Archive for October, 2008

Why I Moved For Love

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

This article was originally published on Msn.com’s Dating and Relationship/Lifestyle page. You can see the original content here:

Why I  Moved for Love” at msn.com

Why I Moved for Love by Amy Spencer

A few years ago, my friend Leslie moved to Milan to be with a man she loved. I remember envying both her romance and her guts to make such a big change. But I also remember thinking, “Please let me meet someone in New York…I just love it here too much to move for love.” Wow, how things change.

Nine months ago, I became reacquainted with Gustavo, an artist I had known all my life who was visiting New York from Los Angeles. The sparks were so intense, we racked a few free flights’ worth of airline miles deciding where the relationship was going. The answer: If it was going anywhere, it was going to Los Angeles. So three weeks ago, I hired a moving company, packed up my apartment, and boarded a plane with my kitty in tow to start a brand new life in Venice, California.

In a way, the decision was easy, because I love this guy more than any man I’ve known. But I also believe that love alone is sometimes not enough to pick up and move a life you’ve spent years building. (In fact, in one previous long-distance relationship I had, it wasn’t.) Here’s why I knew, without a doubt, that this time around, a relocation (or, should I say a re-love-cation) was right for me.

Because I literally couldn’t spend another minute apart from him
Much like the emperor’s new clothes, file this one under the “so obvious it needs to be said” category: Before all else, the biggest contributing factor to my decision to move for love was, simply, that I wanted to be with Gustavo as much as possible. We got along like gangbusters and enjoyed each other’s company so much, it was becoming unbearable to be 2779.46 miles apart (thanks for reminding me, Mapquest). After eight months of goodbyes at the airport, I couldn’t imagine one of us not moving.

Yes, moving meant leaving it all (my friends, my family, my apartment) and starting fresh (new phone, new email, new gas, new bank). But when I pictured Gustavo’s smiling face looking at mine, I just thought, “Yep, he’s worth it.”

My friend Nicole Gregg felt a similar moment of clarity before her move from Manhattan to New Hampshire to be with her then-boyfriend Zack. “I just knew,” says Nicole. “I felt like this was the right thing to do. It was this, or…actually, there was no ‘or.’ I think if you’re going back and forth and back and forth trying to decide what to do, it’s probably not right. It’s like when you’re really unsure about the outfit you’re wearing. If you’re questioning it so much, you probably shouldn’t wear it.” Nicole was sure. She moved to Portsmouth and married Zack a year and a half later.

Because we’re starting fresh together in a new place
When I first started dating Gustavo, he was living in an oversized raw-space loft in downtown L.A. just a few blocks from Skid Row. While perfect for a painter who needed space for large canvases, I wasn’t feeling the whole drug-infested neighborhood thing; I wanted a walking neighborhood like the one I was leaving. So, to make me happy, we found a little house in Venice, just a short walk to town and a bike ride to the beach. And to keep him happy, we factored in the cost of keeping half of the loft as a workspace and renting the rest.

To me, both of us starting fresh in a new place was vital to making my move work. Now, instead of feeling like I’m encroaching on his pre-me life, I feel like we’re on an “us” adventure. Sure, some things around town are old hat to him (“Trust me, these are the only fish tacos worth eating”), but the house we’re living in is new to both of us (“Hey, check out this bizarro closet!”). I’m not just making his life mine; we’re making our own life together.

Because I knew that — regardless of the relationship — I would be able to make a life for myself in my new location
A few years ago, I had a long-distance relationship with a guy in South Beach, Miami. One weekend, over some eggs Benedict on Ocean Drive, I considered what it might be like to move there. That is, until I picked up a local paper to check out the real estate and noticed something else: Instead of seeing ads for the very things that I loved about New York — the theater, literary readings, art openings, small films — I found ads for dance clubs and beach parties. Ultimately, though I loved Miami, I had to admit I wouldn’t be happy living there.

This time around, I knew I’d not only feel at home with Gustavo, but I would also feel at home in Venice. I’d get to spend time with other writers. I’d be able to walk to town for a morning latte if I wanted. I’d get to see some of the art, theater and films I liked. And after ten years squeezing into “charming”-sized apartments in downtown Manhattan, I was also ready for some breathing room. I was amped about the idea of sitting in Adirondack chairs in the back yard, and watering plants that didn’t wither at the first sign of frost.

My friend Jessie had the same revelation about moving out of New York recently. Like me, she used to be a full-fledged city girl: afternoons full of brunches and bargain shopping, and nights full of parties and cocktails. Then she met a country boy who worked with horses on a ranch. Being with him, she says, “was non-negotiable.” And because Jessie was ready for a change, she happily offered to flee the city for a small town in Virginia—a town they started fresh in together. “I didn’t think he would be very happy in the city, but I was ready to move out of New York,” she explains. “I didn’t want to go out for drinks anymore. I was at the point where I wanted a garden, I wanted some dogs, I wanted to mow a lawn.” She now has all of it—and come June, she’ll also have a husband.

Because geography aside, our dream lives match up
The way I see it, if a couple’s plans for the future aren’t in sync, a big move won’t suddenly change all that. Sure, an exciting move might distract from your differences for a while, but eventually the music stops, the disco lights shut off and you’re left with a big, square, bare room you don’t know what to do with.

