Thursday, 23 March 2017


I wrote this short story a little while ago…



The Sharper One

I met her in Rome, where she bought me a red wool cape. Then we drove up to a small town in Tuscany, where she was working on a massive house, guarded by monumental rusty gates and a pack of dogs.  She unlocked the gates and the door and showed me into the drafty house with stone floors.

I felt the strange panic approaching, the imprisoned feeling I usually get when I’m in the countryside. There’s no escaping thoughts and solitude in the silence of the country. Without the multitudes of people and things around me I might become someone else.

I unpacked my suitcase, carefully taking out all the clothes I thought my mother would approve of. Stylish combinations to quiet her prickly concern.  If everything was in top condition, unwrinkled, then there would be one less thing for her to comment on.  I wanted to be close to my mother but I didn’t know how to talk to her. She speaks to me as if I am a half-finished painting in need of repair, one that she has been working on for many years that bears the mark of the artist. I try to communicate through my clothes, wearing what might amuse her or please her.

The next day my sister’s boyfriend brought his best friend over for lunch. The two men moved through the room with the relaxed confidence of people who don’t have many things to worry about. My sister’s boyfriend John was a doctor and his friend, William, was a photographer. 

“You’re a photographer? How fascinating!” my mother declared. “Come and see the pictures of Margarita!” She led William to my sister’s photographs of me. She lingered on a large black and white picture of me, half-naked, floating in a lake. A topless Ophelia washed up on Long Island.

“It was very cold that day…” I offered.
“I see, ” he replied, glancing at the photograph.

We resumed our places at the long wooden table. My mother poured more wine in everyone’s glasses. She served homemade cake and told us to have fun on our walk. I gulped two glasses of Campari in the kitchen while the others bundled up.

William drove while I looked at his Ipod, picking out French pop songs from the 90s. The four of us tumbled out for our winter walk over Etruscan trails, past a massive heart made of rocks and a circle of kids smoking by a heap of bikes. My sister and her boyfriend walked behind us, holding hands. We forged forward. The Campari made me more conversational, and lively, though I wondered if I smelled like Marcello Mastroianni on a Sunday morning.  I felt intimidated by William’s beautiful chestnut-coloured suede Chelsea boots, probably one of many pairs since he was wearing these ones on a muddy walk.  I wanted his comfortable life, to travel and take pictures, and beyond that, the rest of it was a mystery, peppered with offhand mentions of Venice in the spring or a wedding in Florence. 

John led us past a waterfall to an ancient chapel carved into a cave. Sunlight filtered in, painting the inside a soft golden colour.  William took pictures of my sister and John dipped in shadows. The afternoon faded away. We walked back to the car. I sat in the front and peeled a clementine and fed a few segments to William while he kept his eyes on the road.

After they dropped us off my mother was quiet and then she said, “Maybe you can marry William.” 

I turned to her and clenched my fists “What are you talking about? I just met him! What makes you think I even like him?”
“Why do you always date those frail destitute gay men?”
“They’re not gay, they’re from London! There’s a difference!” I shouted. I ran to my room, feeling like a teenager, and searched for a notebook to write in.

A few days later, my sister’s boyfriend came by with his friend to take us to dinner.

“Do you want to make your famous negronis?” my mother asked.  A glass beaker was taken down from the shelf and filled with ruby liquid and passed around the room.  My mother suggested we go to the hot springs.  She waved us goodbye.

After a dinner of pasta and red wine and animals for the boys, we parked by the springs around midnight. My sister stripped off all her clothes and bounded in. Her boyfriend disappeared behind her. I unzipped my dress and wished I had worn newer underwear. I waded into the water, a flash of white cotton and winter-pale skin. William cloaked himself under a large blue towel and changed into long swimming trunks. He crept in after us. 

The warm darkness beckoned so I stumbled over the rocks and sat down near a small waterfall. Somewhere in the steam my sister was falling and laughing, her blurry shape colliding into the shadows of her love’s arms. The December air bit at my shoulders as hot water rushed around my waist, pulling me in.  The ravioli and wine acted as sedative. I was making peace with the evening.

