“I remember once hearing one of my younger brothers telling his girlfriend my story, what my career was like – I was born, I was talented, I got into piano, I had this neat place and I worked with Miles Davis. He left out this giant part which was the struggle!” Keith Jarrett, jazz pianist [From The Man and His Music]
 
As I now know, at each step you take you will feel anxious, depressed and tempted to remain with “the devil you know” rather than strike out for the deep blue sea. …. Pursuing something that really means a lot to you; something that comes first in your life; something that is almost as precious to you as a child; something that essentially means putting your soul out there for anyone to stab at if they want to; something that means getting emotionally naked – well, it hurts. … I met someone at a party once who told me she had become a journalist by default because writing a novel in her 20s had taken over her entire life. “I couldn’t think about anything else!” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be like that again!”

Don’t be one of those people who need permission from the rest of the world to be a happy successful human being. You don’t. You only need
your permission. … When I confided in my cousin, who had never heard me sing, that I wanted to be a singer, he totally dismissed it as nonsense and told me a terrible story about his ex father-in-law who had similarly “set straight” some poor neighbor who’d asked his advice about whether or not he should be an opera singer. Of course not everyone who wants to is going to be able to sing or paint or write or whatever. But my cousin [who now loves my singing] hadn’t even heard me sing. Yet, I obediently went along with his advice.

Or maybe I just used him as an excuse.


[blog]

Today I thought it would be a good idea to explain the actual TITLE of my book. Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better: How to Unlock Your Creative Dreams and Change Your Life. One of my friends messaged me on Facebook saying: “You obviously haven’t heard me sing!” which made me realize that some explaining is in order.

When I was writing in my journal this morning — by the way, journaling is definitely de rigeur for anyone pursuing a creative life — whether they are writing or singing or painting or sewing or what — so many ideas come to me when I am journaling that would never have occurred to me if I were, say, watching breakfast television, or even (perhaps) reading War and Peace! Phew, that was such a long sentence that I am going to gratuitously end right there and pick it up again in the next. It came to me that singing isn’t something I “do”, it is something I “am” or maybe “have”.

So the book isn’t going to tell you how to sing, or write or paint or sew or whatever. I think that is probably something you have an innate talent for or not — although of COURSE practice makes perfect, not to mention “use it or lose it”! So it’s definitely worth thinking about what it is that you are best at before you decide to devote the rest (or even the next ten years) of your life to it. But the idea of the book is how to then “do” whatever it is you have chosen, or has chosen you.

I forgot to mention earlier in the blog that another major player in my career change was life coach Laura Berman Fortgang, who gave me three months of her amazing personal coaching just before I got into it. I had met her while researching an article which was published in 1997 for the Times in London on Life Coaches (I promise to add the link to the article in a day or so — still learning how to do these things), and thought it would be interesting to experience being coached and maybe write about that. [Much later, I was helped in making the transition by a year of coaching from another fantastic life coach, Mark Forster, but more on that another time.]

She asked me what I wanted to focus on that I had wanted to do all my life and I picked singing because, (1) I was living with someone, who (for the first time since I had grown up) really believed, not only in my talent but in its possibilities for me and (2), I had always dreamed of doing it. As a very small child. Shopping in the local VG store for dinner all through my teenage marriage. Ferreting through clothing in charity shops for something decent to wear when I was a single mum. Even in my 30s (in San Francisco), singing at the top of my voice cleaning the houses of my favorite clients; the Good Germans (who had an amazing collection of jazz music, which I looked forward to listening to because I didn’t have money to buy CDs) and Joseph, who understood. Everything. Who gave me Tower Records tokens every Christmas with a stern note about how I was to use it only to buy music. Who once called me at home and told me off for leaving money in exchange for an orange I had eaten. [“Anything in my kitchen, Tessa, is yours!”] And who, when he died of AIDS, left me his CD player.

And had I not got married to an older man when I was 16 (i.e., before I really even started “living”), to be a singer was what everyone around me assumed I was going to do for a living when I got older. As it was, at a very formative age I spent two and a half years married to someone who was so insecure (clearly, secure men in their mid 20s don’t go around impregnating children — as I now realize I was then) that he pretty much imprisoned me, until I escaped one day (with Mum’s help) when he was at work. I was allowed out on my own only twice during the entire marriage. He even raged about my going back to school to do my ‘o’ levels (which I did in only four months, instead of a year), So singing? Fuggedaboutit!

So that severely put the kibosh on those childhood dreams for myself — which belonged as much to my friends and my “Irish twin” brother as to me. And then being solely responsible for a child, financially and emotionally, from the age of 18. Well, it wasn’t easy — speaking of “You Can Do Better!

Worth it? Yes! Easy? No!

But not to grizzle. Because I think all those experiences have made me what I am (not to mention provided me with the most amazing son), and are there in my music now. And I hope that they can be useful to others who might be thinking that they threw their lives in the bin by making one “mistake” or who might be thinking it’s too late, or too soon or too anything (er … try scared! I know a lot about that one). Or who might be doing really well in one field but don’t know how to begin to change to another. No, I wouldn’t say I am a wild success in terms of raking in the dosh (cough!). But even in the midst of despair, and feeling stuck, when I think about how lucky I am and how far I have come in the ten years that I have been singing professionally, I am willing to put my head down and keep soldiering ahead. And I’d like to inspire others to do the same, and pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

In the book I talk to my friend British plumber Mal Peet, whose first novel, Keeper, was turned down by five publishers (including the one who eventually picked it up!) before going on to win the Branford Boase Award and the Nestle Smarties Children’s Book Prize. His third, Tamar, won the Carnegie Medal. And he has just won the Guardian Prize for Fiction for his most recent, Exposure. For years he had come home in the evenings after a hard day’s plumbing to spend his evenings literally wallowing in the tub, with a pint of cheap beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He started his new career after the age of 50. US corporate business woman Karen Quinn (also in the book) wrote her bestseller The Ivy Chronicles (currently being made into a movie), after being laid off. “Tessa Souter” (that would be a fantasy version of me) actually has a singing appearance in the book, which she was still writing at the time I first interviewed her. She’s now on to her fourth or fifth. A huge success. 

 These people inspire me! And I hope they will you! 

Now … stop procrastinating and DO something!

See you tomorrow.

