#also sorry new yorkers for using a british brand.
when will marvel hire me so i can finally make the greatest spider-to-spider communication of all time canon
Zawe Ashton is sorry that she is tired. In her dressing room at Manhattan's Jacobs Theatre, at what would be the end of a working day for many, she still has to go over last night’s notes with her director Jamie Lloyd, and get into hair and make-up. Within hours, she will hit the stage for another sold-out night of her Broadway run in Betrayal, the Harold Pinter revival, which will make her a New Yorker until the end of the year.
“I feel like I'm going mad, but I think I'm really into New York. [When I speak], I can already hear my American upward inflections!” she giggles. The play, which also stars Charlie Cox and Tom Hiddleston, has come to New York after a sold-out turn in London in a year that has cemented 35-year-old Ashton's transition from emerging ingenue to bonafide leading lady. In person, she's warm, wickedly funny, and whip-smart — a combination that goes some way to explaining how she's built a career not just in front of the camera, but as a writer, director, playwright, too. Just don't call her an overnight success — it's been nearly 30 years in the making.
Ashton was born and raised in Hackney, a culturally diverse part of East London at the forefront of the city's gentrification. "Cut me open, and I do bleed Hackney," Ashton says. “I remember when cab drivers wouldn’t even go there but for me, there was just local people establishing community and establishing identity. It was multiculturalism, it was biracial, it was anarchy.”
She grew up the eldest child of an Ugandan mother and English father. She describes her younger self as a hyper child. “I just wanted constant stimulation.” Her mother, busy with three kids, enrolled Ashton in the Anna Scher Theatre, an affordable drama class, whose notable alumni ranges from Hollywood crossovers Daniel Kaluuya and Kathy Burke, to Eastenders favourites Sid Owen, Patsy Palmer, and Natalie Cassidy.
“I went in, and there were like three or four baskets on a tiny little stage. One said wigs, one said hats, one said costumes, and I thought to myself, 'I’m going to love this.'" Ashton went on to spend 14 years with the company. "Every Friday night and every Saturday afternoon for 14 years! I think back now, what a disciplined young person that I was. I think I’ve always needed something like that to keep me anchored.”
Small roles in Game On and The Demon Headmaster followed, along with appearances in British staples like The Bill, Casualty, and Holby City, but her success led to bullying at her north London school. “I was different from others at a time when you're supposed to just be blending into that wall,” she says. If there's one thing that's clear, it's that Ashton doesn't do blending in. "I never understood this thing of finding yourself or finding the truth — I couldn’t give a sh*t about the truth," she says.
Earlier this year, she released Character Breakdown, a book about her experiences as actor and the challenge of darting between make-believe and everyday life. "I've never bought into the idea that there is this one self," she says. "I started acting as a 6-year-old child, when my brain was still extremely fragile. I didn’t have hope in hell if I didn’t want to have fractured selves — that moment was over by the time I’d finished my first day on a film set."
Ashton's breakout role didn't come until years after that first day. In 2011, when she was 27, she debuted her role as the hilarious and sensational Vod in Channel 4's now cult classic, Fresh Meat. “When I got it, I had just done an independent movie called Dreams Of A Life,” she recalls. “That was a one-two punch. I had my independent film world covered and I suddenly had this cult TV world covered, and that was it. My head was above the parapet, and things have just been on the up since then."
Like many actors of her generation, she's only down with the "up" when it's about the work. "I’ve never been bothered about fame," she says. "Even when I was at Anna Scher Theatre, you were never allowed to use the words 'star' or 'fame,' they were like swear words. I want to be a successful actor, never a famous star. Because one is an organic meal that will sustain you, and the other is toxic.”
That does complicate things, because whether she's conscious of it or not, Ashton is a star. Her most recent work has seen her share the screen with Toni Collette in the BBC drama Wanderlust, about a therapist trying to save her fraught relationship with her husband, played by Steven Mackintosh. She also had a lead role in Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw, a quirky thriller set in the contemporary art world where she plays Josephina, the object of affection, alongside an idiosyncratic art critic called Morf, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Her wattage is rising, and unsurprisingly, the designers have come calling. Erdem, Mulberry, Regina Pyo, and Roksanda Illincic all want to dress her, but as Ashton discloses, the style part doesn't always come naturally.
“People talk about ‘effortless style’ but effortless is so far away from any of my experiences of that sort of thing." She now works with stylist, art director, and brand consultant Steph Wilson for her big appearances. "She's not a celebrity stylist, which seems to be a very different breed of person," Ashton explains, "but my stylist is a big reason I am able to cope with events." Their first collaboration — a voluminous, tiered Stella McCartney gown that Ashton wore on the 2016 Olivier's Red Carpet — set the tone in their relationship. "We affectionately called [it] the lampshade dress," Ashton recalls. "It was a complete risk, and a risk that I'd been told again and again and again not to take. 'Don’t go there, you're not well known, you're not famous, unless you’re famous you shouldn’t wear things like this.' I just said, 'I want to dress like the artist I feel,' and that was that."
Ashton might sound assertive, but she swears she is only now coming into her own. “How long have we got to talk about women of colour and imposter syndrome,” Ashton asks, now in her hair and make-up prep. “It’s a real thing, and many people have it. It’s, I think, a particular characteristic of the overachiever. Because you're bottomless, you never think what you’ve achieved is enough. There are lots of little dots, as I approach my 30th year as an actor, that I'm sort of really looking to connect so I can move on to the next stage of my life.”
Part of that next stage is taking up more space. "When you work in film sets, when you’re working on projects that are male dominated, you are always treated as the last priority," she says carefully. "There have been times when, like in sex scenes or whatever, I’ve just been expected to get on with it. No conversation, no time wasting, you're just supposed to minimise your space, and let the money-making industry crack on because time is money." Not any more. "I'm going to call abuse when it’s abuse, and I'm going to call micro-aggression when it’s micro-aggression," she says of on-set behaviour she once might have let slide.
In October, in both Hackney and New York, she will stage For All The Women Who Thought They Were Mad, a play she wrote some 10 years ago when she part of the Royal Court Young Writers group. The play uses statistics to platform the cultural biases at work in medical institutions in Britain that are specifically stacked against women from the African diaspora. “Women being over medicated, unnecessarily being sectioned into their families, losing their jobs. It’s all really shocking, so I wanted to write something for all the women I’ve known [who] thought they were alone. It’s taken so long to get off the ground because it was considered an exposé by every theatrical institution in London, and [I'm] so glad we are doing it," she adds. "A lot of women for a long time have been told to find their voices, but I don’t agree. We have voices. We just need a platform. And we need the words."
One word Ashton is thinking about a lot these days is "motherhood." “I would like to have a baby,” she says slowly. "I’ve never said that before, but women never say it." Despite various rumours about her love life, she emphasises that the baby is a goal, not a current reality. "It's not in the works, and it's not being planned," she says. "There's absolutely not one single detail that I can mention, but the next thing on my agenda is building towards that stage, and I feel very proud of that."
Ashton is aware that the path in that direction will be unreasonably complicated. "The widespread shame of motherhood is criminal, and it needs to stop," she says. "The world can never improve if you disrespect the people that bring life." Still, Ashton is rolling up her sleeves. "I feel like this career has so many connections to my childhood desires, and now I want to figure out what my adult ones are.”
Sparks Fly- Part 2 (CaeJose Dancer!AU)
Summary: It’s date night and poor Joseph is all kinds of nervous! Will Caesar see through it long enough to turn this date into a success?
Also: Didn’t state it before, but the name for this part is based off of the song Sparks Fly by Taylor Swift because I felt that it fit the general mood of the date with how confused and nervous but excited and happy Joseph is about all of it. Then, for the dance later, this is the sort of music I picture them dancing to.
Saturday soon arrived and Joseph found herself waiting downstairs in the lobby of her apartment building. Caesar had texted her saying he would be there to pick her up for their date about thirty minutes ago and that he would be there within half an hour. She’d actually been waiting in the lobby for the past five minutes, wanting to make sure she was ready to go when he arrived. She wasn’t normally one to worry about punctuality, but her nerves and the desire to make a good impression on the Italian Casanova gave her the energy to make sure she would DEFINITELY be ready on time.
While waiting, Joseph caught the sight of herself in one of the large glass windows of the lobby. She decided to check her reflection one more time to make sure she looked fine.
Her dress looked as gorgeous as the first time she’d tried it on, so that was good. The jewelry she’d picked out complimented the dress perfectly- the cocktail ring, earrings, and necklace looking lovely next to the green of her gown. She’d decided on a pair of black silk thigh-high stockings to cover her legs and a nice pair of glittery golden mary jane high-heeled platform shoes. She’d argued with herself constantly on the heels, worried that they would make her too tall and that she would fall over as she didn’t have much practice in them- they were almost brand new and she’d only worn them two or three times before- but, in the end, her mother talked her into it and said they added a nice flare of color to her look.
Speaking of her mother, Lisa Lisa had been a big help when it came to Joseph’s hair and makeup. They’d decided to go simple but elegant for the makeup, using deep green eyeshadow in a soft smokey-eye style to match her jewelry, black eyeliner and mascara, black nail polish with both of her index fingers painted glittering gold to offset it, a touch of amber colored blush applied to her cheeks to soften her cheekbones and jawline a bit, and, simply because Joseph couldn’t resist going a LITTLE flashy with her makeup, her lips were painted ombre style with ink black around the edges that melted to gold for the main color. Then, for her hair, they’d decided to smooth down most of her shorter locks and take the bulk of her hair that usually stuck up in the front, braid it, loop the braid around to the side of her head, then pin it there using one of her flower hair pins- this one was a yellow ranunculus with two green leaves.
Logically, she knew that she looked drop-dead gorgeous. Emotionally, though, she was fretting over her appearance. Caesar was way too charming and way too good at flirting (and kissing) to not have gone on several dates with countless women already. Would she measure up to his standards? Would she look like she was trying too hard? Would she-?
Her thoughts were cut off by the muffled sounds of “Mambo Italiano” by Dean Martin.
Joseph looked down to her shimmering golden clutch bag in her hands and opened it up to retrieve her phone. She saw Caesar’s number displayed on her screen and quickly answered it. “Hello?”
“Hey. I just pulled up out front, but I can go park somewhere else if you need a few more minutes.” She could hear the soft sounds of music and the thrum of an engine in the background when he spoke.
“Oh, what a coincidence!” She said with her best “surprised” voice. “I’m actually down in the lobby already. I’ll be right out!” She hung up, took a deep breath, and put her phone back in her bag. “Okay..” She said to herself. “You can do this!”
She took one more breath before going out through the front doors. She looked around, expecting to see Caesar on his bike, but was surprised to see him standing beside a silver Mercedes SLR with the passenger-side butterfly door already open.
Caesar himself was dressed in a rather flashy white and purple suit with the jacket and pants being white and the buttons, some stripes on the pants, and the inner flaps of the jacket being purple; also, when he shifted slightly, she noticed that the shirt beneath the jacket had a dark gray and black striped color scheme. His accessories were equally eye-catching with a green belt decorated with a metallic silver sun, a purple bow tie on a black choker, and a pair of brown fingerless gloves with odd holed-metal plates on the back, the brown gloves matching his surprisingly tame-in-comparison brown dress shoes. The finishing touch, she saw, was that for once he was without his headband, but he kept the feathered clips and donned a black and white checkered top hat on top of his head.
Caesar looked at her as she walked up to the car and his eyes widened as he took in her appearance. “……” Oh god…he wasn’t saying anything…was that bad? Should she go back upstairs and change? Was he having second thoughts? Maybe she should- “Dio mio..” He breathed out as he gazed at her, the earlier wide-eyed look of surprise melting into something filled with awe and adoration. “Sei come qualcosa da un sogno..” He blinked and quickly shook himself out of whatever trance he’d been in from seeing her and stood up straight to greet her properly. He took off his hat with a flourish and bowed. “Sorry to keep you waiting, signorina.”
She smiled a bit, relieved that he seemed happy with how she looked, and walked the last few steps over to him. “Eh, don’t worry about it. Like I said, I was already down here.” She looked him over with a smile, glad that she’d decided to add a bit of flare with her makeup and shoes so as not to be outdone by this showy charmer. “You look really good- I love the hat.”
“Grazie.” Caesar said with that charming smile of his as he flicked the hat skillfully so that it flipped back up onto his head. He took her hand that wasn’t holding her purse and kissed it sweetly. “And you look absolutely stunning, mia splendida dea.”
She blushed a bit, not knowing what the new adjective meant but, knowing Caesar and the context of the compliment, it was something really sweet (she made a mental note to look it up later). “Heh, thanks- thought I’d pull out all the stops, y’know?”
“I’m honored you would go so far for me.” Caesar said with one last kiss to her hand before moving to help her into the car. “Shall we be on our way?”
Joseph couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up inside of her- he was just so cliché and cheesy sometimes, though she found it was cute- but she managed to restrain it to a small chuckle. “Heh, sure.” She held his hand as she got into the passenger’s seat and he even closed the door for her after she made sure none of her dress was sticking out. After he got in on his side and they were both buckled up with the radio turned down to a dull hum so they could talk, Joseph took a good look at the expensive car. “I thought you said you didn’t own a car?”
“I don’t. This belongs to a close friend of mine. I set him up with his girlfriend about a year ago, and now they’re engaged. Seeing as I helped him find the love of his life, he figured it was only fair to loan me his car so I could attempt to do the same.” Caesar said while driving down the street, eyes on the road but one hand reaching over to hold her own hand. “Besides, I wanted to pick you up in something stylish: I do love my bike, but it is hardly suitable for a romantic evening in formal wear.”
Joseph’s cheeks felt warm as she smiled and held his hand. The comment about finding the love of his life was not lost on her and it made her heart flutter in her chest. “Well, maybe we can save it for next time. After all, first dates are supposed to be fancy, but second or third dates can be more relaxed, right?” She said as she watched the scenery go by.
