Chapter 14: Gruppo del Piave, SpA

Monday morning, Nancy went to work. Joe cleaned up breakfast. Then he laid out his draft of the del Piave book on the dining room table. He put a Beatles record on the phonograph and sat down to correct the draft. The book was much simpler than the letters and articles he had been working on, and he adjusted the style to be less stuffy than the Italian text.

He jumped when the front door opened.


Oh, Dio! che sorpresa! God, what a shock!” Angela came into the dining room. “I forgot you would be here, signorino. Your voice startled me.”

“I got a shock, too. I am working on the book for Signor del Piave. You go on with whatever you were going to do. If you need this table let me know. I can move.”

“Well, Mondays I usually clean, but with you two gone, there’s not that much to do.” Angela headed for the kitchen. Joe followed. “I thought I’d go out and do some shopping now that there are mouths to feed. Will you be home for lunch now?”

“I hadn’t thought about it, Angela,” Joe said. “Today and tomorrow, yes. But I don’t know about every day.”

“Well, I’ll shop for every day,” she said “It’s different having you home on your own. If you know you won’t be home, it would help if you let me know the night before or leave a note if you go out before I get here in the morning.”

“I can do that.”

When Angela came in the next morning, Joe was still working on the book. She headed straight for the kitchen with her bags.

The fourth Beatles record ended, and the record player shut off. Joe got up to turn the record over. He heard Angela’s voice from the kitchen, singing an aria from an opera that he could not remember the name of. Joe was amused by the sounds of knives on cutting boards and silverware on table tops, mingled with the tragic lyrics of the song. Joe left the record player off and finished correcting the last two pages of the book.

He was bringing the heavy typewriter from his room to the dining room table when Angela came out to call him to lunch.

photo: Shebeko

They ate in the kitchen. A light soup, followed by a fettina di manzo, a thin slice of beef, and a salad.

“You’re going to spoil me, Angela,” Joe said. She beamed. “I’m used to sandwiches, school lunches.”

“It will be simpler most days, but I don’t do American-style sandwiches. You know that.”

After lunch, he went back to the dining room table and started typing up the draft translation. Two hours later he had pages one and two ready to go. He called Benny Liu. Benny was home this summer, which was a lucky break, because the Liu family traveled whenever they could.

“Benny, I need help — bad. I need more typing lessons.” He explained his predicament.

“You got a typewriter?”



“Kind of. I mean, I can strap it to my Vespa with a board under it.”  There was a pause.

“Well, I can’t really teach you,” said Benny, “but I could show you again. Meet me at the Gallery.”

Among other things, Benny’s father imported Chinese art work and artifacts and sold them all over Europe. He had a store off the Via del Tritone in the heart of downtown Rome. Joe borrowed a board from the building portiere and strapped the heavy Underwood typewriter to the seat behind him on his scooter. Traffic was mercifully light. Benny was waiting outside.

“I have an idea,” he said. “Dad wants me to mind the store with Jerry Yang for two weeks. I don’t really have to be in the showroom unless Jerry has to go somewhere, which isn’t often. We could work up in the office area overlooking the store.”

“Hasn’t Jerry worked for your Dad for a long time?”

“They came out of China together. Jerry’s been a retainer of the Liu family since before I was born.”

They set themselves up as a team. Joe walked around the large teak table covered with dictionaries and paper, dictating in English from his handwritten manuscript. Benny typed furiously, never looking at the keys, whether his head was up or down. So it went from morning until supper. Lunch was easy: there was a trattoria next door, which served cheap, home-style Roman cooking.


The next day, Joe came back before Angela left.

“Signor Arland was calling you many times today, signorino” she told him. “He asked that you call him at this number before five.” She gave him a number on the back of a cash register tape from the supermarket. “I hope I got it right. His accent is so thick, I had trouble.”

Joe smiled. “It is pretty bad, isn’t it? I recognize his office number. I’ll call right away. Thanks.”

Jack was out, but Joe left a message that he would be home and would call again tomorrow from the Galleria Cinese in the morning if Jack did not call him first.

The phone rang fifteen minutes later.

“You’re hard to get hold of, Joe,” said Jack. Joe explained the typing project at the Galleria Cinese. “Somehow, I thought my translations would move a little faster in the summer when school let out.”

“Everything is moving faster, sir,” Joe said. “I finished the review of the del Piave book in one day, and the typing may take another week, but it’s moving quickly now that my friend Benny and I are working on it as a team. Remember you told me always to work on the stuff from Mom first. Wouldn’t the Del Piave book count like that?”

“You’re right, Joe,” said Jack, with a hint of resignation in his voice. “I just feel like I’m missing something, and it’s in the letters you have now.”

“Well, I can’t work on them in the evenings with Mom here.”

“See what you can do,” Jack said. “At any rate, maybe another week?”

