Friday, October 27, 2006

Palm Springs Wednesday 3: Empress Arianna

On Wednesday evening, after traffic had resumed on Palm Canyon Drive, the Peppertree Bookstore hosted one of their many book signings.

Arianna Huffington was flogging her latest, clumsily titled book, "On Becoming Love, Work, and Life" which is sort of a Gail Sheehy like inspirational tome on how women can become, well, "fearless."

Arianna is a fascinating character who has reinvented herself more times than Madonna while somehow staying true to herself.

While Arianna composed herself in the back of the store, the manager of the place addressed the crowd in front with upcoming events, including the news that the previously announced Peter Falk signing would be at the La Quinta store instead of the Palm Springs location.

When the crowd groaned, he added, "But Cloris Leachman is here tonight to see Arianna," and Cloris gamely stood up and waved while the crowd applauded.

The manager continued with his introduction of Arianna, giving a quick bio of her birth in Greece, her teen years at Cambridge on the debating society, and her young adulthood in London where she was the much younger lover of Bernard Levin, a famous British journalist who she met on a classical music BBC game show called "Face the Music" (click here for an interesting Wikipedia article). When Bernard wouldn't marry her, she moved to New York in 1980 where she wrote a couple of bestselling books about Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso.

In 1985, at the Getty's mansion in San Francisco of all places, she met her (closeted) bisexual, multimillionare husband Michael Huffington and proceeded to guide him through the thickets of politics where he became a Republican congressman from Santa Barbara before losing a close race for U.S. Senator against the odious Dianne Feinstein in 1994. Arianna got to know all the players in the Newt Gingrich Republican revolution, and she tried to play the game of being a right-wing spokeswoman, but you could tell her heart was never really in it, particularly after pairing up with/against Al Franken for a Comedy Central look at political conventions.

Her recent apostasy and current revulsion towards the right-wing scum that have been leading our country for some time is genuine and deeply informed. The fact that she's the only famous person of her generation who actually understands how to use the internet for self-publishing (click here for the Huffington Post) also makes her very powerful.

She started the evening with a speech about "fearlessness" which was boilerplate, with a few well-used anecdotes, but like all really great speakers she refused to be bored herself so she improvised and made it interesting. Most of the audience was there to hear her because they were admirers of her political writing, so the self-help spiel was rather absurd, especially since most of the "fearlessness" anecdotes seemed to revolve around female self-image issues. This seemed rather a cheat since Miss Arianna was looking ridiculously fabulous at age 56.

When she spoke out against routine plastic surgery, it was an uncomfortable moment because many in the audience had obviously had extensive work done. Still, Arianna confessed at one point that her Greek mother had moved into the house after Arianna's divorce from Huffington, "and she's decided she doesn't care anymore so she's going the kaftan route," while one of Arianna's daughters had battled anorexia. "Nobody knows the answers." It made her human.

So did her sense of humor. She started the evening telling of a rumor somebody had heard that she was actually born in Fresno, and that the whole Greek accent thing was a complete ruse to make her seem more exotic.

Things got more interesting when she took questions, where she gave smart, thoughtful answers to people. When asked about Hilary, she went back to the "fearless" theme and said, "Look, Hilary Clinton should not be co-sponsoring a flag burning bill. It's inauthentic and doesn't fool anyone. I don't honestly think Hilary really thinks flag burning is a major issue in this country and I doubt if anyone else believes her either. It's nothing but triangulation, and it's fearful and stupid. People are desperately looking for leadership right now that is NOT fearful."

The Huffington Post has way too many mediocre writers churning out boring opinions but Arianna herself has come into her own as a political polemicist. She's easily the best writer on her own omnibus blog. As she stated during the evening, "The Iraq invasion was simply wrong and immoral, and everything else stems from that." She's been clear on that issue years before everyone else, and she deserves all the credit in the world.

When somebody asked her about a female president, and possible impeachment, and a possible President Pelosi, she paused and thought about it. "Well, I guess that would be one way to have a female president. But in truth it doesn't matter what gender the president is right now, we just need a GOOD one. And if it is a President Pelosi, we have to hold her feet to the fire. Our presence in Iraq is wrong and we need to be out of there."


Cranky said...

Indeed, Arianna never was a good fit as a conservative. When her husband was running for Senate in 1994 I met her at a Republican state convention. She was pouring daiquiris in their hospitality suite using two hands, one for alcoholic and the other for non-alcoholic. Only the journalists were choosing alcoholic, which made her laugh. When I asked her why she wasn't running for office instead of her (incredibly boring) husband, she waved her hand at the room full of polyester-clad born-agains and said, "I don't know any of these people."

sfmike said...

Dear Cranky: That's a great Arianna anecdote. I think she has a slightly better knowledge of "these people" than in those days and she's better for the wisdom, though she does run around on her own private jet which tends to preclude certain kinds of empathy/solidarity. She's an absolutely electrifying character in person, however, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

cookiecrumb said...

Private jet? Ew. Didn't know about that...
It's so nice that you both have good feelings about her otherwise. I like her, too. (But I hated the Picasso book.)

sfmike said...

Dear cookiecrumb: Her Maria Callas book, though not terrible, was basically just a classy version of a Kitty Kelley biography.

Still, Arianna is the interesting stregha right now, and her heart/energy really is in the right place, private planes notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

michael! keep your wits about you. i don't despise this person or whatever it is you once stated, but i do see a very smart, savvy, slippery person with a genius for self promotion. if that's what you mean by "staying true to herself", then so be it. that driving force of self promotion comes across more strongly than content, to me. we know generally left wing people are sexier -- even if the ship is sinking, we know we'd rather party down on that boat. i'll give her credit for choosing humor and humanity. but i don't think there's a lot of there there. some people are just exhibitionists by nature.

and is it right for people with mediterranean complexions which age fabulously to judge how less fortunate folk choose to deal with aging?

lots of love from me here,

Kit Stolz said...

Nice report--I especially like the pictures of Arianna waiting behind the scenes.

I enjoy Arianna, and am grateful she created the Huffington Post, to counteract the hideous Drudge Report, but outside of a sense of humor and a desire for the spotlight, does she really have a core self to be true to? I'm not sure. To me she fits the Hofstadter description of a celebrity--somebody who's famous for being famous--all too well.

Anonymous said...

I DISAGREE! Arianna Huffington does seem (as I don't know her personally) to have a "core to be true to", as you say. Who among us could possibly judge that facet of another person anyway. I would guess anyone who have loved, lost, loved, lost again, has a child(children), moved oceans away from their home and had their mother live with them would have this "core" to which you refer.

However, as just a simple reader/viewer of this thing entertainment called politics/pop culture/life, she does appear to be both quite well informed and sincere in her opinions.-A simple southern girl

janinsanfran said...

Fascinating. I have never taken Arianna at all seriously, but if you like her, I'll at least look.