Sunday, 27 December 2009

Speaking out of my Foggy Bottom

Foggy Bottom. Thankfully not on our list of symptoms after a few days of yule-tide overindulgence but the name of our area. Childish perhaps, but there is no end to the smirk that wraps around my face every time I hear my son say it in his phony american accent. The name, alongside the houses on our street conjures up misty cobbles of a politically challenged 18th century America all awash with change and hope and glory. And periwigs. You've got to love a man in periwig. For a full dose of past times we took ourselves, on the build up to the Big Day, to The Mansion at O Street. It's hotch potch website described something along the lines of 100 rooms and 20 secret passages. The graphics were a multicoloured assault on the senses but I was hooked. My family followed me to it, somewhat reticently I have to admit, in all fairness I suppose because to be honest I couldn't really tell them exactly what we were going to see. I think Cory was indulging me purely so he could tease me for the rest of the visit if I had made another slightly oblique choice of attraction. We arrived at the heavy wooden door at the entrance to an imposing brownstone (which actually looked rather more red than brown but perhaps this is a translation thing again) and it suddenly swung open. We all jumped a little in spite of ourselves (ok I jumped) but the young lady who greeted us and invited us into the open house soon put us at ease. Once in we were at first greeted by the biggest lowest hung chandelier I have ever seen in my life. At least two metres in diameter a vision in sparkliness casting twinkly brightness over the table below it set ostentatiously for 40 tea-partiers. "Everything you see is for sale" she informs us casting a quick sweep of her arm towards the hundreds of paintings fighting for attention on the high walls and the five or six antique sofas lazing around the space basking in the wintry sun shafting in through the enormous bay windows. "Please explore at your leisure," she continues. And we were off.

Fifty rooms and twenty secret bookshelved secret doors later the family and I were on a mansion house high. Each room theatricality decorated by somebody who has let their imagination run wild. Think golds, sparkles, antiques, fabrics brushed together with dramatic carpets and paintings and lamps and more ands than even I can fill a sentence with. It was like stepping into a designer's imagination before any budget or taste constraints. Each of the bedrooms was offered as part of their hotel service with breakfast taking place, I presumed in the upstairs kitchen, a frenetic mix of 19th century and 1950s furniture with a good measure of 1980s grey black open plan kitchen mixed in for good measure. "Where are we?!" we all gasped at each other basking as we were in our childlike wander of the crazy place.

After we had desperately tried to memorise everything, including the billiard room on the top floors, the log cabin room and the bath perched half way up a wall with secret staircase hidden underneath. It was like nothing I had ever seen before and deeply satisfying. No fodder for Cory this time at least. We followed our visit with a "calming" shot of espresso and once the boy and grandma were comfortably ensconced indoors for a nice evening together the man and I hit the town. I had made reservations for a table by the fireplace at a restaurant named 1789. What can I say? I was having an 18th century kind of day. We arrived at the georgian house huddled on the corner of a beautiful crossroads of a couple of quiet georgetown backstreets. Gas lights flickered at the entrance door and friendly faces greeted us and showed us to our table. There were only about twenty tables set for dinner and the service was indulgently relaxed. No slamming out the food or speed induced indigestion here. We sipped a cocktail, a pre appetiser came (I am a sucker for little un-requested tastes of thingys. Chef's doodles) followed by a little pattie flash fried pork cheek creation of the most mouth watering sort. The wait staff were all bow tied but when our waitress realised we would be sharing our appetiser and second course she had the food divided onto two plates. I asked her whether the chef was cursing our cheap skate ways. She politely humoured me by trying to reassure me that most people do the same. I still don't buy it. The home made miniature sweet potato gnocchi that followed alongside our main courses of pheasant and to-die-for rack of lamb was then served by another waiter with the voice of a late night radio DJ. When we sat at the bar afterwards and closed the restaurant (the staff found out we had grandma babysitting so kept filling our glasses for free) we asked him what he did in real life. He told us he was a late night radio DJ. He also told us we were a cute couple. In unison we replied we are a short couple. Short and talking in unison. A ready made vaudeville double act after all. It was too much even for my own corny sensibilities.

