to decide everything.”rnI murmured something by way of po-rnHte disbelief. What exactly was he talkingrnabout? Voodoo? Brainwashing?rnHypnotic influence? “More like telepathy,”rnhe replied, unsmiling. “You’ll see.rnWhen the crunch comes, you’ll find outrnthat they can read your mind.” Graduallyrnthe subject petered out, and by therntime we sat down to lunch at the smallestrnand coziest of the five small cozy tablesrnat Ernesto Ballarin’s “Da Arturo,” wherernmy compatriot Nureyev had left a lastingrncultural imprint by teaching the ownerrnto fry potatoes and mushrooms togetherrnin the Russian manner, the conversationrnwas about food, tax evasion, and thernVenetian way of doing things.rnThis Venetian way of doing things Irnlike very much, by the way, because basicallyrnit involves not doing them. Everyrnman here is a careful dresser, a dapperrnand exceedingly complex arrangementrnof tasteful checks, stripes, and dots thatrncannot but make the onlooker whistle,rnthinking something like boy oh boy, ifrnthis fellow has so much energy to sparernbefore he leaves the house in the morning,rnthink of how much he has left overrnfor the rest of the day! In fact, this is almostrnenfirely deceptive, because all ofrnthe fellow’s energy, all his life force as itrnwere, has in fact gone into achieving thatrnsartorially perfect equilibrium betweenrncorporeality and imagination, and whatrnlittle is left is the strength to raise an ombrarnto the mouth without spilling somerngrappa on the tablecloth in a feeble andrnindecorous gesture. I know I’m going torndo well in Venice. Being gloriously oneeyedrnin a land of the blind is my idea ofrnbelonging. And if they denounce me forrnbeing a grasping overachiever, so be it.rnThe other day, in a book aboutrnVoltaire, I found some references to arnVenetian named Algarotti who came tornstay at Cirey, the Champagne estaternwhere the great controversialist spentrnhalf his life shacking up with Mme. durnChatelet. Carlyle once described him asrn”not supremely beautiful, though muchrnthe gentleman in manners as in rufflesrnand ingeniously logical; rather yellow inrnmind as in skin and with a taint of obsoleternVenetian macassar,” which, after arnday spent in male company in Venice,rnsounded just about right to me. Still, Irnwas curious about Signor Algarotti’s contributionrnto the world of ideas, whichrnmust have served as his passkey to Cirey.rnIt turned out that this was a book entitledrnNewtonianismo per le dame, “a simplificationrnof Newton’s theories intended forrnItalian women.”rnAnyway, when I got back to Florencernthat evening, I had every intention ofrntelling Princess C- that, wonderful as lifernhad been in her famous city, in her historicrnhouse, and under her illustriousrnfamily’s protection, I could no longer affordrnto pay what it cost. And what it cost,rnincidentally, I no longer have any fear ofrnrevealing, for the simple reason thatrnwhenever a pretentious foreigner rentsrnsomething fancy in Italy, it always costsrnthe same number of millions. I need notrnconvert this number into dollars, or explainrnwhat it includes, or even mentionrnwhether it is due weekly, monthly, or annually.rnThe figure, predictable as a HenryrnJames formula for romantic disillusionment,rnis a symbolic compact whichrnrepresents the New World tenant’srnnaivete on the one hand and, on the other,rnthe Old World landlord’s legitimaterndesire to protect ancient relics from beingrnoverrun by hordes of visitors who arernno less tightfisted for being so very naive.rnHence, whether you rent a seaside villarnin a fashionable resort, or the most architecturallyrnimportant house in a provincialrntown, or a floor of a notable palazzornin a large city, the price will always be thernsame, and you will always have to pay itrnin cash.rnThe landlady was waiting up for me.rnIf I were telling the story of a poor studentrnlodging in a cheap boarding house,rnthis would be the way to crank up thernmelodrama, but since mine is more thernstory of a rake’s progress, I will say insteadrnthat the Princess asked me to tea. “Irnthink you are thinking of moving,” shernsaid, doing absolutely nothing to obscurernthe emphasis of the remark, which fellrnrather more heavily on her own thinkingrnthan on mine. I gulped some tea, recallingrnBaron F-‘s warning about psychicrnFlorentines of just a few hours earlier. “Irnknow we’ve agreed on a certain figure,rnwhich you’ve been paying,” she went on,rnknowing only too well that I was alreadyrnthree weeks late with the month’s rent,rn”but now that I realize you’re thinking ofrnleaving Florence, how would it strikernyou if I told you that I only wanted half?”rnSpooky, that’s how, is what I rememberrnactually thinking, though at thisrnjuncture the Princess chose not to readrnmy mind, and anyway the thought didrnnot linger. “After all, when we first met Irndid not know you.” Convincing, perfectlyrnconvincing, I suddenly said to myself,rnas if waking from some ugly confrontationalrndream and now beginningrnto imagine all the good uses to which Irncould put the rubber-banded wad, calledrn”cutlet” in New Russian parlance, whenrnnext one found its way into my pocket.rnThese Florentines are nothing if not perfectlyrnconvincing. The Princess doesrnhave a charming smile. Now that shernknows me 50 percent better than before,rnthe rent is halved. Convincing! And therntea is quite good, incidentally. Assam?rn”Ceylon. So that’s settled, then,” shernsummed up brightiy. ‘Tou’re staying.”rnIt remains for me to add that duringrnthe two months that followed our conversationrncertain changes came into therntenant’s life at the Palazzo C-. The woodrnfor the fireplaces was not as dry and nornlonger brought up with the same enthusiasmrnas before. The other chambermaid,rnnot wonderfully obedient Lucia,rncame more often and inaugurated thernnoxious practice of presenting householdrnbills for such trifling items as candlesrnand cayenne pepper. The choirrnpractice in the other wing became lessrntuneful, and seemed louder and morernintrusive. Finally and most significantly,rnI was being charged for heating, electricity,rngas, and the rest of life’s prose, withrnthe result that now, after the sums havernbeen done, I can only wince and tell myselfrnthe terrible truth, which is that as arnmatter of practical reality my rent neverrnchanged. The same symbolic number ofrnmillions as always was actually withdrawnrnfrom my pocket, this time byrnmeans of an accounting procedure that Irncan only describe as telekinetic.rnBut as Baron F- had foretold, the importantrnthing as far as Princess C- wasrnconcerned was that she got us to changernour plans. (“Plans?! What plans can arnlazy Venetian make with a drunk Muscovite?!rnPer piacere, sii serial” is what Irnwould probably hear if I could read herrnmind.) I am now leaving Florence notrnon my schedule, and less on his, butrnon the whim of a descendant of thosernshrewd merchant bankers who dealt inrnthe absurd gullibility of mankind for sornlong that the manipulative cynicism inrntheir blood can pass, in the sleepy, sleepierrneyes of the rest of us frivolous and indolentrnVenetians, for a bit of spooky hypnosis.rnAndrei Navrozov is Chronicles’rnEuropean correspondent.rnJUNE 1999/43rnrnrn