Love in Time of Corona

… between Amsterdam, New York and Milford, PA



At our candy-land bachelor pad in Miami Beach we have TV. I did not have  TV for years.  So I wanna know; WTF is up with all those shows that pitch women against each other, like portray us all as super bitches, dumb and out to get each other?  Like we’re always, always ready for the kill…

I have been shaped by women. My womentors. First my mother. I am who I am because of my mother. And then several of her coolest friends. I always have women crushes on women who inspire me, women who are so cool that their influence somehow changes me, makes me bigger and better and more fearless…

I don’t see women as my competition and I’m always taken aback when I’m seen as a nemesis. In the past nine months I’ve made great new women friends. All awesome in their own way, like Esther, Jody, Francesca, Sheila, Ineke, Iran, Sam, Suzy, Zaha, Petra, Lily, Victoria, Nancy, Astrid, Heather – all fabulous women.

My editor friend (and #1 writing mentor) Amy Ferris recently asked me to write a piece about an important woman-mentor in my life. The first person who came to mind was, of course, my mother. Gail came into my mind next. Gail is my NYC mentor. So this is what I wrote:

Gail Bruce at her Ramscale Loft

“When I was in my thirties I did not see myself as a mentor, I just saw you as a lifetime friend.” Gail Bruce says twenty-seven years after we met.

I was mesmerized when I first saw Gail. She was awesome, like perfect, fifteen years older than me, tall and elegant . A successful painter then, but she’d also been a top model who worked with Dianna Vreeland ( one of her mentors) and an actress, after being discovered by Howard Hawks. But what touched me most was her kindness, her sweetness. She immediately made anyone feel loved and seen. I wanted to be  bigger just to fit the way she treated me.

My mother never perceived other women as a threat and she was the first to teach me that women could be role models. Maybe she should’ve been a bit more careful since one of her best friends took off with her husband, but my mother even saw this as a blessing in disguise. Growing up as a teenager during the Second World War she became strong  in the face of adversity.  Her husband, my father, died five years after they met and even then she  taught me  that change, however painful, eventually leads to growth.

In the late sixties my mother got into American feminism through writers like Erica Jong and Marilyn French and had an epiphany when she realized that she was part of something larger – the cultural changes that allowed women to see that they were not alone, that the expectations and traditional roles they played all lead to the same question: Who are we beyond mothers, wives, and caregivers? With this realization she impressed on me the importance of independence and  a career that I loved.

By seventeen I had my own apartment in Amsterdam. I studied art and made money as a fashion model. Next I moved to Paris, then Australia, and I ended up at the Royal College of Art in London. I talked to my mother every day and her endless praise  propelled me into becoming a successful fashion designer.

When I lived and modeled In Paris I looked for role models but only found fierce competition.  I was too naïve to realize that the beauty business operated on the principle of divide and conquer  to sell endless products into the female void of insecurity. How could I find a mentor if most women did not trust models? I had to find someone who was bigger than all that. Meanwhile I had crushes. There was Zandra Rhodes, the outrageous designer. I tried to be her acolyte but she just needed a body to fit her collections. There was Mick Lindberg, an ex-model who had crafted a life so exquisitely perfect that I both crumpled in her shadow and aspired to be like just like her and there was Jenny, the ex-wife of my boyfriend, who left behind a trail of such enormous accomplishment that I was jealous and inspired all at once.

Then I met Gail. Gail was from New York. She came to stay in our tiny cottage in Dorset. My boyfriend Michael had known Gail (and her husband Murray ) for  years. We had an intimate weekend of cooking, drinking, games and long walks and when she left Gail said to me:

“I love you.”

I felt embarrassed. After all we were in England and in England nobody ever said I love you, not even my boyfriend.

Two years later  I stayed with Gail and Murray in New York. They had more friends than I thought  I’d ever have in my entire lifetime and their huge loft, the entire top floor of Westbeth, was its own universe.

My room overlooked the Hudson River on one side and the World Trade Center on the other. Every day another crew of photographers, models, editors and hairdressers used the white open spaces as a shoot-location. At night the cast changed into friends who stopped by for drinks and others who stayed for dinner. No one ever went to bed before three in the morning. Artists, writers, actors, directors, and singers from all over the world came and read their latest stories, showed their latest movies, played their latest songs, unveiled their latest canvasses. Gail introduced me as her amazing designer-friend from London.

My collection of  brightly colored washed silk clothes sat on a rack in the screening-room, Gail brought in her girl friends, I took orders,and she floated around ethereally, with a love and peace smile on her lovely face , while Dakota, her four year old daughter, toddled around, was passed from lap to lap, already with more friends and aunts and uncles than she could fit into her head.

