LEONARD COHEN AND
THE LOST SCARF
Beyond the small dusty window of the bedsit the train tracks terraced away into the distance and the noise re-echoed in varying levels whispering like a creaking voice, clanging iron and steel clashing and cracking the cobwebs where he could still hear the mournful melancholy of Marianne, won’t you come over to the window, my little darling, I’d like to try to read your palm.
On Sunday the psalm said rich men could no more enter heaven than the navvy leave Arlington House, Camden Town in north London – he was a young Irish man back then, having taken the mail boat to Britain, grimly hanging onto the Sunday mass like a belief, after a Saturday night of curry, drink and English girls with knowing eyes. A lonely young man listening to Leonard Cohen in a Paddington bedsit with a dusty cobwebbed window pane, near the Two Brewers pub where often he saw a few like Marianne, such a pretty woman and laughing girls with knowing smiles yet at closing time he felt the chances of intimacy fade and then staggered home, cold as a new razor blade.
At the end of the hill near Military Road in Dublin forty years later a few people gathered where the bus stopped and police barriers carved a clearway as taxis dropped concert goers and a steady flow of fans climbed the incline to the grounds of the Royal Hospital. At the gates the trickle turned into a stream, a growing crowd trailing into hundreds and then thousands tramping through the green gardens to the tents and flats and fliers of Everybody Knows. The good guys lost and men in fedoras flaunted their fashion amid the fish and chips, burger vans and bars where elegant women paraded in the early evening sipping drinks and enduring winks with links to lonely songs in sad times. The rich. The poor the strung out whore in a darkened doorway asking for more. Fellows in fedoras seemed to float. Someone tore my blue raincoat. Marianne travelled to Peru – it was what she wanted to do – and brought back a Llama wool scarf of gold and orange, wrap us in the warmth and glare of gold, fold the scarf around us in the cold, wind the wool against our knees, hold off the breeze while the evening flees and dusk descends on the gardens where Cohen transcends generations and bends our emotions with poetic notions of other times when our own rhythms failed to find comfort or solace in the bleak monotony of our lives.
They shoved closer in the blue plastic chairs drawing the scarf tight, fearing rain in the darkening light, like a torn blue raincoat on the night Jane came by and they rocked in the rhythm as a thousand voices sang the right words of a letter that could never ever make everything better. Yet even Suzanne from 1967 with her perfect body was feted by the crowd who had tea and oranges all the way from China, make mine a brandy, it all can’t be wrong, in the tower of song.
Cohen skipped sprightly off the stage, they had an interval to gauge the crowd and the man felt proud to link a lonely London bedsit with a formal garden in Dublin forty years later and the leveller was Leonard. A troubadour through time. Where did all the years go? What is there to show? No house by the sea. No BMW in the drive. No novel put on paper. Not even a fedora to flaunt amid the fans.
“Champagne,” he whispered quietly and he ignored her protests about the price. “For once let it be nice!” He led her through the throng, limbering and lumbering to the bars and the toilets, the souvenir stands and the sandwiches, the beer the brandy and the champagne tent. In they went, sliding, gliding, swaying, straying while into the blackness the Wellington Monument faded.
“You’re jaded,” he said to her among the multitudes and handed her a plastic champagne flute. She smiled and did not ask the price. He relaxed and saw her sip, elegant, beautiful as he had first seen her in the hotel all those years ago.
Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin. All she had ever wanted to do was to dance in a formal dress. Yet he could never put the right foot forward and now there were tense times – he fearing for her unrealised dreams, no home by the sea, no BMW and she fearful of his anger, no poetry on paper, no great Irish novel. They danced around one another not wishing to be hurtful, trying to anticipate any cause of conflict, endeavouring to take detours to avoid any small skirmish: Be my homeward dove; dance me to the end of love.
“We should get a present for Marianne,” she said. “It was so thoughtful of her to give us the tickets.” Marianne was teaching away from home, their one focus of concern and source of joy. After University she headed to Africa to work among the poor and deprived, as if living out their youthful desires, a journey denied them because of fear of not having fulltime work, the mortgage, securing a family home, joining the Civil Service, flirting with the GAA, and even trying to link in with the golf club crowd, but they both were uneasy in public houses and instead liked to hill walk or drive at weekends listening to Leonard Cohen on the car stereo. He had tried to put his feelings on paper, but like the novel, it ceased after some time and was filed in the strong room of useless information.