Between then and now we have had a company party, the arrival of my dad and the delight of watching Sammy jump from toe to toe like he was dancing on burning coals when he saw that the "reindeers" had eaten the carrots he had left for them. We may have paused for a brief moment when deciding whether to commit fully to the myth of Santa or to tred the more dour road of reality but in the end we went with the make believe. It's what pays the bills after all. Besides I am very open to the idea that Sam invests in the idea of the unresolved mysteries of life. I refuse to live by physics alone. I am far too romantic for that. Anyway, the boy's reaction was priceless especially when he found a small red racing car as wished for atop the lap of the friendly georgetown santa the boys had met whilst shopping for mummy. Sammy reported back to me immediately whilst Cory took his nap before the show, "We struck out mum, and then we went to a make up shop and found you a -". I stopped him short to teach him step one of secrecy. I will only have myself to blame when he is thirteen. The day itself was delightfully lazy and filled with various games including pre-school bingo (don't believe anyone who tries to convince you it is not as exciting as the one where you win money), prolific finger painting, indoor mini basketball, movie watching and Eating, punctuated by a short speech from the queen over the internet radio. I am not a royalist per se but it was the most English thing aside from christmas pudding that we could think of. Nothing like a bit of british broadcasting to give you a taste of home.

Now we are huddled around the breakfast table steadily dismantling the gingerbread house we so lovingly built only a week or so ago. Everyone is talking at the same time. Dad is delighting in his Young Frankentstein IATSE (I -ya-ts-eeee) shirt. It may sound like a karate club but the name is actually for the stagehand union, members of which within the company are responsible for having the polo shirts made. Sammy is, loudly, describing his Gee Show, a complicated improvisational vaudeville creation with a large cast of make believe performers Bo-Bo Flak-Flak and Maggie amongst the star players. Not without scandal I might add. My son explained that Bo-Bo loves Maggie but hinted that the love was not reciprocated. He then added that he also loved Maggie, "She's a summersaulting kind of girl." Mother approves. Nothing like a prospective daughter-in-law with a bit of zing. Even if she is make believe. Or rather especially because she is make believe. Oh let me not grow up to be one of those mums. Cory is circling around the front door, loudly, pining for coffee filters on their way up with the housekeeping crew, making the sounds of a, loud, hungry dog. My mum is taking it all in whilst her, loud, family crunch a house, play with car and fill the air with noise of their stories. I blog. Slightly frantically, unsociably and perhaps somewhat ill-timed amongst the familiar familial sounds. Tonight we will toast to absent friends after watching the show before our meal in the Kennedy Centre's canteen.

Back to the extended family breakfast - Sam and I started it in hushed tones at 8 so as not to wake the folks, it is now 11. Cory shuffles into consciousness - coffee is finally ready - he breaks off half of the gingerbread roof.

"I am so hungry I could eat a house!" he says.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

On Why's and Who's......

"Why did I hug the actress lady after the show mummy?"

We have just come back from watching Washington Choral's society Family Christmas Concert. Two young actresses, 15 at the most were enacting a Mexican story about children enacting the christmas story. They enacted our little son into a lovestruck trance clearly. I know this because my answer to his question above was:

"I don't know, why did you hug her?"
(I'm training him up to be one of those Knock-Knock gag writers
so he can get himself through college)
And then he, unflinchingly earnest looked me square in the eyes and said, with his brown eyes suddenly chocolate infinity pools,
"Because I love her."

Aaaah. The magic of theatre. That's what we like to see.

It has been a week of revelatory conversations of the like. Usually inspired during post performance de-brief. The other day after watching a free performance in the foyer of the Kennedy centre (a marvel in marble all 1960s glamour and red carpet where a stage in set up complete with proscenium and tabs) Sam asked me what we had just been listening to. I replied that it was a performance by a gospel group, and by the by, goose pimply it was too. When he asked why it was called Gospel I explained a little about Jesus' followers. The next bit of the inquisition went as follows:

"Who is Jesus?"
I take a moment to ponder my answer for clarity and quality control. Before I can offer a response he continues,
"Was he the one saying ladies and gentlemen switch off your phones?"
I gently point our son towards a slightly more commonly accepted opinion of the man and then point out that people tend to pray to all sorts of different people and gods and such like. I don't want to lay it on heavy with the kid, but if he is going to survive life back in London he needs to know not everyone prays to the theatre gods.
"Who do we pray to?"
I take another uncharacteristic pause to think before I jump onto a metaphysical plane at bed time - though in reality this probably is the best time for such discussions. He is in answering his own questions before me yet again. (Note to self: pausing is a good thing on the never ending road of "WHY'S????")

"We pray to Patricia and Susan. Yeah?" he offers.

