Authors: Harry Cipriani
As you walk down the ramp, you make every effort to keep your eye on the ground in order not to stumble, and you walk very carefully so that no reeling motions betray your rather suspect condition. When you have finally gone around the first corner, you are all but indifferent to the fear of being seen from a window, and you let yourself go. You stagger so that you bounce from one wall to the other of the narrow
When you get to your door, there is a struggle to find the right key and somehow get it into the invisible lock. Once inside the darkness of your own home, you try not to make any sound that might awaken wife and children, for they would immediately recognize your shameful condition. A friend of mine was telling me about the terrible problems he has every time he comes home drunk late at night. He insists on taking a very large guitar with him, and his problem is to keep from banging it against the door frames and the furniture on his way to the double bed that is already half-occupied by his wife.
This is where 1 ought to explain why i have suffered all my life from the same aftereffects as my father, 1 think the trouble started right after my father and mother went home from Martini’s that famous night in Venice. Young as they were, they followed certain procedures that resulted in my conception. Since my father had bent his elbow considerably that evening, they worried for a long time whether the fruit of their union might come into this world with some mysterious affliction. But this was not the case, except for an endless string of trivial ailments that afflicted me throughout childhood and made my skin so pale that every now and then my father would ask if a fart had got into my bloodstream. I did have a mysterious ailment after all, and my father probably suffered from it for the same hereditary reason I did: it seems that my late grandfather Carlo had the habit, as people did in his day, of drowning in wine the joys and sorrows that usually accompany our life on earth.
END OF THE INTERMEZZO BETWEEN CHAPTERS NINE AND TEN
One jeep followed the other over the dirt road. George was in the second jeep and could see nothing in front of him except a great deal of thick white dust. Finally they reached the barrier of the Israeli-controlled zone, and from that point on the road was asphalt. Now George caught an occasional glimpse of Heloise’s windblown hak He felt a bit depressed and utterly unable to guess what might happen.
They all got out at headquarters. Heloise turned to George, She gave him a tender smile, and he felt better at once. Together they went up to General Custer’s anteroom. Two MPs were standing at attention outside the door, their helmets down to their eyes. Ryland went up to them. “I’m Lieutenant Ryland with Sergeants Amundsen and Nobel, Privates Margitai, and Smith, and”—Ryland cleared his throat as he looked at Heloise—”this lady We have to see the general.”
One of the MPs did an about-face and knocked on the general’s door.
Suzy’s answer came like a shout: “Yes?”
“Lieutenant Ryland requests permission to speak with the general.”
“Come in.” Custer’s voice came through peremptorily.
They all went in.
“Lieutenant Ryland reporting, sir.” He snapped to attention,
“Make it quick, Ryland. So you’re Private Smith,” the general said.
“1 am, sir,” George said.
“Well, well, well, well, so you’re Smith?”
“Yes sir, General.”
“Yes sir, General.”
General Custer seemed to be having trouble formulating his next question. “Well, well, well, well,” he repeated himself, “and how are you?”
“Very well, sir.”
“Well, well, well, well.”
Custer had caught sight of Heloise in the meantime, and as he continued to repeat “well, well,” he seemed unable to take his eyes off her. It was very much like what had happened the first time he saw Suzy in his office,
Ryland spoke. ‘Tve already explained his responsibilities to him, and I told him to get legal counsel,
“What?” Custer exclaimed. “You asked him to get a lawyer?”
“Yes sir, General.”
“Ryland,” Custer thundered. “What ever gave you such an idea. Where did you get the authority to say something like that? What were my orders to you? Margitai!”
“What were my orders?’’
‘To find Private Smith, this lady, and my jeep.”
‘And did you?”
“Yes sir, General.”
“Fine! Did 1 ask you to do anything else?”
“Right! Is that right, Ryland?”
“Well what? Yes or no?”
“Yes sir, General,”
“Ryland, you think too much. You mustn’t think, because you don’t know how to think. Let others do the thinking for you! Always! Understand?”
“Yes sir,” Ryland mumbled. He was depressed.
“And now get out of here.” He nodded at Amundsen, Nobel, and Ryland.
Custer, Tom, George, Heloise, and Suzy were alone now.
Custer got up from his chair, walked around the desk, and put both hands on Smith’s shoulders”. “Dear boy, we are proud of you.”
George was rather embarrassed, but he managed to get out the words “Thank you, sir.”
“I know all about it, all about it,” Custer said. “They must have been four terrible weeks. Did you suffer a great deal? How did they treat you?”
George did not understand what the general was driving at, but he thought it better to go along with him and answered, “Well, it could have been worse, sir.”
“Such modesty! It must have been sheer hell, being a prisoner of those bandits. And you, ma’am?” He turned to Heloise but didn’t wait for an answer. Then he turned to Tom. “Margitai! Thank you for rescuing Private George Smith. Thank you in the name of the United States Army 1 am going to recommend you for a medal.”
‘‘Thank you, sir.” Tom smiled,
“Now get those jeeps back to the motor pool,” the general ordered.
‘And another thing, Margitai!”
“Don’t lose them!” The general smiled,
“No chance, sir.”
“Well, well, well, well,” Custer said, sinking contentedly against the back of his chair. Meanwhile Heloise had taken the chair Suzy offered her
“Where did they capture you?” Custer asked George.
“Hm, outside Harry’s Bar”
“What impudence!” the general exclaimed. ‘And where did they take you?”
“To a village.”
“We had nothing to eat or drink for four days,” said George, playing along,
“Swine!” said Custer as he brought his fist down on the table.
“Then we managed to escape,” George said. “This lady and myself.”
“Well, well, well, well,” Custer said.
“They chased us across the desert for days and days.”
“You don’t say?”
“it was rough.” George said, “but we saved the jeep.”
