Casa Coupage With My Diplomat, Not My Prince
By Vivi Rathbone.
Winter was the season of despedidas. The economy took a turn for the worse and the weather grew cold and expats started to question why they tolerate the total locura of this city that seems to suffer needlessly and thrive on chaos and uncertainty. They begin to miss their former lives in the northern hemisphere, where memories of summer seem so warm and enticing, that they forget completely what brought them to Buenos Aires in the first place. So they leave.
Some of us remain in our Buenos Aires purgatory, consoling ourselves with pep-talks to build the strength that maintains us in a city not for the weak of heart. Meanwhile we secretly wonder if we will ever be freed from an all-consuming and intoxifying love for our Buenos Aires Querido. Our friends leave, returning home, consoling those of us who remain with unsought going-away parties, which we refer to as ‘despedidas’.
I hate saying goodbye. But I do like going to restaurants with Dean. So for his despedida we went to Casa Coupage, a closed-door french restaurant where diners are cared for by their own personal sommelier. We had both been wanting to go for a long time. A despedida can serve as a perfect excuse.
Dean looked so stately seated across the crisp white tablecloth, which was covered with carefully arranged sparkling crystal stemware. A typical despedida can quickly become a pity-party, but the restaurant was so lovely, with the mauve motif and warm glow of low-watt lamps, that I only felt happiness. Here I was, in a beautiful setting, seated across from a handsome man, whose company I truly relished. It was one of those movie moments when you see your life objectively, and wonder how you ever got so lucky.
The sommelier served us a welcome glass of champagne. We clinked our glasses together.
“Dean being with you is like is like seeing the world through the small bubbles in my champagne flute. Your effervescence tickles me, and I can’t help myself, I want to giggle. You’re like the carbonation that speeds up the effect of the alcohol, making me feel completely uninhibited to share my thoughts, and unashamed of my dancing.”
Dean smiled graciously and laughed away his shyness. “Aww, Pretty. When are you going to write that blog post about flirting?”
I opened my mouth in a false expression of offense, while my eyes smiled at him. Pretending to act offended, while letting one’s eyes light up in shared amusement is one of my favorite flirtations.
“Remember when we first met, Dean? Amelia and I stood outside of your apartment and as she knocked on your front door she warned me that I was going to look into your eyes and fall in love with you.”
Dean had opened the door cautiously. His face was serious but his greeting was friendly. He was quite tall and I was slightly relieved that his height prohibited the six-seconds of intense engaging eye-contact required for love at first site.
He had invited us into his lovely home and we took our seats in his stylish living room, among his other friends. He brought out a bottle of champagne and took his place next to me on the loveseat. He popped the cork with effortless control, without spilling a drop.
“The trademark move!” We both declared simultaneously, as the waiter came back to the table to refill our water glasses. The service was so attentive, a welcome contrast to an average Argentine restaurant, yet Casa Coupage never rushed the leisurely pace of a slowly savored meal. Another waiter presented us with a beautifully plated delicate quail egg and succulent mushrooms topped with a delicate white foam, and then proceeded to pour a light broth into the shallow bowl.
Dean pulled out his Nikon and snapped away. I had grown to love that Nikon, and the beautiful pictures it took, ever since our first photo-excursion at Olson.
It was a sunny winter day and we had walked together from our neighborhood to Olson, in Palermo Hollywood. It was a long walk, but those are my favorite kind. Dean’s time in Buenos Aires was coming to an end, and during our walk we constructed an elaborate bucket list full of restaurants and activities. We had two months and a million things to do, and over granola parfaits and salmon gravlax we put them on the calendar. I highly anticipated July 28th’s event: Dinner at Casa Coupage.
After brunch we had gone to the art museum and when I arrived back home that afternoon, I felt euphoric from the art and the sunshine, the satisfying brunch and charming company, but I couldn’t suppress a feeling of nervous anticipation, the ache of a familiar dread.
“You know Deanie, I was a little worried after we went to brunch and the art museum.”
Our waiter served the next course, an oxtail quinoa roll, paired with a glass of cabernet sauvignon that smelled of vanilla and pepper. I continued my story between bites.
