Friday, 30 January 2009

Three to Tango

Tuesday night is tango night at my local dance school. Strolling past the class one evening last October, it occurred to me that this was precisely the sort of romantic pursuit befitting a young woman newly arrived on the French Riviera and I signed up on the spot.

Envisioning myself wrapped in the arms of a swarthy señor, it came as a horrible shock when I discovered that my tangero was not Antonio Banderas. Six-foot-five and without a sense of rhythm, dancing with my partner has actually put me in the unusual position of wishing for a man with smaller feet. Still, the situation is not completely desperate; when my partner is absent (often) I have no choice but to pair up with a rather dashing neuroscientist from Buenos Aires. And over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed that our embraces have been getting closer, our steps marching together more in time. Now, my obsession with him consumes me to such an extent that I’m wondering if he has crawled into my neurological pathway and planted a homing device.

For a brain doctor his social skills are astounding; in fact our phone calls, with their shy awkwardness, gentle teasing and thinly veiled flirtation, are quickly becoming one of the highlights of my week. On Monday, after some polite chitchat about the cost of bike rental in Holland, he lisped, ‘It would be my pleasure to be your partner tomorrow.’ ‘Excellent,’ I squealed, clearly playing it cool. ‘There is a problem though’, he continued. ‘Another girl.’ I tried to breath. ‘I promised that I would dance with her ages ago. She hasn’t called but if she’s in class you’ll have to share me.’ Share my Latin Prince? I would not. ‘I called, she didn’t. I get to have you.’ I thought my claim on him tres sophistiqué. ‘Do you want to put a flag in my head?’ He sounded serious. Being a woman of the plume I would have preferred a feather but I was willing to negotiate; at this stage any sign to mark my territory was valid. ‘How about a label?’ I compromised. ‘With my name on it, like your mother would sew on your gym kit.’ This made him laugh. ‘That’ll be one point to me’, I said aloud as I hung up, fully aware that the only person I was gloating to was myself.

Going to class on Tuesday evening, I skipped down the boulevard with the confident swagger of a champion boxer. In the space of half an hour I had transformed myself from slob to señorita. My black dress, synched at the waist with a red belt, showed just enough thigh and hint of cleavage and my eyes were suitably smoky. My entrance into the harshly lit studio was sheer perfection with just the right flourish of flustered breathlessness. The black cashmere shawl draped loosely over my head to protect me from the rain added a certain je ne sais quoi. The moment at which I pulled it back to reveal my identity was characteristically timed to have full dramatic impact. Carmel shrieked with delight. José gasped and leapt out of his chair to embrace me. It took all my will power not to turn around to check if my neuroscientist was looking. This had to be making a favourable impression. Eventually, I allowed myself to send a purposeful glance in his direction. He winked before returning to his conversation with the blonde beside him. I tried to remain dignified and turned to José, whose fawning was making me feel considerably better. I cursed my schoolgirl tactics: arriving late had merely given my rival an advantage. There was nothing left to do but prepare for battle. She had a couple of inches on me but she was scrawny; I reckoned I could take her.

My bullishness, though admirable, was a touch hasty. ‘I told her that I’m your partner tonight,’ he swished to my side gallantly, ‘you did call, after all.’ Alas, my joy was short-lived; we had barely managed one rotation of the room and an eight-step pivot before José shouted for us to tourner. Quick as lightening, Blondie had whisked my neuroscientist away. I, somewhat dumbstruck, was shoved towards Thomas – a silver fox with bulging biceps it’s true, but an OAP nevertheless. I proceeded to spend the next hour dancing very badly whilst having to watch my Latin Prince tango magnificently with someone else. With the debutant class over, only one small consolation presented itself: the advanced students arrived and Blondie too found herself dumped for another woman… one who could actually dance. It is now evident that this neuroscientist is after more than mental stimulation – he needs a girl who can match him in the milongas too. I am now preparing myself for Round 2. I am on a strict regime of ‘Teach Yourself Tango” on You Tube and have Carlos Di Sarli playing on repeat. Although I may have lost the battle, I’m not ready to wave the white flag just yet.

Monday, 26 January 2009

When in France...

