February in London, Part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.

The following morning the Nutter comes to pick me up from my hotel. The weather is slightly better and we walk to the Royal Academy of Arts to visit the Manet exhibition. We queue outside in the snow for something like an hour: the Academy is very English and very Royal in this respect. The exhibition is a joy.

I’ll be honest, I’m not big on art. My favourite movement is Pre-Raphaelites, that should tell you enough. But I am captivated by portraits and figure painting. Now, before you accuse me of neglecting the beauty of nature in art – you’re right. It’s true, landscapes bore me out of my skull. Seascapes – not so much, but close. Still life, on the other hand, is fascinating as long as it’s a flower painting. Anything other than a bouquet in that composition and as far as I’m concerned, I’m looking at a landscape again. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has a whole room dedicated to flower paintings. If there is anything the Dutch are good at…

Anyway, figure painting. I’m not a connoisseur, I don’t care much for brush strokes and techniques. I enjoy the story the painter tells me. Figure painting is like blogging. When I blog about a client, I tell you how I see him. I’ve never seen him at work, or with his children, or at a funeral, so my blog entry is not a well-rounded and truthful depiction of a man, it’s a description of my experience of him. I can bet all you want that his wife would tell a very different story. Similarly, looking at a portrait we see the person the painter saw. We can only guess about the actual poser. The painting tells us more about its author than about its object. Olympia, the notoriously controversial painting of a prostitute. It’s not like she’s the first hooker to ever be painted, far from it. But very few of the thousands of sex workers painted before her looked so unrepentant, unashamed and unabashed. She wasn’t caught unawares when dressing or spied on when bathing. No, her accessories show that she’s naked by choice and she’s very comfortable with it. Moreover, she looks dominant. She knows what she’s doing. I guess that’s the real controversy. What do we know about her now? Nothing but her job. The way she looks here is the way every other sex worker would look when naked (I am now really curious to see Dana’s photos of me). Does it tell us anything about Manet? He is evidently very comfortable with female sexuality. He doesn’t want to own it, he celebrates it.

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Fair enough, the woman in the painting is a model, but any real life sex worker could be painted very differently in the context of her job by another painter. Of course, not all painters are good story-tellers and not all portraits are there to be heard. That’s why the exhibition was a beautiful learning experience. And I was taken by his signature: “Ed. Manet” on most paintings. It was hard not to poke the Nutter in the ribs with my elbow and say loudly, pointing my finger: “Look! Another good one by Eddie!”

Out of the Academy, we walk a little around Piccadilly and then he takes me to a little restaurant in Jermyn Street for lunch. The lunch conversation is an eye-opener: we go through our “history” of 5 dates. First time he came across my website, he thought “She’s bloody arrogant!” First time he came to see me, he assumed I was older than the website said. And I have to say that the first time I saw him he looked and acted much older than the Nutter I know now. So maybe it’s all in the eyes of the painter. Has he changed since? He says he has. He is now more sensitive and considerate to others’ needs. I don’t know about that. I notice his increased confidence around me (and his new talents in bed) and his attention to his clothes. Unlike the first time, he’s now a tasteful dresser, understatedly elegant. If I were to paint him, you’d see a very sexy 60 year old man.

Time flies when you’re happy and it’s 2.45 before I know it. I have to leave the Nutter at the table and rush to Praed Street clinic for my appointment at 3. This is the first time I am at the clinic dressed for going out (shirt+skirt), not for blending in with the other clinic attendees (jeans+T-shirt) and suddenly I am treated differently. Even my reply to the same old question of “how many clients a week do you see?” (why do they have to ask every time I’m there? To check if I’m lying?) doesn’t inspire a raised eyebrow.

Thankfully, the Nutter leaves for his hometown from Paddington, 5 minute run from the clinic, and I make it there just 10 minutes before his train leaves. We walk to the gates, stop to say good bye and I reach to kiss him. As our lips touch, he drops his suitcase. He bends down to pick it up, mumbling something along the lines of “clumsy old fool” and I give my usual line of “I tend to have this effect on men”. But I can only wish. This is the first time a man drops something other than his trousers when I kiss him.

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