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Posts Tagged ‘romance’

Did I mention that I am in Paris? Even though I come here often on business I somehow think I’m going to wake up, six years old, back in my bed in Cleveland, Ohio having dreamt the whole thing.

That’s why today, on the taxi ride into the city, I kept saying to myself, “I’m in Paris. I’m in Paris.” And I did a little seated “happy dance” in the back of the car.

Paris is like a lover in that you never want to take it for granted. So, to keep my relationship with it fresh and exciting, on this trip I changed both my hotel and my district. This time, I have hung my hat at the Hotel Residence Europe in Clichy, a northwest suburb of Paris. The room rate is about half the price I paid when I was stayed in the 15th arrondisement near the Eiffel Tower.

Lest you think I’m out in the boonies somewhere, I’m actually next to the swish 17th arrondissement, which is only 4 miles from the city center and six Métro stops to the Champs-Élysées. From there, Paris is at your feet.

The hotel is also within walking distance of a lovely park, the Place de la République François Mitterrand, and lots of neighborhood restaurants.

Changing hotels has taken me out of my comfort zone. Life on the road has made me a creature of habit. It’s nice to have something familiar when visiting a strange place, i.e. a place that isn’t “home”. In my case it’s usually the same hotel, a favorite restaurant or, if I’m lucky, time spent with friends.

In this case it’s “my friend” Julia Roberts, whose familiar face is on transit posters all over Paris. She’s promoting Lancôme’s new fragrance, La Vie Est Belle. The tag line being: Life is beautiful. Live it your way.” Gee, that sounds familiar.

Life is Beautiful

“So Julia, what brings you to Paris?” I ask no one in particular, until I notice an elderly Frenchwoman standing next to the bus shelter. She just smiles at me indulgently – I know what she’s thinking: another crazy tourist.

As I continue my walk around the neighborhood, I decide to add a soundtrack. This trip I brought my IPod and wouldn’t you know it, the first song on the shuffle was Céline Dion’s “Taking Chances.”

If I believed in signs (like billboard posters and songs), I’d think that the universe was trying to tell me something. And maybe it is. From the moment I took a taxi to the Montreal airport on Sunday, I had this electric feeling of expectancy what the French refer to as a frisson, a feeling of emotional excitement.

It started with a handsomely chic Belgian who kept me company in at the Air Canada counter check-in line. His dark hair was flecked with a touch a grey at the sides, and when he smiled, he had wonderful laugh lines around his eyes. There was a rogue piece of hair that kept falling forward onto his tanned forehead, and I was tempted to push it back, like Barbra Streisand did to Robert Redford in The Way We Were.

Meanwhile back in Paris, I find a little restaurant and decide to have an omelette aux fines herbes and a green salad for lunch. It’s delicious. And the waiter is charming. He has a big smile that reaches all the way to his turquoise-colored eyes and he is very solicitous. He even invites me to change to a table where I am more comfortable.

We chat amicably in French and English throughout the meal. He explains that when he isn’t waiting tables, he studies architecture. That leads to a conversation about the beauty that is the living museum called Paris.

And that leads to invitation to a movie or an evening stroll around the city.

“Que dirais-tu?” What do you say? He asks.

I’m sure there so many reasons to say “no” but I can’t think of any.  In fact, I feel my comfort zone start to expand even more.

He asks again.

“I say yes.”

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Last week I was the guest speaker at the Montreal Chroma-Zone meeting of the Color Marketing Group. My topic was how to create a personal color palette. I noted, and rightly so, that as color marketing professionals we’re so busy adding color to other peoples’ lives we sometimes forget to add color to our own. A short survey of the room proved me right.

My talk focused on the metaphorical use of color in your life or, to put it another way, how to decorate your soul. The best way to do this is to get out of your comfort zone, to shift out of your safe neutral, “beige” existence and take some chances.

Of course if you give a speech like this, you have to show your audience that you practice what you preach. And, so, I told them about three things I did this summer.

The first thing I did was to get my “glam” on. I treated myself to a photography session to experience the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Era when stars like Hayworth, Gardner, Garbo and Dietrich ruled the red carpet.

