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.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Stupid Celeb Tricks

Today was the calm before the storm. Thanks to a 3 a.m. call about a story that prompted work until 5 a.m., I did not make the 8:30 a.m. Marie Antoinette screening – a bummer, as it’s one of the few films here I really wanted to see. But it was struggle enough to get out of bed by 10:15 in time to get over to the Palais to hear Kirsten Dunst prattle on about reading Antonia Fraser’s “novel.” Note to Kirsten: It’s called a biography.

Laugh of the day was hearing a foreign journalist (actually, I am a foreign journalist here, too, aren’t I?) ask Sofia Coppola if Marie Antoinette was like Desperate Housewives. (Answer: She has never seen Desperate Housewives.)

Then it was on to grab Chloe Sevigny – dressed head to toe in Chloe (no relation) -- for a couple of quick quotes for a fashion story I’m working on. Yes, I find it vaguely embarrassing to be asking questions totally unrelated to the reason said celeb is in the same room I am, but I have learned the hard way that it is about 900,000 times easier to do this then to fax/call/email/generally pester the PR for approximately three weeks before being told said celeb is a) not doing any press at the moment, b) filming and unreachable (as if!), c) “not going to be able to participate in this particular story” – and that’s if your call is even returned.

Second laugh of the day: Watching Jena Malone sing to herself during a photocall. And then talk – equally kookily – about how acting is like “being in the belly of an animal you adore, and trying to keep yourself whole despite the animal’s stomach secretions.” I am not making this up.

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Where's Waldo?

I landed in Nice at 1.24 p.m. and had my bags shortly after 2. All the helicopters were booked, but I still managed to be five minutes from the Croisette around 3 p.m. My first celeb spot of the festival occurred within a half hour: Tim Burton, wearing black jeans, a blue shirt, and huge blue-tinted sunglasses, standing right by the American Pavilion. Okay, I confess I didn’t recognize him at first, but I knew he was a celeb because a) everyone was stopping him, b) he was posing for photographs and c) he had a lackey trailing him. He was incredibly polite and friendly to everyone, and I’m glad I didn’t know at that point that an editor back home was wondering if there was any truth to a report that his wife Helena Bonham Carter had been skinnydipping in the pool at the Majestic. I would have hated to ask. (After today, I have at least one I-can’t-believe-I-have-to-ask-this question per day...)

I skipped out on both an Elizabeth Hurley fashion show and cocktails (I wrote about her bikinis last year, so no need to do it again) and a Samuel L. Jackson reception on a yacht (um, still trying to think of a good excuse in case someone asks me)… to run around organizing access to a bunch of events coming up and to have dinner with a colleague. Translation: we both squinted over our Blackberries the entire evening – we have stories closing – and then talked mainly about who would be expensing what and walked back to our hotel talking to various editors on our cell phones. And for the record, we are not the only ones. In Cannes there should be a spot in the place setting for a blackberry, as every diner in the restaurant had one. Our waiter even moved our crackberries and phones to a better spot on the table, warning us that other diners on the second floor terrace had knocked their gadgets onto the ground below.

It’s to work in earnest – I have to be up before 7 a.m. and at the Palais du Festivals no later than 8.

Of Cannes, Couture and Cojones

I got home from work about an hour ago – so at 1 in the morning – and I should be asleep, as I’ve got to get up at 6 a.m. to catch a flight for Nice, and then whatever mode of transport (helicopter is best but not always available) I can get to Cannes.

I don’t want to go.

The truth is that I hate going up to people I don’t know at parties, especially if they are famous people who can be incredibly rude. I hate the gaze that sweeps over me and – in my mind, at least – finds my appearance lacking. I hate that so much of getting into parties and onto yachts is being gorgeous and bold, of which, honestly, I am neither. I hate the heat of the South of France in May – how awkward it makes me feel as my hair kinks up and I have to clutch a wrap along with my notebook because my upper arms are the size of some people’s thighs. I will never be one of those chic girls who somehow manages to look fantastic in a skirt, a tank top and flip flops.

The last time I went to Cannes, in 2004, I swore that I’d never do a film festival overweight again, and here I am, feeling too full from the work dinner I just ate, even though I skipped dessert and ordered fish for a main.

* * *

In the past two weeks I’ve had two moments where I had to call a friend and tell her to talk to me for 20 minutes about nothing, just to prevent me from picking up the telephone and calling my boss to quit. I’ve also had two moments where my job seems pretty damn fun – which is about two more times than I’ve had in nearly the past year. It’s funny how one of those moments can negate a couple of months of misery – at least until the next “I’ve got to quit” comes along.

One of the “I love my job” moments was in Portugal, with the band I was fearing interviewing. It was a gorgeous sunny day, where the sky was as clear and calm and deep blue as a watercolor, and I was staying at a hotel that was a converted 19th century palace. Despite seeming snippy in interviews I’d read, the band turned out to be incredibly nice, well-brought-up guys – the sort who offer to carry your computer backpack up the stairs and worry that you haven’t had lunch. Not the sort of people I usually deal with, that's for sure.

The second “I love my job” moment was on Friday in Paris, when I was allowed inside the archives of Balenciaga. It's as cool as a grotto, and there are racks and racks of clothing hanging in muslin bags (and loads more pieces too fragile to hang that are in boxes). You’re given a pair of white gloves before you can touch anything, and the guy who works in the archives unzips treasure after treasure from Cristobal Balenciaga from the 1930s through the 1960s: dresses, mink-trimmed gowns, pillbox hats, beaded jackets, ostrich-feathered handbags. This is when you understand how people can pay a fortune for haute couture: Each piece has an internal logic; an architecture, and the fabrics are untouched by time, the pinks still bright and the greens still grassy. I was told I was only about the fifth journalist to be allowed in there, and once inside, I spoke in hushed tones befitting a museum.

* * *

A final, non-job-related story I have to record: The, um, cojones of some men.

Saturday night I went to a party in Hampstead – friends of the boyfriend of a friend of mine visiting from the US. I wasn’t particularly drunk – in fact, I’d drank a bit quickly at the beginning of the evening and paused to slow down, which always means you’re going to get tired quickly. The secret to alcohol consumption is, of course, keeping it at a fairly steady level, instead of great peaks and valleys.

So I was feeling particularly lame that night and wanted to leave early, but it was impossible to get a taxi. I ended up staying over at these friends’ house, along with my friend, her boyfriend, and another guy who we’ll call P., a good friend of the couple having the party.

I’d met P. briefly the night before but we’d barely spoken – he was off taking cigarette breaks almost the entire evening. Nor had we spoken at all during the party.

At 4 a.m., when the others had gone to bed in their rooms downstairs, I was half asleep on my bed for the night -- one of the couches in the living room -- wrapped in two blankets because I was freezing. He sat on the other couch, quizzing me about Cannes. I was giving him the kind of short answers you give when you don’t want to be rude but you’re hoping someone will get the point and stop asking you questions already.

He wasn’t getting the point.

Finally he said, “Do you have to use both of those blankets? I want to cover the skylight.”

What the @#?!? How could you cover a skylight?

I didn’t say anything, hoping he’d think I’d fallen asleep. I might have tried to snore if I weren’t worried it would sound like a snort.

He tugged at the top blanket, which was afghan-like – in other words, loosely knit and full of holes. It would do about as much good blocking the light as a tennis racquet.

“I can’t untangle it,” he said.

I didn’t help.

He tugged at the blanket some more and when I finally turned to look at him he – as an Arkansas-born friend of mine would say in the accent I love so much – busted a move.

Um, hello? Did I miss the part where I threw myself at him, or otherwise indicated anything resembling interest?

“OK, I’m wide awake now,” I said. (Which, unfortunately, was true.) “What do you want?”

He attempted to guide my hand in a particular direction and, upon failing, said: “Aren’t you curious?”

Well, now that you ask, no. That would be no as in hell no.

“Not really,” I said.

“You’re not curious at all?” he said.

“Can’t say I am,” I said. Except then of course I was curious, because what kind of man does that?

Lest you wonder, I decided to let that remain a mystery.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Size Matters

My sister has just spent more than $5,000 on a wedding gown that is too small for her.

Let me repeat: My totally crazy sister has just spent about two and a half months’ rent for a gown that is guaranteed to make her grumpy, anxious, and plain terrified almost every minute of the next four months. (It’s also guaranteed to make my life miserable, but let’s not go there.)

Why did she do this? Because she is a size 10 – she’d say she was an 8, but personally I think the 8s are too tight on her -- and in the ludicrous world of wedding sizes, she was told she’d need a 16. This is the girl who – no matter how much she loves the item – will not buy it in a 10 if the 8 is comically tight, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. But $5,000 for a dress that you know won’t fit? $5,000 for at least four months of misery, worrying that every cookie or bit of bread or avocado or cheese might be the difference between your gown fitting and not fitting?

She ordered the dress on Monday – incidentally, it was not one of the gowns we saw together, but one that shall heretofore be referred to as the Pretty in Pink dress. A la the Molly Ringwald movie, it looks like the combined version of two very different and very embellished gowns, and is about as attractive as the mishmash pink prom gown.

I mean, yuck. (And ohmygod do I fear the little frock of horror Her Highness may soon decree that I wear.)

But back to the size issue. I told her as nicely as possible that I thought she should think hard about switching her order to the size suggested while she still could, because weight does not always come off where you want it. I tried to remember that she does not have the issues I have with weight loss – faced with that kind of pressure, I bet I would just binge.

I said gently that I thought she was stressed out enough trying to plan a big wedding without a lot of help, but she cut me off.

“I am not a 16,” she snapped, in a low, dark tone.

“Of course you’re not,” I started to say.

Again she cut me off. “I knew I never should have told you. I have to run. I’m late to ballroom dance class.”

And with that, Bridezilla slammed down the phone.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

How Old Are You Now?

I don’t know where the idea that I deserve a birthday fuss comes from, but every year I secretly hope for it, and every year I am disappointed. Even if there is a fuss – and in the years when I lived in DC, I could count on my best friend, whose birthday was the week before, to make one – I am usually disappointed by some person or another who has forgotten the day completely. For some reason, it never helps that there’s also always one or two people I am completely surprised (and touched) that remembered.

I haven’t done anything special for my birthday in London since 2003, when I threw a big party in my flat to celebrate my birthday and that I’d finished the manuscript for my book. In those days, I was still too new to London to worry about how people would mix, and I invited almost everyone I’d ever met and was shocked when the flat was so full people were spilling onto the stairs and outside. The next year I was working in Cannes – which ranks up with the first birthday I had in DC and the first birthday my mother forgot as the worst birthdays ever – and last year I was in India with my sister.

This year I didn’t get around to planning anything much, but a couple of friends nagged me that I had to do something. So we did posh birthday the Saturday night before the actual day: drinks at Claridges and dinner at China Tang at the Dorchester (the only restaurant I have ever been to where there is a voice reciting Wordsworth playing in the bathroom). I’m not sure what kind of omen it is – if any – that across the room at Claridges was a guy I went on a date with three years ago, who’s apparently now married and was there with his wife.

Yesterday – the actual day – I was meeting up with a friend just because, you know, you can’t sit home on your birthday. She kept the details a surprise and sent me a message saying I was having a “very British birthday” – which I took to mean lots of liquor and no food. (In a sign that I am truly aging, I was slightly worried about the prospect, as I had to be at the Eurostar terminal by 6 a.m. this morning for an assignment in Paris.)

Instead it was Tower 42 – which I have always wanted to go to, but never managed – and a curry on Brick Lane. Can’t get much more British than that. But I didn’t really enjoy it: I was tired, not to mention distracted, keeping an ear peeled for a text message or phone call from this year’s Official People Who Determine Whether Or Not I Feel Loved on My Birthday (an ever changing honor, and I’m not always quite sure what determines it). Nope. Better luck next year, I guess.

Thursday, 11 May 2006

This Is the Last Time*

Why, why, why am I a journalist? I’m in Lisbon, preparing to interview a British band you may or may not have heard of (for the record, it’s not Coldplay), and suddenly freaking out about the prospect of asking personal questions of people I don’t know.

As if I’ve never done that before.

Am I becoming British or am I just tired?

* * *

For the record: Lost 2.5 pounds this week, for a total of 18. But still not a change in clothing size. Sigh.

