A veteran fisherman took me out into the Venetian lagoon to find an island house I had read about, but when we reached the spot we found nothing remained of it but a pile of rubble. The old man was astonished, but even more affronted. “Now why should a thing like that happen?” he asked me indignantly. “Mamma mia! That house was there when I was a child, a fine big house of stone — and now it’s gone! Now why should that have happened, eh? Tell me that!”
He was an urbane man, though, beneath his stubble, and as we moved away from that desolate place, and turned our prow towards San Pietro, I heard a rasping chuckle from the stern of the boat. “Mamma mia!" the old man said again, shaking his head from side to side: and so we chugged home laughing and drinking wine until, paying insufficient attention to his task, that fisherman ran us aground and broke our forward gear, and we completed the voyage pottering shamefacedly backwards. "Like a couple of crabs," he said, unabashed, "though even crabs go sideways."