In the summer of 1950 I took time off from university to visit my parents in Haifa who I had not seen for eighteen months.
On the return journey to London having spent a month in their company I boarded a luxurious modern Italian ship on its way to Venice.
On board the brand new ship everything was gleaming. I was content just to sit in a deck chair in the sun, reading a book or chatting with my fellow passengers. The ship engendered such a friendly atmosphere that everyone sailing in her seemed to be enjoying themselves. Crossing the Mediterranean at this leisurely pace in perfect summer conditions relaxed the mind and refreshed the spirit in a most therapeutic way.
Meal times were important occasions. The passengers counted the hours in anticipation, and when the dining room doors were opened there was always an unseemly dash to get served first. The diners devoured their food like a starving mob suddenly faced with a mountain of plenty. The meals were certainly delicious, with incomparable pasta hors d’oeuvres sharpening the appetite for the delights to come.
Three days into the trip, and there had been no incidents to ruffle the calm surface. The beautiful weather continued, and after sundown the night sky became a canopy of stars. I would sit on deck in the dark for a long time each evening, reluctant to go down to my cabin and shut the door.
On the fourth night, as I was watching the evening sea and sky at their most glorious, I became aware of a couple close by who were having a furious argument. It ended with the man walking away in a state of high agitation, while the woman remained standing where she was, clutching the ship’s rail. I could see she was crying. After several minutes, I stood up and moved closer; then I asked if she needed help. She mumbled something slightly incoherent in reply, but I understood that I was not intruding and that if I wanted to keep her company, she would not be averse to it.
After we had spoken for a little while, the woman began to recover herself. She explained that she was a doctor from Argentina who had been attending an international seminar in Israel. Her plan had been to take a short break in Europe in company with a man she had met at the seminar; the same one with whom she had just been quarrelling. Now the relationship was over and she would have to go alone. I commiserated with her over her spoilt plans, but she retorted briskly that people had to take such reversals in their stride and improvise as the need arose.
By close to midnight we had talked for almost two hours. As we bid each other goodnight, we promised to meet again next morning. I had told her all she needed to know about myself; there we left matters for the time being.
The next day when we met again as arranged, she threw me into utter confusion by asking me to accompany her on the planned tour of Europe. The trip would be a short one, she explained – no longer than ten days. She was expected back in her home country shortly. I was staggered by the offer. My first thought was that I had very little spare money and could not afford to go anywhere except straight to London as planned, but she overcame these misgivings by saying if I accepted the invitation she would pay for the entire trip.
My mind went back to Lara, from whom I had parted so recently. Somewhat older than Lara, the Argentinian doctor was in her early thirties. She had a shapely figure and a pretty face. Lara had the strong features often associated with firmness of character and single-mindedness. She also had the Semitic glow that young Jewish women possess in their teens and that remains with them until full maturity. Lara’s radiance was in fact exceptional, but, because she was older, the doctor possessed a greater sophistication and the air of a woman endowed with worldly wisdom.
While I had felt extremely fond of Lara, I knew in my heart of hearts that our relationship could only be short-lived because our lives were so different. The age gap between us as a couple had been slight, but the cultural divide was wide. There was little hope that bridging this would be easy.
However, the doctor from Argentina, I reflected, was quite attractive as an older woman. It would have been churlish, even crazy, to refuse the invitation. Experience with an older woman, especially a doctor, could not fail to advance my education vis-à-vis the opposite sex. As I accepted the offer of being a travelling companion, without reflecting on the possible consequences, an expression of relief came over the doctor’s face and she kissed me in her excitement.
When the ship docked at Venice, the doctor insisted we take a gondola to our hotel. It was the most convenient way to travel in the city, besides being the most elegant. As the gondola made its way through the narrow, winding canals, I gazed in wonder at the grandeur and picturesque decadence I saw all around me; I was intrigued and enchanted by the mysterious old houses leaning over waterways that served the function of streets. The hotel was a haunt of the rich and famous, renowned for its decor and impeccable service.
We were allocated a magnificent double room with a view over the water that was breathtaking. I was at once alive to the majesty of Venice and could not stop exclaiming at its beauty and ancient architecture. I was also aware that I would be expected to earn my keep, one way or another, in the large double bed. I felt some apprehension over what was in store for me, but while the prospect, I calculated, could have its downsides, it should have its rewards.
As soon as we had settled in, we set off on the first of several tours of discovery. We went all over the city on foot, or sometimes took a gondola to negotiate particular areas that were more accessible by water. We visited all the famous sights, such as St Mark’s Basilica, and went shopping for Venetian handicrafts, especially leather goods, which the doctor loved. At frequent intervals she insisted on buying me a gift, to remind me, so she said, of the wonderful days we were spending together in the city of the doges. Before we went out to dinner, on that and every evening, she gave me a wad of notes to ensure I had enough money to take care of the bill.
Her sense of what was correct in her comportment in public places could not be faulted. She dressed well, in conventional fashion, with nothing overpowering or showy. The expensive quality of her clothes ensured her general appearance was smart yet low key.
It was in the bedroom, as I had expected, that she gave rein to the flamboyant side of her nature. The doctor’s collection of seductive cotton and silk lingerie was fabulous. There was no failure of taste, but provocation was undoubtedly high on the agenda.
