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Arles Diary


From Siena via rail through the south of France, mostly hugging the Mediterranean, and on to Spain. To Barcelona. I love trains. You can eat, drink, sleep (the rhythmic clack clack clack of steel wheels on rail is a lullaby), read, flirt, talk politics. Do all manner of normal human stuff. Most Americans prefer cars where they can ride in a bubble, mostly alone or with people that look and think like they do, without risk of being exposed to and infected by the “others”. I preferred the slower, local trains to the high speed bullets. In the locals you can throw the windows open and speculate about the people getting on and getting off and the nature of the small towns behind the tiny stations. Sometimes there’s a formal dining car, sometimes just a sandwich and drink kiosk.

I waited in line behind a tall, thin, blonde American woman bejeweled like a Christmas tree. Long, red lacquered nails. She was trying to order a sandwich. A cheese sandwich. She didn’t speak a word of Italian. She pointed to the cheese sandwich in the glass fronted case. The attendant took a sandwich from the lower shelf and put it on the counter. Her face as red as her nails and her request louder than her appearance. “No! The cheese sandwich.” The little, old Italian replaced the sandwich, reached in and presented the one adjacent to the cheese sandwich. He was smirking. Fucking with her. I imagined this was not their first run-in. Exasperated, she paid for the wrong sandwich. In American dollars instead of lira. She over-payed. She didn’t care about the money. She was rich. What pissed her off was how she was treated. Like the pushy, loud, rich American she was. Smiling I ordered a Peroni and the panino al formaggio.

Pisa. Teenage thugs preying on gullible sightseers. In my imagination they were responsible for the badly tilting tower. Nice, France. Seedy. Marseille. Seedier and with a delicious fragrance of danger and sexual commerce. I alighted from the train in Arles intending to get two or three nights with a cool pillow under my cheek, clean sheets, hot food and some really good wine. I chose Arles because of the Van Gogh paintings.

Past the fountain, on the right, fronting the Rhone was a small attractive hotel. The proprietors, husband and wife, attempted to answer my questions. I was trying to gauge the convenience of the location and to attain a viewing of the room before I committed. My Italian faulting, my French nonexistent. The wife called for the daughter, S., a Graduate student I would learn, who spoke fluent English. She checked me in and showed me to the room where I collapsed from exhaustion and slept as if dead for 12 hours. My intended two nights would turn into two weeks.

In the morning, S. was at the front desk. I asked her for restaurant recommendations. She made a list. I asked her which was her favorite. She circled her choice with her pale, delicate hand. I told her I would rather not dine alone that evening and would she be so kind as to accompany me if I treated. To my delight she assented. From that point forward S. and I would become inseparable during my prolonged stay. The food, the wine, the art, the amphitheater were all just background noise. S. was the feature presentation.

There is no adventure like the exploration of a woman’s body. All of the important erogenous zones and aesthetically pleasing secondary sexual characteristics like wrists. Ankles. Neck. S. was a small woman so I did not have to traverse great distances. With all women the terrain is always vaguely familiar. The excitement comes in their various abilities to deploy the most important sexual organ of all – the mind. Intelligence and imagination are the ultimate aphrodisiacs and S. was exceptionally capable. She spoke 5 languages to my 1.3 and she bounced seamlessly between them, sometimes in the same sentence, like a verbal acrobat with her soft and measured cadence. I could have achieved orgasm by simply listening to her while I charted her hills and valleys and bends all endlessly fascinating even though they became familiar and always led to the same deliriously delicious destination.

Anyone who professes to have lived life without regrets is a liar or a moron. Leaving S. was the hardest and stupidest thing I ever did. In a bar in Perpignon I seriously considered boarding the train back to Arles rather than continuing on to Spain. But I had a reservation for a hotel in Barcelona, a plane ticket at a particular date and time and clients waiting for me back in the States. Don’t confuse practical decisions with correct ones. They are merely expedient.

There were other adventures forthcoming on that trip that I cherish. Being stranded in Tour de Carol at the highest point in the Pyrenees on the French side of the border. Barcelona is truly a magical city with some of the most beautiful women in the world. My theory –  the Moorish influence. And yet strolling the Ramblas and idling away the hours at Cafe Zurich wasn’t what it could have been since I had been hollowed out by the loss of S.

In the days before free and easy international communication it was impossible to continue to love S. in the way that she needed to be loved. So it ended leaving me the lesser man for the loss.

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