Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Calling Miss Manners

What do you say the friend who buys you chocolate for Christmas when she knows you're on a diet?

I am seething mad about this one. When I first told her -- my petite UK-size-8 friend -- about my diet, I was testing the waters. I never tell people when I'm starting a diet -- too much of a, er, belly flop waiting to happen -- but decided I'm getting a little old to lie to friends about why I don't want to eat/drink certain things.

Her response: "I hope you're not going to do that at Christmas." (I was invited to spend the holiday at her parents' house in Scotland.)

Later that afternoon, she ordered a mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream and a huge slice of cake at Starbucks. I sipped my peppermint tea, thinking: "Well, I never want people to make a fuss or feel like they can't eat what they want in front of me, but really, this is a bit much."

Then on Christmas Day I opened the box of Orla Kiely chocolates. It was one of a few presents from her family as a group, so I thought: "Oh, OK, I bet her mom bought it" -- chocolate being one of the standard Christmas gifts for people you don't know well. Still, I doubted it -- my friend had warned me not to buy her parents a posh brand of cognac (a spirit they love) because "they won't recognize it, so it's a waste." Orla Kiely, however, is trendy and London.

Then my friend said cheerfully, nodding at the box: "I picked that one out."

I didn't let it ruin Christmas, but this morning -- when I picked it up while packing to come back to London -- I got angry all over again. My sister suggested that maybe she'd bought it before I announced -- about a month ago -- that I was going on a diet. Maybe, but since chocolate is such an all-purpose gift, why not give it to someone else and give me stationery or something (she knows I'm a big thank-you-note writer)?

I'm trying to let it go, but it's not easy.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

The Joy of December in London

Dear London Tourist:

I realize our city is full of ye olde English things like, um, pubs and oh-aren’t-they-cute policemen on horses and even cars driving on the wrong side of the road that you simply must photograph, but please, please, please, do not stand two and three abreast in the middle of the narrow sidewalks showing each other your photos on your digital cameras and deciding if you should take another. Some of us would like to be able to run one lone errand on our lunch hours (difficult enough with the Tube as rubbish as it is), or get to work/the film/a dinner on time. And please do not tut and cluck when those of us who live here run through your photo because we can’t stand there all day waiting for you to take a picture of – I am not making this up – a hedge in the shape of a vodka bottle in the Selfridges window.

Also, if you absolutely must snog your partner in the middle of the escalator when the Tube is packed during morning rush hour, please do not stand on the left side of the escalator or someone is going to push you down it.

Yours gratefully,

* * *

I lost another pound and a half this week. Though I don’t trust my scale. How could I weigh a quarter pound more after I went to the bathroom?

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Only [Number Too Depressing to Think About] More Pounds to Go

I’ve spent a good five minutes trying to think of a way to end the following sentence without a “but” followed by something negative: “I lost seven and a half pounds this week.”

OK. Did it.

But. Yes, but. But I’m already despairing of losing any more in the great sea of champagne and chocolate that is the holiday season in London. I tell myself I am looking at December not in terms of what I lose but in terms of what I might have gained, but to be honest, I don’t know what I might have gained. When I’m on the up and up I never weigh myself.

Besides, it is hard to put forth the sort of effort I’m putting forth – cooking, worrying, planning – without any results, let alone with a gain. What exhausts me is the (mental) weighing and balancing – if I have this extra for lunch then I can’t have a drink at the party tonight. Or: If I overdo it, say, on Wednesday I’d better be careful on Thursday. Which is almost impossible this time of year.

But enough whinging. Except for the first three days, when I was constantly hungry, I have had no cravings of any kind. Not even at the office birthday party I attended today, where my colleagues attacked a French chocolate cake.

* * *

This morning at the Mulberry sample sale – as I tried and failed to reclaim my rightful place in line amid a seething mass in the pouring rain – a guy heard my accent and said loudly: “This is Britain. We know how to queue here.” If you did, I wouldn’t have had to struggle to hold on to my place, you tosser.

I later saw he worked for the Express, quite possibly the most useless collection of newsprint in the UK. It’s the only one I never bother going to another newsagent for if my local is out of it when I’m on weekend duty, buying all the papers.

The sale, incidentally, was a wash. “Sample sale” to me implies deep, deep discount, whereas these prices were less than £100 off the originals. And wallets were still £89. I’ve never been one of those Americans who lives my life mentally calculating the dollars I’m spending, but now that the current exchange rate is nearly two to one, it’s hard not to. I was pleased with my restraint, only buying a £20 belt – but then I took an £11 taxi back to the office. What can I say? It was pouring.

Sunday, 3 December 2006

The Cult of the Diet

Multiple times this week I have tried – and failed – to write about This Thing That I Am Doing.

I’m not doing the same thing as Wendy, from whom I have borrowed the above phrase. But I feel similarly about it – that Weight Watchers drives me crazy, and that I’m tired of pretending that I can have it all when I know that I can’t.

So what is this thing that I am doing? I’m loath to describe it. Not because it’s a crazy fad diet, but because it’s something I never thought I’d do. Let’s just say it is a diet I have long associated with people who – if this diet had an online message forum, which it does not – definitely would spell losing “loosing.” This diet has made me consider whether diets can (and are) class-based, because no one in the magazine about said diet is anyone I know, or would know. Even the clothes in the photo shoots of the success stories are tacky styles from deep discount stores.

I guess I’ve been loath to discuss this particular diet because the people in the before pictures represent my deepest fears of what I think people think when they look at me. They are the women in the tent dresses, with the towel wrapped around the bucket of ice cream (for the record, something I have never done). But at different points in my life I have sat at Overeaters Anonymous meetings and Weight Watchers meetings and thought unkind, uncharitable thoughts about the people around me -- and of course, about myself, for having to be there along with them. And here I am, still unhappy with the way I look. So I'm giving a new cult -- and all these diets are cults, aren't they? -- a try.

If I carry on with This Thing That I'm Doing -- if you're counting, which of course I am, my third diet of the year -- probably I’ll post later about what exactly I’m, uh, doing. But let’s just say I am cooking and eating loads of fruit and even vegetables, though I draw the line at baby carrots! Unrelated to the diet, I’ve given up diet Coke – for now, anyway. (I’m not sure if it’s the diet or the lack of diet Coke – or both – that account for the surprising lack of sugar cravings after the initial few days of withdrawal.) A friend today – unprompted – said she thought I looked slimmer. Unlikely when today is Day 7, but nice to hear.

Why start a diet in the middle of the holiday season? Because I didn’t want to wait until January 1. Well, January 2. I didn’t want another month of feeling and knowing that I need to do something, of last chance eating, and of feeling unhappy with all of it.

I’m the queen of black-and-white thinking, but I’ve been working hard to convince myself – to really make myself believe – that I should look at this month not in terms of what I’ve lost but in terms of what I might have gained had I not made these changes now. I know I’m not going to be able to stick to this way of eating at Christmas, where I’ll be a houseguest in Scotland, Land of All Things Fried (including, I am told, pizza). It will just have to be some early practice in running like hell to catch the wagon I’ve fallen off of.

* * *

Today would have been my mother's 63rd birthday. On the way home from Selfridges, I tried to buy some orange roses -- her favorite color -- but they were wilted.

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Cooking With the Wakefield Twins

Tonight – at dinner at friends I consider my big brother and sister in London – we discussed questions that would make you question whether you should show up for dinner at all. (Or show up with a pizza instead of a bottle of wine.)

This came from my telling my friends – we’ll call them J and L – about the time I was having people over for dinner, panicked, and nearly called J beforehand to ask him if a clove was just one little nub of the garlic, or the whole thing. The only reason I didn’t call him: Because he and L were the ones coming over for dinner. (For the record, I figured out the correct portion of garlic. Why does one’s brain occasionally misfile such information, and how does it get refiled?)

J – who, while we’re setting the record straight, admitted that he sometimes struggles with the garlic issue – offered the following to the list of questions that would make one fear dinner: “I left the milk out and I don’t think it’s been 24 hours and anyway I’m cooking it so it should be OK, right?”

“How about, ‘I’ve spent the past hour prying the mussels open,’” I suggested. J – a comedy writer -- laughed.

“Growing up in a kosher-style home I don’t know if I’d know that one,” said L. “But I read it in a Sweet Valley High book.”

I looked at her and started to giggle. The only reason I knew myself was because in one of the books closed mussels are how Jessica Wakefield gives her family food poisoning. I bet it’s the only useful thing I learned from the entire series.

Roman Holiday

Back from Rome last night after a yummy, crazy Thanksgiving dinner at a wine editor’s house and a chance meeting in front of the Vittorio Emanuel monument with two friends from DC. Oh yeah, and a ridiculous assignment where I spent so much time (legitimately) sitting in one fancy schmancy hotel bar I fear deep vein thrombosis – and where I got about two hours of sleep a night.

I am slowly making my way through e-mails and obligations and dreading the return to the office tomorrow. I’m also dreading a lunch I have cancelled at least six times, with the (world’s skinniest Russian) wife of a celebrity jeweler*. After a week and a half of pasta, I do not want to find something to wear. Nor do I want to spent two hours making polite conversation – plus an hour travel time -- when I’d rather be hiding in my office in jeans and communist chic sneakers, getting actual work done so that I don’t have to stay in the office until midnight.

Sigh. As my mother would say, things are rough all over.


Must. Find. New. Job.

(Hello, so not going to happen in December.)

*though last time I got to try on Christina Aguilera's actual engagement ring -- she had sent it back for repairs. I know, I know -- not that thrilling. Trying to psych myself into this.

* * *

The friends I bumped into in Rome I saw when I was in DC, but this couple has been peripheral friends – part of the same circle, but never the sort of people I had any independent relationship with. In fact, I was surprised a couple of years ago when they turned up to my book signing and insisted on each buying their own copy of my book for support (no small thing, since the male half of this couple is notoriously cheap), and even more surprised when I once got a long-ish, thoughtful email from male half in response to a quick one I’d sent.

I knew they’d be in Rome – they were taking a week’s vacation in Italy – but they were arriving the night before I was scheduled to leave, and they wouldn’t have a phone or blackberry (yes, I know people organized their social schedules long before the invention of either). Plus I didn’t want to be the gooseberry on their romantic vacation. But there they were, standing in front of the Vittorio Emanuel memorial when I finally got out of bed after a Thanksgiving dinner that ended at six in the morning.

