Saturday, July 29, 2006

the right time (europe, and memories of)

An old cobblestoned quarter in Vienna, luxe-bohemian, a little too trendy for my liking. The type of scene that never fails to make me feel a little awkward, a little out of my element, all touristy inside.

Turning down a narrow side street, claustrophobic, devoid of natural lighting, depressing, with just a touch of the suicidal, my feet walked towards our predetermined meeting place, a little café tucked away beyond a crumbling stone vestibule. Little more than a walk-in closet, really. I noticed her hair at first, auburn and long, hanging down about petite shoulders.

"La police, ne t'a pas encore trouvé?" she asked on first seeing me. NK smiled big, stood up, and wrapped her slender arms around me. She was so small, I felt as though I might have been hugging air.

"That's some greeting," I whispered in her ear.

"You are a wanted man, yes?" she asked playfully.

"By some people, I suppose," I acquiesced, and draped my loden coat over a tiny chair at the tiny table. "So, you've been reading Mirbeau?"

"Yes," she said, "Le Jardin des supplices, but how did you-"

"Oh, you've that look about you," I said, "like you've been flogged by a thick branch of solid pessimism."


"No, not really," I laughed. "You mentioned it in your last email."

An unnecessarily standoffish waitress came over, tiny, dark eyes, and stiff, irritable lips. NK and I cast an uneasy glance across the table at one another, before finding the courage to order.

"A croissant for me, thank you, and a cup of your strongest coffee," I said, adding, "I'm a little on the hungover side today."

"Today!" NK scoffed. "Try everyday," and she turned to face the waitress, quickly asking, "Parlez-vous français?"

The waitress smirked, then snorted, "Oui."

"Une café au lait s’il vous plaît," NK perkily responded, smiling.

"Con piacere."

I waited until the waitress had turned on her heel, stalked behind the bar, and was out of earshot, before I leaned across the table and jocundly demanded, "Why not just order in English? Italian, even!"

"It's a French drink," she coyly replied.

"It's called the same in English! You would have got what you ordered either way!" I exclaimed. "And why not just have the milk put in it? It's going to wind up there anyway."

"I like to add it as I go," NK shrugged, "different amounts of milk at different times during the drinking process depending on my state of mind. And you," she accused, pointing at me across the table, "you should know better than to order a croissant outside of France."

"But the Viennese make perfectly fine pastries!" I protested.

"Pastries, yes, but you'll never find a better croissant than a French one."

We argued like that until the afternoon grew into evening, and it came time for me to go and meet SA and DB. In an old cobblestoned quarter in Vienna, luxe-bohemian, a little too trendy for my liking, I sat at a diminutive table arguing with a willowy young woman about all things from art to life and everything in between. But schedules must be adhered to and I had a train to catch. I would see her again, to be sure, but not for awhile, and nowhere near that place.

Standing, we offered each other a hug in the vestibule, and I held her close, my face buried in her hair, auburn and long, hanging down about petite shoulders. We broke, and I stood back to get a good look at her face.

"Bonsoir, my dear," I said. "See you again soon."

"A presto," she smiled, her eyes dancing mischievously. And with that, she turned and walked away, new heels clicking down an old cobblestoned alley.

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