Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #124, Aqua Vitae

Prague; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Going Home On Shabbat, by Geller, in the public domain.
Prague; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Going Home On Shabbat, by Geller, in the public domain.
In this episode, business theoretics…

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Eighteenth Era, Part 3, ~1423 C.E., road to Tuscany

Sittin’ in a plaza by the market place, sipping a tasty citron tea, wonderin’ what merchant has earned the rights to buy these lemons from the Holy Land. And it takes me back to them carefree days repairin’ shoes in Jerusalem, days of troubles that now seem so small. First days of spring. The air be fresh, and glory of glories, the sun has burnt thru clouds that choked up the sky for months. Now here comes the tea man, teapot in hand, to give a refill to my empty cup.
Instead, he cocks his head to one side, pointin’ to a trio of foreigners.
“Them men’s from Venice. They’re my source of citrons and spices and all kind of herbs.”
“No joke?” I says. “You think they know some of the roads I’ve wandered on?”
“I can’t say. What I surmise is they don’t talk about sources or routes, competition and pirates and all.”
“Did I ever tell you, times begone, I lived near Venice in Tuscany?”
“I know,” he grunts. “You often says.”
Surprised, I were, and it got me thinkin’, do I really repeat myself that much, as I mosey over to hear their tales.
“I hears you traveled all the way from Venice. I spent some time there, once. I knew a bold and ambitious lad makin’ his way to far Cathay. I wonder, whatever happened to him.”
“Hell, we been tradin’ for a hundred years with them wily devils. You ever hear of Marco Polo? He was the first…”
“You know Marco?” I shouts, as I grab his silky coat (probably made in China). “He’s the very one I meant!”
“Everyone knows him. His book of tales made him famous. What? You think you’re the only guy who knows how to read?”
I suppose my face flushed with my thoughts, as one of his partners shrugs and says,
“Don’t pay no mind to that thistley goat. He’s got the runs from something he ate. If you’re lookin’ for the finest spices and wares from here to Cathay, we’re your men. Say! Ever taste aqua vitae, my friend? Washes away your worries and pains. It’ll make you stand up and dance all night, and your little man will stand up too.”
“That sounds right pleasurable, sure enough. Where might I taste a sample of it, to see if its medicine will work on me?”
“Come to our warehouse. It ain’t far.”
We cross the river and walk a ways out of the city.
“There it be!” one of them shouts, pointin’ ahead. Not a warehouse but a stable it be. Sheaved up hay and horses’ dung is mostly what be stored inside. And there in a corner stashed under some straw their baskets and packets and a bottle or two. One of them picks up a misshapen jug with a dirty rag stuffed in its neck, and starts to croon,
“Oh, this be good,” and takes a swig and starts to pass the bottle to me, then pulls it back. “This here ain’t cheap. Ten halers* to drink.”
* aka ‘hellers’
So I dig in my purse, all jinglin’ with coins, and pull out a twenty haler piece.
“Here,” and I pulls the jug from his hand and takes a gulp well worth the price. “This belongs at a doge’s feast,” I gasp, as it starts to warm my throat, my belly, and then my chilly thoughts. And indeed, I takes a dance step or two.
Laughs all around, and
“Didn’t I say? Warms your soul and your cockles as well.”
And more laughs as the bottle goes round. Then one of them grunts in his Tuscan tongue,
“We gots him now. Put her away.”
And turns to me, and in Polish again,
“Buy a case and I guarantee you’ll sell it for ten times what you pay. Ain’t I right, boys? It’s guaranteed.”
And me, a sudden surprisin’ thought wiggles its way into my head. So I scratch my beard and ask real slow,
“I knows your okker veter well. Suppose I were intersted in a hunnert cases, to serve in taverns from Venice to here. Could you supply that amount to me, if I front you a quarter the price of it, and tavern by tavern pay the rest as you deliver it from Venice to here? I can arrange a bill of exchange with Medici or Bardi whichever you prefer.”
And I cock my head and squint my eyes and frown and look him square in the face.
Well, I never heard people talk so fast, whisper and hisper all private-like, which, little they know I have an ear for their Tuscan language and its sing-song sway. And first it’s:
‘Is there any way to scrounge up more than two or three cases.’
And then practicality is thrown to the wind. Front money is what they want, and then the world is plenty big to find new markets otherwheres far from where I’ll find them again. And me, I smiles and counts my fingers like I’m figurin’ how many cases I need in each of the taverns along the way. Then I claps my hands and points at them.
“Hold up! There might be a problem here. What’s the route you fellas use to bring your goods from Venice, here. It may not match where my taverns are.”
And so, with questions and many a prompt I gets them to lay out village and town, forest and valley, river and road, which I’m writin’ down and ever again repeating with many a ‘are you sure?’ and ‘how many days from this to that?’ and ‘ain’t that the place where….’ And with sight and sound I’m makin’ a word map precise and clear. And when we’re done I nod and pout and pause and ponder and finally say,
“I’ll need three weeks to get the word to my folk to secure the front and send a messenger down the route to all the taverns I supply. In twenty-one days we’ll meet in Prague. That work for you, gentlemen?”
“Don’t you worry. We’ll make it work. See you here in twenty-one days.”
And many a handshake and smile and bow. Then I hustle my buns back down the road to Prague.
Findin’ Batkol I tells what I learnt. She gazes at me with a rabbi’s glare and says to me real slow and sharp:
“You know it’s forbid to get a quote on goods you don’t intend to buy.”
“I know full well, but didn’t I say, they don’t have the goods to sell. Theoretics. That’s all it were on both our parts. My main concern is if you like my latest plan?”
I see her weighin’ the evidence, but quick the scales tip my way…
“Right well you done your work, I’d say. And as for headin’ back to Spain, the thought indeed appeals to me!”
And long we laugh and give a hug and set ourselves to journey on.
In the next episode some orienteering…
About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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