Considering that I’ve been living here for six months, I’ve had surprisingly few amorous encounters with the locals. After a brief, and disastrous, affair with a hollow-cheeked bohemian artist from Paris, there was a period when I struggled to stand five meters from any French man without wanting to spit at him. Dismissing an entire nation on the basis of one individual may sound extreme but this guy really did go above and beyond his duty to live up to the cliché of the arrogant French bastard.

After this encounter, I believed my policy to avoid emaciated but devilishly handsome Galls to be absolutely rigid. However, a couple of Fridays ago my Scottish drinking buddy from the Irish pub introduced me to his token French friend and, from the moment he rested his pale blue irises on me and raised his eyebrows, I knew that this one had been sent to test my resolve. As we flirted outrageously at the bar, I tried to hang on to my personal adage that frogs never turn to princes but it was to no avail: funny, charming and very good looking, I was finding him impossible to resist.

It was as we were animatedly discussing the common usage of slang in the English language that he suddenly leaned across the bar and enquired with wide-eyed innocence, ‘Do you know the saying “Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen”?’ I sighed and gave my Scot a weary look, ‘Did you teach him that?’ He nodded with pride. ‘Oh come on,’ I slapped his arm, ‘is it really necessary to encourage the men around here to treat women badly? They hardly need the help.’

Despite my obvious concerns, I was still thrilled when the Frenchie tapped his digits into my mobile at the end of the evening and suggested that I get in touch. I managed to restrain myself until noon the next day. When, on the Tuesday, he finally replied to my text, it was only to ask if he could write to me in French. I was confused. Perhaps, he only wanted to be friends. Or perhaps this was his way of treating me mean.

I asked my ward, a thirteen-year-old girl to whom I teach English, to help me compose a reply. I’m not convinced that this is what her mother had in mind when she employed me but I’m sure that there were some linguistic benefits to what we were doing. ‘Can you believe,’ I complained as I hit envoyer, ‘that I sent him a text message on Saturday and he didn’t reply for three days?’ ‘Huh?’ She looked baffled. I raised the level of my voice, ‘He didn’t send me an SMS back for THREE,’ I held up the appropriate number of fingers, ‘DAYS.’ ‘Three days?’ she gasped. ‘Then he is a bad guy!’ I tried to defend him, but deep down I feared she was right. This was a new low, I was taking romantic advice from an adolescent; and she clearly had better judgment than me.

The following evening, no reply received, my patience snapped. My message asked simply: ‘Was my French that bad?’ Within minutes he had replied: ‘Hmm, indeed it took a while to understand. Are you available tomorrow for a lunch with me?’ We met at midi in the flooded cobbled alleys of Vieux Nice. He gallantly pulled me underneath his umbrella before ushering me into a nearby restaurant. Perhaps I’d been a little hasty: Gallic men were not so bad after all. The poor thing had been struck down by the flu and he sniffed and spluttered his way through our date courageously. I suggested that we forget coffee so that he could go back to bed but he refused, apparently keen for our rendezvous to continue for as long as possible. And bar the brief appearance of a cockroach, I’d say that the afternoon was an extremely successful exercise in improving Anglo-French relations. As we went to kiss goodbye, I waited for some suggestion of a second date. I tried to encourage him by enquiring into his plans for the weekend. ‘We are having some friends to our apartment,’ he said nonchalantly, ‘then we might come into town for a drink.’ We? When did he become we? Was he referring to a flat mate? People in France don’t really do flat sharing but who else could he mean? He couldn’t possibly have a girlfriend, could he? Then again, he is French… Since Friday I have received several friendly messages. However, none provided any conclusive proof of his intentions or of his availability. If this is his tactic to keep me keen then it is certainly working. And if he ever gets around to asking me to be his mistress, I’m beginning to suspect that I might just be tempted to say ‘I do’.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

In the Sixty-Eight Percent

Tonight, Thursday night, is quiz night at the Irish pub around the corner. Along with Tuesday tango, Thursday quiz has become the only thing that gives me a sense of routine in my haphazard life. In London, wild horses couldn’t have dragged me to an organised activity in a chain pub. However, the combined pulling strength of a dozen frisky stallions pales in comparison with that of a hot waiter. Or, to be more precise, a dark Latin American with green eyes and perfectly sculptured upper body.

