Sunday, December 26, 2010

This Christmas was all about the numbers.

 This Christmas was all about the numbers. Not of presents, though that did rear its ugly head, but just about everything else. 2010 is the first number. This year was the first time Robert and I spent the holidays together at home in Ottawa. 

This is actually my hat.
He mocked me...until it got cold.
Our last Christmas in the city was in the honeymoon suite of a family run establishment formerly known as the Swiss Gasthaus. The room had an enormous bed, with a mountain range headboard of carved oak and substantial columnar legs that raised the mattress to a rarefied elevation. The structure was so immense it had its own weather patterns. While “Swiss Gasthaus” had the benefit of authenticity, I suspect that its recent change to the “Swiss Hotel” had something to do with the upcoming generation of hoteliers breaking the news to their matriarch, Sabina, that among other reasons for ‘rebranding’ was the severity to the non-Teutonic ear and the desire to ditch the “internment camp” resonance of the former name.
The next number is 3. When I received the news that I got the job I had to reschedule my return flight from Venice. Though more than happy to do so, it turned out to be a bit of an ordeal. Strangely, although Ottawa is the Capital of Canada no one seems to have any particular need to go there, at least from Europe, and as such, direct flights are few and far between. I ended up settling for a one-way flight to Montreal that cost 3 times as much as my previously purchased and wonderfully inexpensive roundtrip.
3 also happens to be the number of Christmas trees that we put up, having been rolled back from the original 5 that was bandied about during Robert’s preliminary planning. The lead tree resides in the living room, but the true star rests atop the kitchen island tied to the ceiling fan with its base in a small sauce pot of water. Last on the list but not in our hearts is the tree out on the deck held firmly in place by dangerously invisible guy-wires.... so far no decapitated birds.
22 is the next number. The only gift shopping that I had done while in Italy was for a friend and packing her gift had resulted in my upsizing my carry-on luggage. My plan was to shop for Robert when I had returned to Ottawa, which I did – just not immediately. He had made it clear on more than one occasion that he was expecting 10 gifts ... at least. I know not where that particular number came from, except perhaps having a nice ring to it.  Though I had returned on the 16th , my first thought was, well, of me. A new job meant a new wardrobe. Who doesn’t get that? My procrastination in shopping for Robert was fully galvanized by the piecework nature of it, given the preset quantity requirement. This is not how I shop, at least for others. Get a single objective, plunge into the mall, stay focused, achieve target and then quickly evacuate! The eagle has landed, repeat, the eagle has landed. Go! Go! Go! So, really, he was to blame for why I waited until the evening of the 22nd to find myself in the Apple store in hopes of buying my way through yet another heartfelt exchange. Thank God for the iPad is all that I can say.
This is neatly followed by 23, which was the date that Robert went for a walk in the Market during the day and came upon an Asian furniture store that was having a closing sale. It was after the purchase of a hall table, which he had been looking for since the autumn, when Robert learned that the same-day delivery charge was a fixed price - $75.00 whether for a single stick or a truckload. It cost him not to buy more! 11 new pieces of furniture was the final count that afternoon. Imagine my surprise when I came home to little Saigon. It works – and he is happy.
The 25th was a day met with great expectation. I was excited about seeing Robert’s reaction to the iPad and related Apple thingies that I bought him, and he was looking forward to going to mass at the Polish church which, for reasons that perhaps have some historical significance, is located in the heart of the Italian village. The entire sermon was in Polish with a light peppering of Latin. We both dozed in-and-out for parts, but in the overall it was nice to see Robert partaking in his heritage while at the same garnishing myself a HUGE ‘you-owe-me-big-time-buddy’.  
I love this time of year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A life filled with incident

Filled with incident is the perhaps the best description of how my life has gone since meeting my partner, Robert. Though we had been in contact for over a year and had previously met in Boston, Montreal and Toronto, my first trip to his home in Venice was May 2008. During my two-week sojourn I took part in a series of commemorations that he had arranged to honour a dear and departed friend. Among other events celebrating his life, were a garden party dedication for a piece of sculpture that Robert had commissioned and an evening of music and dining.

On the surface the agenda admittedly does not seem all that unusual.  Except that half-acre gardens in a city where buildings are packed tighter than Hollywood teeth are rare (read: unheard of), the sculpture was the size of an apartment fridge and had been brought from the United States and the evening of music was for a private audience of eighty at Palazzo Cà Zen where both the opera singer and his accompanying pianist had been flown in specifically for that evening. Then “unusual” seems to be a bit more applicable. Rest assured that throughout it all I managed to represent Canada quite well by suppressing my need to interject an affirming eh and also by maintaining a nonchalant air of: Oh this? It happens to me all the time. I’m on the circuit.
The Garden at Robert's Palazzo

Sorry for the Martha Stewart adjectives that are about to come but there is just no way to be both accurate and descriptively modest concerning the dinner that followed the recital. Although it took place in two great rooms of renaissance opulence (yes opulence), there was still a convivial atmosphere among the guests as they were seated in groups of eight at lavishly adorned round tables.

