Monday, 17 September 2007

Signs of the Apocalypse

This morning I had a psychedelic fever dream that involved a chase to replace my BlackBerry with an updated model.

I am a sad, sad girl.

Friday, 14 September 2007

The Darkness of Portugal

I wasn’t sent to Pavarotti’s funeral. Instead – in nearly the middle of the night – I was given about 20 minutes’ notice to pack up my stuff and get on a plane to Portugal, to cover the Madeleine McCann story.

I loved it.

It is one of the things that makes me so unsuited to this job that rather than sit at the Hotel Cipriani drinking 10 euro diet Cokes (or 30 euro bellinis), checking out who George Clooney is kissing, I would a thousand times rather be at the center of a white hot news story. Really.

So you’d think in the middle of an assignment I was enjoying – inasmuch as one can enjoy 20-hour days, large chunks of which are in the beating hot sun dealing with very reluctant (and often non-English-speaking) sources – I wouldn’t have binged. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Sunday night’s binge in Lagos (15 minutes from Praia da Luz) was the worst I’ve had in nine months, and the first binge I’ve had in that time that really scared me. It involved three ingredients also present in the Paris binge: Several days out of routine and with very little control over where and what I ate and with whom, plus – more importantly – too much alcohol mixed with loneliness/despair on the romantic front.

What was scary about this particular binge? Well, after several months of eating well the idea of bingeing – at least for me – feels remote. You wonder why you did it. You can’t imagine doing it. You have a few episodes of overeating, but not with the urgency and desperation of a binge. You think maybe you’re even normal – hey, normal people overeat, right? Your nutritionist from years ago always used to say so.

Normal people, however, do not do what I did on Sunday night. A bit of background, first. I’d made it through a week in Venice – always a difficult week for me – which perversely may have meant my guard was down a bit. I’d spent Saturday night in an apartment in Praia da Luz that was so remote and lonely and dark and mobile phone-reception-free that I lay awake all night, wondering how long it would take my office to discover I’d been killed. I had all the lights on, and – though I go for months without turning on my television at home – BBC World for noise. I was out of bed and working by 6 a.m., and Sunday was a long and crazy day in the arc of the McCann story.

That night, I switched to a hotel and joined a couple of other reporters for dinner. Beforehand, we drank sangria. Two pitchers, one of them extra-strong. Service in Portugal is slow, and I was very hungry. I adore Portuguese sweets and had spent two days resisting them – not to mention a whole week resisting Italian pizzerias and pasticcerias and the treats left on my pillow each night by the hotel. So I tried to resist the bread and cheese and chorizo on the table, but couldn’t. I drank wine. I tried to ignore the fries on my plate. I found myself thinking about the box of 16 Italian chocolates I had upstairs in my suitcase – they’d been left in my room in Venice and I was bringing them back as a treat, as is our custom with foreign assignments, for the office. In a decision I do think I wouldn’t have made sober, I excused myself to go to the bathroom, dashed up to my room, and consumed the chocolates. The whole box.

On my way back to the table, I spied a couple (maybe it was three) pieces of wrapped pieces of chocolate – the sort given to you with cappuccinos – sitting on a table by the bar. I grabbed those and ate them. I returned to the table. I ate all of my fries and some more bread. I scanned the dessert menu but didn’t see anything like the doughnuts and vanilla cakes and custard tarts I’d seen in the pasticcerias. That’s what I wanted, and nothing else would do. But I had some port with one of the reporters (the other went to bed) and consumed a huge handful of the wrapped pieces of chocolate. When she left, I checked my e-mail. No word from a certain guy (and I don’t mean the Fig, who I also had spent quite a lot of time thinking about).

I stumbled out onto the street. It was past midnight, and there wasn’t much open. I got a piece of flan-like cake that wasn’t at all what I wanted and ate it. Then one Magnum bar. Then another. I walked down the street looking for a bakery of the sort I saw in my head. The Algarve in Portugal is poorly lit, and it was pitch black except for the occasional whoosh and blinding flash of a speeding car. There are few sidewalks. I thought about how I could get killed, and still I didn’t stop.

After a few more minutes, though, I finally decided I wasn’t going to have any luck. I went back to the hotel, scanned the desserts on the room service menu (none looked appealing), ate the cashews and then the peanuts (I don’t even like peanuts) out of the minibar, and went to bed.

I woke up feeling sick and full, both physically and with self-loathing. Immediately – and knowing the number it displayed would upset me -- I wondered if the hotel’s gym had a scale. But I was too full and ill to work out, and I’d woken up too late. The empty box of chocolates taunted me. I worked. I had a toasted sandwich (made with too much butter) and then some fruit. As terrifying as the binge itself was, the feeling I had the day after was at least as terrifying – it was the oh, fuck it one. The I’ve-binged-once-so-I-might-as-well-keep-eating feeling. I haven’t felt that in nine months, either.

I was hungry all day. I went to dinner and was unable to resist the cheese and bread. I sighed inwardly and thought about how much I’d wanted to go to the US next week the slimmest I’ve ever been. I mentally riffled through my closet, wondering what I'll wear to the wedding I have to go to, and wondering what on earth I'll wear to our New York and LA offices. I pushed it all out of my head. I was still hungry after my fish, so I ate my potatoes. I ate a bit more bread, but it was a decision, not a binge.

The next day, after a long hot day in Praia da Luz, I stood at the bakery counter asking the attendant in a mixture of Spanish and pantomime what everything was. Finally -- after I pointed to about the eighth cake -- he handed me a three-bite-size piece of something to try. "Obrigada," I said. Thank you. But I felt anything but grateful -- I nearly wanted to cry. I ate it and debated leaving, but I’d come in there to have one piece of something I wanted, and I hadn’t chosen that. After much deliberation I ordered a piece of the vanilla custard cake, and ate it too quickly.

That day, I got an e-mail about a Rosh Hashana dinner I was expected at in London Thursday. I debated lying and telling them I’d still be in Portugal (anything’s possible with this job, but I was supposed to get home Wednesday at midnight) just so I could stay home and eat something safe. I hated that I would even think of doing that; that I would let food rule my life just that much.

Yesterday I went to the gym and did my first yoga class in two weeks. I went to the dinner, where I skipped the wine but had a small piece of ginger cake and some vanilla ice cream for dessert (despite the fact that I’d originally decided I wasn’t going to have any.) Today has been OK – I took it one meal at a time. I took a Pilates class.

Tomorrow I’ll get up and eat my breakfast and go to my favorite class at the gym and follow it with sushi from the place I always eat at on Saturdays when I’m in town. I’ll hit the sample sale of one of my favorite shoe designers and meet up with some friends.

It’s not as dark as it was in Portugal, and slowly I’m finding my way back.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Checking In

Yesterday and today have been better. Peach consumption down dramatically; real meal consumption up. I always roll my eyes when I read for the kajillionth time that I should sit down to eat a meal, but it really does make a difference in terms of satiety. (Then again, the amount of olive oil and butter in my grilled salmon with a side of spinach may have had something to do with that…)

I was hoping to get home a couple of days early and get back to my routine before it’s shaken up again for London Fashion Week and then my US trip. But alas. If I’m yanked early from the land of bellinis – and of Johnny Depp and Heath Ledger, the latter of whom I only recognized (and at the table next to me at Cipriani, no less) because today he was wearing the same tangerine-colored sweater he wore on Tuesday – it will be to go elsewhere in Italy to cover Pavarotti’s funeral. Nine months ago the mere prospect of this would have sent me into a panic – because where on earth would I buy a size 18/20 funeral-appropriate black dress in Italy? (Then again, nearly everything I owned at that size was black, so maybe I would have had something suitable already? Anyway.)

Speaking of shopping, I have neither the time nor the funds to buy cold-weather clothing here, so I settled for buying a pair of knee high black boots and tights – presto, instant summer-into-autumn wardrobe! And let me pause to note that nine months ago buying knee high black boots (calves, I’m looking at you) would have been a pipe dream. Things to keep in mind when it seems every other shop is either a gelateria or a pasticceria!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Festival of A Thousand Peaches

Ciao from Venice, where I seem unable to stop consuming peaches.

I’m not kidding. I debated lying about this, but I may in fact have eaten nine today. Yes, nine rather amazing peaches, some of them perfect white ones. I’m trying to remind myself that this used to be the city where I was unable to stop consuming ice cream – which is a whole lot worse (diet-wise, anyway) than peaches, but I am concerned about my inability to stop eating anything. It’s not a healthy behavior.

In my defense – and apologies for the brain dump; I’m just trying to write this out – I haven’t been eating proper meals, just lots of grazing (mostly on yogurt, fruit, nuts, and lower fat cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta). But I also haven’t been starving when I’ve been chain-eating the peaches, which is the worrying part.

I am rather edgy. For reasons I detailed last year, I’m on my guard in Venice, and this year is no exception. The lack of actual access to celebrities here – despite their proximity – makes me anxious, especially because I feel like there is an increased focus (for positive reasons I won’t get into) from New York and Los Angeles on me and the job I’m doing. It’s like suddenly falling out of the tree pose the second the yoga instructor looks at me – nothing like performing poorly only when one is being scrutinized!

And – shallow as this sounds – it hasn’t helped today that my face is broken out and I walked around today in a I-look-homeless outfit of a fairly shapeless black summer dress with a green hooded sweatshirt zipped over it, plus sequined red sandals (picked up in a Paris supermarket, so not exactly glam). It’s not exactly a look that screams I-belong-in-the-suite-next-door-to-George-Clooney-at-Cipriani. (Dude, what's up with my outfit? Venice during the festival is always about 100 degrees, and was last week. So I decided this year not to bring jeans, as I’ve never once worn them here. Classy sandals were because my ballet flats slide over the rain-soaked Venice streets as if they were iced, and my sneakers would put me firmly in the American tourist category, where I refuse to go. As for the hoodie: it was given to me for free today and is a lot warmer than my windbreaker.) Nor did it help that in one shop the woman eyed me and asked if I were a UK size 16 (and looked doubtful when I said I was a 14), and in another, the woman asked: “Medium or large?,” and didn’t wait for an answer before handing me the large. Sigh.

Oh, and did I mention Date Two apparently was also the final date?

I have managed to exercise here so far, and I even tried to do these yoga and Pilates DVDs that came free with my newspaper several months ago. (The DVDs were a wash – too slow and, um, talk-y, for lack of a better word.) But still I feel… fat. And not far from a binge. Today I stopped in a shop to buy a drink, spotted an apricot crostata, and thought briefly – very briefly – about buying an entire one (they’re pie-sized) and taking it home and eating it. Well, probably I wouldn’t make it back to the hotel with it – it would be long gone.

So… my goals for tomorrow: Try to sit down and eat at least one proper meal. And only buy one peach at a time. Yes, I know – but now is no time for lofty goals, especially when it’s 1 a.m. and I’ve got miles to go before I sleep.