Tessa’s music page

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“Most self help books are a bit irritating but this one is different…. Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better is brilliant for creative types losing sight of their big dream. So if you want a kick of inspiration to begin writing that epic love story, while still paying the bills and looking after your family, this is for you.” Reveal magazine

“Inspiring… reading this book is like listening to a very wise friend.” Prima magazine

“This is absolutely not the standard ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ personal development book. But she doesn’t just tell you how she did it, but also tells you how you can do ‘it’ too – whatever your own personal ‘it’ is.” Mark Forster, author of Do It Tomorrow

“Tessa’s wit, determination, guts and advice will inspire anyone who wants to go for their dreams.” Sarah Litvinoff, author of Starting Again

“Tessa Souter is a gem of a person. Her story will inspire you and teach you and bring you to tears as you feel awe in the presence of her humanity.” Laura Berman Fortgang, life coach and author of Take Yourself to the Top: The Secrets of America’s #1 Career Coach

So today I decided why not start at the very beginning of the book. Yesterday was an answer to a specific question from a singer. But the original plan was to excerpt bits of the book and then comment on them with the benefit of hindsight gained from the three years or so since the book came out. As well as (hopefully) receive comments and tips from YOU.
The point of the blog, I realize, is to get you started in your chosen career, if you haven’t started already, and (if you have) to help you (and me) keep going when you (and me) are flagging. And I have to confess, I am going through a bit of a flagging stage right now — for no good reason, because when I think about it, I have been utterly blessed in many things, including my careers, first as a successful journalist — writing features for Vogue, Elle, the Times, Guardian, South China Morning Post, Sydney Morning Herald (oh, tons of places) — and, now, as a jazz singer with three CDs out (two recorded for real life labels) who has headlined and sold out major clubs in New York and around the world. On my good days.
Some things before we begin. 
1. All book excerpts will be in italics so you can tell the difference between the book and the blog.
2. If I make comments within the book excerpts that weren’t there originally they will be in different color.
3. Ellipses mean I have taken out chunks of the book for the sake of brevity.
4. I want to be honest and not have to be all rah rah rah if I don’t feel rah rah rah that day. And free to be rah rah rah if I do.
5. I welcome any helpful tips and comments and questions you may have. Please feel free to leave your URL along with your comments. 
So here is the Table of Contents so you know what kind of things we will be covering. 
1: All You Have To Do Is Dream: Getting Started
2. Walk This Way: What To Do and How To Do It
3. I Will Survive: Supporting Yourself
4. The Long and Winding Road: Keeping the Faith
5. Love Me Or Leave Me: Negotiating Your Intimate Relationships
6. Help I Need Somebody: Agents, Managers and Mentors
7. Helter Skelter: Handling the Emotional Roller Coaster of the Artist’s Life
8. I’m Just a Jealous Guy: Competition, Envy and the Green-eyed Monster
9. Blues for Junior: Taking Care of the Children
10. Up Up and Away: Success at Last
11. Go You Own Way: You Know Where You’re Going
Reading and Resources
Acknowledgement
[book excerpt
“You shall go to the ball!” The Good Fairy to Cinderella
Since I decided to actively pursue my dream to be a singer, I have never been so happy — or so miserable. It’s not so much an emotional roller coaster ride as like being picked up in the hands of a huge giant and carried around tenderly for a brief period of respite, and then dashed to the ground. Over and over again. A few months (or years) of that will turn anyone into a bloody pulp, which means you need guts to spare. So the first thing you should truly understand and acknowledge about following a creative dream is that — contrary to what you might imagine — it’s not all elation and joy, it hurts, even when you “make it”. Why else would so many rock gods and movie stars implode once they get there?
Yes, there are a lucky few who are born or married to the rich and famous, or who are well connected, or both. But even they have to prove themselves. Think of Sophia Coppola’s ten-year transition from critically panned actress in her father’s The Godfather Part III to Oscar-nominated director and Oscar-winning screenwriter for Lost In Translation. I think it safe to say that no singer was discovered by someone who overheard them singing in the shower. No writer was discovered by a literary agent accidentally coming across their private journals hidden under the bed. 
Paul Auster sent his first manuscript to nineteen publishers or more before one of them picked it up and made it into a best seller. In 2000, only a year into singing professionally, my voice was described as “The most deeply and profoundly moving voice I have heard in the past ten years” by Columbia Records. Another major label (Blue Note) said: “I don’t hear anything special in her voice.” [Ouch!] Both were talking about the exact same demo CD.  
There’s a reason so many great artists commit suicide. It isn’t only that they are “sensitive” souls — although that doesn’t help. The hard fact is, if you are chasing a dream, it takes over your life. It becomes an obsession. And it tests you continually. No matter how brilliant you are, you are going to lose confidence. You are going to face rejection. As many people will want to pull you down as lift you up. It takes supreme faith — in your ability, in the universe, in God, in whatever it takes — to keep you going. Once you reach the point of no return [Oh. My. God. I didn’t even register that phrase when I wrote it!] you will not even know why you are continuing, but you won’t be able to help it. “I am working,” wrote Frida Kahlo to a friend. “But even that, I don’t know how or why.”
You are going to have to prove yourself to yourself, your family, your friends, the world, the universe, prove your staying power, prove your worth it, prove your belief in yourself. And you are going to have to do it over and over (and over) again. There’s a long list of people who didn’t stay the course. Judy Garland, Vincent Van Gogh, Diane Arbus, Virginia Woolf, Spalding Gray, Susannah McCorkle, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton … all killed themselves. Many others drank themselves to death. Or died of the effects of drug abuse. Because pursuing your dream is such a painful endeavor at times, a significant percentage of people can’t do it without medicating themselves, even if nowadays that means anti-depressants (the modern artist’s laudanum). 
You will struggle with money, relationships, envy (other people’s and — even worse! — your own), self-confidence, ego, faith in yourself, in God, in your very soul). Pianist Keith Jarrett put it brilliantly in the The Man And His Music by  Ian Carr, talking about one of his albums. “Spirit was born of drowning in a certain place so I could come up to the surface in another — without forgetting the drowning and without dying.”

Still want to do it? Okay then. Because in spite of everything, I can safely say that just pursuing my dream — let alone achieving it — has been the best thing I have ever given myself. I hope this book will be your good giant that will catch you before you fall. But most of all, I hope it helps you realize that (as my literary agent kept saying to me over and over again when I was writing this book): “You can do it, Tessa. I believe in you, and I know you can do this.”
This book [and blog] is dedicated to you.
To be continued….
Click here to buy book 

“Most self help books are a bit irritating but this one is different…. Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better is brilliant for creative types losing sight of their big dream. So if you want a kick of inspiration to begin writing that epic love story, while still paying the bills and looking after your family, this is for you.” Reveal magazine

“Inspiring… reading this book is like listening to a very wise friend.” Prima magazine

“This is absolutely not the standard ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ personal development book. But she doesn’t just tell you how she did it, but also tells you how you can do ‘it’ too – whatever your own personal ‘it’ is.” Mark Forster, author of Do It Tomorrow

“Tessa’s wit, determination, guts and advice will inspire anyone who wants to go for their dreams.” Sarah Litvinoff, author of Starting Again

“Tessa Souter is a gem of a person. Her story will inspire you and teach you and bring you to tears as you feel awe in the presence of her humanity.” Laura Berman Fortgang, life coach and author of Take Yourself to the Top: The Secrets of America’s #1 Career Coach


Okay so this is actually a response to a question from singer Deborah Latz, on how to travel with your CDs and general traveling advice. She has a nice tour upcoming in France at multiple destinations. I don’t expect future posts to be this long but there was a lot to cover!

