Over to You

OF NO FIXED ADDRESS

Whever I go, I encounter anti-Americanism—and legions of Natalyas

BARBARA AMIEL August 29 2005
Over to You

OF NO FIXED ADDRESS

Whever I go, I encounter anti-Americanism—and legions of Natalyas

BARBARA AMIEL August 29 2005

OF NO FIXED ADDRESS

Over to You

Whever I go, I encounter anti-Americanism—and legions of Natalyas

BARBARA AMIEL

I’VE TAKEN to calling myself Lady Black of No Fixed Address while I spend the summer betwixt and between houses, moving out and moving in, floating happily in a semi-weightless state. The more you hopscotch the more things are the same. BBC, Radio France, CBC; same old stuff. The Internationale of public broadcasters can’t stand America. I listen because if you tune your ears to between the lines, you get more news than from mindless commercial networks.

One BBC item uncovers the menace of Uncle Sam to foreign females. “No one knows

how many young women like Natalya leave their homes,” the announcer says ominously, “and make the journey into the unknown to marry an American, and there’s growing concern about what happens to them when they arrive.” My instinct might be to worry about the American men. In the contest between those needing mail-order brides from foreign parts and the conquistadoras who strike out to subdue the American bull, my money would be on Miss Moscow.

(Actually, I worry about the BBC scraping the bottom of the barrel to feed its addiction to anti-Americanism. In the early days, a single story per news broadcast could give them a good buzz, but now they clearly need more to prevent them from sinking into terminal depression. One fix can’t get you high enough in the ritual of hate America; you need ever-increasing doses just to keep on an even keel.)

After moving house in London, I treated myself to a deluxe stay at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. Quite a few of the Natalyas so worrying to the BBC work there. But they will have to jump over a few cultural hurdles. A bath is clearly one of them. Russians are a clean people, but they view bathing in your own dirty water as unsanitary and much prefer showers. In this they are closer to the Americans, which might be a reason for the BBC to worry less. My chambermaid paid a lot of attention to provisioning my unused shower with soap, while the bath I used never had any.

Natalyas come in many varieties. Before Hank. On their way to Hank. When they’ve finished with Hank. At the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco a couple of weeks ago they were legion. They came through the lobby and if

they turned right they were likely to be “good-time girls” using the loo before circling the Casino next door, and if they went to the lifts they were wives changing outfits for the fourth time that day. The outfits were the same either way, short and expensive.

Air transportation is the only business I know that has managed to reverse the notion that the customer is always right. Just out of Toronto on American Airlines, an excited flight attendant came breathlessly up the aisle to make a telephone call asking for police to meet the plane. My seat was near the phone. “It’s a level 1 threat.” Looking

THE BBC uncovers the menace of Uncle Sam to foreign females. But in that contest, my money would be on Miss Moscow.

down the aisle, I saw nothing amiss. When we arrived at LaGuardia, four huge New York City cops were at the door. “He’s very verbally abusive,” explained the flight attendant. The poor sod was sleeping and had been woken up by the attendants serving drinks. His language was foul, but you’d think flight attendant school would teach you how to cope.

Airlines have discovered that it’s much more business-friendly to adopt the credo that the customer is always wrong. If you voice any dissatisfaction in the clouds you will be treated as a potential hijacker and face arrest. The instinct of flight attendants is to give service and one often encounters kind and helpful ones, but they are bucking the system.

I spent the afternoon in Harlem one recent Sunday. When I lived in New York during the late sixties and seventies, Harlem and the East Bronx were synonyms for danger: riots, Black Panthers, burned-out buildings, stripped cars. Mayor John Lindsay, the NYC version of JFK, walked up Madison Avenue to Harlem in a sort of rapturous St. Genet romanticism. I was behind him one Sunday when he stopped on the way to buy a tie at the Givenchy Boutique.

Harlem’s getting a bit white and gentrified now, though you do see the odd rooster wandering on the streets. They’re trying to chicken out of their destiny as a Santerian sacrifice in that Afro-Caribbean blend of Catholicism and paganism. I went into a Methodist church on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. The congregation was quiet, solemn in a way remembered from some other time. White dresses, white shoes, white stockings and white gloved hands holding abanicos. The men wore skull caps, black suits and ties even though it was 98° F. The ceiling fans turned slowly, round and round, and the gospel singer sang “Let my work speak for me dear Lord.” My sins fell away. Perhaps these values simmered quietly during all those awful years from Vietnam through Jimmy Carter until America started rediscovering itself under Reagan.

Back in Toronto my objection to a city with no opera house will be voided in the autumn of2006 when the new one opens with a complete Ring Cycle conducted by the brilliant Richard Bradshaw, a protege of the late Sir Adrian Boult. Tickets are 80 per cent sold out already. Which reminds me to ask the opera question plaguing me ever since I saw Lorin Maazel’s brand new 1984 at London’s Royal Opera House last spring. The libretto was pretty true to the novel, but it entirely omitted Big Brother’s scapegoat, Emmanuel Goldstein. I wondered if it was because daily hate sessions for Goldstein would too much mirror the left’s current hate of the Jewish state, or just for politically correct reasons. One can only speculate. lil