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Cover to Cover
In some families, everyone was a talented musician. In others, everyone was an architect.
But as soon as I saw the boy’s family, I just knew.
His family was full of thieves.
Venice – 1500
The night hung like a disease over the walls and the parapets of houses and palaces alike. A sliver of a moon gleamed in the light, illuminating common peasants as they scurried to complete their nightly chores. In the dark palaces of the rich, spoiled aristocrats snored the night away, relaxing on handmade beds and perfectly stuffed pillows. Except for one such pompous woman.
Iolanda Grazellia de Loretta promenaded down the dark, gloomy alleyway with nothing but a sidelong glance at the smelly peasants slaving away on the cobbled streets. Shoes clacking on the floor, she gracefully hurried onwards, huffing at her displeasure with the overall ambiance. “Peasants.” She muttered as she turned the corner. She was almost at her palace, three canals away in fact, when she was attacked.
A silent scream issued from her open mouth as three rough – looking men grappled with her purse and covered up her mouth. With the ease of a practiced move, one of the men viciously twisted her hand back while another pulled the purse away. The three men ran away, leaving behind a dark night, a gathering crowd, and a gasping woman lying on the streets.
The boy was only in the background when I first saw him.
It was a meeting of several coincidences, I was sure. A famous scientist. A not so famous war. A thieving man. And the boy, of course. Yes, the boy.
Let me tell you his story.
The entrance to the Palazzo Ducale was literally teeming with people. And not just normal people, but molto ricco people - people with their pockets weighted down with money.
These were the cream of the crop. The families and people that were without doubt the money-holders of ancient Venice. Through stealing, lying, assassination, and schemes, they rose to their posts (though a small selection did make their money honestly), and were the authority of everyday Venice. Except when someone higher was around.
The leader of Venice was supposed to make a speech today, on quite a number of things, and the men and women were waiting for just that.
But not the boy, slinking around the crowds. Not the boy slipping his hand slowly in and out of pockets. Not the boy who quickly became molto ricco himself.
He was doing his job, and he was doing it well.
Just as he moved his hand towards another amicable – looking gentleman, he heard the crowd roar in unison. The boy’s hand dropped to his side, and he turned to face the Doge.
“I thank you all for kindly assembling here. You have gathered here to hear me talk about a few distinct matters, and I shall give you your answers,” the Doge announced, in a furor of quickly spoken Italian.
The boy began searching for open pockets again. As he was pick pocketing others, he heard snatches of the speech.
“… Da Vinci’s inventions will fail to…”
“... war with the Ottomans will prove…”
“… notebook stolen. I may not disclose the contents of the notebook…”
“… seen Leonardo’s notebook…”
What! The boy frantically looked up. The notebook is Leonardo Da Vinci’s!
He knew exactly where it was.
As he ran towards Ca’ d’Oro – the Golden Home – he dropped off the money bit by bit to the beggars. It was only the stealing that was required by his parents, not the money.
The Golden Home opened up with a grand doorway, but the young boy preferred not to do that. Hurriedly, he scampered on the gondolas in the nearby canal. A low hanging branch hung out over the gondolas, and he grasped it and pulled himself up into the tree. He spared one long, forlorn glance at the beautiful gondolas and the peaceful gondola driver coming around the corner and then continued up the tree to his window.
As soon as he exited his room, he could hear them talking.
“We thank you for your kind help, and you shall be compensated in full.” A deep, rich voice that could only belong to one who lived in mounds of money resonated through the empty room. It was definitely his father.
“I thank you, sire, for letting me undertake this job.” A new voice drifted up through the conversation. It was slightly whiny and squeaky, but the boy could tell that he was a professional thief.
“Oh, and let me introduce you to our newest one. Alessandro?”
The boy looked up and sighed in resignation. He had been caught. “Yes, father.”
The squeaky voiced man looked up to see a young boy, perhaps not even 15, ambling down the steps. As was his profession, he quickly took in that the boy didn’t walk with the grandeur that his family did, but his footsteps fell on the floor without a sound. He would be a perfect thief when he grew up.
“Alessandro Ignazi, yes? I like the name.” The thief whispered to Alessandro’s father.
“Why thank you. We are already exposing him to the real life, you see. Just a few nights ago, we robbed a woman near the peasant district, so he could see how the professionals did it. Alessandro, meet our head of criminal activities. I don’t think I can pin down any name for him, so just call him sire, you understand?”
