Lifting the spirit

by , under life

So I went grocery shopping in the throes of the Cough from Hell, with “cough medicine” on my shopping list along with all the groceries. Today is the day that St Nicholas arrives in town, accompanied by his ever more controversial servants– I won’t link to any controversy because either you’ve heard about it and have an opinion, or you don’t want to know. I’ll say this one thing and then shut up because please, people, no racefail on my blog. Diversity is good. Enforcing diversity in a traditional children’s festival, or proposing a law to keep the status quo (yes, there’s actually a proposal to codify the form of a folk celebration) instead of encouraging or suggesting or just plain quietly introducing diversity is not good.

Anyway, it made the town very crowded. My other half went to get lunch while I was in the shower and it was too crowded for him. I might have been able to bear it –there’s a narrowish window where a crowd is too much for him but not yet for me– but I was wet and not wearing enough clothes and we were hungry. I did the afternoon shopping and then it was too crowded for me. I like little kids, but I dislike watching their parents drag them around and bitch at them instead of going along with the fun just this one day. I like St Nicholas songs in general and love them on the street organ, but all the shops play mangled versions, streamlined into 4/4 metre even if it’s something completely different to start with. With children’s choirs that can’t or won’t sing in tune, or even (chilling thought) don’t learn to sing in tune because incompetence is so cute.

At the supermarket there was a couple who apparently needed to be everywhere that I needed to be: however much I tried to avoid them we ended up together all the time. Every object the man put in the cart, the woman criticised. (“Two bottles of wine? Is that new or something?”) Her face was a prime example of “set that way”, she probably wouldn’t have been ugly at all if she hadn’t been wearing a firm expression of disdain. And when I walked the 10 meters or so from the door to my bicycle I was pushed aside by a posse of young men in jackets with fur collars who, obviously, had far more right to the road than a miserable middle-aged woman with a shopping bag has. I didn’t fall, and even my bag didn’t. The eggs did, though, because obviously they were on top, and one was smashed.

As I was standing in line to ask for a plastic bag at customer service –one very young girl who, in spite of everything, stayed patient and friendly– the couple I hadn’t been able to avoid were at the desk, complaining of course. At least the woman was complaining; the man was standing a little aside, looking unhappy.

Someone with a dry-cleaning order, someone who needed a box and a stamp to return a modem to his ex-ISP, and then a woman who asked for the key to the customer toilet. “That’s 20 cents,” the girl said, but the woman didn’t have that in her purse and asked her husband for it. Either he hadn’t understood what she meant or he genuinely didn’t have it, because he handed her a 20-euro note literally over my head (they were both very tall). The girl was beginning to look desperate, did they really mean her to part with € 19,80 in change? So I laid a 20-cent piece I happened to have in my coat pocket on the counter, “here, have this, don’t let’s pester her with it.” But she didn’t want it, because it turned out that the toilet was engaged and nobody knew for how long and she wasn’t sure she wanted to wait for it. So much for random acts of kindness.

And of course after that I forgot to go into the drugstore next to the supermarket and buy my cough medicine.

When I walked home past the market and through the little crowded shopping streets, wheeling my bike, I heard folk music.

Not St Nicholas music, not something fitting a theme, not local colour for a promotion, but real live honest-to-God folk music. Two men leaning against a shop front about ten meters from the shortcut I was taking, the taller one playing a squeeze-box, the shorter a hurdy-gurdy. My spirits lifted and stayed high, and halfway to the next block I turned and decided to give them a two-euro piece. Close up, I could see that they looked French and weren’t as young as I’d thought, one had white patches in his dark beard. I didn’t have a two-euro piece, though, only a few measly coins in my purse. Not even the five-euro note that I would gladly have given them instead if I’d still had it (but I know I spent it on fruit yesterday). So sixty-five cents and an apologetic smile it was.

When my other half heard I’d forgotten the cough medicine and offered to get it I told him about the musicians but they’d already gone. I hope to a spot where people do have two-euro pieces and bestow them generously.

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