Some Gentleman Cannot Choose Their Battles
During the recent cessation of my responsibilities with The Modern Gentleman, I had the opportunity to travel a bit through Europe. I had some adventures there, for certain. But there is one that sticks out in my mind more than the rest, at the moment.
During an overnight layover in Italy, I was forced to find accommodations within an airport. I wasn’t upset by this arrangement as I am as parsimonious as I am capable of sleeping in most conditions. During the early evening hours I visited one of the cafes in the airport. I thought I might reconnoiter for a place to sleep and enjoy a restorative. One of the delightful facts about Europe is wine is ubiquitous and cheap—cheaper than soft drinks in fact. I purchased a demi bottle of wine and a light sandwich and settled in for a for an extended repast. After all, I had nowhere else to go.
Airports are interesting places to engage people in conversation because the people there invariably have stories to tell. I sat next to two Australians who had established a small encampment at one of the larger tables. They had loads of luggage and various electronics that cascaded cables in all directions. They had missed their flight and were condemned to the same fate of accommodations as myself. They were nevertheless quite cheery and eager to share anecdotes from their adventures. I sipped my wine and nibbled my sandwich as they shared storied they gathered from all over Europe.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the cafe, a man—slightly unkempt and rather overzealous in his body language—was speaking loudly at someone. I looked over to see whoever had riled him, but there was nobody there. No one with whom he spoke directly, anyway. He grimaced and growled at something that must have been a figment or apparition.
With no one actually there to fight, I figured, how far could this escalate?, and went back to my sandwich, wine, and conversation.
I listened to stories about these two gentleman and their achievements in adventure and found that, as ever, I was impressed by Australians–in general–on two accounts. First, their apparent love of travel, as they seem to be everywhere. Also, their exceptionally mannered, yet outgoing persona. I can envision myself lost in the deepest canyons of an uncharted desert and out from behind a rock pops an Australian—Here mate, I have an extra map and a water bottle. Take ’em, they’re yours. Cheers!
As time passed, the man at the other end of the cafe became more agitated, unfortunately. He began to point and shake his fist, and though it was directed at nobody specifically in the cafe, people began to pick up their belongings and leave. The staff had already shuttered the meal counters and left the cafe, so there was no one there who was technically obligated to step in. One by one people walked out and—social diffusion being what it is—eventually the cafe cleared almost entirely. All except for the Aussies and myself. But eventually the irate man’s tirade became too much of a distraction for them, and so they too packed up to leave. Good luck with him, they said ironically. I replied that I hoped that he wasn’t talking to me. In fact I had no idea what he was saying, as it was, of course, in Italian.
As I sat there alone, I could see that there was a battle raging at the other side of the cafe. The man seemed to be fighting battalions of enemies and he shouted and waved his arms to hold back the throngs only he could see. The ferocity of his fight became too much for even me, and I re-corked my bottle of wine, picked up my belongings, and moved to the door. His back was to me, and I thought that I would pass unnoticed, as compared to whatever scenes of struggle that lay before him. But as I neared him and the exit, he stopped his war-whoops and turned quietly to me. He smiled serenely and genuinely. He spoke in perfect, accented English, a-uh good-uh night to you, sir.
I was dumbfounded, and for a moment stood without a sound. Finally, I muttered simply, good night to you also.
The smile on his face changed, and with sad eyes he replied, thank-uh you, but I-uh never sleep through-uh the night anymore,and shrugged defeatedly. He turned back to face his foes and I left.
Later that evening I sat in a chair in another part of the airport, sipping my wine and thinking about those words of his that haunt me still. I thought about him facing that enemy only he could see. He must have felt very alone. I sat there, steeped in the bravery that red wine seems always to bolster a bit and wished I could join him in his fight. Allies, I am sure, are difficult to come by for him. Even Don Quixote had Sancho Panza.