Tuesday, 25 September 2012

On the plane my ears cupped in squabbling French with Julie Delpy being Marion for two days in New York.  It’s not a great film but I watched three on the way out, and I’ve seen all the others I might want to in the cinema, so it’s this or Superheroes. 

My eyes keep flickering away from the screen to the couple in the seat in front of me – she, a tired blonde of uncertain age and many sparkling diamonds on her fingers but no wedding ring – he a sweet-faced Sikh wearing a black turban and a fur rug of facial hair that begins under the arch of his bushy eyebrows and disappears into the blue of his polo shirt leaving only the clear mask of his eyes, and wearing a broad band of gold on his wedding finger.  The two have been holding hands in a desperate way since the plane took off – not a particularly easy feat since we’re each in our own cradles, separated from our neighbour by a high wall, like Israel from the West Bank.  And yet, they managed, the plough of her two rings glinting in the cabin, the single solitaire shining like the north star. 

Now he is perched on her footstool, she on the chair, their arms and fingers entwined, staring into each other's eyes, smiling, occasionally kissing, as if bedazzled, as if hypnotised, as if – frankly - mad.  I get it.  I mean, I’ve done this.  I’ve sat in a restaurant and heard the couple at the next table remark that we were ‘so in love’ but we’ve been up in the air now for three hours and they are still entranced.  I want to throw a bucket of water over them.  Don’t they need a rest?  Like half-time or something.

And obviously, whomsoever he’s married to, it isn’t her.  His dark gold band and the numerous coloured threads tied around his hirsute wrist tie him devoutly to another Sikh wife somewhere, waiting for him at home with possibly a few Sikh babies, and not to the dirty blonde who left her prettiness in the nineties and retained only the exhausted shadow of it in her tanned face.  I’m not sure whether both her diamond rings are from the same relationship, or perhaps remnants of two different relationships, but neither are from him.  And yet, now they’re in love, newly so.

Well it happens.  That happened to me once too.

Maybe I’m envious.  Well, no maybe about it.  I am envious, until about half way through the film, and then I just get irritated by their googly-eyed fascination with each other, and fluttery-eyed kisses that I can’t help watching, though it’s the last thing I want to do.  Marion who claims to be fat like me (but isn’t), on screen, just isn’t cutting it.

Unlike Julie-Delpy Marion, I had three days in New York not two.  Three days of bright blue skies and shimmering sky-scrapers; of serious jewellery, some of it seriously dubious, and even more serious parties.  From Sikh Love and public display of affection to a private display of wealth in one weekend.  Give me the wealth any day.

Friday found me leaving my friend's beautiful townhouse, striding down Fifth Avenue on my way to meet Jamie at Ca Va on W43rd Street.  I wore my little black, day to evening dress, pumps as the American’s call flats, and which  in Scotland would mean farts, a clunking new necklace by an architectural artist in steel and brass that was given to me as an early birthday/Christmas present, lipstick, dark glasses, and a distinct sway to my hips.  Crossing the street at 61st a short squat guy in chinos, white shirt and cream jacket told me I looked good, as he passed in the opposite direction, and waiting for the walk sign on 54th, a man in a white van called out ‘wow, sister.’  He was Hispanic.  Thank god for the Latinos…  They do that here in a way they never do in Britain.  It’s not the building site wolf whistle, but more a mark of affirmation. Or this is how I receive it.  Not that I just look ‘obvious’.

I suppose one is not supposed to be flattered by positive objectification from members of the opposite sex, but I don’t care.  It made me feel good as I visited my own particular stations of the cross – Sur La Table, Anthropology, Urban Outfitters, Williams Sonoma, then Crate and Barrel, Moma gift store, Anne Taylor, and eventually arriving at the hotel early.

Unfortunately I’d got the day wrong and was a whole three days early.  I had arranged this date for Monday – today – when I was always going to be on a plane.  Jamie hurried along anyway from her nearby office in her unstructured expensive, not so easy peasy Japaneasy clothes, and we had a thirty minute catch up – not much after three years but better than nothing.

And then I went to the Century Club to meet Beth Gutcheon, one of our authors.  The Century Club is like a grown up Arts Club – bigger, grander, finer, less eccentric, much more sober, but with lots of art which, later, I was told contained some fine examples of the Hudson Valley School.  I did not know this.  I think if pressed I would have thought the Hudson Valley School was a series of novels about a Junior High in California...

