Epstein en Provence
Gaudi’s towers and spirals faded from view as the Silversea cruise ship the Silver Shadow started its voyage Friday to Marseilles from Barcelona …. The interior of the ship provides such diversions as a daily putting contest and, of course, food, but it’s what’s outside the ship that is inspiring: the full moon lighting the sea at night; the lull of the water rocking the ship gently, and the ports of call on the French Riviera. The ship has offered tours of Aix, where Cezanne painted, and two hillside towns near Saint Tropez, Gassin, and Ramatuelle …. One passenger with his mind soberly on home is the literary icon Jason Epstein, husband of the jailed New York Times reporter, Judith Miller …. Mr. Epstein is traveling with a group of the couple’s friends, who all are deep admirers of Ms. Miller. I’ve lost track of the toasts to her and the prayers said for her over the course of the trip.
—A.L. Gordon, The New York Sun, July 26 2005
From a waterlogged journal found last week in a locker in a Miami bus station:
July 23: Have only been on the Silver Shadow three days and boy have I been guzzling the giggle water. Boogied the night away at the disco on deck E with that pretty little filly with the cha-chas like Tijuana maracas. Beats staying up all night with Judy listening to her ask whether whatever she’s writing “sounds plausible …. ”
July 24: Heard my incarcerated spouse is expecting a visit from Maureen Dowd. Better watch out, Judy baby! The flame-haired flame-thrower likes you about as much as that maid of ours you fired for retrieving your Chalabi notes from the trash. Back later; I got an appointment with a piña colada and a secretary from St. Louis with a backside like a shrimp buffet!
July 25: Received an “urgent” message from Judy: Her inmates in the Big House jumped her in the rec room Lizzies-style cause they “said they didn’t like my face.” Nothing I can do about that, sweetie! At least you’re not getting any more anthrax letters. Why don’t you fend ’em off with some bedtime stories about secret biolabs. Tee hee! Or call Scooter! I guess that “secret security clearance” you threw in my face every time I asked you to make the beds or cook some grub doesn’t work with a prison “hubby”! I’m off to shuffleboard with Isabella Rossellini!
July 26: What is it I love so much about these little umbrellas they put in the drinks around here?
July 27: Today was the most fun day I think I’ve ever had! We docked and went cruising around the island on mopeds! I felt just like Steve McQueen!
July 28: Ruh-roh. These swell kids I’ve been hanging out with onboard have been asking me lots of questions about Judy, Judy, Judy. Are they just curious? Or could they be Democrats—or Arab terrorists? Ah, shucks, now I’m starting to sound like Judy! Nothing a dip in the naked Jacuzzi can’t fix. Hey, kids, wait up while I get my bathing cap! Be-lu-ga!
July 29: Ah, nuts. Today’s the last day of my cruise. Now I have to go home and listen to Judy gripe about all the fun I had while she’s locked up in the joint. But never mind. The night is young, the moon is full, and I just got a pass to go see Bobby Vinton on the Twilight Deck!
Alan Neagle of Williamsburg makes miniature shopping malls. These are exact scale models of real malls, usually four to six inches long. “Everyone recognizes how precious and magical seashells are,” explains Mr. Neagle, “because we can put them in our pocket. But a shopping mall puts us in its pocket. A mall is too large for us to see.” By shrinking them, Mr. Neagle re-imagines them.
And what does one do with a tiny mall?
“You may display one on a mantelpiece, or carry it around for luck,” Mr. Neagle reveals. “I believe they have spiritual energy. Every mall is a microcosm of the universe, containing food, bathrooms, clothing, books, music—all of human existence. If you shrink a mall down and contemplate it, it’s like a crystal.”
Especially potent is the Paramus Mall (circa 1964), with the largest mural in the world, Mr. Neagle believes.
Chihuahuas are not generally considered the most attractive creatures in the animal kingdom. Their black onyx eyes bulge, their ears are oversized, and they shiver in even the mildest November breeze. But in New York, a city increasingly obsessed with iPods, BlackBerries and all things totable, it’s this mousy, quavering breed that best fits into a handbag.
