My husband, son and I sat at our table on the patio overlooking Piazza Navona. It was alive with life and history—people walking and talking, magicians performing to passing crowds, wine and good food. However, I couldn’t help but notice out of the corner of my eye the gentleman sitting at the table next to us, quietly sipping his coffee. He had a laptop out on his table. He was writing, periodically looking poetically off into the distance.
I had to know what he was writing. I tried to spy his computer. Finally I blurted out. “Are you writing a novel?” (Always shoot high…he was probably just filing a tax appeal I reasoned.) “In fact I am,” he responded.
We chatted a little longer. I got the name of his first novel, The Village of Pointless Conversation. He was humble to talk about the award he received for it in India. I told him as a marketer I would have led with that (and even now have suggestions to boost his online bio/persona). He shared the book he was reading, (Wonderboys by Michael Chabon…one of my favorite movies). And he talked about the new book he was working on, which he described as “a little dark.”
Neither of my table mates were joining in. Of course I didn’t want to spend too much time fawning over the man at the table next to us. And, for my son, anything your mom says or does in public at his age is excruciatingly embarrassing. So I left it at that. “Nice to meet you.” “Good luck with your novel.”
But all the while all I could think was: This moment is so lost on this group. My mom would have LOVED this!
So I am going to re-imagine this meeting as though it had been with me and my mom. (See here, “Eat Your Peas” and here, “Turning into your mother?” for our travel adventures together in Paris for her 80th birthday).
As a start, in my mom’s version of course the writer was dashingly handsome—as in real life–but not something I would note out loud for the “husband and son” version.
For the woman (that’s me) who searched out and had coffee at Les Deux Magots (where the Surrealists, Albert Camus and others convened) and Café de la Rotonde (where Modigliani and Picasso hung out), this was pure romantic fantasy. Not about me and the writer but me as a writer—that pure, freeing, amazing feeling of uncensored writing…that magic of flow (a la Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi), where inspiration, time and space converge—sitting at the café, sipping coffee, life swirling around, creating original thought.
How would the story have been different? First of all…my mom would have been the one to make first contact and I would have been horribly embarrassed (do parent/child relationships ever evolve?). But he would have engaged, and as they continued talking I would have joined in.
“Wait, you were a sailor first, and then a writer? How did that happen?” I would have asked when he shared it. I only gleaned this from a post-trip Google search. Relationship status, family, whether his dad was single…my (widowed) mother would have gotten his full story. Not because she pestered, but because she brings it out in others by being genuinely interested and so open and full of life herself. The sailor turned Bollywood screenwriter now writing a novel in Rome. She would have loved that.
It was with my mom that the valet ushered us to the front of the line and into lunch at the restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower on our Paris trip. “You have a reservation, of course?” he asked in French. “No. Is that a problem?” I answered in my Missouri accented French.
We befriended the family from India next to us whose son was as precocious as he was adorable, and the father from Boston with his two precious children—recently divorced he was optimistic and hopeful for new love. Long conversations with everyone around us, my mom savoring every moment. As we left, I created a distraction while she wrapped the leftover chocolates in a napkin and hid them in her purse.
Doors seemed to open for me and my mom when we were together, and meetings like this one, with the famous author and screenwriter, Kersi Khambatta, would have filled the lore of our trip. He was on deadline, heading to Dubai the next day and then back to Mumbai—but for me and my mom, this story would have been one of the highlights of the trip.
“He was just as taken with us as we were with him,” my mom would have said. And, that would have become part of the story, too.
Intercultural communications is a practice–no one is ever an expert, but constantly evolving. Family members, strange and different as they are, offer daily opportunity to sharpen skills and tools. Do you know what makes your loved-one’s tick?