Tucked into the springs, wavy hair licking my shoulders, I stared at the stars.  I moved and felt another set of limbs. I tentatively felt the leg – definitely not mine.  There was a moment of stillness, of contemplating whether this was a throne or a man, and then he drifted to the right. William was gone in a few splashes. Did I frighten him? My sister called me. It was growing cold. It was time to drive home. As I dried off I saw William’s car speed away.

“He’s so uptight,” my sister commented, “and ‘Rita, you were really drunk at dinner.”
“I know.  I was nervous.”
We zoomed through the deserted country roads, singing along to the dance music.  After two hours the lights of the house parted the blackness. We were home.

In the morning my mother drove me to see the Etruscan tombs. I scaled the fence and met her by the rocks. We walked along the slippery path in the drizzle, silent except for the soles of our shoes brushing along the rock, the dirt, and the leaves. We have so much in common and yet I didn’t know what to say.

On my last night I was packing my suitcase in my room.
“Are you wearing men’s underwear?” my mother accused, appearing in my room like a phantom.
“This is why you’re still single…” she continued.
“These are my pyjamas: boxer shorts, a shirt – I didn’t think anyone would be seeing them on this trip.”
“Didn’t I give you silk pyjamas for Christmas last year?”
“I have lots of nice pyjamas at home, for when I have an audience. I have Agent Provocateur pyjamas!”
“Then why don’t you throw those away?”
“They’re comfortable.  I didn’t realise there was a dress code for bed around here.”

She picked up the red cape, picked up black thread, and began sewing a velvet ribbon on it, to keep it closed against the wind. She jabbed the needle through in messy, angry stitches.

“You’re so ungrateful. Oh, how I suffered being forced to go to all those excellent schools and ski trips! The torture, the spiders, the injustice! It’s so hard. So, where do you want to live, the ghetto?” she mocked.

“I don’t live in the ghetto! I live near the Central Line. East London is not the ghetto.  I have a great apartment. Why are you always disappointed in me?”

“You’ve become really high-strung. You’ve got to get out of advertising,” she snapped.

“Why do you think I’m in advertising? For the life-affirming deep satisfaction that I’m improving people’s lives? No, I do it for…”

I couldn’t tell her how I wanted to impress her, to get her approval. I thought if I made some money she wouldn’t act so dissatisfied with me. She would notice me, or maybe even praise me.

“It’s your life. What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

 The next morning we all woke up just before dawn. My sister cooked scrambled eggs and my mother packed snacks for the drive and wrapped up a jar of Nutella for me to take home. My sister and I got in the car; jammed with suitcases and pictures she had to deliver to Sicily. She started the car and fastened her seatbelt. I opened the door and jumped out. I ran back in and gave my mother a hug. I felt like a child. My sister honked. The grass was dewy as I stepped over it, back to the boxy little car that reminded me of a cassette tape.  The car coughed over the rocks. The sun rose over the gate as it closed behind us.

-Margo Fortuny


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Thursday, 21 July 2016

To Wander in Athens


I see him once a year, more if I’m lucky. He meets me at a small hotel near the Acropolis, elegant as always, sporting olive green trousers, a crisp shirt, English suede brogues, and an olive kerchief. His bearded face smiles. He pushes my suitcase into the small, mirrored elevator and I follow him. 

My bag is so heavy it looks like I have bite-marks on my shoulder. Luggage bites. I shouldn’t have brought so many books. Here I am in Athens with my father. I show him the present brought him from Spain: a chunk of manchego cheese. We hear a car stop outside and peer over the balcony. Daisy has arrived.

An hour later we are wandering around the Acropolis. We see a man singing on the street and Daisy stops to talk to him. My father shows us the city with an ice cream cone in one hand. He delights in pointing out the narrow streets, old neon signs, hidden corners, and fashionable bars. We stop in a subterranean spot, The Speakeasy. I order a gin & tonic with white peppercorns and a slice of grapefruit. More drinks, more stories. Dinner follows. We feast at Tzitzikas & Mermingas. After a digestive stroll to the hotel Daisy presents us with chocolates from Fortnum & Mason. My father leaves, manchego in hand.

