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May. 24 2010 — 9:31 am | 605 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’: Lisbeth Salander makes my day

Men Who Hate Women

I am totally in love with Lisbeth Salander, the tiny terminator who propelled the late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson’s thrillers to international renown. There she is –Audrey Hepburn with a nose ring, an Olsen twin on steroids. Capable of kicking any guy’s ass, and doing so as often as she can, Lisbeth keeps lists. There are the horrific rapists and wife beaters she plans to get even with–and the every day jerks who treat her with contempt at worst, condescension at best.

Again and again, Lisbeth, an expert computer hacker, makes a note to “investigate” an offender. That means he–and it’s always a he–will end up the target of a tax collector, or something far worse. She is, as her friend and occasional lover Mikael Blomkvist puts it, “the woman who hates men who hate women.”

In Larsson’s fictional world, Lisbeth is high functioning autistic, a brilliant mathematician who can’t handle the most basic social interactions. I’d just call her single-minded, a pro at what she does.

Lisbeth is a super-heroine for our time, a feminist avenger. Noomi Rapace, in the Swedish film, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” perfectly inhabits this odd idol’s skin. Director Niels Arden Oplev keeps all the book’s violence–and then some–never pulling back from darkness nor sprucing up the stark landscape. The result is one of the best screen translations of a novel I’ve ever seen– right up there with “Silence of the Lambs” in its skin-crawling accuracy.

But what is so refreshing about the Swedish movie is the number of real faces. Even the hero is a guy with pock-marked skin–and he’s surrounded by women and men who could frequent any nearby 7-11. Let’s just hope, in Hollywood’s planned English language version, the producers don’t pretty it up–Tom Cruise as the hapless journalist, Lindsay Lohan in karate-kicking Louboutins.

Give me a pudgy Russell Crowe, at least. As for Lisbeth–there’s been talk of Carey Mulligan, but I’d suggest the Canadian actress Alison Pill. She’s done Martin McDonagh, so she knows from dark, and she’s certainly got the body type.

In the meantime, I’m just happy to have the image of Rapace’s black-eyed Lisbeth in my mind as I wait for the download of Larsson’s  final book, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” coming to the U.S. this week.

May. 18 2010 — 9:04 pm | 401 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

Energy Up! A celebrity trainer gets kids to eat right

Volage and Katie Couric (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

When High Voltage materialized in my living room one day–she of the silver exercise tops, clubbing yoga pants, and boundless enthusiasm for elevating people’s lives–I was startled, then dubious. Not suspicious about her ability to whip celebrities into filming shape–it’s their job, after all–but wary that she could carry her healthy living message beyond that rarefied world.

What a surprise, then, to talk to the charming, self-confident girls enrolled in her Energy Up! diet and fitness programs at New York City’s Young Women’s Leadership School and Mother Cabrini High .

“Sugar is bad, but it’s hard to cut back,” said Kiani. “It’s in a lot of things you don’t know.” As proof, she walked me through an exhibit of such items as frozen entrees, yogurt and whole wheat bread, all shot full of sugar. Voltage’s program, Kiani continued, “lets us know what we’re eating. That helps us to eat healthier.”

What was the hardest thing for her to give up? “Kool-Aid,” Kiani says. “Cherry candy,” adds her friend, Jovan. But they’ve acquired a taste for bananas and apples.

What else does Voltage tell them to eat? “She doesn’t tell us,” Jovan says. “She says it’s our choice–she’s just giving us information.” Information like the fact that vitamin water can contain as much sugar as a soft drink.

Even more outrageous, Nadita points out, “You know how in school they give us chocolate milk? This is how much sugar they put in milk.” Cringing, she holds up a baggie filled with the stuff.

Hoping to change her younger sister’s diet, too, Nadita took the information home. “My mom started making  less greasy stuff,” she says. “She now bakes her chicken instead of frying it.”

“Learning about the sugar was a shock,” admitted Adriana, an Energy Up! graduate now enrolled in Dowling College. “You look at something like an oatmeal raisin cookie, and you don’t think of sugar first. You think it’s not bad. But when you start reading labels and knowing what’s in things, you cut out those cookies. I’ve lost 20 pounds!”

By becoming conscious, the kids’ choices can even become unconsciously correct. “My family went to an all you can eat place last weekend,” Nadia told me. “I didn’t notice, but my parents said, ‘You only put healthy stuff on your plate.’”

