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Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman

What happens if you spend a whole year reading biographies of incredible women?

The simple answer is that you keep going even when your project is done.

And so this summer, I read the biography of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman, yes she was as interesting as the many lastnames that she had. She was from an aristocratic family and became Winston Churchill’s daughter-in law. But she soon found herself in the center of the jet-set life, and seducing the most powerful men around the globe. With all her viciousness and torrid love affairs, she buckled down and became the “Mother Superior”, and “Duchess” of the Democratic Party—a very serious endeavor indeed. And Bill Clinton awarded her by making her the American ambassador to France. She was the consummate host, some in certain social circles referred to her as the consummate courtesan, who entertained and unified the Democratic Party after the Reagan years and afterwards when they were cast away in the wilderness.

While I was in France last year, visiting the ambassador’s residence, I saw some of the furniture that she had left behind, during her years there—a lot of large floral prints and 80’s furniture remain the private quarters.

Stay tuned for the next English Aristo that made waves in the US …

Seasons: Life is a Beach – in the Summer

For me, the eternal student, Summer has always been a time for fun. It’s a time to travel, spend time at the sea, and relish in the relaxing moments with my family and friends…time seems more generous. If you like to barbecue or lounge around the pool—you know that California summers are made for such things. It’s also the time of the year when all kids are out of school, and we who are parents can freely plan activities for our families without the constraints of the school schedules which encourage us to stay in for the night, to eat at home more often, and go to bed early.

I can’t believe it’s June already. It seems that it was just September a moment ago, and I was sending my eldest son off to college. Here we are now, the months have passed, and now I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with my family at the beach. Time is an interesting thing, as we all experience it differently at different seasons of life. For me, though, being a student and then becoming a teacher, and now a working mother, my rhythms have always been tied to the school calendar. When I think of the New Year – my first thought is September – not January. This may sound odd, but let’s face it, I find odd things more interesting…if you haven’t noticed by now!

This summer we’ve decided to rent a house on the beach for a week in Santa Monica— something that my friends may smile at seeing that we only live a city away. But realistically, who wants to drive in summer traffic (which is worse when all kids are out of school and on the road), when there are such places to rent on the California coast?

By the way, I’m not just an eternal student, but an eternal traveler as well. We have some an exciting trips planned for the summer so I will update you on that in the coming weeks.

I’m looking forward to slathering on the sunscreen, laying out on the sand with a good book in hand and sipping something cold to drink. The sound of the waves crashing and the chatter of other beach dwellers softly traveling in the wind is a luxury most of us Californians stay here for.

If you want to try some new dishes this summer, I recommending picking up a copy of “Persian Food from the non-Persian Bride”. This is a great resource and you can read my book review on Facebook.

Also for your summer reading I recommend the Churchill family biography entitled, “The Churchills”— a good blend of history and family drama.

If you get a chance, please check out an article profiling me by Slavica Monczka.

Passover Surprise from Israel

“he-lllllloooooo, an-ge-lllllllaaaa,” she greeted me on the phone on an early Thursday morning.  I hadn’t talked to her for a year or so, but I knew instantly who was on the line. It was my dear friend, Anat from Israel–my exotic Moroccan-Hungarian friend has a knack of making a two-syllable word into a five syllable one. She happens to have a great sense of humor too.  When I told her I had just come out of the shower and was thinking of her, she responded, “Honey, I have to be funny now. What were you doing in the shower thinking of me?”

We both laughed and seemed to pick up our conversation from last year in a matter of seconds.  I guess this is where a deep sense of friendship comes from, the ability to connect with another with ease and delight.  When Anat used to live in Los Angeles, she used to come to our house for the Passover Seder. Ten years ago, she decided she wanted to go back to Israel to be with her family.  She has a thirteen year old son and is an attorney now.  So much has changed in our lives, yet every Passover I think of her. I think about the silly comments we used to share at the table and how we used to crack up and giggle like little school girls.

This year, she had come unexpectedly to Los Angeles, right before Passover for a visit.  But, this time, she has come to help take care of a friend who was getting chemo.  I know this adorable friend of mine loves my cooking–she often tells me that the Hungarian side of her lies dormant.  She doesn’t care for the typical Ashkenazi dishes, but dreams of Persian rice and home-made stews.  As much as I tried to cajole her with the promise of a great seder and food, this year she has decided she will stay with her friend and nurse her back to strength.

You know, I love her even more for not joining me, because she is being a great friend to someone in need of support.  The other day, we walked down the streets of Beverly Hills, arms around each other. “We’ll catch up some more when I go to Israel in July,” I said.  “yessssss.  I hope we see each other in good health alwayyyyyyyysssss.”

