About the Author
Date of Birth:February 28, 1942
Place of Birth:Montclair, New Jersey
Education:B.A., 1964; M.A. 1969; postgraduate work in English literature
Read an Excerpt
Brunetti hurried after Casati, who was walking towards a rope tied to one of the stanchions. As he reached him, Brunetti looked into the water and saw floating a meter below them an unpainted puparin, the wood glowing in the sun. Closest kin to the gondola, though a bit shorter, the puparin was Brunetti's favorite rowing boat, responsive and light in the water; he had never seen a lovelier one than this. Even the cross board glowed in the light, almost as though Casati had given it a quick polish before he left the boat.
Casati set the suitcase on the riva and crouched down at the edge. For a moment, Brunetti thought he was going to jump down into the boat, as if a young man's stunt would show Brunetti who was the real boatman. Instead, Casati sat on the riva, put one hand, palm flat, on the pavement and hopped down into the boat. He steadied himself before reaching up towards the suitcase. Brunetti moved fast and handed it to him, sat on the riva, judged the distance, and stepped down onto the horizontal board that spanned the boat.
Involuntarily, it escaped Brunetti, "My God, she's beautiful." He couldn't stop his right hand from running along the top board that ran along the side, delighting in its cool smoothness. Looking back at Casati, he asked, "Who built her?"
"I did," he answered. "But that was a long time ago."
Brunetti said nothing in reply, busy studying the lines where the boards were invisibly caulked together, the hull's gentle curve to the right, the floor planking that showed no sign of moisture or dirt.
"Complimenti," Brunetti said, turning away to face forward. He heard noises from behind, then Casati asked him to haul in the rubber tire that served as a buffer between the side of the boat and the stone wall. When Brunetti turned again, he saw Casati pull in the second tire and set it on the bottom of the boat, next to a piece of iron grating standing upright against the side. Brunetti faced forward again and heard the slap of the mooring rope tossed to the bottom of the boat, and then the smooth noise of the oar slipping into the fórcola. A sudden motion pushed them away from the wall, and then he thought he heard Casati's oar slide into the water, and they were off.
All he heard after that was the soft rubbing of the oar in the curve of the fórcola, the hiss of water along the sides of the boat, and the occasional squeak of one of Casati's shoes as his weight shifted forwards or backwards. Brunetti gave himself to motion, glad of the passing breeze that tempered the savagery of the heat. He hadn't thought to bring a hat, and he had scoffed at Paola's insistence that he bring sun screen."
Brunetti had rowed since he was a boy, but he knew he had little to contribute to the smoothness of this passage. There was not the slightest suggestion of stop and go, of a point where the thrust of the oar changed force: it was a single forward motion, like a bird soaring on rising drafts of air, or a pair of skis descending a slope. It was a whish or a shuuh, as hard to describe as to hear, even in the midst of the silence of the laguna.
Brunetti turned his head to one side, then to the other, but there was only the soft, low hiss. He wanted to turn and look at Casati, as though by watching him row, he might store the motions away and copy them later, but he didn't want to shift his weight and thus change the balance of the boat, however minimally.
A fisherman stood on the riva, looking both bored and impatient. When he saw the puparin, he raised his pole in salutation to Casati, but the heat rendered him silent as a fish.
They reached the end of the island and turned eastward, following the shoreline past houses and abandoned fields. Even the turning had been effortless. Brunetti watched houses and trees glide past and only then did he realize how fast they were moving. He turned, then, to watch Casati row.
Seeing the perfect balance of his motion, back and forth, back and forth, hands effortlessly in control of the oar, Brunetti thought that no man his own age or younger would be able to row like this because he would spoil it by showing off. The drops from the blade hit the water almost invisibly before the oar dipped in and moved towards the back. His father had rowed like this.
This was perfection, Brunetti realized, as beautiful as any painting he had ever seen or voice he had ever heard.