“Yes, father.” Alessandro answered, but his mind was already elsewhere. The book was carelessly lying on the table. On it, the scrawly writing of Leonardo da Vinci, the famous scientist, titled the book. From this distance he couldn’t read it, but if only he had it in his hands, if only he could…
“I see you’ve noticed our purchase. Quite an extraordinary man, that Da Vinci character. I expect the Venetians will buy it from us simply because if they don’t, the Ottomans will buy it from us. No matter how ‘fake’ Leonardo’s inventions are, it is wartime, and you gain when the other loses. Of course, though, if the Doge proves to be stubborn, it’s going to the highest bidder. We’d better be ready to leave Venice itself if the Ottomans get Leonardo’s inventions. I’m sorry, but you’re not responsible enough yet to see it.” Saying so, Alessandro’s father picked up the book and left the room, most likely to lock it up. The thief also left, and Alessandro was left in the room reeling from the blow. He was so close to the book, and now his father would never let him touch it.
There was only one option.
He would have to steal it.
He saw the boats with the Doge’s men long before anyone in the house saw them. Quickly, they stormed into the house and searched the whole house. Obviously, someone had ratted the Ignazio family out. Alessandro paced up and down, and decided that no help would be done by going inside. And besides, he knew exactly where the book was, and they’d force the information out of him.
Because the book was with him.
Just as he took off running to the Palazzo Ducale, where Leonardo was supposedly living, he was spotted by one of the men. It was now a race, but a race that Alessandro was confident he could win. He sped past empty canals as he jumped across gondolas, bridges and anything else that stood in his path. Once he reached the inner part of town, he twisted and turned through dark alleyways and canals until he was sure he had lost his pursuers.
As the Palazzo Ducale palace doors opened up for the small, scruffy looking boy, the guards asked for his name. Out of breath, he huffed “I’m looking for Leonardo.”
“Leonardo’s going to Florence. He’s probably already on the coach by now.” One of the guards announced, slowly inching forwards.
Suddenly, the guards lunged at him. Stumbling back, Alessandro saw that the Doge’s men had caught up to him. He was surrounded now.
Crouching into his a traditional street fighter stance, Alessandro smiled. He’d find Leonardo Da Vinci.
Without a hint of reservation, Alessandro lunged forwards, adeptly crushing his knee into one man’s gut, then performing a full roundhouse kick to another man behind him. As a third man pulled out a dagger, Alessandro ran towards him, but instead of attacking, slid through his legs, jumped up and pushed him towards the final man. Alessandro looked away as the man screamed. He didn’t like this life.
But his father did.
As the young boy debated the quickest plan of action, a brilliant idea occurred to him. He smiled. He jumped.
He landed on a gondola and began to row.
Alessandro rowed frantically but still didn’t go as far as the other drivers. Changing his plan, he began long, deep strokes that scooped the water up and pushed it away. His plan was working perfectly. Soon, the wind was in his face and the wonderfully cooling water splashed onto his feet playfully. Come, play with me, it seemed to be saying, but Alessandro knew he had a job. He stood to his full height and felt the breeze buffet his shoulders in a wonderful fashion. In spite of the situation, a smile escaped his lips. Soon, he reached his destination. The coaches were just unloading, and the boats were ready to be boarded. Alessandro leaped out of the gondola, anchored it swiftly and secured it to a nearby pole, all the while watching, waiting for the man to come out. The man who could invent things that had never been dreamed of. The man that had so many professions he didn’t even know which was his true one. The man who was surely Alessandro Ignazi’s icon.
Leonardo da Vinci.
“What are you looking for, boy?” A gravelly voice came from behind him. Alessandro spun around to see a middle aged man looking at him.
“I w-w-was l-l-looking for you, sire.” Alessandro stuttered, stunned at his idol standing there in front of him.
“And why could that be?” Leonardo asked.
“Because, sire, you are my idol. I want to be like you.” Alessandro blurted out.
The great man smiled. “You are already like me. You have great observation and you can use it to solve a problem. Yes, I could see you driving the gondola. Quite smart there. But you must keep in mind that you are what you make yourself. Not what others think you should be or even what you think will earn you the most money. Do what you love, as I have done what I loved, and everything else will automatically come for you. Now, my boat is leaving and I must journey to Florence.”
As Leonardo walked back up the road, Alessandro suddenly shouted out.
“Yes, boy?” Leonardo stopped and playfully swiveled around to face him.
“I have your book. The one that was stolen.” Alessandro stammered, afraid of how the great man would react.
“Keep it,” Leonardo laughed, “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.”
Venice – 2010
Alessandro Ignazi returned to his home 25 years later as a famous gondola driver with a wife and three children. Initially his father was infuriated, but eventually, he calmed down.
Alessandro looked through the book dozens of times, but finally realized there was truly no writing on it. It was a blank book. Only on Alessandro’s dying day did he realize just why Leonardo was carrying it. It symbolized how much he had left to live. His life was still open like the book, and there was much more he could do. Alessandro Ignazi died in peace.
And I was left alone.
I am Leonardo da Vinci’s book.
I am Alessandro Ignazi’s book.
I am your book.
But most of all…
I am your empty book.