The next day Daisy and I visit the Acropolis Museum. She marvels at the vertigo-inducing glass floors. We pause in front of a statue of Aphrodite. Her stone face is stained with copper eyelash tears.

I want to visit the Classic Car Museum but there isn’t time. Soon we are on the boat, perusing the 60s pulp paperbacks Daisy brought from London. They are obscene and hilarious. Together we devour the hours.







A QUICK GUIDE TO ATHENS (PART TWO)

Visit The Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum, the classic car museum, and the Benaki Museum.

If you’re exploring the Acropolis, make an evening of it and walk to the fantastic gelateria La Greche, have a cocktail at Speakeasy (address: Lekka 12, Syntagma), then have a bite at Tzitzikas & Mermingas.

According to my Athenian friends here are some fun Athenian areas to walk around in:
Koukaki (artistic, good for nightlife, close to Plaka and the Acropolis.
Mets (hip bars and restaurants. Check out Hotel Chelsea.)
Petralona (cool cafés)

Here are some other semi-secret bars...

There are lots of hipper places to stay but if you want somewhere friendly, basic, and clean, in a convenient neighborhood the Acropolis Select Hotel is good.

You can read about my last trip to Athens here.

The view from the ferry.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Let's Swing by San Francisco

Heading to Twin Peaks.
I couldn’t wait to get on the road again. When my friend John called we decided to go on a spontaneous trip up to San Francisco. Would the city have the same magic I remembered? I feared San Francisco had been taken over by people who find their own reality so lifeless they’ve taken to wearing computers wrapped around their heads, disguised as spectacles…luckily, this was not the case. Not yet.

We left that night, which happened to be dark and stormy. The trouble started in Malibu. Hours of rain, flash flooding, and the endless line for In n’ Out Burger suggested the apocalypse was near. Then I remembered this is what happens when the sun doesn’t shine in Southern California. Fries in our laps, we floated down the highway. Captain Searcy steered through the deluge, past sleepy motorists, half-lit motels, the hours dropping away, until those famous streets unraveled before us. Blue skies unfurled in the Mission.


Jeff, an East-Coast musician who had journeyed west years ago, was standing on his porch. He wore a sweatshirt from the 80s with tight, faded blue jeans. Tall, smiling, happily familiar, he led us inside. We left our suitcases in a cozy room filled with instruments.

Jeff in the sunshine.


After lunch at the oldest soda fountain in San Francisco, Jeff showed us around his neighborhood. We walked up Valencia Street, stopping into most of the vintage shops. The best one was called Wallflower, where I bought a foxy baby-blue 1970s A-line coat. We had dinner, Eton Mess-flavor ice cream, and went home. Lights on, shoes off, Jeff gave in to sleep.

John.


John and I prepared for the evening ahead, encouraged by glasses of Margoritas. John, ever straight and not feeling sartorially adventurous, disagreed with my suggestion of pairing his narrow Alexander McQueen suit with his high-top converse, and my 1960s polka-dot kerchief. I wore a long, backless 70s dress. Hands filled with brushes, powders, and clips, like some glamorous octopus, I teased my hair up as if my last name was Bardot.

Our taxi careened over to Rickshaw Stop, where The Chocolate Watchband was playing. My favorite part of the concert was the old man in the Greek fisherman cap who made all the psychedelic visuals by hand. He arranged his colorful sorcery with glass screens, plastic wrap, pipettes of vivid liquid, and a projector. The crowd was young, dancing, enchanted. Willowy girls smiled at handsome faces. Long hair brushed against long hair. They were all clad in bright patterned clothes made before they were born. It was exciting to see my new friends I had met in Austin and older friends made on previous trips. 

Afterwards, six of us squeezed into a little car. It was all hands and jostling knees in the backseat, soundtracked by Jacques Dutronc. Je suis content. Everyone tumbled out to a friendly party in one of those classic San Francisco houses with big bay windows. Cold beers appeared. Two pretty blonds melted into a large cushion shaped like a deflated brioche. Lanky pairs kissed in the corridors. We danced all night.

