Market at Piazzetta of Portofino, Italy
“Sachin,” I said, my voice small. “Do you think you can sell this?”
He and Joe stopped laughing, perhaps because of the sound of my voice, and looked at me.
“What is it?”
“My family crest.”
I was following in the footsteps of my father, who had sold our noble title to a banker with aristocratic ambitions. Anyway, I told myself, we had copies of the family crest in every other room of the house.
“To sell something,” Sachin said, “we need a good story.” He held up the frame and looked at the five burgundy stripes glinting beneath the glass against the background of gold. “Do we have one?”
I told him what I knew. Apparently we descend from an old princely family from the eleventh century. In the year 1010 an unknown soldier, my ancestor, had killed two mercenaries who were raping a woman, and Emperor Otto the First wanted to knight him. “What is your family crest?” asked the emperor.
“This,” answered the soldier, my ancestor, wiping his five bloodied fingers on his golden shield. And our crest became five burgundy stripes on a background of gold.
“It’s a good story,” said Sachin. “How much do you want to sell it for?”
“It’s a copy,” I said. “If we get a couple hundred euro it’s a lot.”
“I’ll get you more than that.”
At around three o’clock the first ferryboat of the afternoon arrived and a herd of sleepy tourists started to trot around Portofino. Some sat down at Puni to enjoy the view, some grabbed a gelato at Il Molo, and an elderly couple came toward us when they realized that all the other stores were closed for the siesta. The couple was from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The man, Larry, wore a pair of shorts and a T-shirt with a picture of the Colosseum, and his wife, Liza, was in a flowery Chanel dress with cute knotted shoulder ties. He had the fixed gaze of a tough guy; she looked naive.
“How much are those?” Liza pointed to a pair of fake Prada sunglasses lying on the sheets at Joe’s feet.
She did not seemed interested in Sachin’s military uniforms.
“Eighty-six euros,” said Joe.
“The Ray-Bans are sixty-five, but for you I can make it sixty.”
Liza touched the pearls on her wrinkled neck and continued to look around, hoping that Joe would
lower the price further before she began negotiating.
She was not as naive as she seemed to be.
“And what’s that?” she asked, pointing to the frame.
“This is a crest from the eleventh century,” said Sachin.
The elderly woman looked at the frame closer.
“What are those red stripes?”
“It was the year 1010 . . .” Sachin began to deliver his own rendition of the story I had told him. He more than tripled the number of mercenaries my ancestor had allegedly killed before he got to the punchline.
“. . . and the princely crest became five burgundy stripes on a background of gold.”
The woman smiled, mesmerized. “This is quite something, Larry, isn’t it?”
“It is,” said Larry, who was checking out a passerby in her micro bikini and was paying no attention. To keep up the conversation he added, “How much is it?”
“Oh, this is not for sale.”
“What do you mean?” asked Liza, looking at Sachin.
I was confused too.
“My friend Rosso here,” said Sachin turning to me, “is the executor of a will and is taking the crest to an appraiser. He has received offers from various collectors and from one museum.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I whispered.
I was even more confused.
“Easy, we can appraise it here and now,” said Larry smiling.
“Not possible,” said the miniature Indian.
There was a moment of silence, as if he had guessed the two words that Larry most detested. “Not possible” was not part of his DNA. He specified that he had started a hardware store in Tulsa, which was now the second largest in Oklahoma.
“Can you provide additional background about your family?” asked Sachin formally.
“Of course I can. Why?” asked Larry, flattered.
“According to the will, the crest may only be sold to ‘a noble person,’ defined as a person either of aristocratic descent or showing qualities of high moral character, such as courage, generosity, or honor. Do you think you may qualify?”
The copy of the crest was sold for 3,600 euros.
The elderly couple rushed back to their hotel in Santa Margherita to gather the rest of the cash in fear that the price would continue to rise. My miniature friend was a hell of a rainmaker. We ended up splitting it 60 percent to Sachin and 40 percent to me on the basis that he had taught me “how to street sell.”