Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Prisoner of Zen

If I close my eyes really, really tightly and concentrate hard I can almost think myself back to the Zen like tranquillity of the Palace on the Upper East Side - cue dreamy music and blurred camera work...

fat-free, carb-free, gourmet meals arrive on the table as if by magic (though if I'm honest, I was dreaming of butter, cheese and bread by about mid week) and where day and night are delineated by the cheek-popping sound of the first bottle of wine being uncorked at around five thirty.  I'm on the bed that is like sleeping on the breast of a fat Circassian courtesan, smooth, soft and yielding (if I fancied women, I'd only be interested in someone of about the same dimensions as a pre diet Sophie Dahl and don't all rush to tell me that she wasn't fat, because me and Marks and Spencer know that) with my favourite male curled up in my arms - Butrous of the yellow eyes and black fur who, without speaking, still manages to convey more affection that anyone else I know.  I have nothing to do and all day to do it in - maybe a walk down Madison Avenue to indulge in kitchen porn at Williams Sonoma or Crate and Barrel (from where I've already bought a completely essential cold drink jar for all those al fresco summer parties I'm not planning either to hold or to serve Pims), or a trip up to the Neue Gallery, or a wander in Central Park.  In the evening there's a dinner, or a cocktail party, or a show and my only requirement is to put on some lipstick and a dress and walk out to the sidewalk where Manny is waiting in his extendible limo that goes from sedan to stretch in the time it takes him to drive round the block.   Ahhhhhhhh.  Why was I ever stressed about being stuck there?

And then, damn it, I wake up, bolt upright in my own lumpen, empty, bed and it's 4am and I suddenly realise I haven't picked up my Syrian visa for my trip next month (where, please Volcano - don't let me get trapped), or made an appointment to have my prescription renewed, or sent the author copies that I should have done yesterday, or summarised the 46 page document that's been sitting on my desk since Monday, or checked the forest of mousetraps that my son set before he left home without telling me where they were, which every now and again snap ominously from somewhere in the dark reaches of the increasingly desolate house...   Since my neighbour died the house next door has been empty and I can't wait until Pandora Posh and Crispin move in with their 2.2 poshini so they can start killing their share of the rodents.  At the moment it's only me with a handful of  Rentokil traps against the rest of mouseworld.  Think me as King Leonidas in the posters for 300, without the beard and with a jar of peanut butter instead of a sword.  I could of course just get my own Butrous substitute who would bravely go and kill the mice for me, when not purring in my arms, but I don't want a male who pees in a box living with me.  Not full time.

But to backtrack, yes, that's the other news that happened while I was sleeping, I mean lost in luxury-land, my eldest son packed in his job and announced he was moving to Wales to live with his girlfriend.  For the first time in living memory his room is tidy.  And deserted.  I mean, think tumbleweed (tidy he can do, dust, however seems to be an unknown concept).   Youngest told me I was soon to be a "sad, pathetic woman living all alone in a big, empty house, or having people 'pay' me to live there..."  when I countered the first accusation with the desire to get lodgers.  I don't think it's such a bad prospect.  Even if you end up living with people who don't like you much, at least they are handing over cash for the displeasure and, if they tell you they hate you, you can evict them.

However, I may have to get rid of my other tenants first.  The youngest should be off to Uni in September.  The mice, though, never seem to bloody go anywhere.

And I was right

the chocolate was as awful and messed up as you would imagine it to be - and then a bit worse...

nevertheless it proved the point that there is nothing that can't be left ITUP (for the non-Pedants, this means in the usual place) that will not be eaten.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


remember me saying:  "there's nothing without sugar that isn't improved with bacon"


I kid you not.  Hopefully, flights allowing (I have another Virgin Upper Class booking for tomorrow) it will be ITUP on Friday and all you pedants can try it for yourselves...


When I unpacked my case for the second time yesterday, I went out and rode the Staten Island Ferry with my friend Judy who lives in Oxford but who I haven't seen for longer than five minutes in maybe ten years. Volcanos do give you the chance to catch up.   And then my ex texted.  The airports have opened up.  

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Go fish

Sushi...  Well I do love sushi.  Except I love tempura more.  I love all those little maki rolls with slivers of salmon and cucumber and avocado in them.  I love spicy aubergine and chicken teriyaki and miso soup.  Mmm - I couldn't wait.  I've known the Ambassador since he set fire to my kitchen ceiling making cheese fondue in Oxford in 1980 and the nicest thing about going out with old friends who knew you before you had taste and standards is that you don't have to uphold either of them when you're together.

After a week's diet where my entire carbohydrate intake has come from alcohol, and everything else has been strictly South Beach - no fat, all fruit and modest amounts of protein, I was looking forward, frankly, to pigging out.  I was going to have everything fried, twice, and eat huge bowls of rice lashed with soya sauce.

Except I wasn't.

Ambassador turned up with his wife and her girlfriend - another strandee who can't get a flight back to Paris.  When I saw the diminutive size of the wife and the friend, alarm bells should have started ringing but in fact, it wasn't until I opened the menu that the fire truck turned up outside.  Indeed it was a sushi restaurant.  Indeed it was one of the finest sushi restaurants where they do everything properly and cut the fish in ritual fashion after it has been blessed by a samurai or a shinto priest or something and charge $6 per piece for the privilege.  And indeed, it had no tempura, no teriyaki and no ...

'Ah we have no miso, sorry,' said the waiter, bowing.

My last hope was gone.  How the Frick Collection can they have no miso?  It comes in a Fricking Collection mix that you add water and tofu to - can't they go out and pick some up?

'Ah no - we have only clear soup - with clams...'

I looked back over the six pages of offerings.  Hand rolls.  Sashimi. Sushi.   Fish, fish and just for a change, fish with rice. Frick and double Frick.

Girlfriend ordered three pieces of tuna and three sea urchin hand rolls.  Madame Ambassador ordered the same, but two pieces of each.  I gave up the notion of black cod as an appetizer and ordered the sashimi selection.

'That is eight pieces.  Is ah that okay for you ma'am?'


And yes, it was.  Really fresh, sweet, delicious tuna, scallops, mackerel and salmon.  But it was only eight slivers of raw fish.  For dinner.  With a bottle and a half of champagne thrown in it probably cost as much as a weekend in Palm Springs with a spa treatment and a mani-pedicure.  I remembered with fondness the Oxford days when he ordered house wine which we drank Browns spaghetti, garlic bread and a salad followed by chocolate fudge cake.  And cream.

I was drunk before I finished the first glass of fizz.

This probably helped since the girlfriend was French and I don't speak it, well nothing more than schoolgirl, not really paying attention at the back of the class, French.  She also didn't speak English.  This led to a weird three way conversation with each statement being translated for one of us, with occasional smatterings of Arabic thrown in which, beyond kitchen and cursing, I don't understand either.

Nevertheless we managed.

Ambassador walked me home.

I should have been on a plane over the Atlantic asleep.

B*****d volcano.

The lows in the high life

And so, the airport remained closed.

The flight was cancelled.

Audrey booked me on the first plane she could which leaves, if the dust settles, on Friday morning.  Coach.  The other alternative was via Edinburgh a week Monday.

I spent the morning packing my suitcase and panicking - not sure whether to be more afraid of not flying than of sucking in a couple of engine's worth of silica and plummeting into the sea - then I spent the afternoon unpacking apologetically and putting everything back in the drawers - everything being five cocktail dresses and a lycra evening dress that I would like to ritually burn.  Audrey did not whine when I said:  I'm afraid you're stuck with me...

I've been stuck with you my whole life, she replied, with a sigh - and her husband only suggested I should get an apartment once.  But they were being stoic.  Let's face it - the only thing worse than a guest who comes to dinner and falls asleep at the table is the guest who comes for a week and turns into a refugee on the way to the airport, then weeps about it.

 That would be me.

And yet, where better to be stuck than in The Upper East Side town house with more help than rooms, where the cook knocks on my door and begs to make me dinner and the butler brings my clothes, washed and folded and asks me if they need ironing?  How bad can it be when Greg the masseur passes by and knocks the creases out of my neck, and where the Ambassador calls and asks you if you want to have dinner since you're not traveling?

'Do you like sushi?'  He wonders.

'I love it,'  I respond.

I mean, really, all this and sushi too?

I can hardly complain...

And yet I do.

