Saturday, May 27, 2006


“Rien n’est perdu, rien n’est cree,’” said the chef.

“Nothing is lost, nothing is created,” repeated the assistant, pausing along with the chef so that these words might be recorded in the small, spiral-bound notebooks that each student held on his or her lap. Puckering his mouth to complete his thought, the round little Gallic despot contintued.

“Tout est transforme,’ he said.

“Everything is transformed,” said the translator.

Molly O’Neill, in her fun, fabulously well-written foodie memoir, “Mostly True: A Memoir of Family, Food and Baseball,” writes not just of the chef, but of the writer, painter, musician… See where I’m going with this, my dears? Every creative soul has to struggle with the reality of repetition, reinvention, recreation. NOTHING is new. Your perspective, however, can be unique.

I'm a young woman living in Manhattan, a stranger to its social systems, hierarchy and nuances. Yes--of course this story has been told before. If the point were to impart completely new information and small-town-girl-hits-the-big-city revelations, it would have been imperative to give up after the publication of Ms. Didion's earliest essays on the subject. When people look at me over their cocktails or communicate with me through the gray wires and say, "It's soooo over... A single girl living in Manhattan recounting the travails of dating and media madness? Please." I want to ask them what completely original artistic project they have accomplished to great critical acclaim? What dreams have they realized on a grand or small scale?

And, yet, the dissidents might be on to something…

Metamorphosis. Ms. O’Neill uses this powerful word to describe what she underwent with the aforementioned chef in the venerable city of Paris. Maybe it’s time for me to finish my thoughts in Gotham, fly the coop and move with my Chef to the City of Lights… Paris.

"Like the other thirty students, I tried to scribble down everything the chef said. Unlike my fellow students’, however, my notebook did not also contain the telephone numbers of potential lovers, the addresses of dance clubs or the train schedules for weekend jaunts to the Loire Valley or Burgundy. I had neither the money nor the time for such frivolity. I was twenty-six old… Paris was serious business, and I recorded every sight, every taste, and every word. 'Everything is transformed,' I wrote carefully in the same felt-tip marker that I’d formerly used to write poems."

Life Liberated

4am Saturday night and I am startled out of my sleep. I lie there, in wait, expecting to hear a crash of lightening, a burglar snap the cast-iron bars and burst through my window —something loud and definitive.

But, nothing more than a rustle of leaves...
The early rain was good for the air and the neighborhood. A strange, cool breeze prevails.

And then she begins. I hear the woman’s staccato cries of pleasure. They’re lusty and clear and ring out against the sides of the buildings that surround my garden. I’m repulsed… then intrigued. I push myself up in bed, resting on my forearms, not sure if I hope for her to continue or end.

Her lover wills her to carry on and my opinion is null and void—silent and distant and tucked beneath a silk coverlet and feather bed. The moans and screams continue.

“Will you two shut up? Do ya’ hear me? Shut up!” a man from a neighboring building yells through his screen, out into the Saturday night air. His angry voice and heart-rate are wasted.

The couple keeps the pace. Nothing is done out of spite—the sincerity of her moans tell me this—for they’re in a separate world of naked skin, closed eyes, darkened rooms. Somehow, I’m happy for them—the twilight noise nothing more than another eccentric quality of my SoHo.

This is who I’ve become. Slowly, slowly New York has made me more accepting, indulgent, laissez-fair to the whims and qualities of strangers. The South (the South where I was raised, anyway) lacked tolerance. As I grew older and moved away from the pack (and the debutante, cotillion and mardi gras dances), the judgements hightened. Coffee and tea hour after the Sunday service was a catfight of gossip, rumors and jealousy.

To this, I say, keep your sanctimony and burned coffee. I'm doing just fine with a dirty martini and a taste of the liberated life.

Magic & Minutiae

And, what’s it like? How does the air smell, the ground feel beneath your feet once you’re inside a building shrouded in mystery and legend?

Anti-climactic dose of reality—the Fifth Avenue and 48th Street "Scribner" is now the makeup emporium, Sephora. But, the new building—the "Simon & Schuster" on Avenue of the Americas and 48th—is strikingly grand and cool. Beige and cream marble dominates. The elevator bank is huge and when you’re whisked to the Scribner floor you wonder about the Frank McCourts and Annie Proulxs before you.

