I tried the paint the situation honestly trick on one occasion when I was in Venice. I had been gazing through the large shopfront window of a beautiful paper and stationery store when the owner caught my eyes and gave me a smile. Naturally, I smiled back. He then starts waving his hand at me… me being at my core an Asian girl believe that he is waving to be friendly so I just smile again. Then I see him sort of bobbing his head and using his waving hand to gesture inwards, and click that more than being friendly he’s engaging me and asking me to come inside. Ahh, this is a salesman tactic, I think, he’s trying to lure me in ’cause he knows his fancy stationery will be even harder to resist from the inside. I went in anyway, curious about how he was going to continue proceedings.
Typical enough start. Where was I from? Was I travelling alone? What was my name? All routine questions I’d answered hundreds of times previously. What came next was the surprising twist. “I am an artist… I’d like to draw you naked… No sex. I just want to draw you naked.”
Susan’s mind: ????!?!? Eh???
Susan’s mouth+lips+tongue+vocal chords+lungs: “Umm…… Err…. Um…….. …………. ……”
“I will draw you and in return you can pick three items for free from the shop,” he continued, casting his left arm in a wide arc to illustrate all the riches from which I would be able to make my choice.
Fortunately my mind finally jumped in to give my speaking apparatus some meaningful direction. “What would you do with it?”
“I just keep it for myself. Don’t worry, no one else will ever see it. I don’t show it to anyone else. I have done this many times before. I can make you a copy if you want to have one for yourself.”
“What type of art is it? Like…. is it realistic or abstract?”
“Ahh yes it is abstract, come I show you on this piece of paper…..” I walk around behind the counter to watch his process. He glances up at me, his hand moves “Ahh so I start with your neck, like this…… and then go to the top of your shoulder there which is like this……. There. I would just continue on with the rest of your body.”
Hmm. I tilted my head and stared at it for a bit. I personally couldn’t tell which part represented my neck and how that continued onto a shoulder, which perplexed me even more. Was he serious and I, artistically pea-brained? Did he really see a distinctive me through those scribbles?
“Where is your workshop? Is there anyone else there?”
“It’s just across the street, it is my factory for the store where I make all the books, it’s very very close just over there.”
“Is there anyone else there?”
“No no, there is no one, it will just be you and I, we will be alone.” An answer that really didn’t help as much as he would have thought it would. I would have been much happier knowing that his Noni would be making lunch in the next room, and that none of the door frames were filled with door. I decided to lay this out a bit more clearly for him.
“How would I know that I would be safe? I mean where is the door? It will be locked right? How do I know that I can get out?”
These questions must have flown by his head in a blur, for his response was: “I will draw you and you can take three items from the shop, anything you want, there are some very nice things here. I will give you a little bit of time to decide but you must decide quickly because my son will be coming soon.”
“When is he coming?”
“In twenty minutes.”
I walked around a wooden table to some wooden shelves lined with notebooks and gently touched a few of their spines with my fingertips. I’m not sure why but I was trying to make it look as if I was perusing these beautiful objects when really my mind was whirling too much and the adrenaline building too rapidly for me to be able to appreciate them. It was such a weird situation, it intrigued me, but there was no way in hell I was going to say yes. Yet I wanted to find out more, I wanted to figure out what he was up to. Just without the danger.
“So, have you decided?” he asked, somewhere within a minute later.
Yeah, I’d decided that meeting my curiosity was not worth putting myself in a position of such abject vulnerability.
“Yeah……. I don’t think I can do it because I don’t know anything about what it will be like, what guarantee do I have that I’ll be safe? Can you guarantee me that I’ll be safe?”
“It’s okay, no problem. We just go over there, I draw you and you come back and pick three items. Easy.”
“But how do I know that I’ll be safe? It will just be you and I. The door will be locked…… Once I’m there there’s nothing I can do if I want to get out. What guarantee do I have?”
At that moment the door clinged open as a preoccupied young man stalked into the shop. Attractive, unenthusiastic and roughly my age: his son. I was surprised. For some reason I had imagined his son to be much younger and for twenty minutes to have meant twenty minutes. If I had gone with him when he first asked me he would have definitely missed his son’s arrival. But then I suppose being late for his meeting with his son wasn’t the issue, having me agree to his proposal while his son was in the room was.
Our exchange was over. I was the Weakest Link. Puffing up into a professional, authoritarian balloon body he declared a loud “Thank you, Good-bye” as he directed me to the door with his eyes.
Just out the door I paused for a second to do a feelings inventory. Surprised, by the unexpected character of his son. Taken aback, by the swiftness with which he had got rid of me. Guilty, for how long I stuck around when the obvious safe-girl move would have been to reply with an immediate “No!” Pleased, for the confirmation that there was something dodgy about his proposal.
It had been an interesting ride but as I walked up the tiny lane past the other large window of his shop I felt huge relief washing over me. God! ……… Did that really just happen?? I smiled and shook my head and determined to get far away from there.
Except Venice is filled with great artisan shops and a few stores up I stopped in front of a window showcasing beautiful little glass figures. Intricate yet simple there were starfish, lobsters, scarab beetles (!), praying mantes, mosquitoes. There were cats and dogs as well but the insects were the truly beautiful pieces, I mean these figures were the size of my thumb therefore the insect legs and wings had to be extremely delicate. They were furthermore incredibly life-like. I went into the shop to get a closer look and to talk to the shop owner. Found out that it took less time than I had expected to make one of them, that the smallest piece cost 60 euros (!!) and that he had never tried to make any monkeys. All in all I probably spent about half an hour there, peering closely at the detail and the colours of each piece.
Might not have had any money by that time but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t eat 🙂
Finally I stepped back out onto the little lane and was pressing forward when a dark figure that had passed me from the opposite direction called out my name, “Hey Susan!”
Oh duh. It was him. Duh Susan, Du-uh.
Laden with shopping bags with groceries in each hand he flashed me an excited smile and continued on as if we were well-established friends. “Come on, let’s go, my place is just around here. We can do it now!”
“No,” I shook my head, “No, I don’t want to.”
“It’s okay now! Let’s go! It’s just here!”
“No, I’ve decided no. I’m going this way, bye.”
What I was really thinking was not that he was necessarily going to try something on me, though that was the ultimate worst-case scenario that gave me such certainty I wouldn’t do it. What I was really suspecting was that he had some kind of camera hidden to record the whole process. This is an entirely made-up scenario of course. The vibe I got from him was not that he was going to rape or attack me with force but that he might try to convince me for more once I was there. For something “small” but not all the way. I felt that the nakedness was not the end of it, that he had to be getting more from it somehow.
I’m up for art, but not for being exploited.