Nadia also came up with what, to me, might be the perfect diet/maintenance regimen: “Six days a week, I eat healthy. On Saturday, I eat what I want!”

Except, in these girls’ cases, what they want is rapidly becoming what they should want.

So congratulations to Voltage, also known as Kathie Dolin, on her remarkable program, designed to combat Type 2 Diabetes and Childhood Obesity. With the help of Katie Couric and Kelsey and Camille Grammar, among others, she’s hoping to expand her efforts to other schools, eventually enrolling boys as well.

This is a program that even I, a lover of hamburgers and fried chicken, can get behind. Because, as the kids will tell you, Voltage  does not dictate. Her program provides the facts, then allows for free will. How wonderful that, once given those facts, so many in the program start making the healthy choice.

If you’ve got kids–or care about kids–maybe you’d like to help introduce this program to other schools. To learn more, check out the Energy Up! website.

May. 11 2010 — 9:44 pm | 226 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

What if Anna Wintour dressed the King of Queens?

Anna Wintour at New York's Fall Fashion Week, 2005

So here I am watching The September Issue–last year’s highly hyped documentary about the making of the Vogue magazine super-seller–with a guy attired in a Philadelphia Flyers hoodie, Yankees cap, Rangers sweats, white socks and green crocs. Did I mention the $12 Rite-Aid reading glasses? Okay, so he’s not from Queens, but they haven’t yet made The King of Unbelievably Bad Dressing.

“I never thought to buy you something like that,” he says as a Jean-Paul Gaultier silver mullet head-dress floats across the screen.

Well, even a King of Bad Dressing can have some fashion sense.

Not that I can look at the documentary’s clothes. I’m too busy marveling at Anna Wintour’s fragile frame (do you really think she eats a whole steak for lunch?)  and noting that just about anybody in any decision-making position on this masthead looks like a crazy person. That’s almost a prerequisite to becoming a fashion editor–choosing a look that no normal person would wear.

I mean, Vogue’s creative director, Grace Coddington, may be a genius–she sure knows how to direct a phot0 shoot–but just check out this wild-eyed, frizzy-haired spectre, breaking all the rules at age 69. With all due respect, she looks insane.

Sometimes, Coddington talks crazy, too. “She looks like she’s wearing a plastic bag,” she gleefully observes of one model. “But it looks good. A plastic garbage bag.”

Yep. A style worth every thousand dollar.

I’m not quite sure what these documentary makers were up to. They flash in photos of Wintour in her 20s, Coddington in her teens. Sort of The Picture of Dorian Gray in reverse. And then we segue to more shots of intense, gaunt Vogue staffers arguing over color blocks and Coliseums.

“Why can’t I have arms like that?” I want to know, staring at Wintour’s triceps.

“Because you eat,” says the King, dipping his bread into the lemon-caper sauce surrounding his fish.

“She’s really pissed,” he points out, needlessly. Onscreen, Wintour squints and fumes, furious that the photo shoot she had assigned in Rome has pretty much fizzled. (And as a former editor, I have to say my little heart leaps–God, this happens to Anna Wintour??? I am so vindicated.)

“Why her?” the King asks, alarmed at the appearance of actress Sienna Miller, who is the designated September issue cover girl.

Why indeed? From the moment the poor kid appears onscreen, the editors trash her. “Her hair is just completely lackluster,” says one blonde with better years–to say nothing of better hair–behind her. “She’s growing it out. It would be easier to do a wig.”

In the end, Sienna so strikes out as a model that she can’t even convincingly wear fake hair; they have to pull her puny tresses back, away from that pretty face.

Well! Ninety minutes into this, and that’s pretty much what I’ve learned. The Devil Wears Prada was so much more fun.

“I liked it,” says The King. “I didn’t know anything about that stuff.”

Pause. “Lagerfeld was my favorite.”

I am too afraid to ask what, when it comes to the King’s future attire, this will mean.

May. 4 2010 — 9:56 am | 255 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

The Barnes Museum: Bill Clinton views Modigliani, falls in love

Models (Poseuses)(1886-88)  by Georges Seurat

"Models" by Georges Seurat in the Barnes Museum

I just had one of the best days ever, on a field trip with three friends to the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. It did not begin auspiciously, Mercury being in retrograde as it so often is when one wants the day to go right. First, we boarded the wrong train from Manhattan’s Penn Station–almost an impossibility, you would think, for four grown and presumably intelligent adults. But there we were, comfortably ensconced in seats to Newark, N.J., when, fortunately, a man across the aisle leaped up with the realization that this was the wrong track.