I feel sick

My life with the rich and famous is almost at an end.  No more Gala Dinners.  No more book parties.  No more opera.  No more concerts.  Today I'm going downtown to meet with Jamie, previously the purveyor of the pomegranate and spinach salad with pine nuts at my now defunct bookclub who has moved back home to America.  I was walking my son to the Highline after his Amtrak train to Boston was delayed yesterday and I ran into her in 23rd Street, where it turns out she lives.  I felt like the real New Yorker than I may soon become if this bloody volcano dust doesn't blow away, meeting one of the two people in the whole of the city I know, by chance.  She invited me for tea and cake at her apartment in the London Terraces, that seem to have nothing at all to do with London, and are not terraces as we know them, though they do have dizzying balconies - one of which had a tricycle on it which made me recoil in horror at the thought of a child riding it.  From her sitting room you can see the Empire State building from one window and, far in the distance, the torch of the Statue of Liberty in the other.  It's mighty impressive, though she is on the 18th floor and I have to step away from the window and not look down.

I am a wimp.  I'm a wimp about heights and I'm a wimp at the idea that I'm not going to get back home tomorrow.  When I checked my work email earlier (you can tell me I'm sad later) and one of the girls told me that the whole of Europe was shut down and that it had a slight doomsday quality to it, I did not feel like less of a wimp - only more isolated.  I had the first panic attack I've had in years, contemplating the fact that I may be stranded in New York away from everything that makes me me, and all that sustains me.  Not least of which is warmLuke who is supposed to be meeting me at the station when I get home tomorrow, except I'm not sure the planes will be flying.  I had such plans.  I feel sick at missing them.  I feel sick that I can't go back to my own bed.  I feel sick at missing work (as I said, you can tell me I'm sad, later).   I feel sick.  Period.  I've been taking across the counter sleeping pills that are mostly strong anti histamine and though they don't stop me waking up at 4 or 5am to fret, they cling to me like overgrown toddlers for the rest of the day and make me long to close my eyes, or throw up, or both.

Jamie's husband is driving up from Washington that night and then they're going on to their country house in Connecticut together.  I feel a pang of envy at the picture of togetherness.  I'm probably going nowhere.  Except to the handsome uncles for dinner in Greenwich village.  Nevertheless, it's wonderful to see her and we have a pleasant couple of hours talking and laughing before I begin my walk down to Waverley Place in the rain.

'You know you're not leaving,' says Gerry.

I try very hard not to wail.

'I don't think you'll be traveling tomorrow.  Have you called the airline?' Asks Socrates.

I have called the airline who say the flight is still scheduled, and who have issued me with a boarding pass and told me to go to the airport anyway.  Heathrow is closed until 1am Sunday, but I'm not due to land until 6.35am.  I might be okay, I persist.

They look doubtful.  What's the biggie - what better place to be stuck than in New York?

I smile weakly but they're right.  I'm like ET.  I want to go home.

It's not that I love working at Pedantic above all other activities but another week away might make some people ask what exactly it is that I do anyway when I'm not missed and things seem to get done even without me to whine to.  And I'm institutionalised.  The people whose desks are unlucky enough to cluster around mine make up the fabric of my day.   I don't know if my daughter is eating anything other than Muller Rice and instant noodles, or who won in the Pub Quiz.  I haven't heard from my elder son since I left.  My ex is watering my orchids and having dinner with the kids in my absence. WarmLuke is seeing his friends and going to gigs and having nice walks in Syon Park with other women and Nel has gone off to Dorset for the weekend. In other words my life is ticking over very nicely without me having to participate in it and will continue to do so if I don't go home.  This is suspiciously close to what it must feel like to be dead with no-one missing you.

Socrates cooks turkey with yams and broccoli.  Gerry opens a bottle of champagne.  We drink.  We eat.  And then half way though dessert, Audrey taps me on the arm and wakes me. I've fallen asleep, sitting up with a plate of ice cream sitting melting in front of me.

Damn sleeping pills.  Now they decide to kick in?

The perfect guest or what?

Putting on the Ratz

Audrey is in another couture gown - a flame coloured, Volcano orange, strapless Lacroix that's modeled to her slim form like a mermaid's tail.  I can't face the freaking black lycra which has now done two boat race balls, one opening of the V&A couture collection and three Gala dinners at the Met.  I hate it.  I simply cannot wear the same dress for the nineteenth time even if nobody is looking closely enough at me to notice or care.  Instead I put on a short silk frock I bought at the Holy Grail of LK Bennett which has been thoughtless enough to open a branch at Terminal 4.  It's pink.  It's vaguely leopard print.  I wear it with long drop pink quartz and diamond ear-rings and the anacondas.  My hair is a big Jacqueline Susann/Jackie Collins flick and as I walk into the hallowed marble hall of the Metropolitan Club which Audrey had assured me wouldn't be as fancy as the Opera, and see one woman after another walk in and pose for the camera in their designer outfits, I realise she lied.  Suddenly feel like Eurotrash Barbie.  They are all so fancy and sooooo thin.  It's a religion.  And while they're worshiping at the shrine of skinny I'm the equivalent of the sullen native still running around in beads and a loincloth with five stomachs, waiting to be converted.

