"It's their last day tomorrow! Christmas Eve will be it for them."
I could hardly believe my ears. Our friend was pointing at the vegetable barge of Campo San Barnaba. The boat had had the best produce in the city and was a landmark of old Venice. The two brothers who ran the barge for many years were, alas, retiring. No other Venetians wanted to buy the business and their children had no interest in selling vegetables from a canal. So, this would be it. One more day and another piece of Venice would crumble away with time.
So many times over so many years I'd passed by this barge. I'd photographed it and admired it. I now wish that I'd bought more vegetables from it. This was not a quaint little boat from a Disneyland ride. It deserved more than to be considered just one more photo opportunity in a city where there are more cameras than residents. This was the life's work of two prideful men. The barge fed and nourished countless families. It gave all of us who encountered it immense joy. I should have bought more vegetables from this barge.
On this second-to-last-day of the barge we bought artichokes, radicchio, lettuce, and fennel. The produce was lovely, as fresh as could be. That freshness meant that the brothers had to get up at 4:00 AM every day to procure the best produce for their customers. It was testament to them that the produce was the freshest in the city right up until their last day.
We walked by the boat on Christmas day. It was empty. And it was empty the day after that and the day after that as well. We continued to walk by it just in case the brothers may have changed their mind. But, they didn't. The sad barge just sat there like Puff the Magic Dragon waiting for little Jackie Paper.
I should have bought more damned vegetables from that barge.