Extended Lunch

Waitressing is like riding a bike. You never forget how to do it. I recently served full English breakfasts to guests who were staying at my friend’s 15th Century Highway Inn in Burford England. I loved every minute of it. Something about the calm polite exterior needed to deal with the public, combined with the frenetic activity behind the scenes speaks to my personality. It is becoming something of a theme. Years of experience have shown me the inherent dangers of combining wine with shopping and so the other day I took the precautionary measure of hitting the Fred Segal store before lunch and left my purchases to be wrapped while I went to Café Mauro. This stylish restaurant, at the front of the store, is as close as you’re going to get to Café Flore without flying to Paris.

It was during lunch, at around the second glass of Sancerre, that I fell in love with a graphic print on the wall and around the third glass when my husband, unbeknownst to him, bought it for me as my Christmas present. Complimentary champagne was sent over to the table and much merriment and bonhomie ensued. While the print was being wrapped I collected my bags from the store and took them to the car.

Returning to the café, replete with the spirit of Christmas and feeling goodwill to all men, I noticed a gentleman waving his check in the air. My inner waitress kicked in and I helpfully took his Black Card across the room to the till. Black cards are made of anodized titanium and weigh a ton, which is why I noticed what it was. When the real waitress returned it, and explained why there was so much hysteria, he took it in good part and joined our table.

After the café closed at 6 o’clock, we stayed on with the lovely owner, the pastry chef and the trio of Italian men who had been at the next table. Much merriment and dancing to The Stones ensued. We Ubered home at gone past midnight, after what turned out to be the longest lunch of 2014.

I love shopping. I love the holidays and I love LA.

The Pineapple Express

As you may have noticed, the holidays are upon us with a vengeance and as mentioned in a previous post I am doing my level best to live up to the challenge.

Last week saw five days partying in New York, taking in a Bob Dylan concert, The Rockettes Christmas Extravaganza and The Book of Mormon. I enjoyed several dinners and lunches, in between some Sancerre-fueled shopping.

Back home last night I partook of libation with friends and wound up playing pool in a gay bar ‘til the small hours of the morning. I am not gay and I don’t know how to play pool, so you may ask the obvious question, to which I have only one answer -“It’s the holidays.”

Rain is forecast. Actually The Pineapple Express is surging our way. Rain in LA unnerves us. Californians have a pathological fear of getting wet unless we’re at the ocean or in the pool. We have mudslides and flooding, but you will rarely hear that from us. It’s similar to childbirth, the minute it’s over we don’t want to think about it.

We have no clue how to drive in the rain. People aquaplane down the Pacific Coast Highway as if they’re on the Roaring Rapids at a water park.  But after months of wearing tshirts even the slightest precipitation gives us the welcome opportunity to dress in Uggs and raincoats and wooly scarves.

For the kind of deluge that’s battering its way to us we know to cancel everything and hole up like Armageddon. It’s extreme. I mean I’ve even been known to postpone a root touch-up knowing the hairdresser will be staying home too.

Still, our holiday lights are battery operated. The fridge is stocked with festive fare. The fire is lit. I can do no more… guess I’ll see you on the other side…

‘Tis the Season

As many of our friends come from different cultures, in LA we celebrate all of the holiday customs with fierce enthusiasm. In our house it’s one huge smorgasbord of Christmas trees and Hanukkah candles, tofu meatloaves and turkey roasts. We have our wreathed doors shut against the occasional draft. We are grateful when it goes dark and we can pretend it’s winter.

The celebrations come hot on the heels of Halloween and Thanksgiving. I know it happens every year and yet it always takes me by surprise when those first cards arrive and I realize through a hangover haze that maybe I should go buy some.

We live far away from many of our beloved family and friends. We keep in touch all year round by email, phone and Facebook. Of course it’s great to hear from people you’ve lost touch with over the years, but then sometimes when you get their circular letter you’re reminded why you lost touch in the first place. They’re so impersonal aren’t they? It doesn’t really help when you know they’re sent in the name of efficiency. If you feel the urge to share the highlights of your 2014 in a lengthy circular letter may I make the following suggestions based on a few letters we’ve received over the years?