“Ah, you are quite right, mia bellisima angela.” Caesar said with a smile, his thumb stroking along the back of her hand. “Perhaps next time we can go for that race I promised you.”
She looked back at him with a challenging smirk. “Oh yeah, I almost forgot! I’ve still gotta kick your ass and show you the brilliance of British engineering!” Joseph froze up slightly after realizing what she’d just said. Shit! She shouldn’t be swearing on a date! That wasn’t very dignified or lady-like at all and she was trying to make a good impression on him! She decided to quickly change the topic, her smirk trying to force itself down into a calmer smile. “So, where are we going tonight, anyway?” She tried to be smooth with her word choice, but she still felt nervous over her earlier slip up.
Caesar cast a slightly confused and curious glance in her direction while they were stopped at a red light, but his eyes quickly snapped back to the road when the light turned green and they continued driving. Crap, was she too obvious? “Oh, I know a good place that prepares actual, authentic Italian food- not this Americanized junk that some New Yorkers try to pass off as Italian.” The way his face scrunched up briefly in distaste at the apparent “junk” he’d tasted before was adorable and it made Joseph muffle a quiet laugh behind her free hand as he continued. “Anyway, the owner is an old family friend and I pulled some strings to set up something special.”
“Something special?” Joseph echoed with a curious tilt of her head and a grin. “What did you do, you clever Casanova?”
He merely smirked and winked at her using the side of his face closest to her. “That, my dear, is a surprise that you shall have to wait and see.”
Joseph gave him a fake pout and barely resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him. “Fiiiine. I’ll be patient, I guess.” She said with a sarcastically fake put-out tone of voice before breaking into a grin alongside Caesar.
So far so good. Joseph could do this, no sweat!
Arriving at the restaurant blew Joseph’s previous round of nerves out of the water…and replaced them with an even bigger ball of straight-up anxiety.
Joseph had seen the small brick restaurant with ivy growing along the walls several times on TV and in magazines. It was one of the most well-known places in the city, but she’d never actually eaten there because it was the kind of place where if you didn’t have a reservation set up weeks or months in advance, then there was absolutely NO WAY to get a table. It had been a fixture in the city for decades, was one of the top ten most romantic restaurants in New York, and was located right beside the river to give a gorgeous view of the water, as well as the city.
Joseph was about to ask Caesar if they were in the right place because, seriously, there’s no way he actually got them a table here, right? They’d only made plans to go out a few days ago, so there had to be some mistake, right?
But, no, it was very clearly the right place as Caesar got out of the car, greeted the valet with a smile that spoke of familiarity while handing off the car keys, then walked over to Joseph’s door and opened it for her while offering her his hand. “Come, we should head inside before they give our table away.” He joked with that charming smile once again.
“Uh, y-yeah, right..” Joseph took his hand and stepped out of the car. She was still stunned to think that Caesar went to so much trouble for her and her mind was trying to catch up to the situation at hand.
Joseph allowed Caesar to guide her to the front doors, walking confidently past the long line of people outside and going straight inside. Caesar ignored the glares sent his way for getting to skip the line of impatient socialites and Joseph did her best to avoid eye contact with them (several of which she recognized due to her own social status) as they went towards the host’s stand.
The dark haired host seemed to recognize Caesar as quickly as the valet had and greeted him with a smile. “Caesar! Good to see you!”
Caesar smiled back at him. “You as well, Ricci. Is Emilio still here? He had a table prepared for us.”
“Ah, yes, of course.” The host nodded and gestured at one of the waitresses. “I’ll let him know you’re here. In the meantime, why don’t you two go have a seat?”
“Grazie, amico.” Caesar said with a tip of his hat before leading Joseph to follow the waitress.
Along the way he also ended up waving to the bartender, the live band playing in the corner of the restaurant, and a few of the waiters- each person he greeted smiling and waving or nodding back to him.
“Wow..” Joseph commented as they carefully walked through the busy restaurant. “You must come here a lot.” She was partly curious about that, but, mostly, she was trying to distract herself from the odd stares that people were giving her.
Her body must have tensed slightly from her nerves, because she felt Caesar’s hand giving her own a reassuring squeeze as he replied to her comment. “As I said, the owner is a good friend and he often keeps a special table set aside for me.”
To Joseph’s relief, they were led outside to a much quieter, and far more intimate, location. The waitress took them through a side door out to a small veranda overlooking the river. There was only one table set out there, kept tucked away by the wall just out of sight of the patrons within, giving the guests who used it a chance to eat and talk and enjoy the same view without all the noise of the full room inside.
Joseph smiled a little as she looked at the table, it was small enough that they would be able to hold hands or lean in close if they wanted to while still being big enough to accommodate them both properly. It was covered by an embroidered red table cloth and even had a three-candle candelabra burning in the middle. ‘Damn, that’s REALLY romantic.’ Joseph thought to herself as the waitress set their menus and silverware down for them.
Caesar pulled a chair out for her and gave a bow of his head. “Ladies first.”
“Thanks.” Joseph couldn’t help but grin as she took her seat, Caesar pushing the chair in for her before taking his own across from her. “I swear, you must watch nothing but cheesy romance movies.”
“I would say I watch a healthy amount.” He replied with a wink. He then turned his attention to the waitress. “Could you ask Gabriele for one of my usual bottles?” He paused a moment before looking at Joseph. “Oh, sorry, I should ask first- are you okay with red wine? I can order something else, if you’d prefer.”
Joseph quickly shook her head. “No, no, red wine’s fine- I’ve had it plenty of times at parties and stuff.” She gave him a slightly challenging smile, the urge to tease him a little bubbling up again. “Besides, I wanna see what sort of ‘special treatment’ they give you here, Caesarino.”
Caesar’s cheeks turned the tiniest bit red from the nickname and when the waitress hid a giggle behind her notepad before he dismissed her with a wave of his hand. “Very well, then- you shall have the full experience.”
“Oh, now I’m excited.” She teased again before she decided to reign it back in. Guys got annoyed if you teased them too much, right? She should change the subject and try to seem more grateful for being here (which she was, definitely, she just couldn’t help her natural disposition). Picking up her menu, Joseph read through the choices. There was almost nothing she recognized on here, even with her mom’s cooking history. She recognized some of the basics like caprese salad, spaghetti, and mozzarella sticks, along with certain soups and salads, but she was otherwise lost. “So, since you’re a regular here, what would you recommend?”
Caesar gave her that same look he had in the car earlier when she tried to change topics, but he quickly shook it off and his face lit up as he reached over and pointed out a few things on the menu as he spoke, clearly happy to show off his knowledge of authentic Italian cuisine. “Well, there’s a good variety to choose from depending on what you are in the mood for. I grew up eating a lot of my mother’s Neapolitan style cooking, so I’m a bit partial to certain dishes they have here, but the variety in general is excellent. For an appetizer, I would recommend anything with their buffalo mozarella- it’s made fresh every day and has excellent flavor and texture. My favorite appetizers are the fresh caprese salad when the tomatoes are in season, and the fried mozzarella the rest of the year- the actual slices of pan-fried of mozzarella, that is, not just the deep fried sticks.” His hand moved over to the main courses section as he continued. “You mentioned before that your favorite food is fried chicken, right? Then you would probably enjoy the mozzarella stuffed chicken parmesan they serve here, or the spicy chicken cacciatore. If you want something exotic, I’d recommend the spaghetti al nero di sepia.- it’s spaghetti in a squid ink sauce.”
