It's Friday evening, and work has finished for the week. Which means beers over the road.
The weather is getting colder now, properly cold, but we sit outside nonetheless. Hats on, coats wrapped around us. At some point in the next few months the weather will drive us inside, but for now it's Friday night, it's cold, dark and foggy and we're sitting outside a bar on the main street in Mestre. We're living the dream.
Not for us the warming vin brule or hot spritz. No, tonight - as per every Friday night - we sit with cold beers in pint glasses. Sometimes I think we're the only people who use pint glasses, and the bar keeps them just for us. They're never actually filled to pint level, but I don't think that matters. It's the thought that counts.
We're on the second round when a street vendor appears. He's selling belts, bracelets, necklaces - the usual things. He's from Senegal, he says. He's polite and friendly and - to be fair - the belts don't look too bad. But none of us are really in the market for anything.
He smiles. That's no problem. Good wishes are exchanged. Fists are bumped. And then he reaches into his bag, withdraws three small elephants and places them in front of us. A present. He smiles again. Well, this is splendid!
There's just one thing. He's very hungry. Could we perhaps just spare a few euros...
We look at each other. We look at our elephants. And, for a moment, the only sound is of three liberal white guys wondering what to do. And, of course, there is only one thing to do. We reach for our change.
He thanks us and goes along his way; heavier of pocket, if lighter of elephants. We call for more beers and proudly regard our new purchases. No more Christmas Shopping for us this year!
We wonder if we should leave them all on the table. I think they might act as a talisman against future vendors who - seeing we've already bought - will pass us by. Or is it more likely that they'll look at us and think, 'ah, the elephant trick still works'?
In the end, we decide to pack them away. I finish my beer and make my way home to Venice. Where I will explain to Caroline that, yes, I may be a little bit later than expected but at least I have bought her an elephant.