For obvious reasons, the Hot Waiter was the subject of my first extensive stalking campaign. Like any addict, I found that small fixes were enough at first. I’d doll myself up, casually stroll past and, on a good day, I would catch his eye, elicit a shy smile and maybe exchange a coquettish “bonjour”. In the heady early days these brief encounters were deliciously thrilling but, as time went on, I found myself wanting more. It was patently obvious that I needed to step the operation up a gear, so I started hanging out in the pub and befriending the staff on the pretext that I was researching my novel. And it was during one of these ‘stake outs’ that a group of local lads cajoled me into doing the quiz. As the resident writer propping up the bar, they assumed I’d be good at the literature questions. They discovered that they had made a grievous error when I declared confidently that Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for The Sea (and, apparently, ‘The Old Man and…’ was required if you wanted the point). I did, however, manage to make amends later by correctly naming Paris Hilton’s dog. When we emerged victorious by the slenderest of margins, my contribution proved to be significant.

The days when the Hot Waiter could make my heart flutter are, of course, long gone; my passion for the Thursday night quiz on the other hand has only grown stronger over time. Although the whole thing reeks of Brits abroad, I just can’t help myself; I have developed a thirst for victory not wholly dissimilar to a vampire’s thirst for blood. Besides, it’s not as if it is a strictly Anglophone affair; the weekly pub quiz is surprisingly popular with the French. They come to the pub armed with an admirable and rather charming enthusiasm, clearly under the impression that they are there to have fun. Can you imagine taking one of these Gallic teams into a British boozer on quiz night? It would be tantamount to leading lambs to slaughter (I can envisage a bloody massacre worthy of a Goya). I once tried to explain to a couple of locals that there are British people who revise all week just so they can get full marks on the news and currant affairs round. They laughed in my face, under the impression that I was making a joke. Obviously, they weren’t laughing so loudly when my team took that prize.

Over here I expect nothing less than a place in the top three and tonight was no exception. My team thus through to the three-way tiebreak, I somehow found myself shoved onto the stage as our representative. In general, I try to avoid positions that come with even the vaguest pretense of responsibility; on this occasion, however, I thought it might be a good opportunity to showcase my razor sharp intelligence to the mop-topped Irish barman I kissed on New Years Eve. I stood under the heat of the spot light and tried to concentrate, whilst at the same time flicking my hair back nonchalantly and fluttering my eyelashes. The compere read out the question: ‘In a survey compiled by an alcohol watchdog, what percentage of people said that they had given their number to a member of the opposite sex when they were drunk only to discover when sober that the person was ugly?’ I almost squealed aloud. In Mastermind this question would have popped up in my specialist subject round. I scribbled on my little scrap of paper and handed it back to the compere with a smug smile. ‘Pst what did you put?’ my American teammate hissed. ‘Ninety percent’, I replied with a sly wink. ‘Ninety percent?’ she spat back, incredulous. ‘Seriously? Like nine and zero?’ She and her friend looked as if they were about to fall off their high stools. I turned my back on them; they were born-again missionaries working in Africa, what did they know about drunken sexual encounters?

The compere reread the question before revealing the answer. Admittedly, I had overestimated things a mere smidge. Apparently, only sixty-eight percent of people have been stupid enough to give their phone number to an ugly person whilst intoxicated. ‘Liars!’ I blurted out. The New Zealander who was representing one of the rival teams nudged me in my ribs and whispered, ‘Tell me about it, I reckon it’s more like one hundred. Swear to God, people never tell the truth in these surveys.’ Realising that the final result was about to be announced, I held my breath and waited to hear the worst. ‘In third place, with an answer of twenty-six percent, we have…’ Twenty-six percent?! The New Zealander and I exchanged a conspiratorial smirk. Only a French guy could have made such a low estimate: a) he probably couldn’t imagine getting that drunk in the first place b) he probably couldn’t imagine an ugly person. ‘In second place, with ninety percent...’ Damn it, I stamped my foot. I could sense Team God was throwing me daggers. My team captain, who had used the tiebreaker as an opportunity to chain smoke outside and had only just reappeared, raised his eyebrows at me. ‘What?’ I held my hands up defensively, ‘I was basing it on personal experience.’ I realised that the mop-topped bar man and the Hot Waiter were both standing by the stage starring at me. The only thing I was showcasing now was my unrivalled skills as a drunken floozy. The New Zealander, it transpired, had opted for a moderate seventy percent - apparently his teammates had ordered him to play it safe. Sloping back to the bar, one of the missionaries put a comforting arm around me. ‘Tell me, have you let God into your life?’ Sixty-eight percent? I gulped my whisky ginger and scanned the room; I was suddenly feeling lucky.