“They are very portable dogs,” explained Myles Weissleder, a spokesman for Meetup.com, a company that organizes 770 local interest groups citywide, such as the New York City John Edwards Meetup Group (473 members) and the New York City Witches Meetup Group (471 witches). With 528 devoted members, the New York City Chihuahua chapter puts the wonks and witches to shame.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, about 30 members unpacked their coddled dogs from purses and pocketbooks at the Happy Paws Pet Resort, which is located on Lafayette Street near Houston Street. The diminutive pets immediately began chasing each other around two fake tree trunks in the indoor playground. They stretched to reach their owners’ knees and struck shivering poses for incessantly flashing cameras. The room reverberated with the clicking of tiny paws on white linoleum, barking, growling and lots of women chattering in cloying terms. (“They’re all so tiny!”) One woman wore a red shirt that said “Chihuahua” in white lettering. Another carefully unrolled a portrait of her black shorthair named Spock. It was drawn in a Russian icon style, with a gilt halo behind its pointy ears.
The group’s organizer, Ada Nieves, wore an orange Purina ball cap and handed out cookies shaped like dog bones. She gleefully welcomed Joey, Moto, Zeena, Lana, Pablo and other familiar furry faces with mostly two-syllable names as they were extracted from the bags of their owners. Those owners, for the most part, didn’t know each other’s names.
“We’re having a Thanksgiving dinner to give thanks for our friends and our Chihuahuas,” announced Ms. Nieves in a strong Puerto Rican accent as the dogs ate cake off of plates. “There are so many of them.”
But few of the many were housebroken. By roughly 12:30 p.m., as the meeting reached a raucous quorum, walking and inhaling had become treacherous in the glass-encased room. Wet paper towels ringed the fake trees like yellowed snow, and the owners ominously slipped on their black “Chihuahua business” gloves.
Despite all the leaking, everyone seemed enamored with the Chihuahuas’ distressed stares, wool booties and cashmere sweaters.
“I like Laura Ashley,” said Brittany Somerset, 24, who dressed her dog, Odin, in a tight red sweater with a flare of dark synthetic fur, like a little mane, around its skinny neck. Another dog managed to claw out of its sailor suit only to find itself dressed like Santa. Ms. Somerset, who made her dog’s sweater out of a sleeve, insisted the gathering was more about friendship than fashion.
“Chihuahuas need a lot of socialization,” she said, as her dog scampered off to pee on another woman’s polka-dot purse. “They tend to get introverted. When I first got him, I passed him around like a football.” She then took pains to explain that many of the Chihuahuas in the room were actually … not Chihuahuas.
“A Chihuahua is six pounds or under. It’s a toy breed. They have an apple head. The other terms are all marketing ploys: ‘deer head,’ ‘doe head.’ People can make up whatever term they want to make themselves feel better, but it’s all crap. They aren’t Chihuahuas. They should have flat eyes set apart—and they shouldn’t have that bugged-out look,” she said, pointing at a strung-out dog named Pepsi.
Such snapping isn’t new to the seemingly happy Chihuahua family. In November of last year, a post on the group’s online message board, which is usually dedicated to problems such as “My Chihuahua’s Hair Loss,” accused fellow members of being “superficial animal breeders whose only interest is in knowing where your next puppy is coming from and how cute it looks in a picture.”
As one can imagine, the message caused howling in the city’s Chihuahua community, but things really exploded a month later, when Meetup’s administration received complaints that Ms. Nieves was using the group to promote her Chihuahua modeling business, and then banned her from the message board for hawking photos of pets Cinnabon Bon, Vanilla Salt, Tequila Bon and Sylvia Salt.
“I feel so hurt by this—no one has any idea—therefore, I have decided to resign as [the Meetup] organizer,” she posted at the time.
The group eventually got beyond those crises, and on Saturday, a palpably warm feeling had returned to the loud and increasingly mephitic room.
“Some of the males here get kind of humpy,” said Karen Biehl, a tall, blond 42-year-old woman whose dog, Eli, was busy mounting a Chihuahua in a wool wrap. She regretted, however, that there is much less humping among the Chihuahua owners. It turns out that very few available straight men are keen on carrying small dogs around in a shoulder bag.
“My mom asked me if any straight men had Chihuahuas,” said Ms. Biehl, looking somewhat sadly around the room full of cooing women. Suddenly her face lit up. “The guy at the Canine Ranch has one, and he’s very straight.”