Why am I even here, I whisper to my escort for the evening who is resplendent in an oyster grey silk pantsuit and more in my size range than the toothpicks elsewhere.

Let's get you a drink, she soothes, and we walk off in the direction of the bar where there is a line of people ignoring the liquor and waiting for water.  I spy a man with a tray of champagne and almost knock over the competition in the rush to break ranks and circumvent the bar to get to him first.  Then I join the debonaire uncles in the corner, mercifully just by the door through which the canapes make their entrance, and all's well in fat Marion world.

The place is huge and impressive.  It's like Versailles on steroids, with a vast echoing marble lined hall with ornate plasterwork, ormulu everything, and a heavily embossed gilt ceiling that looks like the inside of a box of chocolates after all the candy has been eaten, dipped in gold.  There's a twin staircase that bends its knees in the middle and then extends to the galleried upper levels, with a thick, plush red carpet that absorbs the deafening sound of money, and at the summit of which you need oxygen.

The air conditioning is frigid, which we later decide must have been to keep the lobster appetizer chilled on the tables of the dining room upstairs.

Nipples on parade, I murmur to my friend as we shivered.  She laughs.  Actually, she hoots in a deep throaty southern, twenty cigarettes a day, roar despite the fact that she's a clean living wry-humoured New Yorker. A man goes round the room banging the f*** out of a hoarse xylophone which is the signal for us to assemble in the concert room, another confection of stucco and ceiling frescos, where we sit like we're at the front row of a runway show and admire the dresses.  Or not, as the case may be.

It's terribly glamorous and glittering but you know, just because you have money, it doesn't mean you have taste.  And just because you're thin, doesn't mean your body is gym trim.

There is an older woman whose cheek bones could be implants slipping out of place and heavy black eye make up and with arms like chicken bones from which the flesh had been picked.  I see her panda eyes flick over us as she ambles past wondering if we are someone she needs to acknowledge and favour with the lip twitch that passes for a smile.  We aren't.  Almost everyone wears thin to some degree or another.  Fat is the devil.  And I am the antiChrist.  Or at least one of his handmaidens.

Fat says you're slothful.  You have no self-control.  You are lazy, don't exercise (people here are at pains to tell you they exercise because it makes them feel good not because they have to), cannot control your urges, you are a loser - except of weight.  To say 'you've lost weight' is like saying 'God Bless You'.  It's approval, it's a benediction.

In an article on Saturday's New York Magazine that's devoted to 'wellness' and health, a woman talks about how you manage to keep your kids slim and happy with their bodies (as long as they are slim natch) without infecting them with food paranoia and eating disorders.  You are a failure if your kid is fat, she says.  Nobody wants a fat daughter - and though she doesn't know one woman who doesn't share her own 'food issues', she didn't want to pass them on.  You want your kids to be skinny without being neurotic.  So when her five year old girl said to her 'mommy don't get fat' she is relieved - she's on message, but 'well at least she didn't hear if from me...'   No instead she claims she gets it from Disney Films (really - how the hell did I grow up in the Snow White and Cinderella era without becoming anorexic?)  But this is the country where the President goes on record saying his daughter was getting 'a little chubby' and where Michele Obama talks about the fact that her pediatrician told her she had to watch her daughters' BMI and so now she has fruit on the table.  This is a high flying lawyer married to the US President?  Now she has fruit on the table?  And to think that one of the things I liked most about her was that she was a normal size...   Watch this dwindling space, surely?

I have issues too.  I like food.  I hate exercise.  I don't exercise because it makes me feel good - it freaking doesn't.  It makes me feel tired and cranky.  I like sitting down.  I like going to bed, mostly to sleep - but if I stay awake all night when I have company, so much the better, and then it counts as a work-out.  Frankly I depend on it for cardio-vascular fitness.  My idea of exercise is taking a walk somewhere I need to go anyway, or dancing with a sweaty man who comes up to my chest in a hot dancehall.  I would like to be less padded but it's true - I have urges.  I also have no self control.  Life is better with butter.  And though I can't convince veggie warmLuke that there's nothing without sugar that isn't improved with bacon, it's still one of my bylaws.  But of course, I'm terrified of muffins the size of a farmer's fist that have 500 calories in them, and I hate feeling like I have floated into town on the back of a truck for the Macy's parade, while everybody else looks like the rope tying me down.

