Friday, 28 April 2006

A Sense of Scale

Thanks to a couple of friends in crisis, an art private viewing followed by enough white wine for me to still be regretting it, and the London premiere of Mission: Impossible 3 (with five plus hours of waiting in the press pen for my four minutes with Tom Cruise, definitely the least glamorous part of my week), I have gotten about 15 hours of sleep total since Monday. So maybe that (and the lack of anything resembling spring) is to blame for my gloomy outlook:

I lost another 4 pounds this week, which I think is partially my new scale trying to get in good with me. I still don’t trust it. Nor do I trust myself with it – every time I see it I want to get on it, just to check. And double check.

Which is slightly ludicrous because I have been at this point before, and I know that I find the numbers at least as frustrating as I find them reassuring. I look at them and wonder why nothing fits differently – the sort of reinforcement I really need.

I know, I know – it’s barely been 2.5 weeks. But I have two seven-hour plane trips in a three-day period followed by a very stressful deadline, then a weekend of what an old colleague of mine used to call Occasions for Sin, followed by my own Occasion for Sin (birthday), followed by the Cannes film festival, for which champagne is a food group, ice cream is the only thing you can grab without waiting on line for hours, and PR types – apparently indoctrinated with the mantra that hungry journalists write grumpier reviews than full ones -- attempt to tame the braying media beast with all manner of treats.

I hate looking at life as events to be gotten through diet unscathed, as opposed to just events, some of which are even supposed to be fun.

Saturday, 22 April 2006

Dead Weight

Today I schlepped 1.58 miles to the Argos – think Service Merchandise meets Kmart pre-attempt-at-trendiness – to buy a scale.

I have never owned a scale. I’ve always used the ones at the gym, or not used one at all. But I just switched gyms last week and didn’t see a scale in the locker room.

I researched scales on the Internet. I price-shopped. I walked past pubs filled with rowdy Arsenal fans who’d been drinking since 9 a.m. to get to the Argos. I waited on line to pay, then to pick up my package.

When I got it home, the scale didn’t work.

Friday, 21 April 2006

Whites of Passage

Wednesday night, in a fit of temporary insanity, I agreed to fly 4,000 miles next weekend to help my sister choose a wedding gown.

I hate shopping with my sister. Our tastes are different – she likes all things lacy, embellished and fussy and knows I don’t, yet persists on asking questions like, “But would you wear it?” She is a single-digit size, yet will buy something that is, in my opinion, unflatteringly tight rather than take a size up.

And that’s not the worst part. If I could lose an ounce for every time she asked the question “Are you sure it doesn’t make me look fat?” I’d be looking heroin chic in an hour, tops. She needs endless reassurance (that it’s not ugly, that she’s not ugly, that…). And she can have buyer’s remorse at Old Navy, so I can only imagine how she’ll be with what likely will be the most photographed, most expensive dress she will ever own.

Have I mentioned I hate shopping with my sister?

But she’s my twin (and only) sister, I’m the maid of honor, and, as she keeps saying mournfully, “We don’t have a mother.” I am pained by the smallest things – like my friend’s mother arriving in town last weekend and taking charge of the chaos in my friend’s life in that briskly efficient way only mothers can – so I hardly can mock my sister’s melodrama on this one. But last night, as she started to proffer yet another invitation to the pity party, I considered reminding her that Mom had bad-bordering-on-awful taste in clothes and could be very cheap. If you asked her how something looked, she immediately would ask: “How much does it cost?” My mother would never ever sanction the purchase of the sort of designer wedding gown my sister is considering, and I bet it would have been a source of tension for months. My sister always has been a label snob, so much so that in middle school my mother used to tease my sister that she was going to punish her by only taking her shopping at Kmart. (Obviously this was before all those stores became purveyors of cheap, trendy clothes – though my sister still will not buy clothes at any of them.)

I think that – besides guilt – the other reason I was so easily convinced to undertake this lunatic trip is because the wedding has this feel of unreality about it. I live 4,000 miles away and I have met my brother-in-law-to-be exactly once, when I was jetlagged and when he and my sister had been dating for about six weeks. I don’t know things like where he went to school and how old he is and whether he has a sense of humor and whether he knows we have to have mashed potatoes as well as sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving because my sister used to hate sweet potatoes.

