Flags was a writephoto prompt from April last year. I’ve been catching up now that K L Caly is on a break. I had an idea as a result of the photo, but somehow when I sat down to write another Arlene adventure, I got sidetracked into what covid in France was like. The Wikipedia article is pretty comprehensive. So while Arlene has found the street of flags…what I thought I was going to write has still to be written. This is nearly 1500 words as it is.


Arlene shut the door of the cafe and turned the key in the lock. It echoed down the cobbled street, so empty in the post-rain darkness. She took off her mask, stuffed it in her pocket, located her health pass in her other pocket, and walked around the corner to her apartment. She didn’t imagine a gendarme would stop her in such a short distance, but many of the gendarmerie were new to the city, and some were over-zealous in performing their duties. Curfew had been gone for months. 

Business was not booming, but it had been such a relief to open up… first the outside tables, then half the inside tables, carefully measuring out for social distancing between parties. The menu was limited to what she could prepare quickly and easily. Jean-Jacques, the elderly senior waiter, had succumbed during the second lockdown. Maitre LeGrand had made arrangements with his notary to assign her all the necessary permissions and authorities needed to run the business. It had nearly broken her heart to see him through the glass in the secure wing of the hospital, knowing he would be on a ventilator by nightfall. The notary had called her the next day to confirm she could act as she wished with the cafe, subject to the general laws of France, and the special rules regarding the pandemic.

The maitre had made it through, but was still suffering ill-health. He had oxygen and a carer at home. The notary advised she could run the cafe as she thought best, including closing it, but the services and rent would have to be paid unless it was sold, and M LeGrand had reserved that right.

“So, unless he dies, or decides to sell, the cafe needs to cover its costs,” Arlene checked her understanding.

“Oui, Madame.”

Now Covid was behind them, save for those with long-covid, but everyone was vaccinated (save for a few fools). Tourists were beginning to return. In fact, most of her clients were relative locals who never came here because of its popularity with foreign tourists. That included people from northern France.

She was tired. So tired. She lay on her bed, staring at the reflections of light from the wet cobbles onto her ceiling.

Three years ago, she’d been planning a trip to Japan, in search of the great Hokusai. She’d spent her own lockdown episodes online, planning trips or viewing increasingly bizarre art collections. A Scottish institute offered a daily quiz of its collection. The Hermitage and the MOMA held a series of zoom lectures. She had almost got to the stage of having too much art, until she found the installation of toy penguins that seemed to change weekly. That seemed to refresh her palate.

Now she was out of lockdown. She needed a change, a vacation. If she broke free of the chains of the cafe, where should she go?


She woke to a fair autumn morning, the town clock chiming eleven. Time to get out, pick up the pastry order, and get ready for lunch. Twenty minutes later, she opened up the cafe, put out the tables and chairs, and booted up the coffee machine.

One of the best things about this time was the lack of tourists. That meant not all facilities were up and running, but the newspapers and locals gave it a sense of normality. With two staff on duty inside she could relax with her breakfast in the relatively fresh air. An article in the paper caught her eye. Why the local paper was featuring Venice escaped her but, ah, here we come to it, the problem of flooding, massive cruise ships, and how to control the tourism. Yes, those were all relevant in this area, even if flooding was riverine rather than coastal.

Venice. Canaletto. Light and perspective. It all merged with the seasonal light in her brain. There was a sleeper from Lyon to Venice. Was it running again yet? She could take off for a couple of nights, one on the train after afternoon service, one at a hotel, and back in time for evening service. Two days in Venice would do her very well.

A few checks, confirmations with staff, and some security arrangements made, and she was standing on the platform with a day bag containing a change of underwear, shirt and shoes, nightwear and wash kit. Change at Lyon onto her shared sleeping car, the other passenger due to join the train in the middle of the night. There were only two other compartments in use, and her co-passenger never showed. 

She didn’t really sleep in the comfy bed, but dozed. She got up at one point because the train was stationary, and on looking out, discovered a platform and snow. Must be in Switzerland. After that she didn’t rouse until it was getting light. Breakfast with the plains of Italy dashing past, hills and lakes just discernible in the distance. The view made up for the paucity of the repast.

Grand canal Venice

Ah, Venice! It was all just as it should be. Brilliant light on the Grand Canal right outside the train station. A bustle of people hiring water taxis or waiting for the vaporetto. She had her map, and traced her walking route over the bridge into the warren of streets and minor canals beyond. At one point she came face to face with La Fenice, the opera house now thankfully restored after its fire. She doubted whether she had time for a concert. 

The hotel was well appointed and, as she’d asked, had a window viewing a canal. A side one, true, with a nice canal odour, but, when in Venice…

She walked through narrow alleyways lined with expensive shops to St Mark’s Square. Just time to see the Doge’s palace. Two hours later she was gently escorted out, having lingered past closing time. But her conversation with the security guard, who obviously doubled as a guide, made up for it. ‘You’ve seen the Canaletto of the Arsenale, now visit it yourself, by vaporetto tomorrow.’

Walking away from St. Mark’s Square, she found the sort of backstreets she loved. Crowded, packed with small businesses, and in one case, bedecked with bunting. This street was filled with restaurants, from gourmet to simple fare. 

The flags seemed to roughly map out the cuisine. Several Italian and Venetian specialists, then the migrant history of Venice pitched in with North African, Middle Eastern, Slavonic, Scandinavian, and even a sushi bar, sadly closed until further notice. From the remains of some graffiti she reckoned they had been given the blame for the Chinese origins of covid. 

Arlene picked a trattoria that listed a vegetarian menu. She wondered how extensive their menu really was. She was having trouble sourcing many vegetables and condiments, even now. The waiter was open to a discussion, once she told him of her situation with the cafe. Tourism had picked up quickly for them, and at just the right time for the glut of produce now available.

She settled for a pasta dish, even though in Italy that would only be a part of the meal, before the fish or meat specialty. She did treat herself to a gelato, though.

A good night’s sleep, a Venetian breakfast, and Arlene was ready for a trip to the Arsenale, to see whether Canaletto had done it justice. He had. The trouble with Venice, is that you think things have changed in four hundred years, but the fabric of the place hasn’t. The flags of the countries have, and some countries haven’t even been in existence forty years, but the banners of dukedoms and the like would been displayed instead.

On the way back, she realised the vaporetto was stopping at the basilica right next to the Peggy Guggenheim museum. A modern art collection right in the middle of this ancient city… in a white concrete boxy building. The architect had done wonders, since it was in no way out of place. Arlene checked her timings… how long could she spend here? No more than an hour, plus an hour to get herself back to the station. She bought a guidebook, spent an hour looking, and then enjoyed a relaxing afternoon on the train studying the pieces that most caught her interest.

One thing she found strange. Tucked inside the back of the book was a business card for the trattoria she’d been at the night before. How did that get there? Was it just coincidence? 

Where art was concerned Arlene no longer believed in coincidence. This meant something. Probably that one day she had to return to Venice with more time to explore.

© J M Pett 2024


Flags | #writephoto Flash Fiction
Tagged on:                     

5 thoughts on “Flags | #writephoto Flash Fiction

  • 8 May, 2024 at 4:49 pm

    A wonderful travelog story. We’re still hoping to get to Italy someday. Right now flags are at the forefront – all the Palestinian flags being flown by the college protesters.

    • 11 May, 2024 at 8:36 am

      I have an overarching idea for her book, but whether I can ever write it… well I can do 1000 words a week. If I could push that to twice a week, it would only need 40 weeks…. In the meantime, short stories that help me develop her and her history 😀


What do you think? Or just say hi!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: