Saturday, May 14, 2005

Every Woman is an Island, Unless she's a Peninsula

My exotic and gifted friend Nadya(the two adjectives are symbiotic: she lives in Bali, where she creates and manufactures outrageously original and flauntable clothes) blew into town with the Spring winds, and a raft of her designs, flogging them from her hotel suite at the Surrey. Nadya is from Chicago, but she has lived in Bali for a quarter of a century, I think, long enough to have become fairly Balinese in her thinking. That is, she understands the dark side, as all the religious statues in Bali are draped with black and white checks, the Ramayana is danced with that color combo in its costumes, as Bali people believe there cannot be light without the contrasting darkness, and their deep spirituality is underscored with an understanding and acceptance of evil as necessary to get to the good. So she was able to help me to be almost (almost, I am not there yet)peaceful about the mysterious and improbable death of my beloved friend Sandy, who was, according to Howard Chua, one of her bosses at Time Magazine, "a legend," a fearless and selfless journalist who was with Aquino at the time of his assassination, became a force in the People's revolution in the Phillipines, was in Tiennamen Square defying the tanks, in elephant stampedes, went to Burma to interview the Nobel prize winner under house arrest, made it through a multitude of dangerous and brilliant adventures in her lucid and inconspicuous(except for her writing, which was radiant) fashion, only to retire to Bali to write a book and die in a bizarre "accident" in her bathroom. Nadya helped me get over that(though not all the way) by assuring me that Sandy herself, being a fan of Bali and its ironies, would appreciate the manner of her own departure, that is to say, not appreciate it in the savoring sense, but in the discerning one, as a full enactment of the incongruity, the absurdity, the enigma.
Anyway, in pops Nadya, glistening in the oncoming darkness with the subtle threads of Lurex in her black and wine red garb, telling me at Cafe Boulud, which mercifully sides the Surrey with a number of outdoor tables, so Mimi could come, too. We had a light dinner and some wine, as she told me in her designerguru manner that Bali and New York are very much alike. 1]they are both jungles; 2]they are both islands; and 3} everybody on them is too busy to make plans, but if you are in trouble they will come to your aid.
As longtime friends who have read these reports are aware, my favorite place on the planet is Bali. (Tied, or a very close second, is the Hotel Bel-Air, but it is unrealistic to think in terms of long sojourns there.) As friends are also aware, I am in a struggle to try and love New York. I of course love the theater, the best argument for being here besides Central Park on a good day, right across the street, so Mimi thinks it's her front yard. But even the matinee revival I am going to today at City Center is $94.00, so the beginner, which I was once, coming onto the scene today would have a very hard time being an aficionado, a learner, whatever, unless they had a very deep pocket, probably in someone else's pants.
Still, what Nadya said helped. I shall try and view this city with the same love and eagerness to start the day I feel beside the Indian Ocean on Seminyak beach, though it would help if there were a warm pool I could swim in at six in the morning. On Mimi's walk today we again ran into the fierce and combative Trouble, the four pound Maltese of Leona Helmsley, being given an outing by yet another suhvant of that lady. Trouble once again snarled and tried to attack Mimi, demonstrating her ferocity, which one must assume is a part of her DNA, passed onto her by her owner, who is now eighty-four and, according to the doorman who usually walks Trouble, much mellowed, both by time and her experience in jail. I have considered approaching her for an article about how the courts don't like bright women(see Martha Stewart, Leona, me, and Jean Harris, although as my friend Carole Kessie pointed out, the last did shoot Dr. Tarnower dead, Bang Bang) and, in the fantasy version, becoming her friend and swimming daily in her pool, at either end of which, the unforgiving reader will remember, a servant gave her a shrimp. Robert Mondavi has a lap pool beside his bed in Napa, and rolls into it every morning, swimming for a half hour, and he is now well into his nineties, so I do believe that swimming may be the key to extraordinary longevity and bulbs continuing to light in the brain, though having a lot of wine may not hurt.
So it is that I will, with the help of yet another surprisingly perfect day, and Nadya's perspective, toddle off to the matinee with a burgeoning love of this city in my heart, though my spirit will once again be conflicted by what I am going to see, a revival of The Apple Tree. In 1966, as I am horrified to note it was first presented, my God, almost 40 years ago, I was a songwriter, friends with Jules Feiffer whose story 'Passionella' I thought would be perfect for Carol Burnett, another pal on the way up, though she had an open bar at her party in LA(you paid for your drinks) Carol liked the idea, too, and Jules was willing. But then it got bought to be one of three pieces in The Apple Tree, directed by Mike Nichols who was still humble. I got over my disappointment because I was so elated by the talent of Barbara Harris, the lead in the show, who sang like an angel, was funny, and had chubby cheeks, so I identified. After scoring a gigantic success on Broadway, she disappeared. Nobody knows where she is. Maybe she's in Bali.
Walking along the path by the lake this morning I remembered one of the songs I had written to try and entice Carol and convince Jules.
Not bad. And it had a really nice melody, too.
I am hearing songs all the time now in my head. 'The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in NY' from 'Guys and Dolls' made its way into my consciousness. And yesterday I heard Mary Martin sing 'Cockeyed Optimist.' I wonder where it is that skies are a bright canary yellow. In Bali they are often lavender, but it's hard to find rhymes for that. .

Friday, May 13, 2005

I LOVE NEW YORK, Or at least I'm trying to

It is the kind of day that Sinatra would come back to sing about, if he could. The air is still crisp, not yet dissolving into that murky humidity that makes the city hard to handle, the sun as I sat on a park bench reading as much as I could bear of the news, was warming, but not too. There have been a few really fine days, my birthday being one of them, but this is a day that The Singer would revel in, and reach for a new lyric that was the sunshiney equivalent of A Foggy Day, in New York though, instead of London.
All the blossoms have fallen or been blown from the trees, the fragile blooms lying browning along the paths where Mimi ambles and sniffs, and what fills the park now is a thick burst of green, lush lush lush, punctuated along the lake with intrusions of red and fuchsia, I mean really fuchsia bushes. I wonder how Nature does that. These are the colors you might expect in a fashion show. I must suppose there is in Nature some Christian LeCroix, a gifted show-off.
So seeing the beauty, I have decided to start dating New York, hopeful it might turn into a romance.
The other night, my birthday, was kind of a harbinger of what I might expect on the reality romance level. Some friends joined me at the Society of Illustrators, the wonderful club of which I am a member, started by Mark Twain, one of my major loves. Tuesday nights they have nude models and members come to sketch and there's a jazz group. I commandeered the terrace alongside the Toulouse-Lautrecky action, and had my own jazz group, though they didn't play. Bob Dorough was there, the jazzman's jazzman, my buddy since Paris when he played at the Mars Club, a boite a cote(accent on the e pronounced aa) de la Rue Marbeuf, accompanying me while I sang the songs that had been such a hit at the Bryn Mawr Junior Prom, in the first of my ancillary, unexpected careers, as prodded by Maya Angelou, whose act had preceeded me. Other close friends this birthday night at the Illutrators, were Betsy and her husband Ash, Carleen and my cousin Lori, and then there was Carol Kessie. Carol has been my friend since the book tour for The Pretenders, which took me to the Playboy Mansion in Chicago, where I first met Carol, in her secret identity as the Playboy Advisor, giving hard-nosed sex advice from the point of view of a savvy man. Her gift to me for my natal day was a suntanned, handsome, smart human rights lawyer she had picked up just outside the club with his friend, a nice guy who teaches English in the South Bronx. "Can it be?" she whispered to me, "that this handsome smart man is still available?" herself being the winner of a successful match online, finding a really nice second husband, so she can afford to be generous. But halfway through the most enjoyable evening, Chase Mishkin, the red-haired embodiment of no nonsense, a Broadway producer, murmured "Gwen, they're with each other." Oh, well.
Then last night I went to visit a friend in the Museum Towers. The door was open across the hall, a nd we were invited in to a party being given by the Quebec delegate to the US. All the men there were couples, and the art on the wall was Polaroid pictures of the artist and his lover in various sexual acts, dipped in chocolate, and covered with drippings from a double boiler. So I guess it's just me and Mimi, and the glory that is New York when you don't expect anything from it, or even hope for something, except that the weather should stay like this for a few more days. And of course that Bolton won't be confirmed, but that would be like expecting there were still unattached men who weren't gay.
From 'the other side of the pond,' as John Kerry put it when I thought he was still the hope: my friend David Alderdice, the young Lord Mayor of Belfast when I first went there and fell in love with it out of my addiction to the hopeless, stood for parliament in North Down in this past election and lost in the sweep that was the party of Ian Paisley, the out-of-control Protestant extremist, head of the Orangemen. Sinn Fein lost some ground, though Gerry Adams, the head of it, for whom I lost all respect when he walked out of John McCain's speech urging conciliation in D.C. on St. Patrick's Day, won in The Falls. "You're going to love The Falls," said Ann White, the cheerful owner of White's Tavern, the oldest in Belfast, my first guide in that incredibly hospitable-to-strangers city, where live the kindest people in the world, except to each other. I imagined it would be a place of waterfalls and forests, but when we got there it was quite simply the part of town that was Catholic, on their side of the wall. The wall had barbed wire on the top, and fearsome drawings of terrorists in black masks, holding horrifying weapons. And there were young girls in red blazers and pigtails coming home from school, careful to keep to their part of town. Shooting hadn't happened for a while, and it was a time of great hope, with George Mitchell negotiating a Peacekeeping agreement. But the fact that Paisley's party won so overwhelmingly these several years later means that hate and fear is still the defining motivater for the voters, as seems increasingly to be the case here as well. But David, for the Alliance party, which is for that, alliance, won on the local level, so he will be able at least to be a force for good, and cling to his dream of real reconciliation. I wonder if there's anyone on our side of the pond who could effectively be the same.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Is there Life after Brad and Angelina?

So there I was in the grocery store, and almost every magazine cover is about Them. Having experienced a moment of genuine merriment watching the usually snide and unlaughable Bill Maher, when he said, over their picture, "The two best-looking people in the world should be allowed to fuck," I determined to get on with my life, and try not to be caught by movie mags, or, indeed, US and PEOPLE. Having recently, as close friends know,become a Blogger, my new adventure as a blogger debuting the same night The Daily Show featured blogging, so I felt once again that my timing might be quite correct, I then decided to further expand my horizons by overcoming my fear of the internet. My blog had been set up by a friend who understands those things, so tiptoeing in for a narcissistic view of myself, I decided to try and go beyond my blog and find out where else I might be in this techie paradise, where I am a stranger(Music UP: Borodin.)
To my astonishment, like Alice, which happened to be my real first name at birth, but all around me knew from the getgo I was no Alice, so skipped to the middle name, Gwen, I fell into a hole, not made by rabbits, but by modern technology, And there I was, looming up before myself, with the headline Alibris, a site that claimed they could get all my books used,
As all who know me know, I have allowed myself to be used, badly sometimes but well others, so it did not surprise me that I could be found used, though I doubted their assertion that they could get all my books. So I Googled Alibris and me, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but not only all 17 novels, but also my poems, Changes, Happy at the Bel-Air, a little whimsy I wrote and a wonderful photographer, Sonia Moskowitz lensed gloriously, a book of meditations(How to Survive in Suburbia when your Heart's in the Himalayas, all of them available, used, for $2.95 EXCEPT (I underline for a reason) a book of poetry American Woman Loose in the UK that I wrote when I was at Oxford the summer Jamie was making 'A Fish Called Wanda' to give you some sense of the timing. That book is listed at $47.27. I must confess to a certain astonishment, as it was never really placed on the market, having been published by a small printer in Eynsham, Oxfordshire, with, I think, perhaps a hundred copies, most of which I gave away to friends. It is,-- I appraise myself dispassionately, distance and time making it seem no longer really mine,-- as someone once wrote about Touching , "a slender book but not thin." In fact, those poems may be the best thing I ever wrote, because they came from a place of complete vulnerability, as I let go of Don, who had died not that long before, all the while exploring the English countryside.

Oh, Love, if I could bid you
Come and stay with me
To lift my heart again
And take me in your arms, and be
If we could look into
Each other's eyes once more
With all we understand now of mortality
How much we'd see
If we could seize the moment
Knowing what comes after
We'd waste no time, or lose a beat
Of temporary laughter
For nothing stays the same except the truth
And only you will always have your youth.

Lest you think I could not be merry while coming to my senses:

The dish I ordered
Like the young Englishman I loved once
Sounded delicious
But had very little taste
And no character.

No more of this! But where did they get the book, I ask you? It is like the time I got on a plane when there was still a Pan Am, and I was holding a novel of mine, back cover photo out, hoping for an upgrade, and the stewardess(they were still called then) said "Oh, you're Gwen Davis! I love your poetry." She was a pretty young thing, and I had published Changes some years before, which few had access to also, most copies having been bought by my mother . "Thank you, " I said, "I'm so glad you read poetry. But you must have me mixed up with someone else," thinking she of course meant Erica Jong, or someone else flagrantly visible. "Don't tell me," said Valeria, which was her name, as she gently pushed me against the cabin door, and started reciting. "Reality is life with the shit kicked into it," she said, quoting quite accurately She had bought the book in Paris, where it had never been, so it was clearly a miracle. Naturally we became best friends, and I flew Pan Am whenever I could until its extinction.
Amazingly, Alibris has 22 of my books, my God, 22, count 'em, 22. And under "more books like this" they list The Prophet and The Bell Jar. My very Goodness. Perhaps I have underestimated who I was.
Do not rush to buy it though at that price. I will send you a pome from time to time, some from that book, some from my soul, now that I know my spirit shares shelf space in that great library in the sky with The Prophet and Her. Another poem from Oxford that summer:

