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Archive for June, 2011

The Beauty of Ava

From Paris Adieu (2011) by Rozsa Gaston

Across from me sat a genuine Frenchman, perhaps the one thousandth boulevardier who had accosted me in the street since I’d arrived in Paris the previous September.  It was all about me, of course. It always is when you’re nineteen.

Jean-Michel was not overly talkative. I liked that right away. He wasn’t leaning over the table breathing into my face. He didn’t attempt to touch me. He wore a gray wool jacket, with a burgundy and navy striped scarf around his neck; something my grandfather would own. Sitting slightly sideways from the table, he crossed one slender, muscular leg over the other. An athletic, skinny build. Not too tall. Very French. If he turned out not to be French, I’d be surprised.

We introduced ourselves. I told him I was from Connecticut, which he’d never heard of. He told me he was from Normandy, which I had. Finest butter in the world. Once I’d tasted it, I was ruined for American butter for the rest of my life. Great cows are bred in France, the greatest in Normandy.

Wide pauses punctuated our questions and answers. Jean-Michel didn’t fill up airspace asking the kinds of irritating questions I was always getting back home: “What are your plans?” — the whole tedious “what are you going to do with your life?” line I was currently allergic to.

Jean Michel’s classically European approach to conversation worked like a charm on me. No wonder cafes were invented in Europe  — they offered both time and space to talk — or to observe and not talk.

I’ve always loved space; space between musical notes, space between people on a crowded sidewalk, space and time to think about something that just happened.

Now something was happening and the man across from me was giving me time to digest it.  Was this a pick-up technique he’d perfected? Or was he just naturally intuitive when it came to women?

Whichever it was, I was impressed. He wasn’t breathing down my neck, trying to get my number and address, or tossing out ridiculous, embarrassing compliments. I wasn’t particularly self-confident at that moment in life, so no amount of observations from a man on my pretty face, my blonde hair or my cute upturned nose would have made much impact on me. I was perfectly aware my face was too round, my hair prone to frizziness and my ridiculous perky nose at least two millimeters too short to have any gravitas — weight or seriousness — at all.

I hadn’t yet learned to listen to what a man might tell me. I was too busy fending them off.

After a relaxed quarter of an hour, we’d finished our coffee. I’d had time to absorb Jean-Michel’s smashed-in boxer’s nose, navy blue eyes and mild manner. While I studied his shoulders (broad, but not too broad), he scribbled something on a piece of paper. I knew what it was before he handed it to me.

He paid the bill, gave me the slip of paper and told me to call him sometime. There was no pressure at all. He may have asked for my number before giving me his and I may have declined, but I don’t remember. I just recall he did exactly what I wanted him to do. He let me know he was interested to see me again, but gave me space and time in which to respond. I could see already he knew his way around women or at least women like me.

From Paris Adieu (2011) by Rozsa Gaston

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Ava's Lemonade Stand

Being good in business is definitely an art form. You need to keep multiple balls juggling in the air all at once. You need to understand the minds of your customers. You need to know when to approach and when to back off.  Daughter Ava and I are working on it.  One thing is for sure, running your own business gives you a reason to wake up fully engaged with each new day.What glass of wine would you sip while contemplating this quote?

While contemplating the art of running a lemonade stand, I would enjoy a Shandy – half lemonade, half beer. Use a blonde, preferably a light, sudsy Pilsner.

In contemplation of Warhol’s quote, “being good in business is the most fascinating form of art,” I’d enjoy a 2010 Sole Beech Sauvignonb Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand. Snappy, right and crisp it has the same qualities it takes to run a successful business. At $12 a bottle, it’s good value for money, too.

Rozsa’s weekly book excerpt

From Paris Adieu (2011) by Rozsa Gaston

The Gramercy Park Hotel was supposed to be the kind of place where emerging artists get discovered. After I’d been there for three months a hotel employee had pointed out hotel resident Paul Shaffer, band leader on The Late Show with David Letterman, who was dining alone in the restaurant. I’d introduced myself to him as the hotel lounge pianist, to which he’d grunted unintelligibly then gone back to his meal.

My next brush with fame had been one evening about a month later when a short guy in a hooded sweatshirt and messy, day-old stubble on his chin had come up to the piano and requested Send in the Clowns, stuffing a dollar bill into my tip glass.  I’d played it, no one clapped, and the guy continued talking with his lady-friend over in the corner, unmoved by my performance. Later in the restroom the cocktail waitress asked me if I’d realized that had been Bob Dylan.

