On a two-week visit to Italy, my wife and I spent a day on Piazza San Marco, often referred to as St. Mark’s Square in Venice. We had just missed the boat to our hotel, and we had 45 minutes before the next one. So we backtracked to an outside café on the Square that had caught my eye where the musicians were setting up for evening jazz.
It was one of those beautiful and awe-struck evenings, an amazing sunset inclusive of several flash flood rains that everyone seemed accustomed to. The jazz quartet began just as we found a table, so we settled in with great anticipation.
An elder Indian couple sauntered by and stopped just right of our table. I noticed that the sari the woman wore was a traditional style worn in Kerala, a city in South India I had visited years earlier. Her partner sniffed, then followed the scent to two white men sitting at the table to our left who were smoking cigars.
The Indian man asked the white men: Where did you get those cigars – I’ve been looking for cigars.
One of the white men extended a blond box that read Pedro Martin Cigars and said: Here, have one.
The Indian man said: No, I couldn’t. Just point the way and I will buy them.
The white man said: No, please, have one. It would be my pleasure.
The Indian man say: No, I couldn’t.
By this time, everyone watching was muttering: Take the cigar already!
The Indian man finally conceded, and many handshakes and words of appreciation went back and forth.
The Indian man and his partner found a table across the café and ordered tea for the two white men who had so graciously gifted him with the cigar. It was as if he simply could not enjoy the cigar until deep appreciation had been extended and felt. The Indian man accompanied the waiter to the white men’s table and again offered gratitude, making a fuss over their service and the placement of their tea.
The White men said: Oh, you shouldn’t have.
The Indian man said: But I must.
The White men said: Thank you again.
The Indian man returned to his partner, and slowly lit the cigar, and for the next several moments, as the jazz and abundant kindness filled the air, the Indian couple exchanged puffs back and forth in pure delight, smiling, gazing into each other's eyes, and simply enjoying each other’s company.
Everyone in the café appeared to benefit from the affection and spontaneity of this gracious and kindhearted exchange – infectious and contagious. The vibration in the café was heightened with warmth and echoes of widespread ease, like smooth jazz.
As Barbara and I headed to catch the last ferry for the evening, drenched in happiness, I thought: Our bodies missed the earlier boat, but the heart knew another way!
Ruth King, October 12, 2013