There was a hushed, reverent atmosphere which beat to the imagined ticking of an old clock of the sort that has to be ceremonially wound every day with an ornate key and which probably chimes the hour a decade or two later than in it should.  There was a quaint menu from which the choice had to be written on a chitty by the member, and carried off by the server to be fulfilled – in our case by Abdul (a name that would have made my husband screech with outrage since it’s a bit like shortening McGilvary to Mc or O’Donnel to O – Abd al, the son of what, who?  Though presumably the server himself applied the abbreviation for ease of use).

We had an equally quaint lunch – Coronation Chicken by another name, with the addition of cranberries, served in a hollowed out pineapple, very 1970, followed by tiny macaroons, similarly of the old school – no cream filling here or fancy flavours, but just simple, delicious chewy macaroons of the sort my mother used to make, somewhat less expertly.  I had two.  Beth one.  We both sipped diet coke.  It was very genteel and I was very nervous all the way through it, as though there by false pretences – imposter syndrome hobbling me, reality washing over me in waves as I was reminded of my own nonentity.  This was underlined when Beth asked me what I did at Atlantic Books and seemed, perhaps only to me, to be imperceptibly disappointed when she realised I was just the office drudge, and not a glamorous editor (of which there are none anyway) or an important commissioning chieftain (whom, she had in any case, already met the previous week) or well connected to anything except perhaps the chair on which my overly-large for New York bottom was bolted.  She hid it well but I’m sure she would have preferred me to be the niece of someone or the wife of someone or better still the author of something. Me too – especially the last.

Beth was slim, beautiful, frail, incredibly poised, very gracious, like one of the characters from her book, and looked a little like the old lady in the Babar books, though not old - ageless – maybe it was just the patrician, straightness of her back, the regal nod of her head, the impeccable manners, the careful speech.  She was like royalty - before being royal meant exposing your breasts in the tabloids.  I felt like Shrek.

I was sure she hated every minute of it, regretting the impulse to invite me, but nevertheless she committed to the part and saw me out in the heels I’d slipped into on the way here, in order not to arrive in the equivalent of house slippers.  I liked her and felt there was real frankness behind her grace, but I was in a club to which I’d never belong, in more ways than one, and I perhaps wasn’t going to pass the initiation test of cautious conversation.

I said goodbye and did the New York stride to the Public Library which is step step lunge stop (to remove heel from crevace in pavement or sidewalk as they say here, step step, lunge, stop, step, forward jolt followed by shuddering halt – when you didn’t feel the drag of the crack quick enough and have too much momentum to stop.  It was a relief to see Alex sitting on the steps – our traditional meeting place after all these years.  I sat.  I swapped shoes.  He told me I looked fantastic.  I believed him.

(Shmoogling couple who until now were seated, he between her legs, she with hers wrapped round his waist) have been separated by the seat belt sign OH JOY but continue to clasp hands like they’re recently shipwrecked from the Titanic.  Damn – lights off again, and now she’s in his chair, positions reversed but with a duvet over their knees.  Doesn’t bear thinking about, and yet, one does. 

Everyone is eating around me now.  I’m having chicken with ‘truffled’ potatoes – ie one potato and no visible or discernible truffle.  A glass of red wine sits on my right hand but I’m not sure I’m drinking it yet.  Is the holiday over, officially, or not?

People are in their little pods, pillows behind them, all covered in white duvets like grubs, reclining Roman style with the tray too far away from them, so that the food has to take flight from plate to mouth.  Screen on the left, earphones feeding them sound.  The ultimate slobby tv dinner.

I drank the wine.  Peppery rioja)

So Alex.  My once upon a time love, who is happily married and living the sort of Woody Allen life to which I aspire to in my dreams.  He and his wife live in alge (almost gentrified) Harlem, commute to Haverford three nights a week with their two cats in carrying cases, and eat out all the time in restaurants they’ve seen reviewed in the New York Times.  They meet friends, (imagine, having friends), ‘catch’ movies in ‘theatres’ and don’t drink, don’t eat fat, or carbs, and exercise religiously.  Well, okay – I don’t envy the exercise – but how did it happen that the man I chose instead of Alex, went off with another New Yorker leaving me to suburban penury, and Alex – who was destined for fusty Greek academia, Euro crisis and pension loss, ended up with my life?  I feel so envious.  Though, we’d never have lasted this long.  His wife and I are as different as it’s possible to be – skim milk to chilli chocolate cake – me being the cake served up to an aesthete on a diet.  He'd have killed me by the second year.

