Saturday, February 15, 2014

My American Lobotomy

Phew. So I got through Valentine's Day in Paris. Alone.

It was a darn sight better than the few occasions I have ever been here with a bloke in what is purported to be the most romantic city in the world. One man, a journalist, sat with me at a wine bar in Montparnasse and told me I was the smartest, funniest, quickest and most brilliant woman he had ever met. He just didn't fancy me.

Just find me the nearest Metro, mate, and throw me under a train.
Another disaster was the guy who would eventually go off with a nurse from Boston (he was so determined to get that Green Card). He was a disaster from the start, if I am honest. I once sat bemoaning my fate to a friend and said: "He's too short, boring, unattractive, overweight, not funny, he doesn't find me funny and the sex is crap." "Then dump him," said my friend. "But he's 37 and single," I wailed. My friend: "But it doesn't mean he's the right 37 and single."

It didn't and he wasn't. The nurse is welcome to his ginger pubes (oh yes, that was another thing. Ginger, FFS. What was I thinking?).
And so, I am in Paris, the city I lived in for seven wonderful years and where I managed not to get arrested (how memories of the rue Bonaparte sidewalk at 4am are flooding back).

It is, as ever, a city of exquisite light and fine wine, and it is good to catch up with old friends, most of whom I met when making my TV series, Star Suppers. The format was that celebrities came to my apartment and cooked for me, while I sat on a stool drinking and interviewing them. Great format. Don't know how I thought of it.

Most of the celebrities were rat-arsed. The Royle Family's Sue Johnston lost her passport and her wig fell off. Emmerdale's Sam Giles (who plays Bernice) and I had a giggling fit. It took us 17 takes and two bottles of champagne just to do the intro "Welcome to Paris, Sam." She had been drafted in at very short notice after Sue Johnston had arrived at the airport to discover her passport was out of date ( what is it about that woman and passports?).

The point of the show was that people chose a signature dish that held some meaning for them, but owing to the lateness of the booking, we had to come up with something simple for Sam. "Seafood risotto," said the director, Julie. "But what's the story behind it?" asked Sam. Me: "Just say you had an Italian boyfriend." Sam: "Okay, just I don't ask me what his name was."
Red. Rag. Bull. "So what was his name?"
Roberto (as he came to be known) acquired a whole history, complete with cousins, grandmothers and variations on risotto we didn't even know existed, and we just could not get through the greeting segment in which the guest filled me in on the details. "Okay, there is no Roberto, no family, no Italy!" yelled Julie. "It's just a seafood risotto."
Still no luck. Julie, getting increasingly irate, thought that maybe it was the word "seafood" that was now setting us off. On and on. We just couldn't do it. The final cut went: "Welcome to Paris. What are you cooking?" "Rice dish."

I had to eat raw grains for the final shot.
When I lived here, I hated the demanding Americans in restaurants. Nothing was ever good enough, fast enough, cheap enough, clean enough. Now, after nearly five years in Los Angeles, I discover I have become one of them.
Ugh, look at all the chewing gum like myriads of tiny, glutinous stars on the sidewalks. How long is it going to take for that waiter to notice I am here? What do you mean, you don't have 18 different kinds of tea? And will you hurry up with that Croque Monsieur! And no, Mr Beggar, I don't have any spare change because I have just been charged a sodding fortune for a bottle of wine I could have bought in Trader Joe's for $4. And what’s this? You’re not even packing up my groceries for me? Now, take me to the airport. Oh, I forgot, Paris taxi drivers don't actually like to drive anywhere.

I am not enamoured with everywhere I have been in the US. I loathed San Francisco and really dislike Miami, not only because everything is so expensive there, but because on every occasion I have been, I get robbed - twice in one day last week (see previous blog). But I have a love of Los Angeles that goes very deep.
As a writer and a passionate lover of film and television, there is nowhere else on Earth that lives and breathes the industry like this city. The energy that emanates from every poster screaming about a new series never ceases to thrill me as I walk along Sunset Boulevard (even those two words make my marrow shiver).

Far from being the shallow culture that the outside world believes the city to be (in any case, every city has a shallow side), I see serious people doing serious work. Bright, smart, clever, funny people, at the top of their game. And, unlike Brits, they reach out to help newcomers further their careers in a ruthless industry. It is, without doubt, the most creative environment I have ever encountered.
Who knows. The scales may fall from my eyes, the stardust fade. But sitting here in Paris, the city I once swore I would die in (I still might; the weekend's not over yet), I am mentally packing up ready for my return to LA in time for the Oscars.
Who will top the Dead People part of the ceremony this year?

Will Philip Seymour Hoffman knock James Gandolfini off the top spot?

I can hardly wait.

Call me shallow.

Call me happy.


  1. The Welsh assimilate immediately - unlike generations of "Irish Americans", "Italian Americans" or "Latinos" the Welsh become Americans within a week or two (especially in sunny SoCal)