This is just the dilemma facing a fashion-forward woman (I’ll call her Bianca) whom I met recently. Bianca told me her dream plan is to have a loft in New York, an apartment in Paris, and a job that takes her all over the world. Her new boyfriend, however, just high-tailed it out of the city for a job in Utah with a ski company—and wants Bianca to join him. His dream plan? To buy a cabin an hour from town for a quiet life in the mountains. “I didn’t realize how different we were until now,” she said. “I like the city, he likes the snow. I like fine wine, he likes cans of Pabst on the back porch. If either one of us moves, we’d only be living the other’s life instead of our own.”

In Bianca’s case, their dream plan is to move in different directions. In my case, Gustavo and I are moving toward what we both want: a similar future. And that’s why I knew it could work. Perhaps a couple doesn’t need to want the same things right now. But eventually, those basic plans should merge. Otherwise, someone is probably shifting who they are as a person—and that’s a move backwards by any standards.

Because I was willing to get creative with my career
Now, I’m lucky. Because as a writer, I can work from anywhere with an Internet connection. I know that plenty of people have to quit their jobs entirely in the move for love. But the important thing is this: Can you or can you not make your work “work” in your new town? For instance, I’ll lose a few clients—like local magazines I used to write for—by moving to the West Coast. But I can also use the move as an opportunity to expand my experience with new clients and different types of jobs.

Nicole, however, had to be even more creative with her work. “I was a casting director for a film company in New York. So when I moved to Portsmouth, I was like, Hmm, now what? And then it hit me: This town is perfect for a film festival.” It has taken Nicole five years to really make it work, but the last New Hampshire Film Festival attracted over 3,000 attendees and drew film submissions from 31 states and 15 countries. “Instead of focusing on the fact that there weren’t any opportunities for work here, I saw the opportunities as endless,” she explains.

Because I knew we were in it for the long haul
I like to gamble on the little things in life. I’ll head to a new movie without reading the reviews. I’ll wait on line at a trendy restaurant without knowing if I can get in. I’ll even get on a plane without a hotel reservation already booked at my destination. But when it comes to the really big stuff, I like a sure bet.

It was only after Gustavo and I had started talking about a forever-future that I brought up the idea of moving. I liked knowing while I was packing that a wedding and family was in our cards (well, not as much as my Mom liked knowing…). It turns out it was all coming sooner than I thought: Gustavo proposed three days before we flew out of New York. It was even more assurance I was doing the right thing.

Because, if it came to it, he was willing to move for me as well
Though I was up for the adventure and the challenge of moving to a new place, and Gustavo couldn’t wait to show me around his sunny city, the clincher for my decision came one evening over Roquefort cheeseburgers in the West Village. “You know,” said Gustavo, “that if you really hate it in L.A., I’ll move back here with you in a heartbeat, okay?” In that moment, he gave the same reason I’d started with: The relationship, above all else, was worth it. Following through on my decision turned out to be pretty easy.

Amy Spencer has written for Real Simple, New York, and other magazines.

This article was originally published in February 2007.

Maria Bello in Page Six magazine

Friday, October 24th, 2008

This cover story was originally published in Page Six magazine. You can see the original version (including stunning shots of the actress in glitterati gowns) at the source: Full of Grace: Maria Bello

Maria Bello in Page Six magazine, July 27, 2008

Maria Bello in Page Six magazine, July 27, 2008

Actress Maria Bello is full of surprises—both for fans (who knew the dramatic actress harbored a lifelong dream of being an action hero?) and herself, as a new romance has changed her views on marriage and monogamy.

Maria Bello has never shied away from controversy—after all, this is a woman who’s starred in such button-pushing films as A History of Violence, Thank You for Smoking and the upcoming Towelhead. But there’s one potential eyebrow-raiser in her new movie The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor that the actress didn’t see coming: her age. Specifically, that she is playing the mother of a 20-year-old. Maria rolls her eyes and throws her arms up. “I’m 41. Of course I could be the mother of a 20-year-old!” she says. “I’m not afraid to play my age. I never was. I’ve never been an ingénue. I like getting older.”

In real life—that is, here in the front yard of her two-story Craftsman home on the west side of Los Angeles—Maria is mom to a 7-year-old. And let’s face it: This is a woman who looks damn fine for 41. She’s wearing a white button-down shirt and jeans, with barely a hint of makeup, and her hair is pulled back in a sloppy-sexy ponytail. Her skin is positively glowing as she enjoys a snack of chips and salsa.

“We eat dinner out here all the time,” the actress says, pointing to the deck her younger brother built. “And we have dinner parties once a week.” The “we” she’s referring to? Herself and her two favorite guys. The first is her son, Jackson Blue, whom she had with her ex-boyfriend, screenwriter Dan McDermott (the pair split four years ago). Her son is named for her college mentor (Augustinian priest and professor Ray Jackson, who passed away 11 years ago) and, simply, for the color blue. “Twenty years ago, my friend, who is a Celtic healer, said, ‘I feel this blue energy around you,’ ” explains Maria. “So when I was pregnant, we thought, ‘blue.’ ”

Jackson is at basketball camp today, but home photos of him show a grinning kid with shaggy blond surfer hair. And, in fact, Maria and her boy have been taking surfing lessons together. But “his real bug is basketball,” she says. “My child is obsessed. One of his first words, after ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada’ and ‘dog,’ was ‘basketball.’ ”

The other man in her life is Bryn Mooser, her boyfriend of a year-and-a-half. “He’s beautiful inside and out—a great human being,” she says of Bryn, who is a musician, artist and part-time waiter. “He has more character in his little finger than any man I’ve ever met.” They met at the restaurant he worked at near her home. “We had been looking at each other,” she says. Then last March, at a meal for her cousin’s birthday, Maria made a move. “I had a couple of drinks, so I felt brave. I walked up and said, ‘Can you take this cake and put a candle in it? And by the way, do you have a girlfriend?’ From that night on, we’ve been together.”

