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Background Music, by Elizabeth Falkner

We spent most of the day in silence. I would think every few hours that maybe we should listen to some music. But what kind of music was right for this day? Sometimes music in the background can make me irritated if it isn’t fitting for the moment.

This reminds me of a few times in the different restaurants I’ve worked in. When I first started cooking professionally, I was the chef of a little French bistro in downtown San Francisco. Cafe Claude was in an alleyway tucked down at the bottom of Nob Hill, on the edge of Chinatown and North Beach, not far from the pointed shadow of the Transamerica building. In the middle of four streets that were major thoroughfares for downtown traffic and the occasional clangs of cable car bells on California Street, which would roll over on to the blocked off from traffic alley lined with Vespas and Norton motorcycles. The cafe had perfect Parisian iron foot-marble topped tables and red metal framed-wood slatted folding chairs set up between these scooters and bikes that the staff and customers owned.

In the mornings, French people and francophiles would gather at the zinc bar for a café au lait and toasted baguette with cold butter that had been smoothed into tiny ceramic butter crocks and chilled overnight served along with strawberry jam in the same little crocks. The same crowd would pour in after work for a Petit Chablis or Pernod with ice water and talk and smoke over the stand up bass and clarinet playing live jazz starting around the five o’clock hour.

Years later, at other times, I would be keenly aware of the music playing in my own restaurant and think, Jesus this is wrong! I would put down my knife and stop my prep or stop mid sentence with a conversation with a guest and march right over to the stereo to shuffle the CD player and yank out the disc that was playing some candy coated pop music like Brittney Spears that was driving me nuts and frankly was slipped in by one of the servers, which wasn’t allowed. In fact, it was in our employee handbook that only the management was allowed to select music for the restaurant.

Or, many years later, in New York, I would beg my general manager to take the owner’s iPhone playlist off of the sound system because no one on the Upper West Side in our beautiful upscale casual restaurant wants to hear The Killers right now dammit!

When I am in a restaurant in New York City, I want to hear music that sounds like cocktails being shaken or stirred, the hum of polite conversations and the occasional laugh and toast followed by clinking of glasses. And the feel of ebony stained wood, burgundy velvet drapes, expensive candle lit marble bathrooms with exotic bathroom hand soap. Meaning jazzzzzzz piano.

Yesterday, it was a sunny day. A day that he and I could spend together. Just together. There really was no other agenda. I did bake some chocolate chip cookie dough I made several days ago. Not because I wanted to eat cookies, but because they filled the air inside and just outside with the familiar and grounding scent of butter, brown sugar and the hint of bittersweet chocolate that creates the feeling of home.

Later, I lit some candles and Japanese incense and turned on some low vibrating meditation music to honor the life of my beautiful, handsome, loving Hendrix. Hendrix is my fifteen year old dachshund. It is almost time for him to go. But this music suddenly felt austere and wasn’t summarizing his life.

Today is sunny again, and we will listen to the music of everything that is right outside and the quiet sounds of his breathing together. Maybe some restaurant jazz music starting with Nina Simone’s, “To Love Somebody”.


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