*clue to band's identity. Your prize, if it can be called such, will be having the song in your head for the rest of the day.

Saturday, 6 May 2006


One of my oldest friends called me yesterday morning at 5 a.m. his time, hopped up on cocaine and unable to sleep.

About 10 to 12 years ago, I thought I happily could spend the rest of my life with this person – and would have done anything to make that happen -- and now we are so far apart it seems unbelievable that our worlds ever collided at all.

I should say this is the first time he’s taken cocaine (or so he told me), and I have little trouble imagining why he did – he was at a party filled with rock stars, and, already drunk and high on pot, he probably got caught up in the moment. Years ago I would have guessed he did it out of insecurity – a need to do it because everyone else was; to cement his place in a world he didn’t quite feel he belonged. But I don’t really know why he did it, and I didn’t ask.

I hadn’t spoken to him for nearly two months, and he prattled on about the stillness of Joshua Tree, where he’d been recently, the reality TV show he may make a cameo on, and his girlfriend’s new job. As usual, he was dismissive of my work (not hard, because I am, too) and quick to point out how my current music tastes aren’t as hip as his (well, he writes for a music magazine, so mine wouldn’t be, now would they?) He asked me if I was dating anyone, something he has never ever asked.

The conversation ended as abruptly as it began – it is rare for him to ring me. And I’ve been left thinking about how strange it is that this is the guy against whom I’ve measured all boyfriends since. That one time in my life I thought I could be shut up in a room with him and nothing else and we’d never ever run out of things to talk about, and now I am almost grateful we talk at times when there’s always an excuse to get off the phone before one of us accidentally says something that makes it clear just how little we have to say to each other. Unlike some old friends who have grown apart, ours has never been a relationship based on reminiscing, I guess because that inevitably would lead to talk of times both of us would rather forget.

I thought about why we both hang on to this friendship. I often wonder if it’s just me hanging on, and from time to time I stop calling. It might take him a couple of months to call me himself, but inevitably he does. In dark moments I wonder if it is to remind himself of the life he could have chosen, and remember once again why he should be grateful that he didn’t. I think about the reverse sometimes myself – the crazy expat life I never would have had, and the people I would never have met because I would have been with him instead of trying to meet anyone.

I often still refer to him as my best friend. Perhaps it is shorthand – it’s too complicated and too much information to explain to everyone that he was my best friend turned boyfriend turned persona non grata turned best friend/someone I still can’t help measuring current boyfriends against. Except what he really is now is someone I have known for a very long time and, because I don’t like change, have a hard time accepting is not actually a very good friend anymore. I guess I should just describe him as “an old friend,” hmmm?

Thursday, 4 May 2006

Here Comes the Gown*

Hours spent driving to dress appointments: 3

Actual hours spent in appointments: 4.5

Number of gowns my sister originally wanted me to see: 2

Gowns my sister tried on: 24

Gowns we are still trying to decide between: 2

Number of times shop assistants invoked Grace Kelly: 7

Times shop assistants used the word “romantic” to describe a gown: 22

Times “romantic” was coupled with “yet modern”: 14

Times my sister used the word “well-cut” to describe a gown: 6

Times she asked me, “Well, if you were getting married, which would you choose?”: 19

Times she said: “But you didn’t cry when I tried on that one. Are you going to cry at my wedding?”: 4

Number of times I lost my temper: 1

Times – when contemplating a plain gown – we were told “the bride is the entertainment”: 1

Minutes shop assistants left us alone in the dressing room: 4

Number of gowns I was curious to know if anyone ever bought: 4

Percentage of gowns we saw on other brides that we couldn’t believe they were considering buying: 50

Number of times I caught my sister angling her left hand so her engagement ring would catch the light: At least 60.

When asked which type of gown he’d prefer, number of times my brother-in-law-to-be said: “Whichever is easier to get off, I guess": 1

Ratio of gowns to times shop assistants said: “You’ll make a beautiful [insert name of designer of gown my sister currently had on her body] bride”: 1:1

Ratio of average price of my sister’s favorite gowns to the cost of my cranberry Pottery Barn sleeper sofa: 2:1

Ratio to 1 month’s rent in my London flat: 3:1

*with apologies to the Harpers Index