A few hours before, you start wondering what to wear. You want to look good, but as if such a look comes so naturally you don’t have to try – to be the transcendent ideal, but to appear quotidian. If you’ve arranged to meet for drinks, there’s the question of whether and what to eat beforehand – if you don’t, you might end up starving and / or plastered, which is never a good look, but you don’t want to leave the other person eating alone if they haven’t eaten – hardly convivial. There’s also the faintly awkward ‘so, where did you grow up?’-style conversation, and the determination for chat to remain dialectical – agreement is a better atmosphere. Finally, there’s the deeply uncomfortable goodbye: what do you say? How open-ended do you leave it? You don’t want to seem overkeen, but not standoffish either – the balance needs to be just right.
I think I’m beginning to understand how a serial Rules-adherent feels – well, apart from all the gumph about actually being the idealised creature like no other. I’ve spent the last week and a half meeting up with people I barely know, or simply don’t know, in a fairly intimate social surroundings trying to find out as much as possible about them in a short space of time in order to find out whether I want to spend more time with them in the future. I’ve done this before…
Tonight was the turn of Nate, an American working for a non-profit here that I met through ‘Facebook for wankers‘ (can’t claim credit for the nickname, but is apt), an online community of ‘like-minded people’ who all seem to run hedge funds and have yachts. No, I’m not sure what I’m doing on there either; still, it really has a life, this community. Members – I joined a week ago so I guess that includes me – genuinely seem to trust each other, and to be willing to take time out of their lives to welcome newcomers to the city. The modern day Brooks’s, I guess – the (in my case, false) lure of lucre.
And indeed Nate is a very interesting, well-travelled and thoughtful guy, and we had a very pleasant evening, so maybe denying the good of the website is unfair. He had a number of tips to share about SP living, and in a city like this such knowledge is invaluable. We could also bitch a little about the determinedly chi-chi community, which is among the best of ice-breakers.
Yet another different style of night out – in a very convincing French-style bistro with deeply charming waiters (the only thing the replica got wrong, then) and an amazing singer doing a mix of her own stuff and Nina Simone-style tunes in English and Portuguese. I had a very lovely salad, despite it being my second meal of the evening (I misjudged the eating-before consideration but rose to the challenge, somehow). The area – Vila Madalena – is rapidly turning into one of my favourites, with a plethora of great, if very different bars, restaurants and clubs (including one called Black Bom Bom – yes, black bum in Portuguese – which might be the one Plato himself would have been drawn to, particularly given it attracts a younger patron), crowded in on one another in a seemingly constant if determinedly laid-back street party.
This is of course much less unnerving than real dating – the stakes are lower – but there’s still the moment just as you walk into the bar in which you have to screw up all your courage to get through the first few awkward minutes. Conversational skills being exercised – when you can’t just gossip about people you know who are getting married / breaking up, or getting new jobs / being sacked, you do end up debating the future of print journalism. And given beggars can’t be choosers on the friends-in-this-hemisphere front, I’ll carry on – although the two-dinner immoderateness will have to end or the distance between me and the transcendent ideal will be all the greater.