Joseph made an odd face at the idea. “Squid ink? Does that actually taste good, or is it just something Italians use as a way to make fun of tourists?” Seriously, squid ink on pasta? That just sounded weird…
Caesar grinned and laughed at her words as well as the face she made, but shook his head. “No, it’s an actual dish and it’s quite delicious. Though, it does startle a few people who try it for the first time when it turns their mouths black.” He tapped a few other entries, his smile looking almost nostalgic. “My personal favorites, though, are the pasta ai fagioli- that’s pasta with beans-, their ragu dishes- pasta with a delicious meat and tomato sauce-, and the pasta alla Genovese- that’s ziti pasta with a white sauce and beef and onions.”
Joseph smiled fondly as she listened to him talk. “Are those some childhood favorites?”
Caesar’s smile softened as he looked down at the words on the menu. “Yes. Those were my mother’s best dishes. She would often make those for special occasions, such as holidays or one of our birthdays. That was the one advantage of coming from a big family- we had plenty of birthdays spaced throughout the year, so we got to have her special recipes fairly often, but not so often that they became any less special.”
Joseph noticed how Caesar’s smile, while fondly nostalgic, held a bittersweet sadness to it. “Has it been a while since you’ve had any of it?” She guessed, knowing she had hit the mark when he glanced away to the river.
“Yeah..” He sighed a little, bringing his hand back to lean against it as he gazed wistfully at the water and passing boats. “Coming here is nice, but I do miss the home-cooked quality her meals had..”
Joseph felt a tug on her heart strings seeing the slight sadness in Caesar’s eyes. She knew a bit about his past, the part about him being a street thug when he was younger, but he hadn’t really talked much about his family before. Hell, she didn’t even know why he left home, both his family’s home and his home country, to come all the way out to America. She imagined it must have been a painful story for him…
“Well then,” She began while reaching across the table to gently grab his other hand, catching him by surprise and making him look back at her. “I guess you’ll have to teach me how to make them sometime. That way you won’t have to go out and spend a fortune here whenever you want something to eat, and I’ll get to impress you yet again with my culinary genius.” She grinned at him and squeezed his hand in what she hoped was a comforting gesture.
Caesar gave her that same look of awe he’d had when he picked her up earlier. “……” His expression melted back into a smile that spoke of adoration and fondness once again, his hand turning over so he could lace his fingers together with hers. “Si…I would like that, Jojo.”
They smiled and gazed at each other, the only sound around them the muffled chatter from inside and the gentle crashing of the waves from the riverbank.
They decided on the fried mozzarella- both the slices and the sticks, simply because Joseph was still a bit of a kid at heart- for their appetizer. Caesar ordered the weird squid ink pasta just to goad Joseph into trying a bite. It was actually GOOD! Who would’ve thought?! She ended up stealing a few more bites just because she liked the taste, though it was funny to see Caesar’s lips turning black as he ate- their lips almost matching by the end of the meal. Joseph herself decided to try the bowtie pasta (she already forgot the fancy Italian name that Caesar told her for it) with the ragu sauce that Caesar seemed so fond of. She gladly shared some of hers, too, since she’d taken a fair share of bites from Caesar’s plate already.
Everything was delicious, from the wine Caesar ordered to the main courses. Even the free bread was tastier than most places she’d been to! Caesar happily showed her how to serve it with the olive oil and balsamic that was placed on the table for the bread and it made it taste even better.
Part of her felt a little bad for not being aware of how much everything cost. This was one of those fancier restaurants where they didn’t put the prices on the menu- one of those, “if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford to eat here anyway” deals, she presumed. She knew that she could definitely afford it, but she didn’t want to make Caesar pay that much for her. Joseph brought up the subject of paying for herself or splitting the bill, but Caesar firmly yet politely informed her that he would not allow a lady to pay for herself on the first date, no matter the cost. After a brief debate on the matter, Caesar ultimately won and reaffirmed that he would be paying this time, but Joseph only allowed it on the condition that she pay for him the next time they went out.
When it came time to order dessert, a short, older man with tan skin and dark hair walked out with a big smile on his face. “Haha! There he is! E 'bello vederti, bambino!”
“Emilio! Bello vederti, amico mio!” Caesar looked at the man with a big smile and stood to greet him, the two engaging in a quick, friendly hug.
When they separated, the shorter man looked at Joseph with what could only be described as a proud smile. “Ah, and this must be the lovely signorina you spoke so highly of!”
Caesar’s cheeks turned a touch red and he coughed into his fist to clear his throat, muttering something in Italian that Joseph wouldn’t really understand or remember. “Potresti tenerlo segreto, Emilio?”
“Io non la penso così.” Emilio shot Caesar a smirk before returning his attention to Joseph. “Caesar was awfully excited to bring you here- he kept calling every night to make sure we’d remember to set his table aside for you two.”
Joseph smirked conspiratorially at Emilio, her tone clearly teasing Caesar as she took in this new information. “Oh did he now?”
Emilio chuckled as he pretended to think back on their conversations. “Si. He kept insisting how important tonight was, and how he ‘could absolutely not afford to mess this up for any reason or he would never be able to forgive himself’- though I may be paraphrasing a bit.”
“You don’t say..” Joseph grinned at Caesar, the blonde’s face now completely red as he hid his head in his hands.
“Per favore..” Caesar groaned as the two continued to grin and chuckle at his expense. “Please stop..I am literally begging you..”
Emilio laughed and patted Caesar on the back good-naturedly while continuing his conversation with Joseph. “I haven’t seen l'insalata del bambino blush like that since he was smaller than me! Haha! It is too cute!”
Joseph couldn’t help giggling at Caesar’s flustered state- it was nice to see him losing his cool for a change. “What does that name mean? I got ‘bambino’, but what’s the rest?”
Caesar looked up from his hands to glare at Emilio. “Rispondetela e non parlerò mai più con voi!”
The shorter Italian just smirked wickedly while leaning close to Joseph as if whispering a secret. Joseph happily leaned in to hear him clearly. “It’s a nickname from when he was a little bambino. He HATES it. It means..” He leaned in closer and she cupped a hand around her ear exaggeratedly to hear his stage-whisper. “Baby salad.”
A hysterical fit of laughter rang out from Joseph and she threw her head back to let it out properly. “BABY SALAD?!!” She laughed so hard that she had to grip the table, otherwise she would risk falling out of her chair. “OH MY GOD!! That is too funny!”
Caesar’s face turned a darker shade of red and he buried his face in his hands once more with a muffled scream. “Auugh! Ti odio!”
