Portrait of a Spy

Interview with Gabriel Allon

Art restorer, spy, and assassin Gabriel Allon answers the ten questions from the Pivot Questionnaire made familiar by James Lipton, host of the “Inside the Actors Studio” on the Bravo television channel.


THERE WERE PHONE CALLS that went unanswered and e-mails that received no reply, but then, I expected nothing less. I knew him well enough to realize it wasn’t something he would relish doing. Finally, after much pleading and negotiation, he agreed to my request. There was only one condition: he insisted on seeing me face-to-face. Through an intermediary, he instructed me to come to the Polpeor Café at the tip of the Lizard Peninsula, in West Cornwall. I arrived, as instructed, promptly at two in the afternoon, and at 2:15 saw him emerge from a veil of sea fog along the rim of Kynance Cove. He wore a dark green Barbour raincoat and a flap cap pulled low over his brow. After carefully shaking my hand, he led me to a table near the window. He had tea but nothing else. He made me feel uncomfortable. It was one of his many gifts.

“Do we really have to do this?” he asked.

“They say it’s necessary.”

“For what?”

“It’s complicated.”

“You’re just a writer. How complicated can it be?” He added milk to

his tea and stirred it solemnly. “You know I don’t like to do these things.”

He sighed heavily, as if resigned to his fate. “All right,” he

said, “let’s get this over with. What’s the first question?”

“What is your favorite word?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Just answer it.”

“Chiara,” he said. “Chiara is my favorite word.”

“What is your least favorite word?”


“You don’t really mean that.”

“No, but it felt good to say it.”

“How is he, by the way?”

“As ever.”

“And Gilah?”

“She lives with Shamron. How do you think she’s doing?”

“What is your least favorite word?” I asked again.

“Switzerland.” His emerald-green eyes seemed to twinkle.

“What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?”

“You don’t really expect me to answer that?”

“Just try.”

He thought it over for a moment and smiled. “Listening to Chiara

sing when she thinks she’s alone.”

“What turns you off?”

“Answering these questions.”

“What sound or noise do you love?”

“The silence of a Venetian church at dawn.”

“What sound or noise do you hate?”

“The sound of a bomb exploding.”

“What is your favorite curse word?”

“I try not to swear.”

“What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?”

“I already have two professions.”

“What profession would you not like to do?”

“I could never work in a hospital.” He frowned. “How many more?”

“Just one,” I said. “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear

God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”

“Your son is waiting for you,” he said without hesitation. He looked

at me seriously for a moment. “Are we finished?”

“We’re finished.”

“Can I go now?”

I nodded. He swallowed the last of his tea and rose to his feet. I

saw him one last time as he made his way swiftly along the cliffs tops.

Then he vanished into the mist and was gone.



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