The previous chapter Opportunities Around Every Corner
After showering, I felt refreshed but also clear about goals in my life. I needed to survive and thus be frugal. The hostel was not going anywhere. I knew that the following summer would be a much better time to come back. This writing opportunity offered by Francesco intrigued me, and I figured as long as it didn’t interfere with any paying job I should try it out.
Before I checked out of the hostel, I decided to search for Anya but she was nowhere to be found. The few people who were downstairs in the common area making breakfast had no idea who she was, never mind where she was. I left a note for her at the front desk that read, “Although we may never see each other again I will never forget you. Your love of humanity and genuine knowledge and love of history cannot be ignored. It is easy to talk about someone’s beauty, but your beauty runs deeper than most. A girl with such a captivating personality doesn’t come around too often, and I hope in the future to visit your homeland."
I headed outside with my bags, put on my retro black wayfarer sunglasses and enjoyed the cold sunny breeze while listening to my music. I decided to take the half hour walk back to my place from the hostel. I entered my place for the first time since Anya and I were last here but refused to feel down. I imagined her endless smile in the back of my mind and began to laugh at the way she tried to eat pizza in the city with a fork and knife. Putting my things away I noticed Francesco’s envelope from the other day. I opened it to find a short letter inside. “Lets meet Wednesday March 11th at Employees Only in the West Village. You will find a crowded, dark place. We will sit in the back with a few fighters from various places; expect bruised features, cauliflower ears and broken noses, entertaining in their own way! Various languages that are spoke, conversation ranges from fights to arts”.
Initially, I had decided to give it a week to think about Francesco’s proposition. I needed time to think about what he told and offered me. Whenever people had told me to sleep on an idea or debate an offer over one night rest, it was never enough time for an important decision. In fact, I always laugh at that idea. Francesco did not give me just one day to decide, and so I had time, in fact a few weeks. Every day off I emailed someone I knew or someone new for work. The two and a half years since I moved back from California was a roller coaster but one that was slowly paying off. I received a freelance gig from an old friend that I used to work with nine years ago at another photo and film studio in Manhattan. To start, the job would be no more than four days a week doing the same grip and lighting work and various other tasks in a comparable production studio. It was just what I was looking for, and that was when I decided to meet up with Francesco.
After work, I changed into a nice pair of khakis, shoes, and a light blue collared shirt that had black stripes. The air felt great as I walked to meet him and reread his specific note.
Walking into the restaurant made me realize how glad I was to be wearing nice respectable clothes. In fact, I learned at a young age to dress dignified and presentable but when I was young I hated it. Now, grown up, wearing a nice fancy collared shirt, khakis, shoes and a gold watch that my father left me made me feel right.
The place was a fancy low-lit restaurant and bar. Various upbeat music from the Seventies and Eighties was playing in the background. The women were so beautiful that I thought I was in paradise and saw my feet moving ahead of me as if I was dreaming and could not control my body. In general everyone looked nice. Not one slob was standing or sitting in the place. I was not on the same economic level of these high-class patrons but at the same time I did not feel entirely unwelcome. I checked my bag and brown suede jacket and headed to the back. In the distance I saw him smiling among a group of several others while they all drank red wine, laughing and conversing. As I got closer Francesco looked up and forcefully waved me over to the table. I could see him already introducing me to his guests. I looked at my watch, which read five minutes after ten. Francesco sat entertaining his guest who looked to be from all over the world. One was a younger gentleman named Stefan from Switzerland, who was enjoying his first stay and time in New York City. He was curious and often looked around also observing my note taking. In spite of his incredible politeness, he had a cold unsettling feeling in his eyes. The type that made a person second-guess themselves as they would if a realtor looked at them that way before they signed the dotted line. He looked at me as if he was just in battle and felt the need to relax. He began to talk and reminisce about old European Mercenaries. He talked with great passion, and his knowledge of the events and the way he spoke about them made him sound like he experienced the events first hand. Sitting to the right of Francesco was the most stunning girl in the whole place. She looked Mediterranean, and she made it hard for me not to look at her. She wore a burgundy V-neck that was a dress but resembled a gown. I kept thinking how much I wish I could ask her to dance, but the place was too packed. At one point she looked over at me and smiled. I noticed her perfectly white teeth, which matched her perfectly red lipstick. She could have been an actress for all I knew. Sitting across from me was Mr. Hamada, a man of Japanese heritage that reminded me of the old samurai with his polite and focused manners. He had good posture and let everyone finish speaking before he interjected his thoughts on a subject. He wore glasses and was confident and cool. Imagine combining James Dean and the discipline and attitude of a samurai soldier.