The climax of my celebrity encountersoccurred when the band Kansas had come in late one Saturday evening and asked me to sit with them after my final set was over.  As a child,  I’d loved their biggest hit song — one of the most soulful rock tunes of the 1970s. Anticipating being invited to record with them or at least join their touring band, I was less than thrilled when one of the band members, after downing multiple bourbon shots, asked if I’d give him a blow job. My feelings for the music of Kansas instantly scattered like so much dust in the wind.  Sigh.

So when Milton Fine came in a few months after that encounter and asked to speak with me after I finished my first set of the evening, I was receptive. He was old and enormously fat, with hair growing everywhere but the top of his head. This kind of schlubby-looking guy in Manhattan frequently indicates two things — money and power.

I sat down with him, noting he’d hardly touched his drink — a sign  he was there on business. He didn’t waste any time getting down to it.

“Do you work here every night?” he asked.

“No, three nights a week usually.”

“You like it?”

“I guess so….,” I answered slowly to let him know I was open to suggestion.

“You know the Blue Willow at the corner of Broadway and Bleecker Street?” he continued.

“You mean that restaurant with the high ceilings?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

I knew the place. It was exclusive, trendy. Housed in a majestic, pre-war building, its stunning exterior with twelve-foot high plate-glass windows had always intimidated me whenever I’d walked past.  A Zagat review was posted right in the outer doorway

“Yeah. I know it.”

“I’m the owner.”

My eyebrows shot up, but I held my tongue. Big deal. Restaurant owners were a dime a dozen in New York City.  It was time to talk turkey.

“You want a job playing piano there?”

That was more like it.

“How many nights a week?” I asked, as a warm-up. What I really wanted to know was how much he would pay.

“I don’t know. How many would you like?’

“I’d have to think about it.”

“You do that.”

“I’ve got to get back to work.”

“I’ll stay ’til your next break if you want to talk more.”

“Okay,” I said, playing it as cool as a cucumber. I’d absolutely love to have a job at a fashionable, super-trendy place like The Blue Willow Restaurant. But the price needed to be right. I got up and walked away, my back straight as a ramrod. Always maintain straight posture at critical moments, my grandmother had always advised. This was one of them.

Back at the piano I mulled over what kind of money we were talking here.  Experience had taught me if he asked how much I made at my present gig, I would 1)  lie and 2) know he was serious. When people talk money in New York, they’re serious.  Otherwise, it’s just talk.

He was still there at the end of my second set, nursing the same first glass of wine — both very good signs. This wasn’t the drink talking, whatever it was.  I walked over, sat down and — bam — first thing he asked was how much I made at my present job.

I gave him a number, slightly rounded up — okay doubled, I’d spent the past forty-five minutes formulating.

He offered me fifty per cent more to come work for him, five nights a week, as his resident house pianist. Just like that. Frankly, playing two nights a week at the semi-sleazy Gramercy Park Hotel wasn’t paying all my bills. A full-time, five-night a week job at Milton’s restaurant, with the salary he’d just promised, would.

I agreed on the spot.

From Paris Adieu (2011) by Rozsa Gaston

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Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

This must be true.  If it’s not, I choose to believe it is anyway. The luxuries are all about who you are. The necessities are only about what you need to survive. Everyone’s idea of what constitutes the luxuries differs. A chacun son goût, the French say — to each his own taste.

For those who pursue the careful cultivation of their particular luxuries, simple necessities fall into place, n’est-ce pas?  At least they frequently do if you are young and beautiful. Sigh.

When you get older, if you’ve pursued the luxuries devotedly enough, you may have figured out how to make a career out of splendidly being yourself.  A fine example  can be found in Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), American poet and writer known for her deliciously vicious wit.  She made a career out of holding court daily at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel among fellow wits, writers and journalists of the 1920s, notably New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, editor of The New Yorker Harold Ross, and actor Harpo Marx.

What glass of wine would you sip while contemplating this quote?

I certainly wouldn’t go near a martini while contemplating anything written by the woman who quipped “I like to have a martini, two at the very most; three, I’m under the table, four I’m under my host.

Perhaps I’d skip wine altogether and order a Campari and soda. At the Algonquin Hotel lobby lounge preferably.  59 West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Well worth the visit.