Sylvia Plath
Walked this path

I must be careful. So must we all. xx

Monday, May 09, 2005


Thoreau said 'We need the tonic of wildness.' I need, on occasion, more than occasionally, the tonic of tranquility recollected in bullshit, which I find when I go to LA, and stay at the Hotel Bel-Air. The hotel itself is a miracle of salvation in that Porsche-driven company town, one of the three major company towns in America, the other two being Rochester, New York, where the company is Eastman-Kodak, and Washington, D.C. where the company is the government, whose present company I wouldn't like to keep, and hope we get rid of before they get rid of what used to feel like America. In Hollywood, which LA is unless you live in San Marino, the company is, of course, the motion picture industry. When I lived in LA, and was a victim of the same kind of yearning to be part of it as poisons the soul of the purest of people, of which I did not have the hubris to consider myself one, but I was at least a seeker, I could go into that canyon and cross the bridge to the hotel, and immediately feel a sense of peace, as though it were a Power Spot, acceptable to Carlos Castenada and even Shirley MacLaine. It offered Renewal, as Power Spots will, and restoring, like the best of spas, the lush foliage beneath the bridge, when you walked along that fake waterway, with its signature swans, wrapping you in a sense of tranquility almost as palpable as you feel in Bali, the world's best Power Spot, in my opinion. No matter what bullshit was going on on the patio, where stars eat and you can't take a picture, especially if Sean Penn is at the next table, lest he punch out the photographer, where Nancy Reagan lunches, where Oprah leaves her self-appointed post as Just One of the People, you can always heal your spirit with minimal effort.
My minimal effort consisted of swimming for fifty minutes in the oval pool(my riff on the alloted head-clearing time with a shrink.) I had the privilege of doing that even though I wasn't a guest at the hotel, because I was friends with the then manager. Special occasions were always celebrated there: my daughter's Sweet Sixteen, my husband's last public meal when he was mortally ill. At my most restive, I had a nose for serenity, and as I morphed into a better person, or tried to, I cloaked myself in the hotel like a comforter, and it was. I had a sweet little Yorkie who became, for a while, the hotel's somewhat celebrated symbol, a canine Eloise who appeared on Oprah, though she didn't show the book, the bitch. When my daughter married (for the first time: she grew up in Beverly Hills, alas) it was underneath their beautiful white, flower-draped-for- the occasion, gazebo. When she divorced not too long afterwards, I suggested to the manager that the wedding-arrangement contract should have a rider where for an extra $10,000 the hotel included the divorce. The survival rate of marriages held there is apparently not that high, in spite of the glorious surroundings. One couple attacked by the swans during the ceremony, myth hath it, did not make it through their honeymoon.
But now that I live in New York, or try to, after a chill, cruel winter, and some brief but evanescent pleasant days where I walked Mimi, my Bichon Frise, through a serpentine swirl of tulips in Central Park,--on one foray we encountered Leona Helmsley's well-dressed dog, Trouble, who was about three pounds, a third Mimi's size but attacked her anyway--when the weather turned bleak again, I JetBlued to the Left Coast, as it is called by cynics, of which I am sometimes one. And there I was, back at the Bel-Air. Mimi, by nature an aristocrat, took to it like a swan to water, and was unimpressed at her first evening walk when she ran into Robert De Niro. He seemed uncomfortable at having been discovered, even by a dog, but by their second encounter was actually affable, and accepted with grace my congratulations at the success of the Tribeca Film Festival, and what it had done for New York. So I did what I had to do to get my heart back into a good place, swimming for the fifty minutes every day at 6 AM, talking to Gus, a bartender Damon Runyan would have liked to stay alive for, and listening to his troubles, working writing a play in my florallycheerful room, getting a haircut from Dusty Fleming, seeing my friend Baby Elizabeth, who teeters prettily on the brink of being Middle-Aged Elizabeth now, and the new twins produced by my accountant slash psychological counselor Lisa, who knew I needed babies to play with, and is generous to a double fault. Then I went to a Safe House for a meeting with my most fearsome adversary, the Safe House provided by Heidi, the wise and gifted daughter of my best friend from Bryn Mawr, Muggy, who is married to a close associate of Rummy's, but we love them anyway. One of the mornings I was joined for breakfast by Jamie(Lee Curtis, for those of you who are new to these reports) who added to her role as movie-star hyphen children's book author to become my financial consultant, telling me I had enough money to live fully the way I wanted, since I got $900 a month from Don's Social Security, and $400 from the Writer's Guild, which adds up to $1300 a month, so she said was over $130,000 a year, but I explained to her that was the year she had skipped in school, when they taught math. Anyway, I am back from there now, fully revived, and ready to take on New York, where it seems to be Spring at last, my having pulled California back with me.
Some sad news: Herb Sargent, one of the great, funny men of my lifetime, that is to say, he was a great man, and funny, kind and generous and smart, the constantly re-elected president of the Writer's Guild East, who we joked should have been elected president for life, which turned out, unhappily, to be how it was, died last week of a heart attack. Adding insult to mortality, his death was announced in an e-mail from Dan Petrie. president of West, who probably contributed to it, having initiated a civil war in the Guild, trying to turn West against East, which punishing rift Herbie was desperately fighting to avert.
And from across the sea, another sadness: my lovely friend Denise Fehlmann in Lucerne-- I met her when I was writing travel for the Wall Street Journal Europe and she conducted me through that city's magnificent concert hall-- lost her husband, Kurt, the former chief of police of Luzern as it's spelled in German, a post that sounded very romantic to me, especially when coupled with a girl from Seattle, which she was. But Kurt was fired when politically-opposed-to-him people took power, and gave out the propaganda that he had been fired because he was burned out. The humiliation destroyed his spirit, and he took his own life two weeks ago, walking in the woods where he used to walk his dog. So there are places that are more venal politically than the US, for the moment anyway. The tragedy iis that men define themselves in terms of what they do, instead of what they are.
But to end on an up note, tomorrow night I will be celebrating my birthday, and the milestone is marked by the fact that Tony, Lisa's husband, father of the twins, has taught me to blog. So I'm not getting older, I'm getting bletter.