  • It is the HOLIDAY season…as in merry and jolly and peaceful. This is NOT the time of year to announce the death of a family member. We feel empathy. Don’t have us crying into our mince pies.
  • Remember not everyone has summered in Italy, wintered in the Alps or scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. If 2014 has been our ‘Annus Horribilis’ you will only make us feel worse.
  • The announcement of your recent wedding may spark a range of emotions if we weren’t invited.
  • Avoid flowery writing. If you feel the need to describe  ‘the jacarandas of startling purple’ why not get yourself a blog?
  • If you personalize your ending with a handwritten note try not to make it generic. Yes we are all well thank you and yes we hope 2015 will be a really great one for you too. We really do and please feel free to contact us at any point during the New Year.

If You Can’t Do It in High Heels I’m Not Interested

I absolutely love the holidays. They totally validate my endless appetite for dressing up and shaking a tail feather, something to be indulged all year round, but in the festive season there are so many more opportunities to boogie.

I love a party so much, that if there isn’t a social occasion I’ll throw one just for me.  I pour a glass of Sancerre, turn on the music (Stones) and bop. This often involves use of my mini- trampoline. It’s a habit developed in the English countryside when the kids were small. We were broke and overworked and the most you could hope for by way of a social event was a cup of tea in the village hall. Since arriving in LA I’ve made up for lost time and then some.

Perhaps these tips, gleaned from extensive personal experience, will help you navigate the festivities with aplomb.

  1. While getting ready for a party it is never a good idea to treat yourself to two glasses of Veuve to get in the mood. This will only result in you turning up minus mascara and with your hair pulled back in an unflattering pony -tail.
  2. While at a party it is inadvisable to invite everyone you meet over to your house for Christmas. This will result in you having to hire a marquee and caterers and not actually recognizing many of the people who turn up.
  3. Do wear trousers if there is the slightest risk you will be overtaken with the urge to show off your latent gymnastic skills and leave a venue walking on your hands.
  4. Do try to resist agreeing to take part in a charity fire walk and committing yourself to it by getting sponsors around the room. This will seem less of a good idea the following day.
  5. Demonstrating your pole dancing skills is inadvisable in the presence of iPhones. Videos may be shared in social media and your son’s friends may come across it.
  6. You can have this tip after the weekend – sorry. Must dash, am late getting ready to go to a Thanksgiving party…

A Low Brow Post

One of my favorite things in the entire world is sleeping. I could sleep on a washing line. Nine straight hours is an absolute prerequisite and believe me, you do not want to be the person who disturbs my nocturnal hours.

You’ve no idea what your subconscious is going to throw at you while you’re asleep and the thrilling part of dreaming is that you’re directing your own movie with a limitless budget. You can go Technicolor, with a cast of thousands and theatrical staging. The galaxy is at your disposal, you can time travel, plummet the depths of the oceans and be back on dry land in seconds. You can have celebrity guest appearances and uncensored sex. The dream world is your oyster.

So, given these infinite possibilities I am wondering why I spent last night dreaming that my left eyebrow had dropped off and agonizing whether I should shave the other one to match and have them both tattooed or just  color – in an eyebrow shape and hope nobody would notice. I still hadn’t resolved the dilemma by the time I woke up.

Clearly, not for me the mystical visions of William Blake with his “tree full of angels” or of Joan of Arc who heard the voice of God two or three times a week directing her to go to France and “raise siege to the city of Orleans.” I am getting no such guidance (despite my desire to go to France and lay siege to the bars of St. Germain).

In the absence of divine intervention, my subconscious has elected to focus on a curious and somewhat obscure form of eyebrow alopecia. Presumably this is why I am writing a blog post rather prophetic poetry. I’m sure Mr. Blake never worried about his eyebrows…although come to think of it…maybe he should have.

Amazon Best Sellers in French Literature

Amazon as we all know is a colossus in the book market and their sales ranking is pretty much the only indicator that your book is selling. Even though I am aware that the lists are changed every two hours, I have been known to check them at two minute intervals, constantly pressing ‘refresh’ hoping the universe has delivered a miracle and that overnight I’ve sold enough copies to retire to Provence.

You can imagine my delight then when yesterday Letter From Paris hit Amazon Bestsellers in French Literature sailing in at number 22. Ignoring a nagging thought that my book was possibly in the wrong category, what with it being women’s contemporary fiction (and more to the point, written in English,) I took this screen shot.

You will see, that not only am I in stellar company with Marcel Proust nudging ahead of me at 21, but also that Emile Zola and Baudelaire are lagging behind and coming in at a tardy 23 and 24 respectively. Okay, so I know they’ve all been dead for over a century but that’s hardly important. The point is my friends. I am uniquely placed. The 2014 Pulitzer is surely mine for the taking. Emile Zola was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature, so you never know I might be in with a chance there too.

