Saturday, September 08, 2007

dancing with partners

When you go on holiday, especially on your own, I think there's always a part of you which hopes that you will make friends with someone, perhaps even have a passionate holiday romance. I am not in the market for the latter and have spotted quite early on that my hotel - and the town of Cavtat in general - aided by the time of year and attendant weather, is not a magnet for young people and in any case, most people here are Italian, German or Eastern European. And for the most part about five or ten years older than me. I've also been at work most days, and getting reasonably early nights as a consequence. Pah.

So although I'm not really on the lookout for friends, it's nevertheless hard to extinguish the idea that I might bump into someone I'll get along with. And so - or perhaps co-incidentally, I find myself scanning the faces of my dining companions, say, or fellow guests. In this way certain faces become familiar, and I quickly find that I keep running into one particular group of travellers, who are also staying in my hotel. The two men of their party are very unexceptional. Perhaps 40,42, with sensible, brown, neatly trimmed hair, slim builds and spectacles, they strike me as two mild-mannered Falkirk town supporters on a much-needed work jolly - an impression compounded by the fact that the first time, in passing, I hear them speak, they sound Scottish.

They are sitting adjacent to me on the hotel veranda where they and their two companions - and I - are making the best of the hotel buffet. I notice them because the two women they are dining with are appreciably younger, blonde and dressed up. I notice them rise and walk into the restaurant, leaving the two men outside, and it is now that I swear I hear - or rather, imagine I hear - one say to the other, "are they actually eating anything?".

This sentence seems to make a lot of sense as although the two girls' plates remain laden with food, they return a moment or two later with a plate of dessert each - cakes and watermelon - which they demolish with a hitherto unseen enthusiasm, leaving their main courses untouched.

The girls - here you can probably see why they really caught my attention - are in their early twenties, quite provactively dressed, and in the case of the shorter of the two (and to a lesser extent her friend) very pretty indeed. I wonder what they are doing with such drab men and consider, partly because I at this point think the men British when these girls are plainly Eastern European - that on some level the factor which might have brought these two couples together is financial.

That's not to say that I immediately concluded, oh! they're prostitutes, but it seemed more than likely that they were a couple of local girls enjoying the attention and hospitality of a pair of hopeful - and comparitively wealthy - British tourists. That's interesting, I thought, and not much more than that.

Oddly, the next time I saw them, the mystery... well, it didn't deepen nor necessarily become more explicable. But I was surprised to conclude as I stood next to them at the hotel bar, that the Scottish accents - and probably the use of a language which I could understand - was an act of projection on my part. Although I couldn't place the language, they were clearly from Eastern Europe, after all.

Of course, none of that really alters the incongruity of their relationship, for the more I saw them the less alike they seemed, the men plain and serious and the girls heavily perfumed and carefully styled. Or I'm being unforgivably judgemental, I suppose.

Except that their body language continues to interest me. From what I can see, they talk chiefly to each other - that is, the man to the man and the woman to the woman. The men seem businesslike, aloof and curiously unconcernd with their partners. If that one overheard phrase was indeed imagined, it remains strangely apt. It's possibly to detect some level of pride in their postures, but also a kind of judgemental air, as if they are constantly assessing the worth of their investment.

The women, in contrast, are secretive, always in consultation, and frequently exchanging bored looks. They clearly come as a pair. When the two men do pay attention to them, their attitude is plainly proprietorial. But perhaps, I think, this is simply the way that men are with women.

In the end I feel slightly uneasy in myself taking interest, wondering why these people are together - it is, of course, none of my business, and I worry that I'm projecting some notion of bartering, ascribing value on the girls, which they doubtless would resent. Perhaps I do them all a gross injustice. But I do know, and I can tell whenever I look at them all together, that however they all got here, they are not in love.

No comments: