An outdoor cafe in early spring in Holland.
The hat comes off first. Your head drops back. Your eyes shut. Your surroundings disappear. And all you feel is the sharp heat of early spring raising pinpricks of red on your cheeks and a rosy hue under your eyelids. And your thoughts? Gone to a time of warmth and good cheer. Perhaps to a beach. Maybe to a ball field. Or possibly just adrift on an Iowa river, floating languorously past the lowing cattle drinking at the banks, while a blue heron slowly flaps its wings, hugging the curve of the water, marking the way. Sure, the biblical warning of “peace, peace, when there is no peace,” is still lurking in the background of your thoughts — but shouldn’t you turn your face just a little to one side?There you go, feel that toasty sun.
All this from just taking off your hat.
Admittedly, a sunny day in spring is a bit of a rarity in Holland. Most days it rains, at least a little. But when the sun shines, coats come off, sleeves are rolled up, eyes are closed, and the outdoor cafe crowd slowly pivots in their chairs like sunflowers in a field, looking for the tiniest ray of warmth on their upturned faces. Relaxed and glowing.
That is, until reality returns.
The Dutch daily newspaper on the table, the AD Haagsche Courant, blares a headline above a picture of Donald Trump:
“Alfamannetje heft problem: de dames molten hem niet.”
My Dutch friend translates: “Alpha male has problem: women don’t care for him.”
Is this really news? Of course, women aren’t keen on a man who focuses so much on their looks and bodily functions and who personally dislikes so many women. But more shocking, does Europe think Trump is an alpha male?
It should be no surprise that politics comes up while you’re soaking in the rays at an outdoor cafe. Politics and outdoor cafes are no strangers. It is reported that the 1968 Paris revolution, where students barricaded the streets and the unions shut France down with strikes, began in outdoor cafes. And the 2011 Egyptian revolution, where a government was overturned and the ripple of independence stretched across the Middle East, also began in outdoor cafes.
So even on this sunny day, politics wants a seat at the table. Even if uninvited.
Take the British daily, The Guardian, popular reading in this neck of the woods:
“Cruz, the red-meat Texas senator with an army of conservative followers, raised eyebrows on Tuesday when he told the Texas Tribune that people who believe global warming is real are ‘the equivalent of the flat-Earthers.’”
Really, with Cruz’s evangelical fervor, this can’t be a surprise. Supporting Cruz is like going to the front of the tent and agreeing to renounce Satan. Who wouldn’t want to renounce Satan? Well, maybe ex-felons. Cruz has identified ex-felons as Democrats, which is why Democrats want to restore ex-felons’ right to vote. It’s good to know who’s who without resorting to fire and a stake.
See, once you get started on these rants, the warm sun seems to just nurture more and more heated discussions until eventually you have a revolution, or, more likely, table guests anxious to leave.
Ah, the sun has shifted. With precise choreography, we all stand, turn our chairs, and sit back down. And begin arguing again.
There is the BBC News coverage of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia:
“He was one of the most prominent proponents of ‘originalism’ – a conservative legal philosophy that believes the US Constitution has a fixed meaning and does not change with the times. In 2008, Justice Scalia delivered the opinion in District of Columbia v Heller, a landmark case that affirmed an individual’s right to possess a handgun.”
“Affirmed” might not be strong enough. Justice Scalia suggested that we need to be armed not only for self-defense of home and hearth but to fight against the tyranny of the government, just like the old days. Well that’s certainly “originalism,” but does that mean we should take up arms against Governor Branstad’s regime because of the unreasonable licensure requirements for braiding hair? Talk about tyranny getting you where it hurts. Although, as they say at the salon, one person’s tyranny is another person’s updo gone awry.
As politics devolves into silliness, the afternoon begins to wind down. The drinks change from coffee to wine. Food starts to appear at various tables. Conversations become muted. Sweaters are pulled back up. Coats are wrapped across legs. And politics is left to the side. Quiet drifts in with the ocean mist. A candle appears on the table. It is a time for peace to return.
Just over the dunes at the beach is a line of German bunkers, lost today in the sand and high grass. The Atlantic Wall. Ready to repel an invading force of Americans and Canadians and British.
But that invasion turned out to be much further south, with its own horror. But I wonder what those German boys talked about on a warm day in April, as they sat outside their bunker, helmets off, turning their faces like sunflowers toward the heat, their thoughts adrift on some German river. At peace.
Thoughts from an outdoor cafe.