“Is that the firehouse?” one of my American friends asked?
I was taking them on a walking tour of Venice.
“It sure is,” I said.
I led them onto the adjacent bridge so they could look at the fireboats parked in bays inside the enormous stone palazzo.
“Holy cow,” was my friends’ general reaction. They had forgotten that fire engines would be useless in a city with no streets. In Venice there were fire boats, a very few to cover almost the entire lagoon.
“Do you think they’d let us inside?” Martha, one of Americans asked. “We always check out the fire departments wherever we go.”
They were firehouse aficionados and collected tee shirts and other souvenirs every time they visited one in the U.S. and abroad.
“There’s only one way to find out,” I said.
We rang the doorbell and waited. Eventually a man answered the door. He was wearing a Venetian red polo shirt with Vigili del fuoco embroidered over their logo. Martha leaned into my ear. “We have to get some of those,” she said.
In my poor but well-intentioned Italian I asked if we could tour the firehouse. In his poor but well-intentioned English he told me to wait a minute, one of his coworkers spoke English.
When the English-speaker saw three youngish, attractive, American women in our group he was all welcoming smiles.
“Come in,” he said. “We show you everything.”
And they did. We got up close and personal with the fireboats in their bays as well as the warehouse where they refurbished and repaired boats.
They pointed out the Captain’s boat, more elegant than any water taxi, with special pride. They spent a lot of time polishing it.
After we had inspected the boats they took us inside for a quick walk-through that eventually led to the spacious, modern kitchen.
“Can we offer you prosecco?” our guide asked.
“Absolutely,” Martha answered without missing a beat.
He looked at everyone else and perceived that not all were enthusiastic about wine at 11am.
“We have soda too,” he said, surprised that anyone would turn down a prosecco. He and his cohorts fetched bottles of Prosecco and sodas from the fridge and poured them while the Americans peppered them with questions about putting out fires in a city like Venice.
“I love your shirt,” Martha finally said. “Could I buy one?”
He looked over at his boss, uncertain of something I couldn’t decode. His boss nodded. “Quanto?” the younger fireman asked sotto voce.
They obviously had never been asked to sell them and decided on twenty euros a piece as a fair price. The Americans bought six and wore them proudly as we headed out toward our original goal, the bridge across the Giudecca Canal constructed on the backs of boats once a year for the Festa della Redentore.