death in venice
Well, it wasn’t Venice; it was Pordenone. And it wasn’t death; it was a close encounter. But A Close Encounter in Pordenone doesn’t capture the attention like Death in Venice. Plus it’s not the title of a semi well-known German Novella and Italian Art Film, so there’s that.
Now that I have your attention, let me spin you a tale, one of danger, pride, and ambition, but also of nimble mind, courage and, ultimately, salvation.
Many years ago, I found myself at nineteen years of age in Italy. Armed with a two month intensive immersion in Italian, I was serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A day after arriving at the Venice airport (hah! see there is a Venice connection), I was shipped off to Pordenone.
Pordenone is a smallish town located a few miles from Venice.
I was assigned to work with a more experienced missionary named Kevin Call. Kevin was a great guy (he had the right first name anyway) and the day I arrived at our apartment two days after I had landed in Italy, he took me out to meet people and talk to them. Well, he talked to them; I struggled to identify a word or two and when I attempted to employ my vast knowledge of Italian it sounded like this “I Elder Bates to speak to you if you to want to.” Yes, as you can imagine there were lots of curious looks and requests to Kevin Call to translate.
Anyway, our apartment was located on Via Galileo Galilei in the town of Pordenone.
We didn’t have a car. We traveled on bikes (in bicicletta) as they say. And that fact is important to the story. It is also important to know that when we went out speaking to people we stayed out until 9:00 pm or so. That first night I was out was in mid September. Which means it was dark by the time we were ready to turn in. Remember that: it was dark.
It is also important to know that I wore a dark suit and rode a black bicycle.
Not shown in the picture above is one other piece of clothing I had on that first night: a black overcoat.
One more visual is necessary for the story.
You can see above the street we rode on to our apartment. As noted, we had turn left to get to our place. Please observe how many street lights line the road.
Okay, now it’s night. I’m following Kevin Call to our apartment and since it’s my first night in the city I have absolutely no clue where I’m going. Following Kevin Call; that’s what I’m doing. Now picture the above road at night. In my black suit and black overcoat I’m on my black bike (with no headlight) riding along the right side of the road.
I’m tooling along watching Kevin in front of me. Without any warning, Kevin darts off to the left to make the turn to our apartment. Now, I’m in a strange town, in a foreign country. I have no clue where I’m at and if I lose Kevin Call, I am completely lost. I don’t know my address and even if I did no one would understand me if I tried to ask for directions. So, I have to follow him. Fortunately the truck oncoming in the left lane looks like it’s far enough away that I can make it across. I glance back and see another oncoming truck in the right lane, but I can avoid that one as well.
I quickly then dart to the center of the road. I look up. The oncoming truck was travelling much faster than I thought. I couldn’t make it across.
My first thought is to zip back to the other side of the road. But there’s a truck coming up behind me. No time to get back. My best bet is to ride the center line and pray.
The drivers of both trucks lay on their horns. The trucks arrive at the same time. Blinding lights and blaring horns. My overcoat whips around me. The wind of their passing causes me to wobble. Then they’re gone.
Kevin Call later tells me he was sure I was dead. I was sure I was dead. But no, thanks to the drivers’ skill, my luck and divine intervention, I lived another day. Needless to say that is one of my more vivid memories of my time in Italy. I have a few more and Kevin Call is involved in one of them. But that’s a story for another day.