Monday, March 06, 2006

The Weekend

A busy weekend, a busy week ahead with His Holiness starting school (of sorts) and beyond that the end of the month and I am off to New York for an extended stay and for the first time away from HH. The reality of the situation is becoming clearer with each passing day.

On Saturday night I went out with friends, alone, something I rarely if ever do and it was nice, that slight change in trajectory. We had dinner in what can only be described as a kitsch-Kölsche disaster of a restaurant where the food appeared scarce minutes after being ordered and still somehow managed to be overcooked. The waiters shouted appropriately, in a faux-grump performance that fell flat. It is something of a tradition here, this over-bearing waiter routine, and I’ve been to other places in Koln where it worked, but bad food and bad acting are a fatal combination. The evening was far from a disaster however, because the company was wonderful.

After dinner we retired to Stadtgarten, one of my favorite haunts in the Belgisches Viertel. As we arrived a Jazz trio was setting up on the small stage at the front of the room and our table was just at the foot of the stage. Stadtgarten is a place I know well. On many cold and drizzly afternoons, His Holiness and I have settled into the corner banquette with a cup of hot chocolate and a glass of cabernet and people-watched our day to a close. He is never far from my thoughts and Saturday night was no exception. The trio was young, helping new talent by providing a venue is one of the aims of Stadtgarten, and this group was very fresh indeed. They were competent musicians and when they worked a jazz standard the music was evocative and if you closed your eyes you could imagine yourself in a smoky West Village dive in Manhattan. But if you opened your eyes, and were as close to the stage as I was, you couldn’t help but realize they were just recently boys, their hair mussed and frazzled, their shoes scuffed and scruffy and their clothes, an abstract assortment of old and new that young men wear before they have settled into a style of their own. And so too their stage personas reflected this creative stage in their young lives. From left to right as I scanned the faces of each member of the trio I saw not only three very different young men, but three unique interpretations of stage-face, the face they must decide to present to the world when they step into the light. The piano player; an earnest, soulful crooner, a bit bluesy, a measure romantic, but holding something back, not yet able to wail unselfconsciously to a room filled with strangers, one day I expect he will. The bass player was quite adept at his instrument and I genuinely enjoyed his performance but I was sorely tempted to speak to him after the show and suggest that he tone down his grimace, which was painful to watch and distracted me from his beautiful work. And then there was the drummer; I wanted to take him aside, put my arm around his shoulders and have a long talk. It wasn’t that he was dirty, he wasn’t, but he personified the term unkempt. He was also a talented musician and I hope he does well for himself. I hope they all succeed and that was the overriding emotion I was left with, sitting there as Saturday night rolled into Sunday morning, among the other listeners, with lovers holding on in corners, pale young men with cold dark hair staring blankly at the stage, men in chalk-striped suits and stiff pink collars sipping espresso and chatting-up disinterested young girls and brand new couples, freshly washed and smelling of a measure more eau de cologne than the law permits, not yet touching. All of these characters and more peopled the space last Saturday night but it was the three young men on the stage who held my attention, not for their musicianship alone, but for their youth. I thought about their mothers and fathers and the dreams they had for their young sons and I wondered if they might be in the audience that night, standing near the bar at the back of the room, nursing a beer, watching their sons who were now on stage, at the center of the room.

On Sunday morning we took a train into the countryside to attend the birthday of a young relative. His Holiness went sledding in the fresh soft snow, ate piles of hot waffles with whipped cream and fell asleep in my lap on the long ride home. He is such a big boy now that when he crawled up into my lap to sleep, after fighting it all day, I had to stretch my legs out to accommodate him. I can no longer cradle him in my two arms. It seems like only a few weeks ago when we were on another train and he was sleeping and I could hold all of him so simply: no more.