Her relationship with Bryn, 28, is going so well, he’s changed her view on marriage. “I was always anti-marriage,” she admits. “I didn’t understand monogamy. I couldn’t figure out how that could last. And then I met Bryn and I started to understand the beauty of constancy and history and change and going on the roller coaster with someone—of having a partner in life.”

Maria was born in Norristown, Pa., a suburb 25 minutes outside of Philadelphia, into a blue-collar family of four kids. Dad was a construction worker, Mom was a nurse. While at Villanova University, Maria studied law—peace and justice education, with a focus on human rights work. On a whim, she took her first acting class during her senior year. Her debut monologue was, she says laughing, a Bob Dylan song, which she recited dressed as a homeless person. Still, right away “I knew that’s what I should be doing.” She felt guilty about switching from law to acting, but her aforementioned mentor changed her mind: “I said, ‘I feel like I’m supposed to be an actor, but I also feel like it’s a selfish profession, considering what I was going to do.’ And he told me, ‘You serve best by doing the thing that you love most.’ ” That friend, by the way, was in his sixties, a fact Maria takes pride in. “My friends in college were Ray Jackson, who was 65, and my grandmother, who worked in the cafeteria!”

And if those seem like curious couplings, she’s got another: “My best guy friend is turning 78 next week,” she says, referring to John, a man who saw Maria in a movie years ago, felt they had a connection and asked to have a meeting with her. Intrigued, Maria met him at a Mexican restaurant. “We didn’t leave for five hours. Since then, we’ve probably talked every day.” How does she explain her friendships with senior citizens? “I’m interested in people who have lived, who are searching and questioning. I have more in common with John than probably any friend I’ve ever met.” For example? “We read the same books—we’re self-help and philosophy junkies.”

Maria does have at least one Holly wood friend her own age: 40-year-old actress Carrie-Anne Moss, whom she met in a hotel lobby in Toronto 12 years ago. “I walked in and she goes, ‘I love you!’ And I go, ‘I love you, too!’ ” We went up to her hotel room and made French onion dip in a wine glass and had chips and salsa and talked all night.” The actresses—who Maria says “never talk about the business”—are godparents to each other’s children. (Carrie has two sons.) “She is so compassionate,” says Maria. “She is my parenting mentor.”

Maria got her first break on the 1996 CBS spy show Mr. & Mrs. Smith (not to be confused with the Brangelina movie of the same name), then moved on to ER for two seasons alongside George Clooney (“he’s a really, really good person”) and Mariska Hargitay. ­“[Mariska] introduced me to Dan, so she’s responsible for my child,” Maria says with a smile. But Maria says her true breakthrough was in the 2003 movie The Cooler, opposite William H. Macy, when she was 36. “I did a lot of work before then, but I don’t think it was until The Cooler that I came into myself as an actor, and that other people noticed me as an actor,” she says.

Her latest project is The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. But don’t misunderstand: This big action blockbuster isn’t a sell-out film for Maria, but rather a childhood fantasy come true. “My biggest dream since I was a kid was to be the woman sneaking on the pirate ship dressed like a man, who was this great sword fighter, and the captain fell in love with her,” she says. “When I got into acting, I told my dad my dream was to be Indiana Jones. He said, ‘Honey, you want to be the girl in Indiana Jones?’ And I said, ‘No, I want to be Indiana Jones.’ ”

She laughs out loud at the irony that people think she’s a capital-S serious actress who fell into an action role, when really, it was the opposite. “I don’t know how I became known as a dramatic actress. When people would ask what part I wanted to play next, they expected me to say something like Medea, but I would say, ‘I want to play Indiana Jones!’ And for The Mummy I did these incredible stunts!” she says, and the joy is visible on her face. “This was a thrill of my life.”

And that’s the great thing about Maria Bello—she’s a woman who’s experienced enough to know that the best way to serve the world is by doing the thing she loves most. Even if it is battling the bad guys with a sword.

Out This Month…

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Want to learn a little something about the milestones you should be reaching for in your relationships? Or, perhaps, about the trend of some of L.A.’s stiletto-strapped women writing novels about being “Hollywood Wives?” Well then this is your lucky month!

Check out my story in the November 2008 issue of Women’s Health, called “15 Moments that Define a Relationship.”

The November 2008 issue

The November 2008 issue

And, if you have access to this utterly-fabulous Los Angeles-based magazine Angeleno (a part of the Modern Luxury group, which now publishes the brand new Manhattan magazine), check out my story about Gigi Levangie Grazer, Heather Thomas, and Jodi Wing (among others) entitled, “The Hollywood Wives’ Book Club.”

The October 2008 issue

The October 2008 issue

Read, share, and pass it on!