Zola had his portrait painted by Cezanne which is impressive, but I’ve had my photograph taken by a knight and it has appeared on my Facebook page. Clearly Zola’s publicists are not keeping up with the times.

When I think about it, I also have much in common with Baudelaire. I can afford to be generous spirited. I too can write poetry. I just haven’t really bothered. There’s another advantage I have over him; his work is done, my best is yet to come.

I’m not knocking the competition here, but Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time does run to over three thousand pages and I think you’ll find that Letter From Paris is faster paced. I mean why use long words if shorter ones will do? It’s only a matter of time before I edge ahead of him.

With the new found confidence that has come from being flanked on either side by titans, I plan on having my novels translated into French. That way they will soon appear on the Bestseller list for ENGLISH Literature if you follow Amazon’s logic.

 

 

Miami

When you start to look like your passport photo, it’s time to go home.
~ Erma Bombeck

I’m exhausted. After three weeks in London I’m now in Miami. I know this is a first world problem, but being on the road plays havoc with your metabolism and does absolutely nothing for your hair. Travel is overrated, unless of course you’re in Paris and preferably in the 1940’s.

Other writers turn their journeys into best selling books, they eat, pray and  love their way across continents, sundry belongings flung into backpacks, hitting the road with an open spirit and a thirst for adventure, journaling at the end of each sun-kissed day. This would not be me.

There is a distinct lack of journaling. I barely get time to open my laptop. I have meetings to go to, events to attend, breakfast power hours, lunches, dinners. Meanwhile I have maintenance issues and the distinct absence of an entourage. I get separation anxiety being away from my hairdresser, panic attacks over losing jewelry, obsessed with controlling my unibrow and confused over the time of the cocktail hour. Other women, (Angelina Jolie mostly) have it down. I do not.

I don’t follow the travel style guides that tell you to pare everything down to monochromatic shades and pack one pair of ‘go to’ flats. I tried it once and lasted as far as Duty Free. It’s bad enough hauling your suitcase through security without the indignity of not being able to lift it into the locker. Also, capsule wardrobes only work if each article of clothing stays intact. Spill coffee on that one blouse and it’s over, have your black pants destroyed by the hotel dry cleaning service, leave your bikini behind at the beach and you are left with only one choice… go shopping.

Shopping when traveling can be a minefield. Not only does it waste valuable time that could be spent writing, meeting interesting people, visiting galleries and soaking up the local culture, it also demands levels of self control that frequently escape me. Presented with the opportunity to create that elusive jetsetter style I generally fling myself at the project with abandon.

Clothes bought while jet-lagged, never work when you get back home. The navy blue blazer and silk scarf, so chic in Paris, looks bizarre in LA. Also, when you get home you remember you already own three navy blazers from previous trips to France. The little white dress that flatters your suntan in Barcelona screams lab technician by the time you get back. Shoes bought after a glass or two of the local vino are always a mistake.

It’s also exhausting navigating the weather in the face of global warming. It’s confusing at best.  I’ve experienced at least eight seasons in the last month, all of them requiring different outfits, mostly bought along the way. When did November in London feel like springtime in Paris? When did winter in Sydney feel like the Sahara in June?

My passport photo is in better shape than I am right now. I need to get off the road, get grounded in what passes for reality in LA. My own bed is beckoning, my desk awaits…and yet I know, that within a week I’ll be itching for the next adventure. They are all first world problems and I am a gypsy in my soul.

 

 

Becoming a Fabulous Radio Personality

My outfit is ready. I’m thinking the lacy tights, the little black dress and a single row of pearls. Hair in a topknot of course and perhaps a flash of Chanel rouge lipstick. It’s vital to get it right. The first interview is at 8.20 am Monday morning so a glass of Sancerre is out of the question. I shall be sipping café au lait. Tres Chic, Ines would be proud.

I’ve spent the last week in what I can only describe as suspended terror. “But you are such an extrovert” I hear you say.” How can this be?”

Yes I know I’m the one turning cartwheels out of restaurants, first on the dance floor, last one to leave it. Certainly If you’re looking to party I’m your woman. But radio as in AMERICAN RADIO terrifies me. You Americans have been reared on it. You grab the opportunity to be a part of it. You are all stars in the making waiting for your big breakthrough. It’s in your DNA.

