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A Night Manager’s Tale, by Catherine Hensiek
Giancarlo, the night manager of Ca’ Riva Serenissima hotel in the Castello district of Venice, paced from his alcove office to the lobby doors. An unseasonal storm raged outside. Earlier the drenching rain had overwhelmed the sandbags stacked around the front entry and flooded the terrazzo floor of the lobby. Most of his new reservations had arrived and were safely tucked into their rooms. But longtime guests, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, were on a late flight from Paris, and he was concerned that water taxi service would be canceled by the time they got to Marco Polo Airport. Just as Giancarlo was thinking about alternative transportation for his guests, Mr. Parker appeared from the dock at the back of the hotel, shook the water off his broad-brimmed hat, and handed him a business card with the Parkers’ reservation number written on the back, along with two passports.
“Buona sera, Signor Parker, and welcome to Venice and the Biennale.” Giancarlo took Mr. Parker’s cold hand in his warm one.
Mr. Parker grinned. “And buona sera to you, Giancarlo. Can’t you do anything about this weather? Caught what I am sure was the last water taxi leaving the airport, and huge waves nearly swamped us on the lagoon. How are we supposed to tour the exhibits without drowning?”
“I am so sorry, Signore. I must say the weather has been unusual this season. But, I assure you of sunshine for most of your stay. I predict that you will be able to enjoy our most bellissima Biennale yet and keep your feet dry!”
His guest laughed. “I won’t hold you responsible if we get more rain. But, from the looks of the forecast, the Arsenale will be first on the list this year. The Giardini will have to wait for a sunny day. Now, do you have suite 22 ready?”
“Sì, it is waiting for you.” As always Giancarlo added, “Do you need help with your suitcases? And how is Signora Parker? She is guarding your luggage?”
And then came the same reply going back many years, “No, no, traveling light! Left the bag at the back door near the dock. I can grab it on the way to our room.”
Giancarlo scanned the passports, handed his guest the room key, and then offered him a brochure from a local recital hall. “They have brought back the Verdi/Puccini program you and Signora Parker have enjoyed in the past.”
Mr. Parker glanced at the brochure and tucked it in his pocket. “Grazie for remembering.”
Giancarlo watched as his guest walked through the breakfast room to the back hallway and the short flight of stairs that led to the suite the Parkers had engaged for so many years. It seemed to him that the old gentleman walked more slowly than before. His broad shoulders sagged and his gait was wobbly. Giancarlo started to call out, to ask again if Mr. Parker needed help with the luggage, but hesitated.
Flight of the Bumblebee, by Webb Johnson
“Hi, Bob. It’s Karen. Find Lew before you leave.”
The phone memo’s curt tone told me all I needed to know about my promotion. Even so, I had to hear the bad news from the big man himself.
Sitting behind his neat desk, Lew Cook told me that the Selection Committee felt that Clara North had the greater talent for team-building. “That was the decisive factor,” he said.
I tried not to let it show, but I couldn’t hide my disappointment.
“I know you feel lousy, Bob, but that’s the way it is. There’ll be other opportunities.”
I said, “OK, then.”
Lew’s eyes shifted to a ringing telephone, then back to me. He nodded a short and snappy encouraging smile in my direction as he picked up the phone. I smiled back the best I could as I stepped back into the empty corridor.
Driving home, I was in a mental fog. I should never have told Laura about the new job. I should have kept my mouth shut and saved her the disappointment, and me the humiliation, of trying to explain why my younger rival got the promotion instead. Wanting to put that conversation off for as long as possible, I left the other commuters on the freeway and took the longer way home.
Veering across two lanes of traffic I made it to the Alternate Route 23 off-ramp with no dents or scratched paint. The blaring horns and middle fingers could not make my already miserable outlook any worse.
I remembered my dad taking us to buy eggs and honey at a farm somewhere along the old country road. That was decades ago, but nothing much had changed. Definitely not the sharp turns. When I heard my tires skid, I remembered a kid named Billy Lovett, who died in a smashup during a high school car race.
With third generation heirs selling out to real estate developers, many of the ranch houses were deserted. Even so, the fields and hills were lush with new grain, and neglected fruit trees still managed to put on their spring exhibitions of pink and white blossoms. When I breathed in the scents of laurel and live oak that grew along the creekside part of the road, better memories came to mind. I thought about Laura and me in another universe, dancing—doing The Pony to a thunderous, amped-up rendition of “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner.
The trophy they gave us is on the mantel in our living room, but it had been a long, long time since we’d danced or did much of anything for fun. I had hoped the new job and the new salary would help put a spark back in our marriage. Now, I dreaded the disappointment I would see in her expression, dreaded even more the way I knew she would try to make me feel OK about it, like there’s nothing wrong with being a loser.
