Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Belle de Jour's Ode to Malt!

Before Belle de Jour became the nom de plume of the famous British erotic author, the woman behind the legend wrote a fascinating article for a different blog describing how she became acquainted with whisky.

The article appeared in 2003, the same year that Brooke Magnanti turned her on-going work as a high-priced call-girl for a London escort service into Belle de Jour’s award-winning blog, and a string of best-selling books. The rest, as they say, is literary history.

Last year, Belle revealed she is actually “Dr.” Magnanti, of Bristol, England, a noted scientist. Brooke’s specialist areas are developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She has a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science and is now working at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health. She is currently part of a team researching the potential effects on babies of their mothers' exposure to toxic chemicals.

But, from 2003 to late 2004, Brooke worked as a prostitute via a London escort agency; she started blogging as Belle de Jour — named after the Buñuel film starring Catherine Deneuve as a well-to-do housewife who has sex for money because she’s bored — shortly into her career as a call girl, after an incident she thought funny enough to write down.

Brooke charged £300 an hour for her services, of which she got £200. The average appointment lasted two hours; she saw clients two or three times a week, “sometimes less, sometimes a great deal more,” she has said.

But, it is yet a somewhat different side of this complex and talented woman that takes center stage in the following article, although the same literary brilliance shines through. It was published for the online blog, Omnivore. The article appears in full below, or read it directly at the blog site.


October 20, 2003: Brooke likes a nip of the hard stuff.

The first time I met him, he was drinking whisky. A double of something on ice. When the barkeep presented the drink he dipped a finger in it, placing a drop behind each ear as women once did with perfume.

He asked what I was having. "Whatever you're having," I bluffed. He asked me how old I was. I told him, and he laughed, and bought me a soda.

Acquired taste worth acquiring? I'd never been with an older man. Soon after we were lovers. Twice my age, twice as big, educated and well-traveled. And he put back whisky like it was mother's milk.

Well, why not? He was scion of a family where Jack Daniel's was practically secreted by the womenfolk. Bourbon and whisky: given at every holiday, drunk at every meal, the tawny stuff that kept them going and brought the day to a close. The Johnnie Walker blends, based on Cardhu single malt. The legendary B-21 liquor store on US 19 employed more people than lived in town. An off-license on the border of Florida and Georgia, because the state north of us was dry.

We drove to Panama City to sit on a particular beach, drink a particular drink. I was embarrassed by my unconscious reaction to alcohol: wrinkled nose, curling lips. But I loved the way it warmed from the inside and the way people watched me as I tasted it. I was still five years below the drinking age.

He had the best bar game: pick any three whiskys or bourbons from the bar. Pour a measure of each. Bet you twenty bucks he could tell them apart.

I learned. The shape of the glass matters. The temperature of the glass matters. The measure, the pour, the ritual. Swirling it round, a caramel wave of liquor clinging to the inside of the glass. It retracts slowly like the damp line of the falling tide on sand.

Ice in that? Water? Not for me, thanks. A few years later, sitting on a friend's sofa. A tumbler of Laphroaig, my first sip of the harsh Islay malts. Like starting all over again. But the feeling afterward - not drunkenness, not lightheaded. The opposite. Grounded, focused, full.

One year I spent more money on whisky than on rent. Two vintage bottles in Scotland, dozens of nights out, hundreds of nights in. A miraculous pub in Flagstaff, Arizona. A neighbour who worked bar at a hotel. No wrinkled nose any more. It tasted of melted butter. Golden syrup. An acquired taste worth acquiring.

I moved to Scotland and swam in the thickly peaty rivers Findhorn and Spey. They tasted like sweet, aged whisky. I drank up honey-colored light. Scared off the cold of the evenings with a glass of malt. Sat up on the longest night of the year with a friend's father, drinking and playing the mandolin. The sky at midnight was the color of barley.

In London one evening for a date with a woman and her boyfriend. I was early, they were late. Waited at the bar drinking a single malt finished in a rum cask while the underpaid, overcool staff looked me over in pity. Ordered another and the couple whisked in, silver and scented and fabuloso. Later, when I'd made her come twice before dessert, the waiters couldn't fill my glass fast enough.

But you never forget your first. I never did. Years after we were no longer lovers, a decade after putting a glass in my hand, he was married. At the wedding his family and friends eyed me suspiciously. 'How grown-up you are now,' they said. I smiled, pinned a corsage to someone's lapel. Who ever said heartbreak is a cliche? When he said his vows I felt a spasm in my chest. Afterward I drank long and hard. The taste will always remind me of him.

What does it taste of? Like mother's milk, I say.”

Pretty great, huh? If you want more, read Brooke’s blog. While you’re at it, do yourself a favor and read all of her amazing, unforgettable books. Her bestselling book from last year, Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men, provides some wonderfully written relationship advice to women about men.

After that book appeared to widespread acclaim, the author promised a sequel for men about women was in the works. Well gentlemen, soon it will be your turn to hear her advice, using the same literate, amusing and entertaining style that has delighted old and new fans for years – but not just yet. It’s scheduled to be published in May.

Her fifth book, Belle's Best Bits: A London Call Girl Reveals Her Favourite Adventures, was released in late 2009 and is widely available across the pond and at Amazon’s UK division.

Here is a description of the book, kindly provided by Orion Books:

“From the summer of 2003 Belle charted her day-to-day adventures on and off the field in a frank, funny and award-winning diaries. She was the first to reveal (among other things) how she became a working girl, what it feels like to do it for money, and where to buy the best knickers for the job. She also discusses her efforts to change from 'working girl' to working girl, whilst sneaking off to visit clients in her lunch hour. From debating the literary merits of Martin Amis with naked clients to smuggling whips into luxury hotels, this is a no-holds barred account of the high-class sex-trade, and an insight into the secret life of an extraordinary woman.”

In addition to Guide to Men and Belle’s Bits, her other books are: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, September 2005; The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl, May 2007; and Playing the Game, June 2009.

Her writing has been so popular that it became the basis for the international hit TV series, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billie Piper. It can be seen on Showtime in the U.S., and the first two seasons are available on DVD. The third season premiered in February, and was previewed by a special 30-minute interview of Brooke by Billie.

— The Curator

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