He was sitting at a table with a notebook open. A paper one, he was consulting other paper notebooks spread out in front of him. I envied him. I used to be able to sit in a café in the afternoons working away quietly, but now I am mainly in an office during the day, working away quietly. It’s not the same. We were sitting, not together, in a café I have known since I moved to the Netherlands. I was introduced to a place by a friend, a pianist, who was, in before turn, introduced to me by my voice teacher. “You two,” he said, “Should work together.” Thus assigned we immediately went off to have a coffee and chat. Now long term friends, we rarely work together.
“Is it a gay bar? I never knew that!” exclaimed a singer once after she’d been going to the place for twenty years.
Nor had I noticed. So this time I was inspecting the girl behind the bar, not the flighty student type, more the arty student type. The café always has arty people because it’s an arty place. A few opposite sex couples were chatting and having lunch. Who was gay? I wondered. Not that it matters to me, but was this café a noted gay café? Really? The girl was quick with my coffee. I admired her swiftness.
My attention turned to the man with the notebooks. I would have liked to sit for an hour and work, but this wasn’t going to happen. I needed to run off to my errands. Gone are the days sitting in a café with an hour or two to work quietly. I mourn this aspect of my life, but then I also realize that straights were so dire a few years ago I could barely scrape up the money for train fare and coffee to get to the café and legally sit there and here I am now without time but with money to run errands.
“Who is coming to the concert?” we ask ourselves. It’s always thus. “Hardly anyone came.” Moaned a friend of mine. I had attempted to get to the venue, but looking at the trains, buses and walking distance combined with my fatigue, I had decided against the exercise. Still if people I know are singing in my vicinity, I regularly go to listen. I was thinking this time round, why bother singing much longer? I could simply use the time to write and sit in cafes instead. But then, despite the office routine, the writing here and there, I still sing.
“Why have you decided to become singers?” Asked the wife of the most prominent voice teacher, the Super Cheese, at a Conservatory I attended in the states. She was handing out copies of some cheesy article about Pavarotti in the cheesy Gente magazine to better our insufficient knowledge of Italian. “Because we are all psychological basket cases and have nothing much to do,” I thought silently looking around me. I was 18. The teacher’s wife had nothing to do in that small town either, which was why she was there in front of the blackboard, salaried.
“You need to show yourself more,” my therapist informed me. She’d flashed her tight bottom in those hot mustard jeans and high heels boots as she led me into her office. I was wearing a bag for a skirt and covered up to my ears because I don’t want to catch a cold before a concert. She’s a lot younger than me. Come to think of it, I like the stories I tell when I sing, it’s probably the closest I come to communication of what my soul has to say to the world.
So sitting in the café of long ago watching the man pour over his oeuvre in process, I thought about the cottage cheese sandwich that I fell in love with the first time I ordered it at the café. No longer on their menu, I make my own versions of it nearly every day at the office, along with a big soy latte.