Get your glam on…

It’s amazing what good lighting and a little makeup can do for a girl. I did this for me but I am happy to share a photo with you. Notice the purple gown and the red lips.  This is one combination I would never have put together myself, but it has become one of my favorite go-to color combinations for special occasions. Now, whenever I need a little pick me up, I look at one of the pictures and then get dressed, i.e., get my glam on and go out with the girls. It works wonders.

My next colorful summer adventure was in the kitchen. I treated a friend to a lesson at a wonderful little cooking school in Old Montreal called Ateliers et Saveurs. Check out this colorful salad composé of corn, red pepper and cucumber dressed with a spicy Tabasco dressing. The only thing more colorful than the salad is my dress – a lively mixed pattern of salmon, rose, red and black swirls. Both the dish and me were hot stuff.

I rounded out my tales of my summer color by confessing to a dalliance with a much younger man which, while it was all too brief, was rendered unforgettable with a melody he composed just for me. One friend who heard the melody said that it captured me perfectly. Whenever I listen to it, I see the pastel colors of a Parisian sunset, all soft and pretty. And I wonder if that was how he saw me? And if, when he wrote it, he was thinking about last spring and Paris and our long walks by the Seine. I wonder if that melody colors his memories the way it colors mine.

Katja’s (Cat’s) Melody

And now we’re coming into one of the most colorful seasons of all – at least in my neck of the woods – fall.  For those of you lucky enough to experience a change of seasons, now would be the perfect time to kick back with a cup of coffee and contemplate the colors you can add to your own personal palette. And for those of you located in a more consistent climate, remember you don’t need a change of seasons to inspire your own personal color palette. All you need is a change of mind. It doesn’t matter whether your personal palette is bright and bold, or pastel and pretty, because color is a choice. And if you don’t like it, you can always change it.

In the meantime, own it, wear it, live it!

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As you read in the previous post, sometimes I  want to shake off those good girl shackles and be “bad,” if only for a little while. And the perfect opportunity seems to present itself once a year in the form a handsome Brazilian pilot who shows up at my door during  the Montreal Formula One Grand Prix.

It’s the 21st century version of the play/movie Same Time Next Year but without the same emotional intimacy experienced by the principal characters, George and Doris, who meet every year for 24 years, sharing the ups and downs of their lives in a brief but intense weekend. Over time, you see how they grow individually and as a “couple.”

For the past seven years the pilot and I have passed through a smattering of weekends of mostly style and no substance and very little sharing. We as a couple seem to be stuck in a moment – the moment we first met.

Shallow you think? Absolutely. On the other hand there is no danger of drowning in something more profound, in a sea of those roiling emotions that framed our first summer together as friends and lovers. Now it’s safer for us to tread water in the shallow end of the sea of love. It’s less scary for him (he can’t swim) and less frustrating for me (forever throwing a lifeline to a drowning man).

But it’s the capacity to accept our relationship limitations that keeps us friends. We have an unspoken agreement that lets us honor the past without burdening the future with expectations. That agreement keeps us in contact throughout the year and enables us to share travel schedules in the hopes that someday our paths would cross on a bit more regular basis. But they never do. When I’m in Paris he’s in Palm Springs, when I’m in Beijing he’s in Barcelona – even with all that international travel our paths only cross here, in Montreal.

I don’t think it coincidental at all that Michael Buble’s song “Home” hit the top of the charts the year the pilot and I met. It defined us then and it defines us now.  It’s the stay/go paradox we both share.  And I know that when he turns up at my door with a box of dark chocolate covered strawberries and good Grand Cru like he did last weekend he finally feels at home and so do I…if only for a little while.

photo: © istockphoto.com/Yuri_Acurs

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Solo travel is wonderful in so many ways. It forces me out of my comfort zone. And it gives me an opportunity to see, do or try new things. It’s as freeing as it is terrifying.

The downside to solo travel is the occasional bout of loneliness tinged with a hint of melancholy, especially when returning to some of those places that are haunted ghosts of lovers past. This is sometimes unavoidable when many of these places coincide with business – and the catch-as-catch-can of trysts in transit.