Question. When you travel overseas and bring your CDs (say 200) have you experienced any problems with customs? Do you bring the CDs on the plane or put them in your luggage?  Any other ‘tour tips’ you have would be greatly appreciated!  

There is no specific advice in the actual book on this. However, since the book came out in 2006 I have traveled extensively and learned the following:

TAKING CDS

1. For crying out loud, better to take too many than not enough. On my first trip to Russia I only took 100 and sold out almost at once. Very frustrating to be turning away people who are desperate to buy your CD. 

2. CDs are heavy. Invest in a wheelie case with FOUR wheels. You will be amazed at how effortless these make heavy luggage (more on this below).

3. So far customs have never asked me about them but you can always say they are promo copies. 

4. Whatever you do (see Point 4 of PACKING),  make sure you put enough to sell on  your first gig in your HAND baggage, in case your other baggage doesn’t arrive at your destination at the same time as you do (always a drag!).

5. There is a limit to how much money you can bring back from certain countries. I could never work out what it was in Russia, I think $3,000 — which can make for a very stressful time on the way out. Find out ahead of time by calling the relevant embassy.

PACKING


1. I never go anywhere without my ‘travel scarf’. This is a huge wool scarf which doubles as an extra blanket on the plane, since the doll-sized plane-issue ones generally don’t cut it. Or sometimes I roll it up and use it as a back support or a second-rate but better-than-nothing neck pillow (see item 11).

SCARF/BLANKET/NECK PILLOW/GLAMOROUS SHAWL, BACKSTAGE WITH TESSA AND DANIEL KRAMER

2. Unless you are appearing in the same place more than twice, don’t take more than two — okay, three — outfits. And no more than two pairs of shoes and earrings/accessories. You think you will but you won’t use more than this, and the more you take, the more time you have to faff about in the hotel room in front of the mirror. Not to mention carrying it all… which brings me to ….


3. I take in my HAND BAGGAGE (more on hand baggage in a min) one of those felt covered freezable cold packs because carrying heavy bags has been known to throw out my back — though not since my new suitcase (see item 7). I find the cold pack works for me. Some of you may prefer hot ones. Find out which is best for you and pack one — or both. Also pack in your hand baggage good painkillers — just in case.


4. Okay, so hand baggage. Always pack at least one copy of all the music you will need and take at least one box of CDs in your carry-on. That way, when you’re waiting around for your bags at the airport and they DON’T COME (see Letter From Tokyo 1), you will be covered. Naturally, since you have taken this precaution, your bags will arrive. But don’t chance it! The two (packing what you need in your carry-on bag and the checked luggage arriving on time) are definitely related, This is known in England as “sod’s law” — though I am not sure what a sod is in this context.


5. Pack a pen with your passport to answer all the landing forms questions, like “Are you bringing any guns/bombs/plutonium?” “Did you pack any livestock?” “Have you petted any rabied animals while you were away?” “Are you carrying more than $10,000 in cash?” (Hah!) “


6. Take small toiletries items in a separate quart sized ziploc bag and put it in your carry-on case near the top so you can whip it out when you need to.


7. My four-wheeled suitcase has changed my life. CHANGED MY LIFE! It practically pushes itself, spins in every direction and I would marry it, if I weren’t already taken — by the very man who (perhaps realizing I would develop “feelings” for my wonder-case) advised me not to buy it.  I bought it at Marshalls, or Filene’s Basement or Daffy’s, for $79 – reduced from $300-something. I have had many cheap suitcases over the years and they are not worth the savings. Trust me. 


8. I have two packing checklists (one for domestic and one for international travel) on my computer which I update before and after every journey. When I am going out of town to perform, I print it and check off everything as I get to it. It has on it things to pack, things to do (like charge cell phone or empty trash, or freeze/throw out perishables).

 
9. Take a hairbrush, minimal makeup (i.e., lipstick) and sunglasses in your hand baggage. I was once met at the airport at 4am (after 20 hours traveling) WITH TV CAMERAS! Thankfully I had my hooded coat to cover up as much as possible of my face and hair but …. Let’s just say that now I know why movie stars don’t go anywhere without their movie star glasses. And, since that experience, neither do I!

10. I take an atomizer filled with water and a touch of glycerine to spritz my face throughout the flight. It helps to counteract the dehydration far more (and less messily) than moisturizer. 


11. My other best friend when I travel is my bead-filled neck pillow. I sewed a sort of tie on it so I can actually WEAR it. This also means that I don’t absent-mindedly drop it on the bathroom floor because I forgot to remove it. It allows me to sleep sitting up on a plane. Without it, I can NOT sleep. During a six-hour layover at Moscow airport recently, I tied it into a ball so it remained firm, put it on my 4-wheeled suitcase, leaned forward and … I slept! Just little 20-minute cat naps at a time, but it helped. I won’t pretend I arrived “rested”, but without that little pillow there is NO WAY I would have been able to sleep at all and I would have been completely fried on arrival.

 
PILLOW/WARMER WITH NATTY TRIM

12. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD! What’s this doing under “packing”, right? Or have you been to Siberia? Or, indeed, Japan (see http://tessasouter.blogspot.com), when I woke up with jet lag at 2am and, after counting the hours until breakfast, discovered that it was soup and rice. Or maybe your alarm didn’t wake you after your 25-hour journey to get somewhere and you missed breakfast. Or you have a ten hour layover at an aiport like Palermo, Scicily (I know, Italy, right? What happened?) or Moscow SVO. Last time I went to Russia, I took four protein bars (giant kind) and five balance bars. Even though I stayed at two nice hotels, I needed them. In fact, I ran out. So pack food – breakfast bars, protein bars, whatever you need for sustenance. And if you find yourself in Siberia, fake a dizzy spell near a supermarket! The one I went to was better stocked than any supermarket I have ever seen in the world – though of course telling the difference between sour cream and yogurt in Cyrillic is a bit of a challenge.

EXTRA PLANE STUFF

1. Last time I went to London, it was snowing there and here, so my boyfriend told me to call ahead and check for cancellations. The flight was canceled and rescheduled. So I got to spend an extra day with him, instead of sleeping on my suitcase at the airport or — worse! — doing what singer Sheila Jordan did recently, shelling out another $60 to get a cab back home to wait for the next flight. Yikes! If the weather looks the slightest bit dodgy, call ahead.


2. Plane background noise is deceptively loud. This is one of all sorts of things I never noticed before I was a singer, but after an 8-hour flight during which you didn’t let your seat-mate get a word in edgeways, a girl/boy can actually lose her/his voice!

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF

It is fabulous to be your own instrument — which is what singers are. BUT … the downside is, if you fall ill … you can sound like … well, imagine a saxophone that’s been left out in the rain for a week. Sadly, people won’t realize that NORMALLY (of course!) you sing like Sarah Vaughan at her peak!