But at least I don't have a backless mini  that shows off my sexy tattoo, and a black bra strap.  And at least you can't see the top of my knickers at the base of a swanky, strapless gown.  At least my  boobs don't fall out of the sides of my halter top like they've disagreed with my ribcage (they are two, too busy sparring with my chin).  At least I'm not wearing a  low cut off the shoulder dress that beautifully displays my white tan bikini stencil from my recent Caribbean holiday.  Miaou, miaou, miaou...  I doesn't make me feel any more appealing though.

So yep.  They're rich and thin and they have expensive clothes, but they're not all perfect, nor do they all have particularly good taste (this from a woman in pink leopard skin).  Or maybe it's just a lack of foresight.

I'm a bit lacking on the foresight myself.

My Eurotrash Barbie dress is fairly short when I sit down and through my, what I must learn to call hose, you can clearly see the ridge where anaconda begins and my legs end.  It's super sexy.  Luckily I've brought a scarf which I drape ridiculously across my knees like they're in a hijab.  It's a black vintage (ie old and second hand) silver studded wrap from the 1920s and clashes with the dress.  But hey, I disappeared at fat, so I don't think it matters.

If I didn't live in New York, I'd weigh three hundred pounds, said Luis, earlier as he was soothing both me and my hair.  You're not that big.  They had Jamie Oliver on the television in some town in Louisiana where everyone is overweight telling them that you can't be cremated if you are obese as they can't fit the coffin in the stove, and anyway, not all of you burns.

Jeez, that was a cheery thought.  Too fat to fry...

Music plays. Blissful, wonderful, beautiful music plays.  I can't stop enthusing inwardly about how beautiful they look just swaying together energetically like they have been choreographed - everyone feeling each note they play:  Bach, Chopin, Bach again, Haydn and a trumpet fanfare specially commissioned for the two honourees that I can't like, though I try because it's such a lovely idea. To me, it sounds like a whoopee cushion being bounced on and more of a raspberry than an accolade.  But what do I know?.  I'm a British woman in animal print who wants hackneyed old Pachebel's Canon at her funeral and whose kids have been practicing it for more years than is complimentary.  Speeches are made.  The son of somebody stands up to fete his mother and cannot think of anything to say that encapsulates her huge contribution to the Orchestra other than she takes a while to get ready to go out and calls all her friends to tell them about it.  Geez.  I clap, mentally saluting my own children who, might call me Queen Psycho Bitch, but at least would never be able to eulogise over how long it takes me to put on my clothes and call it a positive personality trait.  I wonder if this guy is practicing anything on his recorder...

Upstairs we're eating lobster salad with cilantro - coriander on the other side of the unreachable pond -which people either love or hate.  Socrates, thinks it tastes like soap.  I love it.  I love the bread that is passed round which nobody else eats.  I'd love the butter even more but I'm too afraid to touch its smooth virgin surface that is probably going to go back to the kitchen as unperturbed as a botoxed forehead.  It is probably the same pat of butter that's been around since 2006 that just goes in and out of the refrigerator.  With the lobster out of the way they turn up the heat and bring lamb chops.  The portion size of this and the ensuing chocolate mousse cake, is positively mid western.  I eat it all.   I'm tired.  The wine waiter ignores my empty glass.  I don't think the rich drink as much as I do and this may be the secret to their alertness after eleven o'clock.

The stretch limo is waiting outside.  A doorman lurches towards it and grabs the handle as I try to get inside.  Double dammit.  If I bend over the anaconda will stop eating the pink leopard and since I'm first in I have to get over to the far side of the limo without doing a Fosbury flop - this cannot be accomplished with an audience.   Don't people go to finishing school in 1965 to learn how to get in and out of cars without showing their knickers, especially their heavily elasticised knickers? My friend reminds me that her mother says you should never have your ass higher than your head.

Yeah, well not  in a car anyway.

Puff Dragy

Thursday morning, I awoke with a quality hangover, at five am.  Try as I might I just can't manage to sleep any later.  I flipped open my laptop to see if there was any word from warmLuke and noticed something about volcanic ash closing UK airports.  Surely not, I thought, quickly checking the date in my head to make sure it wasn't April 1st.  Dammit.  It wasn't.  And all flights in and out of Heathrow were cancelled.  I called the ex.  'Yeah...'  He said ruefully, but maybe it'll have cleared by Saturday.  Don't worry.