“Eight is Enough”

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

I always appreciate when people take the extra lunge to get their message across in an interesting way. And with the election just weeks away, I’ve seen two recent examples using political hooks. First was the homeless man at a stoplight in Marina Del Rey holding a sign that said, “Obama Needs Change…And So Do I.” I had to hand it to him—the respect, I mean.

The second is this poster duo decorating a store window in the West Village:

Sending a clever message in the West Village

You can listen to Obama say that eight years of the Bush White House is enough—or you can let little Nicholas send the subliminal message from the Bradford House in his own innocent way. There’s a plate of homemade wishes on the kitchen windowsill, and eight is enough…

Kudos and thanks to New York City graphic designer and friend Lisa Kay for snapping the shot!

10 Things All Singles Must Do!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Here, a checklist of experiences to try before settling down. By Amy Spencer

This article is currently published on Match.com’s online dating and relationship advice magazine at Happenmag.com

1. Travel alone. Whether you’re trying to find your way through the Paris Metro or the London Underground, haggling over a painting in Mexico or choosing where to bed down in the Badlands, traveling by yourself builds a confidence you simply can’t get any other way. In an unfamiliar place, you have to make decisions by yourself, for yourself every day, which will build a self-reliance you’ll always treasure—even when you become part of a twosome.

2. Wallow in the ache of a broken heart. Oh, the pain. The agony. The pints of Ben & Jerry’s in front of the cable TV. Yep, getting dumped is beyond awful, but guess what? It’s the only way that you’ll develop the empathy you’ll need to be a better partner in a relationship. Because if you’re sensitive to the grief someone else has caused you, you’re less likely to do the same to anyone else. So, consider this painful milestone a lesson in karma that’ll serve you well as you travel through your dating days.

3. Spend a weekend with a married couple your age. On lonely nights, it’s common for single folk to envision marriage as a cozy scene from a J. Crew catalog. But spend 48 hours with a real couple and you’ll learn that in between the snuggling and pet names comes growling, bickering, silent treatments and maybe even a slammed door or two before they ultimately compromise. It will show you what married life is like, warts and all, so you won’t over-idealize the two-becomes-one phenomenon again.

4. Don’t come home all night. That’s right, wild thing. Crash on a friend’s couch, take your friends up on that offer of a last-minute trip… Once you have a mate, you can’t just take off on your own without explanation. And, truthfully, you won’t want to. So if you don’t have someone you have to call and check in with every few hours, take this opportunity to check out!

5. Stand up for a cause you care about. Whether you volunteer to help register voters for the next election (why not start early?) or convince your neighborhood or apartment complex to start recycling, get fired up over an issue when you have the time to devote to it. It will remind you that while, yes, finding your soul mate is pretty darn important, there are other issues at stake in the world that could use your help. And besides, the big-heartedness you’ll be cultivating is very attractive.

6. Have a real adventure. Learn to fly a plane, surf some big waves, or start your own business. Give yourself a high by doing something just for you, just for the experience—without having someone at home worrying about you or nagging you not to. Oh, and one more gift with purchase: Think about how much fun you’ll have telling your next date about your daring experience.

7. Learn how to take care of yourself. Being solo shouldn’t keep you from cooking for yourself, so learn how to make an impressive meal for one (even if it’s mac and cheese with your own three-cheese spin). While you’re at it, learn how to back up your computer hard drive and sew on replacement buttons. You’ll feel strong and self-sufficient—and you’ll be well armed with skills to share when you are in a relationship.

8. Buy something hugely impractical just because you love it. Once you’re in a relationship, you’ll start thinking about your partner before you purchase pricey items—not just “Will he or she hate it?” but “Is this where I want to be putting my money if we’re saving for a wedding?” The single life means a single bank account and an excuse to blow a wad of cash without (some of the) guilt. So, make yourself happy and buy something you crave, whether it’s an expensive vintage movie poster or a macked-out mountain bike.

9. Develop a hobby. Learn to woodwork, play acoustic guitar, speak French, DJ on turntables, or make digital short films for fun. Of course you can (and should) still have hobbies when you’re dating someone, but your solo time is prime time to devote yourself to something that makes life more interesting for you—and makes you more interesting to others.

10. Be completely, utterly, wholly single for at least three months. Hop-scotching from one relationship to the next can do you a disservice. Why? Because you’re never more ripe for self-reflection than when you’re on your own—and the more you know yourself, the more likely you are to find someone who’s right for the real you.

Amy Spencer writes about relationships and other topics for Glamour, Maxim, Real Simpleand Cosmopolitan magazines. She personally swears by all of the above—though she admits to being a little too chummy with number 8 on the list.

You can also link directly to this article on Happen.com, where you can find lots more of my dating advice:

Happen Magazine: 10 Things All Singles Must Do

Giada de Laurentiis in Page Six Magazine

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

For my cover story on Giada (featuring fashion photos of her, and shots with her family), you can also go straight to the source at: Giada de Laurentiis in Page Six Magazine

           Page Six Magazine, September 28, 2008

Page Six Magazine, September 28, 2008

Giada De Laurentiis has led a lush life, with her idyllic childhood in Italy, family connections in Hollywood, success as a brand-name chef and happiness as a wife and mother. Just don’t call her “food porn.”

