Places

Don Coles

I was sitting in a booth in the Copenhagen Student Union’s
Café reading Art Buchwald’s column in the Paris edition
Of the Herald Tribune when a careful voice coming from
Just above the partition asked: ‘Could you tell me the time,
Please?’ This was about forty years ago when I was not as
Ramshackle as I am now and was wearing a watch, which
I no longer seem to need, so I soon had an answer for her.
‘Seven,’ perhaps. What sangfroid, looking back! ‘Thank
You,’ this person said. She had light-brown hair and
Big soft eyes, and her face then went back, or down,
Out of sight behind the partition. I’m thinking of this
Because today’s newspaper, April 3rd 2006, tells me that
Art Buchwald is dead. The Paris edition of the Herald
Tribune – what a host, as they say, of memories this
Conjures up! The girl turned out to be a nurse in training
Called Gitl, and a little later that evening we were among
A congested bunch on the small dance-floor of the Røde
Pimpernel, which won’t need translating, a place
Gitl knew about, and a fellow about as tall as I was
Grinned at her as we were dancing, or rather, standing,
Moving back and forth, mostly stationary really,
And he also gestured admiringly at, I had the impression,
Gitl’s breasts, which were certainly in no way exposed
But were noticeable. Actually she was wearing a sweater
Which wasn’t tight, but still. Gitl spoke two quite short
Words which my command of Danish didn’t extend to
But which sobered him up right away, he may even have
Stumbled a bit, he was dancing too, after all. That
Was it for him, he ends here. Art Buchwald, now, though,
That really brings a lot back. I used to imagine being him,
Living in Paris and writing even more wittily than he did,
Columns about restaurants and the NFL and art and
The gardens of the Luxembourg, and my photo there
Instead of his, similar saturnine smile – could anyone be happier?
At the end of the evening Gitl and I sat talking for
Quite a while on one of the bottom steps of a long
Staircase in her nearby rooming-house, both of us
Half-glimpsing, I think, inaccessible seasons together,
But she had told me that the next morning she ‘must’
Be on a train to her home in Esbjerg, all the way across
Denmark, for her half-term holiday, and my flight to Canada
Was booked for a few days after that, though I didn’t
Say so. The newspaper’s photo of Art Buchwald
Shows him on the phone from a bed in the Stateside
Hospice he’d picked to die in. Kidney failure, the article
Says, and it says he’d declined dialysis as ‘too boring’.
He’s not in Paris, of course, nobody’s exactly where
They might be.