1 December 2003

Following is a recollection by one of Nadia Younes' best friends in New York, Tim Lovejoy:

I can't come up with a comforting homily, an apt line from Shakespeare or a Buddhist truth. All I hear in that vein is Nadia saying "La vie est dur sans confiture." Too true, I say, but not much help.

So what am I to do? What am I to put this? How the hell am I supposed to live with this. To, as she might say, "Get on with it," or "Get a grip I mean really, darling."

Well I made a list. Lists are good, no? Put it down, objectify.
I made a list of what I will miss most, what I call my personal bests of Nadia. Its not complete; others will have things to add; so will I, I'm afraid, as time goes by. But for now -- here's some Shakespeare -- Let me count the ways.

The first is easy. Best laugh. Best kitten smile, cat's grin, but there was a girl that could laugh. Pitched forward, cigarette in hand, a wide open roar.
Best walk. Not that she used it much -- she usually took a taxi from home in Beekman Place to work at the U.N.
But I can see her now crossing the room, pushing her sleeves up, short as she was, that amazing long slow stride.

I had a sweet letter from a friend telling me not to be sad, that Nadia wouldn't want me to be sad. She's right, of course, I suppose, but as I said to Christian I figure Nadia's point of view would be more like his eighty six year old Russian father saying, as I went to pour him more wine at lunch, fingers flirting with the rim of the glass, "Pas trop, pas trop. Mais plein quand meme."
There's philosophy. Actually, there's Nadia, no bungee jumping, but fill her up.

Best dark glasses indoors, or even better at night. Or even better driving at night. After Monica Vitti of course.
Worst driver, though I suppose that's a kind of best. One arm out the window, little foot to the floor, terrifying. But how she loved her new decapotable, one of those BMWs that talk to you. I remember her calling on her cell during a first spin around Geneva, shooting the wrong way down a one way street, the computer voice yacketing in the background. "What is all that racket?" I asked. "Darling the car is yelling conasse, conasse, conasse." I wonder if she finally got a driver's license.

Best use of "darling." To think I'll never hear "darling" again when I pick up the phone. Best host. The easy generous hospitality in Rome up high surrounded by terraces, her cat Coco climbing on the tiled roofs. Or in Venice which she loved so much -- she always dreamed of a house in the South of France. Though she took a dim view of thieves ripping up the copper sprinkler system, "Probably my beeble," she said, ever irreverent, "those desert beeble."
Or New York, in the apartment we called the Cairo Hilton. God, the people who came there, stayed there. Sometimes I think I was the only person who never lived there.

Best schmaltzy Latiny music thrumming and throbbing away. No offence to Steven Erlanger, but Puccini-loving indeed -- that was just her Andrea Boccelli period. Who was it who gave Nadia her own little home karaoke kit so she could live out her real dream of being a whiskey smokey voiced chanteuse.

Worst stalest peanuts. At least until her niece Alia came. And no food, certainly not in the bad old days. All Nadia could make was expresso. And, of course, heated up canned peas.

Best house guest. She'd sleep till eleven, get up and rummage in the fridge and go back to bed with mozzarella, a bottle of beer and the paper. And reappear gloriously at lunch, ready to go.

Best luncher. At the Colombe d'Or, in the country, on the Via Appia. Or in New York at the Leopard where the bottles of wine kept being opened and the laughter got stuffy stares. Then she'd stride back to work and brief the press or tell Presidents where to park it...or not. It was after one of those lunches she set her office on fire.

Best dinner partner, arm on the back of the chair, cigarette in hand, leaning in, the forefinger of her other hand stabbing the table, making a point. Or jet hair falling forward on her hand in dismay: "Donnes moi un break." Best drinking buddy and, let's be frank, best controlled substances buddy -- Will I ever stay up all night talking my brains out again.

Best caller, late at night, her time, from the back side of the moon. And she saw some pretty heartbreaking backsides. Oh there were after dinner calls from the Crillon, but usually they were from sweaty or freezing blacked out hotel rooms in Central Africa, Kosovo, Palestine, East Timor and of course Baghdad. Describing it all, the people she worked with and met, the horrors, the laughs, the madness. Her shock, her amazement, and lastly the final call, her dismay and fear.
I tried to get her to put it down, to at least take notes. But she wasn't a writer downer. She was a talker. The best talker.
Who will I talk to now?
She never talked down or pulled rank, never a hint of "As the president of Pakistan said to me..." She never talked from her position, her age, her sex, her class. Her talk was never competitive never pedantic. It was like her physical presence, unmannered, unaffected, no nonsense, straight-up stuff. No wonder the press liked her.

What I think sometimes surprised people was that while Nadia was all about fun, she was always, even in the early days, completely serious too. She was serious about her work, her career (eventually). She was serious about women, her sexuality, her family, her class, her people and her politics. And though she soft pedaled it, she had the best mind. She was so damn smart. It was a mind honed up by up-bringing, education and experience of course. But also by compassion and, really, anger. She knew, she always knew and cared that she lived in a world of poverty, violence, injustice, sexual and racial prejudice, a world of bureaucrats, little Metternichs, know-it-alls, true believers, cynics, megalomaniacs and bullies, with only her and there a possible hero. She knew it better than most -- she worked in it, that world of pleading representatives of starving countries, phrase-parsing diplomats, grand standing politicians and wild eyed religious fanatics of all stripes.

All the oh so right and righteous manly men. The manly men who killed her, in a war fought by manly men fighting manly men.
I think Nadia really thought, a plague on all your houses. But she went on working, working for...the possible. She cared enough to take this job that eventually scared the bejeezus out of her and killed her. She went to work day after day in the unprotected dump with a driveway under her office. You've seen the pictures. We've all seen them now -- they're the pictures that have finally replaced all the glossy magazine shots of generals sitting on Saddam's thrones or Top Gun wannabes on flight decks...
But there I go again.

Put it down. Objectify.
What else. Oh Yes.
Best friend. My best, my greatest, my most darling friend.
And to think I almost had her back.