Authors: Vincent Zandri
I head through the entrance to the
general exhibition area—a wide open space filled with a few dozen miniature
recreations of da Vinci’s inventions. The famous ones like the giant pair of
wings that, at present, hang from the ceiling and look like they could take
flight at any moment. There’s the war machines—the tank, the mortars, the machine
gun. There’s even a replica of the scaffolding the Florence contractors used to
construct the cupula that graces the top of the Florence Cathedral Duomo.
In a separate room, is a
multi-media set up with a video that documents the artist’s life. By the looks
of things, it runs in a continual loop. When I enter into the space, it’s
broadcasting da Vinci the little boy leading sheep through a field of tall
grass in Vinci. The boy is taking notice of the birds, the trees, and natural
world all around him. He carries a sketch book around his neck by a leather
lanyard, and he proceeds to draw what he’s observing, carefully cataloging each
little detail of a bird’s wings in flight, or a spider making a web, or even of
the way the grass moves in waves when a sharp wind passes through it.
The boy then proceeds downhill to a
wide, swiftly moving stream. He enters into the stream and walks it for a
while, his feet entirely engulfed in the water. Soon he comes to a hillside
which he climbs. Descending the opposite side of the hill, he spots something located
down in the valley. It’s a cave. The young da Vinci exits the stream and goes
to the cave, stands inside its opening.
My heart beats, because I’m waiting
for a map to appear on the video. Something that might give me some idea where
to at least begin looking for it. But then, the scene changes to Leonardo the
young adult, as he begins to carve out a career in Renaissance, Florence. In
the meantime, the cave remains as elusive to me as ever. Chase the, still,
I move on.
To the right of the media room, is
another room located on a sublevel that contains replicas of da Vinci’s more
famous paintings, including the
The Last Supper
takes up the entire far wall while, on the adjoining wall, is not one copy of
but several versions—detailed enlargements of certain
portions of the painting, especially her smile, as well as several x-ray-like
views, as if the work of art is hiding something inside its paint. And knowing
da Vinci and his penchant for producing works of art with messages hidden within,
I have no doubt that something yet unseen just might still be hidden inside the
, or any one of his paintings. Maybe even precise directions to
I turn back to
The Last Supper
I can’t help but focus on its
center point: Jesus, with his arms spread, in the midst of telling his flock
that one of them is about to betray him. So much has been written about this
painting, both fictional and nonfictional. Is the long, red-haired person on
the right of Jesus, and leaning away from him so that their bodies form a V,
really Mary Magdalene, and his wife? Maybe da Vinci knew more about Jesus’
personal life than we give him credit. Maybe inside that cave he became privy
to many, many secrets both past and future. If the inventions recreated and
displayed outside this sub-basement level room are any indication, he most
certainly had. But how will we know for sure?
Book of Truths
then find the cave.
My eyes, still focused on the wall
painting. Still focused on Jesus. But then, my eyes begin to drift to the depiction
The Last Supper
floor and the lines in it that run perpendicular to
the table. I follow the lines upwards past Jesus’ feet, past the bottom of his
robes, up past the horizontal lines created by the white—almost shroud-like—table
cloth, and then up beyond his torso and his head draped in long, lush hair,
framed by a window that looks out onto the countryside. That’s when I see Jesus’
hair blowing in the wind. A lock of his hair emanating out from the wall
painting, like the disciples left the window open prior to the commencement of their
final supper together.
I make a slow, about-face. I’m
still the only patron of the museum this early in the morning. Peering upwards,
I spot the scattering of security cameras placed in most corners. Although
there’s a camera mounted to one of the four corners in this basement, I’m
making an educated guess that, based on the direction the camera lens is aimed—directly
into the center of the floor—it won’t capture any digital closed circuit
evidence of what I’m about to do.
I step forward, toward
and Jesus. Then another step. And another. Until my face and the
face of Christ are within halitosis distance from one another. Raising my right
hand, I place it over the area where I saw his hair pulse outward. I feel a
slight cool breeze. Placing my hand against the hair and the wall, I realize
there is a seam in the wall, and that the air escaping from it has pulled the wallpaper-like
The Last Supper
away from the wall’s surface.
“A room behind the mural,” I
whisper to myself.
I run my hand all the way down to
the floor and then run it back up Jesus’ right-hand side, my eyes focused on
the extremely thin seam. I come to realize what I’ve discovered is a hidden
door that leads into a back room, or chamber, inside the basement of this old museum.
Standing, I lay both hands flat on the wall, one hand each flanking Christ and
That’s when I feel a hand come down
hard on my shoulder.
“Can I help you, sir!” The words aren’t shouted, but there’s
enough acid in them to burn holes in my eardrums.
I turn quick, make a fist. I’m not
about to haul off and belt Bowl Haircut in the mouth, but I can’t help
instinct. Instead of violence, I force a smile.
“Help?” I say. “Oh, well, now that
you mention it, I do have a question. How is your English?”
Bowl Haircut is looking at me
through the thick round lenses on his horn rim eyeglasses.