The ride to Philadelphia was smooth until that glorious train station’s women’s room, where I found myself closely attended by a woman infected with the spirit of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. As I washed my hands, she pointed to her face, indicating her cheekbones and explaining, “This is where He lives. Whenever you see cheeks like this, you will know He is there.” It was a good tip, and I promised her that I would be on the lookout.

In short order, we had boarded a second, commuter train to the Barnes Museum, which I had frankly never heard of  before this invitation. (I’m easy–ask me to the opening of a new McDonald’s, or the closing of Filene’s, I’m there.) It was a perfect spring day as we ambled through a Main Line park toward the museum that had for years so offended the community, they had lobbied for its ouster. Well, they got their way–the Barnes will soon close, and be incorporated into the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But  now they want it back–all along our walking route there were tasteful, community-approved signs begging not to move the Barnes.

A short history: The Barnes Museum–actually, it’s called The Barnes Foundation–houses the collection of Albert C. Barnes, M.D., who made his fortune developing a silver compound underlying an antiseptic product, Argyrol. Somehow, this son of a Philadelphia butcher developed one of the most amazing eyes for discovering new art. If you visit–and frankly, he was kind of a nut who didn’t encourage visitors– you will be privileged to view an unparalleled collection of French post-impressionist art: Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso, Seurat, Rousseau, Modigliani, maybe 200 Renoirs–including a bunch you’ll recognize from textbooks, but have never seen in life.

“I think Dr. Barnes was a bit mad,” said a German tourist, clearly needing to confide in someone, and yes, we immediately agreed. Barnes arranged this collection according to his whim, but it was a dictatorial whim, emphasizing his own artistic hobbyhorses. So he stacked paintings that include streaks of yellow on top of one another, and set up bizarre iron work to mimic their shapes. The lighting is dreadful, the experience overwhelming, almost claustrophobic.

Separated by our wanderings, my friends and I met at a Matisse. “Did you see that godawful Van Gogh?” I asked.

Indeed they had. Because tossed into this marvelous mix is the ugliest nude ever painted. Apparently, Van Gogh had paid a visit to Seurat, viewed his models, and decided he would give them a go. The result: A foreshortened figure with the face of a grotesque.

“I don’t think Van Gogh liked women,” I told David.

“That’s what Martha said,” he replied.

But there are so many surprises here–turn a corner, and there’s a Toulouse-Lautrec that looks just like an Andrew Wyeth. And the most beautiful, flower-strewn Picasso you can imagine. As for Renoir–Barnes may have done him a huge disservice by keeping so many wonderful paintings here. I always dismissed Renoir as boring, maudlin–but the paintings in this collection show an intimacy that breaks your heart, and a mastery of color you never suspected.

Upstairs, we stood in awe before Matisse’s “Joy of Life”–though we had to stand somewhat precariously, leaning over a banister, since Barnes had chosen to place it at the top of the stairs. A few steps away stood a breathtaking Ivory Coast door. (Barnes was also big on African art.) But then a de la Fresnaye painting triggered a memory for our friend Martha Babcock, who somehow is always in the right place at the right time. She had seen the Barnes collection (which, incidentally, isn’t supposed to travel) in Washington, D.C., shortly after Clinton was elected President.

“All of a sudden, all these guys, the Secret Service, came in,” she recalled. “They said, ‘The President and Mrs. Clinton are going to be coming into this room, in case you want to leave.’”

Well, like, who would leave? “Surprisingly, some people did,” said Martha.

But of course she stayed. “I went over to Hillary and said something to her and she said, ‘Well, it’s Mother’s Day, and after church, they asked what I wanted to do, and I wanted to come here.’

“Bill looked incredibly bored,” Martha continued. “His eyes were just glazed. They had Chelsea in tow, and you could tell she was a smart kid, she was really absorbing it. But the museum director  was explaining, here is a Matisse, painted from inside the room looking out, because, ‘you see, Matisse hated the beach.’

“Bill’s eyes are rolling back. But then all of a sudden there is this picture, the director called it ‘Portrait of a Marriage’  [the Barnes title is "Conjugal Life"], where the guy is in a suit and the blond woman is nude, trying to get his attention, and there are snickers all around.”

