“”Ith Abbot Kinney,” MacGregor announced to us happily, pointing to a group of men in the distance, silhouetted by the darkened sky.
“Which one is Mr. Kinney,” Grandmother Lena asked.
“The one without the thovel,” said MacGregor. I scrinched my eyes at the designated man. From afar, he didn’t look like much, certainly he didn’t resemble a wealthy man. He, in fact, looked quite shabby; his suit was completely dusted with gray powder.
Grandmother Lena clicked her tongue in disgust. Surely MacGregor was not going to think that she would believe this individual could be Abbot Kinney. MacGregor had said that Abbot Kinney was so rich, he had built most of the city of Venice with his own money. Abbot Kinney’s appearance and the word ‘millionaire’ did not jibe with how Grandmother Lena now knew a millionaire should look. Millionaires had tailored silhouettes like Bo Hughes while this supposed millionaire’s suit looked dirtier than MacGregor’s, who was an ostrich farmer. Even worse, it was November and Abbot Kinney wore a straw hat. All of us knew Americans considered a boater to be fashionably unsuitable after September. And the boater cap was not even new – the hat’s stitching hung loosely around the band.
Grandmother Lena thought she knew what she knew, but she had not traveled among enough rich people to know about the special category of the rich eccentrics who were busy creating legacies in the new century. Abbot Kinney was one of them, too busy ensuring that his dreams for Venice were being translated flawlessly into reality to worry about his appearance. As we continued to approach him, I watched Grandmother Lena continue her measurement and evaluation of Abbot Kinney. I knew her so well, I could hear all of her thoughts: ‘Why is he so skinny? Why he is skinnier than Angelica is, which he would not be if he were able to eat like we did in Bo’s private Pullman.’
To be fair to Grandmother Lena, she did not often err in her evaluations of people, but she did this day in her impatience to behold the fulfillment of her Tarot reading. But who could really blame her? When she saw the ocean, her excitement tried to force the manifestation of the destiny the Tarot had described to her, rather than just allow the elements around us to guide us there. Grandmother Lena’s haste hardened her essence to be more effectual, but this hardening merely destroyed her fluidity and hence her intuitive sense. Grandmother Lena had succumbed to thinking not as a shuvani, but as a normal person. As she regarded Abbot Kinney, she did so prejudiciously, and forgot to pay attention. As her eyes regarded Abbot Kinney, all she saw was a badly attired, shabby man.
But as I drew near to Abbot Kinney that first time, I saw him quite differently. Perhaps it was because I was already under the spell of his creation, Venice. But I did know at once that I was in the company of a human being of a sort very rarely seen in those days, and I must add, even more rarely seen today. His eyes were wild in a way that speaks of madness, but it was not madness, it was the fire of passionate dreaming. It seemed to me that Abbot Kinney’s eyes not only perceived those things that were very close, but they also comprehended those things not so obvious. I was quite intrigued by him, and I know I stared. My interest was not returned; Abbott Kinney seemed to take no particular notice of me that night. But I later came to know he saw me very perfectly.
Meanwhile, I could see that Grandmother Lena had decided she was in the midst of some kind of con and was trying to figure out how to play MacGregor. Earlier that day, as we had chugged along in the rickety Model T toward the sun, MacGregor had bragged it was impossible not to make money in Venice, since the city was always crowded with thousands of people on holiday. From our time as performers at the Circus of Cairo, Grandmother Lena knew Americans chiefly defined their holidays as the times when they spent all of their money. But not one of MacGregor’s boasts was being substantiated by our experience in Venice that day. Not only had she not seen the promised crowds, the only person she had seen, the frightened woman in black, had run away from us. Being Rom, she knew she could flush out MacGregor’s con in time. She was sure that next this ‘fake’ Abbot Kinney would demand money, immediately payable to him, to allow our lion-taming act into Venice. But to her amazement, not only did Abbot Kinney not ask us for money, he turned us down flat. He informed MacGregor brusquely he was entirely disinterested in having lions on his pier. There were enough lions to suit his taste in the circus that wintered annually in Venice. He bid us good luck, and brusquely turned back to address his workmen who were hurrying to complete their project in the little light remaining of the day.
MacGregor thanked Abbot Kinney’s back, and contritely walked away. In silence, we followed him the same way we had come. Grandmother Lena commented in Romani that she couldn’t believe how rude the man was. But I thought the way Abbot Kinney claimed the pier to be ‘his pier’ was marvelous. It was not unlike how Jesse James thought of ‘his Missouri’. And I was thrilled that Abbot Kinney had had the audacity to refute Grandmother Lena and the Tarot’s prophecy. I suspected Kinney thoroughly enjoyed being dusted with the mud of Venice – his creation and his great love. ”
Lions and Gondolas