Seven o’clock on a Saturday, in a creamy, barely lilac hotel lounge. The candles are lit. Overhead the chandeliers sparkle, dispersing flecks of light onto the white marble, orchids, and peonies, the hazy seaside paintings and the champagne glasses on the table.
Gustav Klimt, Schubert at the Piano (1899)
Seven o’clock on a Saturday. There is a world outside it seems, but outside is not real here. The hotel lounge floats in that dusky window of time the French like to call le cinq-à-sept; too late for work, too early for dinner, appropriate only for a quick lovers’ tryst or a glass of wine. And a glass of wine.
We settle into the white Louis XV sofa, sipping Prosecco, tracing landscapes on our skin. At the marble coffee table next to us, another couple also holds hands, but they have been doing it longer than we. Her gold wedding ring in his silver hair, their eyes converse in the silence of those who have spent a lifetime together.
The pianist sits down to the grand piano. His fingers carefully touch the keys, he asks for requests. The gentleman hands him a folded note, and returns to his seat. The piano man nods in approval, and without further preamble, launches into Schubert’s Serenade. The notes wash over the lounge, overwhelming it, overwhelming us.
In the music and the candlelight, the couple’s faces glow. The black lace of her dress against his crisp white collar, they are perfect and beautiful. Outside, a world is unfolding, but they do not know or care. We watch them, watching each other. Holding hands in their world as their song plays.
‘A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
‘In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.’
- D.H. Lawrence, Piano
A lifetime of moments, unraveled by a serenade. The first invitation to dance, the thousands that followed. The makeshift wedding dress for a wartime wedding day. The checkpoints and snipers, the furtive kisses in the darkness of a bomb shelter. The evenings spent reading poetry and mending socks. The children, the polaroid photographs, the white Sunday dresses and shoes. The birthdays, the anniversaries, the Christmas mornings. The complacency, the fights, the mistakes, the silent I’m sorries. The unfolding stream of days, each ending at the foot of the same bed.
A lifetime of moments, leading up to a seven o’clock on a Saturday. In a world where everything changes, to a tune that, beautifully, does not.
Chopin, Mozart, and folk songs, and some jazz in between. On and on the repertoire goes. Outside, the whole world could end, while in here a pianist plays for two pairs of fools.
Seven o’clock on a Saturday. We have been married for a day. The couple beside us is still holding hands; they probably have been for years. There are no violins, but I hear them anyway.
The outside world makes no sense here. The outside world makes no sense. In this creamy hotel lounge, with its candles and chandeliers, its white orchids and peonies, two stories overlap, to the same soundtrack. This is what reality should look like, this is what love should be. So long as we sit here on the sofa, it is.
But sooner or later, we will have to step outside. Sooner or later, the music will end. The pianist will take a bow, and it will no longer be seven o’clock on a Saturday. I look at the couple next to us, listening to their song. We have our own lifetime of moments to create.
Sooner or later, we will step outside, to our own song, on our own terms. To an accordion on the subway in Paris, a guitar in a bedroom in Saint Louis. A violin on a Roman street corner, a saxophone on a rooftop in Beirut. Beethoven on your ipod, The Beatles on mine. A concert in a park, a band in a bar. A song on the radio, a song in our heads. A lull in the conversation, doing dishes on a Tuesday night.
But for now let us stay here, by the piano in a creamy hotel lounge. Let us stay in the first moment until it ends. As long as the pianist plays, and it is seven o’clock on a Saturday.