SARAH VAUGHAN AT HER ‘CRAZY AND MIXED UP’ PEAK

Your frog in the throat off notes — assuming you can even get a note OUT — will be their first impression and, you know what they say about first impressions. I read recently about a Broadway actress-singer who was disparaged by a reviewer for not being able to hit the high notes. People! She had a cold!!! Warning: I once sang with a horrible cold. Not only did I sound like shite on the nite, I then couldn’t SPEAK for six weeks afterwards. You really don’t realize how amazingly useful speaking is until you lose your voice. Writing notes to the people in the supermarket when you can’t find something in the aisles is surprisingly laborious – especially when they can’t read your hurried handwriting. And the phone … fuggedaboutit! One of the most frustrating and emotionally trying six weeks of my life. So you should do everything you can to head off ANYTHING respiratory at the pass. Here are some of my health tips:

1. STAY WARM
Okay… remember that scarf? This wonderful invention was actually created to keep your neck warm. Opera singers wear their scarves everywhere and that is because they are effective! Staying warm is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Or is it that getting cold can make you ill? Whichever, a scarf is your best friend! If I have been in the cold and am not wrapped up enough or (horrors!) went out without my scarf, I ALWAYS have a boiling hot bath when I get in. This also works. Raising your temperature is the secret, apparently. If a boiling hot bath or shower is not an option (See Letter from Siberia post at tessasouter.blogspot.com to read about traveling 16 hours between gigs in Siberia on a train. No bath. No windows.) Get out your travel scarf and roll yourself up in it.

2. VICK’S FIRST DEFENCE
My friend Adrian Hedley told me about this. It works! That Siberian train journey I mentioned … the musical director got a horrible cold and actually lost his voice. He also had this habit of getting right up on you to talk. But First Defense, a nasal spray, kept me healthy. No, I didn’t squirt it on him when he got too close! (Only do this in a medical emergency!) I squirted it on me! Maybe it was the placebo effect, but I don’t think so. I think First Defense is a UK product. If so, the American equivalent is probably ZICAM. I personally like the candy version. I also really like the swabs — but it is absurdly expensive because you are supposed to throw away the swab after each swabbing. 


3. SPEAK UP
If anyone gets too close to you, don’t be afraid to put a hanky over your mouth and say, “I’m sorry. I am a singer and I can’t afford to get ill.” People understand. But, even if they don’t, you have to do it. I haven’t had to do this yet, but if I sat next to someone on the plane who was ill I would ask to switch seats. It might feel a bit rude, but you can do it nicely. At least you’re not squirting them with First Defense.


4. VITAMIN C
Someone once told me that taking 1,000 mg doses of Vitamin C every hour or so, gets rid of a cold quickly. I have found this very effective. I don’t think you need to spend a bomb on Airbourne. My very favorites are Rite Aid chewable Vitamin C tablets with acerola. They are kind of tart, which seems to work on breaking down the — ahem — phlegm right away. I use Vitamin C like this as a preventive and as a cure.


5. REST
If you arrive somewhere and you get ill, go to bed. Even a few hours of BED-rest — i.e., actually lying down — really helps. When I was in Beirut I got flu on the first day and, canceling the gig not being an option, spent every day in bed and dragged myself out of bed every night to sing. Okay, I wasn’t my best for the first few days, but I got through it. This was before I knew about the wonder-drugs, First Defense and Zicam.


6. KEEP YOUR HANDS CLEAN
Most germs are communicated via the hands. That means whenever you touch a doorknob, or hold a railing, whoever held it before you, if they had a cold, will have left those germs. It is a singer’s lot to be a germ-phobe. My friend Sue, who is not a singer, but knows far too many than is probably good for her mental health, carries sachets of hand-sanitizing wipes with her everywhere she goes. The seriousness with which she once handed me one when we were out somewhere reminded me of the time my mum told me she was VERY worried about me being in America: “I hope you are wearing at least SPF 30!” (It is my duty to look young for my age, so that no one wonders how old she is). I keep one of those mini hand sanitizing sprays in the same zipper pencil case where I keep my passport – and SPF 30 dabber. 


7. GET THE FLU JAB
Since I lost my health insurance (don’t get me started!) I haven’t yet discovered where to get these done for free, but in my opinion, better to be safe than sorry, so they are worth the $25 or so fee to get them done in a drug storer.  However, there are health warnings so you should weigh the risks. And, it goes without saying, if you are ill just don’t have injections of any kind. 


8. STAY HYDRATED
Drink plenty of water during a flight to stay hydrated. In fact, it kind of ‘oils’ the vocal chords to be hydrated at all times, flying or not. So you should be drinking at least eight glasses a day. Call me a baby, but I find it easier to drink more water if I use a straw.


Send your questions to tessa.souter@gmail.com and I will do my best to answer them. Meanwhile, my plan is to blog on some aspect of doing my book EVERY DAY!


 Click here to buy the book

Home! New York! Despite driving rain, the 55 Bar was absolutely packed for both sets last night. And, as well as our beloved regulars, there were tons of new people there…. I felt utterly redeemed after California. Fire. Rain. Lonely days that you think will never end. Nothing stops New York-uhs, especially 55-uhs.!

THIS IS A PICTURE I TOOK OF NEW YORK IN THE RAIN A FEW WEEKS BACK. NOTE PEOPLE WALKING ABOUT IN IT.

So are just some of the reasons we love the 55:

1. It is an amazing place to work out new stuff and experiment in a no-pressure environment in front of a loving, receptive audience! Last night I threw all this stuff at Jason and Victor that we had never done before, Round Midnight, Just One of Those Things and other [gasp!] STANDARDS — which I almost never do but have, lately, rediscovered after a long long rest — and they did an great job, unfettered by the spectre of people sitting with arms and legs crossed miming “show me!”

2. You never know who will be in the audience. The President of East Timor came one night — admittedly he was brought by a friend, but it was very exciting and everyone wanted to know who was there who could possibly need the (extremely OBVIOUS) bodyguard who was at the bar looking like one of the baddies in the Matrix (too muscular for his suit with a curly wire protruding from behind his ear, like Agent Smith). THIS IS A PICTURE OF AGENT SMITH. Not at the 55 Bar.

3. We always sell CDs — although last night, RIGHT IN FRONT OF someone who had emailed me in advance to ask me to save my one remaining copy of Nights of Key Largo (Venus), I sold it to a young woman who wanted to buy the CD with “the sex song” on it (AKA’The Island’) because I thought he wasn’t coming. Yikes! Luckily, my latest shipment has arrived from Japan and is ready to pick up. To hear/buy any of my CDs check this link Tessa’s Music

4. The bar staff — led by their fearless leader, Tara — serve up magical potions with diverse names like “beer” and “wine” and “cocktail” but which all have the same marvelous effect of making you feel kind of warm and squiffy inside!