I have not seen my sister’s engagement ring, and nor have I seen his stuff commingled with my sister’s in her apartment, which is now their apartment. Her conversation is full of references to family members of his I don’t know, but who, she keeps reminding me, will be family members of hers. She also talks only in “we’s” – meaning she and the fiancĂ©. I find each “we” as jarring as the one before it – after all, for 30 years when she said “we” the other half was me.

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

I Spoke to Soon

Just minutes after I finished the last line of the previous this.

It's going to be a very long night.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Posts, Interrupted

Is it possible that after at least seven (temporarily) successful diets, hours of obsessing, hundreds of journal pages, a few dozen articles and a book on the subject that now that I’m on my eighth diet I have finally run out of things to say?

Hmmm. Probably not. (Though whether I still have interesting things to say – if indeed I ever had them – is another story.)

I lost 8 pounds this week, though don’t think I managed to diminish my own joy in that by (a) agonizing about whether I’d really lost anything because my “start” weight was from an evening weigh-in, and (b) every time I went to the bathroom today, noticing new things about my body I didn’t like, and kicking myself for not noticing/paying more attention to them on the way up.

I started several posts this week: One about my surprise in finding, after all these years of diet-reading and article-writing, one point on that I hadn’t already come across: “If the bread isn’t worth it without butter, then why bother?” Another was a whiny one about how dieting is like fact-checking – you rarely get credit for the things you do correctly, but the few things you get wrong definitely come back to haunt you. (This was about my fear that though I’d passed up chocolate eggs and dessert as Easter lunch, I’d still had a couple of other indulgences.) A third was about how frustrating it is – and how frustrated I am with myself –to have gotten to this point again, and for the fact that no matter how well things go in the next few weeks and months, I will still be overweight for events for which I wish I wasn’t.

Why didn’t I finish any of the posts? I’m not really sure. Although I’ve had my usual first-week-of-the-diet endless calculating of what weight and size I might be by what date, I have not had my usual first-week-of-diet “having a diet is incompatible with having a social life” grumpiness. I’m not sure how – and I’m sure future posts may deal with trying to distill the essence – but I haven’t obsessed about the food this week. Buying hummus and fruit, packing lunch – it’s been more like brushing my teeth, as in, no matter what else is going on in my life, I do it.

* * *

I’ve got miles to go before I sleep tonight, as I’m running the bureau through the close of the magazine early tomorrow morning. (Maybe that’s why I didn’t finish the posts – too much to do...) Running the bureau is like babysitting, only the kids are a whole lot less cute and the parents (editors) are a whole lot more demanding.

Fingers crossed that there are no arrivals from Planet Zorg, or, um, Namibia between now and about 6 a.m. EST…

Saturday, 15 April 2006

Playing the Changes For All of the Boys

Even after living in England for 3.5 years, I still have these moments of feeling like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.

Usually it comes after hanging out with O. and his friends, the sort of posh (or would-be posh) Oxford/Cambridge types I thought only existed in books. It’s a world I can only glimpse from the outside, because truly to be a part of it you have to be born into it, or at least to have gone to one of those universities, because their entire lives pivot on the Oxbridge axis. Not that they talk about university – that would be gauche – but all of their friends are from those days. Their significant others are, too – I said to O. last night that their world is like two concentric circles moving in opposite directions at random speeds, and when the music stops you look at the person in front of you and say: “Oh, right. Haven’t shagged you yet.” O. – who two weeks ago literally set up his best friend with his ex, with the explanation: “They’re both single” – laughed and said, “You’re right.”

Last night after O. and I went to the theatre we met up with his friend M. for dinner. I mostly just listened as the two of them leapfrogged from Paris vs. London architecture (amazingly, managing not to sound pretentious) to Thatcher to Iran to… which women are “fit” and whether O’s friend has managed to shag his ex to personal information about women they’ve shagged that I’m sure these women would be horrified if anyone else knew. Midway through some of the most revolting bits of the laddish conversation (which frankly, I secretly love to hear, though cannot bear the thought of myself being talked about that way), M. said: “Parsnips.”

“Parsnips?” I said, checking the boxing match on television for clues.

“I need parsnips to go with the beef I bought for lunch tomorrow. J. [his flatmate] invited Hermione and Lotte round,” he said.

M. is not a foodie, and he doesn’t particularly like to cook. But he proceeded to explain to me where to buy meat in London – not at the supermarkets, and Selfridges is actually cheaper than whatever the name is of the best butcher they have down the road -- and how, if you buy a good enough piece of meat, you don’t need to be a particularly good cook. He imparted all of this information in a tone that implied that it wasn’t a great tip – it was just something that everyone in London knew, like that you stand on the right side of the escalator on the Tube.