Monday, 19 January 2009

To stalk or not to stalk? The confession of a serial infatuationist...

Last Saturday I sat around the dinner table with my beautiful blonde neighbours, a gay couple from Stockholm, and declared: ‘In life, a person is either naturally inclined to be a stalker or not. Me,’ I raised my hand, ‘I’m a stalker.’ R’s arm flew in the air and he nodded excitedly, ‘Yes, me too. I am a stalker.’ This was the closest thing I’d found to Stalkers Anonymous.

R assured me that, thanks to M, his stalking days were well and truly over. I, however, was doubtful, ‘It is the act of stalking that the stalker is addicted to,’ I lectured R over our empty plates, ‘not the person they’re stalking.’ I turned and looked pointedly at M. R crossed his legs with a certain vivre and sat back in his chair. ‘Maybe you are right,’ he said in heavily accented English, ‘once a stalker, always a stalker.’ M was struggling to relate: the most stalkerish thing he’d ever done was Google the holidaymakers who rented their apartment. R and I looked unimpressed. We were old school; you would never catch us stalking on Facebook. ‘I just can’t be doing with lazy stalkers,’ I complained, ‘If you’re not willing to invest in a pair of binoculars, be creative and put the hours in then why bother.’

Of course, I was being a touch theatrical: my own stalking has never been professional enough to require binoculars. It’s always been more of an extra-curricular activity for me; I play at it like sport. In fact, I get bored with the cat-and-mouse pursuit so quickly that my target has barely registered that he’s being stalked before I’ve moved on to someone else. R assured me that this was absolutely fine; indeed it was mild by traditional stalking standards. On the one hand it harmed nobody whilst on the other it fulfilled for a certain type of individual a genuine psychological need. Psychological need? R obviously thought that this was perfectly normal. I, on the other hand, was beginning to worry about the state of my mental health.

Post-pudding, I retreated to my bed with a chamomile tea and my Gossip Girl boxset; but not even Blair and Chuck’s sexually charged repartee could distract me. I simply could not stop stewing over our dinner table parley and it wasn't the whole stalking thing that was stressing me out. If anything, the evening had only served to prove what a hopeless stalker I was. And this was what was making me fret: if I couldn’t dedicate myself to stalking the same man for longer than a week then what hope had I of ever maintaining a proper, mutually consenting, romantic relationship for any greater length of time? I thumped my bed petulantly. Serena van der Woodsen cocked her head to the side and frowned. ‘But Serena,’ I whispered, ‘it’s impossible. What is to become of a flighty girl like me?’

When I quit my job last year and swapped London for the French Riviera, I was already vaguely aware of my tendency to form these slightly unhealthy obsessions for unsavory/unsuitable/unobtainable men. However, over the past few months this tendency has spiraled out of control and I seem to have fallen from one all consuming crush to another with the most random selection of male subjects. Furthermore, I have noticed that these days it is not just men that I pursue with wild abandon then dump in an instant. The tendency to become infatuated now extends to virtually every part of my life: whether a supermarket, a beret or a surfboard, I’ll possess passion in abundance but only the most short-lived commitment. Maybe it’s a result of the mixture of sea salt and pheromones in the plein air or perhaps it is because I have subconsciously adopted the Mediterranean alpha-male’s attitude to monogamy but either way this chronic and troublesome condition of mine has become even more chronic and even more troublesome en France. I would go so far as to say that I live in a constant state of infatuation and, quite frankly, it’s starting to get annoying. It actually would have been easier if I had been a straight-up stalker, at least that’s a bona fide psychological condition, but I’m not. Me? I’m a serial infatuationist. And this blog is my therapy.