We hit the Pantheon – I had been already, but they hadn’t -- then had a tartufo in the Piazza Navona. (Male half of couple: “If we have these to go it will cost half as much.”) We walked across the river to see St. Peter’s at sunset, then got dinner in Trastavere, laughing and gossiping and just hanging out. And of course, commenting on how surreal it was to bump into each other in Rome, and how it wouldn’t have worked out that well if we planned it. In another year or so I would likely have lost touch with them – another casualty of the expat life, where friendships without enough of a history (or a short but significant history) eventually become history, sometimes even despite one’s best efforts. Thanks to about 12 hours in Rome, I’m sure this one won’t.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

The Brain Trust

I was back in the office for less than an hour today – not even in the office, actually, but at lunch – before job-loathing set in again.

A senior editor arrived from New York, calling for help from us because she couldn’t get in a cab because “I don’t have any Euros.” She said this repeatedly, apparently unaware that the UK has not joined the Euro. Other things she is unaware of: Who we are, how we report (she asked me how our bureau planned to report the Tom and Katie wedding because she had no idea how we did it), and who the band Keane is (apparently I’m not the only one who doesn’t read the very magazine I help produce).

And this particular senior editor has most favored nation status in New York.

Get me out of here, pronto.

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

My Country, 'Tis of Thee

How do you sum up two and a half weeks in the U.S – the most time you (well, I) have spent there on vacation (as opposed to the three weeks I spent there when my mother was dying) since I moved here?

I can’t, except to say: My friends are great, and – I never thought I’d say this – America is great. It’s not perfect, but sometimes it is great.

I love that people are friendly, and frankly, after surly English salespeople, I don’t even care if it’s faux I-want-to-sell-you-something friendly. I love that you can send a blueberry muffin back at Cosi just because you think it tastes like cardboard, which is exactly what I did to prove to a Scottish friend (she was visiting) that it could be done. I love that it can be freezing and miserable in Boston and then you can hop on a plane for $89 and three hours later be in Miami, no passport required. I love (even though I shouldn’t) that it cost me $30 to fill my tank with gas, as opposed to the $100 it costs in London. I love that I can buy contact lens solution at 1 a.m. -- and on a Sunday, no less -- if that's when I realize I need some.

I just got off the plane in London a couple of hours ago, and the thought of summing up my sister’s wedding (though it seems like an eon ago), further career angst brought about by Washington Post interview, the guy I bumped into who I haven’t seen in nine years who remembered what felt like every word I ever said, and the up-until-4-a.m. conversation I had with my grandmother seems too daunting for now. Besides, I didn’t turn my blackberry on the whole time I was away, so I’ve got mega e-mail to catch up on. Oh – and I’m off to Rome tomorrow for the wedding of you-know-who. (And if you don’t know who, I envy you.)

Friday, 27 October 2006

Wedding Countdown

Text from my normally reserved British boss yesterday: All best 4 your sis’s wedding. There is something v spesh abt seeing a sib wed. To have a twin must be extra so. Have a great time. b thinking of u.

I hate textspeak, but this reduced me to emotional goo. I’ve spent a month teasing my sister about the bride-and-groom-imprinted tissues she ordered, and suddenly I fear I’m going to need about half of them.

I can’t believe she’s getting married. It probably doesn’t help that I haven’t slept in about four days – damn those McCartneys – and that I’m so tired I practically can watch my own cognitive dysfunction from outside my body. Partly because of lack of sleep – and partly because of a couple of glasses of wine – my life seems surreal.

Returning to college for my final semester senior year, I was sure I’d die in a plane crash. I couldn’t visualize my life past graduation, and so I was sure I just wouldn’t live to see it. I feel the same way about my sister’s wedding. I’ve known about it for months, but it is only today, really, that I have considered the physical idea of one foot in front of the other up the aisle, and the fact that after it, my sister is married.


I can’t get my head around that. Or around the fact that my old friends-with-benefits from DC is now engaged. Or the fact that – as I learned tonight – my friend O. has gotten has ex-girlfriend pregnant and is running and hiding in the U.S. and maybe South America. I've been joking for the past couple of years that I've been living like a college student (only with slightly more expensive shoes) while my friends have grown up and fulfilled their contracts with adulthood. Suddenly, it doesn't seem so funny.

Monday, 23 October 2006


A quick stroll through downtown Reykjavik is all you need to understand why the birth rate is so high in Iceland (at 2.4 kids, it’s the highest in Europe) and why the music scene is so absurdly prodigious: There’s absolutely nothing else to do.

I got back last night from three days at Iceland Airwaves, a music festival that was the most fun I’ve had in a while. I attended the festival with two friends and came back with at least four new ones. We hopped from venue to venue – including a church, an art museum, a basement, and one hideous ski chalet-ish bar where the floor was higher in the front than in the back – seeing bands until past two in the morning. Then we hit the after parties until four or five.

For me, what was so unusual about this festival was the mixing between the artists and the press – so much so that one of the buses to the Blue Lagoon party (more on that in a minute) was for “Artists and Press.” Probably because I deal with artists who are much more famous than the ones who played in Iceland, I’m used to attempts to keep me as far away as possible from artists unless I’m doing an interview or a specific piece. But here the artists weren’t only on our bus – they were on the streets and they were at the after parties (in the case of the Kaiser Chiefs, DJ’ing the parties), and there was no VIP room. By the end of the festival I was on hugging terms with more than a few of my favorites.

And the Blue Lagoon party: This is the festival’s infamous hangover party, held about 1 p.m. Saturday in a geothermal pool. Much as I dreaded putting on a bathing suit – especially in front of skinny indie rockers and their equally tiny hangers on – I knew I’d be missing out if I skipped it. And I would have -- it was hilarious: Aforesaid skinny indie rockers cavorting in the water with white silica mud masks on their faces, drinking (blue) vodka drinks. (Indie rockers are hardly known for their well-scrubbed appearances, so a running joke among my friends was that we were safe in the knowledge that the musicians had had a bath at least once this weekend. Maybe you had to be there.) For the record, the time we were allotted in the water – about 90 minutes, max – thankfully was not enough for the party to degenerate into a frat party in the water. But the artist and press bus smelled like puke on the way home, not that that stopped one Swedish reporter and his friend from drinking seven cans of Viking on the 45 minute trip back to downtown Reykjavik. Ugh.

I was sad to see the festival end, but not that sad – frankly, I’m too old to stay up that late for more than three nights, and I actually used earplugs once or twice because it was that loud. (Lest I sound that old, I should point out that earplugs were bought for me by 23-year-old Canadian reporter. Then again, I should point out that 23-year-old Canadian reporter decided not to meet up on the last night with an Icelandic girl he’d met the day before because “then I’ll be up until eight in the morning.” Hello, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at 23 – and then promptly brag to all your friends about it?)

Other people clearly had no problem carrying on drinking – I have a picture of a group at the airport who had at least 20 empty bottles of beer at their table. And on the plane on the way home, someone started doing somersaults in the aisle.

It was great to go, but it’s good to be home.

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Material Girl

In one of the worst-timed, most tasteless pitches I’ve ever seen – and yet another sign this celebrity/fashion collusion has gone too far -- a fashion PR e-mailed to tell us Madonna was wearing her client’s clothing while in Africa. Much as I might wish we would, I don’t think we’re going to run a story about the clothes Madonna wears while she buys a child in Africa. The dress is from the designer’s spring/summer ’05 line, according to PR, and I couldn’t help wondering if that is supposed to make it better: Madonna wears old designer clothes to Africa?

Tuesday, 10 October 2006


For 45 minutes – until just past midnight -- I tugged, I pulled, I pleaded, I cursed myself for not having a (snickering) boyfriend to help out, and I tried pulling the dress over my head. I threw myself on my bed, envisioning myself stuck sleeping in this black satin floor-length number, trying again in the morning, and eventually having to call in, um, stuck zipper to work.

Yes, it’s my bridesmaid dress. Not even the correct bridesmaid dress, which has just arrived in DC and which I’m fearing will not fit because I oh-so-cleverly ordered a size too small, hoping I’d get my act together. Oh, no – this is the bridesmaid dress from my friend Erica’s wedding in May ’04, which I thought I’d gotten rid of but luckily was still stuffed in a Selfridges bag at the top of my closet.

All this from a backup bridesmaid dress.

Is this a sign?

Oh dear. What kind of sign? I can’t even think about it.

Just after midnight I did what any desperate person does when standing around past midnight in a floor-length evening gown that she cannot get over her head nor tug down over her hips: I Googled “stuck zipper” (10,100 results in .14 seconds).

Hit 11 was a web site that suggested candle wax. Umm, OK… but how exactly does one get candle wax on the zipper without burning the dress? I considered. Trying to drip wax from a burning candle would be too inexact – I’d then have to worry about how to get the wax off the dress. Eventually I broke off a bit of candle, held it above the flame, then rubbed the warmed bit of candle on the zipper. At first it didn’t work, just like I was sure it wouldn’t (but of course had to try). Then I repeated the process. And voila. The satisfying zzzzip sound of, well, a zipper unzipping.

Sometimes I love the Internet.

If only I could say the same of the bridesmaid dress.

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Warning -- Shallow Post Below

So I headed to Paris Fashion Week Wednesday with only enough outfits for the shows I planned to attend. For once I decided not to schlep extra pairs of fabulous shoes and vintage handbags and jewelry and the little black dress, because frankly, my feet practically still hurt from standing around for hours in heels in London and Milan. And because I got home at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning from what last year was an incredibly boring music industry dinner I left early but this year was let’s-stay-‘till-the-end-and-even-move-on-for-another-drink fun. And because I had no post-show parties I had to attend in Paris – and because the fashion pack isn’t exactly welcoming or spontaneous (if you are not Anna Wintour or similar, you start requesting invitations to shows three months beforehand, though of course they tell you about a week before if you’ve gotten them), there was no reason to expect the unexpected.

Clearly the crazy peach drink I had at Trader Vic’s sometime in the early hours of Wednesday had made me crazy. If ever there were an excuse not to pack light, it is Paris Fashion Week.

And of course several hours after I arrived in Paris I was invited to a Scary Fashion Party commencing at one ridiculously trendy locale and then moving on to several others. A fashion nightmare, frankly. And I was facing it without a black dress and with only two pairs of shoes: ballet flats (unacceptable to fashionistas in evening unless worn with skinny jeans, which, um, In My Dreams) and black patent Via Spiga stacked heel loafers (no. Just… no).

At my current size, it is hard enough to find the perfect outfit (or really, a passable outfit) in a city whose shops you know well – and whose scene you know well enough to calibrate the exact amount of dressed up or dressed down you need to be to feel as inconspicuous as possible. Finding something in just a couple of hours in Paris was hopeless – I knew. I debated not going to the party. I debated heading to Galeries Lafayette and spending whatever it took.

I wandered around Galeries Lafayette, seeing nothing appealing. I hunted for black trousers, a difficult enough task when you're not under pressure. I prowled the shoe department, struggling to buy going out shoes – yes, me, practically forced to buy shoes and yet unable to do it. There were beautiful ones, of course, but they didn’t go with any of the clothing I had. And then there were ones so similar to ones I had at home that I couldn’t justify the three hundred euro pricetag. On my walk from Galeries Lafayette toward the Rue St Honore, I spied a Zara -- but they had no shoes in my size at all.

Then I gave up. I bought the tiniest Louis Vuitton handbag there is – cost: not much more than your average night out in London, actually – practiced my “there’s nothing wrong with my outfit” face (well, not really), reminded myself that patent leather actually is in this season (well, it is!), and decided what the heck. I was going to feel uncomfortable no matter what I wore. It was surprisingly freeing to admit that.

As for the party, like many of the ones I dread the most it was not worth the dread. It was fine – fun, even. I spent much of the evening chatting with an American girl and her British boyfriend of three weeks who was still wearing a wedding ring from the marriage (not to American Girl) he is apparently not even close to out of. Yes, she knows about it.

Later we ended up at the VIP Room, a branch of the same tacky Paris-Hilton-loves-it club I'd been in in St. Tropez earlier this summer (in fact, at a party Paris herself was throwing there). As the journalist I'd worked with in St. Tropez put it when I blackberried her the Paris tale: "If you ended up at the VIP Room where did you START?"


Monday, 2 October 2006

Shock and Awe

Today, as I was sipping my diet Coke and thinking about how hungry I was (diet – not of the liquid variety – begun today), an e-mail arrived from my father. Last week I’d reminded him that Yom Kippur was coming up, and that he should buy Yahrzeit candles – candles that burn for 24 hours, lit in memory of immediate family members who have died.

He wrote that he’d bought some candles and planned to meet his girlfriend later to break the fast, except he’d already cheated, so he wouldn’t technically be breaking the fast.

I stopped in mid-cherry-flavored-diet-Coke gulp. I’d thought Yom Kippur -- the Day of Atonement, and one of the Days of Awe -- started tonight and went until sundown tomorrow, as opposed to starting Sunday night and going through sundown tonight. Which meant at the point that I should have begun fasting last night, I was eating a cheeseburger. Yes, mixing milk and meat, which is against Jewish dietary laws. On an evening I was supposed to be fasting. Urgh.

Never mind that I eat pork and I often mix milk and meat (though never, ever have I had a glass of milk with meat – ugh). And never mind that a few years ago – the first time I got treatment for binge eating – I was told not to fast, and haven’t since. And that I didn’t plan to go to synagogue – only not to go to work (my mother always used to say she didn’t care if my sister and I didn’t go to synagogue, but we shouldn’t be at work either) and to light the Yahrzeit candle my grandmother gave me earlier this year (the candles are incredibly difficult to find here, unlike in the U.S., where any supermarket in a major metropolitan area will have them).

I still felt – and feel – horribly guilty.

I also felt – and feel – homesick. In the U.S., this never would have – or even could have – happened. The date is on all the calendars there. And – at least in the cities where I’ve lived – the concentration of Jews (and ones who observe the High Holy Days) is significant enough that I imagine my colleagues would have been surprised if I’d turned up at work. Which of course I wouldn’t have because chances are I’d be going to synagogue – an option I don’t feel is open to me here because there are only two types of Jews in England: Those who have never been to a Passover seder, let alone to synagogue, and those who are there every weekend and whose entire life revolves around being Jewish. The services I went to here a couple of years ago were for Jews far more observant than I am, and I felt worse than ever for not understanding a word of them. The few prayers I recognized were chanted in unfamiliar cadences. I left the synagogue yearning for Alexy, my official Jewish holiday friend back in DC, and to be home, where taking the day off from work for a Jewish holiday would not require an explanation. I put away the special prayerbook I'd had to buy and went and met a (totally non-observant) English Jewish friend for a drink. How non-observant was he? He didn’t know it was Yom Kippur.

Wanting to make sure I was home before sundown, I left work shortly after five today, something I have only done when sick. I looked up the words to the mourner’s kaddish on the Internet and lit the candle. I made myself wait until after sundown to eat again.

I don't feel any better, but it will have to do.

Sunday, 1 October 2006

The Rich are Different...

Yesterday I decided to stop being so self-involved and go volunteer to paint a nursery for low-income children near Westbourne Grove.

And I thought I was self-involved. Most of the women on the project were the (American) wives of (American) bankers. Their painting outfits consisted of either Seven jeans or sleep suits given out in Virgin Atlantic upper class (“So we got a great deal on our Christmas tickets this year – only $10,000 for the four of us to fly to Montana.”) Their engagement rings contained diamonds as big as the Ritz.

The conversation revolved around whether it was just too indulgent to have household help if one were a stay-at-home mom, the varying levels of ineptness of their husbands when it came to looking after their children alone, and how explicit were the childcare instructions they’d left their husbands.

I think I added five words to the conversation all day.

Wednesday, 27 September 2006


A liquid diet.

I shouldn't do it. For a thousand reasons I shouldn't do it. It is not healthy. It is not healthy for me. It is almost surely guaranteed to make me start bingeing again (in fact, even the thought of doing it is kicking in my "last chance" eating -- a crappy Cornetto last night, and Ben's Cookies for lunch today). It is totally incompatible with my life. (Am I supposed to stand around Mo*vida -- where I have to go tonight for, as Bridget Jones would say, a scary party with Jay Z, Chris Martin, Gwyneth and the lot -- with a Lipotrim shake in my hand?)

And yet.

And yet I'm thinking about it. Seriously. I've got my sister's wedding in a month. I'm tired of feeling like I'm spinning my wheels, not really bingeing but also not eating particularly healthfully either. Tired of catching sight of myself in the mirror in the bathroom at work and not wanting to go back into the office because I hate the reflection. Tired of wondering if Leonardo DiCaprio would have been less rude to me at the Armani party I went to the other night if I'd been thinner. (He was only allowing pretty girls to take their picture with him, so I don't doubt he vetted reporters in a similar way.) It hasn't helped my state of mind that I spent the past couple of days in Milan, looking at size zero (or less) models wearing clothes I will never ever be able to wear, and feeling like a sub-par human being because I wasn't wearing skinny jeans (or the size where skinny jeans are an option). All my life I have given the room the once over to see if I'm the heaviest one there, and in Milan I felt so conspicuous it was almost unbearable. If only my Spanx could have squeezed me into social X-ray size...

So I am thinking about it. Loving the idea of a break from any decisions about food for a few weeks. Wondering if I will be friendless at the end of it because I won't meet anyone for dinner. Wondering if I can do it. My mind is spinning with the minefields over the next few weeks and how I'll skirt them. If I'm going to do it I need to just start, because any days between the decision to do it and the official start date would be filled with last-chance eating.

Stay tuned.

Monday, 18 September 2006

Yet More Signs Bridezilla Is in the House

My sister is awash in wedding chores, and so her fiance's mother offered to help. My sister gave her the task of ordering yarmulkes. Now I think of yarmulkes as akin to, say, napkins. Functional, necessary (for a Jewish wedding), and chances are about one in a million that any guest, when asked about the wedding the next day, will say, "Those were the ugliest/most stunning napkins/yarmulkes I've ever seen."

Apparently I am wrong.

The black silk moire yarmulkes my sister's mother-in-law-to-be -- um, MIL? -- ordered (and paid for) arrived the other day, and

My sister's mother-in-law-to-be -- um, MIL? -- ordered black silk moire yarmulkes, my sister told me, wrinkling her nose. Apparently if my sister herself had ordered them, she would have chosen black suede. And she would have stamped she and her fiance's names on the outside, not the inside. And she would have used just their first names, not their first and last names. And she would have used just the English date, instead of the English and the Hebrew date.

With each day I become more and more grateful I live thousands of miles away, because I can only imagine how I would mess up the tasks I'd be given if I actually were around to do them.

* * *

My sister has done nothing but complain about how much she has to do and how over budget she is, but I arrived at her apartment to find five boxes with the words "sniff" on them stacked in the space most people use for a fireplace.

They were packets of tissues with a bride and groom on each one. She claims to have forgotten how much she paid for them, but I find it significant she also refuses to look it up...

* * *

Today I met my sister for lunch and listened as she complained, virtually without stopping, for an hour, about her co-workers, her lack of time, her lack of money, and how grateful she will be when this wedding is over (I resisted adding "Me, too.") I asked if there was anything I could do to help, since I was planning to spend the afternoon mooching around Georgetown spending money I shouldn't. She asked me to look for champagne-colored ribbons -- not champagne-pink ribbons, she specified, but sort of light gold.

"Why?" I asked.

She needs ribbon for the basket with the yarmulkes, and ribbons for the bags she might leave for out-of-town guests, and ribbon for various other things I tuned out. She did not want me to buy the ribbons -- only to find samples, because only she herself could determine if they were the right color. She has not booked a DJ for a wedding that is five weeks away, and she is spending time deciding between shades of light gold?

* * *

Yesterday I arrived back at my sister's apartment after her bachelorette party weekend -- she had gone to drive a friend to the airport -- to find her fiance watching cartoons on Fox and smoking pot.

"Now that I don't have the bar to study for I've reverted to college," he told me proudly.

This morning I asked my sister how often he smoked -- she is unbelievably prudish about things like that, so it was a bit shocking. "Not every weekend," she said. "He does it whenever he has to do anything wedding-related, like go to Crate & Barrel to deal with the registry."

I like the guy more and more every time I meet him. I can't help wondering if he's going to smoke before the wedding, and if so, if I can have a couple of hits. Or seven.

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Across the Bridge and Into the Church

Why the long silence? I was at the Venice film festival, and then having Internet problems at home. (I was almost grateful for my lack of connectivity: My bathroom is a lot cleaner – who knew scrubbing the tub could be so satisfying? -- and my shoe and handbag collections have been reorganized…)

I was anxious about Venice. Not so much for the usual reasons, which are my own appearance, and that anyone at the magazine with any question for any of the numerous A-listers at a festival expect you always to be able to reach said A-lister post-haste. (“Oh, hang on, that’s Gwyneth on the other line,” I always feel like saying. Just because I am in the same city with them doesn't mean I have acquired a magic phone with everyone's cell phone number. Or just hacked Paris Hilton's phone.

Actually, “anxious” doesn’t describe my state of mind. “Terrified” is better. Last year the Venice film festival was when I leaped off the bingeing cliff into free fall. I’d been struggling since my assignment in Africa, then thought I had stemmed the tide (hello, mixed metaphors) with my 30 Bikram yoga classes in 30 days (if you overeat before a 90-minute class in a hot room, you will be sick). But no. In Venice I had ice cream daily. Multiple ice creams. Chocolate. Pastries. It had been several years since I had lived with the fear of a dress I wore one day literally not fitting the next, but in Venice it revisited me. At the end of my week there, in desperation I bought a cardigan to wear over the only dress that fit – to hide how tight it had become.

I’m still not sure what set me off in Venice, which is why I so feared going again – because you can’t plan how to avoid something you can’t define. It’s like trying to avoid air. Instead I did the best I could. I remembered Italian hotel breakfasts can be unhealthy, and the things you can grab – often screenings are at 8:30 a.m. – especially so. So I packed a box of cornflakes and some soy milk that didn’t need to be refrigerated. I told myself I could eat anything I wanted as long as it was part of a meal with a beginning and an end. And I tried to remember the awful lethargy and misery that comes with being entirely too full on a humid Venice day.

I did well. I ate a lot of pizza – it’s easily grabbable – and not nearly enough vegetables. I had gelato most days. But no chocolate or pastries – or binges. On Wednesday afternoon, I did the unheard-of in this job and managed to sneak off to wander through churches and shops. Despite the heat I nearly skipped up steps and over bridges. The sky was blue and clear and so was my head.

Friday, 1 September 2006

Fig Redux

Tuesday afternoon, after not having spoken to the Fig for six weeks, I emailed him to say I was near -- or near-ish -- to his flat, and did he want to get a coffee?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I could have handled it if he hadn't responded at all, I think. But what I can't handle is this: He wrote back saying it was good to hear from me, that he was in Brussels, and that we should organize something when he got back Thursday. I haven't heard from him again. Ugh. Why the hell didn't he just not answer in the first place? And ugh, why didn't I trust my gut, which was not to pick at this particular scab?

Even though it's only been a few weeks, I forgot just how miserable it is to check your email every ten seconds, to be in the middle of a perfectly nice dinner and scrabble for your Blackberry at random moments and see the red light flashing and to hope, to have dizzying hope, and to see it is only your White House press update, or a list of colleagues who will be promoting various magazine stories on TV, or a work question, or...

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Monday night, as I was filling my Sainsburys singleton basket with a lone fillet of salmon and some leeks and spinach, I spotted a guy I went out on a date with the night after I met the Fig. (I had hoped things would work out with the Fig, but I’m a pessimist and figured as this other date was already in the diary, I might as well go on it.)

This guy – J. – was boring, both compared to the Fig and otherwise. He also seemed to have a penchant for exaggeration and extreme editing of his life. Oh, yeah – and he was short. (I must stop pretending I can ever go out with a man who is shorter than I am – I just can’t.) Still, there he was in the chicken/meat aisle of Sainsburys, looking rather loved up with a girl who was (a) taller than him and (b) wearing an engagement ring. This was almost as bad – if not worse – as spying a guy I went on a date with in ’04 celebrating a wedding anniversary at Claridges when I was there for my birthday this year.

I did not stop, I did not pass go, I headed directly to the fake meat products aisle – J. is an avowed carnivore -- and busied myself label reading. (I bought some Quorn “pork and apple” patties that ended up tasting – and smelling – so revolting that it wasn’t enough to throw them in the trash. I actually take the trash to the curb, then open a window, and light my jasmine Diptyque candle just to get rid of the stench.)

I spent the rest of that supermarket trip with my eyes fixed firmly on the ground or at a label, lest I look up somewhere and catch his eye. What the hell was he doing in my neighborhood – never mind with what appeared to be a fiancée, and when I was looking rather crappy as I had Rudolph nose from my cold and frizzy hair from the rain? There should be a law. Oh, wait – there is one. It’s called Murphy’s.

• * *

In my continuing effort to (a) work a bit less and (b) attempt to enjoy/appreciate London, I popped to the National Gallery for a half hour yesterday. (I had to take a few calls while I was there, but at least I tried.)

There’s a guy who collects random (and sometimes stupid) things people say on the Tube – I think I might have to start doing that at art galleries. It wasn’t quite as bad as my afternoon at the Courtauld, but then again, I did put my iPod on in defense after a while.

Two women standing in front of Cezanne’s “Landscape With Poplars”: “It’s too busy-looking,” says one to the other. "Why didn't he do it in black and white?"

Male to female in front of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers: “This one is very famous.”

I’d love to hear what people say standing in front of the Mona Lisa…

Thursday, 24 August 2006

Me Write Pretty One Day

Like blogging and using the overground trains in London, I am coming so late it cannot possibly be fashionable to the David Sedaris fan club. I mean, it's past last call and the only people left are the drunken ones hooking up in the corner because they both have roommates and have nowhere else to go.

I’m not sure why I avoided Sedaris. I think maybe I conflated him in my head with David Foster Wallace – I am not a fan of post-post-modernist work. Reading endless footnotes just reminds me of my junior year of high school, where we had an entire American history exam of questions based only on information that came from the photo captions (and of course, no advance warning that that’s what the exam would be based on). Or maybe “humorist” reminds me too much of Dave Barry, and although at one point I found him funny, at this point in my life I’m not really up for an entire book of booger, bodily function, and frat boy jokes. And it can't have helped that I remember reading an essay of Sedaris' in the New Yorker -- about a boil he had (I think possibly on his butt) -- that just didn’t thrill me.


I picked up Me Talk Pretty One Day while leaving the last hotel I was staying in in St. Tropez. The incredibly rude staff – you’d think 900 euros a night would get you something, but you’d be wrong, at least in France – was being incredibly unhelpful with any travel arrangements to Nice. As I’d been the one sorting out most of the logistics (hotel rooms, etc) for the previous six days, I was happy when one of the (French-speaking) freelancers I was working with took over. I plucked Me Talk Pretty One Day off a shelf in the hotel's library and, when it came time to go, took it with me. I figured I deserved it. (It didn't match their faux antique books on display, anyway.)

I didn’t get around to reading it for a week or so, but when I did, Oh. My. God. I was laughing out loud on the Tube. And when I wasn’t laughing out loud, I was admiring (and envying) the grace, the pacing, and the unbelievable powers of observation.

Plus, why can’t I have a sister as cool as Amy?

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

The Road Not Taken

A good friend of mine’s wife is five months pregnant, and I found out via e-mail from a friend who was on the initial e-mail list.

I looked at the other names on the list – nearly four years ago, before I moved here, I would have been on it.

Sunday, 20 August 2006

Creep #737

So I forgot to write about the guy I met on the people mover – or whatever it’s called – that brings you from your plane to the main terminal at Dulles Airport.

Let me rephrase: The creep I met.

Last week I was listening to him loudly explaining to an English woman how the people mover worked (it’s not rocket science) and then nattering on about the various Washington airports. He gave this woman incorrect information about transport to the various airports, and I stepped in to correct it (nicely).

“I used to live here,” I explained.

“Where did you live?” he asked.

“Dupont Circle,” I said.

He made a face. “Today that’s known as where all the gay people live,” he said.

I looked him in the eye and said: “It was that way when I lived there, too.” Then I moved as far away from him as I could get.

Ugh. I knew I should have been suspicious when I kept hearing him refer to National Airport as “Reagan Airport.”

Monday, 14 August 2006

Something Blue

One of the first books I saw in the Borders at Dulles Airport Thursday* was The Married Guy’s. It was with more curiosity than pain or urge to stalk that I picked it up – the book is about a topic I love.

First page: “To [name of his wife.]”


I put the book down.

Then I wondered if, with his obsession with all things American, I suddenly might hear from The Fig after the terror plot was unveiled.

I didn’t.

I thought about him and The Married Guy all weekend, though.

At my sister’s shower Sunday – more on that later – the table decorations were mini bamboo plants in little pots that said things like “happiness,” “prosperity,” and “love.” I had “prosperity” in front of me but traded it for a “love” to take back to London.

“I need all the help I can get,” I joked to my sister.

She said: “I know, right?”

* * *

When we were growing up, my sister frequently used to wonder which one of us would get married first. I didn’t – without knowing why, exactly, I was sure it would be her.

Still, it is one thing to expect it and another thing actually to deal with it. I should have expected my sister would go crazy, with her More Than Two Months’ Rent in My Flat Gown, her Vera Wang invitations and earnest discussion of wax seals for them (yes, wax seals!), her Two More Months’ Rent Worth of Skincare and Makeup Products (I spotted La Prairie in her bathroom yesterday). Mostly, I find her Bridezilla tendencies funny.

At her shower yesterday, I talked to a couple of her friends I knew well and then busied myself making – as tradition apparently mandates (or so my sister’s wedding-obsessed or already-married friends tell me) – the hat covered with bows from the shower presents that the bride has to wear to the rehearsal dinner. I watched her open flour sifters and oil and vinegar bottles and things I didn’t recognize and she didn’t until recently. It seems her fiance is the cook in the family, and actually went out the other weekend to create a registry for the two of them at Sur La Table. I listened to her joke about this and busied myself cutting ribbons and affixing them to a paper plate with tape.

Dear God, are there some napkins I can fold at the wedding? Or maybe a really, really complicated crossword puzzle required by Jewish law?

Seriously, I was still mostly OK with everything until I spotted the salad bowl we used in my family for as long as I can remember on her counter, and these blue and white flour and sugar canisters of my grandmother’s behind them.

“Did you take the salad bowl from Dad’s basement?” I asked.

“Yeah, I needed some stuff,” she said, my grandmother’s diamond glittering on her left hand in the new setting my sister and her fiance created for it. “I can’t find anything in there, anyway.”

My mother and grandmother were always so careful about everything being equal, or as equal as possible, particularly gifts. But now my mother is gone and my grandmother -- after years of watching all her friends’ grandkids get married -- is thrilled to be around for the marriage of one of her own, and, she thinks, probably the only one she’ll see. Still, I couldn’t help wondering what else my sister took or has gotten – what other things I might have wanted and for which there is no equal waiting for me someday.

On top of everything else, it is hard to take.

*yes, I travelled to the US from London on Thursday, and yes, it was not fun. I had to write about it for my employer’s web site and I don’t think there’s much more to say. Oh, except: My original piece was much better than the edited one.

Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Pet Peeve #637

People who walk three, four, and five abreast on the sidewalk. Slowly.

Monday, 7 August 2006

"There's an Art Gallery Two Blocks Away / And We've Finally Been There"

Today during lunch I went to the Courtauld Gallery, just down the street from my office. For months – make that years – I’ve thought I should go there, or to the National Gallery or the Portrait Gallery, both of which are a 10-minute walk down the Strand. (Maybe 15 if I’m working on my New Year’s resolution to wear more of my cute – read, uncomfortable -- shoes more often.) But then I have to file something by wire opening (2 p.m. GMT, often stretched to 3 p.m.), or it rains, or I have an errand to run, or I want to go to the gym, or the shoes are too uncomfortable, or…

But today – spurred by a weekend of Let Me Count the Ways This Job is Ruining My Life – I decided I absolutely needed to start taking my lunch hour for myself if I could, and that I ought not shop, because I might just quit and go freelance and then what will I do with the frillionth pair of shoes I’ve hoovered up because I deserve them, dammit. Besides, maybe I should, um, save the money or something.

As luck would have it, entry to the gallery was free today, but had I had to pay, it would have been well worth the five quid. Manet’s Dejeuner Sur l’herbe and A Bar at the Folies Bergere (in reproductions, I had never noticed the legs hanging off the trapeze in the upper left corner), Monets, Renoirs, Pissarros, Degas paintings and sculptures, Seurats (including a study for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte)… I wasn’t so enamored of the Derains and Matisses, which bring back unpleasant memories of an unsuccessful art history paper I wrote my freshman year of college, but I just might go back every Monday (free between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) to visit the Impressionists, plus the Van Goghs and Picassos.

My one complaint: Some of my fellow patrons. What is with the need to comment on every piece of art one sees? (My other pet peeve is when two people stand for ages in front of a painting in a very crowded exhibition, yammering about what they did the night before. Hello, that’s what the coffee shop is for.) Today, standing in front of Degas’ Two Dancers on the Stage, I heard a man say to his female companion: “He was a very, very good artist.” Then on to the Pissarro: “He was also a very good artist.”

* * *

Speaking of pet peeves, can someone please explain to me why tourists like to block the whole of Covent Garden watching people pretend to be statues? I cannot get to the Tube, or to Boots, or to get some lunch because crowds of people are standing around watching other people stand perfectly still. What is the appeal? Next are they going to be photographing paint drying?

Sunday, 6 August 2006

The Anti Charlie's Angels

To anyone who’s ever seen my office, it probably will not come as a surprise that I can’t find the cable to download my photos from St. Tropez. So for now, you’ll just have to imagine Pam and Kid Rock’s wedding décor (much classier than you’d expect) and the shockingly awful size of my arms (think not just “the size of thighs” but the size of multiple thighs) in sleeveless dresses I wore cardigan-less because I left my white cardigan at Pammy’s wedding reception.

The St. Tropez trip was better than expected, mostly because of the company of two freelancers. (We started calling ourselves the anti Charlie’s Angels). If I’d had to go to all these parties and clubs on my own, I might have gone crazy. Because there were few hotel rooms to be found, the three of us ended up sharing one room – and in the process of that and the reporting we spent so much time together that I practically felt bereft when I got back to London.

Worst, most St. Tropez pickup line: “What’s your name? I’ll name a yacht after you.” Unfortunately not uttered by the undeniably attractive Stavros Niarchos, but rather by a 45-year-old Danish businessman. I did not fall for it. (Upon hearing this line, my friend O. texted me: “So how’s the SS [my last name] today?” I am still giggling – though I did pause to wonder if this was some reference to my size. Sigh.)

And some numbers:

Cost of a glass of water at Les Caves du Roy at the Hotel Byblos: 24 euros.

Cost of a methusalah of Dom Perignon champagne at Les Caves: 30,000 euros (and club’s playing of Star Wars theme is free).

Total hours of sleep I got in five nights: 14

Number of times Paris Hilton offered me a joint in the Les Caves bathroom: 1

Number of assistants Diddy had hunting for the same diamond earring: 3

Number of times Diddy’s mom asked me where the Jacuzzi was: 1

Total number of women I saw with anything approximating a normal body fat percentage: 3.

Number of times French people bumped into me without saying "excuse me": Approximately 50.

Number of times I wished I could tell the Fig about it all: 6 (approx.)

Number of times I congratulated myself for having deleted his number from my mobile: 60 (approx.)

Average cost of white kaftan in St. Tropez boutiques: 400 euros.

Cost of the George of Asda white broderie anglaise dress I wore: 12 pounds.

Number of freelancers brave enough to wear white bath towels I took from the pool to Diddy's White Party, because they didn’t have anything else white: 2

Number of e-mails I got referring to me as the St. Tropez bureau chief: 1

Number of times a random guy in the parking lot flinched when we stopped him at 4 a.m. and asked him to take a picture of us posing a la Charlie’s Angels with the supersoaker we took from the White Party: 0.

Saturday, 29 July 2006

Hot to Trop

In three hours – at 4 a.m. – I head to St. Tropez. When I found out, I was in tears.

I don’t care how glamorous it sounds. It doesn’t matter where you are – 18 hours a day (the average you work when travelling, unless it’s a one-shot interview, which this isn’t) is not glamorous anywhere. Besides, I worked all of last weekend and this weekend I had a party to go to and then the Cartier polo on Sunday, which I’ve been looking forward to for months. I didn’t need to be hot to Trop until late Sunday night (though I was stressing out a bit about getting from the polo to the airport).

When the deputy bureau chief called me an hour ago, it wasn’t a question of whether I could go. It was: Get there. When the magazine gets in this mode, they steamroller all objections. But comp time (and they are stingy with it) and them paying for my unused polo ticket are not the same as time with friends and an event I’ve been wanting to go to since last year.

I want to get eight hours’ sleep (maybe more), go to my second ballet class, paint my toenails, pick up my contact lenses (they’ve already been sitting at the opticians’ for weeks), check out the very last of the sales, and go to a drinks party in west London. (And I want the Fig to call, and to be apologetic in that call, but hello, in my dreams.) I do not want to navigate St. Tropez, a place where I surely do not belong, and will feel it acutely at every moment.

I couldn’t think of whom to call at midnight here and 7 p.m. on the east coast on a Friday night, so I called my grandmother. I talk to her nearly every day, but I’ve never complained about my job to her, partly because she loves to hear about the glamour of it, and partly because the job is why I live in London, at least three thousand miles further away from her than she'd like.

“I guess you’d better send out some resumes,” she said.

“How can I send out resumes when I’m never even sure I’m going to ever be around actually to go meet with anyone?” I said. Then I said something I’ve never said aloud before: “This job is ruining my life.”

She said she didn’t know enough about the field, and then started telling me a story about she and her friend Connie and a trip to France they took in the mid 80s. Halfway through, I started to laugh.

“I knew I could lighten your mood,” she said triumphantly.

I’ve been speaking to her nearly every day for the past four years, but she’s never played the role she played tonight, and she was brilliant.

In conversation, I often refer to my grandma as one of my favorite people on the planet. It’s amazing how even after all this time there are still new reasons why to add to the list.

Thursday, 27 July 2006

To the Pointe

Tonight I did something I’ve been thinking about doing for years: I took a ballet class. (Cue image of Babar in pink tutu – it’s okay, that’s what’s been in my head, too.)

I took a ballet-inspired class at Canyon Ranch several years ago when I got sent there on assignment, but that doesn’t really count – it was in the can-do atmosphere of a spa. Tonight was an honest-to-goodness ballet class, barre and all (or should I say, barre none?)

I felt terribly conspicuous from the moment I walked in. I knew I would.

“Have you ever done ballet before?” asked Katarina The German Pixie.

“Um, well, there’s a video of me dancing the Waltz of Flowers somewhere, but it’s so old it must be the kind you can’t play anymore.” Cue stares from the four sylphs in the class.

I spent the next hour not bothering to try to remember which position is which – frankly, I’m not sure I ever knew -- and just trying to copy the person in front of me. I felt like the pixie was laughing at me the whole time, until I watched her demonstrate some steps and realized she's just one of those terribly smiley people who always looks like she's laughing. Still, I enjoyed the class.

I don’t know why I’ve had ballet on the brain for so many years. I was forced to take ballet, tap, and jazz at ages five and six – I liked tap the best, because it made noise – and I know I was thrilled when we moved to Florida, and my mother never got around to finding a new ballet school. (I didn’t realize it then – none of us did – but that must have been the beginning of her illness.)

All I can remember about my childhood ballet class – besides the wrist corsages my parents bought us for the recital – is that all I really wanted were pink ballet shoes, not the practical black ones my mother insisted on. My shoe habit is ruinous enough and I have a history of buying equipment for hobbies I only flirt with, so when I finished the class tonight I promised myself if I attend nine more, the pink ones are mine.

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

The Salad Days, Meta Edition

Last week I got a call from the magazine I once wrote a column for – the column that became a book – wanting to write an update on how I was doing. The timing was strange: A few weeks before, while in Spain, Julio’s publicist recognized me from my column, something that still happens (but continues to surprise me). At the same time as the Spain trip – and after more than a year – my name finally came up on the NHS waiting list (“the envy of the world” – ha!) for treatment for binge eating.

I agreed to talk with the writer, though I warned her that I don’t weigh myself anymore, let alone publish the number. She’s new to the magazine, and it was obvious from the first couple of minutes I spoke with her that she had never read my column, not even as research for an interview. (I’ve never dared to interview someone without reading their book / listening to their album / watching their film, and I’ve always been shocked when my subject is shocked that I have taken the time.) It was more difficult to answer her questions than I would have expected, mostly because it all ended five years ago.

All I really can remember now is endless Boca burgers (which I told the writer I’d never eat again) and baby carrots and cottage cheese (I might eat them separately, but rarely, and definitely never together). The two years I wrote the column are in the cardboard box full of unsorted photos in my head marked “Salad Days” – not so much for the greenery I consumed (though I did make a giant salad every week and keep it in Tupperware) but for all the crazy, often-un-column-related things my friends and I did during those years. Just last week in Cornwall I was reminiscing about a beach trip – Summer of My Zebra Print Halter Top (ok, a little column related – I wouldn’t have been wearing something like that if I hadn’t lost weight) – where my best friend and I had so much fun that as we drove home, we speculated that we’d never be able to go to that beach again because it would never be as much fun. We haven’t been back.

The writer seemed surprised to hear that I only keep the book in my flat in a language I don’t speak (Dutch), so I quickly explained that I can’t bear to read anything I’ve written. When I have to choose clips to send to anyone, I find reading my own work like pulling off hundreds of Band Aids quickly while a packed stadium’s worth of people scratch their fingers across a blackboard. (Hyperbole? Me? Nah.)

She asked me why I’d written it, and I told her about the publicist in Spain, the one who’d said: “I was glad you wrote the book – I always wondered what happened to you. And I wondered after the book, too.”

* * *

When I got off the phone with the writer, I Googled myself – something I rarely do: I hate reading my own work, and I long ago stopped reading reviews and comments about the book. For every 10 emails or blogs or reviews that liked my book, there’d be one really cruel, cutting comment, and that would be the one that would play in my head in an endless loop. The comment itself never bothered me nearly as much the sense I often got that the person had misunderstood – or in some cases, had gotten the facts totally wrong. Not that I think nobody can criticize My Preshus Book – just that some of facts on which some people had built their incredibly vitriolic cases were just wrong. But you can’t go e-mailing everyone who writes something nasty or wrong trying to set them straight, can you?

Last week, I did. I read a blog with an entry titled “I Am [Beth],” where she talked about her inability to stop eating after doing long training runs for a marathon. “I Am [Beth],” she wrote at one point. “And that kinda sucks.” She talked about how I binged on doughnuts and then wondered why I wasn’t losing any weight. One of her commenters wrote that she used to see my column and think “Why doesn’t she just lose the weight, especially since she’s profiled in a big magazine.” (As I wrote at the close of the column, I so wished that losing weight in such a public way would have kept me on track – that’s why I did it in the first place – but it didn’t.) Neither the post nor the comment are the worst things I’ve ever read about myself, but something in me snapped. I have never binged on doughnuts, something I wrote in an anonymous comment, though it’s clear the commenter is me. (I would have e-mailed the blogger, but there was no link.) And I never once wondered when I was bingeing and running why I wasn’t losing weight – I don’t even think an ultramarathon could have kept me from gaining with some of my binges.

To my surprise (I’ll resist saying, “to her credit!”), she put up a post saying she was embarrassed she hadn’t double checked her facts, and that although the previous post tone was haughty, she’d been a big fan of the book. I’m trying to resist e-mailing the commenter…

I've Been to London to See the Queen (Her House, Anyway)

Yesterday, in the middle of trying to crash a story on the Middle East crisis and another on Colin Farrell (how’s that for multi-tasking?), I got to go to a private opening of the staterooms at Buckingham Palace.

I loved it. Because they’re not yet open to tourists, and because few self-respecting Brits would go to that sort of thing, I had the rooms almost to myself. I could look at portraits of royals (like the Winterhalter ones of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) that I’ve only seen in books. I could stand at the top of grand staircases and look down without anyone jostling me. I stood in the courtyard imagining carriages pulling up the grand entrance in the 19th century. Then I stood before the thrones in John Nash’s awe-inspiring throne room, examined the ceiling of the room where Prince Charles and then Prince William were baptized, and listened as someone from the “F division” – food division – explained how they used rulers to set the table precisely and (my favorite factette) that menus were sent up to the Queen in French. Apparently she’s very good at French, and can spot any error.

If I hadn’t desperately needed to use my phone (see “crash a story”) – and you can’t in the palace – I might have stayed for hours.

Sunday, 23 July 2006

More Than Words Can Say

After six days of sun and fun (and wine) in Cornwall – more on that in a future post – I came home Wednesday night to do something I never thought I’d actually have to do: Write the inscription that will appear on my mother’s tombstone.

She died nearly three years ago, and the lack of a marker on her grave has been a family flashpoint. My grandmother – my mother’s mother – doesn’t think she should have to do it (and I agree) and I won’t get into all the theories I've come up with for why my father won't just get on with it. When I’ve brought up the subject in the past he asks for “suggestions” – his way of telling you that he is not going to do it unless you make the first move and then nag the heck out of him. I am the writer in the family, and as an inscription undeniably involves words, this is his way of pretending that he is doing it; he’s just delegated it. (Less than 12 hours after she died, I had to write her obituary, but that was because he didn’t think she needed to have one in the paper. The experience remains one of the most excruciating of my life. I don’t remember crying too much when I called friends to say she had died, but it took me more than a half hour to get through less than 100 words about her on the telephone with a stranger. And then they have to read it back to you to make sure it’s accurate!)

I never thought I’d actually have to write the tombstone inscription, though. Partly because it’s just not something I ever thought about anyone having to do (don’t you just check the boxes for “mother,” “daughter,” etc., fill in the years and the name and…?), and partly because it’s gone undone for so long (three years in December) I couldn’t imagine at what point it would become urgent. But somehow – maybe because my sister’s getting married; or maybe, more boringly, because I sometimes have these flashes of wanting to clear out my “to do” lists – it is.

With a family history as checkered as ours, it takes a surprisingly long time to write the less than 10 words that will appear – and that probably only we (my sister, father, grandmother and me) will ever read. In what order do we put “mother, daughter, wife?” (I have my own opinions.) Then there’s my problem with “dearly loved,” which sounds like the tombstone equivalent of words that you’d never speak; only write. (When’s the last time you said you “dearly loved” your mother?) So “much loved”? Then who knew (I didn’t until I started Googling) there was actually a reason to the symbols that appear on Jewish tombstones: women get a candle; men a Star of David? A broken branch means someone who died young. Is 61 considered young? Probably not for the purposes of this, but it certainly seems so to me.

Wednesday, 12 July 2006

Who Gives a Fig?

I haven’t kept a proper journal since before I moved to London, and even when I kept one it was in fits and starts. Occasionally – very occasionally, because how many times can one pore over one’s own angst? – I used to read them and wonder if I should destroy them, because anyone coming across them would have to think how whiny and solipsistic I was. That’s because the journals would always stop abruptly just when things got interesting – either good or bad.

So I’m committing at least the outlines of the Fig to paper, if only because I feel like I ought to force myself to do things like this every once in a while. And because only a week ago I was on a dizzying high that now seems like a distant memory.

He’d e-mailed while I was in Spain, saying he’d bought me a “bloody silly present” (I loved the idea of the present, as much as the phrase “bloody silly present.”) That was when I stopped worrying about when I’d see him again – clearly he thought he’d see me again, even if he hadn’t clued me in on that yet. Later, he said he was heading to a stag ‘do (= bachelor party) in Dublin that weekend. From the airport came the call that made me decide the bloom was off the Fig.

I was sure he knew I was angry, but maybe not. On the Fourth came a one-line e-mail wishing me a happy “we-beat-the-Brits day.” I ignored it. An hour later came another e-mail, telling me I was awfully quiet and asking for a reporting-related favor. Because so many reporters have been so crummy to me (and because every once in a while someone is unbelievably generous), I am a big fan of attempting to put karma back into the world – if something is going to take me less than 15 minutes and doesn’t compromise my own reporting, I will help just about anyone. So I got the document he needed. In the course of sending brusque e-mails back and forth about the document, he mentioned he was being lazy and asking the first American he knew – not something I wanted to hear on a Tuesday, deadline day, from someone who really had little business asking me for a favor in the first place.

He called Wednesday to say thank you. We chatted briefly. I’m terrible at confrontation, but I decided to give it a shot. I said, in a half-joking tone, “When someone’s doing you a favor you might not want to let them know it’s just because you’re being lazy.”

This led to a conversation about a couple of other things, from which I figured out he had no idea I was annoyed on Saturday. After a couple of (wrong) guesses, he wouldn’t let me tell him exactly what it was that annoyed me – he told me to e-mail it to him so he could cringe in private. (I didn’t.) He also told me to e-mail him my address.

“Why?” I said.

“Because I’m clearly in the doghouse and I’m not going to see you,” he said.

I paused and said tentatively, “Well, I’d kind of like to see you.” (So much for The Rules.)

He said, “Well, I’d like to see you, too.”

There were a few more minutes of conversation – in which he accidentally called me “darling” – and we hung up. On Thursday I got an e-mail from him that closed: “See you in 57 hours” – from which ensued a ridiculous, dizzying countdown. I returned to adding rooms to my castles on air and polishing the hall of mirrors.

You could say there was nowhere to go but down, and in fact that’s where things went. Saturday night was bad enough, and Sunday morning – on the phone; hello, on Saturday we were walking as far from each other as possible while staying on the same sidewalk! – was worse. (I’ll save details for a future post, as this one is already long enough.) We haven’t spoken since.

For the record, the Fig was so named because his surname includes the word “fig” and the first time I thought he disappeared, I tried to joke to a friend, “Who gives a fig?” (Unfortunately, I did – and still do.) But figment of my imagination in terms of boyfriend potential – see comments for the previous post – seems sadly apt.

Sunday, 2 July 2006

The Bloom Is Off the Fig

Days like yesterday remind me of the movie Kissing Jessica Stein. Not because I’m about to give up on men and try playing for the other team, but because of how well I think the film captured that tiny little moment where you suddenly decide you like someone (Jessica warms to Helen suddenly, when Helen uses the word “marinate”) – or in my case, suddenly begin to think maybe, just maybe, you might not. Or at least, that my (admittedly overactive) imagination was dead wrong when it filled in all the blanks on the person.

It’s the Fig on my voicemail, shortly after noon. The Fig does not call. Like most British men, and most men in general, he prefers texts. But he’s missed his flight to Dublin by two minutes (they closed boarding) and is really annoyed.

