Alabama, and you?”

“Czechoslovakia.”

George had a sudden urge to tell her his life story The martinis and the wine had something to do with it. He told her about his father and his brickyard. George’s mother had died of cancer, and his bereaved father thereupon married a dancer. He died soon after, a happy man. He had a heart attack on a houseboat, where he spent Saturdays and Sundays copulating like a teenager from dawn till dusk, the few Saturdays and Sundays he had left to live. But neither George nor his father had ever been in love.

George told her he was twenty-two, and how after graduation from high school he had joined the United States Army. He didn’t know why—at least not until this morning, when he thought that maybe what his minister used to say wasn’t all nonsense, and maybe there was some truth in what he said about the inscrutable ways of God’s providence. Because ever since he laid eyes on Heloise for the first time, all aquiver in her high-heeled evening shoes (he didn’t say this to her, and in fact he wondered why she was wearing evening shoes), he knew at last why he was in Lebanon. If she had been Jewish, he would have joined the Israeli army at once. If she had been an Arab or a Russian, he would have been just as willing to serve in Libya or in the Carpathians. All he needed was to look at her for the rest of his days. He understood at last that he had not come all this way to save Lebanon from the seventh invasion of the Jews or to turn back the thirteenth revolution of the Christians. Nor was he there to be the object of the paranoia of the brothers of their brothers. The only reason he was there was to avoid the terrible misfortune of Heloise suddenly disappearing—-like a light going out in an instant. All the light in the world. He had at long last understood. There had been another reason too, even before this wonderful meeting: to save Harry’s Bar and wonderful Harry as well.

“Harry!” he shouted. “The check!”

Harry came over with a sheet of paper in his hand. This is what it said:

Dear Pvt. Smith,

As of yesterday you owed me sixteen thousand

dollars, and you still owe it to me. But today, if

you don’t mind, I want you to be my guest.

Harry Cipriani

Harry did not usually look at women customers for their beauty, but he too was struck by Heloise, and made what was a totally unusual gesture for him. The verb
treat
was not in his vocabulary But Harry thought that at a time when his best-looking customers were Arafat Jr. and Qaddafi 111, a woman like this deserved special treatment.

Private Smith looked Harry in the eye and had trouble getting up from the table, because he was very tired and he had had quite a bit to drink.

‘‘You’re a great man, Harry!’’ he said. “Would you have a room?”

“Sure, there’s one free on the top floor.”

“I want it now!”

“How long will you be staying?”

“How long do you think?”

“I rent rooms for a minimum of two weeks, although you’re free to leave even after an hour.”

“Then I’ll stay two weeks.”

“Fine, Private Smith. I’ll show you to the room. Any luggage?”

“No luggage. Just her.”

George turned to Heloise and smiled. The smile she gave him back was indescribable; it was sadder than sadness itself. That was when he realized he was terribly in love.

END OF CHAPTER THREE

INTERMEZZO
BETWEEN CHAPTERS THREE AND FOUR

Dear Abelard,

The advantage the author has over the reader is that he knows everything his characters do, and he can decide what to tell and what not to tell The reader has to settle for whatever the author thinks he should know.

The reason I say this is that, knowing your erotic penchant, I’m sure you have already turned ahead in the book to see what happened when our heroes, Heloise and George, went into the room on the top floor over Harry’s Bar, The truth of the matter is that even I don’t know everything they did. And words alone would not suffice. At the very least I would have to borrow images, sounds, words, and deeds from my film-director brother-in-law. He is famous for his erotic movies, and the experts consider him tops in the field.

I really hope that someday this story is filmed; then we can see all the things 1 haven’t described. What I can tell you is that everything I know I heard from Harry in Beirut. He had to keep George’s presence a secret from his wife. She would not have approved, because the whole family knew George never paid his bill. So Harry told his wife that he rented the room first to the Tolmezzo Mountain-Climbing Association, then to touring drummers from Detroit, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and finally Arafat Jr, with four odalisques. Harry had to say something to account for all the noise and laughter that rang down four stories from the room where George and Heloise were staying. Sometimes you could even hear them over all the commotion in the bar, which happened to be full of Ameri. can sailors at the time, because the Sixth Fleet was on shore leave. One evening an armoire fell over with such a crash that the lights downstairs went out. Sitting at the bar was Count Guillon, a handsome aristocrat from Treviso who was totally deaf. He pointed to the ceiling and winked. “Mice!”

Before retiring for the night, Harry would put fourteen bottles of cabernet outside the door of the room, two bottles of port, half a dozen shrimp sandwiches and half a dozen chicken. And he would remove the dirty dishes from the day before. Occasionally he listened for further sound from the room, but for some reason all he ever heard was joyous laughter. Things went on like that for two weeks.

One day the MPs came looking for a certain Private George Smith. Harry did not want to lose his license, so he said he didn’t know the man; he’d never even seen him. George had been reported missing in action, and his aunt in Alabama, his mother’s sister and a war widow herself, had been duly notified, it had been recommended that George be awarded the highest honor given to US soldiers shot down by Radical Party snipers.

The formalities were unusually rapid, because they wanted to have the ceremony before the gubernatorial primaries; it was meant to give a touch of class to the incumbent’s campaign.

I have something else to say about Harry’s hearing George and Heloise laugh, That’s what makes me think there was something very special about them. Laughter is not the usual way men and women express their utter happiness at the culminating moment of you-know-what. They usually groan or wail or moan. And it is generally believed that the weepier the moan, the greater the satisfaction. But I’ve never been altogether convinced that was true. And the proof is that when George and Heloise came to climax, instead of moaning the way most people do, they laughed with joy. That’s what 1 think the laughter Harry heard was probably about.

I’m not joking when I tell you something I actually witnessed when my father and I were running a hotel in Asolo. A lucious South American woman and a nobleman from Milan occasionally came to stay. They would go to their room, and after a while it was impossible to decide whether the noise that could even be heard in the lobby of the Sole Hotel a mile away was the South American woman cooing with love or a hefty contralto warming up her vocal cords.

They came rather often, and soon the whole town knew about their audio performance. When they came through the door of the hotel, the bar would already be full of fans hoping to make a night of it with a cup of coffee. After a few minutes of silent preliminaries, the sounds would start up. One listener was an elderly Greek teacher and a music lover, and when the couple upstairs started their concertizing, he would exclaim to himself: “Sublime, marvelous. What resonance!”

The first act usually lasted about an hour, and then the audience would take a stroll in the garden and comment on the performance. When the Milanese nobleman made his rather bewildered way down the stairs after the second act, he would often be greeted by applause and congratulations. One afternoon old Signora Noemi, a charming centenarian accompanied by her eighty-year-old daughter, even tried to give him a kiss.

There must have been a terrific struggle in that room—I mean the room that George and Heloise shared—because Harry told me it took two architects, seventeen carpenters, a plumber, and an electrician more than two months to get everything back in order. Which made George’s bill that much higher.

BOOK: Heloise and Bellinis
4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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