For the President, Mother’s Day just kept getting better. “We go on,” Martha related, “and then there’s this Modigliani, and Bill is really alert now.”

We four stood in front of Modigliani’s “Nude–Mahogany Red,” and thought: Who does this resemble?

“Too thin for Monica,” said David.

“Maybe Paula?” I suggested.

Well, there are nudes, and there is fried chicken. An hour later, we were back at the Philadelphia train station, salivating at the prospect of Delilah’s Southern Cuisine. I picked up the health food combo of fried chicken, candied yams and macaroni and cheese for the bus ride back.

This ride, incidentally, cost us $8.50 each…and provided the perfect end to a perfect day. (Take that, Mercury!)

Apr. 30 2010 — 9:50 pm | 1,458 views | 0 recommendations | 21 comments

Getting married? Seven reasons to change your name–or not


I guess I’m in the first generation of women who married but kept their birth names. Back then–29 years ago–it was such an odd notion that I assumed when I wed, my last name would automatically become my husband’s.

“Who says you’re changing your name?” a feminist columnist asked me. “Unless you file papers, you aren’t.”

Papers? That was enough to deter lazy me. Besides, I already had an established byline, a work history I didn’t want to disown.

Now comes another study (of course! is there anything we don’t study in this world?) suggesting that there’s a financial motive to keep your own name:

Women who choose to adopt their husbands’ surnames may be penalized in the job market, a new study from the Netherlands suggests…

The authors did several experiments involving university students’ perceptions of hypothetical women — imaginary women who were described identically, except for their marital status and decision to keep or change their surnames. The students generally viewed women who took their husbands’ surnames as being more stereotypically feminine. Participants thought that a hypothetical woman who took her husband’s surname was “more caring, more dependent, less intelligent, more emotional, less competent, and less ambitious in comparison with a woman who kept her own name.”

Women, Work and a Name Change – Economix Blog – NYTimes.com.

Well, there’s a whole lot of sexism going on here. But barring those issues, let’s look at the case for and against changing your given name:

Reasons to change

1) Your husband has a better name than you do–better as in, easier to pronounce, easier to remember, easier to make a dinner reservation. This was not an issue for me–is there any advantage to choosing Carcaterra vs. Toepfer? And don’t even think about a hyphenate–can you imagine saddling a kid with the last name, Carcaterra-Toepfer? or Toepfer-Carcaterra? That’s an extra 30 minutes on the phone, every time you book an airline ticket.

2) Your kids will not be embarrassed at school. “Everybody thinks you’re divorced,” my kids would wail, complaining that their  teachers didn’t understand why I was called Toepfer, not Carcaterra. (Come on–it’s not 1932. Get with the program, Teach.)

3) You can pick up theater tickets, dry cleaning and anything else you care to carry that is registered under your husband’s name.

Reasons not to change your name:

1) It takes effort. You have to switch your bank accounts, Social Security cards, all kinds of crap you don’t want to do.

2) You have professional achievements under your birth name, which might be lost in transition.

3) You want to keep a separate credit rating. Hey–who knows what he’ll be up to? Or what loans you, alone, might need.

4) You might get a divorce--I know, you don’t want to think of this on your wedding eve. But maybe take a time out and consider, if the worst happens, and all romance fails, do you really want to be walking around with the last name of a guy you despise?

Marriages can come and go, but a name change might be forever.

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    About Me

    Waitress money in pocket, typewriter in hand, I came to New York from Ohio to make my living as a writer. No high aspirations: English was simply the only subject I'd never failed. In a matter of weeks, I went from writing a college thesis on Clarissa Harlowe to a romantic dissection of Dean Martin's divorce. It's been a bumpy ride ever since, with long pauses at the New York Daily News (where I edited Rex Reed, Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin and my now-husband Lorenzo Carcaterra) and People magazine (Diana! Oscars! Sexy Men! ), and shorter stops with a select crew of bipolar employers. My most delightful three years were spent as the founding editor of a women's weekly, Quick & Simple, where I picked up such tips as: To get more juice from a lemon, nuke it for 15 to 30 seconds before squeezing. All the better for making lemonade.

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    I loved both Broadway shows, Sondheim on Sondheim and Red, which spotlight two great talents, two views of the world.  You can read my thoughts here.