LOVE AND DEATH: Bedouins Are Better Lovers

The blushing flowers of springtime may say romance for some, but it's the icicles clustered outside my bedroom window on brisk November days like these that remind me of love. Brittle, beautiful, lethally pointy and doomed to drip away to nothing or break off unexpectedly and smash to pieces on the sidewalk, they are, in many ways, not unlike love itself. Yes, it's hard to be a cynic when there are icicles in the air.

Love is a delectable banquet when it is not yours to personally suffer over, but merely a distant anecdote to chew on like a dog with a bone f a particularly shapely icicle, shall we say, that you can admire from afar, but take care not to walk under. Hence the Hollywood film industry, Harlequin novels and just about every other recorded form of creative expression that's come to pass in the course of the past two millennia. Human beings have always wanted to know that other human beings are getting raked over the coals just like they are, and if possible, even more painfully. One man's heartache is another man's five-course meal.

No doubt, like many expatriates living abroad, I find that many of the icicles dangled temptingly before me are of a bicultural makeup. Indeed, the special charm of multinationalism is often one of the things that keep expats from ever going home. At the moment, I can safely say that aside from Russian-Russian pairings f a quantitative inevitability whilst living in Russia, I suppose f I don't know of a single mono-national dalliance. (Well, I know of one, but it's supposed to be a secret, presumably because they're so embarrassed by their failure to diversify.) I'd like to come out and boldly state that this emotional melting pot is icicle -gazing at its best, but, of course, it's not that simple. High-school sweethearts from the same Ohio cow town can taunt and demoralize each other with a surgical precision that can be just as mesmerizing as the sight of multiculturalists tearing each other limb from limb. In this way, gentle observer, you really can't lose. But the broad strokes of binationalism are what have particularly captivated me of late.

There's a lot to be said for romance without borders. Besides breaking down traditional barriers of cultural ignorance and fear, thereby contributing to the new world order, it can also spice up travel plans, improve your rug collection and give relatives back home something to talk about. It can also dramatically extend the life span of stage-one euphoria, allowing young couples many joyous moments before the inevitable lethargy and doom of stage-two acclimatization set in. In these blas? times, the surprise factor in dating a person whose culture is not your own cannot be overrated. I can't vouch for other nationalities, but Americans can get sick of one another within minutes of meeting for the first time, let alone after a date or two. A Swede and a Columbian meanwhile, may take years and even decades to realize they are sick of one another, what with the various communication and cultural gaps. Sometimes a successful exchange of several sentences can be cause for days-long happiness: "I understood what you just said!" At that rate, it can take an awfully long time for the evil specters of tone and implied meaning to pay their fatal visits. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

My all-time favorite bi-national couple comprised an Australian actress and a Bedouin living in the Sinai Desert. She was several heads taller, a model/actress/beautiful person who had first encountered her future husband while chilling out from the excesses of her New York lifestyle with a month on the Red Sea. Year after year, she would return to the Sinai; he waited, slowly and methodically teaching himself English. Finally, on the brink of the acting break she had been waiting for all her life, she broke her contract and fled with a suitcase to Egypt. (This scenario, it turned out, wasn't terribly unique f a lot of Bedouins seemed to have blissed-out Western wives in their tents. The actress, however, was by far the tallest and most tragic of the lot.) They married, opened their own business and settled into daily life, which in the Sinai seemed to mean flash floods, sickness, car crashes and money problems. The Bedouin took it in stride, but his wife, in the end, lost her bliss. The differences had done her in. By the end, they had reduced relations to a daily chess game, cordial and silent, each sitting straight-backed on a cushion in the sand. A sad story if not for the kicker: She fled to Israel to party it up, and he, long a shy and serious man, by all accounts became a social sensation with Sinai guests. Stage three: Once you try it, you never go back.