The next day Jeff, John, and Justin, (a favorite neighbor from my Echo Park days, now a local) drove up to Twin Peaks. The city stretched out all around us, framed by the Pacific Ocean. Afterwards, we strolled around Golden Gate Park and the Palace of Fine Arts.

A few burritos later it was time to go. I said my goodbyes and we drove across the famous bridge, listening to the Beach Boys. Next stop, Los Angeles.
The Palace of Fine Arts.

Walking around The Palace of Fine Arts...

MARGO’S QUICK GUIDE TO SAN FRANCISCO

TO DO:

Get to the De Young Museum early – the temporary exhibitions tend to sell out. ‘Ed Ruscha & the Freat American West’ runs from July 16-October 9th, 2016. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, 94118.

Get lost in the newly-revamped SFMOMA. This massive modern art museum has an excellent Gerhard Richter collection and the kind of gift store you can pick up all your birthday/ Christmas presents in one swoop. 151 3rd St, 94103.

Admire the wonderful view from Twin Peaks. (No relation to David Lynch’s world of cherry pie and murder.) 501 Twin Peaks Blvd, 94114.

Have a lazy wander around the Palace of Fine Arts. It’s a picturesque building from 1915, (not a museum) bordered by a pond where swans loll about. 3301 Lyon St, 94123.

Check out the vintage shops on Valencia Street in the Mission. I loved ‘Wallflower’ at 1176 Valencia.

If you have time, explore Oakland. (When the tech boom led to the current over-priced housing market, that’s where most of the cool people without rent-controlled apartments moved.)

TO EAT:

Have brunch at the charming Saint Francis Soda Fountain, funded in 1918. Order the nebulous potato thing with eggs and cornbread, trust me. 2801 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110.

Pig & Pie, also in the Mission, also has delicious bunch/ lunch. Not for vegans though there is a great baked egg dish if you’re vegetarian. 2962 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110.

Ice cream fans, check out the imaginative flavors at Humphry Slocombe in the Mission. ‘Secret Breakfast’ is a big hit. 2790A Harrison St.

This city is also famous for burritos so ask around. Actually there are hundreds of fantastic restaurants there – feel free to comment.
I confess, I took this one on my previous trip to San Francisco.



Friday, 17 June 2016

Postcards from Hearst Castle

While wandering along Morro Bay I found these old postcards from Hearst Castle, California. Someone should invent glasses that make everything look this colorful...

Get inside the technicolor - just click to enlarge.







Thursday, 16 June 2016

2 days on the road: radio, rocks, otters, one jacuzzi & a castle


Dominic picked me up in his white Buick. After a car swap, we were racing up the central California coast, listening to 80s R & B. (My friend Dominic is an excellent driver, gliding through time and space effortlessly. He’s the best kind of person to have on a road trip: full of stories, swift behind the wheel, and he’s got great taste in music. Naturally, he’s from Detroit.) He told me about his wild teenage follies in Mexico. I imagined him on the side of the road, wearing jean-shorts in the baking sun with his hands in the air, hoping the cops wouldn’t find what was in the trunk…

First stop: coffee in Pismo Beach. There was a massive sign for a palm-reader. A few children walked down the street barefoot.

Back in the car, we drove up to Morro Bay. Then it was before us: Morro Rock, sacred Native American land, ancient volcanic mass, and the home of peregrine falcons. This rock has been perching there for over 20 million years.


Dominic and I walked around the town, popping into the thrift stores and picking up snacks at the health food store. We dropped our bags off at the motel and set out to find Libertine, a pub with French fries like no other.

We entered the joint. The Beach Boys were playing and there was that late afternoon sunlight slanting all over the place. There was an empty table by the big windows that overlooked the water and Morro Rock.