* * *

Sometimes in England I revel in my American-ness, becoming almost a caricature of myself. Because I am American, people will understand why I, say, speak to people I don’t know at parties without having been introduced. I can ask comically timed questions about whether it’s wrong to pour my milk into my tea first.

But more and more often these days I am embarrassed to be American. Not so much for the politics – I’ve been explaining since the day I got here that at least half of us didn’t vote for W – but for the behavior of Americans abroad. Not so much the Ugly American – just the utter cluelessness of it, and the tendency to treat the rest of the world as Epcot Center; a quick theme park ride to be done, immortalized in photographs, and never considered much again except to tell friends you’ve been there.

It’s become so embarrassing that I find myself making jokes about it before anyone else does, like the way I’ll sometimes be the first to make a fat joke. Or the way you giddily share gossip about people who everyone dislikes – it’s an easy way to cement your feeling of belonging when secretly you fear you don’t.

As we left the theatre – Phaedra at the Donmar Warehouse, which O. and I agreed was quite possibly the worst play we’d ever seen – we heard Americans talking loudly about how much they enjoyed it.

“You can already imagine them telling all their friends when they get home,” I said. “’We went to the theater in London and it was just fantastic,’” I mimicked. “Or maybe they’ll say it was ‘brilliant,’ because then it really sounds like they’ve been to London.”

O. laughed. I felt faintly guilty.

Afterwards, at dinner, the conversation turned to an American girl we all know, a Princeton-educated Southerner whose idea of life in London is travelling as much as possible and when in London, going to different expensive, trendy restaurants. Not because she’s a foodie, but because that’s what you do in London, she thinks. She giggles loudly about how she “should” get to theater. Then there was talk of M’s American cousins, who are more typical – I try to explain to M. and O. – of the sort of American most foreigners will never meet, because they are the kind who don’t travel.

M spent the evening venting to us about how they weren’t interested in anything – he took them to Buckingham Palace and they couldn’t be bothered; they only wanted a picture of the English sheepdog they saw. They didn’t care about the changing of the guards – only wanted pictures of themselves pretending that the piles of horse excrement had come from their own behinds. At restaurants they only wanted chicken and plain rice, and if they had to have fish “could it please not taste like fish?” One of them was shocked when she first arrived at M’s and saw he had a shower, as opposed to just a bath. “Oh, you have showers here?” she giggled. He took them to Paris for the weekend and said he gave up even trying to take them to a museum.

“I should have just taken them to Alton Towers,” he said, referring to an amusement park north of London.

“That sounds awful,” I said. O. looked at me and smirked. “These are your people,” he said.

On the way out of the restaurant we heard – everyone within a five mile radius could hear – an American girl talking loudly, her every three words sounding like a question. (“And this one time? At band camp?”)

I rolled my eyes at O. and said, “Don’t even say it.”

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Starting All Over Again

Nothing makes me feel quite so smug and healthy as a lunch at my desk that involves little Tupperware containers, particularly if the little Tupperware containers contain things like hummus and mixed salad leaves.

Yes, desperate times – among them, the fact that my sister’s wedding is barely six months away – call for desperate measures. Namely, eDiets (with a modification or two of my own thrown in).

Unfortunately, in my limited experience – I've just finished Day One – eDiets seems to suffer several of the same afflictions as Weight Watchers. Like the overreliance on the word “serving.” Hello, if I knew what a serving was, would I need a diet in the first place? And then there is the helpful “1 pitta” (yes, they spell it that way – file under Divided By the Same Language, Extra Consonant Edition), when “pitta” is explained variously as “1 mini pitta,” “half a pitta,” and just “pitta.” Thanks – that clears it up.

Really, what are they thinking? I don’t sign up for actual diet plans because I have no idea of what I should eat. I sign up for diet plans – in particular this one, which even generates a shopping list for you – because I don’t want to think about what I should eat and what I could eat and whether it’s right. I just want to do exactly what I’m told. At least until I have to go out to lunch on Thursday…

Monday, 10 April 2006

Pass the Horseradish

This weekend my friend E's mother taught me to fold linen napkins. We were at E and her French husband's apartment in Paris, preparing for a Passover seder for 18, and one of my jobs was to fold the napkins so that when picked up by the corner, they'd unfurl gracefully with one shake of the wrist.

