Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Being There (Kind Of)

by Hannah

Remember Being There, the book, or the film with Peter Sellers? It's the one in which at first Chance the Gardener lives shut away, learning about the outside world only through television. What a funny hook, it seemed, to experience the world through technology. How could anyone understand life without sitting across from real people, without trying things first-hand? Where's the fun if you don't get out there?

Thus, the detail-oriented writer in me has a love-hate relationship with the Internet. It is only as someone with limited time and money for research trips, and few names of top experts in my Rolodex (yes, Rolodex), that I will grudgingly admit the World Wide Web can be the next best thing to… you know.

Does a character live on the Upper East Side? A few clicks and I am on Google Earth beaming down over ZIP Code 10021, strolling along New York City sidewalks. Then again, if he were a California mogul, what kind of house would he own? I scan real estate listings, take virtual tours, justify my time by printing a photo of the character's perfect mansion, complete with details on square footage, in-ground pools, and whether the kitchen has marble or granite. I love an excuse to revisit memories. For research purposes, of course. What was the name of that street that ran down to the Bay when we took a left off Lombard Street in San Francisco? How far from Rockefeller Center is the Stanhope? The penthouse is gorgeous, as I recall from a client fashion event years ago. Didn't it have a balcony overlooking Central Park? Hmmm.

Okay, I'll say it. It's fun. Research is my excuse to spend hours poking into details of how someone else might live, what kind of car he drives and brand of watch he wears, what restaurants she might frequent and whom she might know. What does the interior of Mario Batali’s restaurant look like, and what is he serving this winter? Am I planning a scene outside the blue storefront that is Babbo? Not yet, though I have been there on the Web. Someday I may place two characters at a window table, talking over delicious figs. Of course, that is when I'll have to take my family on vacation. It’s one thing to do background research and blend that with my imagination. It’s another to know whether that appetizer is on the sweet side, with an extra touch of balsamic, or whether it’s got some other flavor going for it. That detail needs to be checked in person.

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