Unfortunately the menu was uninspiring. Where were these mythical French fries? Hunger roused us from our seats and pushed us towards the door. As we drifted out Dominic spotted a small French fry menu. Ah ha – it exists! Table reclaimed, we found a stoner’s dream on a slip of paper. He ordered a beer and crazy fries tossed in herbs and served with spicy ketchup, beer-cheese sauce, and ranch. I picked “Southern Tots”: tater tots tossed in Buffalo spice, blue cheese crumbles, and melted cheddar, served with blue cheese ranch dressing on the side.  O America! I sipped tart cherry beer out of a little goblet while watching seals and otters play in the water.

America loves sauce.

Then we wandered along the bay, bought old postcards, and explored the main street. Dominic greeted everyone we passed. A scruffy white-haired biker chatted to us. He told us we could die any day and to enjoy life.

"Let's make Amaretto Sours!" I suggested. Swinging by the liquor store, we bought lemons, Amaretto, and soda water. A few minutes later we were back at the motel. I squeezed the lemons into plastic cups and stirred the cocktails with a straw. We sat on chairs and watched the sun set over the bay. It had a Mediterranean flavor in the semi-darkness. We sipped on the view.


After a swim in the pool, and a dip in the hot tub, we drove to Madonna Inn for drinks. It was my first time in the fabled inn that taste forgot. The bonkers semi-Baroque palace of kitsch was built around 1961. It's barely changed since then. It was as if Elvis and Liberace collaborated on a decorating scheme. What a thrill! I ordered a frosty pink strawberry drink, garnished with whipped cream, and sat in a pale pink leather armchair. Dominic ordered a Kir Royal and sat in a cherry-colored armchair.

Next we moved to the velvety magenta booths for dinner. Nearby, an old couple turned in each other’s arms on an empty dance floor. The band played covers with gusto, despite its diminutive audience. Dinner service was finished but they let us eat cake. We devoured delicious forkfuls of strawberry shortcake before exploring the dinosaur-sized fireplace, the café, and the saloon doors and giant gumball machines downstairs. Midnight led us back to the car. The road beckoned. 

Dominic took this picture of me looking rather Scooby Doo.

The following day we set out early, grabbing breakfast burritos on the way. I balanced mine over a newspaper in my lap, to cover my long, cream-color 1970s dress, as we sped down the highway. Beans, salsa, avocados… "Is it all over my face?” I sang, thinking of the Arthur Russell/ Loose Joints song.

When we arrived at Hearst Castle it was drizzling. The view reminded me of Southern Italy, and the architecture of Spain.






...Just pretending to be a ghost on the run.



Afterwards, we cruised down Highway 46, past rolling green hills and vineyards. The landscape changed to rows of trees, then the creeping of civilization began, gradually the foliage diminished, and Los Angeles grew nearer.



MARGO’S QUICK GUIDE TO MORRO BAY, CALIFORNIA

-Sleep at Breakers Inn Motel. The top floor rooms have the best view. There’s a modest pool and Jacuzzi. Double rooms are about $70-130 depending on the month.

-Eat crazy fries and have a craft beer at Libertine Pub. 801 Embarcadero. Open nightly until 11 pm or 12.

-Creature-watch along the bay.

-Drive 25 minutes to the legendary Madonna Inn. If you’re on a budget order a cocktail and dessert, or treat yourself to dinner. If you want to splash out book one of the wild themed bedrooms and stay overnight. You’ll definitely want to take a lot of pictures.

-Drive about 45 minutes to Hearst Castle. You have to book your tours online in advance. The 'Upstairs Suites' tour is the most interesting, followed by 'The Grand Rooms' tour. It’s usually open 8 am – 4 pm. Bring a coat; it gets chilly up there.


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Austin Afternoons


Where did your 1950s motorcycle go?”
“I traded it for a sailboat.”
“Oh, that one by the grass?”


I had just arrived in Austin after three hours of sleep and a Bullit-style taxi ride. I put my suitcases inside and grabbed a polka-dot bikini. I needed a drink and a burrito. My friend Tim swung by a taco truck and a liquor store. Water, food, wine, let’s go.