That’s when I first learned that there didn’t need to be any  boundaries between work and home, careers and friends, eating and dinner-parties.

Everything was all just life.

I felt lucky to be included, lucky to know them and when I returned to London I tried to emulate their life. It wasn’t easy. The Brits were too reserved and private.  London now looked dull  to me. I wanted to be in New York with Gail, my soul sister

So when I moved to Manhattan in 1986 I stayed in the Loft while I looked for an apartment in the Village.

Gail had just become involved in a new venture, that was going shape the next twenty years of her life. Every night she met with her friend Anne Sward Hansen in the space under my mezzanine bedroom. I couldn’t help but be drawn in. Annie had recently visited the Rosebud Indian reservation in South Dakota and had learned that of all the American Indians who left to go to college very few returned to their native homes. This created a brain drain to the reservation which was in desperate need of its own doctors, lawyers, teachers, business men etc. Gail, who is part American Indian, and Annie decided to create The American Indian College Fund. The plan was to raise scholarship funds for American Indian students at tribal colleges and also help these colleges grow from trailers into more sophisticated learning environments. What started as a dream is now an organization with assets of more than 28 million and annual scholarships for over 5,000 Native American students.

Over the years Gail has introduced me to many teachers – artists, medicine men, psychics, writers – caretakers of the mind, body and soul. I became design director for CK at Calvin Klein and married an American Scot. I had my daughter Iona shortly after Gail had a grand daughter, Tyler. Now our two daughters are best friends. Gail became my family in this country; she gave me a home and a sense of destiny and threw me a huge  30th birthday party,  two baby showers and she’s (fairy) godmother to Iona.

Gail has been a mentor and role model for many young women, like Ann Edinger, a young student who became Gail’s assistant on the Cultural Learning Centers Initiative. Together they instigated the construction of cultural buildings at the reservation colleges – homes for the newly repatriated cultural items that had been away from the tribe for a long, long time. Ann is now a successful lawyer with a firm that represents not-for-profit organizations.

One of Gail’s own teachers was an Indian elder called “Grandfather”- a Chumash Indian Medicine Man who taught her that compassion is the most important human asset, the ability to put yourself in some else’s shoes and open your heart.

“The most important thing to learn is to be kind to everyone,” Gail says. “You can kill just about anyone with kindness.”

1 Comment

The BlackBerry Diet

The epilog of the BlackBerry Diet reads like this:

(oh, and it might sound familiar)…

– 100 –

I’m writing this from my twenty-fifth floor apartment in Miami.

Below me is the beach scattered with tiny figures and the endless ocean dotted with cruise-liners and container ships stretches ahead of me.

I’m surrounded by white, turquoise, and deep blue.

I’m definitely not in the Catskills anymore.

The kids are in school.

We moved a month ago.

News from Upstate is that snow came early this year, before the leaves had even fallen. It’s sunny here and in the mid-eighties.

I’m not homesick.

We rented the farm to friends, a gay couple who hope we’ll never return. But it’s too soon to tell. I try not to think too far ahead. I’m being here now, in the moment.

Finn has changed.

Almost losing me made him grow up, like he could finally celebrated his family.

Soon after I came back from Paris he sheepishly told me that he’d been invited to go on another PR junket.

Oh sure, I said.

They’re opening a new restaurant at the Fontainebleau in Miami.

Cool, I said, this time I’m coming along.

The girls stayed with Emma.

It was easy and to my surprise I loved Miami.

After going to Paris I’d fought not to slip back into my old habits. It was so hard. My life worked in a set way, and I didn’t know how to change it. I tried too hard to please Finn and then I was resentful. I could go from being loving and sweet to a screaming maniac in a nano-second. Finn stood by. Guilty like he deserved my wrath. I hated myself. I considered a separation after all. We talked about it, but Finn refused.

How about we take a year away from our old life, he said one day. And try a fresh start.

Going to Miami was a risk worth taking.

I do miss Emma and Manon.

Emma is on a book tour. Her book is selling well and it’s being turned into an off-Broadway play. Manon moved back to the city. The country was too lonely for a stunning Amazon like her. She loves New York and is dating a Dutch pediatrician.

I adore Miami women. Like my new friend Rio who dresses up for everything like taking the kids to school, shopping for groceries, sitting on the beach, walking the dog, or going out for dinner. I copy her. I no longer wear sweats and my roots never show. The only pills I take are vitamin pills, I swim every day and I’m even contemplating going to the gym.