Emilio laughed along with Joseph, the two having tears in their eyes by the time they were done. The short man wiped his eyes with his hand while Joseph pulled a tissue out of her purse to dab at her eyes and, mostly, avoid smudging her makeup. “I hope you make good use of that nickname, signorina.”
“Oho, I definitely will, thanks.” Joseph said with a devious grin. Oh, she already had plans for all manner of teasing floating through her mind.
Caesar shoved at Emilio with a glare, his cheeks still red. “You just had to say something, didn’t you?”
Emilio easily ignored the half-hearted shove while looking up at Caesar. “But of course! No one else is around to embarrass you in front of your date, so I have to do it myself!” He laughed again at Caesar’s annoyed glare before looking back to Joseph. “Now then, signorina, I am certain you can handle yourself..but, if this boy gives you any trouble or treats you like anything less than a proper gentleman, you come right in and tell me and I’ll set him straight, alright?”
“You’ll be the first to know.” Joseph replied with a smile, one that was born from both amusement at Caesar’s embarrassment and the genuine sweetness and concern of the older gentleman.
Having said what he wanted to say (and thoroughly embarrassed Caesar), Emilio took their dessert orders and let them be once more.
Caesar sat back down heavily in his chair, holding his face with one hand. “I am truly sorry about that interruption. Emilio, he…” He heaved a long suffering sigh and rubbed at his eyes with his thumb and index finger “He does what he wants, despite what others ask him.”
Joseph grinned smugly and reached across the table to flick the blonde’s hat playfully. “Oh, I don’t mind him one bit, my little salad~<3” She teased with a wink.
He looked up at her with a light glare and readjusted his hat, muttering something in Italian under his breath. “Accidenti a te, vecchio…”
Joseph flinched slightly at the glare and pulled her hand back. Crap, was that going too far? She should probably save the teasing for later in the relationship. Was there a set time limit on when it was okay to tease your boyfriend like that? Wait, was it too soon to be thinking of him as a boyfriend? She didn’t know any of the rules for this! Damn it, she needed to change the subject before she blew it!
“Sooo..” She began while placing her hands on the table in front of herself, desperately searching for anything else to talk about. “I know I got that tasty looking chocolate panna cotta for my dessert, what was that pastry thing you’re getting called again? You said something about it looking like a shell?”
Again, Caesar gave her a look that was partly curious, but mostly confused. “It’s called sfogliatelle.” He answered shortly before reaching across the table to gently touch her hand. “Jojo, is something wrong? That’s the third time tonight you’ve done that.”
“Huh? Done what?” She tried to bluff her way out of the situation by playing innocent.
The act apparently failed when Caesar gave her a troubled, worried frown. “You keep changing the subject. On top of that, you keep choosing safe, generic small talk to distract from what you said before.” His frown grew a bit more and he looked even more worried. “Are you..not enjoying yourself..?”
Joseph quickly shook her head, holding his hand with both of hers to get her sentiment across clearly. “No! I mean, yes, I am, and no, that-that’s not it at all! I’m having a great time with you, Caesar, really! It’s just…” She trailed off, glancing away nervously.
Should she tell him? He was always so patient and understanding with her. Then again, everyone’s patience had a limit. Would this be his? Damn it, she wasn’t used to feeling this confused!
“Just what?” Caesar prompted while bringing his other hand closer to cup the back of hers and rub it soothingly. “What is troubling you, mia dolce angela?”
Ah, another new adjective she’d have to look up later. “……” She took a deep breath to calm herself, as she had done earlier in the night. She still couldn’t meet his eyes, choosing instead to focus on their joint hands. “It’s just…I..I don’t want to mess this up..”
Caesar raised an eyebrow, looking more confused than concerned now. “Mess it up? How on earth do you think you could manage that?”
“I don’t know.” She answered with a slightly annoyed sigh, the annoyance focused completely against herself. “I’m just freaking out because I really like you and I want to make this work and I don’t want to make a fool out of myself by saying something stupid or doing something that pisses you off because then you might get annoyed and won’t want to go out with me again and then I’ll be kicking myself for screwing things up so badly with the first guy that ever asked me out-” God, she was rambling now, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop the words that just continued falling from her lips. “-and you clearly put so much thought into all of this with the fancy restaurant, and the car, and the outfit, and I’m freaking out more because I don’t know if I’m actually worth all the trouble you went to for tonight and it just all freaks me out because this is all new to me and I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing and now I probably sound like a crazy person to you for worrying so much over what must seem like nothing to you since you’ve clearly been out on a bunch of dates before, but I haven’t so I don’t know what’s okay and what’s not okay and I just REALLY want you to like me enough to go out with me again because I’m really happy being with you, damn it!” She finished her rambling and gasped hard, trying to replenish the air she’d just drained from her lungs.
“……” Caesar seemed stunned, busy taking in and processing everything Joseph just told him. When he finally finished sorting through her mashed together words, though, he lifted his hand and gently tipped her chin up with one finger to make her look at his face again. He had that warm, kind, patient, understanding smile on his face that instantly put her at ease. “I think we both may have been trying too hard tonight.” Then, to Joseph’s surprise and slight confusion, Caesar got to his feet and walked around to her side of the table. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, brought something up on it that she didn’t have a chance to see, then set it down on the table before gently pulling her to her feet. As Joseph rose out of her seat, she heard music fill the air around them from speakers hidden along the sides of the building that she couldn’t see- it was a beautiful waltz melody, but a bit more upbeat and modern with a slightly gothic sound. Looking at her with a far more relaxed smile, Caesar kept one hand clasped around hers while the other moved to her waist. “How about, instead of trying to be something we’re not, we both just relax and do what comes naturally?”
Joseph felt her heart skip as she looked him in the eyes. She looked into those gorgeous green eyes and saw no ulterior motives, no flirty playfulness, no charming mask- she only saw Caesar. She saw a man who was clearly enjoying having her with him and who wanted to relax and enjoy himself with her.
A relaxed smile slid across Joseph’s face to match Caesar’s as she held his hand and brought her own free hand up to rest on his shoulder. “I think I’d like that, Caesarino.”
They began to sway in time with the music, already finding the rhythm with it and each other almost instantly. The swaying quickly turned into measured steps and quick turns. Before long they were dancing together with the same energy, passion, and chemistry they always had when they danced together in class.
Caesar would guide her down into a graceful dip, able to easily hold her weight without breaking a sweat. He would raise one hand above both of their heads so she could spin smoothly on one leg, the slit in the dress allowing an ideal range of motion for her legs. He would grab her around the waist and lift her off the ground as they spun together in large circles.
At one point, a sly grin slipped across his face and he moved his thumbs a certain way and she heard a “click” sound come from his gloves. She gave him a questioning look, but before she could voice her curiosity she noticed the holes on the back of those odd metal plates opening up as well as a couple of smaller panels on the sides that she hadn’t noticed before slipping open too. She noticed some sort of clear liquid moving just beneath the surface of the holes.
Then, on the next spin they executed together, she saw them:
As they moved together seamlessly, the gloves on Caesar’s hands seemed to take in air from the panels on the sides before coming out through the holes on the back of the metal plates as bubbles. Soon the floating orbs filled the air around them, catching the lights from both the city in the distance and the windows of the restaurant that neither noticed they’d moved in front of while dancing due to being caught up in their own little world.
“So, what do you think?” Caesar asked while dipping Joseph down gracefully, the sly grin still on his face. “I used to do odd jobs as an engineer- I made these using some spare parts I found.”
Joseph was still in awe of the bubbles floating around them, but she soon came back to herself and smiled at Caesar as he brought her back upright. “Flashy and fashionable. I like it!” She laughed while spinning around on one leg, trusting Caesar to keep her from falling. “You certainly planned for every possibility, didn’t you?”
“Yeah..” Caesar’s earlier grin softened into something calmer and even a touch melancholic. “I was nervous about tonight too..” He admitted as he let her finish her spin, ending it with her back to his chest and the hand that was still holding hers crossed over her waist as he held her close. “I ran through countless lists in my mind about what could go wrong and how to prevent it, as well as ways to impress you whenever the opportunity presented itself.” He held her to him while they swayed to the music, his free hand tracing along the lace of her sleeve to hold her other hand as well. “As much as I hate him for saying it, Emilio was right: I was sweating over every little detail because I knew that if I messed this up..I would never be able to forgive myself..”
Joseph spared him a confused glance over her shoulder. “Huh? How could YOU mess this up? You clearly know what you’re doing- hell, I’d bet you’ve dated at least fifty girls before me!” She was joking slightly on that part, but, in reality, she supposed it could be possible- he never really talked to her about any past girlfriends, after all.
She felt a quiet chuckle rumble through his chest where it was still touching her back. “I stopped counting a long time ago, but you might be right.” He was silent for a little while after that, slowly turning her around in his arms so that they were facing each other properly again as they moved together in slow steps and spins across the ground. “I did not want to say anything before, when you thought that I was dating Suzi behind your back..but..there was a time not too long ago when you may have been right to assume such a thing about me…” He looked so pained, like he had a deep, burning guilt on his conscience that was eating him alive. “During my street thug days, I was…well, to say I was not a good person would be putting it mildly..” He lamented with a sad smile. “I went through each day not caring if I would live to see the next or not and thought little of the consequences of my actions. I got into fights without caring if I was attacked later for revenge. I stole from people without caring if I would be arrested. I hurt and used people without caring if I would ever see them again.” He looked down, avoiding her eyes like he was ashamed to meet her earnest, caring gaze. “I went out with many girls and women when I was young, but I never truly felt anything for them. I would see women who looked lonely and woo them with a charming smile or a flashy gesture, then leave them after I’d had my fun..I never thought I did anything wrong, even though I’m sure now that I left many of them broken hearted and alone..” Joseph could tell how much it pained him to admit that, and she couldn’t blame him- admitting you used to date girls only to leave after a one-night stand wasn’t exactly the coolest thing to talk about, but he seemed like he needed to get it off of his chest. “I lived my life that way for a while..but..I have tried to distance myself from the person I used to be: I still fight, but I try to only do it for a good reason. Earning an honest living can be hard at times, but I feel better knowing that I am no longer stealing people’s wallets just to get by. Also…” He took a slow, even breath before looking up to meet Joseph’s eyes once again, his own bright green eyes shining with a sincerity and strong sense of conviction that made her breath catch in her throat. “You are the only woman I have had any interest in at all for the past two years. If I am being completely honest, you are really the only woman whom I have EVER had any genuine feelings for. I wanted tonight to go perfectly so that I could prove I was worthy of your time and attention- so that I could continue seeing you as often as possible and hold you and kiss you and tell you how lovely and amazing you truly are.” His smile lightened slightly at his confession, one hand sliding around her waist again as he leaned her back slowly. “You may find it a huge cliché for me to say such a thing, but..”
Joseph reached up and put one hand on his cheek, gazing up into his eyes with a playful but understanding smile. “Now you’ll say ‘You’re different from the other girls- you are the first woman I’ve ever fallen for, Jojo’, and then you’ll lean in for a kiss.”
“You’re different from the other girls- you are the first woman I’ve ever fallen for, Jojo.” He said before leaning down with her in an elegant dip so he could kiss her lips. Just as his lips made contact with hers, he finally realized what just happened. “!!”
He seemed mildly startled, looking like he might pull away to say something, but Joseph was having none of that. “Mhh..” She moved the hand that had been on his cheek around to the back of his neck and held him in place so she could kiss him properly.
She’d done research since their last kiss and now had a better understanding of what to do between that and what she’d learned from kissing Caesar already: Tilt the head slightly to find a more comfortable angle. Breathe through the nose to make the kiss last longer. Purse the lips in smooth motions back and forth, responding to how your partner moves theirs.
Caesar was again surprised by her boldness, but did not seem to mind if the way he held her closer and sighed silently through his nose was any indication. “Hmh..” The kiss lasted much longer than their first one, the two of them taking their time to fully enjoy the experience. By the time they finally pulled apart (only by an inch or two so they were still practically breathing each other’s air), they had matching red cheeks and black lips- a combination of Joseph’s lipstick and the squid ink from Caesar’s pasta. “Jojo..” Caesar said while gazing at her with awe and pure, loving adoration. The smile on his face was so warm, so genuine, so clearly and completely Caesar that it made Joseph’s heart melt. “I may grow tired of that trick one day, but I don’t see that day coming for many years.”
Joseph’s heart pounded at the meaning behind his words and she smiled back up at him, sharing that hope and desire for the future with him. “Guess we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?”
<-Previous Part Next Part->
-From the Beginning-
“Sei come qualcosa da un sogno..” - “You’re like something from a dream..”
“E 'bello vederti, bambino!” - “It’s good to see you, boy!”
“Bello vederti, amico mio!” - “Good to see you, my friend!”
“Potresti tenerlo segreto, Emilio?” - “Could you keep that a secret, Emilio?”
“Io non la penso così.” - “I don’t think so.”
“Rispondetela e non parlerò mai più con voi!” - “Answer her and I’ll never talk to you again!”
“Ti odio!” - “I hate you!”
“Accidenti a te, vecchio…” - “Damn you, old man...”
Also, the new nicknames he drops for her are “splendid/gorgeous goddess” and “sweet angel”.
A Reckoning at Condé Nast
“It’s hard to be a person of color at this company,” a staff member said. In response to an uprising, Anna Wintour and the chief executive, Roger Lynch, offered apologies.
The Condé Nast leaders Anna Wintour and Roger Lynch at a fashion show in New York last year.Credit...Brian Ach/Getty Images
June 13, 2020, 5:26 p.m. ET
This was supposed to be Condé Nast’s year.
The publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker was going to be profitable again after years of layoffs and losses.
Then advertising revenue suddenly dropped as the coronavirus pandemic cratered the economy. More recently, as protests against racism and police violence grew into a worldwide movement, company employees publicly complained about racism in the workplace and in some Condé Nast content.
In response, the two leaders of the nearly all-white executive team — the artistic director, Anna Wintour, and the chief executive, Roger Lynch — offered apologies to the staff.