“Porn? I’m not doing porn! What the hell are people talking about?” Giada De Laurentiis is sipping an iced coffee at the Catch restaurant in Santa Monica’s Casa del Mar Hotel, and attempting to deny her place as the resident Food Network seductress. The mission seems pretty futile. With her petite 5´3″ figure enveloped in a slinky gray dress paired with silver gladiator sandals, her “food porn” sex appeal—praised in men’s magazines like Details and Esquire since her TV debut six years ago—is obvious. And Giada’s silky, long brown hair, wide, gleaming smile and, well, décolletage didn’t exactly stop two of her cookbooks from climbing to the top of the New York Times bestseller list in 2005 and 2006.

But the TV chef will at least cop to the unique brand of sensuality that made Everyday Italian, her first show, an instant hit. “Granted, I don’t wear the highest [necklines].…” Giada nods to her fan-favorite cleavage as she says this. And it’s not just her bare flesh that’s so suggestive—it’s her food, too. “The way we shot close-ups, I just wanted the food to look beautiful. I thought that’s what Americans loved about Italy—that it is so sensual and romantic. [It’s not] PBS-style cooking. Lidia Bastianich, sorry, but [she’s] kind of boring. I mean, I love Lidia, but you can fall asleep watching her. And Mario Batali? I love Mario to death…but he’s not romantic or sensual. Those are the things I bring to the table.”

Does she ever. While the Food Network recently halted production on Everyday Italian after six years (a decision she is happy with, because “It was getting a little boring”), her new show, Giada at Home, on which she’ll prepare meals for family and friends in a cozy setting, debuts October 18. Her fourth cookbook, Giada’s Kitchen, hits shelves September 30. Her other new project is daughter Jade, who was born in April and whom Giada describes as “just a peanut.”

Food and family have always been important for the 38-year-old chef. Giada’s grandfather, film producer Dino De Laurentiis, commandeered movies like Federico Fellini’s La Strada, Barbarella and the 1976 King Kong remake. From the 1940s until the ’70s, he produced 150 films from Rome, where Giada spent her early years. (Giada and her three younger siblings took their mom’s maiden name after their parents divorced.) She remembers cooking with Dino and says he planted the seed that cooking was a good way to spend a life. “We kids would hang out in the kitchen. [Dino] would have plates of salami and parmesan cheese, and we would break pieces off and eat while he prepared dinner.” Or he would create Italian desserts like tiramisu, and “I would help dip the cookies in espresso,” says Giada, adding “I think that’s where the [cooking] spark came from early on.”

Culinary fire duly lit, Giada’s family moved to be with Dino in New York when she was 8, to an apartment overlooking Central Park, but it wasn’t exactly an Italian version of Eloise at the Plaza. “I went to school [in Manhattan] and it was awful because I didn’t speak English,” Giada says, but she has much happier memories of “Central Park and ice-skating in winter” as well as her favorite NYC indulgence, street-cart pretzels. “I don’t know if it’s because they’re sitting next to hot dogs and roasted chestnuts and the smokiness is soaking in, but there’s one cart on 55th and Fifth that has the best freaking pretzels.”

A year after the Big Apple, the family followed Dino again, in 1979, to Beverly Hills. That transition did not go any easier, and Giada remembers being teased for her name. “I was very different,” she says. “All I ever wanted was to [have a name like] Mary. These days it’s cool to be ethnic and to be different, but when I was a kid, it was not cool—at all.” Her family’s culinary prowess didn’t help things. “My friends would come over [for dinner] and my mom would make crepes with eggs, stuffed with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and spinach. And they’d be like, ‘What is this?'” It was an experience she’d relive years later with her husband, Todd Thompson, to whom she’s been married for five years. “In the beginning he’d look at me and go, ‘Is that eggs? Why am I having eggs for dinner?'”

In 1996, after getting her undergraduate degree in social anthropology from UCLA, Giada took her family traditions to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Two years later she returned to California to work in the kitchens of the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills, and then as a caterer, food stylist and private chef—appropriately for her background, her first client was director Ron Howard.

She insists, though, that she never wanted any part of Hollywood, and is, in fact, shy, despite her open, smiling way on TV. “It’s funny—my husband will be like, ‘You’re so loud on set, and then you get into public and you’re just this little mouse.’ I’m actually a very shy person, which is why I always chose to be in the kitchen. You can make people happy and entertain them, without really being there,” she says, laughing. “You can make a very short appearance [in the dining room] and then say, ‘I’ve got something on the stove, gotta go!’ ”

That defense mechanism was tested when, in 2001, Giada and her family were featured in Food & Wine magazine. A Food Network executive called soon after, saying he’d seen the article and wanted Giada to make a demo tape. She turned down the offer immediately. “My whole family is in the movie business,” she says (in addition to Dino, her aunt is also a producer and her late grandmother was an actress in Europe). “If I wanted to be in front of the camera, I had opportunities to do that.” Still, the TV exec pushed until sherelented. Wanting to keep things casual, she had her brother film her “making my mother’s pasta with béchamel sauce. And that’s how Everyday Italian was born.”