I, on the other hand have been brought up with the art of self-deprecation. Nothing turns the Brits off more than a woman tooting her own toot. (A British expression, no clue what a toot is either.) Also I’ve had a coaching session where it became clear that I am not mistress of the sound bite.

I think it might be a control thing. If you start to waste valuable airtime rambling on they can just unplug you. I hate the thought of being unplugged. Unhinged I may be, but unplugged how humiliating.

I’m a veteran of two Firewalks and right now I’d rather be about to hang glide, bungee jump or get a Brazilian wax. I’m hoping my alter ego ‘Thérèse the author’ will make an appearance and come to my rescue and there will be a stampede to Amazon. Hopefully this time next week women all across Florida will be sitting on their sun loungers reading Letter From Paris.

Wish me luck.

 

 

The (almost) Book Signing

photo 2Casually strolling around Barnes and Noble yesterday, well okay, frantically dashing around Barnes and Noble yesterday in search of the ‘New Releases’ table, I finally located an array of freshly minted novels only to discover a distinct absence of Letter From Paris.

I immediately approached an assistant and announced myself as the author of said tome, enquiring as to its whereabouts.

“A hundred and fifty of your stores are promoting my book this month.” I said, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice. “It doesn’t appear to be on the new releases table.”

The assistant was very helpful and her computer search revealed that five copies were indeed in stock and had been placed on a shelf on the top floor. I would find them under ‘T.’

Leaping onto the escalator in fevered excitement I continued my quest and soon regretting my nom de plume. Thérèse has left me alphabetically challenged, only slightly ahead of Zeus in the shelving pecking order. This means my book goes to the far right of the bottom shelf where the sun never shines. Even with my head at right angles to the floor or in the Downward Dog position I still couldn’t find it.

photoI approached another assistant who consulted another computer.

“We have five copies and they should be on the new releases table.” She says.

“They’re not.” I nod.

“ I see.” She says, then moving swiftly, heads to a shelf and performs an action a limbo dancer would envy. Proudly lifting all five copies she takes them over to the table.

“Thank you.” I say. “ I was thinking of buying the five.”

“Don’t you have enough in your garage already?” She laughs and then hesitates. “ Would you like to sign them?”

“Absolutely. I beam. I would be honored.”

With that she whips out some autograph stickers and places them carefully on the cover and I sign the copies.

It doesn’t matter that nobody was there to witness my very first bookstore signing. It is a moment I will never forget. I left the store floating on air, my head held high. Only another hundred and forty-nine Barnes and Nobles to go. I’m hitting the one in The Grove tomorrow if you’d care to join me.

 

 

A Red Letter Day

Trawling the web this morning for letter-themed inspiration, I stumbled on a little known fact; the first recorded handwritten letter was written by Persian Queen Atossa around 500BC.

Now I might win a pub quiz armed with this information, but come on Handwritingletters.com, I want more. How did this come about? Did the queen wake up one morning and think ‘this is so important I must commit sharpened stick to papyrus and invent a whole new form of communication?’

I need to know what was in that letter don’t you? I mean this was the first EVER letter. Who did she write to? Who posted it? Did she get a reply? How did the idea go viral? Who invented the envelope? Who grabbed the marketing opportunity and invented the first letter opener, the postage stamp, the pen, the ink?

This is an entire semester’s worth of school class. If I were still teaching I’d be making handmade paper with the kids and researching ancient Persia with them. We’d have a mailbox in the classroom and post letters to each other everyday. I’d have them write a play about the royal court and produce it. We’d look at ancient parchment and study hieroglyphics. We’d lead onto a bigger project on communication. We’d move onto the impact of the Internet. We’d have so much fun. Oh yes. I forgot. You can’t do that since standardized testing took over. I taught way back, in the days when teachers were not treated like children and we were able to tailor the curriculum to the kids.

Sorry. I wasn’t expecting to go on a rant about education.  I was aiming to write something jolly in advance of my Red Letter Day tomorrow when Letter From Paris is published. There’s something evocative about a handwritten letter, it gives a quality to our lives we’re in danger of losing and it’s far more enduring than email or text. I mean, when was the last time you printed off emails and tied them with a ribbon to treasure or to give to your grandchildren one day?

I wonder if in years to come a website will record that the last letter ever handwritten was in the twenty-first century. I really hope not.