Another hairpin turn snapped me back to my driving.
Thawing of the Heart, by Norma Armon
She read in Opera News that in September 1998, Zubin Mehta was staging Turandot in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. It was where Puccini had originally set the story and was to be a major event in the musical world. I’d give a year of my life if I could afford to go see that! Nehama thought. She did a little research.
China had begun to try to attract foreign investment, and the Chinese Central Government sponsored a few study group tours to show that the country was ready to welcome Westerners and their dollars.
At UC Berkeley, California, in the Department of Linguistics, excitement bubbled over: a couple of the professors had requested sponsorship to tour Four Great Cities in China.
Nehama asked her Head of Department for the details, “What does ‘sponsorship’ of this trip entail?”
“If the Chinese agree to sponsor the group tour of ten, they pay for rooms in five star hotels, all meals and land transportation, as well as the guides. Participants pay for the flights, including two internal ones within China,” he explained.
“Do you know when this trip will take place?” Nehama asked.
“The dates aren’t final, but it will be at the beginning of September. Are you interested in traveling with them?”
“Yes, I would consider joining the group if the schedule lands me in Beijing during one of the nine dates Zubin Mehta’s Turandot is being performed. I’d appreciate it if you put me on the list and let me know when you learn whether the sponsorship is approved,” Nehama said, “and what the dates will be.” Nehama looked down at her lap, wondering if she was ready for the pressures of a group, the closeness of people. She already felt conflicted.
…The excitement of possibly seeing Puccini’s Chinese opera in Beijing was almost more than Nehama could contain. El bel canto, as Nehama’s father called opera, had been the secret sauce that made their father/daughter relationship palatable. He was an introvert with little capacity to connect, yet found profound enjoyment in opera.
Nehama could almost hear her father’s voice, “…the most consummate of arts. A magic potion containing music capable of setting in motion the unexpected,” when he first played one of his records for her.
In Israel, his adopted home, her father’s worldview had been derided as a throwback to the European values that proved useless to save Jews from the Nazi’s attempts to exterminate them. Israelis called themselves sabras, the Hebrew word for the thorny fruit of the local cactus, a symbol of what Jews had now become. Needing to protect themselves, physical prowess, and developing an army with the power to stand up to tormentors, was valued, not musicians and singers to soothe their sorrows and help withstand the pain of exile.
Nehama’s mother and siblings were true sabras, living in the current world, not caring much for the old man’s passivity and soft pleasures, and thus actively demeaning opera, which they called shouting matches. But Nehama loved the music and learned to understand the lyrics. She studied Italian and took singing lessons so she could sing her favorite arias in tune. By sitting next to her father every Saturday to listen to the weekly radio broadcast, attending a live performance with him, or singing along him in a duet, she formed the only connection to her otherwise distant father.
To ease her anxiety about the tour, Nehama invited Mary Lou Stalgust for lunch at home on Monday, to keep her company while she waited for the call. Mary Lou was one of the few mutual friends who hadn’t cut her off when Nehama and Joshua divorced. It surprised Nehama, because Mary Lou was Joshua’s supervisor at Applied Linguistics.
Fairy Music, by Sandy Stuart Shaller
Every afternoon, Sylvie went down to the garden and listened to the fairies playing music. She crept under the willow tree where the long fronds hid her from view.
The fairies were tiny creatures that swung on branches with their violins or flittered in midair with their flutes and piccolos. Some of the fairies were so dazzlingly beautiful that Sylvie had to squint to see them; they were like bright rays of sunlight. Others looked like green toads with mottled skin, and had heavy webbing between their fingers. There were fairies as thin as water and fairies as thick as molasses; no two were alike.
Beautiful or strange, they all played the most wonderful music. It flashed like gold and flowed like sweet mead. It created streams of sound that wove through the air like a lark coasting on a summer breeze. It wrapped around Sylvie like a lyrical glove, warming and thrilling her. Sylvie would sometimes close her eyes and find that the music transported her to faraway places. It was, after all, fairy music, so Sylvie was not surprised to find herself sailing through the air on an oriental rug, or floating above a waterfall where mermaids and mermen played and laughed and loved.
The fairies played their music for only an hour each day, and when the hour was up, one fairy would alight on Sylvie’s arm and sing, “Come away with us, Sylvie. Come away.”
But Sylvie would only smile in melancholy fashion and shake her head. The fairy’s eyes grew large when she declined, and in its eyes Sylvie could see herself. A young girl, nearly a woman, with long wavy hair the color of an elm tree and eyes the color of a chestnut.
Then the fairy would look sad and flit away with the others, vanishing into the beams of sunlight. Sylvie remembered reading in some book that a fairy is sad for only a brief time, but fairy anger lasts forever.