All Hectic on the Pilates Front
Robert, achingly aware of his sliding neglect of me, reached a depth of guilt which compelled him, in extremis, to invite me to a party a few Fridays ago. It was a birthday party for his Pilates class. So wine bottle in hand I arrive at dusk at a Victorian house with broekie lace and bay windows and wooden floors and all, and wend my way to the courtyard at the back. New people. About time.
A quick scan of crowdlet reveals the yoga/Pilates/exercise-conscious types that eat organic and have tremendous kudos in the Cape Town Anglosphere. I steel my back to present an upright posture at all times among this lot, braiding myself not to slouch or sag for one moment. Mustn’t drop Robert. Time to dust off my rusty social techniques. It’s been months since I last went to a party. The hostess welcomes me with an engaging smile and introduces me to her husband who is a well-known butcher in town, organic of course. I’m then introduced to three delightful ladies who are standing chatting, cocktail style. One of them is Nicola, as it happens, and one of the only two limericks I know happens to be about a young lady called Nicola. Excellent prompt to go on the charm offensive:
There was a young lady called Nicola
Who preferred to remain perpendicular
But if what you’ll want’ll
Be best horizontal
Then she’s never been very particular!
What a sprightly ice-breaker, don’t you think! I mean, if a woman were to come to me at a party and opened like that – something like “there was a young man called Alex who is best horizontal” etc. I’d be charmed. But no. It went down like heavy mud. Nicola, a respectable young mother of three she is soon to tell me, looks at me nonplussed through a pained squint, suppressing not a little incredulity at what she’d heard. Drat, botched it. The other women then sustain my unease by insisting I clarify the horizontal/vertical aspect in the limerick. One of them even sarcastically eggs me on to tell the other limerick I know, please, wouldn’t I just. But we Pestanas have survived the evolutionary challenge by our cunning for avoiding trouble, so I hastily revert to rectitude. Quick learners, we are. Luckily Robert isn’t present to witness this.
I get a drink and settle into a bench against a wall. One of the women of the limerick circle comes over. No, please, I pray, not for further clarity on the limerick. It’s thankfully not; instead it’s the second question that people ask at parties: What do I do? I loathe the question. “What do I do? Why is that important? Why don’t you ask me what my interests are, what my passions are? You might get a more accurate account of me.” It gets my goat. “What are you hiding?” she asks. “Everything. Nothing. It’s just that if I tell you I’m a lawyer or a doctor you’ll start reacting to me subconsciously as if I’m one and then you’ll miss the person behind the profession. I don’t want to do that to you. So what are you passionate about?” She mulls over what I’m saying and answers, “clean energy, especially wind energy”. I learn a lot from this engineer. “And your passions?” she asks. I answer with the usual. As you know, this takes long. She says she’d like to do some exploring herself, but with kids and a husband etc. life is hectic. Already she’s feeling guilty about leaving him alone to look after them. In fact, she’s ill at ease about it. In fact, she feels compelled to leave early to attend to her family obligations. In fact, yes, she is off home.
Then on to Isabella. Isabella is a vivacious Pilates teacher, loves exercise, health, life and dogs. She has seven. Her whole being radiates leanness, fitness, wellness and energy. She is rekindling her Italian ancestry by wearing Italian clothes. “Look, see this skirt I’m wearing,” she says, twisting at an angle to reveal a comely short skirt, as well as the shapeliest of behinds and a pair of infinite legs over which my eyes meander. Look, I notice these things. That’s the other way we Pestanas survive the evolutionary challenge. “It’s from Italy.” “Ah!” I say, getting back to the conversation. “You must come to Pilates class. It’ll spruce you up,” she says. “I’ve been meaning to for years, let’s discuss it over a drink soon.” “Let’s find the time once this hectic period is over,” she says. ‘Hectic cool’ seems the in-attitude to transmit about town this season.
Then I meet the person I learn from most all evening. In a corner is a very expressive young woman who is funkily dressed. I normally don’t notice clothes but this stands out, especially the large scarf draped over her shoulders. I’m told she’s Gabriela and is Spanish. Time to crack open the language.
“Hola Gabriela, eres espanola?” At this Gaby’s face lights up. She excitedly breaks into rattling castanet-like Spanish chatter. She’s a fashion expert, a true fashionista. She’s in the Cape investigating possible locations for her fashion chain outlet. “Love your outfit,” I say. She tells me about her scarf, amidst which – it being not impolite to interrupt in informal Spanish conversation – I gingerly slip in a query as to her opinion of what I’m wearing. This arrests her flow and collapses her vital centre for a moment, a very un-Pilates like posture to witness. She deflects the question and her eyes from my clothes, politely suppressing a wince, and retreats to fashion generalities instead. “For a man, the shirt is all important. It’s all about the region between the waist and the neck,” says Gaby, chopping her neck with one outstretched palm and her waist with another. “What is worn below the belt doesn’t really matter for a man. For a woman, however,” say Gaby, “the whole body must be taken into account.” Oh.
“What you wear is important,” insists Gaby. “In today’s superficial world, people scan your persona and make an instant assessment. And they see your clothes before they see you. It’s in your interest to look good as all times.” “So Gabriella, do you consciously decide what to wear every time you dress?” She looks at me as if I were emerging from a cave about to hunt a minor rodent. Then she realises I am serious. “Of course!” “How?” “It’s about what I feel, where I’m going and what I want to portray.” “What you want to portray?” I ask, nonplussed. Where is the inner person that portrays itself no matter what? “As I said,” she continues, ignoring me, “it’s what I want to portray. A formal air, an arty air, a relaxed air… clothes are key to all of this. And there are good pieces people love but should cast out with great force,” she says. The good thing is that my shirt’s high collar is coming back into fashion again, she tells me, so there’s hope.
I also learn that there are clothing professionals who sort your wardrobe into two piles: One to be thrown out, the other that can stay. They then help you hunt new pieces. What an idea. My mind goes racing. It decides, instantly, that Gaby will be the sole person to whom I would abdicate fashion control. “Gabriela, would you consider coming around to sort out my wardrobe for me?” “It’s not what I do and life’s hectic right now, but I shall.”
This excites me. I have always looked forward to stepping out in fashion one day, and this is my chance. I’m not asking for much; all I want are a few items of stand-out understatement, of virtuosic simplicity. Imagine; my wardrobe might coalesce into something that inspires confidence, with luck even some envy. Once Gaby is done with me as a lost-cause charity project, I’ll look good for once, to everybody, even to the eyes of that sneering arch-aesthete Gordon R. Just watch this space.
The only thing is that it’s been four weeks since I’ve spoken to Gaby and I haven’t heard from her yet. You heard it, life’s hectic. In the meanwhile, this aspirant fashionista’s high collar – the one that scraped some passing approval – is rapidly fading from fashion again. And no Pilates class in the world can prevent that.