Friday, July 26, 2013

THE SEASON FOR GIVING by Peter Nolan Smith

Early on the morning of December 24, 1985 Vonelli, Lizzie and I boarded a train at Gard Du Nord. I could see my breath in the cold. Lizzie exhaled a thick cloud of smoke. She liked Gaulloises.

Lord Ventnor had invited us to spend the Christmas Holiday on the Isle of Wight. The train connected with the Hovercraft at Calais. They were running a special service to Portsmouth. I waited for the PRINCESS MARGARET on the tarmac.

Vonelli and Lizzie were drinking wine in the waiting room. The bearded art dealer must have told the singer a joke. She was laughing, a cigarette between her fingers.

The SR.N4 hovercraft hoved into harbor. The winter air vibrated with the power of the four gas turbine engines. I turned to the terminal. Lizzie came out of the doors. Vonelli followed buttoning up his camel hair coat.

Lizzie and I knew each other from New York. The petite Parisienne had been a hit on the punk scene. Richard Hell was her friend. The two of us had been having 'une affaire' since Armistice Day, nobody in Paris bet on us lasting out the year.

I checked the sky.

The clouds were grey, but I couldn't detect any threat of snow.

Still the cold damp numbed my fingers.

Three hours later we disembarked from Hovercraft at Portsmouth and boarded the ferry to the Isle of Wight. I carried Lizzie's bags. She held my hand. Crossing the Solent took less than forty minutes. Vonelli kept up a running report about our destination.

"Queen Victoria lived at Osbourne House. During her reign The Empire was ruled from this island."

"So the Isle of Wight is like Rome after the Fall." Lizzie was virulently anti-capitalist.

"Only here there are no ruins." Vonelli left the USA in the early 60s. He had been living in Europe since then. Most people suspected that his art dealer calling was a cover for a more clandestine career.

We stopped for a drink at the Navy Bar on the bank of the Medina.

I asked no questions.

Vonelli told a few more funny stories.

Lord Ventnor was waiting for the Cowes Floating Bridge in a red windbreaker. His hair was regally coifed by the wind.

"Welcome to the Isle of Wight." Vonelli and he went back twenty years. I knew Bob three. He opted to greet Lizzie. Aristocrats have good manners and kissed her hand. "I love your song OU SONT PASSES LES GAZELLES."

"I am RECORDING a new LP." The chanteuse had been in A Paris studio for the last two months.

I only saw her a few hours a week.

"Maybe you will sing us a song."

"Only if Vonelli plays piano.

A good left hand on the ivories of only one of Vonelli's gifts.

Ventnor's wife drove us to the house in Ryde.

She installed Lizzie and me in the same room.

Bob's wife was ancien regime. They knew how to read the land.

I opened the windows. Lizzie didn't mind the cold. That way she could smoke her Gaulloises.

After a long lobster dinner accompanied by a deluge of wine Lord Ventnor announced, "Our Christmas morning tradition is the Tennyson Walk. We're rising bright and early."

"Nous partons vers le 10." Ventnor's elegant wife had a better eye for the time.

After a breakfast of bacon, beans, mushrooms, eggs, toast, and tea we met at the car.

Lord Ventnor was in no condition to drive.

I was in no better shape and Vonelli only had eyes for Lizzie. He must had heard us in the morning.

Lord Ventnor's wife took the keys.

"I'll drive."

She wasn't taking 'No' for an answer, then again none of us had fight in us.

She dropped us at the Needles.

Waves were crashing on the shore. The wind gushed across the gorse./p>

"I don't see any Needles." Lizzie brushed back her hair. I had never seen her use a comb or brush on her mop. She liked to look natural.

"You can hear them." Ventnor's son, Anthony, was accompanying us on the walk. He had a favorite Lizzie song, but wouldn't say.

"We don't have all day." The sea had revived Ventnor and he tramped up the grassy slope to the edge of a white chalk cliff, as his wife drove away to cook a Christmas dinner of roast beef.

"Tennyson took his walk every day. He said it was worth six pence a pint," Anthony explained, as Lizzie reached the edge of the cliff.

"When will you English join the modern world?" Lizzie loved the metric system, since its math was easy for the workers. She was more than a punk.

The wind off Watcombe Bay gusted over the rim and Vonelli stood against its force. Lizzie was scared for him. I could tell that she didn't like heights and held her close, as she used my body to shelter a light for her cigarette.

