This story was originally published on Cardigan Street @ medium.com/cardigan-street
There are a few things that I know to be true. I know that Geoff Dyer is tall. I know he is a creature of habit. I know that his main priority is to find the best cappuccino and croissant in town. Any town. In fact, to call it a ‘main priority’ infers that there are lesser priorities when there simply are none. To locate a town’s best cappuccino and croissant is his calling; his life.
That’s why I’m up early and peering through the window at Monsieur Spoon, one of a number of bakeries that call Ubud home. Dyer and I are here for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival — here being Ubud, not Monsieur Spoon — and we’re here independently, obviously, or I would not be peering through the window in search of him. Dyer is here in his official capacity as a writer, while I am here — in both Ubud and Monsieur Spoon — in my unofficial capacity as a reader and, it seems, stalker.
I like croissants too. I love croissants, if I can be said to have ever loved anything. I happen to live close to Melbourne’s Lune Croissanterie, which the New York Times described as having the best croissants in the world. These are croissants so flaky you’d never invite them anywhere; croissants so buttery you’d wish yourself ill with Bali belly just to taste them twice. Hungry, envious lines snake around the block each weekend. These croissants are revered, snapped up by locals and tourists alike.
So, I don’t mind looking around Ubud for the best croissant. This quest to find Dyer, as it has now become, is also a distraction from the stifling humidity and the beads of sweat that run down my spine as soon as I even think about moving. It has given me a higher purpose, and as the Balinese place their offerings to Sanghyang Widi Wasa (the Supreme God) in front of shrines and houses, I place yet another flake-encrusted napkin in the bin as an offering to my favourite author.
Though the Gods are ever-present, it’s becoming clear that Dyer is not, and if I can’t find Dyer, I can’t find the best croissant either. One failure will be manageable, two failures devastating, though at least it’s giving me something to do. I’m reminded of a passage from one of Dyer’s essays published in Yoga for people who can’t be bothered to do it:
‘Oh Ubud, lovely, boring Ubud! It was so lovely, but we were there too long, far too long, and became somewhat demoralised by all the time we had on our hands.’
From this I understand two things. The first, that Dyer is most likely demoralised, sitting somewhere enjoying, or attempting to enjoy, a croissant and cappuccino. The second, that in a few hours when Dyer’s panel is finished, he’ll be on his way elsewhere, on his way to anywhere but the cafés I’m currently looking in, though even if he did go to those cafés it would not matter because I would no longer be looking in them.
I could find him at the panel. I will find him at the panel. But to find him at the panel would be to not find him at all — it has to be beforehand, outside of the festival. With a croissant in hand, we will be on equal footing, just two men, two fans of flaky, buttery delights. Meeting him after his panel will mean meeting the author, not the man, and label me not a man, but a fan. And make no mistake, a fan I am — discovering Dyer was discovering a new way to write — but a fan just blows hot air in an attempt to be cool.
Compounding my anxiety is the fact that Suzy, a fellow student I’m travelling with, has already run into him twice. Once at a café that — God forbid — doesn’t even serve croissants, and once at a poetry performance that I also attended. He was behind me. For all I know he was gorging himself on cappuccino and croissants. Perhaps Ubud’s best croissant has been under my nose — or behind my back — the entire time.
The only thing worse than not seeing Geoff Dyer, I realise, would be seeing Geoff Dyer. After all this effort, I wouldn’t know what to say. It would render the meeting such an utter disappointment that I would wish to never have known that he loved croissants; to never have loved croissants myself. To be allergic to gluten and dairy and the belief that I may have one day run into him and we’d hit it off or, at the very least, critiqued Ubud’s croissant scene together.
I walk to Dyer’s panel via Daily Baguette, home to my favourite croissant in Ubud, though not necessarily Ubud’s best croissant. Scooters zip past with offers of ‘Transport!’ but I continue walking, running off flakes not fumes, past dilapidated temples set amid lush greenery and tangled power lines.
Dyer once told the Paris Review, ‘…people can find it quite disconcerting when a book isn’t doing what they think it’s meant to be doing, even if the book is completely fine on its own terms and has no desire to conform to some sort of external set of expectations. My books are often disappointing in that regard.’
And so, my main worry is that the author may be disappointing too, or rather he may not conform to my expectations. Maybe he doesn’t even like croissants. Maybe he prefers a latté to a cappuccino. Though to call this a ‘main worry’ infers there are lesser worries when there simply are none: after all, I’m in Ubud and I happen to know where to get a fantastic croissant and cappuccino.