“Yes,” he agreed. “She gave us the tickets and we are here because of her so let’s find the souvenir stand, after all the scarf she brought from Peru is keeping us warm.” She reached to the scarf for comfort, as if to feel close to her daughter in a night of wonder, a time to ponder, and yonder amid the dark glass daleks of Dublin office blocks. They tucked the scarf in over their legs and felt the warm of the wool and silk soak into them. “My llama scarf all the way from Peru.” she said. He looked at her and smiled. “I don’t think it is llama, remember Marianne said the wool was from a cousin of the llama.” So he was off again on a sort of lecture quoting from what he had told two years ago when Marianne returned from South America.
“The textures of this alpaca and silk scarf, woven on a traditional handloom, create the illusion of tweeds warm hues and the product is extremely soft.” He stopped himself. “Lecturing again,” he shrugged, but she only leaned closer to him and listened to the lyrics while he recalled their latest angry row over something silly and now of no consequence. Yes of no consequence but in the agony of anger it had seemed important and vital.
Her sudden hand on his shoulder broke his train of thought.
“My scarf is gone,” she exclaimed. “It must have slipped from my shoulders in the crowds....I’m so upset. Why does it always happen to me?” He held out a hand and placed it on her shoulder while she spoke. “You’re mad now because I’ve lost the scarf Marianne brought all the way from Peru.” He withdrew his hand and stood slightly back.
“No, I’m not mad, just sad, but we are here listening to Leonard so anyone who finds it will be a kindred spirit.”
“Find the Lost Property office,” she said sharply.
So while Mister Cohen crooned, the man had a vision of a colourful scarf ruined, trampled into mud by a flood of feet from a fleet of fans, some sporting fedoras, more giving off auras of being stoned, his wife tanned and toned, clinging to him and he remembered her father, forty years before, she stretched out on her bedroom floor playing her record of Suzanne just once more, her angry father rapping on her door: “Turn it off, dem songs are sad, they’ll drive you mad.”
They stepped in the mud and probed the grass and moved between the crowds searching, stroking tufts of earth, seeking out the orange and gold in the cold evening. He could only think of swearing by a song, and all that I’ve done wrong, I will make it up to you. I will find it for you. Find it –mind it for you, wind it round our knees, bind it to our pleas- I will find it for you, but in the softening mud he gave up and returned to their seats where they embraced to their heart beats and then took a waltz on wooden pallets, a tree where doves go to die and they danced like so many other elderly couples controlling their fears and failures as they waltzed back to blue plastic chairs.
Holding each other, they danced to the voice that had varnished their years with longing and tears. They waltzed back all the years to her bedroom and his bedsit, come over to the window my darling, and called their daughter Marianne and they danced away from coldness to a warm place by the sea, to a sea gull, flying higher, on a wire, we have tried to be free. He whispered to her. “I never want to be free of you.”
Moving back along after the impromptu communal last waltz, she hurriedly grabbed his arm and said: “She is wearing my scarf.” In front of them a middle aged woman clutched an orange and gold scarf and linked her male companion. “They could be us,” he remarked. “So be careful what you say.”
“It is mine, I ‘d know it anywhere.” She leaned over the row of chairs and admired the scarf. The woman instantly unfolded the gold and handed it back. “It was keeping me warm, so thank you for the loan of it, “she said cheerfully. Both women smiled as the men pretended not to notice the exchange.
Near midnight it was over, Leonard Cohen had skipped away and signed off his letter a friend. On the walk out there was a hushed sort of reverential silence as if people were pondering or puzzling over their lives, a midnight silence broken only by the harsh Dublin accents of the unapproved street traders shouting get your tee shirts!
Along the Liffey they walked in a procession, past the railway station and across the quays where the ghosts of Joyce, O’Casey, Yeats and Behan seemed to rise above the tenements and sing out their songs while a few boisterous fellows staggered like a drunken midnight choir as the clouds drifted higher.
They hailed a taxi and discovered through talk that it was driven by a German lady who had married an Irish man when a student 35 years before – was she Lili Marlene who never arrived on the train? The night Jane came by with a lock of your hair?
The city seemed to finally sag and sleep long and lost like the iconic ancient figures of Brian Boru and Wolfe Tone – the dark rising clouds formed a fedora and the face of Cohen towering over it all – they were so small, she wearing a scarf that came all the way from Peru, so he whispered: I love you, love you, love you...
To Leonard Cohen – all the way from Ireland
This section is dedicated to the new studio album and the Dublin concert video
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