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As you read in the previous post, sometimes I  want to shake off those good girl shackles and be “bad,” if only for a little while. And the perfect opportunity seems to present itself once a year in the form a handsome Brazilian pilot who shows up at my door during  the Montreal Formula One Grand Prix.

It’s the 21st century version of the play/movie Same Time Next Year but without the same emotional intimacy experienced by the principal characters, George and Doris, who meet every year for 24 years, sharing the ups and downs of their lives in a brief but intense weekend. Over time, you see how they grow individually and as a “couple.”

For the past seven years the pilot and I have passed through a smattering of weekends of mostly style and no substance and very little sharing. We as a couple seem to be stuck in a moment – the moment we first met.

Shallow you think? Absolutely. On the other hand there is no danger of drowning in something more profound, in a sea of those roiling emotions that framed our first summer together as friends and lovers. Now it’s safer for us to tread water in the shallow end of the sea of love. It’s less scary for him (he can’t swim) and less frustrating for me (forever throwing a lifeline to a drowning man).

But it’s the capacity to accept our relationship limitations that keeps us friends. We have an unspoken agreement that lets us honor the past without burdening the future with expectations. That agreement keeps us in contact throughout the year and enables us to share travel schedules in the hopes that someday our paths would cross on a bit more regular basis. But they never do. When I’m in Paris he’s in Palm Springs, when I’m in Beijing he’s in Barcelona – even with all that international travel our paths only cross here, in Montreal.

I don’t think it coincidental at all that Michael Buble’s song “Home” hit the top of the charts the year the pilot and I met. It defined us then and it defines us now.  It’s the stay/go paradox we both share.  And I know that when he turns up at my door with a box of dark chocolate covered strawberries and good Grand Cru like he did last weekend he finally feels at home and so do I…if only for a little while.

photo: © istockphoto.com/Yuri_Acurs

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There’s a T-shirt sold here in tourist shops that says:

Good Girls Go to Heaven. Bad Girls Go to Montreal.

Born to Run

I don’t know what it is about this city but it has a way of bringing out the badness in any good girl – and in a very good way, especially during Formula One Race Week.

When I think of bad-a-tude, I think of Sandy Olsen’s transformation in the movie Grease. She went from naïve to naughty over the course of the movie. Pretty tame when you compare her to the celebrities and high flyers who were in town this past weekend to party like it’s 2012 – the year, according to the Mayan calendar that’s due to go out with a bang.

Slipping into bad-a-tude starts the moment you begin to prepare for a night out on the town.

As I started getting my bad-a-tude on to hit a few parties during race weekend, I started my soundtrack in the kitchen where I poured myself a glass of wine and danced around in my lace bra and panties through the toe tapping, head bobbing, hip swaying songs of a generation that prized rebellion and self-expression.

As I listened to them I was once again that bad girl who,

… was “Rosalita,” ignoring her parents’ disapproval and dating that bad boy for a time.

…was a “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” every Saturday night downtown.

…was heedless with her heart and missed all the signs that said “Breakdown” dead ahead.

…who did bad things because they “Hurt So Good.

…and who still listens to that ” Old Time Rock and Roll”  every time she wants to cop a bad-a-tude.

Bad-a-tude is fun, and simple. All it is, is:

•  Wearing your best  little black dress
•  Flashing a your 1000 watt smile
• Admiring the scenery and the way he fills out those designer jeans
• Flirting because you can
• Enjoying a little champagne even if you’re not on the podium
• Staying out a little too late and then catching up with your café girlfriends over an early morning breakfast

Of course bad-a-tude has to be cultivated. Badness and attitude. It’s a frame of mind, it’s way of walking, talking and acting a bit bolder, if only for a few hours.

photo: © istockphoto.com/SV_Sunny

Solo travel is wonderful in so many ways. It forces me out of my comfort zone. And it gives me an opportunity to see, do or try new things. It’s as freeing as it is terrifying.

The downside to solo travel is the occasional bout of loneliness tinged with a hint of melancholy, especially when returning to some of those places that are haunted ghosts of lovers past. This is sometimes unavoidable when many of these places coincide with business – and the catch-as-catch-can of trysts in transit.

Room service on the 18th floor of the Hyatt in Chicago with the sun breaking over Navy Pier – coffee, croissants and intense conversation – now gives way to a mocha latte grande gulped down in the back of a taxi careering down Michigan Avenue. Champagne toasts to a bejeweled Paris at midnight are, these days, all too easily satisfied with a handful of almonds and a diet soda. And the magic of Athenian nights are transformed into mundane evenings of emails as usual.

No matter how many years pass, nostalgia creeps up on me just when I think I’ve made peace with my past. I was the kind of kid who liked to pick at scabs, so it doesn’t surprise me when I overindulge myself in a little bit of romantic reverie. Try as I might, it seems I can run but I can’t hide. Sometimes I don’t want to run or hide – such is the perverse nature of bittersweet memories.

This time, it all started innocently enough with a recent stop in the duty free. I love the smell of duty free. Have you ever noticed how they all smell the same the world over? They should bottle that scent. To me it represents freedom and a world of adventure just beyond the next boarding gate. You never know what to expect.