At the start of this sacred holiday, this is also my wish for all of you as well!

eGreeting Spring With Open Arms

This week, as I was driving up my driveway, I smelled the sweet smell of jasmine permeating the air and I thought to myself, “Here it is! Spring is coming!”  For us Persians, Spring has a cultural significance since the first day of spring marks our new year.

So what a better way to ring in the new year but to head out for more adventure for the week.  On Thursday afternoon, I was invited to view the Broad Art Foundation in Santa Monica.  Eli and Edythe Broad are two of the foremost philanthropists who have been collecting contemporary art for decades. The Broads established their foundation in 1984 as a way to keep these works in the public domain and now this extensive collection is cited to be of the best in the world.  So you can imagine how amazing it was for me walk through the art on display on the different levels of the foundation building.

But my week didn’t stop there. This weekend LACMA hosted a Persian New Year Celebration in collaboration with the Farhang Foundation.  Hundreds of fellow Iranians were strolling in the courtyard, viewing the traditional Nowruz table decorations, watching traditional folkloric Persian dance, or listening to a free concert from the popular Dang Show group. (I will be writing a review of their work soon)  I even had the chance to sneak a look at the Firooz Zahedi photographs of Elizabeth Taylor visiting Iran in the museum gallery.  These photographs were truly stunning and no matter if Ms. Taylor is hiding behind a chador, you can still spot those violet eyes anywhere!

Our final stop for the day was the dinner held for Hammer Museum Circle members at the studio of talented artist, Elliott Hundley.  It is a real privilege to be able to visit the work and living space of artists and this one was no exception.  Huge collages and artwork in various stages of development hung on the walls and the artist himself chatted and mingled with his guests.  After dinner was served, we walked over to another artist space (Llyn Foulkes)  where we not only saw his artwork but got the treat of hearing him play a few songs on his very eccentric and absolutely whimsical musical machine. I have to say, I thought I was dreaming the night away.

And by 10pm, when we finally came home, I was once again greeted by my jasmine blossoms.  Spring is here in full bloom! Happy New Year to all!

Scene in Los Angeles

Many New Yorkers used to say that there is no art scene in Los Angeles. This is farther from the truth!  I am not exaggerating by saying that in a given week I may get around 3 to 4 announcements on different exhibitions taking place around town….and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

And what was even more amazing is that in the past week, I managed to scale a part of that iceberg.  Here is a glimpse of some of the great exhibitions going around town.

ACME Gallery is one of the prestigious galleries in the city and it was showcasing Jennifer Steinkamp’s video installations.  A group of my friends visited the gallery to meet with the artist herself and hear about her newest project.  A very laid back and approachable artist, she took us from one room to another to tell us of her inspiration.  On a personal note, I love one of her works of a computer animated tree that goes through the four seasons, shedding its leaves in the winter, blossoming, and swaying with the wind, and the leaves turning colors as time elapses.  I had seen this particular piece at a UCLA art show and fell in love with it. Just imagine, a couple of months later I saw this very piece displayed in the foyer of one of my friends! It is a magnificent sight. Here is a link to Jennifer’s show:

http://www.acmelosangeles.com/exhibitions/2011-2-jennifer-steinkamp/

A few days later I was invited by LACMA to try their new restaurant–Ray that has been designed by the famed architect Renzo Piano.  The restaurant is named after Ray Stark, who was a famous producer and former LACMA Trustee.  So I met up with a friend and had a tasting of the Mediterranean inspired food that the Patina Group had created.  The food was absolutely wonderful with a great selection of salads, pastas, and entrees.

Of course, after lunch we headed out to see the Larry Fink Photography exhibit in the museum. Given that it was Oscar weekend, much had been written about this Vanity Fair Photographer who has captured images of celebrities and society people at the Vanity Fair Oscar Parties.  For one thing, Larry’s photographs certainly don’t flatter the elite.  By no means are these glossy and glamorous pictures of actors and actresses.  That point of view I like, but to tell you the truth, this exhibition left me uninspired. Here is a link to the show.

http://www.lacma.org/art/ExhibFink.aspx

Two days later, I went to Soraya Nazarian’s sculpture exhibition.  Does the last name sound familiar to you?  Yes, Soraya is my talented mother-in-law, who has been sculpting for the past 25 years.  Words don’t describe how I felt when I walked into the gallery and saw her work displayed all in one space.  She simply does magic– she takes such a hard medium such as stone and transforms it into something alive and full of emotion.  The opening was a big success with lots of art aficionados and friends mingling and talking about the pieces on display.

Finally, the next day, as I was having a meeting in Century City, I had 45 minutes to spare and walked over to the Annenberg Space for Photography.  It had been weeks that I had seen banners of their new exhibition displayed all over town.  And just last week, I had run into philanthropist Wallis Annenberg herself who was raving about the latest photographs that are on display in her space.

