The lady began to follow us the minute we entered the shop near the Vatican; sure there were thousands of people visiting Rome that day but she picked us, my priest friend and myself. She stuck to us so close that our guardian angels were getting claustrophobic and I’m sure complained to God about their “personal space” being invaded. Certainly shopkeepers should attend to their customers needs but not as much as a mother seeing her first child off to his or her first day of kindergarten. Nevertheless the woman followed us as if Warren Buffet and Bill Gates were on a buying spree in her store.
We tried to be polite and let her know that we already had shadows but she would not be dissuaded. Since we were not talking to her she began talking to us, “You know, Americans spend the most amount of money in this shop.” We must have looked wealthy, come to think of it, I did have on my best underwear (no holes). But how would she know that? “Is there anything I can show you?” Trapped like rats we mumbled “what do you have?” Evidently those were the magic words that opened her heart and attempted to open our wallets. Smiling she led us to the back where there were dozens of framed pictures and mosaics behind a glass wall. Pulling out a small remote, she pressed a button and the wall slid back allowing us private access to the treasures inside. The rats walked into the trap to taste the cheese.
My traitorous eyes fell on a small picture of a seventeenth century soldier taking his leisure with a glass of wine; it looked nice and the sales lady noticed my interest. She immediately brought out two chairs for us to be seated and offered water, espresso or anything else our hearts might desire. We both took an offered bottled water. She brought the small framed picture out for view and began a lengthy lecture on the framing, color matting and other options on this picture which happens to be a “micromosaic.” My Irish mother was frugal to say the least, so I told the saleslady the first two words taught to our family from the crib, “How much?” With a straight face and calm demeanor she replied, “$25,000.”
There are two classes of people in the world that should never show surprise: your priest and your bartender; my hands remained steady and the face betrayed no emotion. Sensing the brief hesitation in our reactions, she then stated “For you the price however is $20,000.” How do you politely say that there is no way in heck I’m purchasing that mosaic for over $20? Continuing our stone faces and hesitation to speak she added, “Well I could deal a bit below 20,000. Wouldn’t this look nice in your Church?” Finally I answered no and no; there was no way she was going to sell the picture for twenty bucks, and no, a seventeenth century soldier holding a glass of wine would not edify the faithful in a Church setting. Not wishing to see the disappointment in her eyes any longer and not wishing to show the relief in ours, we exited the shop with our bottles of water. Lesson learned: don’t wear your best underwear to an expensive shop.
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Mt 6:24)