“My English is excellent,” he says,
like I’ve insulted him merely at the suggestion of it being not so excellent.
For a brief second or two, I
consider asking him about the room behind this room, which he by now realizes I’m
aware of. The fact that he was so quick to pounce on me for my discovery,
combined with his angry demeanor and expression, tells me he doesn’t wish for
anyone to know about it.
I decide to go another route. “I
understand you work here. But how much do you really know about da Vinci?”
His scowl fades, giving way to a
grin, if not a smirk. Clearly, I’ve pressed the right buttons. Some people,
like college professors, for instance, just can’t help themselves when it comes
to showing the world how smart they are.
“I just happen to possess a
doctorate in classical history with a concentration on the Renaissance masters,
in particular, Leo da Vinci.”
“Leo,” I repeat. “Sounds like you’re
personal buds with the guy.”
The smile grows wider. “Your words
are not far from the truth.”
“Then, since you and Leo are so
tight, maybe you can help me with something. I’m curious about the legend of da
Vinci’s cave. You know anything about that?”
He laughs aloud, like one of the
disciples in the painting just farted.
“Don’t you think, Mr… . “
“Baker,” I say, holding out my
hand. “Dr. Chase. Baker … I possess a doctorate from the University of
He exhales, like my joke is not
only stupid, but exhausting.
“Mr. Baker, do you not think if the
cave exists, it would have been discovered by now? There are very few places on
earth, especially Western Europe, that remain unexplored wilderness.”
“Thanks for your insight, Dr… .
“Dr. Marco Belli,” he says.
“Well, Dr. Belli,” I go on, “just
for shits and giggles, what if the cave really does exist? Where would you
place it on a map?”
He looks at me perplexed. “What is
this, shiggles and gits you speak of?”
“It’s shits and giggles.”
“Shits and giggles.” He says it
like sheets and geeeggles. “You Americans and the crude manner in which you
“I’ll try not to take offense to
that, Doc,” I say. “Now, if the cave exists, where would you put it?”
He shrugs his shoulders. “Vinci
would be a good place to start since that’s where da Vinci was born. His last
name means, Of Vinci, in case you were ignorant to that fact.”
“You don’t say, Doc. Jeez, you’re
just full of interesting tidbits. I might have to write that one down before I
Another look of confusion.
Just then, the front door opens and
people start pouring into the museum. Young people. A high school field trip by
the looks of it. Kids in ratty, skinny jeans and those goofy oversized woolen
hats that hang down onto their backsides. They’re loud, obnoxious, playing grab
ass, and already pulling books and da Vinci toys off the shelves.
“Mamma mia,” says the doc, shooting
a quick glance at the bad day building up at the ticket counter. “I must tend
to these ragazzi.”
“Before you go, Doc,” I interject. “I
have one more question. Have you ever heard of the
Book of Truths
He locks eyes with mine, his Adam’s
apple bobbing up and down inside his throat.
“Like the cave, the
Book of Truths
is pure fiction.”
I can’t be sure if it’s my
imagination, or I’m actually feeling a breeze blowing against my back.
“Okay,” I say, “take it easy, Doc.
I’m just curious is all. A buddy of mine told me that I might be able to find a
He peers at me with the power gaze,
the little triangular nub of skin between his two eyes and eyebrows popping up.
“And who exactly would your buddy
be?” he asks.
I press my lips together, grin. “I
honestly can’t say.”
He turns, walks away.
“Oh, Doc,” I add, “you know, you
really should have a contractor check out this wall. There’s air blowing out of
“Thank you for noticing, Mr. Baker.”
“Think nothing of it.”
“Sheets and geeeggles,” he mumbles as
he makes his way up the steps to greet the horde of kids in the museum
reception area. “The world is getting more stupid with each passing moment.”
“No it ain’t,” I say, to his back.
On my way out, I purchase one of those expensive big, glossy,
picture books of all things da Vinci. It’s her Majesty’s dough, so what do I
care? I purchase it directly from Dr. Belli once he’s checked in all the rowdy students.
Not once during the transaction does he make eye contact with me, or speak to
me. Not as if I don’t exist. More like he wishes I would cease to exist.
When it’s done, I take my receipt
and my book and I leave the shop the way I came in.
“Arrivederci,” I bark on the way
out, just to frost his professorial ass.
As I’m passing the storefront
window, I peek back inside. He’s looking out the same piece of glass. When our
eyes meet, I can see that he’s got his cell phone pressed up against his ear,
and my built-in shit detector speaks to me.
He’s warning someone
about you, and that someone is not very nice.
I’m just about to take the corner
onto Via Guelfa when two men come out of the alley across the road and at me to
my direct right-hand side. I have just enough time to eye their faces. Dark
skin, thick beards—like the logging beards that are so trendy these days
amongst young men. They grab me by the arms, shove their knees into the backs
of my knees so that I immediately collapse.
A car pulls up. The back door
opens. I’m thrust inside.
I raise my head, shout, “Let me go!”
Something hard comes down on my
head and …