Saturday, September 02, 2006

Of Pigs, Business Men and Beauty

(Or in the eye of the beholder)

Sat at a table, in the intermittent sunshine of a day with, "Rain threatened latter," at the OMV cafe in Arad, sipping at one of those quite worthy, but not exactly perfect double-espresso-in-a-small-white-thick-Italianish-ceramic-cup and waiting for the two hours or so before my connecting train, I noticed the smoked salmon pink, short sleeved shirt stretched tight over the expansive back of the man 'doing business' at the table in front of me.

I thought of a healthy, adolescent pig, well on its way to becoming smoked ham, blood sausage and bacon - and plenty of it.

There are many ways to think about pigs I am sure (if you think of them at all, and most people, I suspect, don't), but to me they are quite an attractive creature. So, when I thought of pig, I wasn't thinking 'rude' - in fact, it was a moment of positive revelation.

I have always struggled to understand the attractiveness of the fuller flesh human - and the talk in literature, especially Middle Eastern literature, of the need for plenty of flesh in a beautiful woman or an attractive man.

On this visit to 'The Land' I had spent a little time hacking away at the overgrowth before the sun stretched itself and blasted the earth with fly spawning heat, and a lot of time reading in the closed shade of the one semi-decent room. I had finished 'The Cairo Trilogy', well over a thousand pages of life in a middle class, Muslim family in British oppressed Egypt. There there had been lots of flesh - men following women through the streets to watch there wide bottoms wobble, 'women of entertainment' admiring the size of a man's belly, and seeing attractiveness in the chubby faces of well fed, middle aged men. A pair of sisters, one sticking to the traditional put plenty of it on, the other aping Western women and going streamlined - needless to say, the thinner life was more tragic, and a lot less comfortable.

Cultural differences and shifts in fashion, I thought. A sign of wealth in poor times.

Something to do with the Ottoman Turks domination of the region for so long: Black tea drinking, leave your shoes at the door and obesity..

Which is how I used to account, and still partly do, for the number of business men in this part of Eastern Europe who are large and wear tight shirts which seem to emphasise their bulk.

Then I saw the back of this 'om de affacere', (Business man - with a hint of Black Market and influence) doing business, in the very Turkish atmosphere of the coffee house - or its modern equivalent, the petrol station cafe (McDonalds is a good substitute - as people who lived in Moscow a few years ago can confirm - a place to go and be seen, especially popular with black handbag toting Mafia toughs).

His hair was thick, black, moleskin-like, cut square and short.

Then there was that expanse of back - a slightly depressed spine with two ridges either side, good to grab and hold on to. And pink. True, a mature, male oinky pink - with a hint of the streamlined salmon - but still pink. (Sorry, the Dutch go in for that sort of colour, my working-class Mancunian background just can't make the leap needed to unthinkingly accept such display.)

The trousers were black and tight. Shoes hidden under the table.

I couldn't see if he was wearing a tie - quite possible - if he was working for one of the flood of "American" (for which read anywhere that speaks English - even if Italian owned) companies - or was choosing to be legitimate. Possibly he would be open necked - with a tangle black hair and very obvious gold chain. He did have the obligatory thick gold chain on his wrist. "Private Business", in that case.

Shaved, there would be a surround of some "expensive" (for which read obvious) aftershave: Fortunately, sat outside a petrol station cafe, next to a major road, I couldn't smell it.

He would play five-a-side late at night, at least once a week. A full size pitch would be too much, so he would get together with friends and colleagues to kick the ball around and make it a regular thing. Demand for indoor football pitches and basketball courts is so great that it is not unusual for a booking to start in the early hours of the morning - when there is the advantage of coolness in Summer, heating in Winter.

He would have strength under the flesh - possibly still working his parents land at weekend - and quite capable of tree-cutting and digging.

And that was the difference - Western Obesity has become loose flesh - flab, collapsing over aeroplane seat next to you; or a fluid wobble in some very unfit child pushing its way to buy the latest computer game.

His was the firm flesh of someone who cared about his fitness - but was going to enjoy the profits of his labour in this world. He had the body of someone who would work for those profits.

A healthy and attractive proposition for any prospective wife - and even employer.

What was it Shakespeare's Julius Caesar said?

"Let me have about me men who are fat, sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights."

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