"Get back, you fool," shouted Lord Ventnor. Only last night he had been dancing on the table.

A fox hunt party was celebrating "What Ho' in Freshwater Bay.

"The unspeakable chasing the uneatable." Lizzie as familiar with Oscar Wilde's description of The Hunt.

We retreated inside the pub for a pint. The horse clopped into the field. They had left reminders of their stay.

The surf rose over emerald kelp belts. I had swum at Brightstone the previous summer. The ocean had been calm as a sedated clam.

"Now we are on the Military Trail. Once revenue gangs patrolled these cliffs for smugglers." Anthony was at Lizzie's side.

"Wine from France. No tax." She was also an anarchist. "Or tobacco."

"Now drugs." Ventnor and Vonelli exchanged a knowing glance.

We tramped along the Military Road. The five of us shifted allegiances according to the pace. A little before noon we arrived at Blackgang Chine.

A smugglers' tunnel led down to the beach.

"Anyone claustrophobic?"

Lizzie didn't answer, but plunged into the darkness.

I followed the cherry of her cigarette.

Waves crashed on the rock. The beach was submerged in a frothy surge of sea. Lizzie and I were alone and she said, "I think I like Vonelli."

"What's there not to like?"

We turned inland from the Atlantic.

"You're not angry?" Lizzie stood an arm's distance from me.

"No." I had seen them looking at each other like two thieves after a heart.


"You have my blessing." Lizzie was a great girl, but I hated the smell of tobacco on her skin.


"You do what you want. It's my Christmas gift to you."

Lizzie kissed my cheek , then peered into the near distance before running up the trail.

Vonelli watched her approach. He knew what it meant and shrugged his shoulders, as she passed him to join Lord Ventnor and his young son.

"A rich industrialist built a 'folly' down in that valley." Vonelli walked by my side.

I spotted a Roman ruin.

"You and Lizzie?"

"I can't explain it." Vonelli was contrite, but not sad.

"Boy meets girl is the simplest story in the world." Vonelli and Lizzie were Romeo and Julliette. "Have a Merry Christmas."

Ventnor's wife would accept the change in this evening's sleeping arrangement. This was the Isle of Wight.

There was something in the air.

I lingered behind my friends and allowed them to walk out of view.

I picked up my pace.

I didn't need to be alone.

I ran to Anthony.

"I think Vonelli has designs on Lizzie." The young teen was astute in the ways of love as would be expected from the son of Lord Ventnor.

"Cut me out like a bird dog."

"BIrd dog."

"Barking at someone else's quail." I sang the chorus of the Everley Brother's BIRD DOG, then clapped Anthony on the shoulder. "It's no big deal. Lizzie and I are just friends."

Anthony was gracious enough to not question the truth of my statement and we sped up our pace.

The path was wet under foot.

We caught up with Ventnor and Vonelli.

"Where's Lizzie?" Anthony wanted to spend time with her, for my green light to Vonelli offered hope for a teenager.

He reached Lizzie and we heard her laughter.

"Looks like you've eliminated your rivals." I felt drops of rain. "They taught you well."

"They?" Vonelli was a specialist at being visibly perplexed by the simplest accusation.

"Your bosses in Washington." Ventnor smiled at his longtime friend's discomfort.

"You mean Langley." The Agency had a big building on the other side of the Potomac.

"I have no idea what you mean."

Vonelli walked onto the grass.

The mud on the trail was too slippery to make good time.

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I knew that his ignorance was an act.

Ventnor too.

"Are you alright?"


"I have some special wine for dinner."

"Great." I had forgotten the date. "Hopefully a lot of special wine."

I had wine and food in my future.

Vonelli and Lizzie were happy.

We had arrived at the end of the trail and Lord Ventnor's wife was waiting in the parking lot.

She looked at the new couple and then at me.

I shrugged with understanding. It was a Gallic gesture. Her smiling eyes promised me the best slice of roast beef.

And I couldn't have been happier.

I had no place to go other than to eat a good meal with friends.

And while Lizzie and Vonelli might not last forever, I wished them luck.

After all there is no time for giving like Christmas.

Lord Ventnor aka Bob Souter passed away several years ago.

He remains in the hearts of his friends and family.

Lizzie also went to the other sides of the Here-Now.

Her music survives her.


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