Cruising on the Crystal
I write you now from Istanbul, Turkey, where we are sailing on the good ship Crystal Symphony. It's totally luxurious and wonderful, the virtual Ritz Carleton of the sea. If you ever want to be treated like a queen, book a trip on a Crystal ship. They're amazing.
Enjoyed Istanbul quite a lot. I visited my first mosque, which was so cool. One interesting factoid is that boys don't get circumcised here until they're seven. The idea is that they should be able to understand that this is a step toward manhood. Yesterday, at the Blue Mosque (the most famous Mosque of all and if I'm spelling Mosque wrong, please forgive me), we saw a little seven-year-old in his white satin and jeweled hat and his special ceremonial robe entering the building with great excitement about his impending circumcision (to take place at the Mosque). Obviously his parents didn't tell him what he was in for. I wanted to tell him, "RUN! Escape while you can." But of course, I didn't. Perhaps it would have been seen as religiously incorrect and threatening. But that poor child!
We went to an apparently world famous night club last night called Raina. Three thousand hot, sweaty (but nicely dressed) singles out for some dancing and hook ups. This is truly not my scene and I told Mark, "this sucks, get me the #*#@ out of here." But we were with the headwaiter from the ship and he was in a funk over the demise of his marriage, so we stayed. Luckily we found a table above the noise and body odor where we could talk and drink and enjoy the amazing view. It was so weird looking down on those 3,000 tanned, toned bodies as they pulsated to current disco tunes. Most people were wearing white.
What else? We spent a few days in Athens before boarding the ship. That was fun. It was so hot there. Mark made me climb up to the Acropolis even though I'd seen it a few years ago and had no desire to climb that mountain again, especially in hundred degree weather. But I joined him because I thought it would be good exercise to counterbalance the thousands of calories I'm downing every day. When you sail the Mediteranean, every port always has some fort or castle or ancient ruins high on a mountain. Why? I don't know. But Mark always insists on climbing the mountain and seeing the ruins first hand. I usually go alone with him because, what else do we have to do? The views are quite spectacular.
Quick disturbing report about Air France. We flew Air France to Paris and then took a different flight to Athens. We were sitting in the front two seats right behind the cockpit and were dismayed to note that there was nothing barring the cockpit door. Further, the stewardesses constantly left their little prep area empty as they went about their work and passengers would come up, knock on the cockpit door, and enter to chat up the pilots. We must have seen ten passengers go up for a little visit during the flight. Coming from New York, this totally freaked us out. If we'd had the desire and skills to hijack that plane, it would have been so easy. At least getting into the cockpit would have been. Needless to say, we won't be flying Air France again. This is sad because their food was very good.
Well, I'm off. It's almost dinnertime and I must dress. Did I mention we are sitting at the Captain's table? We are. How we got assigned there, I'll never know. Perhaps they heard what a charming couple Mark and I are so they put us there to keep the Captain entertained. I do think I put my foot in my mouth the first night when I mentioned to Cap'n (that's what I call him) that if I were going to murder someone, I'd do it on a cruise ship. I've been thinking about that because I thought it might make a fun plot in a book. Cap'n looked askance at me when I mentioned how I'd pull off the perfect murder on his ship. He told me all the obstacles that would stop me which was helpful (security cameras are everywhere!). Anyway, I explained that I was a writer and my interest was purely for entertainment purposes, but Cap'n seems to think I'm weird as opposed to charming. Oh well.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
vacation, 5th grade, mama gina
Mark and I are flying out to Athens later. There, we'll board the Crystal Symphony and cruise to Istanbul, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Santorini, Split, and Venice. I'm totally psyched to be on vacation and to be spending time alone (no kids!) with Mark. I love entering the fantasy world of vacations where you can forget all your responsibilities and just revel in the moment. No alarm clocks, no errands, no work. Yesssss! On Saturday night, Mark went out to hear some jazz very late, as he always does. I didn't go as I'm generally passed out by midnight when he leaves. But he went to a club and who was there but Chaka Khan. Mark ended up dancing away the evening with Chaka and our friend, Leslie, a 6 foot plus gorgeous black jazz singer. I told him that starting his vacation by dancing with Chaka Khan bode well for the rest of our trip. Wish I'd been there. I worship Chaka Khan. Hope I'm spelling her name right.
