Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Stephanie Block

I wouldn’t have met him if it weren’t for my Jimmy Choos. They were my first pair, and the first time I ever dared to wear them was at Jimmy’z nightclub in Monte Carlo.

They were black, they were high, and they were christened with delicate, silver disco balls across the toe straps. Even Paris Hilton would have looked at me and said, “that’s hot.” It was that kind of night.

As I perched on the edge of the dancefloor, the DJ pumped out heady Europop, and the breeze from the terrace floated quietly by, mixing in with the fog machine to create a strange fog of fabulousness.

Jimmy’z is the Riviera’s most famous nightclub. Prince Albert was here tonight, just over there at the bank of couches. And I was here too in my new Jimmys at Jimmy’z. My champagne glass was empty, which would have been a pity if the little man who swore he was a Russian prince wasn’t keeping my glass full. If not for him I might actually have to pay the $50 price for each of my drinks. Unthinkable!

I moved to rest my empty glass on a nearby table in order to get my groove on when a gangly Frenchman pushed past me, drunk, and stepped on my toe. I yelped and sat down, breathing in the sudden pain. I looked down. I saw a black toe strap. Naked. Without balls, just like the Frenchman was going to be in about trois seconds. Where were they? My balls? My precious balls? So many feet on the dance floor. So many places for disco balls to hide.

“Are you missing these?” I looked up. A young man stood in front of me. He had dark hair, pale skin, and wore a silk ascot around his neck. In his palm were my disco balls.

Merci,” I said. I couldn’t believe it.

“I am not French,” he said. “I am Swiss.”

“Oh. Well danke! Vielen danke!

He looked at me, as most European men are apt to once they discover that there are indeed Americans who can speak other languages. He gave me that same look: an American who isn’t stupid and xenophobic?

He knelt down in front of me, and on one knee began to reattach the discoballs to my delicate toe strap. I stared at him, his French cuffs rolled up for dancing. The sheen of silk from his ascot. The way his dark hair was long enough to fall over his eyes while he was looking down. I watched him ease the clasps of the discoballs back into their leather sockets, and I noticed the etched gold ring on his middle finger. I thought it might be a family crest.

He stood up, dusting his knee. “May I join you?” He asked. As if he had to. As if I would deny him…anything.

“Yes, of course,” I said, patting space on the couch next to me.

“My name is Freidrich.”

“I’m Stephanie,” I said, extending my hand. He kissed it. What a knight in shining armour. But he was real.

“I hate to tell you, but I have to go. I have a plane to catch in the morning.”

It was midnight and my night was turning into a pumpkin. I wanted so much more. But there was no way to have it, not even in Monte Carlo, where princess dreams come true. Would there be more knights tomorrow night? The crowd around me surged with unfamiliar faces.

“You’re American,” he observed.

“Yes.”

“You’re on a tour of Europe?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever been to Zurich?”

“No.”

“Here is my card. I wish to see you again. If you can come to Zurich, please call me.”

Two days later, I did.

Friederich met me at the airport with a rose. He had come from work, a bank of course, and he wore such a beautiful suit. Dark, professional, well-crafted. His initials were embroidered on his shirt’s pocket. He took me back to his home via cable car. The sun was bright and made my new little hamlet sparkle. The cable car ground over cobblestones. Friederich reached for my hand as we bumped across old streets.

He lived in the heart of the city. We took the elevator to the second floor. The car was small and I could smell his cologne. He unlocked his door. I kissed him on the back of his neck. He pulled me to him as he fumbled to get my luggage inside.

“I have to go back to work,” he murmured as his tongue made rotations in my mouth.

“Call in sick,” I suggested, carefully easing him out of his fine suit jacket.

“I can’t be late.”

“Don’t make me wait,” I whispered.

“Wait here for me. I will be back in two hours. Make yourself comfortable. I bought food for you—all the best foods of Switzerland—chocolates, sausages, bread, and cheese. Believe me, I will work fast knowing that a beautiful woman is waiting for me.”

He left, blowing me a kiss. I was alone in his apartment. I hadn’t even noticed that there was an apartment, or a floor under my feet. Just the sweet push of his mouth on mine. I took my first look at my new surroundings. I was surprised to see a couch with an American Southwest pattern on it. There were old photos framed all over the walls of serious and important looking people. They had to be his ancestors. One after another, portraits of elegant men and women. And a plaque. The Order of Malta. Like The Maltese Falcon, I thought.

I had to see the bedroom. I walked down the hall and found myself inside a tiny chapel. There were crosses everywhere, and not the sweet ones, either. The bloody ones with faces of agony. Thorns and nails and oozing despair. Some were small; others had to be three feet tall. And all of them faced the bed, around and around the walls scowling down on lust’s sweet throne. The thing was, I didn’t mind putting on a show.

He came home precisely two hours later. I heard churchbells in the distance. He brought me more roses. He kissed my hand and said, “I was thinking at work. I have never done anything like this—I have never invited a strange woman home with me.”

“Who are you calling strange?” I said to make him laugh, because everytime he smiled, there was a hint of something else in it. Like admiration or surprise.

I said, “Friederich, what’s with all these crosses?”

“I am proud to live a Catholic lifestyle.”

“Even now?” I asked him, easing him towards the bedroom.

He hesitated. “Not in there,” he said.

“Not in the bedroom?”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I am a knight of the Order of Malta. I live an exemplary Catholic life.”

“If I married you, would I be a knight too?”

“All you American girls are the same with titles. The answer is no. But there are women in my Order. They are called Dames. Do you live a Catholic lifestyle?”

I didn’t think I wanted to be called a Dame. I told him that I was Jewish.

His eyes went wide and he stared at me. “Jewish? I never met a Jewish.”

I stayed with Friederich that night. We dined under starlight at a café, and when the cobblestones became too much for my Jimmy Choos, he carried me through the city streets. We made love on the Southwestern couch.

While he was at work the next day, I changed my ticket and flew back to the Riviera. There were just some forces that even I couldn’t compete with, and the Church was one of them. And even if I did put up a fight, I might ruin him and everything that I liked most about him in the process.

I left a note telling him that I hoped my visit hadn’t landed him in confession, along with my contact information. A month later I got a package in the mail with a note saying that in fact he had been in confession ever since. But that it had been worth it. Inside was a red shirt with a white cross on it. I thought he was proselytizing until I realized that it was the Swiss flag. Was it a symbol of his exemplary life, or was it something we both could relate to, like bisecting paths on a bed of roses?

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