I always requested a wake-up call from the hotel operator when I travelled. The thought of missing a plane and the resultant pile-up of skipped interviews for the musician I was accompanying – together with the brays of annoyance from the local record company – were just not worth the extra hour. And this was before mobile phones, so in addition to the alarm clock I always carried, and the one usually in the room, I would have the hotel check I was awake.
One morning in Stockholm I couldn’t answer. I literally could not get my hand to pick up the receiver. I could hardly breathe and when I tried to sit up – I fell back onto my pillow. My face was numb. I thought I must have had a stroke. I lay there terrified. Imagining myself slurring my way through the rest of my life.
Eventually there was a knock at the door and the concierge opened it. The band’s manager was standing there – concerned that he would find a dead body in my room. Something tour managers all feared, and something I experienced in my career. One look at me and he could tell something was up. “You’re staying here”, he said. “We’ll go to Germany. I’m getting you a doctor right now.”
The medic was a tall, big-shouldered, brusque man who worked with Sweden’s Winter Olympics team. He listened to my lungs: “Pneumonia.”
He looked into my eyes, sniffed my breath and asked:
“Bloody stupid. Your body is eating your muscles. Bloody stupid.”
I knew he was right – I had been hallucinating the smell of roast chicken for the past week: “Of course. Your body is demanding you to eat some protein.”
What followed was a lecture delivered with such succinct clarity that I have never forgotten a word. The body, he said, is designed in such as way as to need all of the good things that nature created for us to eat. In measure and balance. For the health and the soul. When you start skipping out the steps, one part loses. When you drink a lot of alcohol on top of that – the nutrients are stripped. So enjoy a bit of everything and exercise. And stop with so much wine.
With that said, he prescribed a full week of bed rest in situ, steam baths and an antibiotic/steroid combo so strong it turned my mind to mush. He conscripted the hotel into a meal plan of his devising, and co-opted his wife to bring healthy broths to the patient. He called my boss in London and laid down the law – no travel for a month “This woman is bloody exhausted, Sir”. And told me to stop my “stupid vegetarian nonsense”.
The diet he devised included desserts. Every day.
I never really ‘got’ LA. I felt atypical there – everyone was in some sort of denial and I couldn’t get my head around the fact that the people I met didn’t eat, didn’t drink, didn’t laugh, didn’t read, didn’t wear normal clothes, didn’t look you in the eye, had fake hair and breasts and never said what they meant. I blundered around, martini glass in hand, trying to be funny: in the process, offending everyone. Who didn’t ‘get’ South Africans at ALL.
Business dinners posed their own challenge. Faced with a menu that promised the world, I would order two or three things to taste and suggest we shared. The rest of the table would look at me in horror. And the kale would start arriving. I would skip dessert along with the rest of them and mooch back to my hotel to eat the chocolate on my pillow – thinking sadly about the sour cherry and chocolate ganache tart I had left unordered.
I did my best to avoid LA whenever possible.
For a place that has it all – Los Angeles gives itself short shrift. Wait – I need to be more specific: those that have a lot deny themselves a lot. Those that are only just making ends meet: eat what they can get their hands on. And they share. Paying $45 for a plate of egg whites and steamed kale with boiled tomatoes is bullshit if you are earning minimum wage. So is leaving any part of that on your plate. Accompanying your meal with water that is intelligent or spiritual and costs $15 a bottle, would be the mark of insanity. Fresh and available works for them.
The guy I used to report to was a healthy eater too. In fact, he ate the same thing every day – blueberries and yoghurt for breakfast, sprinkled with flax (which would sit untouched – making his office smell sour and a little off, which was fitting). A dressing-free, organic steamed chicken, broccoli and chickpea salad for lunch. Rice cakes with a dab of soya spread for mid-afternoon snack. He would order in restaurants and never eat. Spending most of the meal on the phone outside. He exercised at 4.30am every day and was calling me by 6.30am whilst drinking a spirulina smoothie. I couldn’t understand how he stayed alive.Until the day we flew to Dublin together. I chanced upon him hiding behind a pillar in the departure lounge – tearing into a huge slab of three-cheese pizza. I liked him for the three minutes it took for him to wolf it down and mop the oil from his chin. But that was the end of our détente cordial. He never looked me in the eye again.
camparigirl has a fat-free figure. There is not a hint of it on her 5”6’ frame. She is leaner now than when we met 26 years ago. She could eat a Nutella and strawberry pastry without it ever showing. She could eat two. But she doesn’t.
I get that she lives in a city where the size of a hole in a donut is more important than the fun of eating around it. Where the inhabitants are waging an impossible competition with nature. Where 70 year old women look like line drawings of themselves at 20. But I think it is more than that.
In a town where you live or die by cockeyed standards, have-it-all Los Angelenos are looking for something to give their lives meaning. Somewhere along the line creating a beautiful corpse has become more important than living well.
And that’s a damn shame.
(All images found in the public domain.)