5. I’ve been playing there for more than six years every month, since the late and great Queva (that’s a picture of us hugging) gave me my first gig there in May 2003

and turned it into a “home” gig for me. Other “regulars”  include jazz giants Chris Potter and Mike Stern, and Motema (who put out my latest CD Obsession) label-mate, the amazing singer-songwriter KJ Denhert.  Queva once surprised me with a huge birthday cake and free champagne for everyone on a gig I did near my birthday, and then she did it again to celebrate my third anniversary of playing there.

6. Everybody knows your name! It’s like Cheers with good music. They even know my mum! (Pictured with me below — at the bar … hic!)

So I am back from LA which was on fire (literally!) and hot! Not in a good way. I have never been so hot in LA. But I did get to play with the amazing Hamilton Price (bass) and Joe La Barbera (drums) and Jason, of course. And I got to add names to my mailing list and was informed by some Japanese people there that I am “big in Japan” (like Tom Waits said!) because of my album Nights of Key Largo, and Hajime Sato from Eastwind Import even turned up with a VINYL copy of that album for me to sign! If you are an audiophile and like the idea of having your own vinyl copy of my CD — among many others to choose from, check out www.eastwindimport.com. And I got a lovely review from Don Heckman which appeared in his wonderful International Review of Music. And I stayed with my California mum. But please, California, try not to burst into flames next time I come!

13eee-catalina
My name in neon lights, and it’s not even Broadway.
669c9-wnightsofkeylargo
Me and Hajimi.
Hamilton Price, Joe LaBarbera and Jason Ennis
Hamilton Price, Joe LaBarbera and Jason Ennis

Okay, so … I won a competition to perform in a Gap store — one of 800 stores throughout Canada and the US having a mass gig in celebration of the new Born to Fit range of jeans and 40 years of the Gap. This seemed terribly exciting. But about two days before the actual performance I suddenly got a strong instinct that perhaps it wasn’t going to be very productive. I mean, … a Gap store. In a deserted suburb of Philadelphia. A week before college starts back. On a Thursday evening. After hours. In August. During a 90 degree heatwave. But you can’t just not turn up!

So I guess I wasn’t terribly surprised when we finally located the store, in an outdoor mall, and noted a distinct lack of “throngs”. In fact, there was no one in the shop when we burst through the doors, thinking thoughts along the lines of “shorely shome mishstake!” and “Wot? No poster?” At one point, one of the staff actually went outside to drum up business, calling out: “Two-for-one specials!” to no one in particular — or do I mean no one at all, since I didn’t actually see anyone in the desert-like parking lot.

It wasn’t a total bust. There was a TV, … well “crew” wouldn’t be an accurate description of the lone camera man that was there. But he did film us, and, apparently, we did make the local news at 6PM, 11PM and 6AM the next day. And I sold four CDs, which is fab in terms of percentage (maybe ten people came through) but not so fab in terms of recouping expenses. Then again, Jason and I got vouchers for two pairs of jeans EACH! And the staff were ALL fabulous. Lovely. Helpful. Fun. And there were snacks! And Gap has some great two-for-one specials going on! And, may I say my bottom looks very fetching in my new “sexy boot cut” jeans.

Otherwise …. well, as a competition. I mean… let’s just say, well, I’m not entirely sure what I won, exactly — aside from my “sexy boot cut” jeans, which I do like very much. Somehow, it reminded me of the time Mum saw a marvelous offer for cheap monogrammed toothbrushes in a posh London department store. She ordered four and then watched, incredulously, as the young woman behind the counter took a black marker pen and scrawled our names in bad handwriting on four cheap looking toothbrushes and then handed them back to Mum, who obediently paid in a sort of dazed disbelief.

Thank goodness I was with Jason, who is an angel (or perhaps a saint), and joined in my laughing about it on the way home (though weakly, I admit) and who only said ONCE of my navigating skills (which had kind of caused us to take the alternative route — Oh, okay, take several wrong turns, leading to the snarl up which caused us not to get home until 3am) that I had “the concentration span of a flea!”

Then again, he did ignore my express warning that I’m a directional dyslexic and that, unlike those blind people you hear about all the time that make crash landings in the Brazilian rain forest and miraculously burst out of the jungle six weeks later — a little slimmer perhaps, but alive! — I couldn’t machette my way out of the proverbial paper bag, and if I were dropped in the middle of a Devon field of long grass would be found six weeks later lying on a small, circular patch of trodden-down leaves having starved to death (without losing a single POUND, by the way!), wondering how those blind people DID it.

Although, thinking about it, I could’ve eaten the grass (yet another example of wise after the fact).

HERE IS SOME GRASS TO LOOK AT, BTW. CLEARLY TRODDEN DOWN BY SOMEONE WHO KNEW WHERE THEY WERE HEADED

All of which proves that it is easy to be fooled by the word “winner” into doing some very silly things, like drive for seven hours (round trip, via the snarled-up route) to an unpaid gig in a small deserted suburb. But I do love my “sexy boot cut” jeans. And Billy (the official saint that my parents have been praying for all these years) will love his sweater (Jason and all the staff agreed he looked great in it when I held it up against the photograph of him in my wallet). And I am sure Natalya will love the top Jason got her. And Jason looked great in his new duds.

So all’s well that ends well. Just like when Bill Evans played at a Chinese restaurant in Edmonton (say, … what?) and, that very night, met the last love of his life. Read a fascinating five-part interview with with her (Laurie of the Bill Evans song) currently up at www.jazzwax.com.

As an amazing, unrelated, coincidence, Jason and I will be playing with Bill Evan’s last drummer, Joe La Barbera, tomorrow night at the Catalina. Send people!

P.S. Does anyone want to enter a competition to win my latest CD for $5 MORE than it would cost them normally!

My singer friend Kate Geller suggested I write a blog for other singers on how to take care of your voice on the road. So … here are my travel tips for singers, for voice/health AND general tips – which actually apply to all frequent fliers. Feel free to add tips and comments.

PACKING
1. I never go anywhere without my ‘travel scarf’. This is a huge wool scarf which doubles as an extra blanket on the plane, since the doll-sized plane-issue ones generally don’t cut it. Or sometimes I roll it up and use it as a back support or a second-rate but better-than-nothing neck pillow (see item 11).