(The waiter just told me that for dessert he had cheesecake or something that to him ‘looks like spotted dick’ which made me giggle like I’m in a Carry On film…  He said it straight, but he’s as camp as a Boy Scout Toggle.

I declined.  In favour of cheese and more wine.  Yes reader I drank.)

Alex and I walked back up to E78th, passing by Kusme Tea shop where I marvelled over the three hundred different flavours, ignored Bloomingdales, dallied again in Crate and Barrel (I love that store even though the only thing I bought were jumbo ice cube trays), then we drank fizzy water in a pavement café before parting.  Every time I touched his arm he sprang away from me like I was radioactive, but he told me I looked fantastic.  It’s not that we are in the habit of canoodling like unseparated Siamese twins, but this meeting was legal – the wife having approved it as opposed to previous years, when she has called every five minutes until he returned dutifully home.  I think because I’m a fat underachiever she no longer feels threatened, though she looks like a Lesbian, but not one of the lipstick sort that you might secretly fantasise about being seduced by, more the sort who doesn’t shave, has grown sideburns and disapproves of your lack of political rigour and fondness for frills.

We parted at five and I readied myself for the next part of the evening.  A private view of jewels that had been made out of Kalashnikovs, melted down and studded with diamonds, shown in the hollowed out building site of a store on 5th Avenue, in which one walked as though it had been laid with land mines because the floor was uneven, filled with potholes and badly lit – exactly like the sidewalk but with fairy lights.

I confess I came over unusually puritanical.  I mean, really, why?  You get the Kalashnikovs, melt them down to base metal – steel, I think which probably isn’t base, but the provenance is since I was told they are real guns from real wars that have actually killed people, and you ‘regenerate them’ by setting them with ‘freedom’ stones and selling them to the fabulously wealthy as decoration?  Nobody I know (all two people) who are that wealthy would be seen dead wearing things which had made other people dead, diamonds or no diamonds – even if the diamonds had been washed up on the shore of a magic beach and harvested by unicorns. Maybe they should be bought by arms dealers, the very people who profited by them in the first place.  I hasten to add, my friends, are not such people.

But we admired and sipped champagne, and someone, erroneously as it turned out, congratulated me on my newly gifted necklace saying they ‘loved’ the designer who wasn’t the one who actually designed the necklace.  And then we felt our way out tapping with our shoes, blinked in the streetlights of 5th Avenue and went home to dinner and bed.  Oh lordy.  I love being an economic tourist.  It’s all so dazzlingly fun and different.

Next day was THE BIG DAY.  I wandered back downtown to gape at the fools in Eataly who cluster round counters to eat plates of antipasto STANDING UP.  Why?  Again, double why?  Isn’t the whole notion of Italian food the ceremony, the presentation, the drawn out pleasure of sitting DOWN to a lovely meal and taking your time over the tit-bits of salami and cheese, with perhaps an aperativo?  I know cab drivers and gondoliers dash up to the bar in a café and have an espresso, or a swift grappa, and maybe even eat something as they chat to the waiter, but to pack yourself into the crowded, noisy, clamouring warehouse that is Eataly and jam yourself up against a railway counter and eat hugely expensive food for FUN?  What's that about?  Posing?  You can sit down too, but the atmosphere is sort of Italian Hell before the apocalypse removes you of the ability to eat, and so you’re stuffing yourself fast, and talking, talking, loudly and importantly.  I HATED it.  Give me the the little one in the basement of I think COIN in Trieste (or no – maybe it was Milan) any day…I shall not return.

Then I went down to Fish’s Eddy for quirky dishes - couldn't find the famous Figures from the Torah mugs, sigh, and into ABC where I sighed again and shied from the prices.  I always feel like I’m starring in my very own movie when I’m in New York, but it’s obviously a movie I can’t really afford to see.  Who pays $60 for a ceramic hand of Fatima that’s three inches long?  Not, I.

I had to be home by four to get my hair and make-up done.  Poor little not rich girl, freeloading off her fabulous friends.  In the chair having the make-up artist – and he’d have to be an artist to do anything with me – qlueing false eyelashes on to my stubbies, and brushing my eyebrows for longer than most people do their teeth in order to get them even. Oh the peasant me with my open pores and unplucked brows.  The shame of it.

