All original work © 2009 - 2017 Alexey Provolotsky

15 July 2017

YELLOW BOOK



It's a game we've never played - in other words, it feels like a game worth playing.

In the Viennese coffee house, the kind you do not have anymore, we see a family sitting by the high glass window. A family of three that looks like any other family in existence. This, however, entirely depends on the time of day and the kind of mood you are having. Late at night, they might slip into the backbone of your story. On a certain morning, this family could well be from another century. 

Which is when you ask me, almost by accident, if I could imagine them in late 19th century. What would they be like? How would they arrange themselves around the table? What sort of meal would they be having?  

Offhand, I evoke a son eating his omelette stuffed with eggplants and tomatoes. He is not enjoying his meal and his mother, a lady of leisure and high class, has to reprimand him with the black look and the odd remark. She is having her cherry strudel with lime tea, and she keeps her head at an awkward height, and she is clearly annoyed with her son's reluctant routine with the omelette. Presiding above the two of them is her husband, a man in a dark suit, with a cup of black coffee and a newspaper the size of a movie poster. He is sighing occasionally at the surprisingly low stock market figures.

In the meantime, we finally make the order, and the slender girl charms us with her western Ukrainian accent. I wonder if we could ever do that, in a week or else in a million years, and the answer is always negative. I also wonder about this place, which, unlike the numerous cafes spawned by tourists, only attracts 'characters'.

Like those two by the counter, you whisper, how about those two, and straight away we can witness two friends who come to this place every day, at roughly the same hour. They order their Viennese coffee with a double portion of cream liqueur. This time, however, one of them is telling the slender girl that they are going to have herbal tea. Panic ensues and the waitresses start running around the place wondering how it could all come to this. But they just wave it off, smilingly, beating dust off their old-fashioned suits: no sweat, it was all just a joke.

Consumed by the game, we then stick our teeth into the best breakfast we've had in a while, and move on to the two brothers in the corner. This time, we don't even have to imagine much. With their white hair and their long sideburns, they look like antique collectors from late 19th century. The revolution would soon render them useless and broke, but that's in twenty long years, and so far they are discussing the silver-encrusted Prussian vase in a relaxed manner over a few glasses of morning sherry.

We start on our two cups of cappuccino as a middle-aged eccentric wanders into the coffee house. With some slight tinkering, he could easily pass for an old-school eccentric. 

'What kind?' you ask, and I do it without even closing my eyes. The game is on. 

Oh, a local freak, albeit harmless, who walks into every cafe in town and speaks different languages in each one of them. He orders pancakes in perfect French, frog legs in broken Polish and roast beef in passable German. He knows three or four phrases in Latin and Greek and will happily use them to confuse some inexperienced boy who was only employed two days ago. This time, he is resorting to nasal Hungarian to order lunch. The girl is losing her patience, however. She is trying to make him use his finger to show what he wants.

We are waiting for the bill when you ask me, completely out of the blue, if I see us as a 19th century couple. But before I can even open my mouth and say something, a man at the table to the right of us stops writing in his yellow book, shuts it down, looks at us triumphantly, pays his bill, and walks out of the Viennese coffee house as well as the end of the 19th century.  

'A writer', you whisper. 'A writer', I whisper back, fumbling for my walking cane.