Monday, October 3, 2016

A Night with Lauren Bacall

About a lifetime ago, I worked in television. Well, Italian public television which is really in a league of its own. I was a producer/editor on a daily variety show and one of my duties was to take care of the foreign guests. The conductor, Paolo Limiti, loved old Hollywood stars so we had guests like Cyd Charisse, Sophia Loren, ect. When I heard Lauren Bacall was coming I was just as excited as everybody else. My colleague, Roger Mazzeo, and I were told to pick her up at her hotel one night and accompany her to a secret location. Her first question: "And what are you two doing here?" was a real ice breaker and when she saw the white limo that was specially ordered for her, she gasped: "I hate Bentleys, especially white ones." As we drove, she dished out the pleasantries: "Oh God, cobblestones... Tell me again, why are you two here and why on earth are you coming to dinner with me? Who are you?" Here, I was strongly tempted to put my philosophy degree to use (finally) and offer a possible existential answer but Roger who is very sweet tried to explain: "We work on the show and..." She bluntly cut him off with a rhetorical: "No, I mean, who ARE you? And where the hell are we going?" So that was the small talk sorted, then.
     At this point, we were further and further away. Each mile into the foggy Lombard countryside, a personal affront. The chauffeur whispered to me in Italian that we were going to a secluded dinner club open especially for us. I had a pretty strong feeling that this wasn't exactly the dream dinner location  a star like Bacall wanted to go to. "Why are we going so far?" she complained. Roger took the bait and innocently answered: "Because Paolo wants to give you a special treat?" "If he wanted to give me a special treat I wouldn't be sitting in a white stretch limo with you two driving to who the f@#k knows where!" She did have a point.
     Once there, she refused everything that was offered to her and asked the waiter (owner/good friend of Paolo): "A simple green salad? How hard is that to make?" Then, when Paolo told her about this delicious burrata that they sell in Milan, she replied: "Well, if it's so good, why didn't you buy one for me?"
     Since a big part of my job was to simultaneously translate, it was hard to stop especially since Paolo was happy for me to edit what he was saying, by adding little anecdotes, like: "He has the top rated variety show on television," or "He was just voted most popular Italian TV host." So we were both taken aback when she just turned towards me and ordered: "Will you PLEASE stop talking to me?" This was right after I mentioned that my brother had gone to an apartment viewing in the Dakota (where she lived in NY) and had mentioned what a beautiful building it was. "Why on earth would YOUR brother go to the Dakota?" I decided not to bring up the fact that he actually lived just a couple of blocks down.
     The restaurant's wall was covered with photos of actors like Sylvester Stallone or Sharon Stone posing with the owner so, when he came over to ask if she minded taking a picture with him, nobody was too surprised. But she was ready.  "Of course I won't take a picture with him. I know what these people are like. They'll put it on the wall so that it seems as though we are friends." (The week before Cyd Charisse had happily obliged). This was especially embarrassing since the owner was clearly a good friend of Paolo.  At this point, Paolo's assistant motioned to me to follow him to another room. "We have a small problem. Who knew Lauren Bacall would be such a iena (Italian for 'not so nice')? After dinner, we are going to need you to escort her out of the restaurant and act surprised by all the journalists and photographers waiting outside."
     I was pretty sure she wouldn't believe journalists had spontaneously followed us all the way to this secluded club on the outskirts of Milan. And it was raining. Oh good, maybe she would hit me over the head with an umbrella. She seemed to particularly have it in for me. I fell in that category of unimportant people. I could always tell the real stars, those were the ones who treated the 'unimportant' people well. Even though they didn't have to. Made me wish I was the daughter of an important film director she would some day be auditioning for. I could stand next to my Dad, the film director, as she was about to read her lines and say: "Remember me?"
    The week before, I had accompanied poor Cyd Charisse, a real trooper, to the bathroom in the TV studio. When she discovered it was a squat toilet, she merely said: "Oh, interesting." I didn't wait around to hear what Lauren Bacall said when I brought her into the same bathroom. In her defence, it was pretty grim and in true Italian bureaucratic spirit, this was a toilet that could only be opened by one special janitor we had had to look for and who arrived with an air of extreme importance as she indicated that she had the key to this 'special' toilet hanging from her neck.

P.S. The picture above is the way I like to remember Lauren Bacall.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cultural Shape-Shifter in Singapore

That day you wake up and find out you have been called the cultural shape-shifter of a country.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Happy 51st Birthday, Singapore!!

And borrowing words from Jerry Maguire: "You had us at hello."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Snapshots from a Summer Holiday

"I should have expected this..." -Rembrandt, original master of selfies (National Gallery, London)

"We can take him." (Arena di Verona)
"One day, this will all be yours." (Lungadige Verona)

Aperitivo with a view.

In Italy, these bathing suits qualify as scuba gear. (Gaeta, Italy)

Not sure this is the quickest way to get to Singapore but it's worth a shot.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Coffee, Anyone?

A Tale of Two Bars.
My father will only go to Bar Jolly, my brother Julian only to Bar Rialto. So when we are in Verona for the summer holidays, the seemingly simple choice of where to get one's morning cappuccino can have serious implications. Lines are drawn, alliances formed. It's like a play by Eugene O'Neill only with less potential for a happy outcome.
(In list above, Eliot clearly feeling the pressure already.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fourth Graders Land in Sibu, Malaysia

Notwithstanding the fall from the bunk bed on the first night, the bloody nose from the errant volleyball, and the heat rash...seems like Eliot's very first school trip away from home was a smashing success!! True, the water had an unusual taste and air conditioning was high on the list of things missed by these Singapore kids but the biggest takeaway (apart from the sand that made its way home) was that you need to work together as a team, help one another, and be a risk taker. Oh, and if you pull too hard on the mosquito net covering the bed it will in fact land on your face.

P.S. My own first school trip away from home wasn't until high school and my Mom was not only one of the chaperones, but somehow my roommate as well. Good times. (Photos by Roxanne Walker).

"So you say we're going to boogie board..."

"Not so shabby..."

"It's a jungle out there."

"Best trip ever!"

"I'm alive!"-Ms. Roxanne Walker after four days in Malaysia with her class.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Writing a Book

Well, I finally found the perfect pencil. Now, all I need is a room of my own. And a plot would be good too.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Portrait of a Mom

An Audrey Hepburn meets Alice in Wonderland type of Mom.
The kind who believes in fairy tales and the magic of snow. The kind voted best dressed in high school but who also bought her own presents as a child so she would have something to unwrap on Christmas day. The kind who made every holiday a special event with baked cakes, basted turkeys, and pine cone decorated trees. The kind who always made hot chocolate and sent you on trips with a little extra money and a note to read later.
The kind who made motherhood seem like a cinch: whipping up impromptu meals for large groups of people, wrapping up presents at the speed of light, dressing up to go out leaving behind a faint scent of Chanel n.5. The kind who has her grandchildren call her Bronte, who is impossible to say goodbye to on the phone, who suggests Witch Hazel or Bengay (sometimes both) as a solution to most problems.
The kind who greets disparate news with the exact same wide-eyed look of disbelief: "You're moving to Singapore?" "You're not wearing a scarf?" "You're cooking?"
Not always the best organizer: "But Signora, the bus you chartered to bring the group to the airport has less seats than people...Isn't that a map of San Francisco? I thought we were going to New York...We've been assigned to sleep in rooms with random people. " (Good news for some, less for others.)
Not always the best at boosting confidence: "Don't worry, you'll be beautiful at sixteen. What's that? You are sixteen. Well, that's odd. Fingers crossed for seventeen."
Not always the most discerning: "If you're not going to eat that perfectly fine piece of cheese on your hospital tray, I will."
Not always the most trustworthy: "Purple corduroy is all the rage. Your friends will be jealous."
Not always the most reliable: "Childbirth? A cakewalk. You were born before I knew it."
Not always conventional : Mom, isn't it 4 am where you are? "Yeah, I just felt like chatting."
But always, no matter what...our biggest fan. Thank you, Mom.
Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ten Things I Learned at My Son's Swim Meet

Dragons Den 2016, UWCSEA EAST 

Over the weekend, I watched my son compete in Dragons Den, a yearly International Swim Meet held at UWCSEA EAST with swimmers coming as faraway as Thailand and Japan. As expected, the swimming was unbelievable, the coaches amazing, and the spirit second to none. However, as I sat nine hours straight under the sun each day, there were a few things I learned. Mostly about myself.

