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?