And so it was at the duty free that I came face to face with Ewen McGregor on a poster promoting the Davidoff fragrance – Adventure. It brought back the scent of a certain Swede – the Swede of the Chicago breakfast. And you know what they say about scent and memory…

Blue Paris

The second close encounter with sentimentality came in Paris when I decided to trade in my soda for a little bottle of white wine from the mini-bar. It was ’round midnight, when I turned on some Paris easy listening and was greeted by the sexy and sultry voice of Luther singing “If Only for One Night” just for me. I had pulled open the curtains to look at the impressive array of buildings dotting the skyline of La Defense. As I stared at my reflection in the giant window I knew I wanted just one more night with a certain jazz musician across town who was probably seducing someone else with the dulcet tones from his trumpet…playing just for her as he once did for me.

With spring showers and lightning strikes on the horizon, I’m reminded of a certain summer night in Athens. It was here that I learned lightning can indeed strike twice – especially if you test the gods. As lightning danced on the hills surrounding the Acropolis, I had challenged Aphrodite and paid for my insouciance. Okay I said, “This is your town, show me what you got.”

Ha! The words were barely out of my mouth when she did just that. I can imagine the laugh she shared with Ares as they looked down on me struggling with my feelings for not one but two men who appeared almost magically out of nowhere in the garden of a local restaurant called Balthazar.

Girlfriends would later ask half seriously: why not both? While the thought briefly crossed my mind I knew it was impossible, each one beautifully rendered like temple statues – today everywhere I look in Greece I see them – Castor and Pollux, each one so different than the other. One would feed my body and the other would feed my mind. To choose one over the other would be to drive a wedge between friendships old and new.

And so, like the proverbial starving donkey that had to choose between two bales of hay, each one appearing more appetizing than the other, I went hungry. Once flesh and blood, they have now turned to stone.

Stray memories and Greek gods aside, when it comes to love, I think Shakespeare’s Puck said it best in A Midsummer’s Night Dream: “Lord what fools these mortals be.” I guess when it comes to love I am and will forever be a fool for love.

photo: © istockphoto.com/matthewleesdixon

Party of Four

While browsing through the iStockphoto offerings, I happened upon a photo of a famous West End restaurant, one that brought back memories of a previous trip to London. The Ivy is a restaurant popular with the theatre-going crowd, audience and actors alike.

The circumstances of my first visit were so perfect, it could have been a plotline right out of a West End play: two women strike up a conversation one morning over breakfast at a hotel. The older woman was at the hotel recovering from surgery, and I was there for a color conference with several clients. The woman reminded me of my grandmother. She had the kind of class you can’t acquire – you have to be born with it. We talk for an hour about this and that. Alone, with no family, she was happy to have the company.

While she and I talked, one of my clients stopped by the table to say hello, she looked a little dejected and when I asked what was wrong, she told us how she and two of her colleagues had wanted to dine at The Ivy that night but were unable to get a table. The first available reservation was weeks away.

I didn’t think I could help her. Earlier in the week I had bribed a few doormen at some of London’s more posh clubs. But my sense of it was that only an act of God or a recommendation from Sir Anthony Hopkins himself would be able to get my clients into The Ivy.

I looked at my dining companion and she smiled a slow indulgent smile. She picked up her cell phone, speed dialed and said a few words to the person on the other end of the line. Then she looked at me and asked, “What is your name, my dear?”

I told her. She nodded and concluded the call with my name and the words “party of four.”

She then smiled and told us we had a dinner reservation at 11:00 p.m. and told us whom to ask for. In the parlance of British slang, my client and I were gobsmacked.

I thanked our benefactor and asked her name. She politely sidestepped the question, rose and left the table like some regal grand dame.  And that’s exactly what she was.

photo: © istockphoto.com/onebluelight

It’s a good day when you can combine business travel with some personal activities. My travels in early May allowed me to catch up London Callingwith a friend in Dusseldorf over drinks, to take in the Artemisia exhibit at the Musée Maillol in Paris and to visit friends in Joberg and Durban. Go ahead and say it …I do all the time… I am a lucky girl.

And I’m also a café girl. This Sunday I will be joining friends for lunch in Covent Garden for a quick catch up. Since I’m migrating from being a prose writer to a screenwriter, I will take the opportunity to visit the London Film Museum.

I hope it will inspire me because I have come to learn that writing a screenplay is much harder than writing a book. Forget having to cram Any Color but Beige into 120 pages. I’m having trouble coming up with a “saleable” box office logline. It’s tough, let me tell you. Give it a try and you’ll see.

From London, it’s a quick hello / bonjour to Paris and before you know it three days later, I’m back home. The good news is it’s not enough time to feel jet lagged. The better news is I’ll be home in time for things like the Montreal F1 Race (where I am sure I will catch up with a breathtakingly handsome Brazilian pilot), the Jazz Festival, the Fireworks Festival and the Comedy Festival. The best news of all is that I will be able to enjoy Montreal all summer long.

photo: © istockphoto.com/ChrisSteer

During the course of my promotional year for my book, Any Color but Beige, (I’m nearly three quarters of the way through now), I’ve been invited to speak to a lot of book clubs. And of all of my promotional activities, apart from my book launch, this has been the most fun.

Media interviews are sometimes nerve racking. Public speaking can be a bit impersonal because of the distance between me and my audience. Book signings can be a little intimidating; you sit front and center in a bookstore waiting for your reading public to arrive and snap up your book.

Book Signing at the Twig in San Antonio

But participating in a book club discussion is like having a night out with a whole new set of (café) girlfriends. And because they don’t know me I’m always surprised by the type of comments, questions and suggestions.

 Comments

Like the night I arrived early and introduced myself to the hostess, who was warm, friendly and very welcoming and who said, “You know, I thought you’d be taller.”

I had to laugh. Actually she’s not the first person to say that. In business situations, where I’m meeting someone for the first time after just talking to them on the phone, the “tall comment” is a common reaction. My tall sister, Beth, likes to tease me with, “you must sound tall on the phone.”

How does one sound tall, I wondered? And, how else do I sound?

Well I found the answer to that one just a few days ago on a recent business trip to South Africa. The new client I was meeting for the first time said to me, “I knew you’d be a redhead, and I knew you’d be wearing something bright and warm like red.”

She was right on both accounts. She had even remarked to her boss that this is what she had expected Cat Larose to look like. It’s no wonder he had a bit of a startled expression on his face when we met; it was like he already knew me.

As for me, I’m terrible when it comes to predicting what someone will look like from the sound of their voice. Or what they do by the way  people carry themselves – in this digitally connected world I find people “show better” digitally than in real life where you can’t edit your attitude with a keystroke

My dentist’s receptionist surprised me one day as she assigned me a very “professional” attitude. After ten years of biannual appointments and polite banter,  I finally mentioned what I do for a living during my last visit. She stared at me wide-eyed. And then she said, “You know, I always thought you were a doctor!” I love these kinds of comments because they make me laugh – at myself. And it’s so important not to take yourself or life so seriously all the time.

Many of comments about the book make me laugh too, but all are very gratifying. I’d like to share some of them here with you.

I really enjoyed the humour of the book and the positivism it radiates… An Eat Pray Love meets Sex and the City, with the shopping replaced by color, and Mr. Big by a plane ticket

It made me reflect on my own life, my own writing, and where I’m coming from. You have the power to connect with your readers, you can touch people…even change the life of your readers…that is something really special.

I marked many pages and underlined things to re-read over and over and over. My favorite lines so far are:

• It’s easier to let go of something you don’t want to keep.
• It’s about how you feel and not about how someone else makes you feel.
• The only man worth crying over was a dead one. That’s a real loss. Anything else is a blessing.
• I want to be deliberate in your life.

I love the way you write and I enjoyed hearing your voice as I read it. It was a fast read because I just didn’t want to put it down and on the flip side, I didn’t want it to end. Thanks for sharing your adventures and hilarious experiences with all of us. It was so much fun to read a happy book. I’m really proud of you for having the courage, gumption and commitment to share your life.

At my hometown book club gathering with Freya (left) and Kathy (right).

 Questions

The most common question I get when people do read about my life is, “Are you going to write a screenplay, and who would play you?”

You now know the answer to the first question, and that answer is yes. It’s time to try something new. The answer to the second question is not so easy and so I throw it back at my readers. Who do you think could capture the essence of Cat?

Suggestions

Book club readers have told me they’d like to see a second book involving lots of travel and of course a little romance. All I can say to that is if my recent travel schedule is any indication: Germany, Holland, France and South Africa – I’m well on my way to collecting lots more new travel stories. As for the romance, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Just add water

Lots of things arrive late: spring, the mail, airplanes, babies and, yes, even me on occasion.

And so here we are well past daffodil season and lilacs are in bloom. Welcome to May and welcome back to the Café Girl Chronicles. I rejoin you refreshed, re-energized and with a renewed approach to my writing.

I haven’t exactly been idle. During the past several weeks I have been working on an outline for a screenplay for Any Color but Beige – a little at a time. Piano (slowly) piano (slowly) as my Italian friends like to say. And I can do this because the only deadline I have to meet is my own.

It’s not a bad thing to let your brain lie fallow for a while. Treat it like a garden. Turn the soil every so often. Add new thoughts, philosophies and concepts as fertilizer. Prepare it well and harvest the ideas that come.

In my case, I’ve planted a few seeds that are already bursting through this fertile soil of my mind like unruly wildflowers in a meadow. To be a good writer you also have to be a constant gardener. Sometimes friends tend your garden for you by showering you with little drops of encouragement, just enough to get you started. And so it is with me.

Ever since I arrived in South Africa a week ago, my friend Julie has been watering the garden daily, checking for signs of life. This is the same Julie who precipitated the idea that I could write a book. (See Chapter 25 in the book). So it’s only fitting that I sit at her dining room table overlooking her verdantly wild and natural South African garden bathed in sunlight and start writing again.

photo: © istockphoto.com/manley099

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