"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Present Tense And Past Lovers– Ineffable Romance And Throwing Good Sense To The Wind

All lovers have thought that their romance was durable and permanent; and no matter how much reality might intrude, it could be squeezed out between the chinks of palm-and-palmetto or simply ignored.  Yet all these lovers – if they were to pay attention – should have known that the cold, practical fingers of wives and priests would meddle and disrupt all idylls.  Yet they paid no heed.  Trysts under the Victorian eaves of the Oloffson, in Transylvanian castle resorts, or in Slovakian Bolshevik spas were time-irrelevant, meaningful, and permanent., or so they thought.

Such was the affair between Robbie Landers and a young Romanian doctor whose name he never did ever remember – Popescu. Donescu, or Moraru.  Her name mattered less than her past – refugee from Ceausescu's  last military incursions in Timisoara, doctor to the wounded in the streets of Bucharest, and a lonely, single, ambitious woman from the east who saw Robbie as an attractive, potential American husband.  He knew very well her intentions, signals as obvious as  storm pennants on a rough sea, but he pursued nonetheless, for he was at a delicate point in his life where decisions about what mattered and what didn’t seemed both relevant and irrelevant. Desire being what it is, and pursuit being as counter-intuitive and illogical a bad decision as it ever was, Robbie went where he knew he shouldn’t go.

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He knew that the Carpathian Mountains, the Black Sea, Sibiu, and the new hip neighborhoods of post-Soviet Bucharest were only her trading quarters, trial runs, check-out points to validate his Western credentials; but he couldn’t resist.  She was a so deeply-dyed blonde, so sensuous, and so exotically harem-bred Turkish that he could not have resisted.

Reality intervened – money for her aged grandmother, a loan to finish medical school, the final rent payment of the year, sponsorship for an American visa – and Robbie was left feeling like a john. He had been taken, used, rolled, and  discarded as if he had been a paying customer on Dinca Street – but he paid, suspending his disbelief because of her indelibly blonde hair and, like it or not, her bucking, unexpectedly unreserved sexuality.  Men are suckers for sex, he knew, but only when the affair was clearly over, and after she had taken up with an Englishman with a booking on the next boat to Southampton, did he leave off, left on his own again. 

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One would think that poor, sodding, Robbie would have learned his lesson and nevermore been taken advantage of;  but he was not made that way, logical, perceptive, and self-protective; and so he, so soon after Bucharest, fell hook, line, and sinker for a disconsolate Quebecoise in Haiti, bleeding her heart out for the disenfranchised and homeless after the hurricane, recently divorced, alone, and feeling her biological clock ticking.  Yes, it probably was the rum punches on the veranda of the Oloffson, the sound of tom-toms in the hills above Kenscoff, the ship horns in the harbor, the heat, and the cadre of the Splendide, an old Victorian hotel, fixture for decades in Haiti through the Duvaliers and their coup plotters; but who was analyzing?

Martine had no overt ulterior motives.  Unlike Romania, a desperate country emerging out of the enforced penury of autocratic rule, Canada was progressive, wealthy, and promising.  There could be no suspicious backstory of visas, citizenship, or residency.  Her desire for Robbie could only have been for the best intentions.

Be that as it may, Robbie again misread the circumstances.  Martine was near 30, unmarried, with few current prospects, a demanding, traditional Catholic family, and a bourgeois fidelity to marriage, children, and right living.  Her ‘accidental’ pregnancy should not have been a surprise, and he should have paid more attention to her flaccid, indeterminate attentions to ‘my time of the month’, basal metabolic temperature, and fertility cycles.  Snookered once again by an unwitting virago, he, disappeared.  If she didn’t mention ‘it’, neither would he, life would go on, and he would be out of a mess not entirely of his own making,

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The issue was not the pregnancy, but the prosaicness of it all – he, the potential father of an illegitimate Quebecois baby to be raised, if Martine had her way, in Baie de James, far up the Gaspe Peninsula and as far from civilization as anyone could possibly imagine. Never.

He learned his lesson finally and absolutely after his liaison with Berthe, a Danish princess on leave from the palace in Copenhagen, travelling to the Subcontinent, freed from the confines of royalty and court, and of the generation that sought exploration and adventure and social confines be damned.

She never let on as to her patrimony and heritage.  She was just a backpacker in Islamabad on her way to India and the East without encumbrance. Unfortunately for Robbie she was exactly the woman for his emotional garden – intelligent, indifferent, independent, and sexually fey – she could or could not be bothered with sex, and if she chose to mate it would be because of some Lawrentian perception of complementarity and epiphany.  Robbie had no idea of such intentions when she asked him to go walking in the Murrie Hills, where she despite the murderous conservatism of the Pakistani worshipers who walked there after prayers at the al-Akaba mosque to continue their praises of Allah while taking the evening breezes from the west, went every evening.

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He should have sensed something – an indifference, a desuetude, a distance – but he did not.  He, despite a string of hopeful lovers, fell hook, line, and sinker for a woman who never, had it not been for the mercilessly hot, dry, parochial Pakistani summer, would have given him a second thought.  Their affair was temporary, temporal, and convenient.  What was he thinking?, he thought when when she had left Islamabad to fight with the rebels in Eritrea.  She was out of his league, and he had never known about her royalty until her death notice in The Times.

So, he went back to America, chastened, repentant, but never compromised.  He had not been an ideal lover and mate and had never given in to obedience in perpetuity.  Sex might not be the be-all and end-all of a man’s life, but it certainly was a part. When all was said and done, in the Barcalounger, the chaise lounge, and by the barbie in the sunset years, and in life's last, final moments, one turns first to old lovers, then to family, and then to God. 

Fidelity, responsibility, obedience, and due respect are overrated and never more so exposed than in the final accounting.  Nietzsche was right when he said that the only validation of a man’s life is the expression of individual will; and few realize that one need not be a Superman to realize it.  Exploring the limits of sexuality and sexual adventure might not be much within the existential context of eternity, but can anyone think of anything better?

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