1) Watching a swim meet in Singapore is the closest I will ever come to participating in an extreme sport.
2) Singapore swim meets are grueling, stamina building, heatstroke defying tests of endurance...and the swimmers have it pretty tough as well.
3) Like real estate, location is key. If possible, avoid sitting behind the guy with the whistle or microphone. Likewise, the overzealous mom who sounds like she wishes she were in the pool swimming alongside her child.
4) Bring an advil. At some point, you will need one.
5) After sitting for so many hours on a metal bleacher, you will lose all feeling in the bottom half of your body.
6) Thanks to the humidity, your hair will frizz to new heights and your clothes will stick not only to you but to the person next to you.
7) Bringing a newspaper to the meet, may have sounded like a good idea at some point.
8) Only wear suede shoes and sit ringside at a pool, if you want to test how good you are at anger management.
9) Jump up to cheer only if you don't have a cup of very hot coffee in your hand.
10) You are watching some of the best young swimmers in South East Asia, some are even headed to the Olympic trials. So sit back and enjoy yourself. Just remember there are no backs on bleachers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Things We Remember

I remember moving to Verona from South Carolina. Having a southern accent, not liking the taste of Italian milk, or the different way meat was cooked. Not seeing well but nobody noticing I needed glasses.
Spending recess alone at the school library reading. Not being allowed to go on sleepovers.
Watching the series "Roots" in the darkened cafeteria while it snowed outside.
Going home after school and reading instead of doing homework. Always reading. I remember walking to drama class on my own and an old man sticking out his tongue at me in a strange way.
I remember walking home in the dark to a warm house with delicious smells coming from the kitchen.
I remember creating a makeshift post office in the house and writing all of the letters myself. Hearing arguments because my older brother wanted a vespa and my parents didn't want him to have one. The sound of a piano playing all afternoon. My great aunts laughing at one of my stories.
Now that I have a daughter who is the same age I was then, I wonder what she will remember? Will it be the apple slices I put every day in her lunch box? The goodbye hugs before boarding the bus, the ride to school sitting next to her big brother? The evening I mentioned I was home cooking dinner instead of being at a fancy movie gala sipping champagne and she answered, without missing a beat, that that was my choice. The quick wittedness of which I begrudgingly admired, wishing I had been so logical as a child.
Or will her deepest memories have nothing at all to do with me. After all, what are apple slices and hugs when compared to being chosen for a school team, invited to a party, or told someone has a crush on you.
What I do know is that as I cut the apples, tie the pony tails, and listen to the science reports, I am the one who is already reminiscing, looking back on these days, and feeling, what the poet Jorge Luis Borges called, nostalgia for the present.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

When Visitors Come to Singapore

Yes, the sun rises and sets the same time all year round in Singapore.
My brother Stephen and his family just returned to London after a whirlwind vacation here in Singapore. Although when you're travelling with three small boys, I think the appropriate term is "working holiday'" and not vacation. Now that the house is silent and we can put the good china out again (just joking...that was the good china), here are some things I noticed visitors do when coming to Singapore.

1) They spend a lot of time either at the pool or talking about how they could be at the pool.
2) They think visiting temples in the midday sun is an acceptable plan.
3) They question the quality of jade souvenirs bought in Chinatown.
4) They are happy it's so sunny outside. Even when they are outside.
5) They go to Sentosa. A lot. Definitely more than is recommended.
6) They research and visit places you have yet to go to: Artscience museum, for example. This might make a lesser person feel guilty. I am not that person. Especially if they take the kids with them.
7) They spend 9 hours at the zoo. In fairness, the Singapore zoo is very cool and the only zoo I know of that doesn't keep the animals in cages. Still, 9 hours! Then again, this could be just my brother known for his freakish stamina on very few hours of sleep. I don't think my own kids have ever been out that long in one day. When spending the day out with Stephen, a medical certificate or basic training is advisable.
8) They drink a lot of coffee but not nearly as much water. The concept of dehydration in the tropics hasn't really sunk in.
9) They appreciate a good masala dhosai breakfast in Little India. Even if the place looks a bit dodgy.
10) Upon arrival, the humidity doesn't wreak as much havoc with their hair as you would expect, nor the jetlag with their mood, but that could be from the elation at having survived a 13 hour flight with a toddler.

We miss you guys!

Breakfast with the Orangutans...just the beginning.