AA Gill is dead. So now’s a good time to re-read all his stuff and steal the best of it.
I’ve always liked his explanation of how different European nationalities represent the ages of man. So as a baby you’re Italian: mother fixated. Very vocal.
As a child you become English: making up games with arcane rules and starting clubs that other people aren’t allowed to join.
As teenagers we become French – romantic, philosophic, over-emotional, a bit hormonal.
As adults we have a choice: Swiss or Irish.
And in middle age we all become German – seeing the value of rules and order and paying for everyone else.
In old age we become Belgian: not knowing who we are and not really giving a fuck.
He never mentioned Russians. Which is a shame, as it might explain why my friend, (who we’ll call ‘the Tenor’) is obsessed by Russian women.
He spent time in Russia in the nineties, returning to the UK with a mysterious bag of cash and a terrifying Cossack wife; a lawyer with bright blue eyes that made her look like a wolf.
The Tenor prefers very, very clever women. He digs big brains, as well as something he slyly describes as the ‘binary impulse switch’ which Russian women apparently have – a quality the rest of us describe as ‘bonkers’ – but which works a treat in the bedroom, apparently. Presumably the smarter they are, the more extreme the gear change from cerebral to cervical must be. But he’s never been a man to duck the high octane option.
The second she-wolf was a PHD in something and about twenty years younger than him and worked for the Mayor of London’s policy unit.
She was very argumentative.
Typical exchange: Tenor to Russki: “Honey, keep your voice down.”
Russki: “I am too loud? Do you mean I am shouting? You’re saying that I’m barking? Did you just call me a bitch?”
Then she moved to the US and left him behind. I think she may have been a spy.
Anyway, me and the F- family were staying with friends in the alps over the holidays. The Tenor called. He was in Geneva with his new girlfriend. (Not Russian, Hungarian!) So he came up to visit and we went out to dinner where a small pile of rocket with parmesan shavings was 17 euro and a lot of the mains had no price at all. That kind of place.
Miss Hungary was a surprise. I was expecting someone who looked like his daughter, but she was age-appropriate with glossy hair and a fitted blazer buttoned tight so her baklavas popped up like plump puppies in a basket. A couple of big rocks on her fingers.
I used the opportunity to tell AA Gill’s European story (again). She looked at me. “What about Russians?” she asked.
“What about them?”
“How would you describe them? And Americans.? What age are they?”
“Americans are teenagers too. Boundless energy and appetite for new ideas. Short attention span. Messy. Russians I don’t know. What do you think?”
“Russians are not people.” she said.
“Viktoria doesn’t like Russians much.” interjected the Tenor.
“Why not?” asked Mrs F.
“All Russians?” I asked, because it did seem a bit sweeping.
“I would say,” said the Tenor’s new Magyar thoughtfully, “that at the age of two we must become like Russian women. They are impossible to feed and they shout when they don’t get their way and they cannot get dressed by themselves so they wear always the smallest thing and are easily bought and things like this.”
So that what was good. I told you the Tenor liked ‘em feisty.
“And Hungarian women? What makes them so irresistible” I asked, pointedly, at the Tenor because I really couldn’t resist throwing some petrol on the fire.
She answered for him “Hungarian women are loyal and tell the truth.”
“Then tell us why you don’t like Russian women.” I suggested.
“Because he has fucked too many of them.” she said sweetly, jabbing her knife in the direction of the Tenor, who smiled wanly.
“Recently?” I asked. But Mrs F was already changing the subject which was a shame because it’s always hard to get any solid facts about the Tenor and this one seemed priceless.
“That was a long time ago, surely.” I persisted.
The Tenor’s new squeeze looked at me with big brown heavily mascarad eyes and said nothing.
I tried again. “And how many is too many?”
“One is too many. A million are not enough. He is an addict.”
“Is there a cure?”
“I am the cure.”
The Tenor took a fat slug of his wine and looked like a man ready to pack his bags and head for the sanatorium there and then.
Viktoria carefully rolled her single piece of locally-sourced rabbit, pancetta and thyme ravioli in its watery broth (24 euros), popped it into her mouth and chewed it very, very slowly.
The F Bloke would prefer to remain anonymous to protect his sources.
He lives in London and works globally. He is very married.