Room service on the 18th floor of the Hyatt in Chicago with the sun breaking over Navy Pier – coffee, croissants and intense conversation – now gives way to a mocha latte grande gulped down in the back of a taxi careering down Michigan Avenue. Champagne toasts to a bejeweled Paris at midnight are, these days, all too easily satisfied with a handful of almonds and a diet soda. And the magic of Athenian nights are transformed into mundane evenings of emails as usual.

No matter how many years pass, nostalgia creeps up on me just when I think I’ve made peace with my past. I was the kind of kid who liked to pick at scabs, so it doesn’t surprise me when I overindulge myself in a little bit of romantic reverie. Try as I might, it seems I can run but I can’t hide. Sometimes I don’t want to run or hide – such is the perverse nature of bittersweet memories.

This time, it all started innocently enough with a recent stop in the duty free. I love the smell of duty free. Have you ever noticed how they all smell the same the world over? They should bottle that scent. To me it represents freedom and a world of adventure just beyond the next boarding gate. You never know what to expect.

And so it was at the duty free that I came face to face with Ewen McGregor on a poster promoting the Davidoff fragrance – Adventure. It brought back the scent of a certain Swede – the Swede of the Chicago breakfast. And you know what they say about scent and memory…

Blue Paris

The second close encounter with sentimentality came in Paris when I decided to trade in my soda for a little bottle of white wine from the mini-bar. It was ’round midnight, when I turned on some Paris easy listening and was greeted by the sexy and sultry voice of Luther singing “If Only for One Night” just for me. I had pulled open the curtains to look at the impressive array of buildings dotting the skyline of La Defense. As I stared at my reflection in the giant window I knew I wanted just one more night with a certain jazz musician across town who was probably seducing someone else with the dulcet tones from his trumpet…playing just for her as he once did for me.

With spring showers and lightning strikes on the horizon, I’m reminded of a certain summer night in Athens. It was here that I learned lightning can indeed strike twice – especially if you test the gods. As lightning danced on the hills surrounding the Acropolis, I had challenged Aphrodite and paid for my insouciance. Okay I said, “This is your town, show me what you got.”

Ha! The words were barely out of my mouth when she did just that. I can imagine the laugh she shared with Ares as they looked down on me struggling with my feelings for not one but two men who appeared almost magically out of nowhere in the garden of a local restaurant called Balthazar.

Girlfriends would later ask half seriously: why not both? While the thought briefly crossed my mind I knew it was impossible, each one beautifully rendered like temple statues – today everywhere I look in Greece I see them – Castor and Pollux, each one so different than the other. One would feed my body and the other would feed my mind. To choose one over the other would be to drive a wedge between friendships old and new.

And so, like the proverbial starving donkey that had to choose between two bales of hay, each one appearing more appetizing than the other, I went hungry. Once flesh and blood, they have now turned to stone.

Stray memories and Greek gods aside, when it comes to love, I think Shakespeare’s Puck said it best in A Midsummer’s Night Dream: “Lord what fools these mortals be.” I guess when it comes to love I am and will forever be a fool for love.

photo: © istockphoto.com/matthewleesdixon

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I never meet interesting men on planes. Given all the flying I do, you would think the odds would be in my favor. But it seems there’s a cosmic conspiracy to keep me uncoupled and out of trouble, at least while I’m in the air. In hundreds of thousands of miles logged on various airlines I only met one intriguing man. That was a long time ago, and I must confess that I treated him rather carelessly. I lost him, and the universe has been repaying  my ingratitude for its gift ever since. Until this past weekend, that is.

The Monday morning flight from Trieste to Munich was filled with predominantly male business travelers. As most of them have little or no manners when it comes to female passengers I didn’t hold out much hope this flight would be any different from the other commuter flights I’ve taken over the years.

I waited until the very end to board. I could see my row and the aisle seat was already occupied by a man who looked like just another Monday morning commuter. I bent down and politely indicated that I had the window seat.

“It’s okay, I’ll move,” he said.

“No really, I can sit there,” I said. He was tall and probably wouldn’t have been comfortable in the window seat.

He slid over any way. Very nice, I thought. I made a note to myself. “Must remember not to generalize.”

On the flight out one hears all manner of languages and accents — Dutch, German, French, Swedish, heavily accented English and, of course, Italian. As luck would have it – my gentleman was Italian. And he was the whole package, tall, dark, and handsome. For once the universe surprised me with pleasant view both inside and outside of the plane. I stole glances at him as we crossed the Alps. He folded up the newspaper he was reading to give me a better view, and our conversation started.

