Friday, September 11, 2009


I met Erica less than a year before she died. I can't say she was a 'friend' of mine, because I only spent a couple of weeks in her part of the world - New York - and I saw her only two or three times.

But she was the friend of a friend, and I felt like I got to know her well for the few days I spent in the company of a rather select community of arty and publishing types with bolt-holes in the (for me) fantasy location of "the Hamptons" on Long Island.

We had several meals together, and one night particularly, at a dinner party she cooked for (she was a chef and had run her own restaurant), she and I sat together for most of the evening, getting increasingly drunk, and having one of those exciting interactions you can have in that sort of circumstance, with someone you may never meet again.

She was a marvellous woman, with many strings to her bow (as revealed in a New York Times Obituary from December 2001). She was, naturally enough for the company she kept, outspoken politically, a strong feminist, and a long-time defender of the rights of rape victims.

She was originally French/British and so had retained a quizzical outsider's view of the USA, and we enjoyed swapping our perspective of America and Americans.

That time on Long Island was one of the few times in my life that I've been regarded in social company as a comedian, so of course I remember it with particular fondness. For some reason the sophisticated New Yorkers found my every observation and comment about my first trip to the USA, absolutely hilarious. (The amusement they derived was in much the same vein as the "Flight of the Conchords" humour, except that my supposed bon mots were on the whole genuinely naive and unintentional, and were merely the natural responses of a first-time Kiwi to the mysteries of American Culture at first hand. I'm not surprised that the Conchords have enjoyed such success. I could have made a stand-up routine based around my description of my first experience in a jacuzzi, judging by the reception my account received).

Erica had for years also been an IT communications consultant, teaching business people about the internet and especially, training them to improve their skills in email correspondence. I was very interested in that as I was still an academic engaged in doctoral research and doing some teaching on linguistics and communication courses.

We had a fascinating conversation and promised to keep in touch. She gave me her business card, which I still have, and also mentioned some other names of people she knew that I might contact concerning my PhD topic.

She told me a little bit about the job she had - which she said was for just one day a week in Manhattan - she hated going to the office - it was an Insurance company - because she had a fear of heights and it was on the 101st floor! I commiserated, and I felt I knew her well enough, by then, to challenge her as to why she would even want to go into into the heart of commercial darkness like that anyway. I'd been past the World Trade Center a few days earlier, I told her, and looked up at it, and was chilled by the obscenity of it, as a temple to the evils of global capitalism.

I know, I know, she said. But a person's gotta eat, and it pays the bills...

I didn't know until a day or two after September 11, that Erica's one morning a week at Aon Corp, had coincided with the attack on the Twin Towers.

She was never seen again.


lmrb said...

Sometimes fleeting glimpses can reveal the soul of another, as well as that of the observer. I don't know you, but you seem to see with compassionate eyes. Can't do better than that. Your friend will be listening, I'm sure.

sas said...

beautiful post PC.
so many echoes of that day.

Mary McCallum said...

another mind-blowing post, PC, wonderfully measured and restrained - and then that ending - i read it twice - thank you