After getting comfortable on the intercity train from Utrecht to Rotterdam, I noticed the T-shirt of the man sitting across from us. It said something like
Swiss marathon: 350 km from Geneva to Basel
I motioned to guitarist Robert Bekkers next to me. He was looking out the window when I got his attention.
A half-marathon is 21 km. A full one is 42 km. But 350 km? How many marathons is that?
“Did you actually run 350 km?” I blurted out.
“Excuse me?” the dark-haired man in his early 50’s awoke from a reverie. “Oh!” he pointed to his T-shirt. “You mean this? It was 7 days in the Swiss alps.”
“But that’s 50 km a day! Still more than a marathon!” I exclaimed.
Robert began talking to him in Dutch.
The man looked like a long distance runner, with a lean and subdued body of zero percent fat. He explained that it was a small marathon consisting of 50 runners who woke up at 7 am every day and ran until 3 pm with an average speed of 8 km per hour. It’s important to keep a steady tempo because of the long distance and the mountains.
I asked if he had run in the Bordeaux.
“Medoc!” He knew the marathon. “No, I don’t like wine,” he replied in English.
I continued in Dutch. “Our running club coach in Bussum told us it’s the most amazing and sought-after costumed marathon with the best wines, champagne and oyster. He said he could get us in. But we never made it past the half-marathon. I’ve done 5k and 10k only.”
“That’s pretty good,” he said in English.
I pointed to Robert. “He has run several half-marathons but his body is more like that of a sprinter.”
“Yours too,” he said in English.
“Are you not Dutch?” I asked after his insistence upon speaking English.
“No, I’m French.” A Frenchman who does not like wine? Now that’s a curiosity.
“Oh! We’re going to Paris today. My Finnish friend is taking his sabbatical there. He just started running a year ago and already he’s won a silver medal. Robert is going to run with him.”
The Frenchman revealed that he ran for the scenery and atmosphere, not for competition. He said that the hardest moment was the second day. We agreed that once you get over the hard part, it was plain sailing.
“It’s asymmetric,” I drew a graph in the air.
“Are you musicians?” he asked, pointing to Robert’s black guitar case.
“Yes! In fact we are on our way to Rotterdam to give a piano guitar duo concert. And then we’ll go to Paris from there.”
“I am also a musician,” he smiled and waved his right hand. “I’m a conductor and a singer. I conduct seven choirs.”
“Really? What a small world! I graduated from conservatory last year.” I began enthusiastically to tell him about the two choral pieces in my second chamber opera “Culture Shock!”
“I got my friend Nicky, the alto soloist playing the part of the foreigner, to write down what the Dutch train conductors said on the train. I then used those words in the libretto.”
“Dames en heren! U kunt hier overstappen….” I sang.
The French conductor chuckled.
“You wrote the libretto yourself?” He was impressed. “Have you ever thought about writing an opera about a marathon?”
“No, I haven’t,” I pondered. “I like to work with musicians and singers to develop a composition. But that’s an interesting idea.”
I could almost hear his brain switch into dream mode. “The choir will wear shorts and run and pant. Hoo, hoo, haa, haa!”
Robert laughed. I giggled at the thought of a choir doing a marathon on stage. We exchanged email addresses and promised we’d explore the possibilities.
The train was getting close to central Rotterdam station.
“What will you do in Paris?” he asked.
“I wish we could give a concert. We want to perform wherever we go,” I said.
“You can play under the bridge,” he pointed to Robert’s guitar.
“Any bridge. It’s beautiful.” He meant that Robert could busk under any bridge and collect money for it.
“I should have brought something sexy to wear,” I mused, imagining my role in getting the onlookers to donate their coins.
“No need. Don’t wear anything.”
It took me a second before I understood what he meant.
He was French after all.