Let me explain a little more before you think we are conducting ritualistic pagan white witch idolatry, though come to think of it, no no what my son was referring to was our church visit last week. My aunt Patricia died two years ago on December 12th. She was a Catholic (and an expert of Jewish cooking but thats another story) and so mum and I thought it fitting to pay a church a visit and light a candle for her. When we found a cathedral in downtown Chicago we were told that "candle lighting" was only done on certain festivities. Stifling a tear and determined not to break down in front of kindly but slightly officious man in the rectory I managed a quick "Can we at least say a prayer?" he softened and showed us the way in. As we entered the church there were people genuflecting and praying all with luscious red roses in their hands. We came to learn that we had stumbled in towards the end of a service for the Madonna of Guadalupe. A mexican had a vision of the virgin and a festival is celebrated in memory this. No sooner than Sammy had, in his stage Whisper asked whether it was time for him to pray for Patricia than an elderly man came over to the boy, who was fast disappearing behind the pew as he knelt down.
"This is for you sir," he said, offering Sam the rose which was graciously accepted.
We lay the flower on the pew whilst Sam clasped his hands together and closed his eyes looking every inch the novice monk. We sent her our love and other teary thoughts on more love and loss and life. She was cremated with a very simple bouquet of a dozen red roses on her coffin. It all felt, well, quite masterfully orchestrated. She felt, as always so intangibly present.

The explanation of Susan is somewhat different. The short version is that she is the principal of the commune, sorry I mean Waldorf nursery, that Sam went to for a few hours every week in Chicago. She lead the children in a blessing before they ate their lunch, which they had helped to prepare. We have learnt it here in our home, and enjoy saying it every day. I don't sing it in soprano as she did, nor do I wear organic dyed cotton wrap dungaree dresses but the bit about praising Mother Earth gets me every time. I miss our allotment. I like a good praising of the earth and munching on the home grown tis true.

But hey, I have drowned my sorrows in the best way a girl can. Feasting on chocolate in DC's co-co salon. Just those two words in the same sentence oozes luxuriousnessness. So did the crushed latte coloured velvet upholstery, the dimmed lighting, the utter deliciousness of the dark chocolate ganache drinking elixirs. We went for the trio version, in which you get three sherry sized glasses of their various flavours, in our case, dark, milk and salty caramel. Then you sip and ooh and aaaaaah and fly home. Especially if you have a mocha, served in a bowl like whatsit, and a cassis choco macadamia mountain of sweet-toothed engineering to go with it. Credit on the menu is given to the "designer" of the sweets. You've got to love a little pretention here and there and especially when it tastes this good. Our visit was perfectly timed after our after our stroll about the city's christmas market. White tents huddled together in the cold sheltering the art works of town's creatives. Cashmere recycled dresses, glass craft, painting and everything else imaginable off the budget. The sellers must know their market, and in a town awash with lawyers and politicians it is likely they will have the buyers I would imagine.

And then, back home, the weather news came on. Storm Watch played on a loop over most of that Friday afternoon delivering dramatic (with a capital D) descriptions of the snowy treachery that was about to descend. Across the top of the TV read "Nor'Easter". Yes that good ole North Easterly front had set the DC area as its target. Two feet of snow later we are still marvelling at the steady 24 hour snowfall and reminiscing of our snowman work, which by the way has since been shovelled away by the hotel staff. Our street is a winter postcard. My favourite bit of the newsreader's fizz was when he joyfully prepared us for "thunder" snow. We all looked somewhat perplexed and braced for a storm in the true sense. We were left, gratefully, unrequited. Who wants to play in the snow whilst it thunders? I mean really.

So thats christmas covered I spose. Snow has snowed, the tree is up, the popcorn strings have been strung, Santa is definately part of our son's subconscious (though we are using the advent calendar more to mark Grandad's arrival on Boxing day rather than the jolly red man) and the topic of religion has been broached. There is only one thing missing. An oven. I know I know, we have the bimbo, and she has been behaving marvellously especially as we are down to two gas rings in our DC home, but sauteed turkey was never meant to be on the menu. We will just have to sniff out some establishment or other for a slap up christmas eve dinner me thinks.

Cory has a show on christmas day (?!) so overindulgence on the day itself is probably not a great idea. This is a place where film are released on christmas day. People go to the movies on christmas day. No queens speeches to be slouched in front of the telly for over here. Or maybe I just need to accept that not everyone in the world must needs eat too much on the 25th december without always needing to know why. Call me old fashioned. Go ahead call me a glutton. Nothing another 5k on the treadmill won't remedy.

Yes thats right. I am still hobbling from it. Did I mention 5k? I didn't? Sorry I though I had already said 5k somewhere. No? Then mention it I must. Sorry, a little gloating must surely be in order from the almost converted run-a-phobe. I was inspired by Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus. I am knee high in Bafta screeners at the moment and mum and I are watching a couple a night so that I can make my votes really count.

"I am the master of my soul" is one of the famous lines from his favourite Victorian poem. Yes its a sport-politic flick but it touches on a lot of the things I am passionate about. If the man can survive a 27 year purgatory surely I can go another few minutes on the gerbilmobile. Pool of sweat and tight calves later I am celebrating my achievements with a fat glass of water. Living on the edge baby. Back to movie watching I spose. Mum dozes next to me, boyo dreams of his actress lady, me tip tapping the keys. Our tree is twinkling at me in the corner there. I think our house is becoming a home.

