Thursday, 19 March 2009

L’hymne á l’Amour

Today I had my weekly lunch date with The Professor. We were happily settled on the restaurant terrace enjoying the sunshine and the sea view when, out of nowhere, he blurted, ‘I think you are afraid.’ I raised my eyebrows, ‘Of what?’ ‘Of love.’ ‘Excuse me?’ ‘It is something that I have been thinking since we translated the Edith Piaf song.’ I racked my brain. ‘L’hymne á l’Amour?’ He nodded. He was referring to the French assignment that he had set for me a few weeks previously. At the time, after I had read out my translation, he had said, ‘Imagine that the man you love is saying these things to you. It is romantic, no?’ I squinted at the lyrics:

If one day life tares you from me
If you die and you are away from me
I do not care if you love me
For I will die also
We will have eternity for us
In the blue of the immensity

Okay, it was hardly word perfect but still… Romantic? ‘I’d run away from him as fast as possible,’ I’d spluttered. The Professor had looked confused, ‘But why?’ ‘Seriously, look at the words. It’s a bit full on. He’d have to be mental.’ The Professor scrutinized me in silence for some time. ‘You are very strange for a woman,’ he eventually concluded. ‘Very, very strange.’ I didn’t argue, it was probably a perfectly fair assessment, and then I thought no more of it; until today I’d had no idea that I had left such an indelible impression on him.

‘Why,’ he now continued, ‘do you not talk to me of your sentimental relationships?’ I chewed my lasagne to buy some time. ‘Well,’ I began tentatively after swallowing, ‘I don’t talk about my sentimental relationships with everyone. I mean, I don’t talk to my father about them for example.’ This was an out-and-out lie: my dad is in fact privy to many details regarding my romantic life; discussing it with The Professor, however, would be tantamount to talking to my grandfather about sex (you just don’t, do you?). I decided that, from an age point of view, The Professor might be offended if I likened him to my late grandfather though so I plumped for the dad thing.

He rested his knife and fork on his plate. ‘You know I have some knowledge of the psychoanalysis. I analysis [sic] what you say about the Edith Piaf, about running away, and I think: “Ah, she is afraid. She is afraid of sentimental love.” ‘Oh no, not afraid of love!’ I tried to laugh. He went quiet again, his gaze lost focus and he went sort of cross-eyed. ‘You’re analysing me now?’ I finally interrupted, putting down my own cutlery. ‘Yes, yes I analyse you. You are nervous?’ Well, I hadn’t been before but… ‘Look,’ I countered, ‘let me assure you that I am not afraid of love, sentimental or otherwise. I’m scared of commitment but that’s not the same. I am a very loving person,’ I crossed my legs and folded my arms, ‘and I’m very lovable.’ He didn’t look convinced. ‘The trouble is,’ I continued, now as much to myself as to the tiny elderly man sat opposite, ‘I like to have options. As soon as I settle on someone I become aware of all the other choices I could have made; of course, they always seem to be much better than the thing I’ve chosen. Does that make sense?’

‘You should not be so tough. It will not be easy to be the man in your life.’ He sounded concerned. ‘As it is, understanding the desires of a woman is very hard for us. What women desire is very complicated whereas a man’s desires are obvious, simple.’ ‘Don’t generalise,’ I lectured him, ‘sometimes a woman’s desires are obvious too.’ Given the whole grandpa thing I thought it best not to elaborate here. ‘I am not saying this is 100% applying to everyone,’ he carried on, ‘but it is true that when a woman starts a sentimental relationship normally she is thinking about the future, she is planning. It is not like this for a man, he is happy with what he is getting in that moment. He is happy to take what he can get.’ ‘How charming,’ I muttered and then said more loudly, ‘I suppose there may be some truth to what you are saying, often the woman considers the future before the man.’ ‘Do you?’ ‘Not in the way you’re talking about.’ He leant forward, his eyes glinting. ‘I get infatuated,’ I explained. He didn’t know this word so we looked it up on his little pocket translator. ‘Ah, entichement! So when you are infat, infat…’ ‘Infatuated. Yes?’ ‘When you are infatuated you are in love?’ I frowned. ‘Sort of, at least I believe I am in love at the time. Only the feeling fades too quickly to be true. Anyway,’ I waved my hand in the air, ‘I am trying very hard not to be infatuated these days. It does me no good whatsoever.’

We rose, with some effort, from our plastic garden chairs and walked down the steps to the car with slow, heavy footsteps. He looked across and gave me a mischievous smile, ‘So I am clever, no?’ I frowned at him. ‘To guess that you are afraid of love.’ ‘Absolute genius Professor,' I sighed, 'really, hit the nail on the head.’ It was only ever going to be a matter of time before he discovered the truth now, wasn’t it?