Earlier Saturday night, I went to Odeon with David Rubin, a friend of mine since we were in cribs. And I mean, baby cribs. He updated me on all our mutual friends from San Antonio. It was great hearing how all were doing (except for the ones who died - not so great hearing about them). An old friend, Julie Alyn sent me a copy of our fifth grade picture which was surprisingly touching to see. I was such a nerd then - cat-rimmed glasses, bobby socks. There was Howard Haring, who was already losing his hair in fifth grade, Donna Balin, my old best friend looking adorable, Caroline Haight, with her perfect posture, John Gouge, the cutest and smartest boy in class who died of a drug overdose years later, Hilton Whitehead and Linda Hefner, the two kids we teased and tortured, Mike Burns whose brother died in a car crash, Bettilynn Ford, the loud and obnoxious beauty, Jackson Diehl, the op-ed editor of the Washington Post now, Mrs. Richter looking like an old lady at fifty. David told me that his first kiss was with Krista McBee at Connie McCombs house (she's Red McCombs's daughter - owner of the San Antonio spurs - it was quite the house). I wasn't invited to that party and was miffed to hear that I was excluded even after 35 years. But I practically died when I heard that Krista was his first kiss. She was the biggest bitch west of the Mississippi. The girl treated me with such cruelty and disdain (kind of like the way we all treated Hilton and Linda in fifth grade). It took years of therapy and I still didn't get over Krista's put-downs. But finally, when I wrote "India Fudge and the Time Travel Tunnel," I called the queen mean girl, "Eva (Evil) McBee," after you-know-who. At the end of the book, India Fudge goes back in time and prevents Eva's great grandparents from meeting, so she is prevented from being born. I have finally made peace with Krista McBee. Ah, the cathartic benefits of writing.
Meanwhile, my friend Judy invited me to her graduation yesterday from Mama Gina's School of the Womanly Arts. This is a four month course that she took where Mama taught 200 women how to take pleasure in every aspect of their lives. They learned how to appreciate and love their bodies (among other things). Whatever the exercises were to accomplish this, in the end, they worked. Each woman was vamping through her graduation like she possessed the body of Raquel Welch. It was quite a sight to see. There was a movie star among the 200 women but I'm not allowed to say who it was (damn!). Many testified about what had happened to them since taking the course - several women had fallen in love, gotten engaged, the usual dream-come-true, happily ever after stuff. Anyway, I don't know how they got there, but in the end, these women had all arrived at a place where I'd love to be (who wouldn't?) so I signed up for the course. Still haven't had the guts to tell Mark that I enrolled, mainly because it's so expensive. It's not that I need Mark to approve what I do, but I've been spending a lot of money lately which always gets me nervous. Mama Gina even does Man Training, whatever that is. That's part of the course. Anyway, promise to keep you posted on the experience when class starts (in October).
Well, I'd better go. Haven't even started to pack. Bon Voyage!
Monday, July 24, 2006
Have you been watching the Christie Brinkley scandal? Boy, do I feel sorry for her. Here she is with husband number four, thinking FINALLY! I'm done. No more blind dates. No more waiting for the telephone to ring. No more weddings to plan. And then, boom, the guy cheats on her. What an asshole. Of course, we're only hearing one side of the story. Maybe she's an impossible prima dona. Maybe she berates and belittles him in the privacy of their fifty million dollar mansion. But I doubt it. She strikes me as being nice (for a star). This turn of events confirms my theory that God's blessings only go so far. Christie was born beautiful, had an amazing career, made lots of money, but boy was she is cursed when it comes to men. Princess Diana was the same - beautiful, rich, married a prince, but then suffered a miserable marriage (along with low self-esteem, bad eating habits, and a mother who abandoned her - a quadruple whammy). Frankly, I'm relieved to be a more average member of the human race. That means I'll be blessed in other places - and I am.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
It's about 9,000 degrees here in New York City today. The air is ripe with urine and stale garbage. Ahhh, summer in the city. Overrated at best.