At an all-hands online meeting on Friday, employees asked if Ms. Wintour, the top editor of Vogue since 1988 and the company’s editorial leader since 2013, would be leaving. Mr. Lynch and the communications chief, Danielle Carrig, shot down the question, saying Ms. Wintour was not going anywhere, said three people who attended the meeting but were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Ms. Wintour sent an apologetic email to Vogue’s staff, saying she had made “mistakes.”Credit...Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA, via Shutterstock
Tumult has hit Condé Nast, a company built partly on selling a glossy brand of elitism to the masses, at a time when its financial outlook is grim. Last year, the U.S. division lost approximately $100 million on about $900 million in revenue, said several people with knowledge of the company, who were not authorized to speak publicly. The European arm also had losses.
Mr. Lynch said in an interview Friday that he was “not familiar” with the cited figures, adding that the company’s merger of its domestic and international operations, part of a recent restructuring, had been costly.
In April, the company instituted pay cuts for anyone making over $100,000. Then came layoffs — 100 jobs gone out of roughly 6,000.
Condé Nast is one of many media organizations, including The New York Times, whose employees have questioned company leaders as people around the world have taken part in protests prompted by the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died last month in Minneapolis after a white police officer pinned him to the ground.
The company has been led by the Newhouse family since 1959. Steven Newhouse heads the parent company, Advance, and his cousin Jonathan Newhouse is chairman of Condé Nast’s board. Advance also controls more than 40 newspapers and news sites across the country. Many of them, including The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and The Star-Ledger in Newark, have struggled. The Newhouse family has protected itself against losses with significant investments in the cable giant Charter and the media conglomerate Discovery.
Before the internet took readers away from print, Condé Nast was known for thick magazines edited by cultural arbiters who traveled in the same circles as the people they covered. As digital media rose, Condé Nast was slow to adapt. Budgets tightened. Magazines including Gourmet, Mademoiselle and Details folded.
By the time Mr. Lynch, a former head of the music streaming service Pandora, succeeded Robert A. Sauerberg as the chief executive last year, Condé Nast was in triage mode. After his arrival, it unloaded three publications: Brides, Golf Digest and W.
On Monday, Condé Nast reckoned with how the company deals with issues related to race. Adam Rapoport, the longtime top editor of Bon Appétit, resigned after a photo surfaced on social media showing him in a costume that stereotypically depicted Puerto Rican dress.
Adam Rapoport resigned as Bon Appétit’s top editor after a photo of him in a racially insensitive costume surfaced.Credit...Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
He apologized to staff members in a videoconference. After Mr. Rapoport left the call, the staff voiced complaints about the Bon Appétit workplace. Some minority employees said they had been used as ethnic props in Bon Appétit’s videos, a growing segment of the Condé Nast business.
“It’s so hard to be a person of color at this company,” said Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, a black woman who worked as an assistant to Mr. Rapoport. “My blood is still boiling.”
She recalled a 2018 meeting of editors to discuss how to make the magazine’s Instagram account more diverse. In a room of about eight editors, three were people of color.
“And we’re all very junior, no power,” Ms. Walker-Hartshorn said in an interview. “I was like, ‘You’re asking us how to make our Instagram black without hiring more black people?’”
At a company forum on Tuesday, Mr. Lynch said Bon Appétit employees should have raised their concerns earlier, a comment that rubbed many the wrong way. In a closed-door session later that day, he apologized to a group of staff members who had pushed for Mr. Rapoport’s ouster.
“I want you to know I take this personally, and I take personal responsibility for it,” he said, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The New York Times.
A onetime banker at Morgan Stanley, Mr. Lynch spent much of his career at Dish, the satellite TV service. As a hobby he played lead guitar in a classic-rock cover band, the Merger. He moved from San Francisco to New York and updated his wardrobe to join Condé Nast.
Mr. Lynch, 57, has emphasized diversity efforts and environmental programs in emails to the staff. He said in the interview on Friday that he was developing an overall company strategy as he assembled his executive team. In December he hired Deirdre Findlay as the chief marketing officer, making her the company’s highest-ranking black executive.
Mr. Lynch in 2018, when he ran Pandora. He became chief executive of Condé Nast last spring.Credit...Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
His former executive assistant, Cassie Jones, who is black, quit shortly after he gave her a gift she considered insulting, three people with knowledge of the matter said.
In November, after she had spent four months working for him, Mr. Lynch called Ms. Jones into his office and handed her “The Elements of Style,” a guide to standard English usage by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Mr. Lynch said he thought she could benefit from it.
With its suggestion that her own language skills were lacking, the gift struck Ms. Jones as a microaggression, the people said. A few days later, she quit. Before leaving the headquarters at 1 World Trade in Lower Manhattan, she placed the book on his desk.
Mr. Lynch said he hadn’t meant to insult Ms. Jones, who declined to comment for this article. “I really only had the intention — like every time I’ve given it before — for it to be a helpful resource, as it has been for me,” he said. “I still use it today. I’m really sorry if she interpreted it that way.”
Before Mr. Lynch’s arrival, David Remnick, the editor in chief of The New Yorker, objected to a plan that would have lowered the magazine’s subscription price and raised ad rates. He has brought aboard a diverse crew of journalists, including Jia Tolentino, Hua Hsu and Vinson Cunningham, while adding digital subscriptions.
Three people with knowledge of the company said The New Yorker was likely to surpass Vogue as Condé Nast’s biggest contributor to U.S. profits by the end of 2020. The people added that about 80 percent of The New Yorker’s revenue came from readers, which helped the magazine weather the advertising downturn. The magazine did not cut staff during the recent layoffs.
Condé Nast, with headquarters in Lower Manhattan, has cut the pay of employees making over $100,000 and laid off 100 workers.Credit...Vincent Tullo for The New York Times
On June 4, Ms. Wintour sent an apologetic note to the Vogue staff. “I want to say this especially to the Black members of our team — I can only imagine what these days have been like,” Ms. Wintour wrote.
She added, “I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. We have made mistakes, too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.”
The British-born Ms. Wintour has been credited internally for championing Radhika Jones, one of few top editors of color in the company’s history.
Ms. Jones, the former editorial director of the book department at The Times who took over Vanity Fair from Graydon Carter in 2017, changed the magazine’s identity. The first cover subject she chose, for the April 2018 issue, was the actress and producer Lena Waithe, a black woman photographed by Annie Leibovitz in a plain T-shirt. Later covers featured Michael B. Jordan, Janelle Monae and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Ms. Jones has put out 16 Vanity Fair covers featuring people of color.
When Ms. Jones arrived, she was pilloried by fashion insiders who questioned her style sense. Her choice of legwear — tights with illustrated foxes — drew stares, according to a report in Women’s Wear Daily. Ms. Wintour later showed her support for Ms. Jones at a welcome party by handing out gifts: tights with foxes on them.
