If you are new to LA and have noticed that women you just met and briefly socialized with bid their farewell with “we should do lunch sometimes”, let me break it to you: don’t count on the lunch invitation ensuing any time soon after. Or ever for that matter. At first, I was surprised by how warm and forthcoming complete strangers could be in this town. That was followed by puzzlement when it sank in that no one really wanted to have lunch.
In a city as unstructured as LA, a certain segment of the female population can actually be categorized pretty easily: the Santa Monica moms, the East Side hipsters, the Malibu blondes, the Hollywood waitresses-cum-actors and then the well-groomed, smiling and fashionable “Beverly Hills Women” who, while they don’t necessarily look like the housewives of tv fame nor do they live in Beverly Hills proper, they all share in the cause of making the world a better place, one lunch at a time. Just not the sort of lunch I had in mind when I started in this town.
The “flats” of Beverly Hills, those made famous by Brandon and Brenda, have been taken over by the ever-expanding Persian community, so the ladies of my story now reside either in the hills above the flats, or in Bel Air, Holmby Hills and, sometimes, even Westwood. All Beverly Hills adjacent enclaves where money talks. A lot.
The typical Beverly Hills woman maybe had a career (or just a job) once but then got married, to someone wealthy, mainly in entertainment or in the law profession; had more than one child (average of three) and, reaching middle-age and needing to find a purpose other than decorating, shopping, raising the children and looking good, most often starts volunteering her time to a cause. It can be a disease that touched her family or something she got roped in by a friend. The most entrepreneurial start their own charities which, with their personal connections, tend to grow and flourish. And that is where the lunches come in.
In the olden days, ladies of society were snowed under ball invitations. The Beverly Hills woman is snowed under luncheon invitations: it’s a veritable season that stretches from October to June and keeps the ballrooms of every hotel in town, every florist, linen rental, hairdresser, facialist and the likes in business.
I am too unpolished to be considered a Beverly Hills woman (plus I live in a rural canyon, which disqualifies me immediately) but I receive the odd invitation in virtue of some family connections so, now and then, I will trudge into town with a full maquillage on my face and something glitzy on the old bones. It took me years to understand the dressing code. Black is definitely not an option. Unlike her Upper East Side counterpart, the Beverly Hills woman favours color: bold or pastel and, when she doesn’t feel adventurous, will fall back on white. Never black. So armed with a pair of pale pink brocade JCrew pants and a charcoal see-through Paul Smith shirt, today I entered the lobby of the Four Seasons in – you guessed – Beverly Hills for my miniature salad and 4 oz of poached fish. You can count on salad and seafood as the Beverly Hills woman doesn’t really eat.
While pretending to nibble, the Bevery Hills woman is entertained by a funny MC and listens to speeches of celebrities who are honored for their philanthropy: mostly people whose names I know but whose faces are utterly unfamiliar as I don’t watch much tv. Sofagirl would fare much better in that department. Today, at my table, I was pleased to find the same Indian woman I bonded with last year – I forgot how she came about the event but she must have some distant connection like me. To my right were three generations of women who had invested heavily in cosmetic surgery of many kinds, with the youngest frozen in an expression of perpetual wonder, her eyes open so wide. Across from me was a minor celebrity of impossible beauty, a mother of five with the figure of a 20-year-old model, and former wife to a notoriously difficult actor. The tight dress contained perfect curves, a concave stomach and kilometric legs. But what must that beauty cost? In the three hours we all sat there, she re-applied her lipstick every 20 minutes, she didn’t touch any food or drink, fully concentrated on being beautiful. I felt exhausted just looking at her, and shamed at even thinking of eating my raspberry panna cotta. The Indian woman and I were the only ones, at our table of ten, to polish off our minute lunch but too scared to eat dessert.
As I galloped back to the valet parking as soon as the last speech was over, I took the time to admire the always beautiful flower compositions adorning the lobby, and stole a glance into the bar, where I had so many meetings, late nights and even drinks with sofagirl in our rock ‘n roll days. I always loved the Four Seasons. While I never managed to graduate to Beverly Hills woman status, I was grateful for the opportunity to attend a catered event where the chef can pull off 300 pieces of halibut cooked to perfection (it’s hard – trust me) and to tool around my favourite hotel for a few hours.
In her best-selling novel, “Gone Girl”, Gillian Flynn writes “Most beautiful, good things are done by women people scorn”. So we can go ahead and make fun of the ladies who lunch: the foreheads frozen in place, the oversized lips, the French manicures, the short dresses worn with impunity but these women who, at some point, found themselves in need of maybe filling a void, now they spend their time filling other people’s lives. Without them, cancer research would have less money, and so would Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and autism and every disease that will touch our lives. Poor people would go a little bit hungrier, more pets would be euthanized. Many of them will put our activism to shame. Just remember that when they mention lunch, it’s not a gossipy tete a tete they have in mind.
Images courtesy of the Four Seasons and Bravo Network