I’ve started designing a new collection.

Finn and I are partying.

I go with him to every restaurant review and last Saturday we went to a crazy gender-bender Halloween ball.

We danced till two in the morning.

We have the best sex.

He thinks I’m hot.

He says he fell in love with me all over again.

I love him back.


I’m still exploring the place where he begins and I end.

He ends and I begin.


Doing my Barbi does Miami blog has been  a lot like writing the BlackBerry Diet, its about real life but also about knowing what to play up and what to play down, about being genuine, irreverent and open. I had to be honest, completely honest with myself when I wrote the the BlackBerry Diet. I crafted a narrative using my own life, adding highs, lows and tension. To be able to do this I created another persona called Katja, a husband called Finn, three daughters, and a parallel universe that expressed mine…

Now, after writing this blog for nine months I might be ready to serialize and  incorporate the BlackBerry Diet into this blog.

Whatya think?


Barbi’s least pleasant Miami moments

big house

OK, So.
Even when one escapes to the beach. To the sun. To the palm tree lined avenues with houses so enormous, so fancy, and so beyond this lifetime’s means, shit happens.

Shit happens.

Shit happens no matter where you are. Even when you are living your dream, shit happens. Like  that dream where you ‘re having sex with the perfect hunk and you just cant find IT.. I’m digressing, but (ever had that dream?)  even in your best dreams shit happens. Thats my point.

So in our “live our dream” year in Miami, shit happened. Like as soon as we arrived Kiki and Leila were diagnosed with TB. One test-scratch, and whoops is that a positive? Then their teacher said, to their face, “I don’t want them in my class”, that was #1 of serious shit happening to my twins days within our arrival. So. A beach and the sun and 78 degrees in February and a few palm trees, well, they don’t make that much difference to the shit that goes down.

I also find that, when you put yourself out there its like asking for shit to come flying in your face.

Like I wrote a book.

Stupid, silly, sensitive me. Only tough fuckers should write books. Like Steven Segal, or Judith Regan, or Cheney, they can write books and not give a fuck about rejection letters. But me? Barbi? The one who was an ice cream vendor at her sixth birthday party and cried because she never actually got a cone herself. That Barbi should’ve never put a novel out there. If it wasn’t for the beach, and her lovely daughters, her friends, her comments on her blog (!), her stabilizing Dutch background, well if it wasn’t for all that, those letters would have brought her down. And they weren’t all that bad. Most of them liked the story, the edge in her voice, they just didn’t know how the fuck to market her in today’s climate. Like she wasn’t Sarah Palin or one of Tiger’s/Jesse’s mistresses.Her story wasn’t “feel good, warm and fuzzy” the sales trend in todays depressed economy.


Well then, never mind.

Those rejection letters,  they are #2 on my list of least pleasant moments, these last nine months. Not Miami’s fault. In fact life here, the parties, the friends, the sun, the happy husband, probably made the whole process less upsetting… but there you go. Advice: dont write a book. Don’t ever write a book. Promise me, write a blog instead and fuckem.

Now I sit back and ask myself. What else was least pleasant?

Well, I didn’t tell you. But I spent 36 hours inside Mount Sinai hospital. That was not pleasant. It was self induced mixed with some stress. Remember that blog where I thought I was going a little crazy? When I wondered what the fuck we were doing here? I had palpitations so I took my blood pressure at CVS, Through the roof! So high, like I was almost dead, the machine said. I Googled high blood pressure and bought every natural drug recommended. Magnesium and beta blockers. Ginger tea, made from real ginger.  Two, three, four days went by and each night was worse, palpitations, light headed, and even a panic attack. I almost passed out. I took the kids to school and drove myself straight into the emergency room.

Well, as soon as one utters the word “heart” in the ER they keep you. They take you and hook you up, and do every test known to doctor-kind. BTW Mount Sinai is a teaching hospital so along with each doctor come five interns who gape like they’ve never seen an attractive woman under 70 (60, 50) in a hospital bed before…

Make a long dumb story short: I did not have high blood pressure. CVS machine was wrong. I had  l o w  blood pressure, and my self-medicating had put my poor  heart into a catatonic state, like fifty confused beats per minute and no pressure.

That was #3 on my least pleasant Miami moments.

#4. Lemme think. Its true that one remembers the good stuff and forgets the bad. Hm. Art Basel? When, in the craze of having to be everywhere at once, I helped write some of  husband’s blogs? And his editor gave me a credit and then the legal guys took it off ? That sucked. That made me mad. That caused a fight.