SCARF/BLANKET/NECK PILLOW/GLAMOROUS SHAWL, BACKSTAGE WITH TESSA AND DANIEL KRAMER

2. Unless you are appearing in the same place more than twice, don’t take more than two — okay, three — outfits. And no more than two pairs of shoes and earrings/accessories. You think you will but you won’t use more than this, and the more you take, the more time you have to faff about in the hotel room in front of the mirror. Not to mention carrying it all… which brings me to ….
3. I take in my HAND BAGGAGE (more on hand baggage in a min) one of those felt covered freezable cold packs because carrying heavy bags has been known to throw out my back — though not since my new suitcase (see item 7). I find the cold pack works for me. Some of you may prefer hot ones. Find out which is best for you and pack one — or both. Also pack in your hand baggage good painkillers — just in case.
4. Okay, so hand baggage. Always pack at least one copy of all the music you will need and take at least one box of CDs in your carry-on. That way, when you’re waiting around for your bags at the airport and they DON’T COME (see Letter From Tokyo 1 in February folder of this blog), you will be covered. Naturally, since you have taken this precaution, your bags will arrive. But don’t chance it! The two (packing what you need in your carry-on bag and the checked luggage arriving on time) are definitely related, This is known in England as “sod’s law” — though I am not sure what a sod is in this context.
5. Pack a pen with your passport to answer all the landing forms questions, like “Are you bringing any guns/bombs/plutonium?” “Did you pack any livestock?” “Have you petted any rabied animals while you were away?” “Are you carrying more than $10,000 in cash?” (Hah!) “
6. Take small toiletries items in a separate quart sized ziploc bag and put it in your carry-on case near the top so you can whip it out when you need to.
7. My four-wheeled suitcase has changed my life. CHANGED MY LIFE! It practically pushes itself, spins in every direction and I would marry it, if I weren’t already taken — by the very man who (perhaps realizing I would develop “feelings” for my wonder-case) advised me not to buy it. Now I want a four-wheeled carry-on because my tiny carry-on bag (with only TWO wheels) feels like it weighs twice as much as the giant one. I bought it at Marshalls, or Filene’s Basement or Daffy’s, for $79 – reduced from $300-something. I have had many cheap suitcases over the years and they are not worth the savings. Trust me.
8. I have a packing checklist on my computer which I update before and after every journey. When I am going out of town to perform, I print it and check off everything as I get to it. It has on it things to pack, things to do (like charge cell phone or empty trash, or freeze/throw out perishables). I have two checklists — one for domestic and one for international travel.
9. Take a hairbrush, minimal makeup (i.e., lipstick) and sunglasses in your hand baggage. I was once met at the airport at 4am (after 20 hours traveling) WITH TV CAMERAS! Thankfully I had my hooded coat to cover up as much as possible of my face and hair but …. Let’s just say that now I know why movie stars don’t go anywhere without their movie star glasses. And, since that experience, neither do I!
10. I take an atomizer filled with water to spritz my face throughout the flight. It helps to counteract the dehydration far more (and less messily) than moisturizer.
11. My other best friend when I travel is my bead-filled neck pillow. I sewed a sort of tie on it so I can actually WEAR it. This also means that I don’t absent-mindedly drop it on the bathroom floor because I forgot to remove it. It allows me to sleep sitting up on a plane. Without it, I can NOT sleep. During a six-hour layover at Moscow airport recently, I tied it into a ball so it remained firm, put it on my 4-wheeled suitcase, leaned forward and … I slept! Just little 20-minute cat naps at a time, but it helped. I won’t pretend I arrived “rested”, but without that little pillow there is NO WAY I would have been able to sleep at all and I would have been completely fried on arrival.

NECK PILLOW/WARMER WITH NATTY TRIM

12. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD! What’s this doing under “packing”, right? Or have you been to Siberia? (see Siberia blog). Or, indeed, Japan (see Letter from Tokyo 1), when I woke up with jet lag at 2am and, after counting the hours until breakfast discovered that it was soup and rice. Or maybe your alarm didn’t wake you after your 25-hour journey to get somewhere and you missed breakfast. Or you have a ten hour layover at an aiport like Palermo, Scicily (I know, Italy, right? What happened?) or Moscow SVO. Last time I went to Russia, I took four protein bars (giant kind) and five balance bars. Even though I stayed at two nice hotels, I needed them. In fact, I ran out. So pack food – breakfast bars, protein bars, whatever you need for sustenance. And if you find yourself in Siberia, fake a dizzy spell near a supermarket! The one I went to was better stocked than any supermarket I have ever seen in the world – though of course telling the difference between sour cream and yogurt in Cyrillic is a bit of a challenge.

EXTRA PLANE STUFF
1. Last time I went to London, it was snowing there and here, so my boyfriend told me to call ahead and check for cancellations. The flight was canceled and rescheduled. So I got to spend an extra day with him, instead of sleeping on my suitcase at the airport or — worse! — doing what singer Sheila Jordan did recently, shelling out another $60 to get a cab back home to wait for the next flight. Yikes! If the weather looks the slightest bit dodgy, call ahead.
2. Plane background noise is deceptively loud. This is one of all sorts of things I never noticed before I was a singer, but after an 8-hour flight during which you didn’t let your seat-mate get a word in edgeways, a girl/boy can actually lose her/his voice!

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
It is fabulous to be your own instrument — which is what singers are. BUT … the downside is, if you fall ill … you can sound like … well, imagine a saxophone that’s been left out in the rain for a week. Sadly, people won’t realize that NORMALLY (of course!) you sing like Sarah Vaughan at her peak!

SARAH VAUGHAN AT HER ‘CRAZY AND MIXED UP’ PEAK

Your frog in the throat off notes — assuming you can even get a note OUT — will be their first impression and, you know what they say about first impressions. I read recently about a Broadway actress-singer who was disparaged by a reviewer for not being able to hit the high notes. People! She had a cold!!! Warning: I once sang with a horrible cold. Not only did I sound like shite on the nite, I then couldn’t SPEAK for six weeks afterwards. You really don’t realize how amazingly useful speaking is until you lose your voice. Writing notes to the people in the supermarket when you can’t find something in the aisles is surprisingly laborious – especially when they can’t read your hurried handwriting. And the phone … fuggedaboutit! One of the most frustrating and emotionally trying six weeks of my life. So you should do everything you can to head off ANYTHING respiratory at the pass. Here are some of my health tips:

1. STAY WARM
Okay… remember that scarf? This wonderful invention was actually created to keep your neck warm. Opera singers wear their scarves everywhere and that is because they are effective! Staying warm is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Or is it that getting cold can make you ill? Whichever, a scarf is your best friend! If I have been in the cold and am not wrapped up enough or (horrors!) went out without my scarf, I ALWAYS have a boiling hot bath when I get in. This also works. Raising your temperature is the secret, apparently. If a boiling hot bath or shower is not an option (See Letter from Siberia post in 2008 folder to read about traveling 16 hours between gigs in Siberia on a train. No bath. No windows.) Get out your travel scarf and roll yourself up in it.
2. VICK’S FIRST DEFENCE
My friend Adrian Hedley told me about this. It works! That Siberian train journey I mentioned … the musical director got a horrible cold and actually lost his voice. He also had this habit of getting right up on you to talk. But First Defense, a nasal spray, kept me healthy. No, I didn’t squirt it on him when he got too close! (Only do this in a medical emergency!) I squirted it on me! Maybe it was the placebo effect, but I don’t think so. I think First Defense is a UK product. If so, the American equivalent is probably ZICAM. I personally like the candy version. I also really like the swabs — but it is absurdly expensive because you are supposed to throw away the swab after each swabbing.
3. SPEAK UP
If anyone gets too close to you, don’t be afraid to put a hanky over your mouth and say, “I’m sorry. I am a singer and I can’t afford to get ill.” People understand. But, even if they don’t, you have to do it. I haven’t had to do this yet, but if I sat next to someone on the plane who was ill I would ask to switch seats. It might feel a bit rude, but you can do it nicely. At least you’re not squirting them with First Defense.
4. VITAMIN C
Someone once told me that taking 1,000 mg doses of Vitamin C every hour or so, gets rid of a cold quickly. I have found this very effective. I don’t think you need to spend a bomb on Airbourne. My very favorites are Rite Aid chewable Vitamin C tablets with acerola. They are kind of tart, which seems to work on breaking down the — ahem — phlegm right away. I use Vitamin C like this as a preventive and as a cure.
5. REST
If you arrive somewhere and you get ill, go to bed. Even a few hours of BED-rest — i.e., actually lying down — really helps. When I was in Beirut I got flu on the first day and, canceling the gig not being an option, spent every day in bed and dragged myself out of bed every night to sing. Okay, I wasn’t my best for the first few days, but I got through it. This was before I knew about the wonder-drugs, First Defense and Zicam.
6. KEEP YOUR HANDS CLEAN
Most germs are communicated via the hands. That means whenever you touch a doorknob, or hold a railing, whoever held it before you, if they had a cold, will have left those germs. It is a singer’s lot to be a germ-phobe. My friend Sue, who is not a singer, but knows far too many than is probably good for her mental health, carries sachets of hand-sanitizing wipes with her everywhere she goes. The seriousness with which she once handed me one when we were out somewhere reminded me of the time my mum told me she was VERY worried about me being in America: “I hope you are wearing at least SPF 30!” (It is my duty to look young for my age, so that no one wonders how old she is). I keep one of those mini hand sanitizing sprays in the same zipper pencil case where I keep my passport – and SPF 30 dabber.
7. GET THE FLU JAB
Since I lost my health insurance (don’t get me started!) I haven’t yet discovered where to get these done, but in my opinion, better to be safe than sorry. I used to get one every year. However, there are health warnings so you should weigh the risks. And, it goes without saying, if you are ill just don’t have injections of any kind.
8. STAY HYRDATED
Drink plenty of water during a flight to stay hydrated. In fact, it kind of ‘oils’ the vocal chords to be hydrated at all times, flying or not. So you should be drinking at least eight glasses a day. Call me a baby, but I find it easier to drink more water if I use a straw.

These tips are not in my book Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better (Random House-Vemilion). But it has many others on navigating your way around the freelance artist’s life, and you might know some of the people in it (including me). www.amazon.co.uk

SINGING AT THE UNION OF COMPOSER’S CLUB IN MOSCOW. PICTURE BY VLADMIR KOROBITSYN

Here I am in the most comfortable bed on EARTH, leaning against SIX of the most comfortable pillows I have ever leaned against, at the Marriott Grand in Moscow. This is a far, far cry from the Siberian train tour of last November. In fact, this entire trip, I have had not one bad meal! Samara was pretty amazing. A beautiful city with enormously palatial wooden mansions everywhere. I arrived at 2am, after a 25-hour journey (including two layovers and a one hour drive from Samara airport, which is in the middle of nowhere and a little scary in the middle of the dark black night with two men in Russian hats who you don’t know), and walking up the endless corridor to my room — all super-high ceilings and closed doors — was spookily reminiscent of ‘The Shining’ but without the ghostly children on tricycles.

The gigs were fab. The Samara Philharmonic was beautiful and I met some lovely people. And I got to sing my song Usha’s Wedding with a phenomenal Russian singer called Lera, who was just amazing. I have sung that song with tons of people and it always amazes me what different people do with it, especially given that they have never heard it before. This girl was kind of like a Russian Lila Downs (who once actually sang it with me on it at the 55 Bar, when I discovered her in the audience), only wilder. I didn’t take pix of the audience, which is a drag. But I think I took some of the hotel which I will post later. Meanwhile, I was sent these pictures by the wonderful photographer Vladmir Korobitzyn.

ANOTHER PICTURE BY VLADMIR AT THE CLUB THAT NIGHT WITH OLEG KIREYEV QUARTET

Then I flew to Moscow just in time to hit rush hour traffic. The journey that will take me 25 minutes tomorrow morning at 3am (cough!), took actually THREE HOURS that day. But I didn’t mind because I was super tired and, until we hit almost standstill traffic, I had been stressfully having to “air drive” in the back seat, due to scary autobahn-esque driving all around me. It’s very tiring pressing your foot on imaginary brakes and leaning very very hard in one direction (which is how you steer when you are air driving), so it was such a relief when that ceased to be necessary. I spent the rest of the “drive” passed out on the back seat — probably drooling, I was so fried. Flying about to gigs is … hard work! And I’d had a SIX HOUR layover in Moscow on the way to Samara which is, surprisingly, kind of primitive. There isn’t even an escalator to the next level. Hello? — bags!

Homeless dogs look pleadingly at you in the airport cafes (actually they roam in packs all over Moscow, and huddle together in the subways when it’s cold, like little families — which is kind of sad and sweet at the same time). Even at the information desk, no one speaks English, which was a bit unhelpful. And there was no seat on the loo! Or perhaps it was misplaced because I did notice a loo brush holder and loo brush OUTSIDE the actual loo. Otherwise, Russia rules. Right now the streets are full of men carrying flowers to give to the women in their lives, because this weekend is a national holiday called Woman’s Day. So much more civilized than Mother’s Day. I mean, what if you aren’t a mother, or don’t have one? Woman’s Day is so inclusive! And the women here! So beautiful! Russian women are from the 1960s — beautifully turned out and terribly feminine. I mean, only a Russian woman would wear spike heels to breakfast, right?

Meanwhile, I had a magnificent first night at the club in Moscow last night, where the crowd was cheering and whooping and bought 33 CDs off me. Hooray! If tonight is even half as much fun I’ll be happy!

HAPPY WOMAN’S DAY!

 

mipac poster

Me in Red Square for the first time.
Me and Santi Debriano

Moscow was truly amazing! Despite my fear that the 1753 seats of the absurdly gigantic venue [the Moscow International Performing Arts Center] would actually only have TWO bums on them, the gig was one of the most fun of my life! “Do you think there will be anyone there?” I said, mournfully, to the presenter’s assistant in the dressing room, where I was putting on makeup JUST IN CASE anyone had come. And she laughed and said: “Oh yes!”

When I got out there, people filled all of downstairs and some of the side seats and Francis (my percussionist, who I had shipped in from Tokyo, who has better eyesight than I do — okay, what I mean is, isn’t too vain to wearhis glasses) said that the upper deck was pack-ed (it is two syllables when he says it, cos he is Brazilian) and that there were maybe 1500 people there. The booker and all his staff were hugging me in the break, having been perhaps almost as concerned as I had been BEFORE the gig that the scruff bag (me) who’d got off Aeroflot after the 9 hour flight from hell the previous day was going to be able to pull it off.

