On the last day of our short holiday, we took the train to Cascais, a small town just outside of Lisboa. Our aim for that day was: to see the sea, to have a walk on the beach, and to let the sun go down in our hearts, before we plunged back into our hectic life in The Netherlands. We sat down at the nearest terrace by the sea and had a drink, coats tight. However, the sun was lovely.
There also was a man who was singing and playing guitar. He was sitting on the wall between the terrace and the sea, toghether with a microphone, a loudspeaker and a trolley. In between the songs, he turned out to be the most misunderstood artist of the world, at least that’s what he made his audience believe. ‘I am a talented musician but I don’t get the money that I deserve. If you have some respect then give me some money. I have to play all day long so that I can eat and live. But most tourists don’t give money because they want to spend it for shopping.’
The way he said this was accusing and pathetic. Of course I believe him at once that it is difficult to make ends meet. And indeed, he was an excellent singer and guitar player. But because he presented himself as the victim of the whole situation, he only caused indifference. He was groaning on everybody, even on those who gave him some money when he was passing his hat. At a certain moment he even left the terrace, saying: ‘I’m going to the toilet and then I’m going to kill myself.’ I laughed softly; this man was incredible. A misanthrope to the bone.
It makes me think of the movie ‘Alceste à bicyclette’ 1. The movie is about an actor who is persuading a friend to do Molière’s famous play ‘Le misanthrope’. This friend is a celebrated actor, but he has retreated since he found that the world is full of lies and deceit. In other words, a misanthrope who is asked to play ‘Le misanthrope’. Despite his bitterness he agrees with the plan. At least, so it seems, because just before the premiere, he suddenly quits. It is because of his black view of the world, that is so dear to him, that he would abandon his own friends for it.
For a misanthrope, humans are basically his ennemies. In the past he has been abandoned by them, humiliated or mistreated, but that won’t happen again. The world once turned against him, and now he’s doing the same back, shutting himself off from the world. When approaching, be sure that you know what you’re getting into, because he will look right through your intentions and the social decoration that comes with it. In ‘Alceste à bicyclette’, analyses like this take place on several occasions. Hilarious for the viewer, but not so for the antagonist in the story, who has to tolerate it time after time. He doesn’t give up, however, the bigger his disappointment is in the end. In spite of what it looked like, the door was only slightly opened. A priori, it was a lost battle. Indeed, there is no hope for the world in the eyes of the misanthrope. Nothing good is to be expected from it, and every positive experience is doomed to fail.
Maybe the man on the terrace in Lisboa was such a misanthrope. He did’nt want any applause; he just wanted confirmation for his grumbling. But, when singing, there was no sign of that. That’s why I secretly have been listening to him. Maybe he even would have liked it, if I secretly had told him. He would have secretly turned around, whispering: ‘To be honest, I am not a misanthrope; I only pretend to be one. But please don’t secretly tell this to anybody, will you?’ 2.
It is possible. But it’s also possible that he has a heart of stone en that he has thrown al his dreams in the trash. Who knows? I only would have figured it out if I had made contact, and that, I thought, was one step too far. I was on holiday, come on. Why on earth should I pay attention to a singing grouch? When we left the terrace, I put a few coins into his hat, but he didn’t look very glad. Surely, in his eyes, I only gave money to pay off my guilty feelings, and not because of respect.
And yet he will remain in my memories as that musician on that sunny terrace by the sea. Actually, he should be mentioned in the travel guides as a major attraction. He would make a lot of money with his formula that treats us to some beautiful sounds, as well as to his personal view of the world. However, I am not a publisher of guidebooks, and therefore I include my recommendation here:
Cascais. Terrace by the sea. Ongoing musical performance by a singer and guitar player. In between the guests are exposed to a certain amount of criticism. Definitely worth visiting for those who want something different for half an hour. Payment: afterwards and at will. Warning: not for people who are easily offended.Huug Verschuijl
1 Philippe Le Guay (2013). Alceste à bicyclette.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rvL0gUVTk4 (official trailer)
2 I really like the word ‘secretly’ in Dutch (‘stiekem’). That’s why I have made the following two poems. In order to make it sound like a poem, they are a bit different from their dutch equivalents.
Poem No. 1
A wife who found out that the business
Of her husband in fact was a mistress
She followed his steps
Where he just did his preps
And said: ‘So this is what he calls fitness’.
Poem No. 2
On a party in Slye
Was a secretive guy
He left pretty sneaky
However, the freaky
But ever attentive
Never called leaky
Inhabitants of Slye
Saw passing him by.
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