#5. When it was cold, this one is for Maria, and the iguanas died, dropping narcoleptically like pre-historic rubber toys from the trees, belly up. That Miami cold spell was not pleasant. And I wore the same woolly cardigan for three weeks.

belly up iguana

#6. When my Mom left. My Mom is 82 and fabulous. And fit and she will live to be a 100. But whenever she leaves I ask myself: is this the last time? And that really sucks.

#7. As referenced in best Miami moments. I got my little studio. I got it twice! The first time I got it, I had not signed a lease, in our pre-commitment days, but I  did pack the car with all my stuff. My drill, my beach-plastic in its color coordinated bags, my fabric, my fold-up table, my stool, my tool chest and then I got an e-mail saying,” sorry, someone was willing to sign a lease”. In todays climate, of course, “take the lease, good for you, make some money, I understand”.  I unpacked my stuff back into my Aqua garage. Three months later I got a similar studio, a better one, prettier, I moved in, I had a desk, but still needed my stuff… I packed it up, well … once again I was bounced about. I waited to be let in for hours, I waited for my key, I was stood up, I was told to come back again and again. And I said fuckit! This makes me feel like shit… so I walked away, gave them the finger in one of those moments when I thought that maybe the pretty little studio was just not meant to be…. for me…

#8 Well, an rich blue-rinse lady stole my parking spot at the Aventura Mall! It was Iona’s worst moment. She was a witness to what ensued. This lady, like really blatantly stole it (I’d been sitting waiting politely) just because she could (better insurance?). But that was not the worst of it. The unpleasant moment came when I almost beat her up. When I realized that I could, if pushed just a tiny bit further, have kicked her Bentley, smashed her window, pulled her wig off her bitchy old head – just like my mom who once kicked a dent in a car in a similar situation. I dont like to run into myself, my worst self, in that way.

#9. When it became hot here, like never less than 85, and the pool heated up, and after swimming 20 laps every day all year, I realized that I’d become allergic to the chlorine, or something else in the pool, and I got  a rash al over my chest, my face, my arms, which lasted for two itchy weeks. Now I have to go to the gym, and I HATE the gym.

#10. Saying goodbye to Alastair and Kiki and Leila, and realizing that our experiment was over, and worrying about them driving so far, and worrying about our house and our renters and knowing that next year, when we come back, its no longer what it was. No longer a fuck you to what’s expected, but that in the second year we will settle and Miami will become our life, our normal life, and we’ll have to look for different, new ways to escape…

living the dream


Miami Beach Round Up, ten best …

Remember? getting ready to leave Milford September 2009...

Nine months since I packed the car in Milford and headed south with three kids, six bags, and loads of movies. Nine months since we did what we wanted, in a fuck the consequences kinda way, like – get outta town – hop on the bus gus – life is a beach – fuckem if they cant take a joke – the experience will do us good – life is too short  – broaden the horizon – migrate like a nomad – follow the sun and live your dream…

So what was it like? Living the dream on the beach? It was just like life. But sunnier.  It so wasn’t Milford. It was so Miami Beach. But it was life nevertheless. Husband and I still had fights. So did the twins. We still had homework and laundry and rashes and crushes. I still got rejection letters and I still cared when they came. Only it was 78 degrees in February. Only some days we said lets have lunch on the beach, and I made sandwiches and we hopped on our bikes and ten minutes later lay in the sand, stood in the surf, without guilt, on a Tuesday afternoon.

When I look back there were some memorable moments, quite a few actually, like I have a top ten of my high and low moments of nine months at the beach:

Best Parties:

1. October>The Halloween cross dressing party for grown ups, after candy rounds with the kids, going back home and dressing up with husband, have a scotch in the bathroom while he tried to get into a bra and pantyhose, making myself up like a man, and leaving the house around 11 instead of coming home at 11. Coming home at 3 am. Drunk and stoned. Not done that in a while great start to our Miami Beach party season…

2. Which concluded with a party on Biscayne Point a few weeks ago when husband wore his pajama striped pale linen pants and I wore new white silk pants, and  our host dropped his glass of red wine at our feet, splashing it mostly over husband ‘s pants and within ten minutes of our arrival I’m sitting with my feet in the pool, for once wishing for high chlorine levels to help remove the wine stains, and look through the gauze curtains to my left only to see husband in his white y-fronts standing by an elaborate four poster bed while host holds up pant after pant, as if they’re at Prada together. Me thinks, well, thats the fastest A has ever gotten out of his pants at a party and how gay is that host? Not at all it turned out, he had buxom brunette twins in matching shorts and fishnet stockings launching around, bored and clearly waiting for the party to be over. One well-groomed older lady referred to them as “the hired help”. Still, it turned into one of the best parties when Tray Lockerbie, a young singer from Nashville stepped out with his guitar, sang a few songs and inspired three more musicians to come out, including husband. They jammed, we sang. We danced. Got home late, husband in different pants from the ones he left home in – a sign of a good time had…