Why am I here?
What god blessed me to make this journey?
To what secret room do they whisk away my thoughts and worries and memories-- bind them and distribute them as galleys?


Magic is made in that building. You feel it when you walk in and then you taste its absence once you step back out onto the avenue, into the normal air with normal people who exhale their worries and everyday minutiae. A woman pulls at her panties through her skirt. A man checks his watch in frustration, yanks at his tie and picks up the pace. My phone rings—it’s Fernando the building super and he’s waiting to fix my dishwasher.

Wait! I want to go back in! I want to grab one more book off the shelf to take home with me. My editor and the editor-in-chief already stacked me high with half a dozen slick hardbacks but I want more to tide me over. I look at my visitor’s pass—it’s expired. Move along, Belle, into the Midtown twilight, try to smell the cool magic that still clings to the books’ ivory pages…

The Hallowed Halls of Hemingway

The cool, marble foyer leads me to a fabled place. Inside the hushed walls, moving past gleaming surfaces, I'm finally coerced to the elevator bank and a new state of mind.

The hallowed halls of Hemingway.

The offices of Scribner Publishing.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Faded Bricks, Bright Signs

(I was in Florida for a photo shoot—please excuse my blogging negligence! Now, back to Hemingway and the more substantive things in life…)

I have this thing—an infatuation, really— for the forgotten, faded brick walls of important Fifth Avenue buildings. The front facades are polished, washed, homogeneous in their simple, American beauty. The brick side walls, however, are worn and much more telling—an Italian woman at the end of the night after her silks and mascara have been retired for the day.

This fascination led me to the original Charles Scribner’s Sons Building on Fifth Avenue and 48th Street one lethargic August afternoon, a week or so after I moved to the city. My father had always spoken of Maxwell Perkins (the famed editor of Hemingway and Fitzgerald) and Scribner’s and the discipline required to become a “real writer.” But, I didn't know the location of the building that housed these fabled men, their words, sentences and advice. But, somehow, I found it. There I stood, the bumbling Southern transplant--far from a writer--on the curb of a Midtown street, staring up, enthralled by the stencilling and the history behind that sign, high in the sky.

(back tomorrow morning...)

Belle's Return

Even the champagne weekends have to come to an end ...Your Belle will be back tomorrow...

Until then, check out our latest Southern soiree in SoHo!

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Mamma’s last meal in New York City was take-out buffalo chicken wings (from “Down the Hatch,” nonetheless) and red wine. The play at the “Cherry Lane Theatre” that proceeded our bar food bacchanal was nice and light and filled with just enough sexual innuendo to entertain us for 3 hours. However, it had not been stimulating enough to keep us awake through another prix-fixe menu. Dinner at home would be nice change of pace, I thought. Really, though, “dinner” and “home” are very loose descriptors for where my poor mother was forced to rest her head, what processed chicken parts I made her eat.

The aluminum container arrived, steam seeping out of the side and top creases. I ceremoniously doled out our dinner, and with a certain flourish, poured each of us a glass of Rioja to accompany our “entrees.” Such a good sport, Mamma. She perched atop the leather ottoman while I sat on the only kitchen chair, the seat’s rattan digging into my thighs, leaving its mark on my white, city flesh. We hunched over our dinner plates—perilously balanced on tops of knees, piled high with wings, little thighs, plastic containers of blue cheese dressing—looking up now and again to talk about town gossip and my then-precarious job situation. Our faces were unapologetically marred with vinegar-hard hot sauce and creamy dip.

What did my mother really think about my trials and failures in New York? What advice did she withhold out of good breeding and spirit? How silly and insignificant did my life and city loves look to her then?

I consider the advice and the encouragement that I will give my daughter when she decides to make the bold flight North, away from me and her father, the culture she instinctively trusts. I know that she will move because she’ll have my strong, stubborn spirit and her father’s charming (and bumbling) naivete. Anywhere my daughter goes, in her eyes, will be home.

I’m going to tell her that the free drinks aren’t worth it. In fact, you know what? I’m going to give her a Cocktail Stipend. Just as Granddaddy and Grandmother sent me money for taxis, I’m sending her a check for martinis and nice glasses of wine. “They’ll get to be asses as the night wears on. That’s when you say goodbye and use the money that Mamma sent you.” I just can’t BELIEVE the ridiculousness I put up with for a damned $10 dirty martini. The hubris, the posing, the invasive questions—my daughter will NOT have to endure that.

