Carole

20130821-135526.jpgAs I type this, Eric and I are en route from our mini-vacation in Palm Springs. We had a lot of fun, and a good part or our vacation was spent by or in the swimming pool. The property where we stayed is a boutique hotel, with a gorgeous pool in the center courtyard. We stayed here a couple of years ago and loved it. One thing we noticed, how do I say this delicately, is that the crowd was a little more glamorous last time. Two years ago it was sun-kissed, tone bodied, bikini wearing Hollywood hills types of both sexes and all proclivities. This time, it was mostly pasty European 50-somethings. And that’s why Carole stood out to us all the more.

I’ll call her Carole because at first notice, she reminded me of Carole Radziwill, my favorite Real Housewife. The first time I saw my Carole she jumped into the pool, put on her goggles and swam a few lanky laps then ascended from the pool like the vision she was. Dark hair, a little longer than a bob, silky tan skin. I didn’t know if she was 25, 35 or 45. When she walked away, I watched her go back to her chaise which was tucked away in a more private area in the courtyard. She took out her MacBook and started typing or reading or working on something. 45 minutes later, she put down the MacBook, grabbed her goggles and headed back to the pool to repeat the cycle. I was transfixed, I pointed her out to Eric who said, “She’s Fabulous and that swimsuit is Malia Mills!” And so began our united fascination and shared conjecture with and about all things Carole. Eric thought she was French and I thought she lived in LA, but had only recently moved here from New York. Eric thought she’d once been a model, I thought she worked in fashion writing or was perhaps working on a novel. When we talked more about her over dinner on Monday night, Eric (slightly tipsy) vowed that he would talk to her the next day.

Tuesday morning, I was excited to see her sitting, reading the paper and drinking coffee at the restaurant bar where the hotel set out a coffee urn for the hotel guests. I grabbed my own coffee and my own paper and sat down a few stools down. I hoped that she’d initiate a conversation with me. “Strong coffee, isn’t it?” “Yes it is and hot, too!” Or perhaps, “I see Lee Daniels’ The Butler did well at the box office this weekend!” “Yes, I really want to see it.”
“Me, too.” “Yes, let’s all go see it this afternoon.” Well, that didn’t happen. We drank and read in silence, though for some reason, she did clear her throat several times. I held out hope that Eric would initiate a conversation when he joined us, but he didn’t. “I’ll talk to her this afternoon,” he told me when I quizzed him about his sheepishess.

As I lay out by the pool Tuesday afternoon, I wondered if maybe the Carole who existed may not be as interesting as the one I’d imagined. My Carole was by now a fashion editor, a novelist, getting over a break up and desperately missing her German Shepherd Max that she lost custody of in the break up. Her first novel sold “okay” but her publisher assured her that her new book, “In the Swim” was poised to make her the next Lauren Weisberger. Is she ready for the high profile life that awaits her? She’s been having trouble sleeping and she’s taken to watching episodes of Tosh.0 on her MacBook. “Is He Gay?” she asks herself as she slips into a fitful sleep. In her dreams, she is best friends with the effortlessly stylish 40-something gay couple that she’s seen at the pool.

My daydreams came to a crashing reality on Tuesday afternoon when Eric came back to the room. “She’s not French. She grew up in Rancho Mirage and her suit isn’t Malia Mills. She doesn’t even know who Malia Mills is.” He’d struck up a conversation by complimenting her suit. I asked if she seemed bookish, he said she did not.

This morning when Eric and I were eating breakfast, she walked by us. Eric said hi, she said hi. I’d hoped she’d stop so he could introduce me to her, but she kept walking.

I’ll probably never know Carole’s story, Eric did find out her name and he told me her name. It’s not Carole. I thought about telling you her name here, but I know that a lady like Carole likes to have a little mystery.

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Aspirational Lifestyle

IMG_7180In the mornings that I am not rushed to get out the door, I like to sit at my computer with a cup of coffee and peruse my favorite websites, especially New York Social Diary. It touts itself as my link to society and indeed it is.  I look at the pictures of charity balls and book signings and equestrian events and it’s not hard to imagine that if I’d just stayed in Manhattan a few years more, I would have easily turned into this girl.  My favorite part of the website, however, is the section called Big Old Houses, by John Foreman.  In Big Old Houses, Mr. Foreman will visit mansions, castles, and apartments.  Most of the estates he profiles are in the New York area, but he also visits other places throughout the country.  I love it on every level.  First of all, he does a great job of researching the history of the property and the people who built it and lived there.  He also posts lots of pictures showing what the properties look like now.  Some are fabulously maintained, others less so.  Some are still owned by the family, others are owned by the state or private institutions.  I also like it because as you read more of his posts, he reveals more about himself and he’s a prettty interesting character himself.  I won’t give away all his secrets here, but he does love a kitchen and a bathroom.  And he’s got a soft spot for cats, too.  The first time I heard the term aspirational lifestyle was in reference to the Real Housewives franchise on Bravo.  Ultimately, we watch the show because these women live lives that we aspire to, at least on some level.  We also watch it because they are usually egotistical, alcoholic trainwrecks and we get to feel superior about ourselves for not having their problems.  And if you’ve read just a little bit of Big Old Houses, you know that egotistical, alcoholic trainwrecks have long been part of the fabric of American culture.  But I digress.  The post that warmed my heart the most was the one where Mr. Foreman profiled his own house which I believe is in upstate New York.  He offers a bit of the property’s history and shows a copious amount of pictures and, as he does in all his posts, paints a portrait of the person who lives there.  It is not the most opulent property, some of the furniture should be replaced and it looks like the wallpaper is deteriorating in spots.  He confides that he has rented it for 31 years.  He is an aging homosexual living with antiques and pets and friends and lots of pictures of loved ones.  I can’t help but see a bit of myself in him.  And while I get the sense that his life has not amounted to all that he aspired to, he has riches:  a family that loves him, a few valuable collectible pieces, a great bathroom, a fireplace to keep him warm on a blistery winter night.  One could do worse.

Manhattan, When I was Young

1333647646_real-housewives-of-nyc-zoomThey say that anything is possible.  An example of this is that one of Bravo’s Real Housewives led me to one of my favorite authors.  In early 2012, when I read that someone named Carole Radziwill was going to be one of the new Real Housewives of New York, I picked up her book, What Remains, a New York Times bestseller about her husband and their friendship with his cousin, JFK Jr. and JFK Jr’s wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.  I was moved by her well-written account of love and loss. She wrote in the book about another book Manhattan, When I was Young and how it was a comfort to her during a troubling time.  Talking me into reading a book about New York City is about as difficult as talking me into eating chocolate cake for breakfast.  So, I read it.  The author, Mary Cantwell, broke the book into five different parts, the five different apartments she lived in when she first moved to Manhattan in the 1950’s, first as an unmarried college graduate with a new job into her first years of marriage and early motherhood in the 1960’s.  The book is about her husband and children and jobs, but centrally it’s about a stranger coming to New York and finding their place.  I loved it.  And then I read her other books, American Girl: Scenes from a Small-Town Childhood and Speaking with Strangers: A Memoir.  All three are currently available as a trilogy called Manhattan Memoir.  I read all three in the span of a few days and they are wonderful.  The first is about her childhood, the third is largely about her daughters and travels writing for Mademoiselle and Vogue.  But her second is the one that touched me most.  While I was reading it, I google earthed every address she talked about in the book.  Of course, every building is still there.  And it wasn’t hard to imagine a twenty-something moving to New York, a heart full of dreams, making their way with successes and failures in the big city.  She reminded me of Peggy from Mad Men, but she also reminded me of someone else I know even better.  

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