‘And today we found Margitai and the others.”
“Is there anything you need?”
Td like to let my aunt in Alabama know I’m OK.”
“Already done,” Custer said.
“Thank you, sir.”
“1 have also faxed the President. He is looking forward to seeing you in Washington and congratulating you himself—and he wants to give you the Medal of Honor personally”
“1 don’t deserve it.” George said.
“That’s up to us to decide.” said Custer, cutting him short. And’ then he added: “1 suggest we go out and celebrate. What do you say?”
“It sounds great to me,” said Suzy.
“Let’s go to Harry’s Bar,” Custer said as he stood up.
They all went out, Suzy leading the way, then Heloise, and finally Custer and George. Custer put his arm around George’s shoulder, while his eyes were drawn irresistibly to Heloise’s quivering gluteals, as she walked ahead of him aquiver as usual and slightly unsteady on her dusty, high-heeled, black patent leather evening shoes.
END OF CHAPTER TEN
I have already mentioned the grim castle in Somerset where my father sent me one winter in the early 1950s to study English, a language you almost have to know in my business.
The owner of this castle was a mild-mannered, very British-looking gentleman, one of those people they use in television advertisements for Scotch whisky. His salient features were a ruddy complexion, a set of whiskers that grew right up to his eyes, and two buckteeth, the kind people sometimes end up with if they were thumbsuckers as babies.
His helpmate was about twenty years younger than he, a little brunette who wasn’t half bad. There was an odd, intermittent gasp in her laugh that might have been quite appropriate in certain interesting situations.
There was also a cook. Her distinguishing feature was her missing denture and her boundless love for the song “You Belong to Me.” which she was forever playing on a little phonograph in the kitchen. She was very good at enriching Campbell’s soups with a few drops of cream. She too was caught up in the lively atmosphere of the manor and busied herself at night by giving dazzling parties in her room, to which she invited the sta-bleboys and the men and women servants of the house.
The dining room had three walls of austere walnut wainscot, and the fourth wall consisted of a magnificent window overlooking the grounds. The dining-room table was dominated by a huge cylindrical cactus, from which two enormous red glasses dangled on a red ribbon. The phallic reference was clear to everyone.
That is where I idled away three short months one bitter-cold English winter. Occasionally a letter would come from my father. He had only gone to sixth grade in Germany before the First World War, but when it came to sending stern yet loving instructions, he wrote simple, extremely effective prose. To tell the truth, I did not receive very many of these missives in my time, because I was more obedient than reprobate as a son; but when they came, they always filled me with heavy yet salutary feelings of guilt.
After receiving one of these letters, I decided to move to London, where I lived the first three days on the proceeds of twelve country-fresh eggs that I had brought from Somerset and sold to a buxom waitress. In London I shared a room with a Swedish girl, which is the main reason why I still have a strange accent when I speak English.
At that time my future career had still not been settled for me, though I already had my suspicions. Until I was nineteen, I had always considered my name a simple family oddity. My father had opened Harry’s Bar in Venice for business about a year before my mother brought me into the world. Both of them thought it was perfectly normal to call me Arrigo, even though 1 had no grandfathers or great-grandfathers of that name, and there had never been even a trace of an Arrigo anywhere in the family.
The English for Arrigo is Harry, and though it is perfectly ordinary for a bar to be named for a barman, it is quite exceptional that a boy be named for a bar. The fact that I was the only person in the world who had been named after a bar should at least have made me suspicious.
I finished high school in 1949, and we discussed as a family what I would do in the future. Discussed in a manner of speaking, because very little attention was paid to my opinions in these family gatherings. Personally I would have liked to become a race-car driver, but there was absolutely no place for that sort ofthing in either of the only two broad categories my father would allow: study or work.
ft was decided without further ado that I would study law at the University of Padua, partly because there was a law office over Harry’s Bar where I could work as a legal apprentice. I think the vicinity of the bar had some influence on my father’s decision. After all, he probably thought, if that doesn’t pan out, he can always come downstairs and work,
My life in those years is a dream that I have happily cherished all these years.
In our free time, and there was a lot of it in Padua, we played billiards. We went to the retired officers’ mess for lunch, not just because it was inexpensive, 150 lire, but mainly to try to date a couple of very blond waitresses who were the sole ornaments of that austere place. We were not concerned with the great social issues. Our leader, Tribuno, was a third-year medical student who sat himself down in the anatomy professor’s chair at the beginning of the first lecture of the academic year. When we had elections at school we used punches and shoves instead of votes to support our candidates. 1 don’t know if that was right or wrong, but it was certainly more congenial to the modest political capabilities of our brains. In the evening I usually dragged my drowsy twenty-year-old self to Harry’s Bar so my father could take a break. And that was how things went until exam time, without a care in the world.
The Foundations of Private Law was the first reef I encountered in law school. It was there that my legal career actually came to an end. I barely passed the exam. That was at three in the afternoon. At six o’clock I walked down the stairs from the law office and got up on the stool behind the cash register in Harry’s Bar.
END OF THE INTERMEZZO BETWEEN CHAPTERS TEN AND ELEVEN
Many historians have gone to a great deal of trouble to recount the deeds of the Prince of Conde. One of the best-known details is how incredibly calm he was the night before the battle of Rocroi. The Great Conde slept soundly through the night without a moment’s interruption. His admirers, however, have gone to any length to foster a cult of personality and they have almost always glossed over certain details that might actually have been extremely important. No one, for example, has ever told us what the prince ate for dinner that night before he went to bed. There is no way of knowing now, but it seems doubtful that our hero had much more than a steak and a salad. If, for example, his orderly had arranged for the cook to prepare spareribs and sauerkraut, there is no doubt that the Spaniards would have fared better in the battle, and history might have taken an altogether different course.