This is a must see exhibition if you live in Los Angeles. “Extreme Exposure” documents the work of 5 photographers who dare to explore the most dangerous and remote environments to capture pictures of nature.  A photograph taken by a diver in the frozen water of Antartica to capture sea lions was magnificent.  Then there were the supernatural pictures of volcanos erupting, and wild, nearly extinct animals in India or Africa.  What is most special about this exhibition is that these rarely seen moments are accompanied by the photographers’ commentary in a 10 minute video clip.  This is a perfect show to take kids as well! Here is a link to this show:

http://www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org/exhibitions/overview.asp

So this was a sliver of my week in the art scene.  Just this week I received invitations to the Ed Ruscha Show at the Gagosian and the Broad Art Foundation.  So, there is more to come! But comes to show that Los Angeles has more to offer than some may chose to think!

Love for poetry

For those of you who may be interested, Rumi, the 15th century Persian Poet, is the most popular and most read poet today in the United States.  Of course the statistic that was given by BBC took me by surprise at first. But after some thought I could understand why Rumi’s poetry is recited and studied after hundreds of years.  There is no question that Rumi’s poetry is timeless and carries profound messages about spirituality and personal growth. But just from a perspective of a poet– the reader gets lost in the lush imagery and deep symbolism.
So, for the past month I have been taking an on-line poetry class with two noted scholar.  Every morning, a message pops on my computer that I have my poem for the day.  Every morning I looked forward to reading the stanza and also learning about the mystical or more spiritual translation of the poetry.  I soon found out that the best part of this on-line course was the insightful shares that the other participants posted on the website.
This inspired me to start up a poetry dialogue on my facebook page where for one month we would read and analyze the selected poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke–another talented and extraordinary poet.  Each morning, I post a quote and I look forward to reading all the comments during the day.  What makes this exercise especially fun for me is that I am constantly reading what I enjoy the most–poetry.
Speaking of the arts–I want to include a link to an article a friend of mine has written about the honoring of the celebrated Iranian journalist, artist, and producer, Parviz Nazerian.  His career has spanned three decades and what I admire most about him is his open and expanded view about women’s role in society and world religions.

Flamenco and Beyond…..

So much has happened since two weeks ago. As I finished my final leg of speaking engagements in Arizona and Los Angeles, I geared up with days of practice for my upcoming flamenco recital.

Yes….you guys have all heard of my great love for flamenco before, and now I was put to the test in front of 200 people!  So, you must assume that since I am in front of crowds I wouldn’t have a problem with performing. But let me tell you–speaking and dancing are two different animals.  To think this was the first real formal dance class I ever did, and I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.  What I soon realized is that it takes great discipline to learn any new skill, and it really is hard on the ego to start something new when you are older.

But I have no regrets. I really LOVED the whole process. I learned so much about this soulful and passionate dance.  What I learned is that flamenco is highly improvisational yet structured in beats.  The performances are in reality a collaboration between the dancer, singer, and the musicians (while on stage, the dancer gives signals as to what she will be doing to alert the musicians and singers).  The lyrics of the music are moving and full of emotion.  While I was in college I had studied Frederico Garcia Lorca’s works, but it wasn’t until I started studying flamenco that I learned that he was deeply involved in writing the lyrics and poetry to his country’s folkloric dance tradition.

It was pouring the night of the recital.  Actually it was one of the worst storms LA had seen in years, and I felt especially bad that friends and family were driving through flooded streets to attend.  But, once I was on the stage and saw the familiar faces, I was actually comforted by their presence.

Our first dance, was a group dance–the boulerias.  This is no exaggeration. We messed it up.  Our footwork was out of step and our moves were not in unison. Some forgot some steps, some ended their dance sooner, while others just looked at each other mystified.

I thought to myself, if this is how it will be for the rest of the night, we are in for a dreadful show.  Thank goodness, we all redeemed ourselves in the following dances.  I must say, it was a bit unnerving to do a solo right after the boulerias, but it actually turned out well.

So, what did I like most about the experience? Well, aside from the super beautiful costumes I got to wear (I am a clothes horse), it was the feeling that took over me while I was dancing.  Honestly, for a long time I have wanted to learn flamenco, but as much as I was attracted to the movements, I was intimidated by its complexity.  That night I can say I was proud that I did something that I loved and I took a chance.  This comes to show that it is never too late to learn something new–it is all about our enthusiasm with which we approach a task, or better yet, life!

Around the Globe in 2 Book Events

This week culminated my last leg of my speaking tour for my book, Life as a Visitor.  Funny to say this, but this past year I was living life as a visitor, literally.  To think of the many book events that took place all other the States and all the new people I met!  And now that my publisher tells me that there are less than 50 copies of my book in their stores, I feel that it’s time to move on and buckle down on the writing of my second book.  (of course I will update you about this new exciting project in the weeks ahead).  But, I am glad that the closing of this chapter of my tour coincided with two very special book events.

