Montpellier. The photo above is of the Place de la Comédie, the great square in the centre of the city. It's called Comédie because the imposing building in the centre is the Opéra-Comédie, meaning that when it was built in the 1860s it was designed for both opera and stage plays. And you could hardly call this majestic square Place de la Tragédie.
I'm possibly in the photo, tucked away under one of those café awnings on the extreme right. It's 31º. These awnings have built-in brumatiseurs, which in very hot weather emit a fine spray, a mist, of cold water over the customers every now and then. Very refreshing. I have my coffee - alone: J. has gone to see her acupuncturist - and a glass of water. And today's Times, printed in Marseilles. I'm about to attack the crossword (1 ac. 'European residing in very attractive city' (6) - could be me, except that we don't actually live here) when my ear is savaged by some dreadful Eastern European accordion music.
It turns out to be coming from a lad of about 11. Faint traces of my former profession swirl up from the depths to ask Why isn't he in school? He is playing an endless sort of waltz, always in a minor key. After about ten minutes' worth of this revolving dirge he locks his accordion, takes a cup out of his pocket and wanders between the café tables soliciting coins from the clientèle. Many just shake their heads. Some put a few coins in. I lighten my net worth to the extent of 20 centimes. I could just have easily have taken something out as put something in. He goes away.
I thought (indeed, hoped) that might be the last we saw of him, but no. Presently he started up a new tune. The same minor key. It was like meeting unexpectedly someone you haven't seen for 30 years, you're unprepared for the change, you're not quite certain...
He was playing a tortured, barely recognisable, ultra-simplified version of Für Elise, a little piano piece by Beethoven, who would for once in his life have rejoiced to be stone deaf. Presently the lad wandered off to work one of the other cafés and I returned to my crossword.
Why wasn't the lad at school? I was reminded of an occasion years before when a parent, an American pastor whom I knew quite well, asked if he might take his two boys out of school for a fortnight. Would this hold back their progress? I trotted out two answers. Taking the narrow view, there would probably have to be some catching up when the boys got back, which tended to slow down the progress of the rest of the class, which was, to say the least, frustrating. Taking the broader view, in the context of the space-time continuum of the whole cosmos, it could not possibly matter two hoots if they took two weeks off school.
'That's the wisest thing I've ever heard a teacher say,' he said.
1ac. has to be 'Venice', surely?