I have never felt so unilingual in my life. English sounded course and filled with rough edges compared to the fluidity of Italian, French and Spanish that perfumed the air.  Everyone could and would speak English, yet their kind mercies on my behalf were just a further reminder that they were linguistically nimble and that I was comparatively all-thumbs.

The arranged seating placed me beside a wonderfully charming and beautiful woman named Nella Habsburg. That is where I slipped down the rabbit-hole.  Her husband, Dominic Habsburg, was also at the table. I defy anyone to say his appellation in one breath. Go ahead, I double dare you. Breathe in and start now: “His Imperial and Royal Highness, Prince Imperial and Archduke of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia and Prince of Tuscany”. I may have forgotten a title here-or- there, but you get the gist. As an aside, Dominic finds such formality rather amusing. If I were in his place I would spiel off the honorific, in its entirety, every time I answered the phone. Which I would then drolly follow up with, “And you are?”

Ever eager to promote (preface with the word ‘shamelessly’ if you feel the need) my work I slowly wove the topic of literature, and more specially writing, into my conversation with Nella. It turned out that she loved to read. Yeah! Unfortunately, being an experienced socialite used to engaging complete strangers in conversation, she saw this tiny crevice of common ground as a wonderful place from which to hang our discourse.  She spoke at length about her literary finds and gave several recommendations where Venice served as the backdrop.  So remarkably extensive was her knowledge that I was left without an opening.

At the very moment she had offered to buy me a copy of Venice for Lovers, Dominic had received a call. By both his expression and Nella’s it seemed to be one that they had been waiting on, yet dreading. After a brief exchange to the anonymous caller Dominic left the table agitated and sombre.

From what I gathered the reason for his upset goes something like this: For the sake of drawing tourism, a local mayor where the Habsburg’s ancestral home, Bran Castle of Romania, also known as Dracula’s Castle (of Bram Stoker fame), was located had wanted to parade an artefact that was sacred to Dominic. That artefact being his grandmother’s (former Queen of Hungry) preserved heart. While many would be sympathetic toward a man having to deal with such a crass and invasive act from a tactless political dullard, I can also say with equal confidence that very few are at risk of a similar incident occurring in their own lives. There was, and still is, something otherworldly about the entire scenario.

For the next morning Robert had arranged to meet with some of the evening’s guests for a Prosecco and continental breakfast at Piazza San Marco. In spite of the upsetting news of the prior evening, Dominic and Nella took part. True to her word she thoughtfully brought a copy of Venice for Lovers with a gracious inscription that felt appropriate to my new life, “To David & Robert with love, Dominic & Nella Habsburg Venice, 5/17/09”.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dating like a gay man – resetting priorities

There can be a hefty amount of shallowness that goes into gay dating. So my thought for this blog post was to focus on the use of superficial selection criteria. For example, “must have a nice butt” - and yeah, something about personality. Giving it a little thought I came to the conclusion that women can be quite shallow in their own way; however to date gay, their superficiality needs some redirecting. And that is what this post is about.
I have always found it interesting in social situations how quickly a woman that I’ve just met will get around to the question of my profession. As if some caldron of primal instincts inside of her boils up: Would he, or would he not be able to keep up on future support payments for our children.
Introductory meetings can go something along the lines of:
“Hi, I’m David. How do you know the host?”
Hi, I’m Candy.  We’ve been friends since grade school. Have you tried the meatballs? And what do you do?”
Even women who are happily involved need ... N-E-E-D ... to know. I’m not sure how conscious women are of this. I’ve come to believe that the question, like blinking and breathing, is somehow tied to women’s autonomic nervous system. Unfortunately, for the sake of dating like a gay man, curbing this burning desire must be addressed. The way I see it, the benefits of your changing your approach and dating like a gay man by focusing on looks (and yeah sure, personality) are twofold.
  1. I’m really just saving you from a world of heartache, particularly if you are a younger woman. I read on some MSN news bite a while ago that successful women seek out men who are more successful. Going forward, this strategy is doomed. Fewer and fewer men are continuing on to post-secondary education. The trend shows no sign of stopping, and from what I can tell not a lot of resources are being allocated to the issue. As a woman you will very likely have the higher education relative to any man you will date and since higher education is positively correlated to salary so will you also very likely have the better paying job. In the future ... and the future is now... a young woman will have a much easier go of it finding a man whose looks she likes rather than finding a man of equivalent or better education and income. Go get yourself a hotty!  
  2. If you are a woman coming up to middle age you should be aware that all men over the age of 40 know of at least one unemployed woman who was awarded a healthy, lifetime, alimony payment, – which has been known to be bitterly referred to as private welfare. All men resent/fear/loath women like this. A man may lie to you and say that he understands and perhaps rationally he does, but nevertheless I guarantee you that his blood runs cold at the mere mention of such a scenario. By hastily inquiring about a man’s job you run the risk if only on a subconscious level of being associated with such a woman (read: pariah). It may suck – but it is true.
Realizing that totally suppressing  this powerful instinctive urge to ask a man’s occupation might be dangerous, perhaps even lethal, I have a couple of suggestions to help transition you to dating more like a gay man. First, maybe do a little reconnoitring at social events. Take the hostess aside and ask what every man in the room does for a living. That way you can feel confident that the question won’t pop out of your mouth uncontrollably during possible conversations later that evening, and you will come across to the men as being genuinely interested in them and not their wallets. Second, in addition, or alternatively, you build up your stamina over time.

