I spent five days with Irina and we talked all day every day. She talks like she walks – very fast. Half way through the first day I developed a sore throat because I don’t talk much usually and I wasn’t used to it.
She talked about all her experiences from her early childhood up to the present. It’s interesting to discover which snippets I pull out to tell to different people.
I told my colleagues I was given a very thorough education in Estonian politics. I didn’t think it was appropriate to mention the sex talk. I thought they might misunderstand. “Estonian girls all have an inside leg starting at 32 inches, don’t they?” one colleague asked. He has been to Tallinn and is familiar with the sex trade there.
I didn’t really want to have that discussion. Irina told me one of her friends works in the travel business. “When you are expected to provide women as part of the package, it is a pretty sick business,” she said.
But I had no qualms about telling Lanying everything. She was particularly interested in Irina’s medical symptoms and even consulted her brother, who is a doctor, about Irina’s insatiable appetite. “She should see a specialist,” her brother suggested, “because it may be a hyperactive thyroid problem or even a more serious problem with her brain.”
“She has seen many doctors,” I told Lanying. “The problem with her brain is that she’s an intellectual. Men just don’t expect it and when they find out they resent it and become cruel. Men think she is flirting with them but actually she is just being herself. She has an overpoweringly sexual presence and there’s nothing she can do about it. Whenever she bends over, for example, men get a rush of blood to the brain. (I had to keep averting my eyes.) It doesn’t matter where you are sitting because she is overwhelming from any angle – from in front, from the side, from behind. Some men think she is being provocative and giving them a signal but nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, she could be just reaching into her bag to pull out her copy of The Second Sex.”
Simone de Beauvoir is Irina’s idol. “I insist on reading her only in English,” she had told me, although she can also read French. “I read her very slowly,” she had said, “and think about every sentence.” Then she had added, with a significant look over the top of her elegant glasses: “The men I talk to always go away and read Simone de Beauvoir.”
The first thing I did when I got home was order a copy of The Second Sex on Amazon.
“What!” Lanying was shocked. “You mean you’ve never read it? It’s a literary landmark”
“When I was a student I read The Mandarins. It was very boring and not at all what I expected of such a great writer. So I decided to give The Second Sex a miss. Do you mean to say you’ve read it?” I asked Lanying. “It’s 700 pages.”
“Well, all right. I haven’t read it all,” she admitted.
Then Lanying told me how she had spent her weekend.
It turned out that while I was in Helsinki listening to Irina telling me how often and at what time she washed her vagina, Lanying was having lunch in London with a man who was telling her how often and at what time he washed his penis.
Married life falls into these predictable patterns after a while.