Skip to content


by on February 15, 2015


                                                          by Marco M. Pardi

                                                      Copyright 1973 & 2015

                                                       U.S.A. & International

 Note: Following on suggestions to do so, I am offering this in serial form.  As ever, your comments are much appreciated and I will respond.  Please note that all provisions and prohibitions of U.S. and International copyright laws apply.


Deep blue became brighter and faded into brilliance as the sun slowly inhaled the cool currents of dark air and breathed glowing warmth over the spires and domes of the Basilica San Marco.  Light dripped over the domes and spilled into the vast piazza, bringing with it ever moving images, shadows gliding smoothly across the well worn stones.  Pigeons stirred and flapped.

These were the moments most loved by young Tonio.  He awoke at dawn each day to run through the back streets of Venice toward the vast and empty Piazza San Marco.  For a ten year old boy, living in the heart of the city offered no sense of escape.  Unless he looked straight up at the ribbon of blue above the narrow streets he could only gaze at the stone buildings which faced each other with mute resignation. The many canals which crept through the city all seemed so terribly confusing.  Only the boatmen, too busy with their cargoes, knew where these canals could take them.  There were many small piazzas throughout the city, but none were as mystical as his favorite on the Grand Canal.

And besides, no other piazza could supply so many, many images at once.  Aside from the immense Basilica there were the quays where the Venetian merchant fleet, the foremost in the Adriatic and Mediterranean world,  brought home the cargoes of spices and silks from as far away as Cathay, the end of the world itself.  Here one could sit for hours in the shadows of the columns of St. Theodore and the Lion of Venice and imagine what went on in the Palace of the Doge.  One could hear and feel the trudging of the condemned as they crossed the Bridge of Sighs to the endless subterranean dungeons, never to see the sky again.  And the Doge himself, a force, a power which pervaded the palace, visible only as a conspicuous arrangement of ornate robes and jewels, an object toward which powerful men bowed.

But in the early morning hours there were no powerful men walking the streets, only occasional fishermen wheeling their carts of mussels and shiny fish stacked in heaps on their way to market.  Tonio knew the streets well. Whenever he heard anyone coming he would leap into a darkened entranceway and wait quietly until the stranger had passed.  Then he was on his way again, listening above the slap of his sandals for other sounds, gondoliers calling at canal intersections, stirrings in the shops, and the flapping and cooing of pigeons in the piazza. Sometimes, later in the day, he would look up at the sky over the streets and see a matron lounging out of her window.  They all had the same dull, imposing stare as they watched him; a mouse running a maze for their passing amusement.  There was no escape from them. 

The narrow twisting streets along which Tonio ran in the dark hours of the morning never gave even a hint of what lay ahead. Each time he burst into the open piazza was an overwhelming experience, a re-affirmation, an awakening from a deep sleep.  In his boyish innocence he relived each day the primal puberty rites of cultures long lost beneath the treadwheel of progress.  He was primal youth, pre-pubescence, slipping between the two dimensions as he groped through a tunnel of stone flesh back to the source, back to the inner cave upon which were painted the workings of nature and the power of man in dynamic synthesis.  The piazza burst upon his young mind with the ethereal paints of sky and water, the music of birds, and the touch of soft sea airs blowing over indescribably hard stone.  And all around him stood the living record of man’s capabilities in that time. All around him were statements of power, of expression, of ideas and hopes.  The symmetry of the colonnade which faced the piazza on three sides spoke dedication and care. Above the five portals of the Basilica thousands of tiny colored stones lay patiently in the morning darkness.  With utmost gentleness the sun would gradually draw their silent beauty into brilliant but modestly subdued mosaics; a gift of life from the artist whom all nature had been awaiting.  And, posing in the pride of nature were four bronze horses which, from the main balcony, surveyed an arena in which humans daily came to entertain them.

One of Tonio’s favorite games was to go to the shadows in front of the Basilica and lie full length upon the pavement, his feet in the direction from which the tide of the sunlight would gradually flow over the piazza.  Here in the cool darkness he could stare up at the sky, he could sink his mind into the blue folds of the Blessed Virgin’s robe, spread across the earth to shield it from evil.  The Holy Mother knew; the Holy Mother loved him.  And he loved her.  She was no fat matron peering down at him with life worn eyes. She knew, even in her innocence, of the evils which awaited young boys.  She would help him. And, through it all, she would love him. He often wished he could simply float into the sky to join her, to be wrapped in her mantle, just as she had done in the dogma of the Divine Ascension.  Why did he have to go through life?

In the piazza the sun lapped at his feet and warmed the blood flowing through his legs.  As he pondered the protective arms of the Virgin he became dimly aware of a growing warmth spreading through his genitals; a warmth which was confusing, exciting, and, under the loving gaze of the Virgin, embarrassing.  The sun had reached his waist when his discomfort stirred him to get up, his face slightly flushed.

Staying in the shadows as much as possible he hurried over to the quays by the Doge’s palace to watch the unloading of a ship which had arrived sometime during the previous night.  Rough men in baggy trousers and bare feet wrestled bales from the hold to the deck and then down a roller ramp onto smaller boats which ferried them to the land.  Some of these small boats, carrying pre-paid cargoes, went straight down the Grand Canal, turning off into various side canals toward their destinations.  Though he had watched this scene many time, Tonio always marveled at the way each small boat nearly swamped as the bales and the waves rocked it from all sides.  The Northern Adriatic is a very cold sea.  Tonio had never seen a bale go overboard, but if one were lucky he might be there when a sailor lost his footing and fell shouting into the water.  Being excellent swimmers there was never any real danger, only the uproarious mirth which dispelled many hours of tedium and made for jokes at the taverns that evening.

The small boats with merchandise open for wholesale bidding came straight to shore and were quickly unloaded and recycled into service.  Merchants began appearing among the growing stacks as Tonio, his mind roaming in enchanted lands, moved closer to smell cinnamon and feel the texture of the silks with his eyes. There was some complex imbalance here which his young mind could not quite discern. These spices and silks were living aspects of nature. They brought pleasure to people, like cool, fresh breezes, or the sheen on a horse’s back which irresistibly drew a person to stroke it without thinking.  Yet these things, these spices and silks were contained in casks or heavy burlap tied shut.  Tonio vaguely struggled with the concept of confinement. In watching the furtive glances as they sniffed and prodded, stooped and muttered, he could not decide whether goods were the prisoners of men or if men were the prisoners of goods.

(to be continued.)

  1. Dana permalink

    Marco, once again I find myself suspended in time and space, completely immersed in your story. I feel as though I’m there – as though I’m a part of Tonio, experiencing everything he does.

    As a very young child (through the first grade), I had an affinity for Mary. I thought of her as mother, protector, heroine. I have never since then had any admiration or use for so-called “saints” or deities, however.

    I am so glad you are posting this. You are a tremendously gifted writer.


  2. Thank you so much, Dana. I feel privileged in touching your spirit. Marco


  3. Piazza San Marco is one of my favorite places in Italy; reading your words, I am once again transported to that magical place. They say you always meet someone you know in Venezia, and now I have met Tonio. I look forward to the next chapter. Rose


    • Thank you, Rose. You are right. In each of the several times I was there I felt I recognized someone. Must be the magic. Chapters will follow. Marco


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: