An American writer hoping for fun with a Peruvian artist as a horizontal dictionary finds there’s truth in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
When dating another creative person, the possibility of our following in the footsteps of Joan Didion and John Dunne creeps into my mind. Then just as soon it runs for the hills, howling with laughter as it’s replaced with more realistic images of the notoriously tempestuous match between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
My current exploration of Peruvian men comes at a time of not-so-magical thinking. Age threatens to thicken the wall around my heart, while life fights that instinct by widening my wisdom and travel navigates my experiences. I’m a 37-year-old American born to independence and a strong female character. It’s now that I’m fighting the biggest battle in my life over culture and gender issues. But at least it’s a fun one.
It started innocently enough. While looking for an apartment in Lima I met a tall, attractive, abstract artist whose soft-spoken grace presented a predicament. Rather than get stuck sharing rent with a man who I could possibly love or just as easily loath, I opted instead to familiarize myself with him romantically rather than residentially, the likelihood of a Vicky Cristina Barcelona disaster never far from mind.
Juan Antonio and I debated in Spanish about Jackson Pollack, Klee, and de Kooning over some mota and pisco sours. We watched Julio Medem’s Vacas and “Life Lessons” from New York Stories about love-stricken artists. He turned me into Woody Allen’s Vicky with his intellectual massage. He did not, however, perform like the Don Juan Antonio.
Now here’s where I should have paid attention. Here’s where I should have heeded the sentiment that George W. Bush once butchered but Sex & the City’s Samantha Jones articulated very well: “F*ck me badly once, shame on you; f*ck me badly twice, shame on me.”
“Don’t you have any condoms?” he asks me when our night enters its third act.
I look at him, too mollified to do anything but poorly say in Spanish, “Do you think American women have a practice of keeping condoms in our purse?”
He shrugs and excuses himself to buy the shields at the convenience store downstairs. He returns moments later, as if he’d run, with something called retardantes. I’m thinking it’s a curious word for the object in Spanish but let the event run its course until the retardantes work their lack of magic.
He shows signs of nervousness. I display signs of boredom. We try again.
He shows signs of embarrassment. I display signs of frustration. We call it a night.
Over the next week he keeps my intellect piqued with banter over text messages and emails. He doesn’t have to coerce me back to his apartment the following weekend, though before leaving my own apartment, I do consider coming armed with condoms that don’t retard.
The self-professed “gran pintor” rejects my growing interest in his art. He then insists I pick which of his pieces I’d have in my house. He rejects any discussion I start about American art, in favor of his Euro-centrism. I talk about an architectural tour that took me to the house of Victor Delfin, the Picasso of Peru, and Don Juan calls him a tarado (idiot). He then all but disguises a smirk while pretending to need my assistance in translating an English invitation from Miami’s Art Basel. I’m shaking my head like a cartoon character, trying to remind myself of gender roles when dating fellow creatives.
With a little patience and appreciation that perhaps there’s a culture gap here, too. It pays off. Soon it’s time again for Vicky to read Juan Antonio as her horizontal dictionary.
This time he has condoms unmarked by the loathsome word. We’re good to go…or so I had hoped.
He flopped. I rolled my eyes.
He struck out. I suggested other methods.
He refused. I dressed.
Two weeks later, his text message reads, “Quieres coger?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. F*ck me badly once…” I want to write back. Instead, I practice a little Joan Didionism and skillfully play dumb. Interpreting his statement not for the Spanish slang it is, “Wanna have sex,” I translate it literally as “to meet up.”
“Sure,” I text him, suggesting we coger at a café where I’ll be later that week, in the middle of the day.
“You want to coger at a café?”
I wait. He becomes more literal. I thwart by continuing clever wordplay in Spanish by saying I prefer tarados to retardantes. He readers between the lines and we bid each other ciao. It wasn’t a divorce or even a knock-down-drag-out fight. It didn’t lead to war or break an engagement, but it’s over.
I’m glad I had the sense not to move into that apartment before inspecting for leaky pipes. I’m also glad I evacuated before having my hand shot, provoking a war, or becoming a drug-addled amputee. At this rate, I have no chance of widowhood leading to a year of magical thinking.
I will remind myself, as I’ve done with musicians and writers, not to tread the path of romance with another creative.