“Go down to the Palazzo Pucci on the Via del Pucci and see if you can get us a private showing by the Marchese Pucci for Saturday morning.”
Those were my marching orders one day fifty years ago in my brief job as a travel escort. “Mark who? Poochie what?” These words meant nothing to me. I was a recently laid off aircraft engineer trying to fake savoir faire and European style with a Carolina accent and a cheap polyester sport jacket and trousers.
The travel company boss/owner, whom I’ll call Dr. Hector, brusquely explained every detail. I learned that Emilio Pucci -- pronounced like the slang diminutive of “dog” -- was an Italian nobleman who lived in a palace near our hotel in Florence. He was best known internationally for being a famous fashion designer of skiwear and fancy print fabrics. He was also a sportsman playboy. Dr. Hector explained that they were great old friends and had even raced cars together. (Decades later I searched Wikipedia and discovered much more, including the Marchese’s intrigues with Mussolini’s daughter and how that led to him being arrested and tortured by the Gestapo.)
Dr. Hector also explained in great detail how to navigate the palace and get an audience with the Marchese. I followed these instructions flawlessly. I entered the palace and strolled confidently past the guard with my head held high, took the first left, and headed up the stairs. Just as Dr. Hector had said, the guard did not challenge me. At the top of the stairs I found a broad hall with a beautiful officious woman dressed in black at a desk and lots of beautiful models, also dressed in black, loitering around. I explained to the desk woman my connection to the great Dr. Hector and my need to see the Marchese about a private showing. She was unimpressed and said it was impossible, that private showings were scheduled months in advance. I pressed on, refusing to give up. Eventually, in disgust, she told me to head up the next flight of stairs and talk to the woman there.
I ascended to the next level and found almost the same scene, except that the officious desk woman there and the models were all dressed in white. I got the same response to my plea and I pressed on and on. Finally the officious woman popped up and snippily said, “I will speak to the Marchese.” Yes!
Eventually, she came back and, to my astonishment, coolly announced, “The Marchese will see you now. Follow me.” I followed her to a huge conference room where floor, walls, and ceiling were all beautifully finished in dark wood. The drapes and chair cushions were all wildly colorful Pucci prints. She bade me wait there. I waited … a long time. Suddenly the Marchese himself dashed in, protesting that he was very busy and that I must be brief. I sputtered away, beginning with how I worked for his great old friend Dr. Hector who desired a private showing the coming Saturday morning. He said he didn’t recall the man and repeated the familiar mantra about how private showings had to be scheduled months in advance. I negotiated and politely insisted, emphasizing how wealthy our American tourists were, and how they admired his designs. When my failure seemed eminent, to my amazement, he agreed and set a time for the showing. Then he dashed out and I all but skipped down the stairs and back to the hotel to report my success.
The showing happened. But, I missed it because I was sent on a mission to search all the nearby Florence bars to find our AWOL bus driver. Later I learned that the tourists (all university faculty and staff) were underwhelmed and they only purchased a couple of neckties.