Spent the weekend visiting Schuyler at French Woods, an arts camp that she goes to in the Catskills. It is an interesting area of the country. The Hassidic Jews summer there so on Fridays and Saturdays you see them walking along the road - men in suits, jackets, women in their pretty dresses and wigs - even in the 90 degree weather. Yesterday, I saw a Hassidic man in a long black coat, big beard, locks of hair over his sideburns, a massive black hat HITCHIKING on the highway. He was quite a sight. It was exactly like seeing nuns hitchiking, only this was a man and he was Jewish. We didn't pick him up, not that I would have been afraid for my life or anything. Being a Jew myself, I could have recited the sh'ma if he'd tried anything. That would have stopped him or at least confused him. No, we didn't pick him up because we were running late for the bus and slightly lost ourselves.
Anyway, it was fantastic to see Schuyler. She's doing so well and looking beautiful. She danced in the recital which was just terrific. Usually she also performs in the circus, but she had sprained her ankle earlier in the session and couldn't learn her act. They put on the most amazing circus at this camp. I did spy a celeb in the audience - Roseanne Arquette. Her daughter goes there. I'm always on the lookout for the movie stars so that I can report back to you, my faithful readers. Roseanne looked very pretty - thin, great hair-color, hip outfit. David Hasselhoff's kids go there too, but I didn't see him. He must be too busy with "America Has Talent" to visit his children on parent's weekend. For shame, David Hasselhoff!
I got away with eating but one meal at the camp, which was good. The food there is truly disgusting, although the kids don't seem to mind. Schuyler eats the same thing for every meal - mini-corn cobs wrapped in pepperoni and then lettuce. Yum. I've never seen anyone make a brownie taste bad, but at this camp, they make brownies that taste like chocolate spit. Schuyler asked me if I'd come and be a counselor or art teacher there next summer but I couldn't, not with that food. Still, it was nice to be asked.
Monday, July 17, 2006
To go or not to go?
I'm home in my sweats, no make-up, crunkled hair, trying to decide whether or not I have the energy to get myself together and go to Robin Hazelwood's book party at Soho House which is taking place, where else, but in Soho. She wrote "Student Model," which is based on her own experiences as a high-fashion model while going to school. It's a genuinely fun and engaging book that I highly recommend you read, especially if you're interested in the modeling scene in the 1980's. I blurbed it and she was nice enough to invite me to the party. We had lunch together recently at Odeon and she is a lovely, talented girl. She's also beautiful and tall and young and skinny and a graduate of Yale. Yes, in the slot machine of life, Robin got all cherries. Good for her! Truth be told, I'm slightly intimidated to attend what I expect will be a tres-beautiful-people party at Soho House. Soho House is a very chi-chi, expensive-to-join club that you have be invited into. I've never stepped foot in the place. Frankly, it scares me. Anyhow, there are a multitude of reasons not to go - it just stopped raining so the ground is all wet and puddly, I'd have to get myself pretty (so much work!), there's no one to stay with Sam (he's 13 and old enough to stay home alone, but my psychic told me that he's feeling neglected so how can I risk it? I can't!), I have a big order of cat food that needs to be hauled up from the lobby (Cookie and Smoky are waiting!), America's Got Talent comes on at 8, Mark might call from his business trip - no, there are overwhelming reasons for me to stay home tonight. I hope Robin will forgive me. I think she will. I do wish her the best with the launch of her novel. If you're looking for a juicy beach read, this is it.