I had been terrified that the entire thing was going to be awful. The guys (and me) were exhausted and two of them had arrived on the day. And Aeroflot is indeed the worst airline I have ever flown (the man next to me groaned for the entire flight — I mean ACTUAL groaning cos he had forgotten his jacket and it was minus 10 in the cabin… which was also ominously creaking the whole way). But although between sets and before the gig the band members were semi comatose, on stage they were like those toys you press the bottom of and they collapse and then you release it and they spring upright. They were amazing. You would never in a million years think they had just landed. On Aeroflot!

And the audience was WILD! Cheering. shouting ‘Bravo’ mid songs, clapping at the opening bars of songs they knew (including White Room). I felt like they knew me already and I knew them. Whatever people say about Russians being cold … well they must have been lying. Someone else said the audience wouldn’t speak English. Another flagrant untruth. They were even laughing at my jokes (though someone told us afterwards that the people next to her kept nudging her to translate certain songs). And at the end we got a STANDING OVATION. From 1500 people. I felt like Elton John or someone (only with my own hair). And I was surprised how comfortable I felt. Then again, the hugest ham I know (me) comfortable in front of a 1500-strong cheering crowd, who got my jokes too? Duh!

Oh, and the POSTER outside!!! Santi saw it as we were driven to the venue and said “Jesus! Isn’t that you?” I took a pic (okay, several pics — for Mum, of course!).

But I wish I had brought more CDs. By the time Irina had got out into the foyer, they had already sold out of the only 60 I had brought (imagining I would be carrying home 58, since I’d been expecting only two bums on seats). And the next day in the hotel a couple, who had been at the gig the night before, saw me in the foyer and bought two that I’d forgotten to give the presenter and the woman was kissing my photo and was nearly in tears telling me (in Russian) how much she had enjoyed the gig (an expressive people!).

Me and Francis on the subway escalator


Otherwise, I am having a bit of a difficult time not speaking Russian. The subways (Greco-Roman temples outside and unbelievably beautiful — like the Met or the National Gallery or something — on the inside) are swarming with non-English speaking (how dare they?) Russians who, not realizing I am, in Russia, a massive big star of Elton John proportions (only with my own hair), are impatient with my plaintive: “Er… can you point on this map here to where we actually are now?” — perhaps because they don’t quite believe I can’t see that for myself. (I am a directional dyslexic). In fact, the reason I am an expert on the subway stations here is because I have seen them all by now, having been to the end of most of the lines before realizing, oh, I must have missed my stop. And since I can’t speak Russian and say: “Don’t you realize I am Elton John?” I am being shouted at a lot by subway staff because it turns out there are distinct exits and entrances and I can’t read which is which (yikes!). And I went to bed hungry last night cos no one in the hotel speaks English and the room service menu is in Russian. Sigh.

This is on stage at MIPAC
It’s all the more difficult because the written language bears a striking resemblance to Double Dutch (which I also don’t read), with letters back to front and upside down and words with NUMBERS in them (I am not kidding!). Plus, unhelpfully, the subway stations only have the name written on the wall ONCE, so if you miss that once, you have no idea which station you are at. Okay, I admit, not that I would have known even if I could have seen it, but you might. Luckily, there have been a few kind, hand-holding types who have been able to direct me in the right place, since I clicked that the thing to do was show them a picture of where I wanted to go in my guidebook! (a picture is worth a thousand words — especially words that have upside down letters and numbers in them).

My room at the Four Seasons hotel!

I did manage to score a night at the Ritz Carlton, on the back of writing an article for British ELLE on Moscow. I will tell you that I woke up the next day and I literally looked ten years younger. The bed was amazing. HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Or, as we say in Russia…. RRY [upside down R] 3XX FLJXCVB-ING!

 


LETTER FROM TOKYO 1

July 2007 So … Does anyone out there know whether Mercury or some other planet of vital importance is in retrograde? First I spent the flight over sitting next to two unaccompanied children with very small bladders. I had the aisle seat. (Need I say more?) They could also sleep in any position (which meant me spending much of the flight with a small foot in my face).

But they were sweet when they were awake (and not needing to pee). They engaged me in conversation about elephants and robots (who doesn’t love robots?) and other things that I think more adults should talk about. And they were very sympathetic when I described my deprived childhood (Mum would not let me have an elephant for my birthday when I was four. Some cock and bull excuse about the garden not being big enough!). By the way, for those of you who know my mum, she was on top form when I saw her in London this time. She didn’t mention the dress not being red — though, as we hugged hello, she did whisper in my ear, “Stand up straight, darling!” Mums! Got to love them! (Or else!)

Back at Tokyo airport the woman at immigration wouldn’t let me through cos, knowing I was being picked up, I hadn’t written down the address I was going to. I made up a hotel — as advised by a very nice woman who was on her way to … the Ritz Carlton! Of course I didn’t look like I could possibly be the type to be staying there, being somewhat crumpled and baggy eyed with a foot shaped dent on the side of my head. But I wrote it down and she let me through anyway, thank goodness.

Then, after waiting patiently by the only moving baggage carousel for miles until there were no bags on it (this took some time), I was a bit concerned when my luggage was not forthcoming. “Oh this is the Texas plane baggage!” they explained. “Your bag is over by the counter.” Phew! However, it turned out, no one had seen my OTHER bag. Yes, THAT bag. The one with the microphone and music and shoes in it. The one with my ice pack — which would have been very useful right now cos — guess what? — I just put my back out! (stress-induced). The one with all my makeup in it! Yes. THAT bag that STILL hasn’t arrived and which Newark (who I blame entirely, since everyone at Narita was adorable) seems to know nothing about. As I walked out I noticed I was the last person to leave the airport.

At the hotel (no, I am not staying at the RC) I fell asleep with no dinner and woke up at 2 am and began literally counting the minutes (3000 or maybe 300, I’m not very good at sums!) until 7 when breakfast was served. At dead on 7 I ran to the dining room where I found a buffet breakfast of … er … soup, shredded lettuce, some sort of roll with currants in it and (thank God!) toast! And (more groveling thanks) coffee! Okay, weak coffee. “People! This coffee is weak!” (Of course I didn’t say that, but don’t they realize a New Yorker is staying at their establishment!). I know, I know. You’d think a girl would be grateful for anything after waiting FIVE HOURS to eat.

You would be wrong.

But it could have been worse. It could have been my friend’s journey from hell which was a catalogue of disasters culminating in being trapped at the airport (due to thunderstorms) for three hours with no AC or food or drink and mournfully looking out of the window to see another waiting plane on the runway struck by lightning and burst into flames! On second thoughts …no … actually culminating in getting home to discover she had forgotten her door key! So you see why I’m wondering about Mercury retrograde.

But the good news is that, while shopping for ice packs, I noticed that shampoo is indeed available for under five dollars!Contrary to all reports that it would set me back $100 a bottle.