He drove the back of the little car right into the river, with me in the boat so my feet wouldn’t get wet. I never saw such a thing. Boat detached, he drove out and parked. We set sail. With the tornado warnings and a lively breeze the boat cruised down the river. The vessel veered towards the dam…”what happens if we’re about to go over? Should I jump out and swim?” I asked. “We won’t go over,” Tim assured me as the boat drifted into some trees on the bank. He jumped out and pushed off against the side before hopping back in, splashing water on my suntanned knees.



It was so warm out the hours seemed to sway by. We swigged cold wine from the bottle and talked about movies and books we want to write, our mothers, and crazy girls we know. The sun came out and turned up the color of the trees lining the river. The leaves were shaking between shadows and sunlight. I looked down and noticed the wine bottle was floating in several inches of water by my boots. I laughed and asked for a pail. “That’s some leak you’ve got!” Water was tossed overboard. We slowly sailed back to shore.



The next day I woke up to sunlight dancing in through a tall window, with a long gauzy white curtain that fluttered by a fan. Next to the window there were plants and a round wooden bookshelf mounted on the wall, stuffed with paperbacks. A round bookshelf! I walked out to the porch in my pyjamas and greeted Sally. She had just flown in from Los Angeles.



Sally and I ate delicious tacos at Torchy’s. Next we went to an airstream trailer and ordered a massive donut covered in peach jam and cream cheese icing. “That donut almost ate me!” We explored the vintage shops, picking up an electric blue disco dress for Sally and a suede jacket for me, along with a book about Latin American culture from the ‘Uncommon Objects’ shop.

Later on, I met up with more friends at the Black Angels show. Some of us swooped over to a mysterious gathering at a big house.  We discovered giant gazebo, a hot tub and an old VW minibus, where we drank beer and befriended Spaniards with mutton chops. When the revelry slowed we went for a long drive to a ranch.  Tumbling out of the taxi, we came upon a rambunctious party with bands playing on the dirt. Everyone clapped and leaned and smiled.  Sally, Tim, and I danced and drank cherry beer by a fire-pit. The night was all sky and music.
 
                                       


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MARGO’S QUICK GUIDE TO AUSTIN

TO DO:

-Go swimming in Barton Creek
-Check out cowboy boots, suede jackets, and Gunne Sax frocks at the vintage shops, including ‘New Bohemia’ and ‘Flashback.’ There are several around the South Congress area, near ‘Uncommon Objects, a great store for unusual gifts or antique postcards. 1512 S Congress Ave, 78704.
-Austin is full of fun live music. See what’s on at Scoot Inn or Cheer Up Charlie’s or Mohawk…or just ask a local. Everyone is pretty friendly.
-Dance country-western style and watch bands play at The White Horse. 500 Comal St.
-Buy hot sauce. Texas is famous for it.
-Try Deep Eddy grapefruit vodka or Espolon tequila. (Espolon isn’t from Austin but it’s popular here and goes with everything.)

TO EAT:

-If you get a chance try tater tot nachos and if you eat meat, BBQ.
-There are numerous excellent taco trucks all over Austin but I like Torchy’s on 1st street because they have great vegetarian options. For vegans, there’s a great vegan truck a few feet away (try the bbq seitan salad.) 1311 S 1st St, 78704. Also Torchy’s is walking distance to the South Congress thrift stores and…
-Gourdough’s Donuts: a trailer that serves delicious and bizarre sugary concoctions. Inside out cherry pie, minus the crust. Bacon and maple syrup atop a nest of dough.  Try the Son of a Peach. Open late. 1503 S 1st St, 78704.
-Arlo’s veggie burgers at Drinks Lounge on Cesar Chavez. Get the vegan bac’n cheeseburger. Mind-blowingly delicious. I’ve seen carnivores devour these too. 2001 E. Cesar Chavez, 78702.Opens at 4 pm.
-24 Diner: a 24-hour deluxe diner with fantastic milkshakes and big brunches. People get excited about their chicken & waffles too. 600 N Lamar Blvd, 78703.

That’s just skimming the surface. Tell me more in the comments…
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On my last night, at a party filled with enchanting characters, I was talking to a new friend from Chile. He declared, "I love Texas!" A man sauntered by and drawled, "Texas loves you, man."