I’m sleepless in Beirut.
I think it was born on a leather couch in a room that threw itself unto another balcony in Achrafieh. The underlying forwardness of the question, the intimacy of the old buildings one next to the other, the stickiness of the black leather against my legs and the joy of being initiated into a secret world, those were the Cupid’s arrows that struck me. I fell in love.
Beirut was now a blank first page of an epic. The beginning of a love affair, with the city, with this man sitting a few feet across from me, waiting for an answer.
My answer must have been the right one, because my pages thereafter were filled with little details that were scattered all around that house.
He was the physical manifestation of a secret fantasy. He was older, a man of layers and sub-layers, a man of observation, brimming with inspiration. He never thought of "nothing". Those visits were a welcome distraction from my solitude. I look back on them with sweet nostalgia.
I’d be lying if I said he was the first. In fact, the day we met, I was shown the way by another man; Beirut was still full of unknown streets and addresses at that time. The other man, Freud, who I will introduce later, dropped me off at the corner of the street and told me to be careful.
Botticelli came out to meet me. He was a great deal taller than me, and I felt a little uncomfortable for bringing a man of his size out into the street. He was squinting and I assumed he hadn’t left his house for quite a while. I walked a step behind him, not out of timidity, but because the sidewalks here never allow for anything short of a power struggle. Perhaps if people were allowed more space, there would be a little less kicking and screaming.
We arrived to his apartment and I looked around with obvious admiration. He was practically living my dream: shelves stacked to the ceiling with CDs, DVDs and books. An avid appetite for art and culture sweeps me off my feet.
We sat down at his desk and I started fumbling with my laptop, the cables and the CD I wanted to show him. We had decided to meet for professional reasons, and I had dressed up for the occasion: an ink blue blouse with puffed sleeves, and a stewardess style skirt. I had also a rather large dressing on my knee, a large white cross of medicinal plaster over a lump of cotton – the perfect conversation piece. However, he barely uttered a word as I set everything up.
He responded rather positively to my work and I grew happier and happier with every nod from his part. After all, he was someone whose criticisms were based on years of experience. I felt encouraged and that little push was what I had been looking for.
Convinced that I was passionate about what I do, he started letting down his guard, we exchanged our first smiles. I suppose he needed to see some spark in me in order to set aside his cynicism.
We moved over to the couch for a more casual setting. We talked a little bit about ourselves. From the fight between my body language and my built-in social etiquette, I realized that I felt comfortable in his presence. He spoke to me in a sincere tone and I almost felt as though I belonged in this world whose doors are rarely opened.
Being alone with a strange man in his own territory, in theory, is not the best scenario; yet, I didn’t feel threatened at all. The thought of an impeding shift of mood did cross my mind, but only because I myself found him attractive.
The conversation wandered and we suddenly found ourselves on the threshold of a potential shift. I first got in touch with Botticelli through Facebook. I had abused my access to his content, and apparently so had he.
“Why do you have the poster of Kubrick’s “Lolita” as your profile picture?”
And the rest was history.
I cringed at the question, and tried to dress it up as a movie infatuation. Yet, in reality, I hadn’t even seen that particular film. I couldn’t lie, so I finally admitted to my secret movie fetish: plots involving relationships between older men and younger women. This was actually only a recent discovery, one I had made while writing up a list of my favourite films. The common trait they all shared practically jumped off the page.
He took my answer to the next level by admitting that it was one of his fantasies, and that he would like to try it some day.
I didn’t know whether to stay or run out the door. It was one of those moments.
He must have noticed me pondering the possibility of flight, so he maneuvered the conversation back into the stables of “social acceptability”.
Once I felt the mood shift back unto familiar grounds, and I relaxed once again, I found myself always jumping back to that moment. That is how the tension started to build and that is why I returned the next week, curious out of my mind. I was still afraid that my fascination with older men was just that, a fascination. I did not know whether I had it in me to go through with it. It was time to find out.