I call back an hour later – I was having lunch with a friend. He curses repeatedly, and I try to be sympathetic. He tells me I’m one of three people he called. As we said in elementary school, I feel special.

We chat and he insists on “translating” several English phrases for me, something I have repeatedly told him is not necessary (never mind wanted). I tell him I know what they mean, and if I don’t, I’ll ask him. He says he doesn’t trust me to do that. Um, what-the-f?

He only wants to talk about whether the conception of baby Suri involved a turkey baster, and whether George Clooney is, as he puts it, “ambidextrous.” Ugh. He doesn’t believe me that Footballers’ Wives is shown on BBC America because it is an ITV show. He starts talking about how there’s really no jetlag when you fly from the US – a statement I resist touching because it is wrong and stupid on so many levels. Never mind that he’s been to the US exactly once, more than 15 years ago.

He has to go and sort out his boarding pass and I make a joke about drunken texting from the over-the-top birthday party I am attending in the evening – drunken texting being part of a long-running joke, if indeed anything can be called long-running when you’ve known someone for three weeks. He pauses and says, “You do what you like,” and starts some explanation about roaming fees (which cannot possibly be more than a pound for a text message) for why he won’t respond. I absolutely loathe cheapness – I think there’s a certain parsimony of spirit that comes with it. And who likes being told – as essentially he just has – exactly how little your company is worth?

I can feel the ice creeping into my voice. I can't stop it and am not sure I want to. "Have fun," I say. "I'll speak to you when you get back." I can tell he knows I'm irritated but probably isn't sure why.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, 1 July 2006

You Say Potato

In my old job, I used to joke about how many hours of productivity were lost as we all scurried into each other’s offices, trying to glean what the boss really meant in his terse e-mails (some of them maybe a sentence fragment long)! But that’s nothing compared to the energy single women expend trying to decipher e-mails, texts, and even actual conversations with men – entire countries could be powered.

At the moment I’m dealing with a British man who’s perhaps as much an Americanophile (is that a word?) as I’m an Anglophile. He loves American slang (whereas I prefer English English, preferably said in his posh accent). He’s only been to the U.S. once (two days in New York when he was 18) but last year he wrote an article arguing for the greatness of America – that “they trust you there and they’re pragmatic.” (Ha.) Yesterday I shattered his illusions and told him that a bunch of the things he thought existed there – supermarket bag boys (and courteous ones!), two domestic first class mail stamps equals one overseas one, right turns on red, passing on the right and left, valet parking – are not ubiquitous. (And maybe I’ve been gone too long, but when were you ever supposed to pass on the right?)

His ideas of the U.S. – including his ideas of “dating” (a concept that literally does not exist in England) – come entirely from books, TV, newspapers, and his family’s 35-plus-years-old experience (they lived in Chicago for a few years before he was born). So I can’t even begin to interpret half the stuff he says or does: Is he being English, male, faux American, thick, infuriating, or some combination of the five?

I haven’t seen him since this, when he told me at the end of the evening that he couldn’t make any plans until he had a medical problem that’s making him incredibly tired and irritable sorted out – but there’s no guarantee about when this will be sorted out. We were exchanging emails every day, but after more than a week of that, I did start to wonder if I was ever going to have an offscreen conversation with him again. Then while I was in Spain I got an email from him saying he’d bought me a “bloody silly present” (love that phrase) because it made him laugh and referred to a ongoing strand of the conversation. Hmm, I thought. Well, I guess he assumes we're going to see each other again.

Yesterday I got an email saying he was heading to a stag ‘do (bachelor party) in Ireland, and did I want to meet up next week when he was back. I wrote back saying I wasn’t trying to be coy – yes, I have learned the hard way that British men have ridiculously fragile egos – but that I was busy all next week (true) and it would have to be on the weekend or the week after. I was promptly slayed by two female British colleagues (as the only single person in the office, my life acts as soap opera if I allow it), who said: “What could you possibly be doing all week?” I told them I don’t break plans for men – a sentiment most of my American female friends would understand – and they were horrified. “Can’t you rearrange?” they wondered. Well, no.

Let’s hope the Fig’s (aka the Guy’s -- nickname to be explained if there actually are any future posts about him to warrant it) reading of Americana is sufficiently broad enough to include The Rules.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

A Tan for All Seasons

Every time I think maybe I need to find a new career, I have a day that makes me remember why I do what I do. (And makes me remember that yes, I do love what I do – I just don’t always like where, as in publication, I do it.)

Today I interviewed Julio Iglesias – Joe Church, as my father always insisted on referring to him when my mother played his music in the car. I’d read about 50 interviews with him in preparation, and I was half-dreading a leering Lothario with a permatan – all the female reporters made reference to his attempts at flirtation and his outrageous comments about sex. I could take it personally that he didn’t do that with me, but I think it’s that he hasn’t given an interview in years and his life has changed since the days that he did. He’s been with the same woman for more than 15 years, and he has four kids under the age of ten. The permatan is still there, but that seems to be the only vestige of his old life.

Julio is hardly cool, but still I felt lucky to be having this experience – the Marbella sun shining down as Julio drove me in a golf cart through his acres of plum, almond, and fig trees that seem to stretch all the way to Africa. I spoke slowly in Spanish to his kids and later, sipped a great Bordeaux from Julio’s legendary wine cellars while we ate Serrano ham and Manchego cheese served by a butler. When my notebook was closed, he spoke with surprising intelligence and spirit about politics, customs, and poverty in Asia and Africa – his wry comment about celebrities being shown extreme poverty from air conditioned cars belying his knowledge of the situation.

Later, as I took a quick walk down toward the rocky beach by my hotel, I thought wistfully about the gulf between the story I’d love to write and the one that will actually appear in print. For as long as I’ve been a journalist, of course there’s always been a gulf between the perfect, evocative story I aspire to when I sit down to write, and the words that actually come out. But the divide at my current employer is particularly difficult and dispiriting to contemplate, because it’s the divide between the story I saw and the one that fits in a glib 600 words, with as many references to young Hollywood A-listers as possible. Put it this way: He spoke philosophically about why he’s been afraid to sing in English – a man who’s compared to Elvis and Sinatra in terms of record sales, nervous about releasing an album -- and why he’s ditched many of his excesses. It was an interesting way to spend a Wednesday in June, but in my employers’ eyes, unfortunately, it is going to be deemed boring.

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Return to Sender

I thought it was an urban myth: The E-mail That Was Sent That Didn’t Arrive But Didn’t Bounce Back Either (cue appropriate orchestral swelling). I especially thought it was a myth when it came to men – something people (OK, sometimes me) tried to use when instead we should have just accepted: "Hey, he’s just not that into you."

But I have actual proof that there are lost emails floating around in cyberspace.

Today, literally as I was trying to compose the appropriately casual email to The Guy about whether we were on for this evening (having wrestled with the issue of whether to write at all and decided I had to give it a shot) came an email from The Guy himself about… whether we were on for this evening.

Not 15 minutes into the evening, he asked me a question where the answer was something I had written him in my last email – the one he hadn’t responded to. His memory is even scarier than mine, so I found it surprising that he wouldn’t remember something I’d written him only a few days ago. I answered his question and said something like, "As I told you in my email." He looked blank, and so I asked if he remembered something else I’d written in that same email. He didn’t.

"I never got that email," he said. "When did you send it?"

I told him, and we both started laughing about wondering what each of us had said that the other had found so offensive to prompt radio silence on both ends.

(Question for Reading Groups: Is it a good thing or a bad thing that I’ve met someone who’s apparently as paranoid as I am? Discuss.)

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

When Everything Feels Like the Movies

I usually describe myself as a cynic, but at heart I am an optimist. How else to explain how I can be crushed so badly in affairs of the heart and – maybe not that week or month or year, but someday – hope and daydream on such a grand scale yet again. At what point do I learn? At what point do I stop doing this to myself?

Thursday night I went out with a guy who was so cute I could hardly concentrate on what he was saying but so clever and funny that I had to. We lingered on a street corner by Sloane Square, both surprised by how late it was but how fast the time had gone. When I got home, I was so giddy I couldn’t sleep. I thought about calling friends in the US – it would have been early enough there – but I didn’t. I wanted to hug it to myself for a little while.

Over the next couple of days I told a couple of friends, mindful that I didn’t want to have too many people asking about it when it all went (inevitably) pear-shaped. But I built the castles on air anyway, bolstered by how frequently we were speaking (very frequently).

We agreed to meet up tomorrow night, but no time or place. I haven’t heard from him since Sunday. This has happened to me once before – the choice of a day to meet but then… nothing. As in, nothing ever again. Radio silence. (Until I did the totally undignified thing – you can always count on me to do the undignified thing, particularly if I’ve had a drink or two and am anywhere near my phone, which is always – and tried to find out what the hell was going on.)

Obviously I could hear from this guy tomorrow, but I just don’t think so. This from someone whose email to me on Sunday included the phrase “…which is one reason why I’m looking forward to Wednesday."

I spent all of today at Ascot getting sunburned, checking my blackberry and phone for messages from him, picking over the most recent things I said to him, and wondering how the hell I managed to screw this one up already. I don’t want to spend tomorrow looking hopefully for a message from him, and the next couple of weeks picking over it and wondering if I should contact him, but knowing perfectly well that you can’t make these things happen. I want to wake up and have it be a month from now, maybe longer. I don’t want to hope anymore.

Friday, 9 June 2006

Is It Any Wonder?

Like acne (and about as attractive), bursting into tears at my desk is one of those things I really wish I’d grow out of.

But I am tired, disgusted, and just generally burned out.

I am tired of the hours, tired of the telephone calls at all hours, tired of the expectation that I will always be checking my Blackberry, and tired of the stupid and generally insulting questions (sometimes to one’s intelligence and usually to one’s ability to do the job one was hired to do) sent by editors in New York. I am tired of being told things by PR people that are total and complete lies, from when the information I have requested might arrive to the actual information itself. I am tired of having to call 47 times (not an exaggeration) for something I have been promised, and being made to feel each time that I am asking for something totally unreasonable.