I will advise her to go buy a “toy” on Christopher Street. Forget the potential one-night stands and inflated promises of dinner dates. Leave them at the door and, well, how shall I phrase this? Go back to yourself. A stranger in a bar is much more likely to disappoint than a “AA” battery or two.

Take yourself out to dinner. Observe the people around you—the ones that you aspire to become, the others that you pity. Jot down notes on your cocktail napkin. Keep a folder of these and refer to it every so often when you feel that the city is changing you.

Skip the club opening/loft party, catch a foreign film. What is an investment banker in a loft on Chambers Street going to tell you about yourself that you don’t already know? “Has anyone told you that your eyes are as blue as the water that laps the shores of Round Hill, Jamaica?” Bertolluci, Mastroianni and Truffaut—THEY can illuminate a thing or two.

Call home. Don’t forget where you’re from. That’s how you got to the Big Apple in the first place.

I’ll give my daughter her wings--just like Mamma gave me mine--and hope that she’ll fly. If not, well, I suppose we can dunk ‘em in a bowl of blue cheese dressing and call it a day.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I'm cookin' up something good... Delicious and intimate.

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.
--M.F.K. Fisher

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Royal

(My American Royalty continued...)

Land of the free, home of the brave—there is no aristocracy, you say. Oh, really? Tell that to the maitre d’, the bouncer, the seasoned bartender at “Bemelman’s.” A new world lays itself at your feet when you date a Groton and Princeton grad that just happens to be directly related to the ex Commander-in-Chief.

Merc Bar. A finger of Jack and Coke left in his tumbler and I stroll in the door. Turn left, turn right. This is a set-up, you see—a blind date scenario that would make our Baby-Boomer parents proud. He’s searching the crowd; I see him searching. Even though I know next to nothing about the boy—except that he is President ______’s great, great grandson and President ______’s second cousin once removed—he’s easy to spot. Like a good British aristocrat, my date has a slightly inbred visage (flat face, broad nasal bridge, bug eyes) and a grating guffaw. The chortle is a nervous tick of sorts that is emitted at random and inappropriate moments—like after saying, “Nice to meet you.” He’s short—vertically challenged enough for his line of vision to be breast high. Lucky man.

Fact: I’m bigger and blonder and just plain more than any of these northern things he’s used to dating (or screwing after the Met’s Costume Ball). Indeed, the boy has two mighty POTUS’s in his family and at that moment I still fee like a Brigitte Nielsen running the show. Lord, was this New York society? I imagine all the Upper East Side girls clamoring for his prestigious last name, praying at Café St. Bart’s over lunch that he would be their ticket to a permanent listing on the Social Register. “No more Jimmy Choo’s! No more Christian Louboutin’s!” they solemnly vow. “For him, I swear to don ballet flats from here to eternity!” The lithe ladies also tuck away all sexual desire as they resign themselves to focus on his back pocket (wallet) instead of his front fly (errrmm, never went there).

Me? All I want is a dirty martini and an even dirtier conversation about the gilded faces that fill the pages of "Vogue" and the "Times." He orders another drink and I set in, ready to refine my journalism skills...

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

American Royalty

“You’re hedgin’ on the vulgar up there,” Mamma told me some time ago. I can’t pinpoint how many months or years ago she said this because, as Didion might reflect, much feels to be the same in New York after you can name the bridges, tunnels and rivers. Yes, things are better when you’re just a touch ignorant…

My big city life was negotiating good and bad taste, or so I’ll claim for Mamma’s sake. My precarious employment and dating situation had her worried that my magnolia had not only lost its bloom, but that its petals were browning, decomposing under the Yankee sun.

What’s a newly minted New Yorker to do? Date American Royalty, of course.

Land of the free, home of the brave—there is no aristocracy, you say. Oh, really? Tell that to the maitre d’, the bouncer, the seasoned bartender at “Bemelman’s.” A new world lays itself at your feet when you date a Groton and Princeton grad that just happens to be directly related to the ex Commander-in-Chief...