STIRRING TIMES. Strange things happening. A Pope rides around America in a Fiat 500. Somehow I never imagined I’d ever see a Spanish-speaking Argentinean man in a funny hat and a long dress parading his religious wares in an Italian mini-car in the USA. Some people wondered why he didn’t appear in a bullet-proof limousine like everybody else does, but it was explained that this Pope was a very humble man and this was his way of connecting with the humbler and poorer masses who, his staffers assured him, have to be content with tiny Fiats.
There were, inevitably, the voices of skeptics who wondered why — if he was so humble — why he didn’t fly around in a modest Cessna instead of a palatial Alitalia Boeing, but they were quickly dismissed. Others surmised that lagging sales of Fiat 500s called for some helpful Papal advertising. Some suggested that if he really wanted to be ultra-humble he could have searched the junkyards for a used Yugo instead of a brand-new Fiat 500, but it was generally acknowledged that the man certainly has guts. Not everybody is willing to take the chance that a Fiat 500 will get you where you want to go. And if you think this is too harsh a criticism, I plead in mitigation that a girl friend of mine had a Fiat 500 that broke down in an isolated spot in Africa and left us stranded in the midst of black tribesmen who weren’t behaving very humbly. We survived, but this has affected my thinking about Fiat 500s ever since.
No matter. What I really wanted to ask was this: If the Pope were a boating man, what kind of boat would he choose to be humble in?
What about a Catalina 27? It’s one of a bunch of Belly-Button Boats (everybody has one) but it’s probably the best-selling 27-foot sailboat ever made. And yet, while it’s modest, and largely non-polluting, it rather lacks a certain humility. This is not its own fault. The problem is that, as soon as you acquire what the hoi polloi perceives to be a “yacht,” you move into a different, less-humble social category.
Okay, how about a MacGregor26, then? It’s a boat for sailing newbies. But no, wait a minute. That 80 hp outboard motor doesn’t look too humble, does it? What you need for true humility is a 2 hp aircooled Honda. Ah, but then the nautical Pope would be even slower than a Fiat 500, so that wouldn’t do.
A Laser, maybe? Nah, he’d probably lose all his security men in one of those famous weather rolls while running dead downwind. And definitely no Hinckleys, of course. They’re modest-looking and understated, admittedly, but you could buy half-a-dozen Fiat 500s for the price of one decent Hinckley. Well, what about a Sunfish, then? Now there’s a real BBB for you. It has a nice old-fashioned rig, just like the Pope has. But wait, isn’t that a lateen sail? Wasn’t that rig introduced by ancient Muslim sailors? Good grief, they might have been Al Qaeda or ISIS. Whoa! Can’t go there. Not with a Pope in tow, anyway.
Now I’m thinking Wharram Tiki 21. But there’s always the danger that a 79-year-old Pope could miss his step and fall into the drink between the two hulls. Did somebody say West Wight Potter 15? I’m afraid the sight of His Eminence perched in that tiny cockpit with a West Marine inflatable life preserver covering the papal robes is not one I care to imagine.
So I guess the answer is a gondola. I should have thought of that before. After all, it’s the Fiat 500 of the Venetian waterways. Small and slow and strangely shaped, but not so bad if your gondolier is trained to sing your kind of hymns and vespers and matins and things. Nothing makes you humbler than a gondolier who doesn’t know how or when to shut up. If you can manage not to strangle him, you must know the true meaning of humility.
Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.
— Frank Lloyd Wright (Recalled on his death, 8 Apr 59)
“I hear you’re related to European royalty.”
“Not quite, but I had a British uncle who was a Peer.”
“Really? I had an uncle with bladder trouble, too.”
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