From raw sex to romance

I watched this drake chase a duck with all his might. The female flew away from him, then landed only to be further pursued by the male. She ducked left and right, flapped her wings to speed up her escape. She was running, as it turned out nearly literally, for her life. But the drake caught up with her, grabbed her by the tail, with her feathers flying everywhere. Then he squashed her under himself. He, having twice her weight, flattened her like a pancake. If this was not enough, just to make sure she was immobile, he grabbed the fine fluff by his beak by the scruff of her neck and pinned her head down into the dirt. He then proceeded to impregnate her. When he finished, he flew off. The duck panted for a few minutes, otherwise motionless, then it gingerly stood up and flapped her wings. She fluffed up her feathers and shook herself and shivered as if saying: ‘Yuk!’    

Well, ducks are birds and birds evolved from dinosaurs and dinosaurs are reptiles.

What I witnessed was reptilian sex in all its gore.

Many birds have since developed a delicate and elaborate courting habits, moving from raw sex to a kind of romantic ritual, but the reptilian origins have survived underneath, and no matter how carefully camouflaged, they are alive and well in the human alpha male too. The essence of such sexuality is predatory: the complete treatment of women as sex objects; as items for consumption, to be discarded when their ‘use by’ date expired. See Donald Trump, materialising the caricature of such a male. He belongs to the Don Juan genre who prey on women, but when confronted, become deadly dodgers: playing innocent bystanders, who are ‘victimized’ by all these ‘lying women’.   

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It is scary to acknowledge, but pre-reptilian dispositions survive in us through our evolutionary inheritance of the brain and our ‘selfish genes’ which instinctually drive us towards selfishness to pass on these genes through conquest from generation to generation.

None of us would be here without a colossal macho swimming race, prior to our conception. Over forty million sperms released in a single ejaculation competed for the privilege to be the only one who first reached and exclusively fertilised the single female egg in our conception. Following conception, the growing fetus recapitulates the major phases of millions of years of evolution in nine short months, from a single cell to including fish, proto-reptile, ape and finally a human being. But the selfish gene and the proto-reptilian brain enter the human being as drivers, hiding behind our more gentle and refined characteristics.
I, as a pre-adolescent, might have been innocently angelic, but when testosterone started to drive me in puberty, my attention shifted from trying to catch fish to trying to catch girls. Those irritating sperm masses had to be released, first secretly and in isolation. As this happened, the mental images of the attractive female started to be conditioned in my psyche, mainly through pictures of nudes and through women wearing revealing blouses in films. The main fantasy conditioned was the big breasted, narrow wasted and wide-hipped woman with alluring eyes.

On the big screen, such women were paraded in the films of the famous, so-called ‘sex bombs’, like Gina Lollobrigida, Sofia Loren and Brigitte Bardot. (Marilyn Munroe came later).

One of the most sexually grooming moment from such films was when a Don Juan, in the person of the handsome Gerald Phillipe, looked from the castle window down to the Gypsy girl: this irresistibly beautiful magnet of his attraction, Gina Lollobrigida. She happened to stand in the middle of a huge haystack on the ground and looked up at him with eyes as beautiful and innocent as those of the Madonna. Except that this Madonna had a generous décolletage, much exposed through her open blouse. Then Gerald Phillip, looking down not so much into her eyes but further down on her anatomy, uttered, what would now seem a sexist statement. It drove me so wild as a pubescent boy that I can still remember its gist after 56 years.

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It was something like:  ‘I see a valley down there between two beautiful hills. Oh, how I yearn for resting my head between those hills!’

And he promptly jumped from the castle window into the arms of his pretty Madonna and they both instantly vanished under the ever so fresh and soft layers of hay.

Then at the age of thirteen, I saw ‘Roman Holiday’, a film of ultimate romance and to my absolute surprise, I fell in love with its star Audrey Hepburn, whose flat-chested, narrow-hipped, skinny as a stick body was the very antithesis of my masturbation fantasy of the curvaceously voluptuous woman. How can this be? I was thoroughly confused.

