An excerpt from
Letter from Paris
Thank god for whoever invented twenty-four hour room service, India thought, pressing down hard on the lid of the French press and pouring herself a large mug of coffee. Slathering a piece of toast with butter and orange marmalade, she climbed back into the crumpled sheets of her bed at The Warwick Hotel.
India had been in New York for four days and the jetlag (possibly a hangover; she was too tired to be sure) was hitting her badly now that she was no longer running on adrenaline. She checked the clock. 4.50 am! A five-hour time difference between London and New York meant this was an insane hour for a conference call.
But at least I can stay in my pajamas, she thought, punching in the numbers on the hotel phone. Exhilarating and all as it was to be an international jetsetter, a woman of the twenty-first century, an “executive” no less, she was pretty sure she had nothing to show for her efforts that could not have been achieved by Skyping from England.
She was here on Henry’s instructions to “build relationships.” Unsure quite what this entailed, she had thrown herself (and the company Amex card) into hyper drive. The previous days had been one long continuum of coffees, lunches, drinks, and dinners interspersed with visits to a Korean nail salon and a blow-dry hair bar, emerging coiffed and polished at speeds that would challenge a prong-horned antelope. The City That Never Sleeps never seemed to slow down either.
She had wined and dined uptown at Town, mid-town at Kitty Chi, and downtown in Tribeca at Mr. Chow. She had sipped champagne at The Mandarin Oriental on Columbus Circle, sipped afternoon tea at The Plaza, and espressos at The Mercer.
Each appointment had been scheduled and set out in meticulously detailed itineraries prepared by Samantha. She schmoozed with potential sponsors at Disney, met the publicist from L’Oreal, and the CEO of Jimmy Choo. She went with Henry to meet the vice president of Luella’s publishing house and back to her hotel in Manhattan, courtesy of cabs reeking of kebabs and stale cigar smoke. Maybe one day she would use the subway here. After all, millions of people survived it without getting mugged. But in the meantime, foul odors and a lack of air conditioning was the price she was prepared to pay for her lack of courage.
She pressed the hash key and stated her name as instructed by the automated voice on the conference call.
A few minutes of background music, then “Henry has joined the call.”
“Corrie has joined the call.”
A pause, before, “Hello. Is everybody here?”
It was reminding India of a séance.
“Is that you Corrie? “ Henry said. “I’m here and so is India. We’re waiting for Luella.”
Another few minutes went by before Luella announced herself.
“Luella. Sorry I’m late. Hello, is everyone else here?”
A chorus of “hellos,” was followed by another long gap.
“Can everyone hear me?”
As the only male voice, Henry was easy for India to identify.
A round of yesses, was followed by an echoing silence.
“Thanks everyone. So Corrie, I wanted you to meet India and Luella.”
India and Luella’s voices crashed into each other. “Hello Corrie.”
“Hello,” Corrie responded.
“Corrie, as you know, is the events coordinator,” Henry continued. “Corrie, would you like to lead on where we’re up to now?”
There was a long silence, during which India sank back into the pillows. She was seriously in danger of dozing off. Maybe she needed more coffee.
“I think we lost Luella.” Henry said.
“No, I’m still here Henry, but I can’t hear so well. I’m going to dial in again.”
I’ve an even better idea, India thought. Why don’t I go back to sleep and you and Corrie can have an old-fashioned chat one-to-one and tell us all how it went in an email?
The line crackled.
“Okay, I’m back but it’s still a terrible line. Corrie, can you hear me better now?”
“Not really. Can you hear ME?”
“India. Are you still there?”
Barely, She thought. “Yes, I’m still here.” She sighed, glancing at the digital clock on the nightstand. It was 5:30 am.
“This isn’t working people. Sorry, ” Henry said. “India, can you hear me?”
“Yes, I’m still here.”
“I’ll see you at The Greenwich at one o’clock to meet Rebecca. I may be running . . . ”
Henry had been cut off.
India, forgetting Corrie was still on the line, dropped the phone and was asleep within minutes.
She woke with a start to a loud knocking.
“Housekeeping. Hello . . . housekeeping.”
“Later,” She yelled. “Later. Thank you. Not NOW.” What time was this to be servicing a room?