Wherever we lay our hat.......and trunk and five suitcases and hamper and train set and and and....

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A Corner of this Land Forever London (almost)

No sooner than Cory and I had slowly begun our descent towards earth from our out of body Whitehouse extravaganza do we accelerate back up to manic traveller mode and begin the mammoth repacking of our 6 week stay in Chicago. Yes, it was goodbye to our new-ish home, our memories of a busily social and lovely stay in the extremely windy, and, no way could I live in this kind of cold much longer Chicago and time to board a plane for DC. One jam packed hamper-pushing to the theatre ride later and we were packed (almost) light and ready to fly. In just under 24 hours after our move into our swanky new River Inn suite has Christmas fever sprinkled its glitter glow about us and we have gone into Yuletide super sonic mode. Easier to say than achieve it would seem, as the past few days have seen us traipse the sunny and MUCH warmer streets of DC looking for relevant paraphernalia. Imagine looking for a tree and bits and pieces on a sunday afternoon in the financial district London and you're half way there. Eventually we found our way to Eastern Market, a Victorian brick number and trees were purchased and boys were happy. In our effort to stay light (yeah right) we have made most of our decorations. Pomanders out of tangarines, cinnamon sticks, candy canes (ok not all homemade) and a few little nutcrackers. Boy's father is passionate about the ballet - how tongue tied was he when we found ourselves next to Borishnikov at Obama's joint but a few weeks ago. Probably only the second time I have seen him like this. First time was at our registry office service but that requires a blog posting all of its own. We have tied ribbons around the pictures - oh yeah baby classy is my middle name - and there are pine stuffs draped over mirrors. We smell like a forest and that is just what the doctor ordered. Speaking of which, I have just come off the telephone with inquisition number two from insurance folk. A second doctor was prodding me for more info on my health. I answered the same questions as the ones on monday with the same answers. I think they are testing me for amnesia. In fairness I admit that on both occasions I forgot the zip code of our address (I am using my cousin's for practical reasons) I don't want to imagine what conclusions they are drawing and I have to wait an excruciating 10 days before I know if I am covered. The decision on whether to expand our family further was made easier by the simple fact that maternity cover would cost another $200 dollars a month on top of the $300 we had budgeted for. You can knock the NHS but it must surely top this. Hey ho. On to brighter thoughts. Like the psychadelic car crash that is perched upon our table. It's supposed to be a gingerbread house but it looks more like some LSD induced hippies had a fight with artificially coloured flavoured and preserved derivatives of sugar in a rainbow of shades, which is what you will need to wear if you are sat by it. Boy was happy with his work though. And mum too. And grandma too. And grandad when he sees it because he sent it over via good ole IKEA. Popcorn and cranberry stringing planned for tonight. All we need is an open fire. I think I am just allowing myslef to be seduced by the elegant spirit of DC. On our first day we walked up to the aptly named Georgetown. Unlike anything I have ever seen in the country to date, is a large, mostly residential area of georgian cottages, terraces and large townhouses. It was completely disorientating to me to explore the area, it felt like I was in a dream. You know the ones, where you are in a place but you know it isn't really that place. Put it this way, if I had been feeling nostalgic for the back streets of Hampstead I would only need walk around here. Down to the tiny details of the sash windows, the colour palettes, the foot scrapers still intact, the land rover 4x4s. Bricks. DC NW? NW3 more like. It even smelt like London. Aah. Turns out I miss the vaguely damp slightly less friendly atmosphere of the London streets after all. Nothing a good brew wouldn't cure I spose. Also it was fun picking out which house to buy and have shipped back brick by brick. We are down to top three. More of this anon. We made the mistake of dining in a phony french bistro but are anticipating a gastronomic mega tour in the next month or so. The city prides itself on its restaurants and there is a general genteel feel about the place. Everyone we have passed has been very well heeled, leather filofax mulberry bag and matching shoes kind of folk. The main street, georgian throughout, was wide and endorsed by all the usual mega chains amongst the bewitching boutiques but it was all in good taste and on a European scale. Most pleasing. If you have the bob to go with it I imagine. There were at least two people begging for money on each block. Reality bites.