“I’ve had two cases of unrequited love. I loved a man who was gay and incapable of returning my affection, and I loved a man who left the country. You were both of those things, and I knew falling in love with you would be completely hopeless. But you were just so wonderful, that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to resist falling hopelessly in love with you. But I wanted to come to Casa Coupage, so I told myself I would try not to.”
“And here we are!”
The waiter came, delivering a new course. He winked at me as I continued spewing from my soap box.
“After living abroad, I can’t help but notice that relationships are intensified by the abroad experience and by constant goodbyes. Times with friends are cherished, with the bittersweet realization that shared moments are few and fleeting. One learns to appreciate the true pleasure of a moment, a person and an experience, knowing it is only temporary. A side effect of these intense, short-lived relationships is a paralyzing fear of commitment. I suffer from that, and find myself constructing romantic fantasies based on characters who are certainly incapable of committing to me, i.e., men who are soon to leave the country, or gays. My self-propelled fear of success has cycled into perpetual bad dating habits.”
Dean looked at me across the table, his eyes brimming with empathetic understanding. I counted to three and then looked away. The sommelier came back to offer us a new wine to try. He asked us our preferences and hand selected a special wine for each of us, and then watched us take a sip. Mine was dry and floral.
Dean and I traded glasses, to compare tastes. His was smokey and lingered on the tongue. Our conversation continued.
“Lessons learned from unrequited love are expensive merchandise, and once I became aware of my blockages I couldn’t fail myself by making the same mistakes again. I realized that falling in love with you wasn’t the answer, and I resigned myself to remove all of my own expectations and presumptions of how human relationships should be, and abandoned all care of how my life might appear to someone else. When I left my judgements at the proverbial door, life opened up and gave me the best kind of friend a blogger could ask for: a photographer with fantastic taste in restaurants.”
We took a moment to toast the Nikon.
“But you know, Deanie, it was hard for me to admit that, because I’m a dreamer, in love with romantic ideas of overcoming impossible scenarios, because I want nothing less than a full-on fairytale.”
Dean laughed. “Well with that Princess hair, I wouldn’t expect otherwise.”
I excused myself to go to the ladies room, where I reapplied my lipgloss in the mirror. As I exited the bathroom, the winking waiter was waiting for me outside the bathroom door and pulled my elbow.
“Sos una mujer hermosa. Is that your boyfriend?”
I laughed. “No, he’s my photographer.”
“I should have known, of course you are a supermodel. How could you not be? You are perfect, you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. I want to see these pictures your photographer takes of you, I would look at them every single day.”
I laughed, because I was flattered and shy and amused at how unabashed Argentines can be in their attempts to beguile. Back in the day, I might have fallen for it.
The waiter leaned towards me, as if he wished to kiss me. I turned quickly and ran away, laughing. I just couldn’t wait to get back to the table and tell Dean what happened. The expression on my face betrayed me before I could even begin to tell the story.
“See!” Dean exclaimed. “I’ve shown all of the other boys how they should treat you and made them jealous. Now they’ll know that they better step up their games.”
I laughed and played along. “Oh Dean, you’re the best beard a girl could ever ask for! Here I was, thinking that I was your beard. My life could be a scene from a Woody Allen film. Hey, don’t you think Woody Allen should make a movie about me?”
“Yes.” Dean stated without the slightest trace of mocking. “He absolutely should.”
The waiter brought us dessert. Mine was something with grapefruit and white chocolate. Dean’s dessert was the most stunning combination of chocolate and banana cake and vanilla custard, dusted with powdered sugar. I instinctively pushed my dessert out of the way, as Dean pushed his to the middle of the table to share. We hummed our song, and I got chocolate on my face. I didn’t care. My life felt perfect and the smudge of chocolate made it that much sweeter.
Then, all too quickly, it was over. Just like waking up from a dream, I was stepping out of the cab, as Dean dropped me off in front of my house. I gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“I hate goodbyes, so I’ll just say see you.”
“That’s so cheesy.” Dean teased me. “But that cheese course was delicious, and it came right before dessert.”
I don’t know if he was sad. I was, but I tried to hide it, because I knew it was momentary and that I had no real reason to be sad. Dean wasn’t leaving me with a broken heart, just happy memories. Winter was ending, and so was despedida season. Spring would arrive soon with new lives for the both of us.
Bye Bye Deanie! Canada has got you now. I’ll try, Deanie, to forget, somehow.