The therapist-as-friend phenomenon is not restricted to Los Angeles. As we live our crazy lives - where we have time for highlights (six hours of waiting for chemicals to make our hair look like a Breton jumper) but no time to have a glass of wine or seven with friends - it is small wonder that we end up opening our hearts to people we hardly know. And, at the end the session, we pay them for it.
Everybody in the therapeutic business - beauticians, hair-stylists, bartenders - will tell you that people they’ve just met spill their guts and start telling them their innermost secrets, full of sorrow or joy, love and loss, five minutes into lying there on that couch or barstool.
I don’t know what on earth is wrong with me but it is usually the other way ‘round. I am very good at what, in corporate training, is called ‘active listening’. It is about sitting there quietly, engaging with the talker, hmmm-ing and giving them your all without, basically, doing anything much.
This means that I have interviewed people where the supposed fifteen minute chat takes three hours and several boxes of tissues. The interviewees are usually men. Not to mention, of course, the fact that when they next see me they pretend not to know me. In minutes, I would have become their mental plastic surgeon: essential, but socially embarrassing; the person who knows too much and who could, at any point, tell the world about it. Of course, I don’t, but that does not matter.
Moreover, when I go to get my face or nails done, I’m so quiet - for me, that really is ‘me’ time, and ‘me’ time does not contain words, verbal, aural or written - that the therapists feel they have to fill in the gaps by chattering on about their lives.
It usually starts with: “So where are you going on holiday this year?” and when I mutter something silly and non-committal (while wanting to say: all the island knows where I’m going to holiday this year - read the articles) they feel they need to fill in the gaps by telling me about their stunningly boring holiday in Benidorm. Moreover, I come over all La Losco Diplomacy School, bite my tongue and don’t send them to blazes with: “This is my time bitch: shut up or I won’t tip you.”
I don’t open my heart to people I don’t know, and for someone who has been spewing inane mental meanderings and describing the contents of my closet and my supposed life for close to ten years now, I am very private. I was for long years with a man who once told me: “I know you.” It was the death knell of the relationship and showed me how much he didn’t.
This is very normal with writers: they make believe they are telling you everything on the page and you think you know them because they’ve been there every Sunday accompanying your cappuccino. In reality, you know nothing at all about them. This is why I try to never meet my writing heroes: I’d rather stick to the fiction in my head. So, don’t believe a word I say.
It is shocking how we latch on to people and to the company of strangers these days. Are we so desperate for friendship? Or, going to the other extreme, are we so embarrassed to admit that we would love to have a natter with someone we feel comfortable with? In the olden days, we had priests: they’d sit there, probably bored senseless, as we droned on about our petty misdemeanours - theft, disobedience, a murder or two. Then we’d get a couple of Hail Mary’s to recite and scarper out, happy to have thrown away all our emotional rubbish.
These days, that is not possible because most of us haven’t been to church, let alone to a Catholic confession, since our mothers made us do it. So we need alternatives: the recyclable, eco-friendly emotional methods. The psychiatrist is a good idea but popping so many post-session blue pills, not to mention draining our bank account, is not. So we pay for a facial and walk out with less dead skin cells and less rancour.
The Writer and I are lucky. Or, rather than lucky, we are very appreciative of our close friends. We treat them well and with respect. They give the same and more back. We do not mix business with pleasure or emotions. Many left the country ages ago (no, we had nothing to do with their departure). So it was with huge joy that we managed to get together with two of our closest ones last week.
The Architect and The Intellectual were up for a night of fenek. Rabbit eating cannot be done in couples: it is done in groups. Even the word itself – fenkata - denotes a celebratory grouping. Since groups of 50 are not really our thing, this suited us fine. We went to Charlie’s Inn, as recommended by 34 of my Facebook ‘friends’ on http://www.facebook.com/planetmona.
The boy sorting out our table seemed to have been hit in the head with something hard. He had no idea what on earth he was doing. It seemed to be his second day at work: untrained and unleashed, he laid our table with a spoon, two forks on each side and a knife. “Spoons?” TI said. “Yes,” I replied, ever the fount of habitual knowledge. “It’s for the spaghetti bil-fenek we’re all not going to eat.”
The nibbles are free at Charlie’s Inn. There was an arjoli (the Maltese, tomato and garlic version of French aioli) with watered down tomatoes and garlic, some fresh crusty bread, a very garlicky bigilla which was lovely and genuine and a little bowl of snails which lacked seasoning.
The absolute winners of the night were the ravioli stuffed with rabbit meat. They were nothing short of stunning, a veritable contemporary Maltese cooking triumph. The dough was thinly rolled and perfectly cooked just so the gluten came out and slicked everything together. The filling had turned from raw to cooked to a perfect degree. The sauces - one creamy and the other with olive oil, rocket and pesto - were amazing in their simplicity.
Charlie’s Inn is into second generation management and the son knows what he’s doing. He loves food, is willing to experiment and does a good spiel. Sadly, unless he was around, the service took an almighty battering. The dad, who I remember being affable and enthusiastic, qabżitlu. That would translate as ‘it jumped him’, or rather, he’s had it up to here with the restaurant and wants to retire somewhere quiet where he doesn’t have to pretend to be a host every night of the week. I don’t blame him: restaurants do that to you. But dammit, it’s a shame. And it was a shame on the night. When the son wasn’t around, it all went haywire as the dad kind of socialised with another table.
The rabbit liver, also for starters, was sublime, cooked to exactly the right degree, sealed outside and pillow-soft inside. It came on a rocket salad with excellent dressing. So far, so good. Really good.
The chips which come with the fried rabbit are home-peeled and cut. They’re the real thing. But in this case, they were also reheated. I wasn’t expecting Heston’s thrice-fried exemplars of perfection, but a nice crisp outside would have done it. This didn’t. Not to mention the fact that the oil had previously fried something non-chippy and the potatoes were the worse for it on a flavour level.
The rabbit was fine. Not stunning, but almost right. We fought over the livers accompanying. TA and I won. At this point, we were all so deep into long-awaited conversation that the lack of service was easily looked-over. Yet restaurant critiques need restaurant critics. That’s where I came in, and the service went out.
It took ages for somebody to realise that we had finished our mains. Ages for somebody to clear the tables. Ages to order our desserts. When they did finally turn up, they were sublime, especially the cheesecake, which was, again, superbly modern: layers of thin cake, pure fresh lime jelly and cream. My melon trifle was nothing short of wondrous: simple, full of juice and with a superb topping of real fresh cream. It was only TA who opted for the cassatella and was disappointed.
By the time we finished, it was only 11.30pm but most patrons had gone home. So TW had to get up, climb the stairs and go inside for us to be able to continue our supper. He did this many, many times. Initially to order coffees. Then for the drinks. And finally, to get the bill. It was becoming a little weary and it was only ‘ok’ because we were a small group. All restaurants know that two-tops - that’s tables of two for the uninitiated - have a much smaller pain and patience threshold.
The staff seemed to have completely forgotten about the four punters outside. Finally, after we had paid, somebody switched off the outside light, leaving us in pitch darkness. Ok, we got the message. The owner - would that be the eponymous Charlie? - apologised. He didn’t realise we were still there, he said. Yada yada: it still left a very bitter taste in our mouth, which, considering we’d just ingested kilos of sugar, was saying something.
We had all been looking forward to our night at Charlie’s Inn. The friendship stuff worked, and how. Nonetheless the lack of service did not. Regardless of how deep you get into a conversation, that is still quite unforgiveable.