Another Arno River apartment story

Writing about the flood in Florence has brought back a flood of memories. Our stay in 1966 in that apartment along the Arno River was brief, but eventful. On the second day, our landlord asked us to babysit his lion.

Our landlord was an American expatriate who ran a dude ranch outside of Florence. At one time I knew his real name, but the Florentines just called him Cowboy, and that’s the name I remember.

Anyway, a man on the Ponte Vecchio was getting publicity for the visiting circus by taking photos of children posing with a lion cub. Cowboy thought a lion would make a good watchdog at his ranch, and convinced the man to sell the cub to him. Since our apartment was right next door, Cowboy asked Helen and me if we’d keep the lion—“It’s just a baby”—until he finished running his errands in the city.

It sounded like fun, but we should have known it wasn’t such a great idea when Cowboy had so much trouble getting the lion to let go of his pants leg. He let him loose in the apartment.

In barely two minutes Helen and I were perched on the ledges of separate window seats where we stayed all afternoon as we watched ‘baby’ attack the furniture, then wrestle with and gnaw the rugs. The furniture belonged to Cowboy, and while we worried about the damage, we thought it was better that it be inflicted on inanimate objects. The lion may have been only a cub, but his paws and claws seemed full size. So did his roar. It was with great relief that we let Cowboy drag the agitated cub away (it was probably hungry by then.) The story ended quickly, and happily for the lion, I expect. Next day Cowboy told us he was unable to drive his car with the cub in it; it was too upset and active. He never got to the ranch, but did manage to reach the circus where he found the original owner. He sold the cub back, at a loss, and called it a good deal.

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