Miami icons: Sam, Esther, Iran

3. Our  dinner parties at our Aqua Candyland Bachelor Pad like the one  in honor of Eyjafjallajökull and Zaha Hadid who could not make it home to London because of the ash… four fabulous Miami Matriarchs: Sam, Iran, Kathy and Esther, dishing and gossiping and one-upping with stories of their wildest Miami moments…

Zaha and Barbi in the Tiesto candy-land elevator

4. The twins birthday party by the pool, voted best party by them, in 90 degree weather, ten ten-year old girls and two boys (pretending they were at their own separate party) going wild. Iona came to the rescue, miraculously, like a pied piper, rounded them up and bossed them around into orderly games that included hula hoops, diving for prizes and water guns. All a sweaty, hamburger-scented blur to me.

twin birthday

5.  Top best moment beyond, over and above parties: Finding out that Iona got into DASH. A top-ten-ever-proud-mother-moment.

6. The “gifted” test of the twins. A controversial public school moment, where I bought into the system that separates the so-called gifted kids from the rest, and puts them in classes that are superior in method and level of teacher. Hm. Ok, some another time shall I rant about this. Anyway. To get there from here, my girls needed to get an IQ test of sorts. Now. You have to know that over the years opinions by various teachers on their intelligence and the ability to apply themselves have varied. I never wavered, but was often worn down by  negative reports that included notes like “unable to concentrate”, “reading impaired”,  “incomplete homework”.  So this test was a test. A test about who was right. Was my conviction just motherly love? Like Kiki said, “of course you think we’re smart, you’re our Mom!” She thought the teachers were the only authority, and when “gifted” teacher, Mr Spagnola, told their class that they were “the worst class in the school” the last nail had been nailed into their “see Mom, we’re stupid” coffin.


my smart twins

They tested brilliantly. Smart, ahead of their age, eloquent, sensitive and insightful. A weight of self-doubt fell off my shoulders, the veil of insecurity was lifted from their aura. Just one silly test was all it took. I know its all relative, the Wizard of Oz is right about certificates, but, but, it was a good Miami moment.

7. The day I moved into my small sunny studio at Ofer Mizrahi’s utopian village alongside the tracks on 4th North Court. I’d had my eye on the small,  like 250 sq.ft, studio for months –  a palm-tree just outside the french doors, surrounded by young painters, designers environmentalists and architects. A place of my own to escape to… for more look under # 7 in my Worst Miami Moments…

8. My Mom’s visit. Showing her all my favorite things and seeing her health improve in the sun, surrounded by  granddaughters and love.


9. Getting my scarves into Base at the Delano Hotel, making clothes again, finding local women who can sew and bead and enjoy making my stuff while getting paid, and realizing that I can start my business here and help clean the beaches from plastic pollution and maybe make a difference in the environmental consciousness of Miami. All of which is recorded here:

blue beach plastic silk scarf

10. Marriage. We have been together 20 years this Labor Day. Twenty years is longer than I lived in Amsterdam by two years. Its ten years longer than my life in London. In twenty years everything happens. E V E R Y T H I N G. Jobs come and go. Money comes and goes. Parents die, kids are born. Friends die, friends are born. Dreams die, dreams are born. Together we lived in Tribeca and on 9th Street, we lived in an old terracotta factory on the Raritan Canal just outside Princeton which flooded during hurricane Floyd and a week later I was pregnant with twins. We moved to Milford, we built our dream house, we moved to Miami.

Alastair Gordon at Tiesto @ the Fontainebleau

Love. I learned that love changes. That love isn’t static but more like a pink lava lamp. Sometimes we are completely one, sometimes we are at odds, but we always come back together with more love, more intensity and more understanding.

Miami was his idea. We needed it, he said. We needed sun as in light, and parties.  He challenged us and some days this made me mad. Some days I did not want to be Barbi in Miami, I wanted to just be Barbara again. But now, a year later, he has left for Milford and I miss him. And I love him more for making us do this, and for taking me into our marriage deeper than ever before…

Alastair, Kiki and Leila leaving Miami Beach, back to Milford....

Iona and I are here for two more weeks, while she does her DASH summer camp and I enter ten more memorable Miami moments, coming soon….