Actually, it seems, that Cupid’s arrow pierced me and somehow tamed the raw sexual fantasies, now superimposing on it a more cavalier version of sex: Romance.

Romance or not, Audrey Hepburn was the exception. My obsession with the curvaceous femme fatale remained quite impact.

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But popular culture right through the last century in Hungary worked hard on mellowing raw sex into romanticism. I still love watching the Hungarian Hollywood formula films from the nineteen thirties and forties. I fact my sister is a complete opera tragic as well as a collector of these old romantic films. Recently I was with her, and this is what happened:

I am sitting with my sister in a room of her house in Sydney that she converted into her own cinema. We are watching a film about the life of Bela Zerkovitz, a 20th-century Hungarian composer. His most famous song, which I often play and which I translated into English is called ‘Musical Souls.’

‘We musical souls, we bohemian boys, We are the wondering wealthy poor.Our lives are not mere commercial deals; Our years are colourful novels. We cry with laughter and we smile through our tears, We don’t expect anything from life, We musical souls, we bohemian boys, The mood is everything for us.’

This song and some others in the film are from an operetta he wrote.

Watching the Hungarian actors of my youth performing these songs, I am back in Hungary, and I am young again. Or rather, Hungary is here with me now, beyond time and space; exporting virtual Hungary to the other side of the world through the experience of its vibrant culture.

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Even when I lived in Hungary, it was not so much its geographical entity, the country, that I regarded as my home but rather its living culture. And what we experienced in the theatre often sharply differed from our day-to-day living beyond the walls of the theatre. It made the latter more tolerable to live in. The enchanted, mood rich, colourful bohemian stage allowed us to escape from the mundane, shabby and grey world of communism. Illusion ruled supreme in the theatre, and we tended to be more deeply involved with it sometimes than in our colour disadvantaged every day living.   

A very popular form of entertainment in Hungary is the operetta. No matter how varied the scenes are, there is a general formula most operettas follow.

When the lights go out, and the closed curtains on stage are highlighted, the orchestra below the stage plays stirring or romantic music to establish the right atmosphere for the beginning of the operetta.

As the curtains rise, the audience is transported into the past, opulent world of aristocracy, loyal servants, a palace, men in tuxedoes and women in exquisite, expensive and beautifully flowing costumes.

There is the handsome bon vivant who falls helplessly in love with the prima donna. He tends to be a nobleman, a prince or a baron, but the woman is often a cabaret singer-dancer or an actress, well below the rank of her suitor. They are determined to get married in spite of the class differences. However, by the end of the first part of the operetta some obstacles and misunderstandings arise and they break up bitterly. She thinks that he was just playing with her because he has a secret high class bride while he thinks she does not really love him. Many achingly beautiful songs follow before they reconcile.

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Here is a typical lament:

‘Yes, you can cry without tears if he broke your heart, but your hidden tears he mustn’t see.

Yes, you can write a letter if she broke your heart, but don’t send it to the addressee.

Why should he know who’s only playing with you, why should he know that you’re feeling so blue? ’

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Typically, the proxy woman whom the bon vivant is about to marry in his bitterness is in love with the stand-in fiancée whom the prima donna is about to marry out of revenge.

Eventually, the misunderstandings are cleared up amidst lots of farce, dancing and singing and every lover ends up with his/her heart’s choice. This emotional roller-coaster in the context of witty lyrics, wonderful melodies, stage props and choreographies, allows the audience to fall in love, then cry over frustrated love and finally rejoice in a happy ending. And the cautioning morale of the story is exquisitely expressed in my favourite operetta by Imre Kálmán in the following lyrics: (my translation)

‘Why run after pleasure; why do you chase a rainbow?

When it’s here, just one step away and still you don’t know:

Seek it within your heart, not in an outside power,

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There is sweet happiness in every little flower!

For there is love everywhere that is spreading sweet bliss,

The fate of man is the woman he’s chosen as his.

We would all leave the theatre inspired; everyone won.

Such rose coloured make belief world raised our hopes and optimism, which the actual reality, with its more operatic, tragic endings tended to diminish.

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Are you a romantic?

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