A routine for the afternoon soon developed. After a good lunch, with several glasses of fine Italian wine, which the doctor always chose with care from the menu, she insisted we should have a siesta for an hour. Once this was over, she would take a bubble bath for twenty minutes, returning to bed with a towel wrapped around her waist which she then flipped away to reveal her naked body. The immediate impression was of the glistening freshness possessed by a certain type of woman. Her skin looked soft and alluring; her breasts, small and firm, were enhanced by pinkish nipples that seemed permanently erect.
To begin the proceedings, the doctor would ask me to rub her whole body with a kind of aromatic oil that she always had with her. She orchestrated every move. First I must rub one of her breasts, then the other, gently, with the most delicate touch, applying no pressure whatsoever. The softer the touch, the more appreciative she grew. Then she instructed me how to massage her inner thighs in the vicinity of her vagina, using a teasing irregularity. She spread her legs to give my hands easier access. At times she would tell me to stop, but only to pause before I moved on to another area. All this was part of the prelude before the real action began. The process was a lengthy one, involving no haste. It had to be executed in such a way as to prolong her sense of gratification.
She appeared to be well versed in the arts of love. After every short interlude she urged me to wet my lips with saliva and run them tenderly against her nipples, while, with her own hand, she caressed her clitoris. Visibly excited by now, she asked me to remove my clothes and lie next to her. As I lay there naked, she ran her tongue all over my body, giving little bites from time to time and making my genitals convulse with fluttering touches from her fingers. In a heightened state of arousal, I wondered how I could contain myself. As I sought to possess her, she wiggled her body and crossed her legs teasingly to prevent it.
She continued for some time, alternatively curbing my arousal then reflaming it, until every nerve in my body was trembling with desire. As soon as she sensed I reached this point she allowed me freedom of movement. My thrust into her body was deep and intense. As we reached mutual orgasm it seemed that our intimate fluids mingled. For ten minutes afterwards we both felt utterly exhausted and drained and could hardly move.
This process, always leading to a frenzied climax, was repeated on three consecutive afternoons; at night, things took on a more down-to-earth dimension.
Returning to the room after dinner, having consumed a fair amount of wine, we would collapse on the bed, refrain from all foreplay, and simply fuck until sleep overcame us. I was at an age of sexual peak, but nevertheless I was beginning to find it impossible to keep up with the doctor’s insatiable demands for more; less would have made life easier where I was concerned.
My energies were beginning to desert me. I wondered how much longer I could cope with this situation. The punishing schedule was beginning to take its toll, and we started to bicker as small resentments began to surface. Still there was a positive side. She was teaching me how to delay my orgasm; how to climax simultaneously with a sexual partner. It was a matter of mind over body, she told me. You can control it by switching your mind completely away, turning your thoughts to other subjects and blotting out your surroundings.
Tantric sex, the doctor claimed, could be achieved by applying yoga to the mind as well as to the body. You had to persevere to master it. She was confident that she could teach me how to perfect it. The challenge for me to control my ejaculation was painfully difficult at first, and my natural impatience did not help matters. Then, with each lesson, my anxiety about my orgasmic function began to simmer down.
I also began to understand how, with women and sex, it was futile to hurry matters. The process had to be allowed to take its natural course. A languid approach was more desirable than an urgent one. It was important to create the right atmosphere of eroticism.
Women, I soon realised, have a different perspective from men, on many things – their physical needs in general being tempered by their emotional ones. It was necessary for sex to be savoured like a good meal if its life force was to be appreciated. Yet the doctor had become remorseless in driving things forward towards the ultimate goal of a complementary physical union.
Despite my growing worries about being able to maintain the pace she was setting in bed, I continued to enjoy the doctor’s company. As the shopping sprees went on each day, I delighted in her conversation. We discovered we had much in common, sharing an interest in art, books and cultural activities, not to mention good food and wine.
She also showed a sympathy for the Palestinians’ struggle for statehood, having seen their plight at first hand during her brief stay in Israel.
Besides all this, there was the constantly unfolding panorama of Venice with its fascinating history – it had started to come into being soon after AD450, when fugitives from the invasions by the Germanic Lombard tribes from the north took refuge among an archipelago of about one hundred small islands in a lagoon on the Adriatic coast. Gradually the settlements achieved cohesion and an identity with a system of bridges and canals, and the population mushroomed. By the Middle Ages, Venice was established as a proudly independent city-state, governed by its Doge (the equivalent of a duke) and vastly influential as a maritime power.
Life in Venice revolved around the glorious Piazza Saint Marco, the symbol of the city for over one thousand years. The piazza was the beating heart of the city’s public life. It was a revelation for me to see it in all its phases, but especially when it was at its most colourful in the early morning light; or at dusk, when the mosaics of St Mark’s came to life and the adjoining buildings began to glow with a golden warmth.
I and the doctor spent many hours in the piazza, marvelling at its Byzantine splendour. As a romantic experience it was incomparable with anything else I had known. Venice entranced my vision and my senses. It had everything imaginable to offer. Through its historic link with the Ottomans, it fused Eastern craftsmanship with Western elegance. It was as if the two worlds intertwined to produce the best of each in a kaleidoscope of colour and design. No wonder those who had lived there and loved it called it La Serenissima. The whole city struck me as being like a vast, beautiful vessel afloat the often calm waters of the Adriatic.
It was a rich treasure, every facet of which, to my innocent eye, combined in a vibrancy of effect that I knew I would never be able to recapture.