"What was this? Why did he write it down? What does it mean when a man picks up a pen and writes something? When something simply comes to him and it appears there, complete, in his writing? (...) And if you write something down, is it then lost, does it have nothing to do with you anymore, is there only a memory, an ache, left behind (...)."
I had found the café in a hidden corner on a previous trip to the town. Its small menu had attracted me straightaway and the little terrace with its wooden furniture and flowerpots tricked the mind into thinking that this was Italy or Southern France. This town had been taken over by artists one day in the past. Their energy had collected between the walls, every pebble stone overflowing with inspiration. That’s why I had come here to write on this sunny morning. The city had nothing left to inspire me – just tourists who moved collectively in groups from one corner of a building to another. I avoided stepping on my balcony during the day just to see them look up, wondering who it was that was living in these beautiful buildings drawn by history.~ Sandor Marai, The Rebels
No, was I to stay here, in this country, I’d move to this town. I would sit in this café every day. How perfect life would be.
A woman passes by with 25 yellow roses. She smiles, her face filled with a bright light. I didn’t count the roses but I assume they are 25. Frank Sinatra is playing in the background.
The entire menu is vegetarian. I am delighted. I choose a salad with locally produced goat cheese and plums. It is perfect but I add salt. A lot of salt. Something very German to do, to add salt to everything. A reminder of my roots from which all these branches have grown.
I feel my skin burning in the midday sun and put some sun screen. ‘Instant Protection’ it says on the bottle. I remember that when I was small it had to be applied at least 30 minutes before going into the sun for full protection. Now it is instant.
I order a cake – though I am allergic to gluten – and an espresso which comes in a beautiful, old, ceramic cup with a delicate handle and golden ornaments. Just looking at it fills me with joy and I carefully pick it up to take a sip. I want to take the café with me, the feeling I get when I sit here.
I don’t want to return to my apartment which I’ve decided to soon leave behind already. A new chapter of my life is about to begin and I need to shed. The apartment is the past already.
Time that I had recently been wasting away has meaning again in this new chapter. I give it meaning. What would time be without me anyway; if I am not there to witness it, to pass it, to embrace it, to waste it or indulge in it? For all I know time might stand still when I’m asleep.
A butterfly passes by, maybe the 9th I have seen today. I haven’t seen any in the city. Who would stay in the city if you can fly? I glimpse behind me to remind myself that I have wings. How quickly I forget at times, them being so delicate and invisible. For a few moments I lay down my pen to drift away in a flow of melancholy.
I see clouds moving in and wonder whether I’ll have to postpone my walk back to the city to another day. A long walk it will be – but what is walking other than meditation? Anything to lengthen the journey back to the city. Maybe I was going to walk in the rain, if it rains at all.
Maybe I should open a café like this one, simply for the selfish reason of sitting in it every day. What other reason would one have to open a café? I won’t open one though. It is not my path. I know this much. No need to know what you want to or will do if at least you are clear on what you don’t want to do.
More clouds. In between sun. Slow Jazz in the background. Maybe it’s Blues. Yes, Blues, not Jazz. Then an old Italian song.
As a writer you live in your head, 10 thoughts at a time. Every thought a story of its own. I have difficulty remembering things accurately; sometimes I mix up memories with surreal creations of my imagination. Right now I remember him dancing slowly with me to old, Italian love songs. I fall in love all over whether it is a memory or made-up by my mind. I got drunk here with a friend once, in this café. I miss her at times. Just like anything can be missed for the sake of deprivation of the now.
I can feel this country bidding farewell by showering me with all its beauty – a sweet pain that feeds the soul with light for any darkness to come.
The waitress goes around and waters the flowers, and pours some water on my feet to fight the heat. We all laugh. We – strangers who happen to be here at this very moment, united by laughter. Maybe it is coincidence. But I choose not to believe in coincidences. I am not sure what effect this belief has on my life, if any at all, compared to someone who denies the existence of destiny. Maybe deny is too strong a word, let’s say someone who questions destiny to the core of its existence. Far more poetic.
It is the first time I’m not wearing nail polish on my toenails – an unusual sight to me. I look at my feet and feel like I am taken back to when I was 16. Am I? No, I’m 24. It’s been eight years. Time passes quickly when you live, when you are awake. I had been tired of life once, maybe twice – not now.
I am not the patient kind but he is, so I have no choice but to divert my mind and seek pleasure in the process of waiting. I smile, back to the now, to the café, to the question whether I should attempt to walk back. I’m wearing flip-flops. I assume it would take me 2 hours. I might get a heat-stroke. If I do walk, I will have to buy water. It might start raining and I will have to stand underneath a roof for a while. Or there might be a thunderstorm and I will be hit by lightning. I will walk – at least for now, that I am still sitting.
Maybe the people I had laughed with a few minutes ago will read this story and recognize themselves, just like the man at the other table who stirred his lemonade until all the ice had melted. That wouldn’t be coincidence, right? But maybe they won’t read it. That wouldn’t be coincidence either. Either way, destiny – wether they read it or not.
Before leaving the café I ask the people next to me how long it will take to walk to Budapest. 20km – don’t even try with those shoes. I won’t. Instead I stroll around the town, up and down small alleys – a beautiful stillness everywhere. Time might as well be standing still, I wouldn’t know. I pass by souvenir shops and fall in love with a handmade, crocheted parasol and a dark-blue dress with traditional Hungarian patterns – next time. Today I’ll just walk.
A museum. Another one. Maybe dozens of them. I visit a gallery and the young woman explains to me that there are 200 artists living in the town right now and every summer artists from India come to stay at an art colony close-by. ‘I live in India’. She doesn’t quite understand. It doesn’t matter. I had said it for my own sake, a thought spoken out loudly. There are no coincidences.
I make plans to rent a room here one summer to write. I will.
I walk on. Next time I should take a boat back. Not today. I walk by a museum and remember Indian music playing there many months ago when I passed by.
It is past 3pm now. Let’s just walk a little more.