And while that life-changing adventure is over, her relationship with husband Todd, a fashion designer for Anthropologie, is going strong. They met through mutual friends in 1990. She was 19, and he was 27 and a budding womenswear designer. As a result, Giada claims to have helped launch the slip dress trend that dominated the ’90s. “I was looking for slip dresses and couldn’t find any. Betsey Johnson was the only one making

them. I said to Todd, ‘Slip dresses are going to be huge.’ So he started making them and sold them to Anthropologie, and it’s been 12 years now [that he’s been working there].” Thirteen years after they met, the couple finally tied the knot in 2003. Why wait so long? “I never cared about marriage. I was more worried about working and really didn’t think I’d have kids,” she says. “Then Todd turned 40 and I guess he thought to himself, ‘I think I’d like to marry Giada.’ ” (Wisely, he chose the nostalgic route to her heart, proposing in Central Park over her beloved pretzels.) And just as Giada changed her mind about marriage, she also shed her notions on motherhood.

Hoping to instill an appreciation for her home country in her child (Giada means “jade” in Italian), the chef sings Jade the Italian lullabies her mother crooned to her. And her husband has plans to mix his own family traditions into the pot. Giada rolls her eyes and laughs. “He will always tell the story of how his grandmother would take him to McDonald’s and Burger King. And he says, ‘I can’t wait to take Jade.'”

Even so, Jade seems bound to pick up her mom’s passion for homemade food. Because no matter what people think, Giada’s going to continue to show off the sensual side of it. “I want the food to look beautiful, [for the viewer] to get really close to that beet and see the salt and the herbs that have been chopped into it,” she says. “It is a bit…pornographic.” Still, this Italian has nothing on the Brits. “I remember watching Nigella [Lawson] before I had a show, and she put an asparagus in her mouth, and, I mean, the way she sucked on that asparagus, I thought…who does that?”

My Trivial Flight…That Wasn’t

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a recent daytime Delta flight from Los Angeles to New York City, I was thrilled to find that our seats were outfitted with individual video screens. Hoorah. Well, the thrill only lasted until the staff announced that the movies and cable shows we wanted to watch (i.e. anything that wasn’t a sports news show or a travel commercial) could be purchased with a credit card for six dollars. Six dollars for a 5′ x 7″ movie with crappy headphones in an uncomfortable seat with no popcorn. I felt a little ripped off and as much as I wanted to pass the time on the flight watching a movie, I felt like I had to send a message. It’s the principle of the thing, I thought, as I often did. What with all the recent price hikes for checked bags and surfboards, not to mention charges for cheap plane snacks, I decided to stand up for passengers rights by sitting down and suffering through the ride without a movie.

But I was bored. Really bored. Many of the passengers on the flight were typing quietly on laptops and taking notes in the margins of manuscripts. Me, I don’t work so well on planes. The seats cramp my creativity as much as my legs. So I started pushing a few buttons on the video screen to see what free options were offered. There, under the “Games” button was a free choice of an “In Flight Trivia Challenge.” I like challenges, I thought. I pushed the button and up came Question 17, which threw me. Why weren’t they starting me on Question 1? But I had no time to analyze it, because they were asking me an aviation question: Something about the Spruce Goose. Hmm, gosh…maybe “C?”

Seconds later, the answer popped up. Oh cool, I was right. Then another screen popped up, revealing that my correct answer moved me up in “ranking” from 8th to 7th, just behind HUGO Z and MUTE. Wait, who the heck are…

Ooh, quick, next question. Something about a record-breaking baseball player, which I got wrong. Luckily, everyone else did, too. Including N.E.R.D in 14A at the top of the ranking, BOBBBB in 24D and HUGO Z in 29E. Our standings remained the same. And it was only then that I realized that in flight trivia didn’t just mean answering trivia while in flight, but that the trip promoted, basically, in-flighting, a battle between eight curious passengers—oh look, another seat joined in, make that nine—stuffed into seats around me all over the plane.

So you can see...a trivia winner on another day

So you can see...a trivia winner on another day

I was so thrown by the passenger v. passenger concept—and so busy trying to catch a glimpse of the guy in seat 14A—that I got Question 20 wrong, too. Then, up came a big blue screen that read, simply, “Congratulations…N.E.R.D IS THE WINNER!” According to the rankings, me, “AMYYYY”, ended the game in next-to-last place. 

Seconds later, the screen announced that a new game was going to begin. Now we’re talkin’. I knew the lay of the flight, I knew the rules; I felt hopeful and ready. And I was starting fresh from question one. I’d be lying if I say I didn’t shift up in my seat, straighten my back and start to get a little serious. This wasn’t just any old trivia game I’d play in the backseat of my parents car. This was a contest among adults flying from Los Angeles to New York. And my seat number was on display, here. I had to save face.

For a minute, I appreciated how bonded I felt to these fellow passengers. Before this, I’d only bonded with one person after I (seated at the window) and my row-mate (on the aisle) realized for the first time we’d have an empty seat between us. You know how that goes: As the the staff was about to close the big door,  we looked at each other and smiled. “This would be the first lucky thing that’s happened to me all day,” he said, laughing. I crossed two fingers on both hands and held them up, waving them for dramatic effect. “This is for both of us,” I said, laughing back. Minutes later, the door shut, and we stretched out and smiled again.

