Saturday, July 13, 2013

Public Solitude

There's a little place I go to have breakfast each morning.  Like religion, at 6am I'm there, and like clockwork, I order the same daily bread and coffee.  Everything else in my life can be chaos, but this breakfast time -- "hour of the pearl" as JS called it ... "interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself" -- is sacrosanct.

In New York, just before loud hordes shatter each day, and in Munich, before tourists pour onto the canvas -- and in any place I find myself with a café or diner open early enough -- I avail myself of public solitude.  Yet even when the loud hordes come, and the tourists pour forth, there is nothing as disturbing to my thoughts and balance, as the girls from South Africa who've been joining me lately ...

Sitting a few tables away, they'd first joined me for breakfast having arrived on an overnight flight, apparently.  They were chatting in their distinctive weird accents, about how their hotel wasn't ready yet ... the smoothness of their flight and landing, their overpriced, high speed cab ride into the city center, etc., etc.  All of the usual traveler noise, excitedly making this small talk between them ... counting their new currency coins and comparing breakfast selections and flavors to what they knew and were used to.  Etc., etc.

And this was all fine.  I liked hearing them, and enjoyed not being the only one in the café for a change.  Although once, in Zurich, I staked out my breakfast nook, and soon found to my chagrin that I would be sharing my hours of the pearl in Switzerland with Guenther, a "real" writer ... who would already be there at six each morning, occasionally drunk from the night before, dressed like Tom Wolfe, ein Traum in Weiß, and demanding the waiters bring him pencils.

Like some Hemingway asshole, Guenther would make these belligerent demands without saying "please", and get all pissed if one of his subjects dismayed him.  One day, a waiter brought Guenther a little box of colored pencils, saying something like, 'to encourage your artistic side, guter Herr'.  I don't know if the waiter was trying to be cute, or if he'd developed a sort of bemused, grudging respect for "the artist" and was attempting sincerity ... but in any case, old Guenther got heated!  Yelling "Ich brauche nur eine!" and proclaiming himself a WRITER, not some "Schwuchtel Künstler", he proceeded to carry on until the "Hund" of a poor waiter found him only one pencil, and not a colored one.

I was thinking of this the other day when the South African girls first joined me for breakfast.  I wondered what they thought of me, sitting there with my legs crossed, reading out loud to myself as I'm writing ... "Ich brauche nur eine!", I felt like shouting, as both of them sat down, at six in the morning, at a table near mine in the empty café.

Then they began nattering and chatting excitedly ... distinctive weird accents reviewing their travel, and outlining upcoming plans for their stay.  This was the first day, when they arrived.

And it was fine.

But now they're coming in each morning, and sitting and eating and sipping beside me completely in silence ... Ignoring not only myself -- the only other patron in our Hour of the Pearl café -- but also each other, preferring instead to be fully engaged by their electronic devices (a little netbook style laptop for one, a stylish smart phone for the other) ... on which they poke and tap feverishly, while sitting and eating and sipping beside me, wholly oblivious to their surroundings ... to each other, to me, to the new country they're visiting ... Heidegger's thoughts on "idle talk" and "passing the word along" ...

Unaware, or not really caring too much, about the nothingness that surrounds us all, instead sadly -- disturbingly -- contributing to it.
"Hole in the Atmosphere", ©Jeff Glovsky

* * *