The depth and breadth of his conversation amazed me. He was well read, well-traveled and well educated in the social skills department. We talked for an hour and didn’t realize we’d landed until the flight attendant asked us to leave the plane. We both agreed to stay in our seats until everyone deplaned. This way we could avoid the crush. Besides the transfer bus for the terminal couldn’t leave without us.

As the last people on the bus, we squeezed into the crowded back end. I held my purse and my briefcase in one hand and a pole for support in the other. I had all of the weight on one side of my body and felt off balance. He towered over me as I stood to face him and continue our conversation.

He smelled good, like English soap and fresh air. His breath was sweet. As the bus turned a corner, I lost my balance. He put his free arm around the back of my waist to steady me as he pulled me slightly toward him. He apologized for being so forward, but I assured him that the alternative, me falling, was worse. It was the most gallant of gestures.

I lost my balance, and he steadied me, two more times on the way to the terminal. Please don’t let go, I thought. But the bus stopped and he had to let go. It was the shortest bus ride of my life. As we said goodbye, I reflected that I may not have fallen, but I certainly did lose my balance, at least for a little while.

photo: © istockphoto.com/TerryJ

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Grand Place

Paris is a convenient place to do many things: shop, eat, sightsee, fall in love and, of course, dream.  It’s also a good place to decamp for a few days to conduct business both in the city, and in those neighboring countries easily reached by high speed trains.  As such, I had planned a meeting in Amsterdam and booked a round trip first class ticket – food included.

It’s a four hour train ride one way, and since I had a mid-morning meeting, I caught the first train at 6:10 a.m.  This meant a 4:30 a.m. wake up call.  I had a long day ahead of me but I calculated I’d be back in Paris and in bed by ten.

I love train travel; it’s fast, efficient (or so I thought) and ranks low on the hassle scale.  All you have to do is board.  Today’s cars now have WiFi so you can even do a little business as you watch the bucolic countryside speed by frame by frame.

This was to be a quick in and out trip.  So after a meeting with customers and a bite of lunch,  I headed back to the Amsterdam Central Station.  Since my scheduled departure was for 4:30 p.m.,  I bided my time in the lounge like a good soldier and dutifully worked on my email.  My plan was to finish everything before boarding the train so I could enjoy the view on the ride back.

About an hour into the trip, I suddenly found myself in the parallel universe of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Although in my case it ended up being: trains, buses, commuter trains and another high speed train. That’s right; we had a mechanical malfunction that necessitated alternate means of transportation. My 8:00 p.m. arrival in Paris went from 10:00 p.m. and then to midnight, but there was no guarantee.

With no further instructions, we were left standing on a platform in Brussels waiting for a special train that would arrive in about an hour’s time. Maybe. They weren’t very big on giving out information.  In fact, the station was all but deserted except for about 200 tired, hungry, and angry travelers.

The stranger next to me looked over and shrugged.  “Que veux -tu?”  (What do you want?) He said to me in French with a Gallic shrug.  Apparently this was a regular occurrence.  Meanwhile, an Italian businessman yelled into his telefonino – he had a business dinner in Paris at nine  – you could say that his goose was cooked. He wasn’t going to be doing any deals that night.

As for me, I gave up fighting the system years ago.  I had spent enough time in Europe over the years to know better.   The two things it taught me were patience and surrender. I could hear my Italian grandmother’s voice in my head, “And this too shall pass.”  I would get back to Paris – but just when was debatable.

Just then the stranger turned to me. He was dressed in a casual suit, matching pants and jacket with a pumpkin-colored shirt. His burgundy shoes had laces that were intricately woven back and forth through the eyelets.  He caught me looking at his shoes and laughed.  “It throws off those big corporate types – they can’t figure out how the shoes stay on…and when I show up with out a tie…oooh la la,” he said.

He was charming and funny and spoke to me in French, which was a compliment because I was sure he spoke English as well. Anytime someone in France (or in this case Belgium) lets you blunder on in French without switching immediately to English means one of two things: one, either your French is pretty damn good, or he is an extremely gracious person. Since I was rather tired that evening, I suspected it was the latter. Although normally my French is pretty damn good.

