Sunday, February 21, 2010

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 chauffer 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')? 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. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lady Pink Slipper

An old friend of mine from college just reminded me of a funny story. When I was a sophomore at Vassar College in upstate New York I did an internship at the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Clinic for the Criminally Insane. To gain credits in Philosophy for the internship, I proposed to write a paper analyzing the relationship between the patients and the psychologist using Hegel's Lord and Bondsman Theory. It was a fairly dangerous program if you consider two college students being in a locked ward with about 12 mentally insane people who had all committed some crime. In fact, I think we were the last students allowed to do the program. Mostly I would listen to their stories or play ping pong with them (picking up that fallen ball fairly quickly when I was playing with the guy who killed someone with a pencil...yes, it is possible. To kill someone with a pencil.) The patients were sweet and I did get more than one marriage proposal...(good for the ego although I had to remind myself it was from a guy who had killed both parents because a bunny had told him to do it).
I remember that the very first time I walked into the room, all the men started running, and I mean running towards me. Then the psychiatrist explained it was because of the open door behind me but I remained convinced it was my curly and unruly hair that had driven them 'wild' and wore it in a tight bun afterwards. Back at Vassar, I would tell my friends about my day. How I heard all about orchids from a patient who was referred to as 'the biter' because he had literally bitten chins off people. In fact, I had the uneasy sensation that he was staring at my chin the entire time I was there. Anyway, the last time we had to go to the Clinic, my fellow intern and I first drove to a convenience store to buy chips, drinks, and a cake so that we could throw a small goodbye party for all the patients. They were so happy. That was a day I'll never forget.
(Pictured above: the rare Pink Lady Slipper orchid)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'll Take the Condo

Black and White Houses are an institution in Singapore. A throwback from colonial times. But along with the prestige there are a few things you should know before moving into one: namely snakes. Oh, and did I mention: SNAKES. Can't remember the other ones. I think my mind went blank after I heard the reptile word.
Black and White Houses? I don't think so.
Give me a high rise condo any day. Air con, pools, tennis courts, playground. Our condo is so cool, it's like an airplane where nobody paid the same price for the ticket. Rents are bizarrely different. The guards keep changing every year which I believe is for security issues but still fairly disconcerting. It's a little bit like living in a fish bowl where your neighbors can see inside your window so that when I got a new canopy bed I looked up to find my neighbor from across the way giving me a thumbs up. But it's also wonderful having so many friends always ready for a potluck dinner by the pool or an impromptu barbecue. Rather than living in Singapore I sometimes feel like it would be more exact to say living in my condo. But I am on the sedentary side and have been to Sentosa (just 20 min away) maybe twice since I've been here.
On the downside, your children may appear spoiled when the first question they ask a new friend is: "So, how many pools does your condo have? Tennis courts? Gym? Jacuzzi?"
Then again my kids think the side of the road is for flagging taxis.
I'll have to explain to them some day that the price of a taxi in Singapore is the price of an espresso in Verona. They are so not ready for the real world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Life in the Fast Lane...(not with a cast on your foot!)

This is the picture I took a couple of months ago from the Singapore Flyer. It was a fun day. Now that I'm just lying here with cast on my broken foot I realize how I underestimated the joy of getting out of bed and standing on your own two feet. The novelty of walking around on crutches has definitely worn off (not that I was ever that excited to begin with).
Whenever I hear a sudden rainstorm outside and water pouring in through the window I get a little shiver remembering the afternoon three weeks ago when I was running to close windows around the house and didn't see the puddle of water at my feet. After flying high into the air I came crashing down and did hear a nice 'crack' in my foot. I was mainly worried about being alone in the house with Eliot and when an ice bag didn't help and I started feeling nauseous I hobbled down to the taxi with help from my friend next door. Eliot did enjoy sitting on my lap as I was wheeled around through the hospital corridors. Two hours later, xrays done, and visit with specialist done, I was on my new crutches with a new fiber glass cast on my foot ready to go home. The Singapore medical service was great. Husband was in China, that was handy. Luckily loads of friends were on hand bearing all sorts of wonderful gifts: books, chocolates, and my favorites, olives. I must say I have definitely caught up on my reading and strongly recommend The White Tiger, The Glass Castle, and Unaccustomed Earth. Where's the Twilight trilogy when you need it. Alexander even kept me company reading his new obsession: Percy Jackson Series. All those years of hearing my Mother say: "Do not run in the house," paid off. Or not.