I folded the napkins slowly, thoughtfully, memorizing each fold and seam as if I might never again be privy to instructions on how to fold properly. Meanwhile, I listened to E and her mother talk in family shorthand in the kitchen and tried desperately not to feel too sorry for myself. Even now, 2 1/2 years after my mother's death, there is nothing like the simple presence of someone else's mother to make me think all too much about the silver-polishing lessons and "Mom, do you think I should turn up the temperature on the salmon?" that I will never have; the mock complaining, as E's mother did, about schlepping from New Jersey two suitcases full of freshly made matzo balls, farfalle and mandel bread -- and bed and table linens from Marshalls -- that I will never endure.

All Saturday, as I helped cook, I watched E's interactions, both with her mother and with her husband. E and her husband are the sort who kiss unabashedly and unselfconsciously on street corners, in midsentence, and upon getting up from the table to fetch water from the kitchen. That night at the seder I watched their well-deserved pride in the new flat they've spent two years trying to buy, and watched their faces glow as friends -- me included -- commented in awed tones that we cannot believe we have friends who have a flat big enough for a table that seats 18 for dinner. I listened to them casually refer to the room I was staying in as "the baby's room" -- they don't have one yet -- and then catch each other's eye and smile.

I'm not an observant Jew, and this year's multiple languages -- English, Hebrew and French -- made it even easier than usual to let the words of the service wash over me without absorbing them. Except when we got to the eating of the horseradish, which symbolizes the bitterness of slavery and the bitterness of life. E's husband's mother -- a seder neophyte, and widow of nearly a year -- spread her matzo so thickly with the white horseradish that it brought tears to her eyes. She wiped her eyes, tried to smile, and said quietly to her son: "Life is too bitter."

Thursday, 6 April 2006

Just Once, In a Very Blue Moon

Tonight was one of the rare nights when I saw my friend -- we'll call him O. -- and it was an odd night. We met up with a friend of his who I've always thought has a cruel streak, and I spent much of the night wondering what I was doing, both with them this particular evening, and in England in general. But at the end of the night, as O. was walking to his bike, he mentioned how three years before, he'd lived across from the pub we'd been at, and how it didn't seem that long ago, but how so much had changed. I mentioned that just today I'd been writing about this time last year -- about the first spring day and our walk to Primrose Hill and...

"I know exactly which day you're talking about," he said. "When it gets hot we'll do it again."

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

The Salad Days

Today is the first day that finally looks like spring in London. It’s still a bit too cold for the usual bikini brigade – you see people sunbathing in the parks as soon as the temperature hits 70 – but I legitimately need my sunglasses today. It’s sunny and clear – so clear that I could catch glimpses of Big Ben from the taxi the whole way down St. James Street.

There was so much traffic on Pall Mall I decided to get out and walk the kilometer or so to my office, and I couldn’t help thinking back to the first day that felt like spring last year. It was in March, before we’d even sprung the clocks ahead, and I remember that like today, it was a Wednesday. I’d just come back from Belfast, stayed up late closing a story I’d reported from there, and then had a 9 a.m. booksigning in Hampstead. I wore my favorite outfit, the one I wore at least once a week: Seven jeans, a Temperley wrap sweater, and black Victorian lace-up boots I’d bought in Berlin.

After the booksigning I met up with a friend who’s quit his job to write his novel, and we both skived off for the day. We went to Regents’ Park and then walked to Primrose Hill and sat outside in a cafĂ© for hours, only interrupted by occasional texts from his then-girlfriend, who he finally stopped being constantly on the verge of chucking only a few weeks later. For me, it was the first heady days of The Married Guy (not that I knew to nickname him that then). Those were the salad days -- in all senses of the word -- and it felt like they might last forever.

Now my friend is with a woman I think he’ll marry and I see him maybe once every two months. The Married Guy is, well, married (though apparently he already was when I met him, too). The boss who sent me to places like Belfast – and much farther afield – is gone, and so are most of those assignments. Neither those jeans nor the sweater fit, and I wonder if they ever will again. Occasionally I wear the boots, which – despite my best efforts – still have flecks of mud from the walk to Primrose Hill.

Where will I be at this time next year?

* * *

Today’s cab ride was back from the Jimmy Choo offices, where I’d been invited to a preview of the autumn/winter collection. The goodie bag – probably the only Jimmy Choo carrier bag I’ll ever have – contained what is probably the only Jimmy Choo accessory I’ll ever own: a shoe horn.