This morning on our incessant hunt for the elusive tree we took the time to brace the crisp winter morning with a walk about the Whitehouse. Felt so very familiar to me this time my darlings (?). Still thrilling to think I had been invited in there. We saw the tree and each little one from each of the states, we warmed ourselves by the enormous smouldering yule tide logs dug into a pit, we squealed in delight when we saw the Thomas amongst the toy trains whizzing around the track laid out at the foot of the main tree and we braced a hunger induced mini tantrum as we tried to find somewhere for a snack. After a refuel we found ourselves the city's coffee roasters. Delicious coffee = happy mummy. The boy is learning this very well. In the mornings when I shuffle out and leave Cory to catch a couple more hours sleep, Sammy previously would ask me to read or such like. After a few mornings of me replying "After my coffee darling," he now simply asks, "Is it coffee time mummy?" Smart kid. Now all he needs to do is brush up on the old bean measuring coffee grinding water pouring thing and we will be on our way! Anyhows the place we found today - Swingers - has been roasting since 1916. We tried three sorts and each were exquisitely balanced and warm and bold and lush and perfect. The words illuminated on an old chrome sign above the well worn and loved counter read with thoughts that will carry me through for some time I think. That meditation on coffee read as follows:

It must be as pure as an angel
As strong as love
As black as night
And as hot as hell.


