Monthly Archives: November 2012

Al Pacino


Pacino and Cannavale discuss their salesman prowess

I can’t honestly think of a better title for this post. It’s Sunday evening and I have just finished watching the second feature in my Al Pacino film marathon. Scent of a Woman is of course a classic (and don’t just take my word for it. Pacino got an Oscar for his role) and it has left me exhausted, with a bit of a headache really and absolutely amazed that last night I was 8 rows away from the great man himself.

An impromptu, reckless Broadway purchase yesterday morning, I spent a crazy sum of money for the privilege of sitting near to Johnny, not far away from Frank (Slade and Serpico), hey and of course in touching distance of Michael Corleone (if I nipped out the row and ran really quickly, and before anyone tackled me, to the stage that is!). Last night at 8.05pm, for those of you not following along well, there were 8 heads between me and Tony Montana! And now, as meringues bake in the oven, I am trying to piece together the surreal blur that was Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway.

[The meringues are a desperate attempt at consuming sugar, since my only source comes in the form of cane and with a dozen eggs in my fridge and not much else I have had to resort to Delia Smith meringues to get me through my movie run this evening.]

I was sat very snuggly between two large-ish men. One, I noticed after a few moments sat next to him, was quite clearly drunk (he fell asleep and mildly snored at points but luckily the prolific shouting on stage kept that to a minimum), and all around me, tourists. You know the type. Buying Broadway tickets for the main star! Cheeky so-and-sos. As the curtain was raised and that man sat in a makeshift Chinese restaurant, with a fellow actor, we heard a scream from the back of the orchestra,

“I love you Al Pacino!”

Tourists! By Jove it is hard work going to the theatre with all this rif raf!

Anyway what about his voice? It was all there. His intense eyes, his hair, his expressive mouth as he repeated his lines over and over. Mr Al Pacino is on stage people. STOP COUGHING!

The play was good (well it does have a Pulitzer). Mamet’s dialogue is excellent. It has a similar feel and frustration to Death of a Salesman and I was really impressed with the fast paced exchange between the actors. I had watched a preview online, in the few hours before the show, and some actors had commented on the musicality of the script. I saw that in action. Bobby Cannavale was wonderful. Playing Pacino’s Ricky Roma (from the 1992 movie–earning Pacino a Best Supporting nomination in the same year he won Best Actor for Scent of a Woman) he really made an impression on me. I also loved seeing Richard Schiff (The West Wing’s Toby Ziegler) in real life. A little behind on the series (by almost a decade) I have been religiously watching West Wing episodes, most nights now for the last few months, and feel very close to the cast. So seeing, possibly my favourite, only EIGHT heads away was divine.

My buddy Schiff (Tobes)

I really cannot say much else. The whole evening was like a dream. Al Pacino has been a staple legend in my household since I was a little girl (less Serpico, more Scent of a Woman before you blame my parents) and just like with Dustin Hoffman, and with Jane Fonda, I was all of a flutter.

Al Pacino, I may not entirely remember last night, but you were definitely worth every penny.

The Highs and Lows of USPS


A letter to a friend dated 13th November 2012:

Dear Dr A,

I will first of all set the scene. I was in Switzerland only moments ago (I know you know this but bear with me) and I went on a day trip to Chamonix, being the tourist I am. During the lunch break, I had brought a packed lunch for financial reasons, I was shunned by the rest of the group, but more precisely the restaurant (the French DO NOT allow you to bring your own food). I decided then to amuse myself with a wander into The North Face shop.
For some reason The North Face seems the coolest of all the ski brands and I was drawn in by their colourful window display. After a quick chat about the state of Hurricane Sandy with the helpy man I tried on my two favourite coats (difficult decisions as their gear is so exciting) and promised myself I would have them. Or something similar.
So on my return I set about investigating sizes and styles both online and in store.
One fateful Sunday, after a debrief with the mother, I found an excellent website ( AVOID AT ALL COSTS) where the coats were just 45% less expensive than in real human life. We debated, The Ashbridge Family sans sister, which colour would be best and eventually I plumped for the blue. I clicked and ordered and sat back in awe of my bargain.
Almost immediately my joy turned to panic as I received emails that could only be described as suspicious. I checked my account and sure enough strange details appeared on my statement. I googled the website to look for clues of fraud and yes it seemed the company was dodgy.
I was crestfallen. Not only have I begun tax paying (about time I hear you say) but I had spent half my budget on a new winter coat that may never arrive.
I have been waiting. Hoping. But then I worried that if it was a fraud they may keep taking money out of my account. So I cancelled my card. And now, as of Friday last week, to get any cash I have to go to a bank and show ID. Indeed for the last 4 days I have had $8 to my name because of weekend and Veteran holidays in the US keeping the bank caller far from my sight (the banks were closed).
But I lived in hope. I had been told, on cancelling my card, that if no product arrived I could claim the money back. Easy peasy.
Now, dear friend, I am waiting for nothing. I want nothing. I do NOT want a fake. (But, having said that, if I get a fake, I want a good one!)
Zoom forward to Tuesday evening. I receive an automated email saying I have received a package. The coat. AHHHH let it be convincing I cry. When I get home I have 2 packages. Thinking the white envelope is from a relative, I grab the scissors and tear the “coat” box apart. What was in it? What had travelled all the way from rural knock off China to warm and clothe me in the bitter months ahead?
THE WORST FAKE COAT I have ever seen in my 29 years alive. The sleeves stop at about my elbows. There is an overwhelming smell of a flammable plastic that may ignite at the very thought of an open flame. The brand sign is so far from The North Face that it may as well be The South Face and boy o boy, I know I have a long body but seriously, how short do they think people get? It doesnt even get close to my bum cheeks.
I was devastated. I had paid $100 (so unlike me) for an utter mess. I threw it to the ground in disgust. Pitying myself cruelly.
And then I turned to the other present. I slashed at the envelope revealing the glorious deep purple packaging of the wonderful Cadbury’s brand (a true brand). My long lost Percy Pigs. Reunited. A magnificent tin of M&S tuna. I cannot eat another. And my top favourite rah journalist of all time. Mr Giles Coren.
C. You know not what you do.
(but I will tell you)
Thank you. I have an overflowing ‘flow’ of happy from my heart now and there was a little tear to my eye that you thought to send me such valuable gifts when I am so far away.
I miss you too and delighted we will be friends forevermore.
Thank you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Golden Tan Conundrum?


