Der grausame Februar (engl. Original der Kolumne in der htr vom 21.2.2013)
In Eliot’s day winter was reliably, consistently cold. April, with its erratic spring weather, was the month that treated you as badly as an inconsistent lover.
In these times of climate change, there’s a new candidate for the cruellest month. February. It starts with a thaw, encouraging naïve birds to start singing and fresh-air fiends to hang out their duvets to air. Then the sky grows dark again, snow is being hurled from the sky, and windows are closing all over Europe. It’s a little like working in a restaurant kitchen, not knowing if your boss is Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay. Will it be smiles or shouting? Sunshine or sleet?
For a tiny month, February does a thorough job of messing up gender equality. Throwing Leap Year into an already complicated equation, pressuring usually sane women into proposing when they should feel free to do this any month of any old year.
Then there’s the equally conflict-ridden Valentine’s Day, when comfortable couples become jittery (how much to spend?) and fledgling couples feel self-conscious (should they ignore it?), and hotels offer eye-wateringly expensive heart-shaped beds, and florists rub their Shylock hands in glee, and men anxiously assess their bank balances, and normally independent women drop heavy hints about jewellery.
My restaurateur friend has many horror stories revolving around Valentine’s Day presents ruining good food and drink. Pearls earrings hidden in gateaux – and swallowed. Cheap rings fizzing in the bottom of top-quality champagne. Marriage proposals tucked into menus and falling onto open candle flames.
This year my restaurateur friend was given a diamond necklace by her boyfriend – for which she was very grateful. But she confided that she’d forgo any number of diamonds if, just once, she could walk out the door of her restaurant late at night – tired, footsore – and find her boyfriend waiting for her, ready to walk her home. Why is it, she asked wryly, that he was perfectly capable of walking three blocks to the local bar but incapable of walking three blocks to pick her up after work?
This has to be the most depressing thing about February. It’s the month of Expectable Romance. The best sort of romance is the out-of-the-blue, surprising sort. Real romance can crop up all year around. Real romance is what happens when one person takes the time to think about someone else – what they might need, right at that moment – and then goes out and ensures it happens.
Last year, when I was at my wit’s end with deadlines and my building was covered in scaffolding and my flat was full of dust, a friend met me at a café. He gave me a booking confirmation: one night in a hotel five minutes from my house. For twenty hours I had the treat of a large white bed, a clean floor, sleep, silence and solitude.
This, for me, was true romance. Not the sugary, coupleish sort – but simply empathy, imagination, and a belief in human connection. No pink heart-shaped cards, no satin sheets, no long-stemmed roses. Walking quietly beside someone can be enough: keeping another person company for a few blocks in this odd, difficult life.