Tall, blond, all in black, she stood outside the toilet stall door. She smiled at me as I exited the space. “Do you mind,” she said, “Staying while I go? I am claustrophobic and don’t like locking the door.”
Not a problem.
Women just have to go more often than men, cubics in bladderland, metrics it is rumored are involved. Once out of the tram, up the wide ramp into the hospital before my appointment, I made a bee line for the ladies not because I had to go but because I suspected I had to go. In passing on my way to the bathroom I briefly made eye contact with the tall blond senior citizen as I walked past one of those terribly bland but trying to be homey cubby spots found in hospitals. Obviously she had been closely observing the door to the ladies room.
Dependence. “Who are you going with?” People ask me when I mention my next vacation. There had been no negotiations for my booking. I made my reservation without consulting a fellow passenger. I still can, I thought happily while waiting outside the bathroom stall, be fairly independent.
The flu season started early this year in the Netherlands. People have already been complaining. Concerts cancelled, my colleague hospitalized for a week, I had a weekend free. Honestly, I liked it. Well not of course that my friend was seriously gasping for air, but the extra time without feeling driven to Eat-Sleep-Practice-Eat-Sleep-Practice was unusual. But given that Saturday I still thought I had to sing on that Sunday I was, in my mind, half off the hook, semi dependent. I could go out for a few hours and do Something Else but I still had to practice for Sunday.
It so happened that it was Open Monument Weekend, a day in the whole of the Netherlands when doors are thrown open to places not usually open to the public. I ducked out around the corner before going to the supermarket, and visited the Makelaers Comptoir built in 1634. I had been wanting to visit it for more than a year, whenever my nose was pressed to the tram window or stumbling by on a foot errand. Once inside I stood under the rose. Business was always done under the rose, meaning that it was confidential and discreet. The brokers’ guild gilt rose was set into the ceiling of the main room. A large rose above our heads, signifying A Gentleman Never Kisses And Tells.
“Incoronar di rose..” Sings Susanna in Mozart’s famous aria “Deh vieni” in the Nozze di Figaro. She’s waiting for her wedding night to finally arrive; the aria dives into low notes, singing of fleshy longing as she knows her beloved is hiding nearby and can hear her. This line translates as: I want to crown you with roses. One opera coach I once worked with was graphic. He poked his finger through the closed thumb and forefinger on the other hand to demonstrate his point. I sat this week listening to a version of the aria in rehearsal. I don’t think the singer had been told this earthly information. She was singing it straight like an eight year old at First Communion. “It would do if she could get a bit more grovelly and growling for those low notes.” I surmised silently of “dirty” business.
In the Makelaers Comptoir I looked up at the rose and thought about something other than a rose, trying to recall the exact words on some obscure BBC program I had once watched about the significance of the rose in church architecture fertilized with the notion of what blessed place was found between Mary’s holy legs. I proceeded after lunch to the Anatomy Theater, the infamous place once painted in way of reference by Rembrandt. I admit I was disappointed that the interior, the operating table and benches, was no longer in place; it was a circular bare room with a painted ceiling featuring noble coats of arms. Still, my curiosity was satisfied.
By Saturday night our concert on Sunday was also cancelled. Sunday morning I stood in line for a tour of the Royal Industrial Club, normally closed to non-members, on the Dam Square. By the time our little group had entered the dining room, past the bar with the statue of Hermes declared “the best bar in Amsterdam because of the view,” past the lounge with the crackling fire in the fireplace --- “Here at the club, we offer a fire every day,” our guide said snappily, oblivious to practicality, outweighing seasons, the must of the must because of club principles – one lady was in tears. She leaned towards the guide, a steward of the facilities. “When my husband was a member, I came here so many times, such good times, the parties…” Her voice wobbled, she searched for a tissue in her bag. “But since he died, I haven’t been back. It’s all over.” The steward tactfully placed a hand on her arm and whispered, “After the tour is over, stay a while.”
Back in the day, when I lived in Singapore, I looked at club memberships. I collected brochures and considered the matter. “Absolutely not.” My other half stated baldly. I silently totaled up the social benefits, work contacts, easy diners, pool and sports facilities, and moaned inwards. It wasn’t about being top of the heap, it was about constructing a life. We could have chosen either the Dutch club or the American club both with benefits and detriments. We did neither. I stood there in the dining room at the Royal Industrial Club, surreptitiously eyeing the menu prices, and wondered would my life had been over if I couldn’t get into the club, presuming that I had been in the club?
In rehearsal for the reduced version of Nozze di Figaro, always held in the small chapel of a retirement complex, we rehearsed the trio. Again. The baritone began to sing my part, instead of his, out of tune and entering at the wrong time. I stared at him in incomprehension, while next to me I heard one of the people who come every week to observe the rehearsal, sang my line to me from his wheelchair. It dawned on me that the several inhabitants of the place who come faithfully to listen to the rehearsals, know and even understand Mozart’s entire score much better than any of the singers, mostly amateurs struggling with the language and notes and memory skills.
I watched the teary woman duck into the ladies at the Royal Industrial Club. The stained glass Art Deco door swung behind her. As usual I had been eyeing the door during the tour, planning to visit before leaving assessing hidden architectural details and discreet cubic bladder signals. But watching her disappear into the sacrosanct I decided not to ask the guide whether I too might visit the loo at the end of the tour, before heading down the staircase to the lobby, no, I thought -- let her stay while I go someplace else.