(Translated from Slovenian.)
November 1st, 1993
It’s November in Paris. The inky clouds descend, leaving a steely sky in their wake. Everyone complains. The dreary cold reminds me of home, which doesn’t help me forget that I left architecture school to pursue a modeling career, pawning my protractor for a tube of purple lipstick, a Ted Nugent cassette, and a ride to the border on an ox cart.
Today: another casting, another rejection. The only real job I’ve booked since leaving my homeland was a shoot promoting Jurassic Park ankle socks for the Oriental Trading catalog. It paid in photos to which I said no thank you.
My agent keeps telling me I have to learn to “move better.” But isn’t the task of a model to be totally frozen in place, like starched clothes on a hanger, a Styrofoam mannequin, or a statue of Stalin?
Still, I must persist. I walk to Place de la Concorde to watch the mimes. A model needs to communicate my agent says. She needs to bring herself to the photograph. These all sound like dangerous games. In my country we were taught to hide personality to avoid deportation to Siberia.
I watch the mime for clues. His ample face paint protects and accentuates his features, makes him attractive. As we say in Slovenia: keep applying layers of makeup and plastic surgery until a shepherd would choose you over his sexiest lamb.
The mime smartly put out a box for tips. Exchanging his skills for cash, capitalism in action. It’s why I came to the West. But what else do I need to learn? I thought high cheekbones and a visible rib cage were all I needed to attract monetary success in the modeling industry.
The mime pretends to pick a flower. Gives it to someone and acts bashful, finally getting a kiss. He then pretends like he’s falling in love. Well, I can see how that can be a useful skill.
The modeling path is hard. There must be an easier way that I’m not seeing. How can I become an overnight success and rewrite my history to one that is more flattering?
There has to be another way. There has to be another way.
Right, Dear Diary, there has to be another way to become a famous model?
I will find him.
November 20th, 1993
Winter is upon us. No modeling work, but I found a job at Les Deux Magots café.
It at least pays. And keeps me busy and away from thinking, a nasty preoccupation, in Slovenia a banish-able offense.
The French don’t bother you too much, but it’s the American tourists who make me work hard. Always more ketchup this, Sweet’n Lo that. They laugh cruelly when I say I never heard of a food they call “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”
I try to make joke: can you believe we’re lucky enough to have butter that’s not rancid?
Undaunted, they press on. Their optimistic insistence that there exists butter that is not butter, but tastes so much like butter, that you cannot believe that it is, not in fact, butter gives me a vague hope for the future.
I linger at their tables. It is excites me to see the Americans in their Levis and shirts in splendidly muted colors with the same three letters across the chest. It took me a long time to decipher their meaning. After an evening listening to Ted and dreaming of a better life I intuitively uncovered the solution: G.A.P. = Greatest American Poontang.
If I only I could meet an American to teach me to be as arrogant!
December 2nd, 1993
I finally got a job, modeling for a painter. If I can’t get in magazines, then I’ll at least become famous on canvas. Like we say in Slovenia: it doesn’t matter where the money comes from as long as the food doesn’t have worms.
Here’s how it happened. I was trying to comprehend the complaints of an American tourist, I think about how our portion sizes were not large enough to leave him feeling nauseous, when I noticed a painter outside. He considered the location, made a decision, and set up his easel.
Every day he returned and painted in front of our café. Then it struck me; like my grandmother always told me: where there are men idling there are business opportunities. So each day for one week at three in the afternoon, when the light is at it’s most flattering, I passed him a stale croissant. Finally on the last day he looked at me and said, “Can I paint you, then decide how much to pay you once we’re done?”
I went to his studio the next day. After I unrobed he asked me to “act happy.” I stood there in confusion. He became less cryptic. “Let happiness come through your facial expressions.” I found that odd, but as I’m a professional I gave him “happy,” channeling the look of ecstasy when my first cousin found the bone six months after losing his pinky in the combine.
Fun and merriment must have shot out of my eyes right onto the canvas because within an hour the painter threw his paintbrush against the wall to end the session.
He paid me a few francs and said we should definitely, totally, absolutely do something again. I haven’t left the apartment in two weeks in case he calls. I think he must be busy finishing our painting.
Plus, it’s Christmas season. I bet he’s tied up planning his Christmas decorations, doing something really Avant-garde and cutting edge. Who knows, maybe he’s going to paint his Christmas trees red???
April 13th, 1994
Ciao ciao! It’s spring and I am in Milan.
Today I got a job modeling gloves at a prison construction trade show and feel invigorated.
My roommate and I pooled our extra lire and bought a mini-cannoli. I let him take an extra bite. As the Slovenian saying goes, when you don’t have money for food give the men your breast milk.
I feel like I am on a roll. For the past few weeks I’ve been going to fittings for the Greatest European Mega International International fashion show in someplace called Little Saint James Island.
I am not allowed to reveal who is the gentleman who owns the island and is financing the show. In Slovenia we say: writing down a secret is the same as feeding the terminally ill – foolish.
All I will tell you is that his initials are J.E. and his last name rhymes with preteen. I hear when he gives you final approval you get to go to the island on his private plane. He’s so generous. Back home it’s the responsibility of employees to carry their employer’s carriage on their back, to and from work, even if the local wolf pack is on a killing spree.
In the meantime, the designers can tell I’m serious and have been offering me BIG opportunities. In one couture collection I’ll be dressed as a mermaid lobster. In a second I’ll push a wheel as I walk inside it down the ramp — a metaphor for the rat race. And in a third I’ll be carted down the runway in a wheelbarrow and will be wearing Velveteen jumpsuit and wrapped in multi-colored flower-shaped Christmas lights. How chic!
To pass the time before the big show I have been reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book about the Gulag labor camps. Learning about the depths of denial, especially how humans can turn a blind eye to suffering, keeps my hopes up.
December 23rd, 1995
I’m in Slovenia for Christmas before the big move.
I knew it was time for me to bring my talents to the United States when I graced the covers of Jana, Knitting Daily, and Modern Flyfisher.
Excited. Excited. Excited.
It all started right after I didn’t get final approval for the Mega Asshole Fashion Show on Stupid Shit Island because, at 24, I was twelve years too old. I should have known when the first question on the casting form was if I was accompanied by my nanny.
My birthday was shortly after my rejection. On that day I vowed to prove that 25 is the new 15!
Consequently, I met a man named Paolo at a hand-modeling gig for WC Net, Italian toilet bowl cleaner. I auditioned for him with a few other girls at his apartment and the next morning he said he gets what I offer enough to be able to represent me to his people in the Big Apple!!!
Paolo sees big things for me in the United States like … involving … including …
You know, he doesn’t say specifically anything. He just keeps saying “bella, bella, grande bella” and absentmindedly moving his hand past my butt while he blows anchovy breath in my face. He can afford fish, so he must know what he’s doing.
But does he?
When I asked my mom if I could completely trust a moderately successful middle-aged fat Italian man with my future she just turned her eyes skyward and said, “TRUST?! You’ve spent too much time in the West!”
So off I go to the United States — America or Burst!*
I’m optimistic that my future will be filled with ample modeling work amongst abundant Sweet’n Lo, Levis, imitation butter, and crowds of demanding, rude Americans.
My ambitions are high and my heart is true.
Mark my words, Dear Diary, I will be the next G.A.P.
*Shout-out to Perfect Strangers.
Lauren LoGiudice is a writer living in New York.