Never go back, they say, you won’t find what you are looking for. But I did go back. We both should have returned for our 40th but we delayed – next year medical treatment would make travel easier. Seven years on and travel is certainly easier now. The time was right, and the place.
Of course the cathedral was still there, its solitary spire still intimidating those gazing from below. High Gothic indeed. For over 500 years the spire had soared defiantly alone and now, another half century gone, still no sign they had even begun its twin.
But something had changed. The spiral staircase clinging to the outside as if an afterthought was now enclosed in glass. Yet all I could see was those gaping holes in the stonework, that sudden vista of nothingness each time we completed a circuit, beckoning us to take another unsteady step down into the void.
But this wasn’t what I was seeking. Somewhere in this city of many islands was a path beside the river, a bar where the conversation, water and wine flowed, where we laughed at my attempts to pour as the table started to shift – every detail as vivid as the spire. But I knew the dangers. Half a century for the city to change, half a century for memory to impose its own reality.
So I wasn’t surprised never to find this spot. I selected a near fit only to be turned away because riverside tables were for meals. I sat at another café nearby, the table round, not rectangular, formica, not wood. But I didn’t mind, and neither did Janet, as she spoke from the pages. The wine had to be Pinot Blanc because the poem said so, and maybe it really was. And with enough refills the table would surely have started to shift as I poured…
In ’67, some weeks after the Israelis
had kicked the shit out of the Arabs,
I crossed Belgium with my friend Shirley
heading for the Conference of Christians
and Jews in Strasbourg, where they stuff
geese for their livers. I met an anti-
Zionist called Martin with a degree
in politics who made mincemeat
out of people’s arguments and we went on
odd visits – the Cathedral spire is completely
open at the top, after two bottles of Pinot Blanc
no joke – and to the local camp, the only one
they built in France apparently where I stood
in the porcelain room they used for the gassings
surprised it was so small.
in “Listening to Dancing”