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Last Christmas, I planned to visit close friends in Vilseck, Germany, a tiny village near the Czech border.  Because of heavy snow and ice, I took the train to avoid the hassles and hazards of driving in such bad weather on the autobahns.  I arranged to meet another friend in Heidelberg, an hour’s drive away.  From there, we would take the train to Vilseck. 

         Packed and with some time to spare before taking off, I stopped for a morning snack at a newly opened coffee shop in my little village of Hochspeyer.  Upon opening the door, I marveled at the enticing aromas of freshly baked breads and the pungent German java, which melted the remnants of my morning grogginess away.   I browsed around the place to admire the array of colorful, nostalgic pictures, an antique Coca Cola machine and a large, tropical plant still a healthy green in spite of the freezing weather outside.  Tiny white lights embedded throughout the dark-wood ceiling gave it the appearance of a magical, starlit night.  Stepping up, I scanned the sleek silver and glass counter which held rows of assorted breads, sweet breakfast treats, and hearty sandwiches bulging with fresh cuts of meat filled with various garnishes.  Drooling at the mouth, I faced the difficulty of narrowing my choices to one meal.  Thankfully, my time constraint forced me to make a quick decision. 

         Greeting me with a smile, the plump woman behind the counter presented a maternal look with her blue and white gingham dress and frilly white apron.  Her chubby face and rosy cheeks radiated warmth as she took my order.  I asked also for some cinnamon and sugarcoated donut balls to go with it.   After paying my tab, I took my tray and headed to a cozy section with black wrought-iron chairs and tables, each of which held a tiny tea candle nestled firmly in frosty white ceramic cups filled with coffee beans. 

         I placed my tray on a table and returned to the counter to get some napkins and utensils.  As I headed back to my table, I got the shock of my life and stood frozen in place:  my tray was on fire!  I ran over to see what was burning.  A fire was consuming my bag of sweets.  In a panic, I sprang into action and tried to blow the flames out; but my feeble puffs were as effective as telling a cat to sit.  A slew of “colorful words” came to mind, but cussing would add nothing to this drama.  I looked around for a fire extinguisher but found none.  Carefully, I snatched the bag off my tray, flung it to the floor and frantically performed the clumsiest Mexican hat dance this side of Texas to put out the rest of the flames.  As I did my jig, my surviving treats shot out from the bag in different directions like cue balls scattering on a pool table. Tiny pieces of black, charred paper fluttered around my ankles like chicken feathers.  After completely extinguishing the fire, I finally yelled for help.  “Granny” came running, huffing, and puffing.  Wide eyed upon reaching my table, she attempted to assess the situation by shaking her head and frowning in dismay while darting her eyes back and forth from the table to the floor trying to figure out what the hell had happened.  
From the expression on her face, she had no clue.  Neither did I, but I knew that darn candle had something to do with it. 

         I wasn’t proficient enough to attempt explaining it to her in German.  So, after a few awkward seconds of nauseating silence, she quickly left, muttering something in German, and thank God, I couldn’t understand it because it might have led to another ugly situation.  Anyway, Granny returned with a broom and dustpan to scoop up the mess.  Before leaving, she smiled and assured me in German that she would get me more replacement sweets.  At least I think that’s what she said.

         I felt bad about the unexpected fire mishap even though it wasn’t my fault.  Checking my watch, I still had time to finish what was left of my breakfast.  Cautiously, I eased back into my seat to assess the survivor on my tray:  my still-edible sandwich, which I vowed to finish.  As I took a bite, I suspiciously eyed that tiny candle flickering an ever so soft but sarcastic flame.  Nestled in that ceramic cup, it looked as innocent as a coiled cobra slyly grinning as it contemplated its next strike.  My first thought was to snatch the candle out of its pit, take it outside and bury it deep in the snow.  But my second thought prompted me to shove the ceramic cup far away from me and my tray to prevent that serpentine wad of wax from re-flexing its malevolent, mischievous muscles. 

         Shortly, Granny returned with more cinnamon balls, and I thanked her with my best but broken German.  As she was leaving, she looked back, frowned and shook her head again at that vicious candle or maybe it was at me.  Either way, I was just glad I didn’t burn the place down.

         I finished my sandwich, woefully amazed that this was my first visit to this place and I almost made the news for no good reason.  But I plan to visit again, and when I do, I’m avoiding all tables harboring treacherous tea candles with hidden agendas.  Finishing my last bit of coffee, I headed out.  But before leaving, I offered Granny, “Alles ist sehr nett.”  (Everything’s very nice).  She smiled and thanked me.  With any luck, this gesture will grease the skids for my next visit and hopefully they won’t lock the cafe doors when I pull into the parking lot. 


September 2007