Naturally, I started to worry.

Luis arrived to do our hair for that night's Gala Dinner at the Metropolitan Club with a private performance by a Chamber Orchestra.

'Looks like you're not going to be leaving,' he said as he turned on the hairdryer...'That cloud doesn't seem to be going anywhere and so that means, neither are you...'

The gods are stubbing out a cigarette leaving Europe under a cloud of ash, and I'm stranded in New York.  Okay, it's not exactly a maximum security prison to be stuck lounging in the lap of luxury in the East 78th Street Palace with the Russians waiting on me hand and foot, but suddenly the high life feels very, very flat.

Along with my hair.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Borders, Park Avenue...

Ab Fab

My son came in with the Russians and his friend Nathaniel who looks like security since he's six foot seven, without the added inches of his afro, and I relaxed, finally - somebody from home.  Really, though I had nothing to worry about.  For a person who is essentially in a strange city, the room was packed with friendly faces.   Though Audrey's kids who I've known since infancy, had invited their friends, I recognised most of them.  Over the years and many visits, I've go to know a lot of people and gratifyingly, a lot of them turned up.  It was lovely. Hugely glamorous and achingly sophisticated.  It sure beats a bag of crisps and a bottle of house red at The Perseverance or the Queen's Larder...

Raymond, who rescued me from an apartment in Brooklyn on my very first visit to New York thirty years ago came in a safari jacket.  The cute uncles came - I delayed the party specially so they could get back in time from Europe to be here - and then gorgeous style guru arrived with his tall, handsome ex-basketball playing boyfriend, looking like he had been polished prior to being set in gold and displayed in the window of Cartier.  I don't know how a man can look so perfect.  I am suddenly all too aware that my dress is a tad tighter than it was when I left London, even with the anaconda knickers, and it's recoiling from my knees like they've sneezed in the underground and wrinkling over my hips that are double the size of every other woman in the room.  Before I came here I thought I had lost weight but it's a drop in the ocean of skinniness where there are only two sizes and I'm the wrong one, built to a different scale.  Even the Russians have been exercising and Zina, previously with a figure I would have killed for, is now a shadow of her former self.

'Did you want to change?' asked Audrey - Patsy to my Eddy - as I desperately tried to smooth the material over my hips - something that nobody else even has above 53th Street.  But nope, this is the dress I bought to wear to my book launch, and tight or not, and even though it made me look like I should have a tray in my hand or be working the coat check with a name tag, it was being worn.  I had no alternative.

Style guru introduced a couple from South Carolina with an accent you could eat from a jar if you wound it round a spoon.  The man was expensive looking with a wide, friendly smile and a yellow bow tie, and moved enthusiastically while he talked like he was singing in a band from the sixties.  His wife, pretty and somewhat aghast but so well brought up that she tried not to show it, didn't move at all.

I signed books bent over the table and only realised half way through the evening that I unwittingly spent more time displaying the one thing I was trying to hide, and that concealing it in the throne like chair I didn't want to sit in would have been the better option, if anatomically nigh-on impossible since the dress was so tight.  My friend Alex arrived, thankfully without his wife.  He said I looked good.  He had to.  Thirty years of friendship depended on it.  The Ambassador arrived, thankfully with his wife who is sharp and funny and laughs at my jokes, although I could have lived without him telling her that he had accompanied me to Bloomingdales to buy fat pants (Oh don't worry, she said, I wear them too!) My old boss from Oxford and his wife who happened to be visiting their daughter in New York, arrived, followed by Jamie, from my book club back home, now relocated to her native Manhattan.

I signed books and I signed books and I signed books - and let me tell you, American names are not straightforward...  Joao, Zinita, Mattia, Caren... Finally, Jackie (no that's Jacqui, with a 'q') arrived who sits on a formidable educator's board with Audrey approached holding her own copy of the book which she'd already bought and read.

'I loved it, Marion.  I got up early in the morning to finish it, and I don't get up early for just anything.  But I just have to ask...'

I waited for the inevitable, did this really happen, question.

...'There's no Adam Davenport, is there?'

I took her hand and gave it a squeeze.  'No Jackie (I mean Jacquie), 'fraid not.  I made him up.'

'Damn it, I knew it.  But I just hoped...'

We looked around the room of predominantly gay men and sighed.

'We all hope...' 