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Whitehouse Whirlwind

I can't say I know how to begin processing the whirlwind that has been the past few days. Our trip to DC for the grand weekend was quite simply breathtaking. I mean that literally. Its not every day one drops ones clutch BANG on the marble floor of the Whitehouse not only to feel the surge of panic from fellow revellers (it sounded remarkably like a shot gun) but also to have a small man rush over to help me with its spewed contents taking but a second to clock his bright blue eyes squatted down level with mine and realise it was none other than Barishnikov. I managed a gaspy "Thank you Sir". I was Carrie for one fleeting hapless hopeless romantic moment. Its not every day that I have sat 7 chairs away from Scorsese or two chairs away from the President in all his eloquent statesmanship, or swapped seats with De Niro's daughter so she could sit next to her fella at the show. I am getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should start at the beginning of the adventure. The organisers of the show who had been sending daily emails of constantly changing schedules to Cory over the week before we left had decided to have us sleep at an airport hotel the night before. I left our apartment having tucked in our tyke and hugged my ma tarah. Clocking my reflection outside the lift I decided I looked a little too much like a lady of the night for my liking. A lady posing as a hairdresser had attacked my hair at Macy's a few hours earlier and emptied a 25 gallon can of hairspray onto my head so that I left looking like a spoof of Jackie O. Match this with a carry on and a fox coat and I looked like I had just left a client upstairs with an array of costumes in tow. We were taken after Cory's performance, in a 4x4 darkened window number to the Hilton Garden Hotel, looking very much closed for the night but for the solitary silhouette of a hunched bar man clearing up for the night. We checked in but the actor types were still up and at' em and wanting pizza before bed. Our now friendly bar man from Bromley, Kent looked after us and Roger Bart, his girlfriend, Cory and I chinwagged till around 1ish, during which time Mr Bart had briefed me on the star studded day ahead of us, including a scheduled appearance from Sting. You must understand that for some time now, Sting has ranked as definate number two husband material after Cory. Cory has negotiated a similar position for Penelope Cruz after he argued that Audrey Hepburn was not an equal being of the spirit world as she is. I argued that the first was probably just as likely to become his wife but that did not make any of us the happier so I relinquished my stance. To me, then you see, such news caused the first of many border line hyper ventilating moments. I caught my breath and we went to sleep for about 3 hours before another darkened glass lorry number whisked us off to the airport. By 10am we had entered the world of wonderland aka the wings of the Kennedy centre during rehearsal for the evening honours show. Cory and I followed our escort (the night is manned by a host of loyal volunteers) up a warren of stairs with an army of men and women scurrying around be-headphoned and mic'd moving with terryfying PURPOSE. In the rehearsal room where we ended up I was hugged by Susan Stroman before the three fellas began their rehearsal - an abridged version of their song in the show with comedy cameo by Shuler Hensley as the monster at the end. It lasted all of half an hour. Afterwards we popped down to the green room. A black curtained off area lit with table lamps and fairy lights huddled towards the back of the wings. A table was strewn with fresh fruits and mini pastries and two silver urns of "proudly" brewed Starbucks coffee. I was introduced to Harry (connick junior - hyper ventilation number two) and quickly recognised the voice coming through the TV screens (it was a camera rehearsal you see) as being that of Meryl Streep. I catch her in her civvies practicing her piece of homage to De Niro during her rehearsal and am as spellbound as when she is doing her thing in character. Our escort and I move out towards the wings and in the shadows I catch a familiar silhouette. The woman is talking earnestly to a man with his back to me and as our escort signals me towards him I realise it is Sharon Stone talking to Herby Hancock. We pass on through a small meeting room (hang on, that's Ben Stiller sat there!!!!!) and out into the auditorium where we catch the end of Mr Hancock's rehearsal. It's like having a private concert. The enormous auditorium is filled with about 150 people (later that night it was more like 2000) but the musicians are playing full out on account of the cameras getting some of their solos onto tape to save time during the actual show. The music was electrifying. Harvey Keitel walks past me with a polite nod of the head and then Cory's mob began their routine. Martin Short, Jack Black, Jane Krakowski and Matthew Broderick amongst the merry band. By this time the utter surreality of where we are and what is happening matched with a caffeine drop and genral sugar low is making me quiver. It is compounded by the fact that volunteers are wearing signs of various mega stars for the purposes of the camera rehearsals. For that morning De Niro looked more like a portly blond woman and Springstein was sporting a mean hairpiece. I never knew Mel Brooks looked so good in a form fitting pink sweater either. We get back to our hotel in all its grandeur, dump our bags and try and catch the tail end of a brunch we had been invited to, imagining it to be almost completely over. The host misunderstood us and we almost got sent to another cafe. I suppose we weren't dressed all super star to be honest and she mistook us for guests and not invitees. Expecting to find a few stale rolls we were left open mouthed at the gargatuan array of deliciousness that greeted us. Prawns, oysters and crab piled high on ice sculptures, eggs benedict, lamb cutlets, grilled chicken and risottos in large baine maries, salads, roasted vegetables, breads, sushi is just some of the delights that tempted us. Around the corner, laden on delicate glass shelving was a plethora of dainty cream cakes cut into 1 1/2 inch squares and all utterly irresistible. I have to say my fella and I did not give in totally to gluttony, we knew what we had to wear later. Towards the end of the brunch one Martin Lewis handed us invites to the after show party thrown in honour of Sting and Springstein, on the 8th floor of the hotel. We did that thing of recognising a homelander and his unchanged north west london accent led us quickly to find out that he had grown up round the corner from me and his school had played mine at football. "From Cricklewood to Hollywood!" he told me he had written on his website, "from Childs Hill to Beverley Hills!" Brilliant. We determined to nap after our feast and friend finding managing to squeeze in an hour or so before it all began. No-one wants to go to the Whitehouse bedraggled. Two hours later we had gone through 4 security seraches and checklists and one xray machine and were being greeted by the social secretary at the entrance hall of the Whitehouse. Guests were invited to write out a wish for the upcoming year, roll them up and place them into the corrogated card christmas tree. It was quite moving. Around us oil portraits of important men and women looked down as stars and civilians scribbled their hopes into little pieces of coloured paper. After checking my fox we went on into the christmas tree decorated ladies room where Jackie O posed in oil perfection half smiling down at all of us and then on up towards the state room where strings and grand piano serenaded the hors d'oervres chomping crowd. The first person I caught eyes with was Scorsese. I flashed him a smile. He returned with a confused but polite half nod. Soon people started to move towards the heavy wooden doors towards the end of the room. It was not long before we were all herding together en masse and the doors were opened the crowd filing into the room. You know, the one you see on the news. Gold chairs were laid out before a small raised stage area and we took our seats on the second row. An expectant half hour followed as a who's who of people came through to sit down. Just when we thought our little people watching brains could take no more the honorees were announced and in, to rapturous applause, came De Niro, David Brubeck, Springstein, Mel Brooks and Grace Bumbry. Oh and The President and Mrs Obama. He gave a beautiful introduction on the importance of the arts to the understanding of the American spirit and the success of countries being dependant on the freedom and voice it allows its artists. I found his sentiments deeply moving and some mascara was wasted. One by one he spoke of each honoree with a priceless banter between he and Mel Brooks, (it was real, I checked the auto cue, the man has timing) which ended in the president telling him, "I'm trying to say something nice about you Mel. You have got to stop upstaging me here." The laughter was hearty. And priceless. Then the crwods moved through to look at the main tree and eventually on out to the coaches that waited for us just outside the grounds ready to take us to the theatre. Cory, true to form, cut it fine and managed to loose his place in his delegated car. After a scramble he was told to bundle himself into the jump seat of another 4x4 only to find himself squashed behind Phillip Seymour Hoffman and his wife. On arrival at the theatre they were denied entry (the president was arriving so everything was cordoned off) the producer in the front seat joked, "Don't they know we have Cory English in the car!" The same man left a basket of goodies in our room for our return after the marathon that was the party. The show, after a brief strut down the civvie end of the red carpet (thats red carpet without cameras) was absolutely wonderful especially the musical tribute to Sprinstein that had the audience jumping up in their seats and boogying to the Stingmeister in all his Dickensian glory (he was sporting a fetching beard and old world styley tails and all). A supper extravaganza followed in the foyer and Cory and I danced our steak into digestion by swinging around the dance floor to the fabulous brass of a big, big band. Fighting a deep urge for sleep we made our way back to the hotel and decided to at least take a peek at the after show party we had so zestfully accepted an invitation to. The doors of Tai Pan on the 8th floor were opened to us and the first person we walk by was Mr. De Niro. Starstruck, we shimmyed to the bar where, after ordering our drinks we felt a cheery huggy hand on our backs. We turned, expecting to find one of Cory's colleagues only to find the twinkly eyes of none other than Sing himself smiling down at the two of us. A split second is all it took for me to find my breath and determine not to hurry the moment. "this is Cory! He was the hump earlier!" I announce and we introduce ourselves. We talk about London, where we live, where he lives, I tell him I had worked in his home town, he offered his condolences. As his red wine was served I also tell him how addicted I was to his poetry album just before and during labour. This tickled him. Not as much as I had been having met the man himself and managing somehow to appear delighted but still functioning. I have replayed this moment every five minutes since that night and will do until some other unearthly encounter can top it. Sad, on some level perhaps but to me it is a showreel of deep joy. The next morning as we sat sipping coffee in our fluffy pillowed amazingly comfortable Mandarin Oriental bed we tried to process what we had experienced. Having watched the life and achievements and passions of the legends that were honoured played before us you couldn't fail to question your own passions and reason for being on the planet. At once inspired and overawed by their paths. We flew back the following afternoon and are still on a Kennedy high. Not so that we couldn't find the energy to get ourselves to our Sinatra haunt with a former collegue of Cory's from one of his first ever jobs, or to catch up with a former student of his whose 4 year old son and Sam made a happy friendship this afternoon after his morning session at the commune. The house is a happy one and despite the painful sleet/hail/snow gusts that Mum, Sam and I braved on our block long walk from the train to our apartment (which by the way has made Chicago a little less appealing a place for year round living), and the overwhelming task of packing on the near horizon. The mum and dad of this household still have a party-lagged spring in their step. I just hope I won't have to wait another 33 years to get to wear me a chocolate ball gown again.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

