The Impresario
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Tooki the Esquimau (he preferred that spelling—it was much more Continental than the other) knew everything. He knew, for instance, that polar bears had both teeth and claws, that walruses had ivory tusks, and that sea lions weren’t really lions at all.

Altogether, he liked it very well up in the Arctic, but he somewhat regretted its lack of culture. Ever since (in one of his sharp deals) he had swapped the trader a chunk of ambergris for an Italian Baedeker and a Dartmouth yearbook for 1909, all Tooki liked to do was read about Italian museums and the wonderful art treasures they housed. Tooki hardly ever looked at the Dartmouth yearbook.

But one day he did. As he was leafing through it, looking at the pictures, his eye fell upon a particular photograph. It was a snapshot of the 1909 Winter Carnival, and Tooki was amazed to discover (for the first time, incredibly enough) the wonderful objets d’art that could be created with snow and ice. He sat raptly for hours, staring at those snow sculptures. And when he at last closed the book, he was possessed of an Idea.

  
 
Now, Tooki knew he knew everything, and he knew, besides, that he was a sharp operator. But he wouldn’t have known absolutely everything if he hadn’t known his own limitations, and Tooki knew he was no artist. But he knew where there were artists: in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Florence, Italy. He knew also that the Arctic had no marble but plenty of snow and ice, and as he looked out of the door of his igloo, he visualized the entire landscape covered with beautiful, cultural Snow Sculptures.

He decided to try Florence first. Tooki packed his books into the Khayak (he preferred that spelling, after the famous Persian poet) and was soon paddling swiftly toward Florence through the Northwest Passage.

It was warm in Florence, and when he knocked on the door of the studio of Pillati, the famous Florentine sculptor, Tooki was perspiring significantly. “Come in!” said Pillati, and when Tooki opened the door, there was the noble Italian, furiously covering himself with marble chips and dust as he rushed to complete a commission. “Take off your parka and sit down,” Pillati said. “Be with you in a minute.”

When Pillati had finished, Tooki lost no time in showing him the 1909 Dartmouth yearbook. The Italian’s eyes grew wider and wider. “Sounds good to me,” Pillati said. “I’m tired of working with marble anyway—too much resistance. But I come high. How you going to pay me?” Tooki told him he had a bunch of ivory walrus tusks and some ambergris lying around. Pillati said, “Forget the tusks, but I’ll take the ambergris. Let’s go.” Tooki congratulated himself for making another sharp deal with that smelly stuff. Soon, they were paddling back through the Northwest Passage.

Pillati worked very hard on his sculpture—an abstract expressionist snowman—and when at last he was finished, Tooki hauled out his ambergris to pay up, but Pillati said, “Forget the ambergris. I’m taking this thing back to Florence with me. It’s my chef-d’oeuvre.”

Tooki laughed and laughed. He had half expected something like this might happen (Baedeker had warned him it might—these crazy Eyetalians), so Tooki explained very carefully to the ignorant Florentine how snow melts in warm weather; Tooki explained everything very carefully and nicely, because he knew, among all other things, that to parade one’s knowledge creates an aura of tension and ill-will.

“Say, you know?” asked Pillati, “I’ve never heard such a bunch of stuff,” and he packed his gear and the abstract-expressionist snowman on an iceberg and started poling out through the Northwest Passage. Tooki watched him go. The Esquimau was greatly saddened, but he knew that Pillati would be back as soon as the snowman had melted; there was still all that ambergris lying around!

A month or so later, Tooki heard a noise outside his igloo. Grinning exultantly, he crawled out the entrance, but it was only the trader. Tooki asked where he was headed. “I’m off for a trip to Europe,” the trader said. “I’m going to stop off in Italy to see the sights. Been up here too long—no culture a-tall around these parts. I hear tell they’ve got some abstract-expressionist statues down around Florence way. By the by, got any more ambergris? I’ll swap you some for the latest National Geographic.”

Tooki’s heart had skipped a beat when the trader mentioned Florence, but he recovered in time to recognize a good deal, so they swapped, and Tooki crawled back into his igloo, settled into his pile of pelts, and was just about to open the magazine when he stopped and stared at the cover. There, stark and glowing white against the bright Italian sky, under the blinding Florentine sun, stood Pillati’s abstract-expressionist snowman in the plaza. In the background, Tooki could just make out Pillati’s arm chipping away with an icepick, touching up what might have been one of the snowman’s abstract shoulders.



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