She glanced at the clock then jumped up, realizing it was twelve fifteen. Running over to the window and stubbing her toe on a jutting low-level coffee table, she cursed and hopped as she yanked back the drapes. The street below was flooded. Cars were sloshing the pavements, pedestrians running for cover in all directions. A jagged bolt of lightning streaked the sky and the inevitable thunderclap was so loud it made her jump back into the offending coffee table, sending the early morning tray crashing to the floor.
India cursed then took a deep breath. She needed to slow down. She had plenty of time to get to The Greenwich and if she was a bit late she could blame the weather. Right? Henry would be there ahead of her to greet Rebecca. This need to be punctual was old conditioning from years teaching school and racing for the bell. It wasn’t as if she still had thirty kids waiting outside on a playground for her, or a full assembly to take. This was a whole new world where you were allowed to run as late as you liked as long as you arrived looking fabulous, your lipstick intact and your hair immaculately blown out. Clearly the women she was meeting had absorbed too many episodes of Sex and The City.
Thing was, even when you got to the meetings, you didn’t have to give people your full attention. You could check your texts every five minutes, step out of rooms to take calls, leave early because you had yet another (implication, more important) meeting to go to. Imagine if you behaved like that when you were giving a lesson? she mused. You’d be fired. Wouldn’t last a day.
After showering and putting on her makeup quickly, India rifled through her half-unpacked suitcase in search of a pair of black tights. A frantic race around the room failed to locate them. She was running out of time to be even fashionably “consultant late” she realized. Damn it, she would have to abandon the skirt and wear those Agnes B black pants yet again. She was already experiencing suitcase fatigue; absolutely sick to death of the clothes she had packed.
How were you supposed to anticipate freak weather in June? The humidity alone was already doing terrible things to her hair. Did Innes de la Fressange ever find herself on day four of a work trip down to her last clean pair of knickers? Somehow, India doubted it. There were glaring omissions in that style guidebook – and absolutely no advice on how to get out of The Warwick Hotel in the absence of a rowing boat or an ark.
Minutes later, standing under the awning at the entrance to the hotel, help came in the form of a doorman who flagged down a cab with a shrill ear-piercing whistle. India climbed into it under the protection of his supersized hotel umbrella.
Her phone rang as the cab lurched forward. Fishing it out of her pocket, she saw from the caller ID it was Adam. She let it ring a few times before picking up. It had been over ten days since she’d heard from him, she could wait another few seconds.
“Hey. I heard you’re in New York,” said the gravelly voice that never failed to send shivers down her spine.
“I am. How did you hear?”
“I ran into Annie at Soho House night before last. Why didn’t you tell me you were going?”
“It was arranged quickly.” India said. (Read: You never bother telling me when your plans change. See how you like it.) “Why? Where are you now?”
India went pale. He was in Cannes. He was in the south of France. He was in le sud de la France WITHOUT HER. How could he do this? He’d absolutely promised to take her. That had been the trade-off for letting her down about the Paris trip.
“I thought you were going to Morocco,” she managed.
“Yes, well Fitzroy, as he’s affectionately known to the crew, is prone to unmitigated acts of creativity, so here we are. Anyway, it’s pretty awful. The place is swamped. I thought it all went quiet after the Film Festival. Who knew? You’d love Eden Roc Hotel-du-Cap though. It’s beautiful here today. So what are you up to in New York?”
“Oh. You know,” India said, “meetings. Absolutely tons of meetings. You should see my schedule, it’s insane.” (Read: Am international businesswoman; meetings are in my DNA.)
“Who are you meeting with?”
“Adam, I’m in a cab right now. I can’t really talk.” (Read: Am international business type person who cannot risk being overheard by a driver.
“Oh! Sorry, okay.”
“How long are you in France for?”
“Not sure yet. I was thinking maybe we could meet up in London on my way back?”
“Absolutely,” she said, then immediately became concerned that she might have sounded too available. “Though best give me some notice. I may not be in town.” (Read: Am international traveler who may pop down to Cannes herself.)
‘Okay,” she said. “Enjoy Cannes. I have to go.”
And she did have to go. She had to stop the conversation right there while she still had the strength to keep up this air of cool detachment. It was killing her. She had managed an air of cool detachment though hadn’t she?