“Say, listen!” he said. “If the train doesn’t show up at midnight, would you like to share a car back to Paris? I’ve already spoken to that gentleman (he pointed to the Italian) and he’d be interested as well.”  A woman with a briefcase on the platform overheard us and asked if she could join our party.  We figured it would cost us about 25,00 euro apiece and would save us the cost of a hotel in Brussels because the next regularly scheduled train out was 6:25 a.m.

As most people milled about aimlessly, we at least had a plan.  Each of us had lived this scenario dozens of times before in at least as many countries.  As seasoned business travelers, we were nothing if not resourceful.

Quite unexpectedly my co-voyager with the cool shoes leaned over and told me he was going to the Grand Place for a beer and asked if I would I like to join him.  A beer sounded awfully good – and perhaps some Belgian frites. And this time I would take the mayonnaise dammit! I had suffered enough; I was going to treat myself.

His name was Richard (Ree – char) and he was retired from corporate life but not from service. With his three children grown and on their own, he spent most of his time setting up co-ops in third world countries, most of which were run by women, to help fund village necessities like schools and running water.

He was tall and broad and had the powerful build of a rugby player. His salt and pepper hair was fashionably close cropped. His brown eyes were soft and gentle.  He had beautiful hands that he used to punctuate his stories, of which he had many.

You could tell that he was a guy you could turn to in a crisis – calm, cool and collected.   You could see it by the way he organized our little rental car group on the platform.  Fortunately we didn’t have to rent a car.  The special train that they had commandeered just for us would get us back to Paris around midnight.  “It really is too bad,” Richard said. “We could have stayed here at the square and talked all night.”  I was a little disappointed myself but happy to be heading back to the hotel and my bed. It had been a long day.

As we walked back to the train station he took my computer bag and offered me his jacket. The night had grown cold.  I had told him a little bit about me but gave him much less information than he offered about himself. I had decided after my recent ill-fated affair  that I was no longer going to give so much of myself away.  I didn’t tell him much about my Italian experience but being a man and French – he filled in the blanks himself.

There was a look of unspoken understanding his eyes.  He shook his head and smiled.  “Something tells me you’re a very strong woman,” he said.   I blinked back the tears. I wasn’t going to go there.  “And stubborn,” he laughed as he gave me an affectionate nudge.  This was a good man I thought.

We talked for another hour on the train back to Paris and the Gare du Nord.  It’s funny. I had shared more with this stranger in two hours than I had with my ex-husband in 20 years of marriage.   Things like this often made me wonder about timing and destiny. Why him, why now, why tonight?  What if we had met … but we hadn’t. So speculation was useless.

Richard had another two-hour drive from Paris back to his country home so he figured he would stop and take a hotel room along the way.  He was too tired to make it in one go,  and he phoned a friend to let her know his situation.  They had planned to have dinner, but it would have to be postponed. He insisted on sharing a taxi so he could drop me off at my hotel and continue on to where his car was parked.

“Say listen, if you ever want to spend time in France – with no complications, just to try it, you’re welcome to stay at my place. I am never there and you can pick up the keys with the neighbor.  I won’t trouble you.”

Something told me this man would not be any trouble at all. On the taxi ride over to my hotel, he held my hand. And as the taxi parked, he ran one of his beautiful hands down the side of my face and under my chin.  As he tipped my face up, he said, “Tu as des beaux yeux, tu sais.”  It was a classic line from the old French film “Quai des brumes.”  Jean Gabin says it to a starry-eyed Michele Morgan.

There was a look of such tenderness and regret in his eyes that I had to look away for a second.  There was no future for us – only now, this moment.  And although the offer of his house was generous, we both knew I wouldn’t be staying in his place in the country (especially not without him I thought) .  Nor would he be staying with me tonight.  I was too tired, both mentally and physically to invite him up.  And so I took his hands in mine,  leaned in,  kissed him  and said – so do you.

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/Richmatts

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I go to Paris often on business but that doesn’t mean I ever take it for granted.  When I spend time in Paris, it’s as if I live there. I frequent the local markets, even though I’m only taking fruit back to my hotel room. I eat in local cafes, and I walk and read in the parks.  I feel at home there.