Monday, 2 March 2009

Easy Come, Easy Go

On Saturday I was in the Irish pub having a few drinks with the Scot, his friend and his friend’s colleague. The colleague, who was French (of course), spent the entire evening trying to smooth talk his way into my “affections” and when the clock began creeping towards twelve he decided to take a slightly more forward approach. He came up from behind, wrapped his arms around me and began pawing at my waist. ‘Take your hands off me,’ I snapped and elbowed him in the ribs. ‘Believe it or not,’ I wagged my finger at him, ‘an English girl doesn’t jump into bed with every man who offers.’ This news, combined with my unexpected outburst, seemed to render the man speechless. I yanked at the Scot’s coat sleeve. ‘Come on,’ I fumed as I dragged him away, looking back at the Frenchie with disgust, ‘I’m fed up with the men around here thinking that British women are easy.’ The Scot, with half a pint left in his glass, was resisting my tugging, ‘Well aren’t you? Not British girls generally I mean but…’ ‘I am not EASY,’ I screamed. I must have resembled mad Carrie at the prom because my friend’s face was suddenly stricken with fear. ‘Oh don’t worry about it,’ I turned on my heels, ‘I’m going home. ALONE.’

I flounced all the way back to my apartment with the word “easy” ringing in my ear. I was in a sulk, this was so unfair: since the mop-topped barman, I had been nothing but a model of virtuousness. And that was New Years Eve (so it doesn’t even count). This adds up to weeks of good behaviour. Weeks that have seen me wooed by the Silky One, enticed by the Neuroscientist and drunkenly hit on by the Crazy Canadian. I have refused all their persistent advances and for what?

I’d never had a problem with my promiscuity before I moved to France. In fact, compared to my other single girl friends, I’d always considered myself normal, even angelic. Then I came here and people assumed that I was a slut simply because of where I was from; it had the effect of making me question how normal I was after all. One evening, dancing in some Old Town dive, I fell into the arms of a Glaswegian with a huge blonde Mohican. He’d mastered this hypnotic back rubbing move that I was, apparently, powerless to resist. The next day, as I lay paralyzed, still drunk, in my bed, my mother gave me a lecture. ‘Dear you’re terribly easy,’ she said matter-of-fact. ‘He only had to rub your back…’ It pained me to admit it but I knew she was right. Then, in my tango class, José suggested that I work harder at resisting men. ‘You are too easy,’ he barked, ‘don’t be so easy. Resist. Resist!’ Obviously he was referring to my technique but, after giving it some thought, I decided to apply his advice to my life more generally. And thus, I ended up in my present predicament: English but not easy.

Post-dinner at the Silky One’s a couple of weeks ago he moaned, ‘You are like a French girl, not English at all. You’ve been taking lessons?’ It was a genuine enquiry. ‘Oh please,’ I shooed him away like a fly, ‘I may be English but I am capable of restraining myself.’ I scrutinized him and went on, ‘Incredibly, I’m actually finding it pretty easy to say no to you right now.’ Still, I was confused. Was it good for me to be like a French girl or was it bad? According to my Neuroscientist it was the latter. ‘Women here treat sex as if it is an oath,’ he explained. ‘They pull out the white dress after one sexual encounter. In Argentina it’s different, sex is without expectation; six months down the line you’ll wake up together and think this is really cool, this is a person I want to be with.’

Gabrielle, however, was adamant that this approach couldn’t be more wrong. ‘Men,’ she told me over lunch yesterday, ‘are stupid. That is why you can – no it is why you MUST - play them.’ ‘Huh?’ I was baffled; what happened to having a laugh with them? ‘These days,’ she continued, clearly taking to the theme, ‘sex is too easy. Men can get it anywhere, anytime. Women give it away. Give it away right at the beginning. Why then will a man bother hanging around? They’ve had everything they want.’ I thought about my Neuroscientist and tried to reason with her, ‘But sex isn't a gift, Gabrielle, to be bestowed or held onto and dangled in front of a man to trap him. Shouldn’t it simply be fun, happy, relaxed? Surely then a guy will hang around.’ ‘Well, anyway,’ Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at me accusingly, ‘it is true about English women. My friend who lives there says all the girls have sex really easily.’ So that was that then, I shrugged with resign: I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

This morning the Scot called. ‘Sorry,’ he began, ‘I don’t think you’re easy, not at all, in fact not easy enough by half. Besides, you were right about that French guy, turns out that he’s married, removed his wedding ring at the start of the night just so he could pull…’ And here I was questioning my morals? The French women, I thought, are welcome to their games and to their men. From now on I was English, easy (if I wanted) and proud.