Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Piano Man


Walked into a roadside tavern in the County Clare. Above the entryway a sign posted, est. 1865. Inside postcards plastered the walls, brown with soot. A reminder that these pubs once had a long tradition as a smokers haven. Although there was a "slow food" festival in the nearby town, we were ready for some pub grub.

Besides the ever present Guinness and Smithwicks taps, there was also a blonde, a red, and a black beer, brewed in the attic above. Generally I prefer blonde, instead I went with the red. Then ordered some grub.

Across the way was a fella sitting alone at the table closest to the nook reserved for the musicians. While he sipped his brew and slurped his stew, he eyeballed an old piano in the corner. As pub proprietor Peter walked passed, the awkward young man motioned towards that piano and in broken German-English asked about its history. Peter said it belonged to his grandfather from the early 1900's and recently paid a fortune to have it tuned. "Would ye like a go at it?" Peter asked. "Well I don't normally play before people, but sure, I'll play." And he approached the bench.

He introduced his first number as an "original" to the sparse crowd in the pub, warning us that he doesn't read music but plays by "his ears. The notes flew gracefully from the keys as his confidence rose playing in front of the few of us. When he finished, a small smattering of applause went up. I'm pretty sure he wiped a small tear from his eye, flattered. Later admitting that he's never had people clap for him.

He returned to his table and finished his beer. Quickly we ordered a red ale for him, just to keep him around a bit longer. At least for one more tune.

His pint arrived and he raised his glass in our direction. He came over to our table, said thank you, and we toasted. His name was Benni from Stuttgart, Germany and he was visiting a childhood friend, now a chef, and currently cooking for the "slow food" festival. Benni had a couple weeks holiday from his teaching job back home.

After we got to know him a little better, we said we were on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. Without hesitation, he asked if he could come along. And he did, indeed, join us on the Cliffs. Not quite a hitchhiker, just a kid looking to see some sights while his buddy worked.

We wandered the windy tops of the highest Irish shoreline for an hour or so. Benni sharing his "story", us sharing ours.

On the way back to town, Benni asked if he could buy us a pint at the tavern "for revenge". I looked at Hali strangely and thought, revenge? He could have easily pushed one or both of us off those cliffs and now wanted to treat us to a beer? We laughed together and said simultaneously, you mean "pay-back." Once we explained how we understand "revenge" he laughed and said in German they use a form of the word revenge for pay-back. Funny, the film "The Hitcher" came to mind for a split second.

Back at the Roadside Tavern, Benni ordered a round of reds and we toasted, Prost!! "Ah, you know German?" he asked. I said, "Just enough to get by." We all laughed.

Then Benni sat back down at the piano and played us a Billy Joel tune, Piano Man.

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
We're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feeling' alright

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