Spray-tanning may be the answer?

Isn’t it lovely to have a golden tan? After a couple of summers in almost constant sunny weather, I am well kitted out in the light dress garment. So, despite the steamy humidity of New York City, I am able to flounce about in next to no material, and in a variety of shapes and colors. With my hazel eyes, however, my Northern Hemisphere skin tone, my British looks; I probably should be covering up. I know that of course. This knowledge has been imparted many times over and I cannot feign ignorance. I am a cancer biologist working in a cancer hospital. So on a level, I do make a concerted effort to protect myself. On the tennis court, I roughly layer my face in Factor 60. I spray my shoulders and give a quick rub on my arms and neck. On weekend wanders, I cover my cheeks, for the superficial fear of wrinkles, but throw that cardigan in my bag soaking up the UV light on my back.

I am 29 years old this week and just days ago I was lying on my tummy in the dermatologist’s office having pinprick biopsies taken of several unsavory features scattered across my back.

I remember thinking, over and over again in my youth, I am never going to get sunburnt again. Never. I remember the searing pain as the dried out, raw skin was layered with cool plain yoghurt (unknown brand). My school friends and I, released after final exams for our first unsupervised trip abroad, returned to our villa, after Day 1 in Rhodes, with painful red patches all over our backs and arms and legs. It was Lucy who returned with the useless advice (we would consider anything at this point). Spread yoghurt, any brand, all over the burns. She had been told it worked wonders as her sores had motivated sympathy and suggestions from her beach-y peers. It will cool the skin and moisturize the burns. We did it. We bought a bucket load of plain, flavorless yoghurt and we caked ourselves in it. The smell was quite unbearable, the giggling was definitely memorable but the pain remained unresolved.

After the first couple of days of our summer holidays this year I thought, ooh my skin is a bit tender. It looks more pink than tan and so tomorrow I will cover up with a t-shirt. But the vain pull of the golden tan won out. And sun cream was applied without zest and I allowed my skin to darken. A few more freckles appearing on the exposed parts.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation there are an “estimated 2.8 million cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) diagnosed in the US each year. In fact, it is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. More than one out of every three new cancers are skin cancers, and the vast majority are BCCs.

Cancer is a scary word. It is a routine word in my daily work but it is always referring to patient A and never ever reflected back at me. So today I am scouring the clinical websites for information. Not my usual academic journal pool. Working on the molecular level, the intricate detail of the cell and its genetics won’t help me understand what is coming up next for me.

I tap away at the keyboard. Basal cell carcinoma is mostly non-malignant. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation website tells me that “BCCs are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). BCCs often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars. Usually caused by a combination of cumulative UV exposure and intense, occasional UV exposure, BCC can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow, but almost never spreads (metastasizes) beyond the original tumor site. Only in exceedingly rare cases can BCC spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.”

Well that is a relief. I keep hearing “it is better to be safe than sorry” and of course I agree wholeheartedly but I am already sorry. I am sorry I ever nurtured my skin to that unnatural tan I have always so craved. I am sorry for that and as I sit back on the sterile, paper covered examination bed, waiting for my ruthless dermatologist to return, I find myself slightly flushed with the worry of what is coming next. And mainly, dear readers, it is entirely the dent to my vanity. I know she is going to cut these unsavory growths out. She is going to cut nice and deep to be “safe” and “not sorry” and she is going to sew me back up and then onto the next. I pride myself on a strong racquet sports playing back (well I do now. Now that I have had a little think about it) and I definitely don’t want any more war wounds to count. Appendix removal left an unsightly blemish, hockey injuries pockmark my legs and knees and general clumsiness, as the overzealous child I once was stumbled about grazing and scratching and sometimes slashing my smooth skin.

When it is over. When the local anaesthetic begins to wear off and my shoulder aches a little bit, more biopsies taken for good measure, I am feeling very determined. Is it worth it to have a gloriously brown glow to take you into the white winter months? Does anyone really care but me? I know the answers of course and once this is finally over, in a few stabbing weeks or months (if she removes one every two weeks we could become quite the bosom buddies), I will be viciously vigilant in my sun protection regime. I promise. I promise myself.