Try to postpone the question until 2 minutes into the conversation, and then on your next encounter stretch it to 2 minutes and 15 seconds and so on until you plateau at perhaps 5 minutes. While the inquiry is the Neanderthal equivalent of a man staring at cleavage, and is therefore deliciously shallow, it is the wrong kind of shallow. I assure you that gay men have spent an entire evening with me without inquiring, directly or implicitly, about my occupation. Is he attractive? That should be your criteria. I realize that a man’s looks is already a factor for you, it just needs to be given a lot more weight.  
You may not understand the hubbub around asking a man about his job, so this may have to be a leap of faith on your part but I cannot advise you strongly enough – the very first time you meet a man hold back as long as possible. Even during an awkward silence.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A woman’s guide to dating like a gay man

Over the course of our relationship Robert has, from time to time, shared his theory as to why outwardly ‘straight’ men seek out a liaison with another man with some finally switching camps altogether.  The lynchpin in his adamant conjecture is Oral Sex. Simply put, women don’t give it. Gay men do...brilliantly!
While his presumption does hold statistically in my own personal  dating experience and does possess some rudimentary merit, I believe that he has merely touched upon a symptom of a far more pervasive and complex root cause. I offer the alternative possibility that the allure resides in the clear and direct flattering interest of another.  The importance of clear and direct cannot be overstated.
A related aside, I think in terms of clarity of communication between the genders, women should hold in reserve the word ‘horny’ in reference to their state of arousal. Unless you are contemplating eating through someone’s clothing to get their body, you are not horny. I honestly don’t know if this has ever crossed a woman’s mind, but for the sake of transparency of intent, any state of coital desire less than this should be labelled simply as frisky.
Certainly in the realm of male libido it is tempting to defer to the principle of Occam’s Razor, "when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better", thus indicating that Robert pretty much nailed it. Nevertheless, I perceive a vacuum of knowledge that I will attempt to address with an intermittent series of blogs tentatively entitled “A woman’s guide to dating like a gay man”.
These blogs will be tagged “A woman’s guide” and though intended to assist women who wish a unique, if indeed not entirely skewed, peek into the male psyche, all are welcome. I must caution, however, that those readily prone to moral corruption or overly sensitive to the erosion core family values should probably steer clear.

In reference to this series the following non-alphabetical list of fast-and-loose definitions shall apply:
1)      Sex (noun with hopefully verb like qualities): an arousing social encounter between two or more optimistic individuals during which the genitals are, in some fashion, pleasantly engaged...or not unpleasantly engaged...whatever floats your boat
2)       Relationship (noun):  a) you at least know the person’s first and last names, b) you have demonstrated a desire to know more c) you’ve had sex, d) you still don’t regret “b)” or “c)”, e) you’re pretty sure they feel the same and f) ground rules have been set for the initial level of monogamy.
3)      Man chore (noun phrase): Domestic duties that a woman will seek a man to perform. While the installation of home electronics falls under this purview, these tasks are more often than not relegated to scutwork which combines at least two of the following three attributes: a) doesn’t require much intellect, b) labour intensive, c) filthy. Taking out the garbage is a superlative example of a delegated ‘man chore’.
4)      Pseudo-boyfriend (noun): A single woman’s male friend who performs the tasks and duties in her life which would otherwise normally be associated with a boyfriend or husband, except sex. A single woman’s “might-as-well-be-eunuch” substitute boyfriend. A single woman’s male friend who does man chores for her and to whom she will (if she’s honest with herself) rarely, if ever, consider reciprocating.
5)      Chivalry (noun): Archaic. Replaced by the word thoughtful in the new millennium so that women would feel okay about being “chivalrous” toward men.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Our New Schedule

