Excerpt of The Garden of Evil by David Hewson
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Caviglia had lived in the centro storico all his life and worshipped in the
Church of San Luigi dei Francesi around the corner. His wife had adored the
paintings there, the Caravaggios in particular, with their loving and lifelike
depiction of Matthew, at his conversion, during his work, and finally at his
death. One December eighth, twenty-five years ago it must have been, Caviglia
had marked their visit by spending what little money he had from his baker's
wages on a bouquet of bright red roses. Chiara had responded by choosing the
most beautiful stem and pinning it into the strap of his floury overallshe had
come straight from workthen taking him in her arms in an embrace he could still
recall for its strength and warmth and affection.
Ever since, even after she was gone, he had marked the day, first with roses,
bought before breakfast from the small florist's store that stood close to the
piazza, then a brief visit to the church, where he lit a single candle in his
wife's memory. He no longer attended mass, though. It seemed unnecessary.
A single carmine stem from tuscany sat in the left lapel of his woollen coat,
its supple, insistent perfume rising above the diesel odour and the people smell
of the bus, reminding him of times past and how, in those last few weeks of her
illness, his wife had ordered him, in a voice growing ever weaker, to mourn for
a short time only, then start his own life afresh.
To the widowed Aldo Caviglia there was no finer time to be in Rome, even in the
grey, persistent rain. The best parts of the year lay ahead, waiting in store
for those who anticipated them. And in the careless crowds of Christmas, flush
with money, there was always business to be done.
He had an itinerary in mind, the one he always saved for the second Thursday in
the month, since repetition was to be avoided. Having walked to Barberini for
the exercise and taken a brief turn around the gallery, he had caught the 64 bus
for the familiar journey through the city centre, following Vittorio Emanuele,
then crossing the river by the Castel Sant'Angelo for the final leg towards St.
Peter's. Once there, he would retrace his steps as necessary until his goal was
Caviglia both loved and hated the 64. No route in Rome attracted more tourists,
which made it a beacon for the lesser members of his recently acquired
profession. Many were simply confused and lost. Aldo Caviglia, an impeccably
dressed man in later middle age, who wore a perpetual and charming smile and
spoke good English, was always there to help. He maintained in his head a
compendious knowledge of the city of his birth. Should his memory fail him, he
always kept in his pocket a copy of Il Trovalinea, the comprehensive city
transport guide that covered every last tram and bus in Rome. He knew where to
stay, where to eat. He knew, too, that it was wise to warn visitors of the
underside of Roman life: the petty crooks and bag-snatchers, the hucksters
working the tourist traps, and the scruffy pickpockets who hung around the buses
and the subway, the 64 in particular.
He gave them tips. He taught them the phrase "Zingari! Attenzione!" explaining
that it meant "Beware! Gypsies!" Not, he hastened to add, that he shared the
common assumption all gypsies were thieves. On occasion he would amuse his
audience by demonstrating the private sign every Roman knew, holding his hands
down by his side, rippling his fingers as if playing the piano. He had a fine,
delicate touch, that of an artist, which he demonstrated proudly with this
gesture. Before the needs of everyday life had forced him to find more mundane
work, he had toyed with the idea of painting as a profession, since the
galleries of his native city, the great Villa Borghese, the splendid if chaotic
Barberini, and his favourite, the private mansion of the Doria Pamphilj dynasty,
were places he still frequented with a continuing sense of wonder.
Excerpted from The Garden of Evil by
David Hewson Copyright © 2008 by David Hewson. Excerpted by permission of
Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part
of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing
from the publisher.