One Sunday evening, I decided to go to a café in my neighborhood, the 17th arrondissement, for dinner.  The waiter seated me in the window so I could watch les Parisiennes passing by – effortlessly chic in their casual attire.  How do they do it, I wondered.  There was nothing effortless about it for me. I sometimes felt like I was trying too hard to blend in – a dead giveaway if ever there was one.

I’m not quite sure who noticed who first but when I glanced up, I caught the eye of a man walking by.  He smiled. I smiled.  He continued on.

He then turned around and backtracked a few steps.  He was very handsome in a way that usually appeals to me:  tall with dark hair that curled about his neck and a neatly trimmed beard; call it Hugo Boss meets Patagonia.  He looked at me and made a sign that indicated he wanted to approach. I shrugged because really, what’s the use, I thought.

He inclined his head to try again and so I figured, oh why not.  I beckoned him into the restaurant.  After a brief flirtatious conversation he asked me out to dinner for the next night.  And I accepted.

We agreed to a time and a place, and he left, but not before taking my hand and kissing it. Just as he was about to go he turned back, smiled and said, “You have beautiful eyes.”

His name was Dominico (Mino) and he was originally from Sicily.  Great I thought – another Italian man (my past is littered with them) and in Paris of all places.   It was the Latin factor times two! Just what I was getting myself into?

The next evening, we met at the appointed time and place, and he was as charming and as attentive as the day before. Since this was his neighborhood, he took me to a nearby chic café for a drink before we were to head off to a local Italian restaurant for dinner.  We kept the conversation light as we walked and talked; it was also slightly suggestive of what Mino had in mind for “dessert.”

And while I had spent the day considering my options and thinking about what I would do, I had firmly decided that it would be only dinner this time. Since I came to Paris often, there would always be other opportunities. But I wasn’t about to show my cards too early and define the parameters of the evening because ,after all, I could still change my mind.

I learned quite a bit about Mino over drinks at the café that night, although how much of it was true I couldn’t say.   He was charming and courteous and he punctuated his conversation with just enough fleeting physical contact, without coming on too strong, to make me feel desired. He was very good, but I wasn’t falling for any of it, not this time.

I found his Sicilian bravado and self-confidence entertaining. And despite the fact that the average Sicilian man ensures that his lover has at least five orgasms to his one, it wasn’t long before Mino realized that it would likely take more than this one night to demonstrate his ethnic prowess.  Not that it wasn’t tempting;  it was, especially since the last time I had sex was – well, I don’t even want to think about it.  And although Iwas really missing the physical contact coupling brings, this time I decided to let my head overrule my hormones.

Every time I steered the conversation away from the topic of making love, because he didn’t just have “sex,” he seemed a bit more discouraged. Up until this point he had ignored cell phone calls, but it wasn’t long before he had to take a call from his cleaning lady. Apparently she had lost the key to his apartment and couldn’t lock the door.  He smoothly explained that a late-afternoon meeting with clients at his place had left it in a bit of a mess and, as such, it needed some tidying up.

But perhaps having a clean apartment wasn’t as urgent as he once thought.  Even if I had decided to sleep with him, it certainly wouldn’t have been at his place.  That was very presumptuous and potentially dangerous.  So rather than leave his apartment open and vulnerable, and since he lived in the neighborhood, I suggested that he go and lock up while I waited for him at the café.  I knew it would be a long wait.

Still, I decided to give Mino the benefit of the doubt. I gave him 30 minutes. During that time I finished my glass of wine and his, and I had a nice chat with the waiter.  And then I paid the bill.  Yes, I paid it and was glad to do so because the evening had cost me far less then it could have had I fallen for this handsome man on a rainy night in Paris.

The Almos AffairIn the not too distant past, I would have naively mistaken Mino’s intentions for true interest. I would have enjoyed my night and would have wanted more. I always want more especially when there’s none to be had.  Rather than be upset or disappointed, I was amused at the turn of events and rather proud of the fact that I had navigated Mino and my biological desires so well. That night I walked back to the hotel with a smile on my face that had nothing to do with sex – imagine that?

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/hdouchet

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