I Shall Go To The Ball!

Cory English and Sara Jane Alexander depart Mandarin Oriental
for the White House

White House Reception
Hosted by President and Mrs Barack Obama

These are excerpts from some of the words typed onto our itinerary. Cory has been asked to perform at this year's Kennedy Centre Honours where Mel Brooks is among the honorees. He will be performing with two of his colleagues as part of a 10 minute medley of his hits sung by a host of respected performers. Its a kin to our OBEs but somewhat more glitzy. And televised. As I type I am falling over the words, overcome with excitement as I am. Further down on the itinerary the words Red and Carpet and Arrivals and our names are in very close proximity. I have been skittish around the city in search of suitable attire (black tie has been specified). Cue visits to Saks and the like with horrendously priced gowns donned on diminuitive and at the same time somewhat ample stature person. Oh to be 5ft 11 or more. What I would save in alterations. And then we (mum and cousin are here hoorah!) discovered the Petite section. A diplomatic label for the vertically challenged. Everything for the regular folk, just a whole lot shorter. After squeezing myself into most of the dresses in the city I eventually settled on a wham bam chocolate coloured thank you Macy's ma'am number, which with a little help of a saver's card from the father in law was bagged for under £100 and the shinny shimmy please-don't-let-me-fall-off shoes for under £30. You can take the girl out of Golders Green......I couldn't possibly be doing any of the above without an army of help of course. When we leave for DC Mum will be babysitting back in Chicago with actor friends from the show popping in and out throughout the day to give her a break and get their Sammy fix. One of our friends in the cast and his fella are even taking Sam to dance class on the Monday as we won't be back in time. Lovely. It will be our first weekend away from the little fella since his arrival three years ago. I'm sure it will feel a little strange. We will simply have to distract ourselves with whatever delights the Mandarin Oriental can offer us. Gloat over. Almost.

