Feelings are stretched to breaking point at Lucca's new fish and chip shop, the Contessa continues to find Arthur Crowe very attractive, a COGOL concert takes a whole new turn and Inspector Conte is finding promotion a millstone around his neck. And then there is the Vitalevi question and  Signor Tito Viale...

 

 

 

 

 

 

37.  

'Thank you for seeing me so promptly, Rabbi.' Luigi settled himself into the indicated chair.

It was a large room lined with shelves of books, many of which were obviously very old, judging by the worn and faded spines of their leather covers. Over everything there hung the air of quiet contemplation and tranquility.

'You are more than welcome, Signore,' replied the elderly man sitting opposite. From underneath his waistcoat dangled the ends of the tzitzit or fringes from the corner of his tallit; the fact that he was wearing a prayer shawl confirmed his orthodoxy in the Jewish faith. 'We are all great admirers of your family's charitable enterprises,' he said in a firm voice mellowed by his considerable age, 'not to mention your mother's musical activities in our city. I well remember the Count and his involvement with the musical life of the Istituto. All of that seems such a long time ago now…' The room paused under the weight of recalled memories and the implication of loss that they carried. '…but let me not dwell on the past. I am sure you have not taken time away from your important work at the hospital to come and listen to me recalling distant memories. How can I help you?'

Luigi was more than a little surprised that the Rabbi knew who he was and what he did. Judging from the books and other rabbinical items that filled the room, Luigi imagined that the man filled his days only with the study and pursuit of religious knowledge.

'Er…yes, Rabbi. Well, some years ago my mother returned to England to see her godson, who was unfortunately dying. She was very impressed by the hospice in which he spent his last days and decided to establish something similar here in Lucca on her return…in memory of the Count…'

'Ah, yes…that would be the GCB on Via Michele Rosi. It is such a noble enterprise. Some of our brethren have already benefited from your mother's generosity…'

'The GCB is open to all…there are no exceptions,' Luigi responded, even more impressed at how well informed the Rabbi was. 'Recently, we have undertaken the expansion of GCB to include the property next door…'

'Ah yes…the Villa Vitalevi. It is as well that the building is put to good use. There is much linked to its past that is in need of cleansing. With the passing of Signora Ornella that sorry chapter is finally closed. The Vitalevis were like so many of our innocent brethren. Of what crime were any of them guilty, save for that of simply being who they were…of being themselves?' The Rabbi smiled and Luigi saw in that smile a deep sense of understanding, awareness and forgiveness - a forgiveness that was eternally underpinned by the obligation never to forget. 'It is to be regretted that the rest of humanity cannot grasp the important message in Zechariah…chapter 4, verses 1 to 6. Are you familiar with it…the Old Testament?

Luigi smiled and shook his head gently. His church-going was sporadic at the best of times and any knowledge of the scriptures was limited to what he had been taught by rote at confirmation classes and during his time as an altar boy.

'Those verses contain the divine injunction to…hmm...,' the Rabbi seemed to be lost deep in thought, as if trying to recall the verses or some other long lost memory connected to them, '…it is written that not by might, not by power, but by the spirit of the divine will all things ultimately be accomplished…' he continued, relaxing back into his chair, as if the exertion of recalling the verses had almost been too much for him.

'It is a great pity, indeed,' Luigi commented. He was thinking of the maimed and brutally murdered bodies that pass through his mortuary at the hospital - especially of the most recent girl murdered in the car park next to the cemetery. What was the use of words? Someone had ultimately accomplished their objective through brute force and had murdered a fellow human being. There was no evidence of the wisdom of ancient writ in that instance. 'I am pleased to report that the Villa Vitalevi has been almost completely restored and has become an extension of the GCB…once finished, we will have more than doubled our capacity to help those in mortal discomfort. We are pleased that we have also been able to include a nod of remembrance to the Vitalevi family.' There was no hint of pomposity or self-aggrandizement; rather it had been a sincere expression of what Luigi felt.

'Noble sentiments,' the Rabbi muttered, nodding his head in approval.

'We have constructed a new garden, which will be a peaceful haven for those spending their last few days. Even if they cannot sit in it, our hope is that its peaceful atmosphere will offer them comfort. The new extension has rooms on the ground floor, most of which have French windows opening onto the garden. We have even used an old fountain as a centre piece. It was during the installation of the pipe work for this central feature that my workmen came across this…' Bending down, he withdrew the tin box from his canvas hold-all.

'Let me make some space for you on the desk…I see that it has been damaged a little.' The Rabbi pointed with one gnarled finger at the gash in the rusty metal.

'Indeed, but the contents are quite safe,' Luigi replied, as he opened the lid, 'and that is what I need your help with. I need guidance on how best to deal with this totally unexpected find, in order that the Vitalevis are shown due respect.' He carefully removed the metal objects and laid them out on the desktop.

'Candlesticks for Shabbat,' the Rabbi intoned, picking one up and looking at it closely, 'finely worked in pure silver…to reflect the moral innocence of holiness. This is the Menorah, one of the great symbols of Judaism. The seven candles, according to Isaiah, are as a light unto the nations. This is in gold…to reflect the celestial light and the glory of the divine. These are expensive items of very good quality,' he proclaimed, replacing the Menorah on the desk. 'And this…this is very well wrought. What exquisite craftsmanship…this must be very old…,' he said, picking up the Haggadah and opening it reverently, '…were there any others?'

'No, just that one,' replied Luigi, who was not at all sure what significance the book might hold.

'This is the book of guidance for the correct observance of Pesach…Passover, as you probably know it. It has been well-used over the years…happier times, I am sure. Everyone at the Pesach table for the observance of the Festival should have one, obviously not one quite so splendidly bound in silver…this one was for the use of the head of the household, almost certainly Signor Vitalevi himself.' For a moment the Rabbi sat holding the book in his hands, as if connecting with this very personal possession.

'And…the other items?' Luigi prompted.

'Objects of veneration and adornment,' the Rabbi replied, picking up the first one. 'This is also gold and is for the neck…to be hung from a fine gold chain. These days even those of other faiths wear this…but in Signor Vitalevi's days, such an act would have been rash in the extreme. It would have marked the wearer out for persecution.'

'May I ask what it stands for?' Luigi inquired.

The Rabbi laughed out loud, as if he was fully aware of the irony of what he was about to say next. 'They are the chet and yod letters of the Hebrew alphabet joined together. It is a symbolic focus on the importance of Life. L'chaym! It is the Hebrew toast for health or well-being…to Life!'

'As in Fiddler on the Roof?'

'As in Fiddler on the Roof,' the Rabbi replied tolerantly. 'These other items also look to be of gold. They are very decorative,' he continued, leaning forward to wave his hand over the remaining items on the desk. As he did so, he noticed the folded paper in the bottom of the chest. 'And what is that?'

Luigi removed the paper and passed it to the Rabbi. 'This was as you have just seen it…at the bottom of the chest underneath everything else. Please feel free to read it.'

The elderly man reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and took out a pair of old, rimless spectacles. He read the contents in silence. Then, removing the spectacles, he reversed the earlier procedure. 'If you are seeking my advice on the future of these objects, I would suggest that you could do no better than to heed Signor Vitalevi's departing request.'

'I see,' Luigi replied, not at all certain that he knew what the Rabbi was getting at. 'Signor Vitalevi's…request?'

'Certainly,' replied the Rabbi, placing his elbows on the arms of his chair and touching his fingertips together. 'Remember them,' he whispered with an enigmatic smile on his face.

'Remember them…but how?'

'You will know what to do Conte di Capezzani-Batelli. I do not think anything more need be said.'

 

Copyright © 2017 Stuart Fifield
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.