Then Luiz, the most beautiful man in the world, inside and out, did my hair.  He put it up and when I looked at myself in the mirror, gasp – there was a moment when I thought – shoot – who am I and what have you done with my ugly sister.  It was really a Cinderella story – though still wearing rags (the ‘vintage’ dress) but with this new gorgeous me, all even skin tones, fluttery dark eyes and an elegant platinum chignon. 


I don’t think I have ever felt that I looked nicer, even on my wedding day when I was a skinny 25 year old redhead.

If I could have frozen time then, I would have.  Albeit that none of my nearest and dearest were there to admire me.  Let’s face it.  That’s a small club anyway.  I’m not even sure it exists.

I swung into the party in my purple opera coat, also ‘vintage’ the entire outfit costing less than $100 fancying I looked a million of them.  ‘You look ravishing,’ said Jerry.  And Socrates.  And Greg.  And Luis.  And Bruce.  And Tim, with an added darling.  All these men who attested to my ravishability and yet they’re all gay and wouldn’t ravish me if there was a frost and all the cocks in Manhattan froze and fell off.  But nevertheless I felt lovely, even though with every step I took and swing of the magnificent plus sized hips I heard a drum and cymbal crash like I was Gypsy Rose Lee about to look over her shoulder with a saucy wink, and peel a glove off – boom, chic a boom, chic a boom, chic a boom. 

Until I walked out of the terrace and saw The Jeweller and the Jeweller’s Wife arrive, and a man acing the Cary Grant/Don Draper look in his white dinner jacket (but isn’t it after labour day?  Should you still wear white?) turned to Jeweller’s wife and said something out of the corner of his mouth. 

‘Was that about me?’  I asked, as he excused himself hurriedly and went of in search of his wife who had been tanned and feathered in champagne ostrich plumes for the evening.  Jeweller’s wife said that it was just that she had been worried about being under-dressed.  The woman is so beautiful she could wear a sack and smile and there wouldn’t be a man in the place who wouldn’t think she was the dictionary definition of elegance, but for the rest of the evening I kept wondering – what did he say?  If someone is looking for reassurance that they aren’t under-dressed and a can-can dancer in black Crimplene, Mae Wests across the floor towards you, what do you say that you don’t want to repeat?  I mean, it can’t be good.  Can it?  Is that a gun in your pocket and have you shot yourself in the foot with it?

The bubbles went flat in my pink champagne.  It was like the magic spell wore off, and instead of feeling fabulous I was just fat and faintly ridiculous, not up to scratch amongst the glitteringly wealthy and their even more glittering wives.

This was only underlined when, after dinner had passed and I was dancing with my host, following his lead with the concentration of a rock-climber just one crampon away from falling into a crevasse, I twirled off the floor and sat down next to the Style Queen who told me I was unzipped.  What?  Unzipped, how?  Because the zip on the back of my dress had unpeeled like a banana to reveal my nude strapless bra, tights that came up to my armpits, and the fat-girls underwear – rib high Spanx that were the hidden architecture supporting my facade, supposedly smoothing out all my fat into streamlined latex curves.  Behind the seams.  Oh, holy fuck.  Drizella bursting out of her budget frock.  Kill.  Me.  Now.

He zipped me up, tutting that someone ‘had replaced the metal zip with a plastic one’ – had they?  Or was the vintage dress, not really a vintage dress and just an old, cheap dress with a cheap plastic zip in it whose teeth, unlike mine, refused to properly grit?  By the time I walked across the floor to the bar it had burst again, this time in the middle, gaping like a gurning clown mouth.  I rushed for my Uncle Fester opera coat, and just as the fourth band of the evening struck up a bit of Motown, ran down the steps of the Museum of the City of New York, my legs peeping out of their slashed to the knee black dress, like Morticia-rella rushing to her carriage, or in this case the waiting limo, to be whisked home before she turned back into a pumpkin.  Alas too late – a pumpkin, a big fat beige one, I had well and truly shown myself to be – to one hundred members of New York society.  And not a handsome ruddy prince amongst them.

At home, I wrestled rather drunkenly with a can of Pellegrino for five minutes before realising there was a foil cover on top, then stood in front of the mirror and picked the pins out of my hair, one by one, wiped the make up away, peeled the false eyelashes off, and prized myself out of the Spanx that are a lot less fun than they sound.

Much like parties, my dears, much like parties...