Meanwhile, I've been getting the warmest, most encouraging emails from UK readers of "Wife in the Fast Lane." They're all enjoying it. Yay! One women said it was a "life changing" read for her. Can you imagine? That's just beyond! I so enjoy hearing from readers and I'm excited about the response so far. Keep the emails coming. I promise to answer. Well, I'd best go. Sam and the cats need to be fed. Ciao ciao meow meow.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
I wanted to share Jennifer Vandever's post on her blog because I thought it was timely and smart. Jennifer is the author of the very wonderful "The Bronte Project," which is just being published in the UK. I believe it is already out here in the US.
In her great essay, A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf pondered the strange gulf between the position of women in society versus the rather more elevated one enjoyed in literature and on the stage:
Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerers in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.
I thought about these words quite a bit lately as I anxiously awaited the opening of the film version of The Devil Wears Prada. No, I wasn't anxious for any directly personal reasons: I had no hand in making the film, knew no one who worked on it, I hadn't even read the book. I was concerned that it do well because it may push Hollywood studios ever so slightly in the direction of making films about women again. For those of you who don't work in the film business and haven't ever tried to sell a "female-driven project" to the gatekeepers of the movie biz, let me fill you in on what's been happening: women have fallen off the radar. In Her Shoes did badly. Ladies, shame on you for not going to it -- no more movies for you. I'm only slightly exaggerating here.
What we are experiencing is a crazy fun-house reversal of Woolf's pre-20th century woman. Women, at least those of us lucky enough to be born into a democratic, first world culture, today enjoy remarkable freedoms that could barely be imagined centuries ago: we can vote, drive cars, wander about unchaperoned, own property, inherit money, use credit cards, receive an education. We are no longer the slave of any boy whose parents force a ring on our fingers. We even get to choose whom we marry and why. We can also get divorced if it doesn't work out. What a world! And yet, take a look up at the screen and we see...hm....no women.
This isn't to say there are no women at all up on the screens. The Break Up did very well, yes. Yay, Jennifer! But it was marketed as The Wedding Crashers visit Rachel on Friends, emphasizing the male bonding between actors Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. The only other successful romantic comedies of the past year? Wedding Crashers and Failure to Launch. Even the romantic comedy has become a male-dominated genre departing from its egalitarian history of dueling equals found in The Awful Truth and Philadelphia Story.
Remember how thin the Best Actress category seemed this year at the Oscars (and three of the five came from either the independent film world or Great Britain)? And how the men's category seemed awfully deep while still leaving out at least two brilliant performances (Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener and Eric Bana in Munich)? It's the usual stuff that gets trotted out for the annual "where are the women?" think-piece in the New York Times. But what doesn't get reported is how screenwriters, directors and producers are navigating that reality. After writing three admired-but-unproduced scripts with strong female protagonists, my most recent screenplay was a romantic comedy largely driven by the male lead (it won a contest, it got me meetings, but alas, one of the other main characters was gay which made it a tougher sell in the pre-Brokeback days). Or as Murphy Brown creator Diane English was quoted in the latest Written By, the Writer's Guild magazine regarding her seven year journey to re-make The Women and her general insistence on developing female-centric stories: "I'll say, 'look at Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, Golden Girls, and in film, 9 to 5, The First Wives Club, Waiting to Exhale, and Steel Magnolias,' and they go, 'Fluke. Fluke. Fluke. Fluke. Fluke. Fluke, fluke, fluke…'"
This quote was particularly depressing coming from someone as successful as English. But it's a familiar trope, one that I've grown all too used to as a screenwriter now trying to set up the film version of my first novel. The Brontë Project has a (gasp) central female character, and even references in its very title Charlotte Brontë, one of the alleged progenitors of chick-lit -- a fact the Brontë sisters would find amusing since their work when first published was criticized for being too crude and unfit for female consumption. This in itself is a reminder of just how slippery notions of masculine and feminine can be. Alas, chick lit and her sister-in-media, the chick flick, has now come to simply mean anything written by, for, or about women. Anything. A central female character automatically makes one's work a niche project, a specialty film. This is something one must downplay in pitch meetings, assuring the powers that be that this isn't just the story of a woman -- no, there are a number a great, vivid male characters. Which is true. But it still feels creepy -- as if I and the producer and director I'm working with must downplay wanting to tell a woman's story. Who would be so foolish as to do such a thing?