I liked having someone on the plane, even one person, I felt connected with in some way. It made the flight something more than the mechanical, do-it-with-your-eyes-closed journey it has become. It’s already so far from my memories taking a plane as a kid, when I’d pack for the flight two weeks ahead of time (and then wear my crappiest clothes so I wouldn’t disturb the folding). Then of course the staff on the plane would come around with plastic airplane wings, coloring books and crayons. Flying was one big family-fest. I’m not saying I’m a big fan of airplane conversation (in fact, I’m usually the first one to put on my headphones to discourage small talk). But I do like the feeling of feeling connected to my fellow passengers in some way, rather than all of us tuning each other out.

Okay, here we go. “Which organization is in charge of running the PGA Championship?” Among the choices was “The PGA Tour,” “The PGA of America,” and two more variations on the P, G and A. Hmmm, I took my time thinking about it, but I still got it wrong. (The PGA Tour, it turns out, does not run the championship; The PGA of America does.) 

Dang it, not a great start. Here I was, settling into feeling all sappy about the bonding I thought was going on, yet my blood pressure was rising with every question. Especially because I had just caught on that the strategy of the game wasn’t just about getting the question right. It was about getting it right quickly. There was a timer that counted down the points from 600 to 50: Answer as fast as possible and you can earn 450 or 500 points; wait and think about it a minute, and you’re down to a measly 100 points for the correct answer.

Yep, fine, I’ve got it now, and here’s another question... A) Vietnam. Got it! And pretty quickly! Wow, 250 points. That’s not bad. But wait, N.E.R.D. in 14A got it right and got 600 points. Holy moly, he’s good. Still, I was only 350 points behind him.

I answered a question about Aviation as fast as I could. 300 points! N.E.R.D got it wrong, so I moved up two notches, right behind him. Something came up about a 50s singer I’d never heard of. I took a minute, took a guess and got 350 for it. Wow! I might be gaining on N.E.R.D.! I waited with excitement for the tally. N.E.R.D got it right. For 600 points. Damn you, N.E.R.D. We’d both gotten the last two questions right, yet I was hovering at 550 points, and he was soaring at 1200. There was SMARTIE was between us. And BOBBBB was close behind me.

Now of course, my pulse was racing, and my curiosity was killing me. The plane was as silent as ever, and yet 9 of us were battling it out on our video screens against one another. Who were they? Who was BOBBBB? And SMARTIE? And most important N.E.R.D.? I knew Pharrell Williams used the title for his hip hop group, which I happened to love. But for someone to know these answers and get them so quickly, he had to be decades older than a typical Pharrell Williams fan, didn’t he? So was this a computer nerd who listened to hip hop? Was there such a thing? My competition was about 12 seats ahead of me, and I was dying to get a good look. See, if I just sit up and crane my neck around the flight attendant the right way… Nope, no time. The questions were coming fast and furious.

“Hot-Air balloon.” Wrong. “3,475 miles.” Right. “1961.” Right again! The game went on like this for a dozen more questions. I got a bunch right for slowly increasing amounts of points; N.E.R.D got some right at 600, and the rest wrong at 0. By the time we reached the last stretch of the game, I was in second place right behind him. The questions now mattered more than ever.

“What kind of plane was the Enola Gay?” I skimmed the answers and chose quickly—B) a B-29—taking my best gut reaction guess. And the answer was…Thank God, got it!  That means 450 for me…0 for N.E.R.D. I moved up again. Another question earned me 450 and another 0 for N.E.R.D. Ha haaa, sucka! I was thrilled to imagine his face creasing in frustration at missing the question. But who the heck was he? Was he from Northern California, someone with a young son who chose the name? Someone in his 50s who’d been around for a while, who knew about Vietnam and the Wright Brothers and football players from the 70s? Luckily—A!—he didn’t know anything about cell reproduction.

But how in God’s name was he getting such high points? I tried to wiggle myself high enough to glimpse my competition again, to solve the mystery with one quick glance, but the next question was coming, and winning seemed far more important. So I readjusted in my seat, shoving the pillow I’d nabbed under my butt for maximum height and readiness. I rubbed my hands together, breathed deeply. I was focused and I was ready. The next question, about a physicist I’d never heard of, popped up. I guessed as fast as Amy-ly possible and…got it right. For 500 points! I was feeling great. If he got it wrong, this could put me ahead of N.E.R.D. And there he was…another 0! I was winning! Just a few questions to go and I was 150 points ahead of him. I was soaring. In a way that felt even higher than 30,000 feet.

He must be losing all concentration, I thought. Perhaps his son is next to him begging to guess. Or maybe he’s the one… And that’s when it hit me: That’s it! N.E.R.D wasn’t the Silicon Valley genius I’d made him out to be. He wasn’t a middle-aged expert in a few fields. He was just blind guessing as fast as he could. His 600-point tallies were the giveaway. The fact was, by the time you read the question, the points are already down to 550. Glance at the answers? You’re down to 500. The only way N.E.R.D was getting 600 for some and 0 for others is that he was blindly pressing letters without even reading the questions. And because the game only added points for correct answers—it didn’t subtract points for the wrong ones—he was free to guess away and still lead the pack.

It made me feel good at first—after all, I was actually getting these right because I had some knowledge of the information. All those years of school and Trivial Pursuit; all those years of listening to my dad talk about Boeing’s impact on Long Island while he took me flying in rented Cessnas and seaplanes; all those years spent visiting the Atomic Museum in Albequerque, and observatories in California. It was all building up to this moment. But the fact was, N.E.R.D was winning. No matter the rules, no matter the pride I had in playing the game fair and square in a battle of wits, he was using his system and beating us all.

