Paris was the next and final stop on our European tour; from there I would be heading home to London.
As we travelled together, we seemed to all outward appearances a contented couple despite the age gap. We demonstrably shared a mutual affection; differences there may have been in private, especially in the confines of the bedroom, but in our quieter moments we were aware we had achieved an intimacy of rare quality.
Paris brought with it a new range of experiences. I at once felt at home there because I could speak the language fluently. The great metropolis, with its magnificent avenues and boulevards, famous river embankments and cosmopolitan atmosphere, was a city universally celebrated and admired. To be able to stroll along the Champs-Élysées was the fulfilment of a dream for me. The traffic, the cafés, the multitudes of people promenading, made the air vibrate with excitement. Impressive monuments, depicting the glory of the history and culture of a great nation, were to be seen everywhere.
We travelled by foot, by metro, by taxi. We went everywhere in a sort of frenzy, racing against the clock to absorb everything we could in the little time we had left. At the outset sightseeing became our priority and sex was put on hold. Even the delicious French cuisine, to be discovered at its best in so many back-street bistros, was accorded scant attention.
For two days our relationship was relaxed and harmonious. Then, without warning, the doctor’s carnal demons returned with redoubled force. Love in the afternoon was back and making imperious demands. Her attitude changed and her focus became predatory. I sensed I was being called on to service something that was more of an addiction than a need. I was naturally attracted towards sexual activity, but by now I had experienced a surfeit of it with the doctor.
The relationship was starting to have a disturbing effect on my psyche. The bedroom rows that followed began to brew up into an unpleasant atmosphere. My instincts told me that, however skilled the seduction, these emotional cohesions to make love when I was exhausted, or in an inappropriate state of mind, could leave me with a legacy of damage. The adventure had to be terminated; it was a matter of self-preservation.
One day I went back to the hotel alone and packed my only suitcase. I did not wait for her so that we could say goodbye; a parting in those circumstances was not something I could handle. I left for the boat train but all the way, as the journey put distance between us, the doctor from Latin America and the unexpected way we had become lovers dominated my thoughts. I recalled her generosity with affection, and was grateful for the way she had looked after me during the ten days we had spent together. But in the end I had had no alternative except to run away. I was being drained physically and mentally and had grown fearful of where it all might lead.
Despite the intimacy I had known with the Argentinian doctor, she remained a rather mysterious figure in my mind. I had learnt nothing about her family background, except that it was quite obvious that she had been born in to a moneyed, cultured household. She rarely talked about herself and was evasive if I ever tried to probe for information. It was as though she had somehow wanted to remain anonymous. She never even discussed her work as a doctor, except that she mentioned tending the poor free of charge once a week to make a contribution to society. Every item about her person reflected wealth, style and good taste, yet she refused to flaunt it or draw attention to it in any way. She was very diffident in herself, but her personality was striking. Her elegant bearing and animated features made her a centre of attention, though it was nothing she sought or wished for. It simply happened that her physical presence defined her in any setting and she seemed to draw everything to her without making the slightest effort. She remained composed, disciplined, and self-assured in every public situation.
Her politics were a topic that she did freely discuss with me. She showed a sympathetic understanding of the plight of the unprivileged, and cited the Palestinians as a prime example among those who had lost out in the international game of realpolitik. She was certainly with the underdog and it was clear on which side of the barricades she would fight if ever it came to revolution.
Nevertheless, she was completely unselfconscious about enjoying the comforts of her status and wealth. The contradiction, if it even existed, was somehow not an issue in her case. When her excessive physical demands were in abeyance, it was a delight to be in her company. I learnt so much from her in such a brief period of time. It was a tutoring of a rare and special kind that few young men have the good fortune to encounter in their formative years. I knew it. During those few days, my life was enriched in ways that ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, and stoically I accepted that both extremes were necessary. I could not have one without the other. In a unique way they became strangely complementary.
I had grown up in an essentially puritan society. Sex was never discussed in my family or my social milieu – it was certainly not looked on as a joyful function, worthy of exploration, and it remained the forbidden fruit. The Roman Catholic Church accepted it only grudgingly as the means of creating new life, since no other method of procreation was possible. The one exception had been in the case of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit without any intervention on the part of her husband Joseph. The mere fact that, among the saints, the Virgin Mary was the most revered just went to illustrate how the tenets of the New Testament were anti-sex in their underlying emphasis. What logic was there in a view that abstention and suffering rather than joy and well-being lay at the core of salvation? Throughout my adolescence I had struggled to understand how it was that sex must be condemned to be hedged about with guilt and frowned upon as a necessary evil when it was the lifeblood of existence, something to be celebrated rather than rejected. I could never arrive at a convincing answer; without sex, the world would come to an end; without sex to fuel it, the drive to achieve ever greater objectives and ambitions must run down and fizzle out. The joys of nurturing a life conceived in the fulfilling act of love would be unknown and humanity robbed of the essence of its reason for being.
My upbringing had failed to brainwash me into denying the value of my sexuality. It always seemed to me that sex was beyond question – the supreme mechanism for maintaining a healthy body and giving it energy and direction. In my childhood, I had desperately sought to plumb the depths of the religious mysteries, but I always came back to the truth of the fact that if I accidentally caught a glimpse of the sparkling white flesh of a woman’s inner thighs my male organ would start to rise and expand; or if I touched myself in a state of arousal, the liquid that stained my trousers represented the relief that came so strangely and was not to be denied. In this way, I acquired an inkling of the joys sex had to offer before I knew what they really meant or could exploit them to the full.
My initiation into the higher subtleties of sex at the hands of the Argentinian doctor came not only as a revelation but also as a unique experience that would mould my sexuality for all the years that lay ahead. She taught me everything she could about the female form, its secret urges and the way it functions. She showed me how to respond to its needs and how not to be selfish or self-engrossed in seeking the ends of desire.
Admittedly, she made me suffer at times. I was not up to the task, despite being, at my age, at the height of my sexual powers. Her needs, at that stage of her evolution in life, were greater than mine. It was often a struggle for me to merge her energy and to keep her satisfied; my body would reach a point where it could no longer take the strain and I felt physical pain from excessive gratification.
But the negative aspects of this epic sexual adventure, pursued through three great European cities, were more than counter-balanced by the deep knowledge with which she imbued me. I never denied that I remained grateful to her, for she had shaped me into the man I was to become; a man who liked and trusted women and was never to feel uncomfortable in their company.
Alas, I never saw her again.