It was early morning on the shores of Lake Como, northern Italy. I took a deep breath and savored the quiet beauty of the surroundings. A small motor boat appeared through the fog and docked at the end of the pier, waiting for us to board. Our group began to walk along the wooden planks toward where the vessel gently rocked in the water. About halfway down the pier, I moved to affix the lens cap to the end of my camera, but as I did, it slipped from my grasp. There was a gasp as we watched it spin through the air, seemingly in slow motion, bounce one time off the wood, clear the edge of the pier, and then drop unceremoniously through the surface of the water with a quiet bloop. The lens cap then sank slowly to the bottom of the lake, coming to rest nearly ten feet under water. We all watched in silence as it settled on the lake floor. I gave a sigh. The others looked at me to see what I would do. I lifted my head, smiled and said, “It’s alright, it’s just a lens cap. I can get another.” I then turned and continued to walk toward the boat. Taking my cue, the others turned to walk with me.
The Italian boatman, however, having watched the entire situation unfold, stepped off his boat and said to me with a thick Italian accent, “No, no, we get it.” I began to protest, but quickly realized that my protestations would be to no avail as the kind boatman walked back onto his vessel and retrieved a pole with a small fishing net at the end of it. He returned to where I stood with a smile in his eyes and a look of friendly determination on his face. He asked me where the lens cap had landed. I indicated an almost unseeable dark disc sitting deep in the clear water. The boatman crouched down at the side of the pier and lowered the pole into the water, the net just barely reaching the lens cap where it lay. He tapped it gently with the edge of the net, nudging it ever-so-slightly toward the shore. At this point, everyone was watching with bated breath. Every eye upon him, the kind boatman continued to gently tap the lens cap toward shore, get up and take a few steps up the pier, and then reach down again with the net to tap it further. The entire group stood watching each incremental move with rapt attention. After numerous similar nudges, each yielding only the smallest of advances, he finally got the cap into shallow enough water where I could lean down over the side of the pier and retrieve it. I pulled it up out of the water and lifted it into the air. Everyone cheered. The boatman stood up with a smile of triumph. I thanked him, saying, “Grazie, signore, mille grazie.” Feeling the appreciation, he smiled back at me and warmly replied, “Ti prego.”
Thus began our journey into Lake Como. We started the day with a genuine show of kindness from a new friend, and the bonding that comes from a shared achievement, and this set the tone for the entire day. As we boarded the boat, I quietly folded the still-wet lens cap into a small silk cloth and slipped it into a side pocket of my camera case. Since that day, I have never rinsed nor cleaned that lens cap, instead keeping it just as it is, still touched with traces of the very water and earth of Lake Como, and imbued with a warm memory of a foggy morning in northern Italy.