By Paul Beckman
I got arrested in Venice, Italy for taking a picture of a synagogue in in the ghetto. It was three-stories and catty corner in the square where a policeman was talking to a short man in an overcoat with a flipped-up collar. The pre-dusk light made for great shadows and I took a half dozen shots.
Henry and our wives showed up to go to dinner and I pointed at the tall synagogue to show Henry what I was shooting and there was a tug on my arm. It was the short overcoat guy. “Get rid of the pictures you took of me and the officer,” he ordered.
“I didn’t take any pictures of you,” I said. “I was taking pictures of the synagogue.”
“Erase them,” he ordered.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I told you to.”
He walked a half dozen steps, turned, and faced me and two very large and strong policemen took my arms. “Do what he told you,” one said. I turned my camera over and erased a couple of gondolier shots instead and then I handed my camera to Henry.
He took a video of me waving my arms and yelling about being kidnapped as I was escorted off to a Venetian Police Station where they tossed me in a cell. “I’m thirsty and haven’t had dinner,” I yelled. The guard got on the phone and fifteen minutes later they brought me a covered tray and a bottle of red. It was my best meal since I was in Venice. My wife and our friends showed up as I was finishing my meal of pasta with black squid ink and most of the bottle of wine. Henry took pictures of me in the cell, mugging it up, grabbing the bars, and then I took pictures of them from the inside looking out.
The guard walked over, shook his finger, and said, “No photos.” I took his picture and asked why I didn’t get dessert. “I want Gelato and cookies,” I told him. “Enough for me and my friends.” He ordered and then I told him it was rude to have them outside and me inside, so he opened the door and let them in. I finished the bottle of wine and went to sleep with them still in my cell, but they were gone by the morning.
When I awoke I was visited by the overcoat guy who told me he was undercover keeping track of the Jews in the ghetto—a job held by his family and passed down since the fifteen-hundreds when they were the ones who won the “Name the area where we make the Jews live” contest. I told him he wasn’t funny, and I saw no humor in his story. “There is no humor in my story,” he said and told me I was free to leave as he unlocked my cell door. I picked up my camera and took his picture.