Monday, April 20, 2009

Sitting on a park bench on a late April morning: Battle of the Senses

This is something I rarely do, sit in the park and write. It’s such a rare day however, that I’ve made an exception. It’s what we would call in New York a Top 10 day – cloudless soft blue sky, bright sun, almost imperceptible cooling breeze and birdsong, lots of it from every corner of the auditory frame. It’s one of the those days you’d like to bottle, suck up a bit of it and store it under your bed for that certain to come morning when the sound of rain is the first thing you hear and you search hopelessly in the darkness for the blanket that slipped off the bed last night during a dream of walking nude through an ice-cold pond. You feel that cold place on your neck, cold stiff when you finally rise and rub it warm, certain that beneath it the tissues have already set in building some virus that will sack you for a few days. That’s what I was told anyway, that cold air blowing on your skin while sleeping slows down the flow of blood just enough to let the nasties in. I still sleep with the window open, nasties notwithstanding. I’d rather die from a cool breeze than smother in the husky dampness of an over-warm room.

I’ve found a patch of sun here. I waited while the white-haired woman in yoga garb ate her dark bread and tofu sandwich then left this bench to me. The park I’m sitting in right now is filled with old trees, just leafed out in the last week or so, so the shadows they cast are wide. If I were to stay here through the day, I’d have to slide over to the adjoining bench at about 2PM to catch the late-afternoon angle. Right now, I’m on the late morning bench, facing the apartment building I’ve lived in for the last two years here in the heart of Cologne. Days like this are rare in Cologne – that’s another reason I decided to come outside and enjoy it. For most of the year, the sky is gray and our sun hardly ever puts on a display like the one we’re enjoying today. I lived in LA for a time and almost began to take it for granted, that constant sunshine in the daytime followed by the cool, crisp nights. Here we don’t have that luxury and I expect that all over town the parks are full and filling still, on throughout the day and into the evening (if the weather holds) with pale Germans craning their faces toward the light. In an hour or less, the school children will be coming home and the park will begin to fill with them. I don’t have much more time to myself. Already a young lady has taken her position on the bench next to mine, rolled up the legs of her jeans and with a large blue mug of something, sits quietly staring at the tulips in the flower bed behind her. I was a little concerned when she first sat down. She had her cell phone to her ear and I imagined having to listen to the interminable one side of a conversation, always spoken in a voice loud enough to carry half-way down the block. But (thank you great spirit) the other party didn’t answer and so we sit not six feet apart in relative silence. The only noise being the click of my fingers on the keyboard of my laptop and the gentle bumping roll of car tires on the cobble-stone street just beyond the tulip border.

Oh crap – she finally found someone to talk to on the telephone. Is she that bored with this beautiful day that she has to pick up that stupid thing and stab the perfect sound space with her idle chatter? Her face (she is now sprawled out on the bench) is very close to me, I could just about lean over and grab the phone from her hand, and I understand enough German to know that this conversation is about nothing – just blah, blah, blah what are you doing?, nothing, me too blah, blah blah … This is why I don’t come out more often into the park to write, because it doesn’t really work , the park is as much hers as mine, I can’t really complain about it (even though I do) she’s got just as much right as I do to be here.

She’s heating up – I can smell her perfume as it comes to a simmer on her face, now fully flattened out to the sun. Too bad it isn’t better smelling, that would be some consolation, instead it’s just something soap-like with a hint of antiseptic, a dash of artificial floral whatsit finished off with a splash of drug-store deodorant. The latter may not be an element of her perfume but it has become a fragrant note of her total body scent which wafts my way … I’ve lit up a cigarette, there she goes, she’s sitting up now, my smell is far nastier than hers, maybe enough to get her to move altogether. Isn’t that terrible of me? Lighting my nasty punk of a fag in the service of a bit of silence? But it worked, there she goes, I’ve got the place all to myself again, for another ten minutes or so until the next sun worshiper drops by. Ah, the joys of a sunny day in the city.

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