Suffice to say that Washington fever is alive and well in our house which has been stuffed full of family and parties and food food food. You've got to love this giving Thanks thing. No meaningless presents or last minute for the sake of it STUFF just a pure meditation on gluttony and the joy of family and friends, oh and did I mention food? Thanks was officially given at a 20 strong table and McCormick and Schmidt's round the corner with turkey stuffed and then stuffed into us. Followed by blueberry pie back at the flat followed by a week full of impromptu dinners and drinks with family and friends. It seems our bimbo thrives on pressure. When my iphone and I were not on speaking terms (literally, it cuts out in the middle of most conversations, or else I put it on silent and then leave it at the bottom of a cupboard somewhere) and I didn't realise that family were joining us around dinner time did I panic? Did my bimbo and I fluster? No sir. We just got busy. In under 20 minutes 12 people were fed. Not a take away in sight I'll have you know. Just the pure taste of homemade german designed fast bimbo-d food (pasta in red sauce to you and me). Delish. In between food we have seen the show and visited the local Christkind market round the corner, where stall holders, toy makers, crafty types and bratwurst cooks have travelled all the way from Germany to set up fairy lit shop in wooden huts huddled under an enormous christmas tree in downtown Chicago. We enjoyed potato pancakes, glu wine, sausage, pork loin. Unfortunately we mis judged our hunger (when will we learn?!) and forgot leave room for fresh warm pretzels and chocolate covered raspberries. There's always tomorrrow, they will be here till christmas eve. We have also admired skaters. From afar. The city is dotted with rinks this time of year. I will not be partaking. I skated once, fairly well as I remember, but my first visit to New York City when Cory and I were still courting cured me of the habit. Sufficed to say, that this cowboy hat wearing tourist lost all kudos the afternoon I insisted Cory take me to the central park rink. He made his excuses and told me he would film me instead. Should have known then he had an incling that the footage would go down in my personal worst moments history. I have hidden the video since. No one wants to be remembered as the walker desperately clinging on to the side whilst olympic twirler lets rip a few yards away in the centre of the ice. But enough of reminiscing, our week has carried on at this frenetically social pace with another highlight being Kingston Mines. My cousin and I (one suffering from jet lag, the other from over entertaining) chucked back the coffee, plastered on "awake" faces with the help of our favourite ingredient, one Cornsilk bronzer circa 1982 (only very low shelves of random pharmacy's house it) and hit the town to dig down deep at the famous blues joint in the city. It has been a hub of bluesy talent for the past forty years and serving up tangy moorish soul food this place attracts music pros and tourists alike. Oh yes and loud groups of musical theatre cast and crew. The latter, for the record, making the most noise of the two. We head bashed, we slow danced, we wiggled and giggled and busted moves. One of the headliners, Joanna Connor (who has become the company's idol) did things to her guitar that players only dream of. And made it look easy. She did that awesome air-guitaring thing we all do extraordinaire. Only with a guitar. Amazing talent. We are still paying for it though. It is an unspoken law that parents who get into bed after a big night out around or after 3.30am will be woken before 7 the next morning by a bright and bushy tailed child. No rest for the wicked. Or the gown searchers. Or the manic cram-everything-into-5 days-for-visiting-cousin tireless travellers. I am suddenly distracted by young girls singing ethereal soprano lines in a Norweigan church illuminated only by the candles they hold. They are on the TV beyond my screen. Reminds me of that tingly christmas feeling. I think I might make a secret pack to try and always be over here at this time of year. Between the tykey's birthday, Thanksgiving and all the trimmings of Christmas and New Year its one long trimester of celebration.

It will be three years that my aunt past away in a few days time also, so it is not wholly a hedonistic overload for us. In Sardinia a mass will be read in rememberance of her and here we will find a cosy corner of a church to send our prayers her way. On our travels so far I have stopped counting the times I have seen things and almost bought them for her. How our minds play tricks. She still feels so very present in lives it doesn't seem possible she is not actually here in body. I think I will stick to the denial side of the fence. When I don't, I start crying at incongrous moments. It's probably not the first time someone has shed tears in the perfume department I'd hazard a guess. I left a few leaks on Macy's floor the other day, where I was lured into a free but not free gift on a perfume counter. Upshot is I now have a gold clutch for the Gala Supper Dance after the Kennedy awards. I'm sorry am I bragging? Damn straight. If there ever were a time to do so. Perhaps I should be a bit more dignified about the whole thing, my blog is probably being tapped by the secret agents as I type so they have the history of every person attending. I hope they don't misconstrue any footage they see of my Sardinian widow character over the internet. You never know. It is an honour to go during this administration especially I feel. Sentiments echoed by Mel Brooks himself who is said to have refused to accept the award under previous presidents....

I only hope I won't be lynched on the red carpet. Our cousin who lives just outside the city saw me flaunting my dress the other day (at home in the presence of family only) and made the astute observation that I will positively freeze in the december Washington weather. Two days later and her son drops over with a vintage blue fox coat which has been donated to the cause by a kind friend of hers. As I opened up the garment bag and donned the animal I not only started to cook but felt like my aunt Patricia was standing behind me with a nod of approval. it is she who handed down a vintage mink stoll for Cory and my registry office service back in January 2002 and I know had she been here, she would have, without a doubt raided her overstuffed wardrobe and presented me with yet another classic clothing masterpiece or abomination depending on your politics. I shall raise a glass or two to her. You can bet on that. Its just too sad that I have no-one to steal cutlery for anymore.