Algonquin Round table – Al Hirschfeld

Rozsa’s Weekly Book Excerpt

From Dogsitters (2010) by Rozsa Gaston

“Hint Daniels,” Jack called as he sailed toward the Round Table. “What a surprise. I didn’t know you frequented the Algonquin.”

“Um – m –m, I don’t actually. Derek, this is -–“

“Max Berenboim. Other Worlds Press. How do you do?” He slapped two business cards on the Round Table, then reached out to shake Derek Simpson’s hand.

Quietly, Hint picked up one of the cards.

“Derek Simpson. Story Tales Press.” The Englishman’s eyes neutrally swept over Jack’s eye patch.

“Nice to meet you. I hope you aren’t stealing Hint away from her American publishers, are you?” Jack asked.

“Are you connected with Other Worlds magazine?” Derek picked up the business card.

“Distantly.” Jack turned to Hint, who was also studying the card he had presented her. When she looked up at him, his gaze bore into hers. Was that a twinkle of amusement in her eyes? Was it the eye patch or the fake business card? He’d find out later.

“Hint has done some projects for us,” he continued, turning back to Derek. “And we want her to do more.”

Jack reached for the sketch of the pixie fairy she’d just shown Simpson. “Is this some of your latest work?” he asked Hint. The heart-shaped face of his niece stared back at him, next to a dog that was a dead ringer for Percy.

Derek Simpson deftly swept the sketch his way and turned it over before Jack could take hold of it.

“Good chap, we’re just in the midst of a business meeting here. Could you snag Miss Daniels some other time, perhaps?”

“Ms. Daniels, could you call my office first thing Monday morning? I’ve got a project you’d be perfect for and I want to catch you before someone else does.”

“What’s the project about, Max?” She played along, her eyes gleaming.

“Monday morning, Ms. Daniels. Can’t give away professional secrets to the competition.” He turned to Derek Simpson and made a short bow. “Sir, you are in the company of a most gifted artist.”

“I know,” the pinstriped Englishman replied, his tone curt.  “Good evening, sir.” He made an even shorter bow.

“I’ll call you first thing Monday, Max,” Hint said.

“Fantastic. I’ll have my secretary draw up a preliminary contract.”

“Don’t bother. My rates have gone up,” she shot back.

Little minx. Smart move. Jack smiled when Derek’s eyebrow shot up.

“Since you won the Caldecott Award, I can understand why,” Jack ad-libbed, hoping he’d gotten right the name of the top award for illustrators of children’s picture books.

“I — uh – it was actually another award,” Hint demurred.

“You’re the best in the business and you know it,” Jack said, looking her straight in the eye. “Talk to you Monday.” He turned to Derek Simpson. “Cheers.”

“Cheers,” the Englishman replied, giving him a polite but firm look that all but shouted, ‘Get lost now.’

*          *          *

Hint sat back, stunned. She had wanted to break out laughing the moment she saw Jack wearing that eye patch. But it wasn’t the moment to laugh. She had a business deal to seal and Jack Whitby, a.k.a. Max Berenboim, had just raised her stock in the eyes of Derek Simpson. She needed to seize her advantage now.

“You aren’t intending to sign an exclusive with Other Worlds are you?” Derek asked, looking worried. She was surprised to see beads of sweat on the Englishman’s brow.

“I hadn’t intended to, but it depends on the terms,” she replied, taking a long sip of her Campari and soda.  An irresistible cockiness had seized her, thanks to the bolstering effect of Jack’s compliments.

“Well, don’t. We’ll offer you better terms,” he said seriously, reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket.

From Dogsitters (2010) by Rozsa Gaston

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I slept and dreamt that life was joy. – happens frequently, wish it happened even more frequently.

I awoke and saw that life was service. – happens daily.

I acted and behold service was joy. – this gives me a direction to aim in.  I’m not there yet, but the idea of connecting service with joy through action seems veritably Einsteinian. Isn’t this just another way to say E = mc squared or energy equals mass times the speed of light squared?

Rabindranath Tagore, also  known as Rabi Thakur, was a Bengali poet of the late 19th – early 20th century.  The wealth of wise epithets ascribed to this winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature is boundless, as was his joie de vivre. Tagore not only wrote poetry, but composed music and painted. He profoundly influenced Gandhi, and I would presume to say Mother Teresa. Knighted by the British Government in 1915, he returned his knighthood four years later in protest of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh British massacre of unarmed Indians.

