Aaaahhh, a nice meal, great beer, and comfortable surroundings. There are times when you travel when you do enjoy yourself, despite being away from everyone you love. This is my second visit to Pretend Balkan Country, and tonight I went back to the brewery restaurant I found the first time. The restaurant has a world-class dark lager, which can only be found in their restaurant, and incredibly tasty garlic sausages. The waiters remembered me, so I got great service (I’m a big tipper).
I brought along to read during dinner one of my favorite books, Roger Eberts’ Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook, which I have read perhaps 30 times. It never ceases to make me laugh, and is a quick 180-page read. Sitting in that wonderful brick barrel-vaulted ceiling restaurant, a couple of passages resonated with me:
“Suddenly I was filled with an enormous happiness […that] focuses all the attention inward on the most momentous feeling of joy, on the sense that in this moment everything is in harmony. I sat very still. I was alone at a table in a square where no one I knew was likely to come, in a land where I did not speak the language, in a place where, for the moment, I could not be found. […] All the people around me carried on their lives […] and my presence there made not the slightest difference to them. I was invisible. I would leave no trace in this square, except for the few francs I would hand to the café owner […] Most of the time I am too busy to entertain such reflections. Indeed, I have filled my life so completely with commitments and deadlines that many days there is no time at all to think about the fact that I am living in it. But these still moments, usually in a foreign country…”
I have had such moments in the past, too, most often when cross-country skiing at night, but much more infrequently as my life has deepened and become more complex. So, when one comes along, I sit very still and make the most of it.
Other passages that make me laugh:
Film critic one-upsmanship – Both Ebert and Gene Siskel are reviewing a Korean film that dealt with family crisis and homosexuality. The husband has recently returned to the family to announce he is gay. “At this point in the screening, Gene slipped quickly down the aisle for a visit to the men’s room. While he was gone, the wife went into her bedroom, where, in a scene that brought gasps of disbelief from everyone in the theater, she undressed and had sex with her poodle. Then she dressed, dried her eyes, and went back in the living room, just in time for Siskel to return from the men’s room. ‘Did I miss anything?’ he asked. ‘Only the wife having sex with her dog,’ I said. ‘Very funny.’
Describing crowds for high-profile movie screenings – ‘The Americans and British at Cannes dutifully stand in line for everything, and the French habitually walk right past the line and in through the door. If you protest, you get the sort of blank look they reserve for lower orders. They seem to think that anyone stupid enough to stand in line deserves to be made to wait.’ One film critic explained to Ebert: ‘The reason we British have the word queue is that the French had no further need of it’
Big personalities – Billy ‘Silver Dollar’ Baxter, a large Texan who addressed all waiters as ‘Irving,’ gave out silver dollars for tips, and was loud and obnoxious enough to get service from French waiters.
Bad sketches by Ebert – My favorite is his multi-panel cartoon of the annoying French film critic using a flashlight to take notes during a screening.
Finally, a passage that echoes my own feelings about business travel: “Waiting for my luggage at Heathrow, I found myself next to Peter Noble of Screen International. ‘Enjoy yourself? I asked him. ‘Dear boy, it’s always the same. One is happy to go, and happy to leave.’