I did not only go to Mestre to chase the money, but also to widen my cultural horizons by occasionally driving the few extra kilometers to visit Venice. I could go as far as the Piazzale Roma, next to the railway station. This was the gateway to Venice, where buses and cars had to be parked, because there were no streets in Venice, only the canali. Venice was, and presumably still is, located on a large number of islands, including some which were uninhabited.
The water-bus ride along the Canal Grande was most impressive, viewing all these old and splendid, but usually poorly maintained palazzi. Right next to the Doge’s palace, where the Canal Grande met the Venetian laguna, was the British Officers Club, where I usually started and, some hours later, finished my excursions. Why the heck was I wearing my Polish 1st lieutenant’s uniform on these occasions? A completely unnecessary risk! On the other hand the visit to the Officers Club wasn’t for the drinks and snacks, but I often had interesting discussions with all sorts of British and Allied officers, including quite often some US officers from their air force or navy, mostly.
Afterwards I liked to hire a gondola and to explore along the canali the sites a tourist would never see. I particularly remember a tiny, decrepit-looking church on one of the canals, but which was beautiful inside. Needless to say, I enquired from the gondoliere the best small trattoria for a typical Italian lunch.
After that I took some more pictures with my expensive German camera, but this was not much of a success, because I simply did not know how to properly use such a sophisticated camera. Or the Italian drugstore operators, developing and printing my pictures, didn’t know their job? But no, it was definitely my shortcomings, possibly using the wrong type of 35mm film. Later I usually took a vaporetto to the Lido, where there was also much to see. One of the attractions was the palace of the Venice Film Biennale. One day I hired, at great expense, a gondola to visit some of the many outlying islands, amongst them Murano with their glass blowers, and the cemetery island.
In the autumn of 1946, after several months of leisurely and profitably fleecing the ‘enemy’, our idyllic life took a turn for the worse. Up to now, we had been dealing with regular Black Market operators, and with a few NCOs with sticky fingers. But now we had an approach of a different kind. One day I was contacted (in Venice!) by two smooth-talking and well-dressed and well-behaved gentlemen, who politely suggested that we sell our fuel in future to a specific service station near Mira. To clarify the meaning of their well-meaning suggestion, one of them casually lifted the corner of his well-tailored and expensive jacket, to reveal an automatic pistol.
For a while we stalled. Who wants to give away a well-run profitable business? But then things got a bit out of hand, for our taste. Our new would-be collaborators had heard about a small fuel tanker, moored in the harbor of Mestre. They were looking for a way to steal the damn thing, or rather the contents. At a later meeting, they claimed that they had already roped in a navy chap of some sort, but they needed road transport. Before they could go into details, I told them not to bother: we are out!
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