“Women! Man, you just can’t understand them. Look at the way that Italian girl is treating Boggel: at first it was all eyes and smiles and little hugs – now she spends time with Frans and Pete as if our barman doesn’t exist.” Kleinpiet draws a gallows on the countertop, with a stick-man dangling from the rope.
“She wants girlie-talk, that’s all. She and Pete are comparing nail varnish. You can’t expect Boggel to know anything about Revlon, can you?” Vetfaan is being practical. “And yesterday they swapped knitting patterns.”
“But it’s this hot-and-cold thing that gets me. As soon as you think you are maing progress with a dame, they suddenly chill down. It’s happened to me before. Most frustrating.”
“My tractor did it once. Overheated as soon as the engine started working hard. Couldn’t figure it out, until I checked the oil sump. The oil was so old, it lost its ability to lubricate. Seems the engine needed all that lubrication to keep it going properly. “
“So what did you do?”
“Changed the oil, that’s all. As soon as it circulated properly, the engine was happy again. You only have to understand the mechanics to understand it. Took me a while, though.”
Ever since old Marco told Gertruida that it is not very feminine to do a hippo-snort, she has been concentrating hard not to do it. This time she loses the battle.
“Is that all you guys ever think about? Oil and lubrication and overtheated engines? That woman,” she points at Lucinda, “is simply playing the oldest game in the book. Boggel will have to work hard to get – and keep – her attention. He’ll just have to up the ante.”
“If he can still get that ante to work, that is.” Vetfaan giggles at Kleinpiet’s remark. “You know how it is with engines that haven’t run for a while.”
“Ag sis, man! Stop it, you guys. Rather go and talk to Boggel. He’s been miserable since she changed her tactics. Go on, tell him it’s a woman thing and nothing to worry about. And that he’ll have to work harder at the relationship.”
Boggel shuffles over to the table where Lucinda is chatting with the two men. Frans is talking about John Keats, and explaining some of his verses.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain…
“You see, people think he is saying something about death and mortality, but that’s not the way I see it. He’s afraid. In When I have Fears, he tells us that he’s afraid he’ll die before he discovers true love. Listen to this:
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love…
“He’s talking about the power unreflecting love – love that gets absorbed, accepted. He’s afraid of one-sided, single, shunned, ignored, not returned, love. And that is the tragedy of humankind – we want to absorb love, but we don’t give it.”
Pete hangs onto every word. Frans’ wisdom with poetry is absolutely astounding. In school they did a few verses of Visser and Keet, but Frans is much more intense and obviously spent a long time with the older English poets.
“In Italy, we have il Sommo Poeta, the great Durante degli Alighieri, or as the world knows him, Dante. He lived 800 years ago and is still considered to be one of the world’s best poets. He wrote about love and God and hell. Most interesting man, he was.”
Boggel asks if they want to order anything, but the group is so deep into the Inferno, that they ignore his question for a while. He clears his throat – he’s had enough.
“Listen. I don’t know much about poetry. I’ve heard of Dante, can’t recite Keats, and once knew the words of Winternag. But you know something? Poets write about love and death because they fear the one and crave the other. Sometimes it’s difficult to say which one is feared and which one they long for. Seems to me, they often crave love – and then long for death once they’ve found it. And listen to the words of most songs – they all say the same thing.” Boggel, who listened carefully to Vetfaan and Kleinpiet, ignores Lucinda while he addresses Frans. “Everybody is looking for love. They sing about it, write about it, cry about it – and once they’ve found it, they manage to bugger it up most of the time. Some people even manage to wreck it – even before they get started.
“Vetfaan says it’s like the oil in his tractor. Love needs lubrication.” Seeing Pete’s eyes go wide, Boggel smiles. “Lots of lubrication. Love needs to be nurtured and cared for. You have to keep an eye on the oil level all the time. Check the engine’s temperature. Be careful not to go too fast – and watch out that you don’t stall the engine. You don’t need a poet to tell you that.
“Now, would you like to order something?”
That’s the thing about good barmen – they’re extremely rare. They must be able to listen to good advice. They must have the ability to talk about engines and love and poetry. And sometimes they must say one thing, but at the same time, convey a much deeper message. Most importantly, they are there to serve. Good barmen, come to think of it, should be good lovers.
Lucinda watched him as he spoke. Now she’s trying to catch his eye, but he’s already turned to go.
“Boggle?” She still has difficulty with the pronunciation.
“We must talk…”
Rolbos doesn’t have a book club, or a poetry society, or a literary group. Except for Gertruida and Frans, nobody is knowledgeable enough to contribute much to what the great writers of the world have penned over the years.
Then again, maybe they don’t need it.
In contrast to Dante’s dark verses and Keats’ hunger for love, Rolbos lives in the reality of possibilities. They fail sometimes, lose the plot here and there and mostly suffer the consequences of their own mistakes. Yet, despite their shortfalls, there is an honest, if convoluted, yearning to belong – and even to love.
Maybe one should look at Rolbos not as a town. Maybe it’s a condition. Or, if you’re a real romantic, you can see Rolbos as a poem.
“I’m afraid, Boggle,” Lucinda says later, after the other customers have gone.
“It’s harder to give, than to receive, Lucinda. But only the brave will experience the fairy power Keats wrote about. Sometimes one gets hurt in the process – but if love is given and accepted by both parties involved, it is a sign of great bravery. It’s letting down all your defences and allowing somebody else into the driving seat. And if only one person does this, the end result is tragedy. Love and tragedy is separated by a very thin line; the only thing that keeps that line from breaking is trust and loyalty.”
Lucinda nods slowly.
“I have a CD here, Boggel. Sometimes I speak not easily when I speak of love. But maybe this song will tell you something.”
He puts it on.
Rolbos , they decide later, isn’t a poem.
It’s a song…