What glass of wine would you sip while contemplating this quote?

A 2005 Egervin Egri Bikavér Bulls Bloodred wine brings to mind the blood, sweat and tears that accompanies both service and the joy of bringing life

Heroes Square, Budapest

into the world. This full-bodied yet tart red wine pairs well with Hungarian goulash or some other spicy stew, as well as beef or game. It’s bull’s blood moniker derives from a legend that 16th century citizens of the Northern Hungarian town of Eger, drank this wine to give them courage to fight off the Turks laying siege to their town. The wine spilled onto their beards and armor, coloring them blood red. The Turks thought the Hungarians were drinking bulls blood to make them fierce and became frightened, finally withdrawing.

Rozsa’s Weekly Book Excerpt

From Dogsitters (2009) by Rozsa Gaston

“Darling, how’ve you been?” she gushed into Jack’s ear. “I’ve missed you. It’s been awhile – I mean a long time – since things fizzled out with – um – the East Hampton person. Have you been dating?”

Just because he’d said it was an okay time to talk didn’t mean it was okay to call him ‘darling.’ She had incredible nerve. One of the things he’d found attractive about her. Then. Not now.

“Uh . . .”.

“Darling – could we possibly get together?” Anne asked. “I really need to see you again. It’s been a long, long time.”

“Yeah, I know.” ‘And that’s a good thing.’ What was he supposed to say? She must really be having a dry spell to be calling good old Jack Whitby, her chump standby, the man without a hedge fund.

He burned, just thinking of her sitting around with her girlfriends, downing Cosmopolitans and devouring pictorials in Quest Magazine in their search for Mr. Gazillionaire without an Attention Deficit Disorder. Dream on. She might as well be on a mission to find a camel without a hump.

“Are you happy, Jack? You seemed so content when we were together. I was silly not to appreciate it at the time. . . ” Her voice trailed off.

“You’re right. I am.” And you’re right you were silly and still are. Why was he getting so hot under the collar? He’d been thrilled when she’d done him the favor of tossing him aside. He wasn’t interested to be picked up again, like an old blanket that a child leaves out in the backyard over the winter and rediscovers in the spring. It wasn’t spring in Jack’s heart. It was still wintertime and when the spring thaws came they were not going to be ushered in by Anne Sanford, no matter how good she had looked in a red dress.

“So when can we meet? Can we do our Friday afternoon G & Ts at the Stanhope? I miss our Friday afternoons so-o-o-o much, Jack Jack.”

“I – uh – can’t say right now. . .” Yuck. He hated being called Jack Jack. Remembering various circumstances under which she’d used that nickname, he felt a blush crawl up the back of his neck.

“I loved our Friday afternoons, sweetie. Remember how they flowed so smoothly into Friday evenings?” Her laugh trilled suggestively.

“Uh – huh…” He would rather not remember those times at the moment.

“I want to see you again so much. I can’t tell you. Would you promise me we’ll do the Stanhope this Friday? Please, Jack Jack?”

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“I’ll take you under advisement, Baby Boy. On Friday afternoon I’m putting on my red halter dress – you remember the one — and going over to the Stanhope around half past five. I’ll sit at our favorite table. You’re advised to show up.”

“Um – hmm . . .”

“Was that a yes?” she whispered.

“No. It wasn’t,” he enunciated clearly into the phone.

A short pause ensued.

“You’re not with someone right now, are you?” Her voice was suddenly sharp and screechy. The multi-faceted, lightning fast mood changes of his former girlfriend jolted him once again. Why was he allowing her to get to him? It was time to throw her off before she confused him any further.

“Actually I am.” Jack chose not to explain exactly what he meant by ‘being with someone right now.’ The days of explaining himself to Anne Sanford were over. Long gone. Over and done like a steak that had sat on the grill too long. It had been a good steak before it had burned.

“Oh. I see.” Another pause. She seemed to be remembering for the first time in their conversation that he was no longer actually her boyfriend. “Well, great to hear your voice, darling. I’d better get back to the party.” The dulcet tone had returned; all sweetness and sunlight like tiny purple flowers covering the permafrost in the Arctic Circle.

From Dogsitters (2009) by Rozsa Gaston

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