by David Sapp
Don’t get me wrong. I am generally content with the inhabitants of my life – those close to me. However, occasionally, I prefer the company of chance encounters, life-long acquaintances abiding as dear but singular memories. Of course, these are all illusory, lacking the inevitability of disappointment, falling short of expectations. Still, I wonder if somehow these bonds may have been splendid substitutions.
In Amsterdam, on the train between Schiphol Airport and Centraal Station, the businessman with the out of place Tennessee drawl sat opposite and we spoke of travel, Nashville, and Ohio as we passed the soccer stadium and a decrepit windmill. He would be my affable big brother, the one whose easy manner and advice I sought too frequently.
While waiting in line for Van Gogh’s paintings, a guitarist serenading the queue for change, I passed the time chatting with a young, so very much in love couple from Singapore. We compared typhoons with tornadoes. They were afraid of America’s version – its violence and destruction. I was terrified of the wide expanse, engulfed by an ocean’s oblivion. They would be my son and his new wife, eager for life – a bright future ahead of them. Vincent’s swirling tempests were a temporary distraction from their love, their all-consuming deluge.
At the Rembrandt House, across the canal from the red-light district, Yvonne gave her last demonstration for the day on Rembrandt’s etchings. After the group moved on to his painting studio, we talked shop – of printing ink, presses, and self-portraits. She gave me a proof of the old artist looking out at me from the seventeenth century. I would be a boy again and she my mother. We’d live a modest, quiet life on a houseboat and after school, my little sister and I would marvel over Rembrandt’s shells, busts of philosophers, and antique helmets while waiting for her to finish work.
As a treat, I dined at the Stationsplein Grand Café, seated next to and exchanging a few reticent pleasantries with the elderly couple in from the country for a day. There, look. They could be my wife and I at seventy. I had the chicken with white asparagus and a glass of rosé, and the white asparagus ice cream was delicious. It was the theme for the day after seeing that little painting by Adriaen Coote of the Dutch vegetable in the Rijksmuseum – in an unassuming corner and down the hall from the noisy Night Watch.
And then there was Italy and Luigi the bus driver who played ABBA every day from Ravenna to Pompeii. He would be my uncle, Dad’s black sheep brother. On the cliffs of Sorrento, after the useless tour of the cameo factory, where an old panhandler tried to sell me a fake Rolex, I chatted with the tour guide whose boyfriend, she said, raced sleek, powerful Italian sportscars – Ferrari and Lamborghini. While peering out over the Mediterranean, we discussed crime in Italy versus American violence (this before the advent of the mass shooting as an act of expression) – while we watched the teenagers from the group play in the surf below. Surprisingly, she bought that fake Rolex after a lengthy negotiation and despite Luigi’s objections. My partner in business, we’d shuffle weary seniors across the boot. She’d find the best cuisine and hotel deals and lead us to the obvious well-worn sights. I would lecture on history, art, and architecture. We’d be chums and colleagues but never lovers for nearly thirty years.
In Rome, after the overwhelming Caravaggios, Peter’s crucifixion and Paul’s conversion at Santa Maria del Popolo, while waiting for hazelnut gelato at a bar at the edge of the square – an Egyptian obelisk and an arched Roman gate hovering heavily there – I met the nice woman shepherding her four rescue dogs by stepping on a paw. I apologized so earnestly she pulled pictures from her billfold of the poor pooch, mangy, skin and bones, when she found him on the street. Here was my twin sister. At eighty-five, everyone else long gone, we’d savor and suffer our days looking after each other (and her dogs of course) in an unobtrusive neighborhood near Santa Sabina. There’d be pasta, good wine, a terrace and once each year we’d tour the city visiting every Caravaggio and Bernini. After the gelato was served, I offered an “arrivederci,” but she said, “Oh no. Ciao, ciao.”
David Sapp, writer, artist, and professor, lives along the southern shore of Lake Erie in North America. A Pushcart nominee, he was awarded Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Grants for poetry and the visual arts. His poems appear widely in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. His publications include articles in the Journal of Creative Behavior, chapbooks Close to Home and Two Buddha, a novel Flying Over Erie, and a book of poems and drawings titled Drawing Nirvana.