The Café Lafayette

Rob van Kranenburg

(Photos by Kitty de Preeuw)

 

To Dylan Thomas and his colour of saying, and Oshin and Nathan.
Café Botteltje, 03.15, Oostende, 8/8/1999


I am a worrying man. But I am not without faith. Grant
me that. I am a fool, though. I know.
And when I took the Seacat to London.
A sunny Saturday morn it was, it wasn't
like I felt like Captain Cook or Charlie Moss,
but all the same, I had made contingency plans.
Living is carrying across.
The object, or shall I say, the mission of the journey
was accomplished, I did see Naomi.
Yes, and spoke to her as she did to me.
She had a salad for lunch, I -- not trusting the pie of beef --
had pork.
A happy chain of travelling events
led to that blissfull reunion, I was
woken up by a wake up call that I had
placed on Friday evening. It got me
to the station in time, all washed up and
neatly dressed, teeth brushed, boots
shined and with a kind disposition
to my fellow travellers and humanity in general.
Quite an exception.

The train rode well and well on time,
the conductor was quite cheerful. Effortlessly
it rode on and on and when it stopped

Café Lafayette, 04.15, Oostende, 8/8/1999

lo behold! It was Oostende, the name
on the ticket that I had bought.
I was content. (as I am now, with a good
Calvados in the Café Lafayette)
I was content, not only was I where the boat
was moored, she was still tucked away safe in the harbour,
merrily whistling her tunes, as fine a vessel as ever there was,
and to my skilled seafaring eye she looked as if she could make it,
make it across to London, the place where I was heading.
Bankside House on Sumner Street, to be exact. And when
I arrived in Dover, a skilled busdriver made out of the stuff
thar busdrivers should be made off, dropped me off at Dover
Station, where as if in a dream come true, the train to
Victoria station was waiting.
Living is carrying across.
I found the subway to Blackfriars, as it was closest
to Bankside House on Sumner Street, in four minutes flat.
Setting a yet to be beaten record of finding the way to
Bankside House, Sumner Street, from Victoria Station,
and that's an open challenge. Blackfriars, it seemed, was
just four stops away, four stops on the Eastbound District Line,
the Westbound does not go near there at all. On Blackfriars
I rose from the Underground on a street lost to my recollection.
But I remember turning to the left,
as one should always do on foreign ground, so if you should
want to retrace my steps, that should help you.

Home, Ghent, 10/10/1999

Well, I sought it with timbles, I sought it with care,
I sought it with my eyes wide open, but Sumner Street
refused to reveal itself, at least, to me. I can't say
that did bother me much, lots of things refuse to reveal themselves,
that is, reveal themselves to me. I am blind most of the time,
blind to opportunity and opportunies as well, I sleep with one eye open
and I wonder. I worry and wonder, but I am not without faith.
Grant me that.
Would you believe I rode to Sumner Street on a lorry?
A lorry as big as a house? Marked 'Cowland Ltd.'? Well I did.
I got a ride from one of the three workers
on that street lost to my recollection
whom I asked directions
to Bankside House, Sumner Street.

When Captain Cook sailed the Endeauvour
into Brisbane Bay--as it is known now--
the Aboriginals simply kept on fishing, neither afraid
nor curious, they stared into the waters and never looked up.
It was not until Cook did lower a very small dingy
and did they respond! On they came charging with
spears in their hands, clubs and stones held ready.
The dingy they could read very well: enemy!
The Endeavour to them was an island, too strange
to be a boat at all. Islands drift by, why should you bother?
Why should you look up at all?

When Blanqui stood leaning against a tree
one fine afternoon in the year where you could still see
the Palace built by Catharina de Medici
before it was destroyed by the Communards
the year of which I speak is 1860
the place it went down was the Tuileries.
And as he stood leaning against that tree,
he watched his men parading. They were revolutionaries.
They could not parade in the open. So they posed as flaneurs
on a sunny afternoon. And it was only in their step,
in their way of walking, that these flaneurs
became soldiers, soldiers solemny marching,
marching to a silent drummer. Le vieux stood silently
watching. He carried a gun in his pocket.
The parade dispersed into flaneurs.

The Fukeshu are a funny bunch. They play the flute
and hide their faces in wooden masks. Masks
that cover their faces. The Fukeshu are old.
Centuries ago ronin, that is masterless samurai,
asked permission to start a religious order. They claimed
to come from China and their papers were lost
in a fire. The Shogun granted their request, but in return
they had to spy for him. They redesigned their swords.
Their swords became flutes and formidable clubs. Their
fine and haughty features, they hid in masks of wood.
They played their flute and overheard intimate conversations.
Wherever you look, there's always one mask more.
One more mask, wherever you go.
Living is carrying across.

As I walk, I keep on mistaking boats for islands
and islands for boats. I bow to flaneurs and they inform
me they are soldiers, soldiers you do not bow to,
soldiers you salute. I tell them I'm sorry. How am I to know?
How many masks before the core?
A glimpse of my brothers in the clearing?
A glimpse of my sisters in the sun in the woods in the open.
Living is carrying across.

And yet, there are days where islands are islands
and boats will be boats, flaneurs are posing and maskless
ronin play merry tunes. There are even days, I tell you,
on which soldiers are willing to be bowed to, willing to be
bowed to, no need to salute. On such a day you will get
where you were heading, and you will actually make it in time,
you will see the one you came for and she will even tell you
that everything will be fine. And, though you may find this hard, very hard, to believe, the train that you missed, you would not want to retrieve.
On such a day, wherever you're at,
just ask directions to the Café Lafayette.
You'll get across.

 


 

Editor's note: Click here for the poet's explication of his work.

 


 

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Contents copyright © 1999 by Rob van Kranenburg. Photos copyright © 1999 by Kitty de Preeuw.

Format copyright © 1999 by Cultural Logic, ISSN 1097-3087, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1999.