Two hundred people attended the WIZO luncheon this past Wednesday at the Regency Club in West Los Angeles.  I was very honored to be the speaker for the day and the funds raised at the event would benefit shelters and day care centers for the women and children of Israel.  As I stood at the podium I could tell that the women gathered in the ballroom came from various backgrounds. So I took an informal pole and I was right.  There were women from S. Africa, Israel, Morocco, Algeria, Romania, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Iran, and other Latin American countries. I was thinking to myself that nowadays our own city has become even more diverse than it was 10 years ago.  What was most interesting is that many of these women approached me after lunch and talked about the similarity of their story with mine, which comes to show that the story of displacement and moving to another country is more universal than one would think.

Two days later, my good friend, Pune Ghebleh, held a magnificent book party at the Lons at Hermosa in Paradise Valley in Arizona.  This gracious host of mine had done such a beautiful job of welcoming me to her community.  Again, what I was struck by was the diversity of the guests–It was a gathering of women from Mexico, Syria, Serbia, Muslims, Christians, Bahais, and Jews.   What can I tell you, it was my kind of crowd.  The deep level of conversation and dialogue that took place was especially meaningful to me.  And, now I feel I have a link to another wonderful community in Phoenix.  (To see pictures of the book event, please visit

http://www.blacktie-arizona.com/photos/photoevent.cfm?id=366)

While I was boarding the plane back to Los Angeles that afternoon, I looked out to take a last look at the sweeping dessert landscape outside.  The red sunset and the shifting light reflected on the mountain range took my breath away.  There I was, waiting in line to board my flight and I had one thought in mind:  There is no greater adventure than life itself. These were the very words I had written in my book. And now, looking back on this year’s worth of adventure, I have to say it again and again and again.  How far I have come this year!  What an adventure it has been.

Thank you to all my friends, supporters, and readers. Thank you!

Facebook Wall Posts Showering Birthday Wishes

Birthdays are tricky to say the least.  When I was younger I used to count the months and finally the days to the long awaited date– November 1st.  Needless to say, as I got older, getting a year older was not something I was counting down to.  But something really changed in me when I decided to mark and celebrate my big 4-0 birthday a &@!- years ago.  I sent an invitation to 50 of my friends and the theme of the birthday party was forever 39!  In the spirit of halloween, I asked everyone to show up to my party with outfits that cost $39.99 or lower and the tag had to be on for proof.

I can’t tell you how amazing everyone looked, and while all my friends were around me when I was blowing out my giant cupcake cake, I found myself announcing, “Guess what? If 40 feels like this, then by all means, I am happy to celebrate it.” That evening I felt the love of family and friends and felt myself so lucky to have nurtured such great friendships in my life.

This year was another spectacular surprise for me….it started the day before.  Phone calls and texts started streaming in. Then on Monday I woke up and opened my face book page.  My entire wall was filled with birthday posts, messages, and birthday you tube song attachments.  And these posts kept coming in until yesterday even….500 of them! Some came from friends and family, but many posts came from my online community of friends that I share thoughts with on a daily basis.  These are people whom I have not even met personally.  But the effect was all the same.  The best part about birthdays is our allowing ourselves to feel the love and positive energy of those around us. And the most special part of this birthday was to have this realization that there are so many people out there in the world who want to spread joy and make another person’s day.

These are the realizations that make birthdays invaluable!

Back on the Speaking Tour

It is Wednesday afternoon, and I am sitting at a table by the Virgin America terminal in Fort Lauderdale Airport.  This week was the start of a number of book events for me.

The Jewish Book Network has arranged three months of exciting destinations for me to speak at; Florida, San Diego, New Orleans, and San Francisco to name a few.  I left rainy Los Angeles on Tuesday and got in late in the afternoon.  And it was just perfect weather.  Never mind the 3 hour time difference, which means I got up at 4:15 am (LA time). I was ready for my T.V. interview with Barbara Kay for the Mosaic Program at 8:30  (5:30am LA time)

Are you noticing that I keep referring to LA time?  I did the strangest thing this morning.  I got up in the morning and saw the time on my blackberry…..it said 3:30.  I was so sleepy and paranoid that the hotel won’t remember to give my wake up call that I immediately sprang from my bed! (I somehow had added an extra hour to the time difference and thought it was 7:30am.)  Needless to say, I was scrambling to get my clothes ready.

I called the lobby asking them why they forgot my wake up call.  There was silence on the other end.  The receptionist cleared his throat and said, “But it is only 6:30.” Can you believe it? To my surprise,  I went back to sleep immediately.

Thank goodness I was alert enough to do a good interview.  And the two speaking engagement in West Palm Beach and Boynton Beach with the Women’s Philanthropy division of the Jewish Federation came off well.

A note to myself: next time I should wear a watch and change the time to the new place right away to avoid frenzied mornings in hotel rooms!