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SAN FRANCISCO - 29/04/05

The Mayor

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Packing Shame

I rise early in New York to pack. Somehow a mountain of stuff has accumulated. It's partly because on the last trip home to London from New York one of the suitcases was entirely filled with books purchased in the US, and so the clothes that had to be decanted stayed in a box at the hotel until our return. So, usefully in the lovely spring sunshine, I find myself loading a nice thick winter coat, several pairs of walking boots, and innumerable black items (vests? cardigans?) into one of several cases for the trip to the west coast. You never know, some rambling outfits might come in handy in one of the photo sessions.

I sit next to Simon Abkarian in the plane and find myself singing, over and over, “good morning, good morning” from 'Singing in the Rain'. And then, even more irritatingly, “if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”. After a while Simon starts pulling my hair. I try tugging at his in revenge but he has had a haircut and it is disappointingly difficult to grab hold of. It does flit through my mind how our director/actor behaviour might look from the outside, especially when he raises his fist threateningly at the nineteenth rendition of a cheery “good morning” and mutters some swearwords in Armenian. I request subtitles but he is not forthcoming.           We arrive in San Francisco, the weather is soft, warm and sunny, and you can practically feel the liberal politics in the gently moist air. Our driver is, it transpires, from Baku, married to an Armenian. They applied for refugee status, following the killings of Armenians there in 1988. He and Simon talk and I learn for the first time that Abkarian is not Simon's 'real' family name. His grandfather, orphaned in the genocidal massacres of 1915 was so traumatised he could not remember his family name and was given Abkarian, which translates as 'water-carrier'. 

There is less than an hour to unpack and get changed for the gala at which Joan Allen is one of those to be honoured. Packing shame becomes an unpacking explosion. I throw things out of the cases onto the floor, feverishly searching for shoes to go with my new outfit, designed by Gary Graham, which I bought in New York at 'Shack'. I can find none. A mountain of boots, but not one elegant shoe. (Speaking of which, in London I am known to my friends as the Imelda Marcos of the film - especially high heels - spilling from every cupboard. I blame it entirely on the tango. I have searched in every city in the world for comfortable high-heeled shoes. For a long time I thought it must be some impediment in my foot structure, but now I think maybe comfort and high heels are mutually exclusive concepts. Strangely, however, I can dance joyfully for hours in a pair of elegant black strappy shoes, but when I step off the dance floor - or, indeed, in the moments of stepping out onto the floor at the beginning - I am hobbling awkwardly, and in pain.)

Anyway, I settle on a pair of short cowboy boots for the evening. Slightly embarrassed by my display of cleavage, which I usually keep under wraps (it doesn't seem fitting, somehow, for my role as a serious director - why ?), with Simon wearing a hired tuxedo, which I can see he feels uncomfortable in, for it is not a perfect fit, and Christopher in his trusty Issey Miyake tuxedo, which has seen good service over the years (but he forgot a tie and is now anxiously fiddling with a new digital camera), we are ushered through the bowels of the hotel towards the red carpet and the press line. It feels like the scene from near the beginning of YES when 'He' walks from the neon-lit kitchens into the lush ballroom, where 'She' (Joan Allen) is standing miserable and alone in a peacock-blue evening dress. And now, as we are led though a similarly neon-lit labyrinth of kitchen corridors, chefs scurrying past in white, averting their gaze, we come across Joan, but this time happy and resplendent in red (an exquisite dress designed by Marc Jacobs). 

On the red carpet the lights flash and the short television interviews begin. To my utter amazement, for the first time in my entire life, a journalist from a fashion programme grabs me to compliment me on my 'look' which she thinks is very individual and therefore English. I explain that Gary Graham is in fact an American designer, and wonder if it is the combination of his beautifully cut suit, my cleavage, and the heavy boots which have attracted attention.

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Shortcut to the Gala

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On the red carpet

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Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated