Okay, somewhere in between the weekend in the bush, the period during which my brain stopped working (Monday afternoon/Tuesday), the all-nighter getting my essay in and the restless night in my niece’s bed before hunting-weekend I have entered a parallel universe. It is a very strange place.
I have attributed the low-level depression I have felt in the last few days to lack of sleep and lack of an immediate long-term employment prospect, but now I suspect I might be suffering from the alienating effects of culture shock. Everything is slightly surreal, but I think now that I understand the cause of this perception discord I may be able to snap out of it in, oh, the next few months or so.
For example… right now I am sitting at a table in the far end of Doppio Zero in Rosebank, in that little area with the two sliding doors that create a private dining room of sorts. I am here because I needed electricity for the laptop, I had a few hours of work to do, I was famished and was tired from walking around a museum for two hours. I ordered beer and bruschetta with hummus and roasted peppers. It was delicious, and I started working.
Behind me there were two very French looking women speaking French. I absolutely love the sound of the language, and I never hear it without renewing my resolution to learn. The Italians are less fond of it: some guy called Cesare once told me that “French is like a man speaking with a woman in his mouth.”
Well, as a woman I can only say that the sound of it is lovely. Make a note to yourself there, Cesare.
But back to Doppio. My blood sugar levels rose, I was busy, I had soothing incomprehensible conversation in the background. The girls left, the battery ran out and instead of plugging in right there, I moved to the table that they had vacated, to the very back of the restaurant.
On the tablecloth was a film of very fine, short black filaments. It looked as if someone had a quick trim… of sorts. I found it slightly incredible that the waiters would be doing their grooming in the restaurant, as opposed to the bathroom on the opposite end, but there was no real mistaking the fibres on the white cloth. I wondered if this happened after the women left, or if they simply did not notice. I toyed with the idea that I might be imagining things. I was not offended, at this point, just slightly curious. As I was not going to eat, and not being the squeamish type, I plugged in and sat down. On the other side of the window the grey, sunless afternoon turned to early evening, the streetlights came on the red lights of traffic and cars gave the street a little colour. There was the distinct feeling of the change in shift. A whole new bunch of people streamed in, popping into the kitchen before peering at me around the curtain.
I was beginning to feel slightly irritable, when I realised that right behind me, against the wall, was a wall unit in which the staff obviously stored their bags, and that my presence at the table, at that time of the evening, was inconvenient for them. They seemed to make a different plan, and I ignored the slightly exasperated stares. The guys going home had no choice, however, but to mumble an apology and get their stuff. One guy was very sweet – he squeezed his bulk in behind me, took his bag and jacket out of the unit, dressed and packed before he shuffled off. In that moment it was not inconceivable that, before going home, he might well pull a comb through his hair before stepping into the street. I asked my waiter for another beer, and to change the table cloth, which he did. Ten minutes later another guy hovered for a second before squeezing past. This one, a new arrival, took time to peel off his top layer, pack it in his bag, store his stuff and tie on an apron.
“Excuse me,” I said. “If you have to get dressed, please do it in the bathroom.” He ignored that and ducked.
It is the parochialism of the act, I think, that made me feel slightly divorced from the world. In a restaurant, where people cook, serve and eat food, one would imagine that personal grooming, especially the kind that leaves behind swathes of DNA, would be expressly forbidden in an area where customers are served.
Now I look at the table and I wonder if it really happened. It hardly gets more bizarre, I think.