Sure, he was gambling by stabbing blindly at the choices, because he would lose some of the questions altogether. But the ones he got right, he’d get right big. And it just might be enough to beat the rest of us, who were scoring 350 or 400 for a correct guess. But now, you see, knowing this, I was revved up and determined to beat him. This wasn’t just for my own satisfaction anymore. It was the principle of the thing.

Okay, N.E.R.D, I thought, you’re in for it. I readjusted the pillow under me and stared at the screen, breathing fast, my finger held aloft in wait over the video monitor. I’d figured out that the B answer was about a third down on the screen, so if I floated my finger around there, I’d minimize the lap-to-screen travel time that could cost me valuable points. I pulled my finger to my mouth and breathed on it quickly, in case the heat helped activate my answer any sooner. At this, my row-mate looked up from the paperwork spread out on his lap and smiled at me. I awkwardly grinned back. Just past him, on the aisle, a businessman was still typing in his computer. There were people on this plane doing serious work, dealing with things that mattered. And I was posed in front of a trivia game like an eight-year-old ready to poke someone’s eye out. I looked ridiculous. But I couldn’t worry about that. I didn’t have time! We were basically neck and neck on Question 18. My lead of 150 points didn’t mean much.

I did the calculations in my head: If he got them all, he’d win, end of story. If he blew one question and got the other two right, he’d get 1200, so I still had to get all three of mine right at more than 400 points a pop. And Question 18 was another Aviation question. Something about a jet engine.

I got it wrong. Crap. Crap. Crap. I bit my lip and waited, my brow furrowed, to see how N.E.R.D. did. It turned out he…missed it! He missed the question! I was still just a hair’s length ahead. Okay, come on, Amy. Be alert, be smart, be strong. I had to get both of these and he had to miss one.

Question 19 was about the muscles in the leg. I got it right. Again for 500 points! But…N.E.R.D got it right, too. Shoot, he’d gained on me. Now I was just 50 points ahead of him, with one question to go. I could still win, but I had to get this next question right. And I had to get it right for an impossible 600 points. 550 points would tie us, and I’d still feel good. But I wanted to win. I mean, I really really really wanted to win.

There were still nine of us playing, but the others didn’t matter now. Although I did wonder: Were they following the battle, too? Was it possible that BOBBBB was frustrated by N.E.R.D’s tactics? Had HUGO Z, who had fallen in the rankings, figured him out? Was SMARTIE kicking his or herself for not being able to beat him either? Thinking about the others planted in seats all around me, I felt a surge of responsibility. I wasn’t just doing this for me anymore; I was doing this for all of us. There was a whole group of bored flyers who’d pressed a button on their screen and started playing for fun, guessing wisely, limbering our way up the trivia ladder in small-point steps. I inhaled and thought about the films where the good guy football team takes the ball at the last down with 10 seconds to go, 6 points behind. This is for you guys, I thought. The Hail Mary pass, the moment the crowd would go wild. I was going to win this game and show N.E.R.D that honesty and integrity do prevail.

I got in position, my finger floating in the air halfway down the screen. Read fast, think fast. Ooh, here it is: “What do you get when you add all the numbers from 1-100?” Umm, umm, hell if I know, maybe…D) 5050. And then I waited…and waited…and…I got it! But I only got it for 500 points. Still, I got it right. This could be it. If N.E.R.D got it wrong, I could still win. I clenched my fists and smiled, bouncing in my seat. I didn’t care how childish I looked, or what my row-mate thought of me. This could be it. If N.E.R.D blew it, I would beat him by hundreds. I would win for us all!

The screen chugged away for a moment, adding, assessing, readying to tell us the winner. I willed the sight of my name. “AMYYYY” was going to win. I was ready for it. I held my breath.

Then the blue screen popped up with four simple words: “Congratulations…N.E.R.D. IS THE WINNER!” 

Nooooo! No. No. No. My heart sank. My posture followed. I’d let us all down: Me, HUGO Z, MUTE, BOBBBB, SMARTIE, the values of honesty and integrity. The blind-guesser in 14A had beaten us all. But he’d beaten me by only 50 points. 50 measly points. He’d guessed, and he’d won. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t play another game. I didn’t have an ounce of competition left in my body. And by the time the plane landed two hours later, I’m sorry to say, I forgot to look for N.E.R.D in seat 14A. As passengers stood up and stepped into the aisle to reach for their overhead bags, I struggled to figure out who’d been sitting where. I saw an older white-haired man and a young couple speaking Spanish. I saw a mother holding a baby, two dark-skinned kids in their 20s, and a guy with a handlebar mustache who looked like a mechanic in Texas.  I never found out who N.E.R.D was that day, and I will forever wonder. But even worse, all that bonding and connecting I’d thought I’d done that day felt hollow now. Not knowing who my fellow seat-contenders were left me feeling as disconnected as I had before I started the game. We were all headed toward baggage claim and going on with our lives off-flight, and the trivia game would soon feel as small as it sounded: trivial. 

On the way back, I played three in-flight trivia games in a row. N.E.R.D wasn’t on the plane. My will to win was gone. So I pulled out my credit card and swiped it through for a $6.00 movie. Screw principles. I just wanted to watch Made of Honor.