'I wanted you to sign a copy of your book for me,' said the Southern Gentleman, with a duck and a dive and a spin of an invisible microphone.  'I was hoping to get you to bend over the table again.'  He added.  So, okay, maybe not so much of the Gentleman.  But hey. Thank goodness for the straight man.  They can still manage to make you feel you have an asset instead of just a big ass.

So, then I made the speech.

That at least was half-assed.

Wednesday evening

click here to be bored with further pictures 
(it's something to do at the LBF during a cancelled appointment)

I'm watching the door in a gallery in Chelsea.  There are two waiters circling with drinks that I can't yet face, and tiny, wonderful canapes that, unusually, I am not waylaying as the emerge from the kitchen.  The exhibition is of a Japanese artist with huge smoky, hinged panels on which are painted fantastical creatures and in front of a pair of Kimodo Dragons, matched like inkblots on a Roschach test breathing into each others mouths, a table has been set up with an ominously empty chair.  When I'm not looking at it nervously, I'm watching the door.

I am incredibly anxious, and I suddenly ask myself, who am I waiting for?  Audrey is here.  Her daughter and her assistant Ryan, a tall, sweet faced boy with a complexion so soft and creamy you feel you could dip your finger into it, are both here, and then Ryan's boyfriend Scott turns up, looking like an American Nico (you Pedants will appreciate the comparison) - same upswept hair and a pencil tie.  Audrey's cousins come in from New Jersey and, then Luis, the most beautiful man in New York arrives, and I am still clenching and unclenching my fists which don't yet contain a glass, so at least there's no blood.  I smile and kiss - Americans only do it once, and so I'm continually leaning my cheek in for the second and they've already walked off,.  I find myself looking again towards the doorway which is dark now and filled only with a person holding a clipboard.  And then it hits me with a flood of dismay.  I'm waiting for my husband to arrive.  But since he's now the ex, of course, he isn't coming.  It's just me.

Behind a barricade of spirits, a waiter is pouring champagne into flutes.  I take one.

And a deep breath.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Russian Roulette

Tuesday was dinner at Nobu with the man I met on the plane going home last time I was here.  He booked the table at 6pm, apparently to leave time for dessert which was to be me.  I passed.

I was home by eight thirty, even with the twenty block walk which I dallied over, walking up Park Avenue to an audience of liveried doormen who all seem to perch on stools, faces pressed wistfully against their glassed in vestibules, like puppies waiting to be picked at the pet shop, watching the world go by, ready to spring into door opening action.

Do you have a doorman? asked the woman from Harper Collins who was sending round a box of books for the party the next night.  No, we have a cook and a butler and a housekeeper and a handyman and a gardener and an estate manager and a secretary.  More help in the house than rooms for them to help in.  They have to do lunch in two sittings.

Tonight, back at the house where Audrey and Mr Audrey are having dinner and I'm joining them for wine and home made ice cream, it's only the fantastic Russian cook, who talks with razor blades.

Marion, I reading your book.  Can I be honest weeth you?


She laughs.  Razor wire.

Ha ha, no, I can't be honest weeth you?

Yep.  No honesty.  I don't need honesty.

Well I reading the book but eet eez very hard for me to get into.

(What part of no honesty don't you get?)  I try to back out of the kitchen but she has me pinned to the marble worktop with a tray of pine nut cookies fresh from the oven.

Too, much description - cheek bones, face, shoes, too, too much description.  Eez very hard to read.

(La la la la la, I'm not listening)

But zen I keep trying and after while get past the first chapter, and now I like very much.  You write good.

I slide out, into the elevator and cower in my bedroom, but the blonde uber glamorous butler, is also Russian and she has an access all areas pass.   Next morning, she knocks on my door where me and my hangover are hiding in bed.


I resist the urge to jump to attention and click heels.  She says my name like there's whiplash in the middle - the 'r' stings my cheeks.

So. I read your book.

(God help me.  It's like the KGB critic's cell)

Yeah... Look Natasha already told me she thought it had too much detail (and just wait until the next time she asks me for an honest opinion on her lamb stew...)

No, she interrupts,  I like very much.  I say to self when the man slap her - oh, oh - it doesn't get any more good happen after zis.  She going to run again.

I unpeel myself from the wall to which I've been clinging for the past five minutes and slip to floor.

You going to write any more books?  You must.

I must, I must.  Indeed, yes, definitely.

Take the alka setzer.  With water.  It help you feel better.  She thrusts a glass into my hand.  God love her, she's taking care of me body and soul.