Dinner was great as we all sat around conversing and consuming three bottles of red wine. Looking around I felt fortunate to have been invited to a new hip restaurant that seemed to radiate character and style. For myself it had been a long time since I wondered anywhere that offered to check jackets. Once we finished our dinner we approached the bar and squeezed into the crowd. Francesco pointed out someone he knew. “That is an old acquaintance, John Acuto who is a Condottiero. He fought for Florence!” John was bloody but not terribly because it was dry blood on a nice black collared shirt. Blood was slowly leaking from a bandaged wound near his neck and onto his collar. I wanted to say something but at the same time decided to leave him alone. Standing right next to him I could tell he was also a built man who looked to be six foot six.
It was about midnight, and the bar was still crowded. Making our way through the crowd, the space got smaller, and the conversation became more intimate. Francesco ordered a fine Tuscan wine and began to speak before I could. “You’re a writer, as you know I am aware of.” “How do you know about me?” I replied. “For such a vast world that has survived as long as it has it can also be a small world. I read some of your work from a friend of a friend named Tommy. I am as impressed as I am intrigued with your style. I particularly liked your psychological horror stories, which got into my head. What I read was different to me but it has lots of potential, as do you. Which is one of the various reasons I picked you. You also write about extraordinary stuff which is why I feel comfortable telling you all these things. Most of my friends will think I am nuts. When it just will hopefully intrigue you." “Francesco with all do respect those horror stories I wrote have not been published, and written a while ago. Now days I seem to be writing about life, people, humanity and morality.” He interrupted me. “Life, perfect! Then this is the assignment for you. I am not telling you to write about psychological horror but to keep an open and imaginative mind towards what I show and tell you and what you are about to experience."
He continued, “Last November I was on my way to my Judo training at the New York Athletic Club, while on the subway an unknown phone number tried to get hold of me and the call was redirected to my voicemail. In general I rarely answer calls. By the time I got out of the Subway a text message came in saying "Sono a Manhattan, vediamoci. Bicci." That means, "I am in Manhattan, Lets meet, Bicci." That text message brought me back to centuries ago, literally back to 1409. Lots of water passed under the bridges of Florence and New York, but a common thread connected the two cities and I had to meet Bicci. After my Judo fights I texted back "Bicci, benvenuto a New York, Vediamoci domani at a 1 pm at Il Bastardo"; "Bicci, Welcome to New York, Lets meet tomorrow at 1 pm at Il Bastardo." The next day I met Bicci at the Italian Restaurant il Bastardo, on 22nd street and 7th avenue, we greeted each other, sit down and both ordered Minestrone and Baccala' alla Livornese and started talking about past, present and future.”
Francesco was swirling his wine as he was explaining all this to me. I was paying close attention instead of taking notes because I was digitally recording this and didn’t want to miss even the slightest detail of his fascinating story.
He continued, “Let me give you a little background on Bicci; his full name is Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici; Bicci was born in 1360 in Florence and he was founder of the Medici Bank. Bicci had some tumultuous times, there are rumors that he was involved in the Ciompi Revolt. Bicci's work with the bank began the family's fortune and rise to power in Florence and the rest of the known World. He was the father of Cosimo De' Medici, great-grandfather of Lorenzo il Magnifico. In essence he was a pillar of the Renaissance."
In the background some of Francesco’s friends displayed looks of curiosity and disappointment. One was John Acuto the Condottiero from earlier. He began to creep as close as possible to Francesco without hugging him. As a result, Francesco moved closer to me in order to talk more privately. He lowered his voice in a calm library tone and whispered. John looked confused and troubled by the secrecy.
He continued, “Last time Bicci and I spoke was just before Baldassare Cossa was elected to become Pope John 23rd in 1410; Bicci had the foresight to select Baldassarre in spite of the fact his family was involved with Piracy and robberies, following this The Medici Bank became the official bank of the Pope. Bicci's genius was also the fact that he had set up a franchise system, where regional directors had shares of the branch business. Bicci didn't approve of loans to royalties, Princes and Kings were bad investments. The Medici bank was profitable while their competitors lost money. I shared with Bicci my Cryptocurrency project and my thoughts on the Blockchain technology, Bicci smiled whispering how Bitcoin reminded him of the Florentine Florin and the Blockchain of the Medici Banks Ledger; was a decisive day for me and shortly after I informed my team in Italy and NYC that our network was entering the Blockchain.”
I remember trying to absorb everything as he gave me more than a handful to grasp and would spend the next day rereading notes and listening to everything said that night from my recorder. He made this a very personal conversation, and I felt very privileged to be on the receiving end of his ideas, beliefs and stories, which he expelled so passionately. None of his friends or guests stood by us, except for John, who tried to hear the conversation. The whole bar was packed, but I was glued to the intense conversation that was being held. A surreal historical and educational story. Fantasy being told into a reality, my reality.
The night was one that made me think and contemplate many things including my existence. Stupefied I did not even see Francesco pay the bill, say goodbye or leave another manila envelope in my hands. I shook my head to come out of an intense gaze and went for my coat and bag.
Chapter 5 A Common Thread