Robert and I had decided to have dinner at the ‘5 Torri, Bar, Restaurant, Pizzeria’ (5 Torri translates to ‘5 Towers’, which is the name that is given to a cluster 5 mountainous peaks overlooking Cortina). Having been to Cortina several times before, Robert was familiar with the establishment and described it as a  “no nonsense” place. Over the course of our time together I have come to understand this means: a somewhat raucous atmosphere, expeditious service from overwrought staff that are distractedly turning to depart the moment they arrive at the table, paper napkins in which the cutlery may or may not be rolled and a menu featuring local comfort food cooked just the way momma would have done had she been slightly agitated with you. ‘5 Torri’ did not disappoint.

It was in this setting that we celebrated my new employment and I consoled Robert as we set to the task of arranging our future schedule. All-and-all, I was sounding like a very busy individual - what with this new position back in Ottawa, the book promotion, working on the new manuscript, starting the little side business I had been planning, taking continuing education courses related to accounting and continuing with my efforts to learn Italian. Shoehorning in meals and “us- time” was looking to be, at best, a juggling act. Perhaps, I suggested, making love and having meals could be compressed as a single activity into one timeslot.  This was only briefly entertained. The risks for personal injury due to mix-ups related to the mouth alone were enormous.
Scene: Emergency room of a hospital. Robert and David are in triage.
Nurse: “You were alternating between what and eating bratwurst? Weren’t you two really just baiting disaster?”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Laying the Groundwork

Having escaped December’s damp chill in Venice for the deeply penetrating crisp and toothy cold of Cortina, Robert and I were smugly pleased with ourselves for we had missed, by one day, being trapped in Venice by a record aqua alta. Water in San Marco had reached over a meter. For those of you not familiar with the metric system, think wearing hip waders and fly-fishing in the centre of town.

Our brisk late morning constitutional walk, on our second day in Cortina, had brought us to a café that if not becoming our favourite, was certainly becoming our habit. And if not a habit, then a testament to the ease with which we fall into patterns.
All huddled up around our steaming cappuccino and cafe Americano inside of the Cafe Royal and pooling body heat while reading the newspapers, we started our proactive discussion in the face of an event that was about to change the course of our relationship; my return to what Robert euphemistically refers to as “the working-class”, voluntarily no less.
Although he had worked for a large part of his adult life, it seemed during this initial discussion that the concept was rather foreign to him. At best ‘employment’ was pithy theoretical fodder for editorials as opposed to something one actually engages in. At worst, the concept carried with it the great weight of the dreaded unknown.
It was not as if the day had arrived without warning, like a terribly unforeseen affliction that gets subtly spelled out in small group huddles at cocktail parties: “Did you hear about David? He has a j-o-b.” Quite the contrary, while perhaps an affliction to some, the possibility had been in the offing for quite awhile. I had been looking; scandalous.

This will likely be the cover of our Christmas Card
Perhaps it had been the timing of the email from the executive placement agency that had thrown Robert off. During our getaway to Cortina, (“a getaway from what” is indeed a fair question) this bit of news from the outside world may have been made all the more disconcerting for him because of its intrusiveness. Whatever the reason, the subject was soon dropped in favour of what Robert felt to be the more pressing matter, Italian chocolate.
The groundwork had been laid.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Moment of my epiphany

Oddly, it was on my way from Venice to Cortina that I decided to write a blog.
Robert and I were on the train at the time when the thought struck me, as stray thoughts have a tendency to do when he reads aloud, presumably for my benefit, selected excerpts from the International Herald Tribune.

As an aside, the interior of the trains leaving Venice whether they are local, regional or the EuroStar, all smell like Band-Aids.
Anyway, it was “odd” because of the timing. You see, we had met a few years ago. And of all the times since that meeting that might have, and should have, inspired diarizing the fantastical turn that my life was taking - it stands out as peculiar that a random sojourn on a ‘Band-Aid redolent’ train was the moment of my epiphany. But, nevertheless, there it was. Whisked from my small apartment in Ottawa, Canada, a lifetime of experiences ago, I finally got down to the business of meeting my obligation to posterity at Hotel Ambra Cortina, in room 15... while waiting on Robert to go out for dinner.