“I think so. The book is due on the 25th. I know the letters will go quickly after that.”

“OK, Joe. It’s all we can do.”

Joe felt bad about not being able to share the Arland work with his mother, but after the scene in the Salisbury hotel, he was never going to bring any of that material out at all. He had even resolved to work in the reading room of the USIS library downtown rather than risk having Angela or his mother discover those files.


As Joe had predicted, they had three-quarters of the book in a rough draft after five days. They began trading places occasionally. Benny mostly stood over Joe shoulder as he tried to imitate Benny’s ten-finger style.

They finished the first typed draft in another week, but by then, Joe was becoming reasonably proficient at touch-typing. He still looked at the keyboard when he typed, but he figured that was OK. He knew the text so well, that he only had to glance at the draft occasionally. Benny told him to try to keep looking at the draft and not his hands. It was not easy, but he did it more and more each day.

Joe started checking the typed draft alone, passing the pages to Benny to type carefully for final draft.

“Hey, Joe,” said Benny after about a half-hour. “What’s this sentence on page three: ‘The Monte del Piave firm don’t –’ It’s ‘does not’ and what don’t they do?”

“Oh, hell, the second half of the paragraph is missing.”

“What’s worse is you didn’t see it going back over it.”

“What am I going to do, Benny? I can’t be missing big chunks like that.”

“Why don’t I read it, too?”

“Take too long.”  Joe got up and stretched. He walked to the rail overlooking the store. Cases filled with gleaming jade jewelry and hard-carved ivory spheres made the gallery look like a famous museum instead of a shop. Jerry Yang was sitting by the cash-register, reading a book. Joe watched him for a while, because Joe was fascinated by people who moved their lips when they read. Jerry did not read out loud like the old man on the Number 8 trolley, but he obviously read slowly, because he could not read any faster than his lips moved.

“That’s it!” Joe said turning back to the table. “Remember what Mr. Santoro said in English composition class last year about checking a story.”

“Yeah, read it out loud.”

“Let’s each take half and read it moving our lips to slow down. Then the mistakes should stand out, and we can’t read it so fast we miss things.”

Reviewing the third draft only took two more days, and they took turns typing the final. Joe used three sheets of paper for each final page he typed, but he never would be as neat as Benny. Joe read the final draft out loud to Benny on the 23rd and 24th of June. Joe called the Del Piave offices to let his client know that he would deliver the next day.

On the 25th, Joe put on a fresh suit after his mother left for work. He bundled up the manuscript of the translation in wrapping paper and stowed it in the compartment of his Vespa. Then he drove to the Del Piave building near the Circus Maximus.

When he walked into the courtyard of the palazzo, Del Piave’s secretary was waiting for him.

“The Cavaliere would like to see you, Signor Mather,” he said in a clipped Northern Italian accent. They walked up the marble staircase to the businessman’s office. Del Piave rose and came around his desk.

“Joe, what a pleasure!” He motioned to the couch by the coffee table. Joe put the package down. They sat down together, while the assistant produced a Swiss Army officer’s knife, and carefully opened the package. Then he called out for coffee, while Del Piave inquired about Joe’s mother and the trip to England. Joe knew that the bar must have been forewarned, because a delivery boy from the bar showed up in less than a minute and a half. After he left the tray with the cups of espresso on the coffee table, he departed with his tip. Del Piave turned to the stack of typewritten pages and began turning them over carefully.

“I am excited to have the translation ready so soon,” he said.

“But it’s only on time, sir, not early.”

“Ah, yes, but you know, we are so used to deadlines that slip, that I expected you to need more time. I only began to hope for this after you returned from England and your mother told me that you had finished the first draft. Now I will be able to turn it over to the production people before the Ferragosto holidays instead of in September. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” Joe felt a little uncomfortable. It was not like he had done anything more than barely meet the deadline. “I hope it’s OK. I had a friend review it with me more than once.”

“We have hired a professor from the British Council to look at it, and the production department has professional copyeditors. I am sure that it will be fine.”

“I enjoyed it, sir. Just let know me if you need anything else translated.” Joe smiled.

“Of course. As per the contract, the check for half the amount is waiting downstairs. We’ll send the other half as soon as the reviewer reports to us.”

“I hope that you still intend to let me see the galley proofs. I’m told that little things happen when typesetters are not working with their native language.”

“Of course, Joe. Armando here will keep you informed as production progresses.”

Del Piave rose, and Joe jumped up with him. They shook hands. Armando escorted Joe to the main office on the ground floor, where an envelope was waiting for him. He shook hands with the secretary and walked back out to his scooter. He drove especially carefully back to the Cavalieri Hilton, lest anything keep him from depositing the check safely. Then he parked the Vespa under his apartment building and went home for lunch.


(to be continued)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.