Now drink.

I do as I'm bidden.  Plink plink, fizz fizz.

Phew.  Manhattan is a tough audience.

And tonight's the party.

High society

It’s four in the morning and the phone pings.  Lukewarm is on his way to Sion Park with a friend back in London and I’m in bed in Manhattan with a monumental hangover.  My head aches.  I’m drinking water from a tooth mug because I forgot to bring a glass upstairs when I came to bed what seems like, and could well have been, an hour ago.  I want to go back to sleep but I have that coming out of a coma feeling of having done something dreadful, said something stupid, behaved inappropriately that is sobering up after a party.  Actually, a series of parties.

On Sunday I met the Ambassador in Bloomingdales – as you do (he lives in an apartment block opposite) where I was in search of what used to be called a girdle and is the changing room equivalent of being swallowed by a flesh coloured anaconda from the toes up, so that half of you is constricted, eaten by lycra, and the other half is hanging out, struggling to breath.  Naturally, he didn’t accompany me to the changing room.  Afterwards I went to see A Behanding in Spokane with my friends.  It starred Christopher Walken looking like a creepy Max Wall and swearing in the same racist vein as Alf Garnett while the all-white audience laughed at the supposed irony, and I cringed.  Tellingly, the only collective sharp intake of breath, not quite drowned out by more laughter, came when he called the female character a runt beginning with a different consonant.  So the N word is irony but the C word still causes offence.  Pleased to see there are still some taboos.

They then took me to dinner at the Waverly Inn on the corner of their street after the obligatory walk on the Highline.  The sun shone, pink blossom drifted from the trees like confetti at a really camp wedding and I looked like an ageing Heidi in my red polka dot dress and plaits (which I’m working for the tousled curl look when I undo them).  With cleavage I felt I looked like some sort of speciality category on a porn site but my friends didn’t recoil in horror when I bounced along the sidewalk though we all did laugh when imagining the different reaction I would have got from our other friend, the style guru.  He would probably have had me put in a trunk and taken to New Jersey.

The Opera on Monday was slightly less of a fashion faux pas, but only because, despite the style guru telling me years ago that black should only be worn by maitre d’s and restaurant hostesses, at least you can glam it up with borrowed bling.  I had diamonds the size of frozen peas dangling from my ears set in a cascade of other gems whose names I don’t even know, and a matching cuff.  So who cares if the dress is on it’s sixteenth outing, tightly girdled, and held up with elastic and static electricity?  In any case, arriving with my friend Audrey is like wearing a cloak of invisibility.  She was in Lacroix couture with the GNP of Sierra Leone round her wrist and throat (but ethically) and so I just fade into the carpet – though for future notice, it would be a good idea to wear red rather than black, just to match the corpuscular upholstery…  As it was, the only other person wearing black in my size was holding open the stall doors in the ladies room.

We had the gala dinner on the Mercedes Bass terrace (yep, Bass - just like Gossip Girl) together with Bette Midler who was wearing a sort of shiny barrel-chested tunic over leggings and looked like a third world Christmas decoration.  Everyone commented on her plastic surgery which, given that hideous dress, will give you some idea of the competition put up by her face.  Selma Hayek was also there, as was John Lithgow and Christine Baranski (you’d know her if you saw her).  Lady Gaga was purportedly in attendance– we saw her name on the guest list – but nobody knew what she looked like in mufti…

The performance was Armida starring Renee Fleming and sixty quid worth of tenors.  The first act went on longer than the second world war but with much less action and I confess that I kept drifting off into dreamland (blame the jet lag).  I was sitting in the front row of a box so it was just as well I woke myself up every time my chin dropped,  before it landed on the balustrade - though I assume that's why it's padded.

The second act brightened up considerable, and the third act – as with all opera – was another long goodbye as Rinaldo tries to extricate himself from the sorcery of Armida who has bewitched him.  It was the guest who says they have to leave and then stand on the doorstep chatting for another thirty minutes – though in this case singing.  Oh just go already, I was thinking.  I’ve had relationships that lasted longer than their break up.

It got a lukewarm reception in the New York Times, damned by faint praise.  Which brings me back to the text that woke me up at 4am.  

I’m going to have to stop calling him Lukewarm.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Eldest daughter, whose flourishing career as young adult and children's bookseller has been cut short by the need to attend classes at Oxford where she is doing a Ph.D. on The Apocalypse (I kid you not), informed me that my blog has been banned from her bookshop because too many people at work were reading it.