Which brings me back to The Devil Wears Prada. The common wisdom these days is that the most desired audience member is the 15 year-old boy: he buys popcorn (a key source of revenue for theaters), he sees movies on their opening weekend, he doesn't read reviews. It's also assumed that a girl will go to a boy's movie but a boy will never see a girl's. And I don't even think Devil is specifically a girl's movie but it most certainly will be perceived (and is being marketed) as pure chick-flick. The happy ending (at least for now) is that Prada far exceeded the expectation of industry analysts who predicted a debut of less than $20 million (the film grossed $27 million in its opening weekend). "I don't know what to say. This is beyond my expectations," Bruce Snyder, 20th Century Fox's head of distribution, said of the film's opening numbers.
Hopefully speechless Bruce and his friends at the big studios will start saying "yes" to female-driven stories instead of simply, "fluke." Yes, it does seem silly to pin one's hopes on something so frothy. But if contemporary women, with all their buying power and social advances, want to start seeing films featuring the experience of the other half of the world's population then hopefully the film business won't remain forever the slave of any boy with the price of a ticket.
note from Karen: As a person who has optioned her book to Hollywood, I am hopeful that the powers that be continue making women's movies. I went to see The Devil Wears Prada the weekend it opened and was delighted to see a theater full of women. Very unusual. My friend (and screenwriter for The Ivy Chronicles), Tracey Jackson, says that right now, it's the men's movies that are getting the green light in Hollywood - vehicles for Ben Stiller, Will Farrell, Jack Black and that gang. And after last weekends's blockbuster release of Pirates of the Carribean (I know, I can't spell), we'll see a lot more of those big event/theme park ride movies getting made. Not a movie I'd go see, but my son was first in line this weekend. It's discouraging. Bottom line: we should support women's stories that are made into movies or there will be fewer and fewer of them.
Monday, July 10, 2006
It's July 3, publication day for Wife in the Fast Lane in the UK. It's thrilling and exciting and I just wish I could be there to see my books stacked up on the shelves. That is the most awesome feeling for an author. A few readers have written to say they're mid-book and really enjoying it. Thank you for writing to me. Please, keep the emails coming. You have no idea how happy I am to receive them. And I promise to answer you.
Meanwhile, it's July 4th weekend in Manhattan. The city is absolutely dead. If you're from elsewhere, this is a great time to come visit. You can get in anywhere. Last night, we went to see Arturo O'Farrell at Birdland - an African-Cuban big-band. They're pretty great. We had no problem getting in without a reservation. Tonight, we're planning to see another big band at The Village Vanguard - this one more in the Frank Sinatra mode. I had a funny experience earlier in the week. My friend, Jamie (the pediatrician/brain surgeon - I swear!) and I went to the Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan to hear Katherine Weber speak. She wrote the book, Triangle, about (what else) the famous Triangle Fire of 1911. As we were leaving, this old man said to Jamie, "don't I know you from somewhere?" Me, being completely oblivious in the ways of men trying to pick up women, engaged the gentleman in a discussion trying to figure out where he knew Jamie from. Of course he didn't. It was a line. Duh! Then, his companion, another old guy, starts talking to me. He's acting totally flirty, but I'm not catching on because, hell, I'm married 25 years and flirting is not an everyday activity for me. But then I realized that he was being awfully forward and touchy, so I mentioned my husband. He immediately ended the conversation and moved on to another girl. It was very flattering, of course, but slightly weird when you realize that the guy I was talking to was at least 15 years older than me, and the other guy was 25 years older than Jamie. Still, I was touched and appreciative that ANY man would find me attractive enough to try to pick me up at a book reading. I know, it's slightly pathetic. But at least I'm still in the game.
Monday, July 03, 2006