I am tired of having to be polite to people who say such complete and total BS as that given an ENTIRE MONTH, a person – and not the leader of a country or someone on the first response team of a major disaster, mind you – does not have time to answer one e-mail containing one question, and it isn’t even a question that requires much thought. I am also tired of having to call or email a PR person almost every day of that f**king month to inquire politely about the status of my request, both because I need some idea of whether I need a backup plan (hello, stupid – OF COURSE you need a backup plan; you’re dealing with PR people, and they lie for a living and get paid a whole hell of a lot better than you do for their efforts) and because of editors in NY (see rant in preceding paragraph). I am tired of having to carry on being polite to PR people who clearly do not give me much courtesy, let alone anything approaching the same courtesy. If there is no chance in hell I am going to get what I’m asking for, can you just tell me on the first day and not make me carry out this elaborate charade (and elaborate waste of time) for an entire month or six?

I am really, really, really tired.

I am also on weekend duty.

Wednesday, 7 June 2006

The Best Editor's Sidenote I've Ever Seen

He said f**ked - can we say screwed?

Monday, 5 June 2006

I Can Still Paint the Town the Colour of Your Evening Gown

For me, one of the most frustrating parts of my job is how many hours I can spend trying to find what seems like a relatively innocuous bit of information – and worse, often come up empty handed.

It’s not breaking Watergate or anything, but sometimes you have to make so many phone calls that finding out that, say, the white wine in someone’s glass was pinot grigio (as opposed to chardonnay, pinot blanc, etc.) feels like a major breakthrough.

You laugh. For every day spent sitting poolside at a Portuguese palace doing an interview or swanning around a celebrity party is about 50 zillion faxes, phone calls, emails, and enough general logistical ridiculousness to make the 19th century Russian army (and OK, early 20th century, too) look like a well-oiled machine. And you thought we just sat around and made this stuff up. I wish.

Consider today: The girlfriend of a royal was out and about this weekend at a ball in an evening gown. Besides the questions about what she and her boyfriend did that evening, there is: Who designed the gown? (Sounds like this should take about five minutes, right? Ha.)

As the girlfriend of a royal, not only does she not have a spokesperson of her own, but the royals’ spokespeople will not comment on anything having to do with her as they don’t comment on the royals’ private lives. So no help there.

10:12 a.m.: Look on ball web site and try to email press guy, but email bounces back. Email sponsorship guy and ask for help reaching press guy.

10:23 a.m.: Realize one of organizers of ball is someone I spoke with for a Time story ages ago. He’s a guy, so his chances of knowing the designer are low, but maybe he’ll know something. Dig out his number and the minute he hears the girlfriend’s name he slams shut (very common with royals reporting). Dead end. He offers to put me in touch with the guy doing press for the ball, though.

10.39 a.m.: Call press guy from ball, who has the poshest voice I’ve ever heard in my life. Mobile connection is terrible and he says he’ll call back from his land line.

10.45 a.m.: Morning meeting, a ritual I loathe, as everyone seems to need to add in his or her own two cents on every single topic of the day. Rarely get out of there in less than a half hour.

11:20 a.m.: Press guy from ball has left a message, and now I call him back. Ask a few polite questions about the ball, the charity, and then drop in the first question concerning the royals. Again a brick wall. Make a joke about men and fashion and whether he’d know anything about the gown. He doesn’t bite.

11:50 a.m.: Make a few inquiries at shops girlfriend is known to frequent, but press people – not keen to lose a customer – are not forthcoming. Cannot rule out any of these shops as source of dress, either, as press people have annoying habit of refusing to confirm or deny anything. Sigh. Call a couple of editors at fashion glossies in case one of them recognizes it -- a long shot, as girlfriend doesn't wear the sort of flashy expensive gowns that lodge themselves in the brain.

12.27 p.m.: Idly click through pictures of the ball on media server – meaning I can see all the pictures the photographers submitted, as opposed to just the ones that ran in the newspapers. Notice that one of the girls sitting with girlfriend is an up-and-coming fashion designer. She does not do evening gowns that I know of, but it is as good an opening line as any…

12:53 p.m.: Dig through phone numbers acquired from various London Fashion weeks and finally find her PR person. Not ideal, as relaying questions through a press person is like playing Telephone, and anyway, there's no chance of catching anyone off guard. Debate calling the number listed as her studio as surely it's a rather small operation and someone might just hand the phone over to her. Call the studio and she answers herself. Hurrah! Does she do evening gowns? Well, she does do some evening pieces. Might the dress be one of hers? “No, I wish, but she mentioned she bought it at [well-known and very posh London shop].” Progress.

1:09 p.m.: Call posh London shop, almost certain they will be of no help when they hear who it was that wore the gown. (Plan B is going to the shop myself to have a look, something I so do not have time for today, especially because the shop is rather large.) Call four times until I get someone I don’t recognize, as perhaps he will not be steeped in the culture of nonresponse yet. He does not end the conversation when I say the gown's owner – instead asks me to send over a JPEG.

3:47 p.m.: He emails back the name of the designer. Call appropriate department and get price of gown, and saleswoman helpfully tells me they have one left in a size medium. No, thank you, I don't need you to hold it so I can try it on.

Hang up phone triumphantly. Victory. How sad is it that that’s the word I use for it?

Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Five Reasons I'm Paid for Words, Not Pictures

I know, I know, I should use Flickr or something. But I'm still getting used to the whole blog thing, OK?

view of Monaco and the sea from the palace hill

fireworks at the Monaco Grand Prix Ball

Wyclef Jean, the ball's host

Bono, Jay Z, Petra Nemcova, and Wyclef

Dawn in Monaco, from the yacht where the after after (not a typo) party was

Monday, 29 May 2006

Films, Films Everywhere and Not a Moment to Watch

Back from Cannes and Monaco, a blur of parties and celebrities and sighting and yachts and (failed) attempts to prevent my hair from frizzing and my feet from killing. How crazy was Cannes? I did not manage to see a single film, and unlike 2004 (the last time I was in Cannes, when Brad and Angelina and Jen were all in one place at the same time), I didn’t even have to contend with what my employer would consider major breaking news. Though in a neat bit of synergy, Brangelina spawn arrived on Saturday night. One of my favorite lines of the festival goes to Robin Williams, at the amfAR dinner, trying to spur bidding of an item north of $60,000: “One picture of Angelina Jolie’s kid and you can buy this!”

I’ve already had to file nearly everything I saw for my employer (though some miniscule fraction will reach print), so unfortunately by now it all has the feeling of a story already told. A few superlatives:

Moment I Felt Most Thrilled to Have My Job: When surprise guest Bono turned up with Jay Z in tow at the Grand Prix Ball in Monaco. Bono joined ball host Wyclef Jean for a rendition of “Redemption Song” – and I actually got it on my Dictaphone. Yes, I’m going to be good and not upload it to the Internet (though I might download it to my iPod.)

Moment I Felt Least Thrilled to Have My Job: Having my ATM card grabbed out of uncooperative cash point by angry non-English-speaking Monaco taxi driver who thought I was trying to stiff him the 180 euro fare from Monaco back to Cannes. (This was also at 8:30 a.m., after a night that included the ball, an afterparty, and an after after party on a yacht so big you had to take a tender to get to it.)

Favorite Random Celeb Sighting: Harvey Weinstein waiting in line behind me to get into the amfAR dinner.

Runner up: Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater having drinks at a restaurant called Pepperoni. Yes, Pepperoni. In Cannes, France.

Second Runner up: The Duchess of York and daughter Princess Beatrice in the front row of first class on my flight from Nice to London. Fergie had her shoes off and was wiggling her toes, which unfortunately made me unable to stop thinking about a certain infamous toe-sucking incident (and unable to stop giggling).

(For sake of comparison, my favorite random celeb moment from Cannes 2004 was at a dinner for Kevin Bacon, where I ended up standing in line next to him for the bathroom and he asked, “What brings you here? I mean, not here [meaning the line] but to Cannes?”)

Story Lede Never Gonna Be Published: “amFAR 2006: No Elton, no Liz [Elizabeth Taylor], no goodie bag.” (The lede actually published is too unbearable to reprint.)

From the It's A Small World Department: In the crush to be fingerprinted (well, not quite, but the security was pretty tight) getting in to Dolce & Gabbana's Studio 54 party, being tapped on the arm by an English girl and asked if I'd covered the Olympics this year. I recognized her immediately -- she was the Milan-based friend of the 25-year-old reporter with whom I'd had a little Olympics fling. Um, hi. Nice to see you. Um, yeah. Definitely tell him I said hi. Or something like that.

Other random moments: Police escorts taking us to amFAR dinner because the traffic was so bad; seeing Robert Downey Jr. playfully give the finger to some photographers; Robert Downey Jr. DJ’ing at Nikki Beach at the Carlton Hotel; being unable to figure out how to address the Duchess of York and therefore avoiding addressing her directly, the way I do when I meet someone’s parents (and then finding out our royals correspondent isn’t sure how to address her either); realizing it was the theme to “Chariots of Fire” playing in the bathrooms at the Palais; asking Rosario Dawson what designer she was wearing and her having to ask her rep who then had to call her stylist (so much free clothing, so little time…); seeing Petra Nemcova with serious VPL (apparently even models have trouble with undergarments); asking Cannes juror Samuel L. Jackson how the festival was going and him grabbing me by the arm, gesturing to the yacht we were on, and saying: “We’re on a yacht. How bad could it be going?” My thoughts – at that moment, anyway – exactly.

* * *

I headed back to London about a half a day earlier than I’d intended. Though I’d been invited to a Grand Prix party in Monaco, honestly, I couldn’t bear the thought of it. So I changed my flight, deliberately leaving enough time to check out the Hotel Negresco in Nice. My grandmother stayed there years ago with my grandfather, and she’s mentioned it several times. It was inexplicably important to me to see it -- when my sister was coming to Cannes in 2004, we’d planned to go and get a drink there, but my grandmother was in the hospital and my sister went to Miami instead. And I ended up leaving Cannes early that year, and in a rush.

The Negresco was turn of the century and right on the seafront. I was relieved that it was well-maintained and beautiful – shut down years ago I could have handled, faded glamour I’m sure would have reduced me to tears.

The hotel has portraits of French royals, an art Nouveau ceiling, period furniture, and even old-style bathroom fittings. Small signs explained the significance of various pieces; everywhere a ghost. I was sure I could see my grandmother in a white summer dress and my grandfather in a dinner jacket, coming down the staircase on their way to the bar. Later, I realized the image in my head actually was from a 1950s era snapshot from a cruise that’s been sitting on top of my grandmother’s dresser for as long as I can remember.