Swinging a Jimmy Choo carrier bag is probably up there on the “I’m a princess” scale with swinging a proper hatbox (both times I’ve had one men have jumped to help me with my luggage), and I walked through the Embankment Gardens in a daydream. When I arrived in my office our bureau assistant – who’d been to the press day earlier -- and one of our interns (not even this one) were both looking quizzically at the silver item in the lilac Jimmy Choo box. “I can’t work out what it is,” the assistant said when I walked in. “Is it a jam spreader?”

Tuesday, 4 April 2006

The Girl I Mean to Be

I’m not even close to ready for spring – I prefer to hide behind layers of clothing – but you wouldn’t know it from the act of lunacy I committed today.

On a Tuesday – deadline day, no less – I raced to the hinterland of Zone 4 on my lunch hour to buy a ₤12 white broderie anglaise dress (shown here in blue) that I was betting would sell out unless I went right that minute. After all, it’s been in a couple of magazines, white is the color of summer, and the dress is, as they say here, cheap as chips.

Never mind that:

1. White is not a flattering color if you are at all overweight.
2. I usually think broderie anglaise is just a fancy way of saying “dust ruffle.”
3. The dress has cap sleeves, a cut flattering only to people whose arms are tan, toned, and otherwise barely distinguishable from those in magazine articles on how to tone up one’s arms for summer.

Apparently I’m shopping for the person I wish I looked like, instead of the person I currently look like.

At least I went to the gym tonight…

Sunday, 2 April 2006

And the Cat's in the Cradle

It’s been a while since anyone bought me a pair of shoes.

But yesterday my dad – who’s never been to a shoe store with me in my life – bought me these Tisza Cipo sneakers in Budapest, and it was sweet.

Because I was with my dad, I’d skipped a lot of the kind of places I’d go if I were on my own or with a friend. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to get some commie chic sneakers.

The trip to the shoe shop reminded me of when my sister and I were about 11 or 12, when my father – who wasn’t around much – would once in a while decide to spend a weekend day with us. He loathes shopping and can be an intellectual snob, so only now can I begin to appreciate what a good sport he was to take us to whatever distant cool mall my mother would never drive us to (we didn’t try on clothes with him – we just liked to walk around).

My father’s done several things in recent years I still haven’t quite forgiven him for, and our relationship since I graduated from college hasn’t been a close one. I know that’s because of me. In the past few years, he’s taken to behaving as if my sister and I are much younger than we are – almost like he wants to go back to all the years he missed while he was off working or avoiding my mother or whatever he was doing when he wasn’t home. He refers to my mother as “Mommy,” something he never did when she was alive. My mother used to do all the sending of birthday cards, and the ones he sends now are the Daddy’s little girl type, more appropriate for girls of single digit age.

I don’t know if it’s wishful thinking or something a bit more sinister – the desire to be seen as the “good, cool” parent coupled with the knowledge that my mother isn’t around to correct him or state events as she remembers them – but this weekend my dad also engaged in some revisionist history. When we visited the Central Synagogue, the largest synagogue in the world besides Temple Emanu-El (and the most beautiful synagogue I’ve ever seen), Dad started talking about how he’d been married at Temple Emanu-El.

“Dad, I’m almost 31 years old and no one has ever said that in my life,” I finally said. “Plus your wedding album has pictures of the service taking place at the hotel.”

“Oh,” he said.

On Saturday, as we walked around the Castle District, the subject of my travels when I studied at Oxford came up. I remembered how hard my mother had fought the idea of my backpacking – she forbade me to buy the Eurail pass before I left the U.S., and I ended up having to get someone else to get it for me.

“I think you’ll remember that I supported you,” my father said.

That was too much.

“Dad, if you’d supported me I wouldn’t have had to fight to do it,” I said.

He finally backed down, saying, “Well, maybe I was worried about the cost of it.”

Dad’s on a plane back to the U.S. as I write – he was in England on business and felt since he’d already been to London once or twice he’d “done” London. Two and a half days of unmitigated Dad is a lot for me and though I got visibly irritated with him several times, he never once got visibly irritated with me. To have him gone isn’t unmitigated relief, though. There is guilt (see the sentence before last), and there is plenty to think about – mostly how badly he seems to want us to have a close relationship, no matter how clumsy he is in his attempt to make it that way.