[Part 3 of a fictional blog serial, told in 7 installments. Only some of it really happened, but all of it is true.]
Tomorrow, I'm due to meet up with Tina and Roy, friends from L.A. whose presence in town (serendipity!) became another rationalization for making this leap into the unknown. This morning, My Romance and I are on our own, and it's a short walk from the hotel to an art pilgrims' mecca.
I arrive at the Van Gogh Museum some fifteen minutes to opening time and there's a line down the block. No sooner have I taken my place in it than a European man and woman lock up their bikes and join me -- blonde, hip, happily snoggling in that we're-young-and-in-love way. I try to keep my eyes on the museum, thinking of what Vincent, poor, half-mad, desolate in his invisibility would make of this whole scene, but My Romance openly gawks at the couple, sighing, "God, don't they have it all!" "That's what they expect you to think," I snap, "They're French."
Inside I stand close as I can stand to the paintings, properly awed, the reproductions never get this, the palpable electric energy radiating off the colors, but even while the deeper appreciator in me takes in every brushstroke, My Romance fidgets, frets, questioning each passing moment like a querulous child. I focus on the amazing grasp of the essential Thingness in all natural objects that Van Gogh brought to every canvas while My Romance bounces off the walls.
I am here... I am now... It's as if every beat of being present (sipping Dutch iced tea as I sit by the museum cafe window, watching passers-by whose faces could pass for those I just saw sketched in a Van Gogh notebook), every I am free... has to fight against the undertow of My Romance's hysteria. Still reeling from Michelle's apparent disinterest, My Romance is sickened by what feels like defeat, which is why it's an especially good thing when a good-looking woman takes a seat at the counter one down from me. Just to shut up My Romance, I ask her for the time.
Denise is from Istanbul and she likes me fine. Alone in a strange city on business, she laughs at my jokes, is clearly grateful for my company. I am charming, she is charmed, and sanity returns as we walk back to our hotels together, coincidentally on the same block. That she's engaged and unavailable is no matter: she has handed me back my mantle of red-blooded masculinity, bless her Turkish heart, and My Romance is now mollified enough to be relatively calm as I find my way to the Leidseplein for lunch, where Michelle awaits...
Excitedly chatting up a tall swarthy broad-shouldered waiter, who could easily press two of me, and isn't it amazing, they know each other from a year ago, in Buenos Aires... My Romance sits sullenly through a lunch served by this friendly handsome fellow, years younger than me, while Michelle and I discuss the screenplay she's writing. And yesterday's same disjunct continues: she is perfectly friendly -- perfectly remote. I imagine that I lack only a pipe to seem a thoroughly neutered and avuncular professor... one with the unrequited longings of a horny schoolboy.
It's true that you're never alone with a schizophrenic. For My Romance, the afternoon with Michelle is intermittent torture; for me, it's nonetheless pleasant, entertaining. A visit to her town, suburban Utrecht, is simultaneously the waste of a cinematic setting (who needs that sunset behind the canal bridge now?) and a legitimately fascinating history trip (as I stand in the courtyard where Rembrandt's studio once stood, feeling the resonance of a grander romance that trumps mine's petty grievances).
Then we meet her friend Rita for dinner, and suddenly the entire raision d'etre of my visit to Amsterdam crystallizes. Because clearly, this is the woman I was destined to encounter: petite, sweet Rita with the laughing eyes -- we're instantly connected in that soul mate way, and when I glance at Michelle I catch a look of "ah, it's just as I'd expected" enjoyment on her face.
But this is not what happens.
Rita, sweet but large, is a confoundingly taciturn woman, tough to coax into conversation. My Romance drives a toy truck, painted Starry Night blue, through the silences that punctuate this meal. What I eventually pull out of Rita is that she's dating a guy she met on-line and with their third in-person meet imminent, she hopes to jump his bones.
I borrow Michelle's cellphone, grateful I can leave a message for Tina and Roy (Americans!). Then we walk the dog to the station, and I'm painfully aware of how far this strained and low-key dog walk, devoid of even one brushstroke of electricity, is from what I fantasized way back in the Michelle e-mail glory days. At the station entrance she lifts up the edges of her invisible shield for the obligatory three-kiss cheek-buss. Cool as a docent, still at my disposal -- if I want to see her tomorrow, to do whatever, just give her a call.
On the train after midnight both me and My Romance are stewing. Because really, what am I doing here? I mean, sure, there's Tina and Roy to look forward to, and everything else the city has to offer, but I'm here for a whole bloody week, and -- it's now that a freezing shudder of realization suddenly sends me pawing through my shoulderbag, but I already know how fucked I am, I can see the unfolded pieces of paper where I left them on Michelle's table, when I made that call: the pages that contain Tina and Roy's numbers, my flight information, Michelle's phone number... my life-line papers.
Now truly marooned, I pray I can somehow access Utrecht information in the morning (and that Michelle is listed), pray she comes upon the papers before like, Labor Day. Though in this hyper-ventilating, stomach-sunk moment, My Romance is ready to bolt back across the sea. We have definitely hit our adventure's existential low.
Man, I've been on some dumb and doomed blind dates this year, but this one takes the goddamned costly cake.
[to be continued]