Author: Deborah

The Toy Dog

The Toy Dog

In Venice, a Young Boatman Steers a Course of His Own

On a Saturday late last summer, in the small central Italian city of Venice, a tall, thin man in a pair of faded jeans rode a bicycle past a few of the city’s most famous landmarks, including its Basilica, the doge’s palace, and a 16th-century fort. A crowd of tourists, mostly foreigners, gathered to watch him pass through the narrow streets while the bells of the nearby St. Mark’s Cathedral rang the arrival of the Venetian gondolier.

After a little more than a mile on his bike, the man stopped in front of the Basilica of St. Mark’s, a grand Gothic structure decorated in ornately carved stone and gilded metal that is the oldest church in Venice, dating from 1204. The man dismounted and began to walk toward the interior, past a bronze statue of a winged, nude saint. A few tourists stood on the sidewalk to watch him. Suddenly he stopped, turned, lifted the hem of his denim jacket, and then let it fall to the ground.

Then he bent down and picked up a small plastic toy. It was a toy dog. The dog had been tethered outside for hours by its tiny ankle to a long string tied to the handlebars of his bicycle. The dog had been wearing a miniature lead collar—with a tag that said, “Hello, my name is Timmy.” The collar was covered with rust. Once Timmy was untethered, he had wandered free and headed for the Basilica of St. Mark’s.

The man was Andrea da Barberino, a young man about 35 years old with a pleasant smile and dark bushy eyebrows. He was wearing the same jeans, a black leather jacket, and a red bandanna around his neck that showed in the photos he had posted on his Facebook page.

A few days earlier, Andrea had come across Timmy at

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