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Monday, April 15, 2013


      As soon as we stepped off the water taxi, I notice her climbing the bridge.  The tiny beggar covered in sack cloth was so bent over her cane was just a foot long.  Each step posed a challenge, like you or I advancing up a field of boulders. 
  One hand still managed to hold a little white cup, open to gifts from strangers.  I'd never seen begging like this. It was old world, world-class, the fakirs of days gone by.  
Set amongst the opulence of Venice, the city's beggars stood out and fit in at the same time. New places can be that way.

   Coming from Miami, I'm used to haggard bums at intersections.  Their signs remind us that they could use a beer and that we should have a nice day.  One rolls past me in his wheelchair every time I head home from work.  
    Once, after a late day,  I saw him pack up his chair and walk off.  For years we have eased past each other, me  waiting for the light he slowly rolls by.  We have seen the creases grow on each others faces (I think the sun makes his grow faster).
   I'm okay with these guys as long as they don't try to clean my windshield.  I am glad we have government agencies and charities to offer them  help. Sometimes  I think about parking my car so I can hear their stories.
     The beggars on the Mediterranean coast must have their stories too from the other end of the panhandling world.  These Venice people were different, suppliants to the extreme... quiet, prayerful and low. It seemed the closer they got to the ground the more successful they were.
    I explained this phenomena to my students last fall.

I told them, "I can stand here and hold out a cup, or,

I can get on my knees, or,

bow all the way down to the ground.  
 Do you feel the difference?",
 I asked.

Apparently one student did. He got up and put a pencil in my cup.

  Begging is not allowed in Italy's island cityThis woman  was arrested just after I took her picture. 

 The officer led her away and for a day -or maybe an hour- there was one less beggar on the streets of Venice.


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