Vanity Fair’s top editor, Radhika Jones, sat through a difficult meeting early in her time at the magazine.Credit...Michael Kovac/Getty Images
At a quarterly meeting of company executives in April 2019, on Mr. Lynch’s second day at Condé Nast, Ms. Jones presented her plan for Vanity Fair’s fall issues, a prime landing spot for fashion and luxury advertisers. (From September to December last year, the Vanity Fair covers featured Kristen Stewart, Lupita Nyong’o, Joaquin Phoenix, and Chrissy Teigen, John Legend and their children.)
Two executives criticized Ms. Jones’s plan, according to three people who were at the meeting and were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In particular, Susan Plagemann, the chief business officer of Condé Nast’s style division, challenged Ms. Jones at length, saying the plan would be difficult to sell to advertisers. To defuse the tension, Ms. Wintour banged her fist on the table, saying, “We need to move on,” according to the three people who were at the meeting.
Ms. Plagemann, who is white, joined the company in 2010 as Vogue’s chief business officer and worked closely with Ms. Wintour; in 2018, she was elevated to her current job. Three people with knowledge of the matter said she was vocal about her negative view of Vanity Fair under its new editor.
She had criticized Ms. Jones’s choices of cover subjects, telling others at the company that the magazine should feature “more people who look like us,” two of the people said. A third person said he had heard her use words expressing a similar sentiment. All the people said they interpreted the phrase and similar remarks as referring to well-off white women who adopt an aesthetic common among the fashion set.
Through a Condé Nast spokesman, Ms. Plagemann denied making those statements and denied expressing a dim view of Ms. Jones’s Vanity Fair.
In the interview on Friday, Mr. Lynch addressed Ms. Jones’s stewardship of the magazine more broadly. “The challenge with her taking that new direction would be alienating some of the traditional Vanity Fair audience,” he said. “I really applaud what she’s done.”
The uprising at Condé Nast was overdue, some staff members said. “We’ve been asking for change for months now,” Sohla El-Waylly, an assistant editor at Bon Appétit, said in an interview.
In the Tuesday meeting with Bon Appétit staff members, Mr. Lynch said he hoped to prove a commitment to diversity with the choice of Mr. Rapoport’s replacement. Later in the call, he suggested that some staff members wanted to hurt Bon Appétit financially to bring about change, a comment that irked some in the meeting.
“It felt infantilizing, as if we were teenagers rebelling,” said Jesse Sparks, an editorial assistant.
Mr. Lynch said in the interview that he had meant to underscore the urgency of the matter. “I wanted to make sure they understood the brand they worked so hard to build was actually being harmed, and I think I even apologized to them in that meeting,” he said.
A Bon Appétit personality, Claire Saffitz, has generated over 200 million views with “Gourmet Makes,” a show in which she makes homemade versions of Twinkies and other junk food. She represents a new kind of Condé Nast, one built on a kind of rough-cut authenticity, but her popularity has drawn attention to the problem of representation.
“We’ve been asking for change for months now,” said Sohla El-Waylly, an assistant editor at Bon Appétit.Credit...Francesco Sapienza for The New York Times
Ms. El-Waylly, who was a regular guest on the show, said her addition to “Gourmet Makes” had been cynically motivated. “They just want me there to play the part to make it look like they have people of color on staff,” she said.
She said she was not paid for her appearances, as her white counterparts were. Condé Nast disputed that and said Ms. El-Waylly’s salary covered her video appearances.
On Wednesday, the company’s head of video, Matt Duckor, stepped down. Several employees had accused him of bias. Many people at the company are rooting for more change.
“What’s crazy is what it took for this stuff to happen,” Ms. Walker-Hartshorn said. “It took George Floyd.”
Read the full article
i am honored to have been tagged by @asyayay and as i am avoiding actually working this is a perfect time to complete this post :)))
rules: tag 9 people with excellent taste
color(s) i’m currently wearing: black yoga pants and a gray t shirt because i just woke up (well, an hour and a half ago) and i am way too lazy to actually get ready yet
last band t-shirt i bought: i honest to god have never bought a band t shirt
last band i saw live: i dont really go to concerts that often but i went to go see a group called СБПЧ (Самое Большое Простое Число) last semester on the recommendation of a friend and it was pretty cool! before that I saw a random greek band on tour in Sofia and their music was soooo good but I can’t remember their name unfortunately :((
last song i listened to: i really dont remember but a solid guess is something by ABBA probably
lipstick or chapstick: depends on the day but usually chapstick because i am afraid of my lipstick smudging without me noticing, but maybe once a week i wear extremely bright red matte lipstick (also when i go out i tend to go for a bright lipstick because its the easiest way to look like you put in effort when you really didnt). also i used to wear lipstick everyday but the brand/color that i wore (and love) is super expensive in russia so until i move back to france or the united states it’s most likely chapstick lol
last movie i watched: Well I am only halfway through watching Call Me By Your Name (i would like to thank turkish streaming websites for getting new movies up so quickly), but the last movie I completed was Lady Bird and I really didnt like it sorry I can’t relate with wildly immature teenagers, when I was a teenager people routinely mistook me for a college graduate. also her mom was a bitch and I had no sympathy for her, like this was a supposedly relatable film about growing up yet I was just like “wow, great, you lost your virginity and it sucked. join the club”.
last 3 tv shows i watched: lmao, i have been watching Friends because 1) i genuinely never had seen an episode before yet it seems to be the show that all non-Americans associate the most with my home country and it’s actually interesting to see where a lot of random cultural references from my childhood come from and 2) i needed something stupid to watch to get my mind off of my breakup and this fit the bill. Before that i watched this british show called “White Gold” (on the suggestion of my ex, lol) and theres only 1 season on netflix but it’s good, funny, and i liked it and will probably watch the next season when it comes out. And before that I watched Rick and Morty, again, on the recommendation of my ex (he watches more series than I do). But I also liked this one a lot. My ex has good taste in tv but I am enjoying settling back into my trash sitcom tastes. I also think it should be mentioned that I frequently rewatch 30 rock and I also watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia a la carte. Yes I am trash.
last 3 characters i identified with:
I don’t really know, there are never characters I fully identify with, but I think it’s funny that Rachel in friends cries at everything because like, #mood. She literally had to warn her boss that she “isnt crying because she is sad or angry just because of the situation of having to talk to her” which is 10,000% me (also my name is Rachel lol).
I hate myself for admitting this publicly but I tend to identify with the male main characters in Orhan Pamuk books because I too am prone to sadness, overthinking, and yearning, and even though they are all objectively awful I still find myself reading them and being like “ok, yeah, i get it”.
EDIT : I can’t believe I forgot this but now that I am currently studying at the lenin library, Aleksandra and Lyudmilla in moscow doesnt believe in tears!!! iconic female characters, both in terms of wanting to get a man but also be successful in your career and having a cool daughter. Also 1970s russian fashion yes please
book i’m currently reading: Several!! Orientalism by Edward Said, Righteous Dopefiend by Jeffery Schonberg and Philippe Bourgois, and The Idiot by Elif Batuman. 1 is for my personal development, 1 is for a class (only a couple chapters were for the class but it was so good I wanted to keep reading it), and the Idiot is because i like Elif Batuman’s New Yorker articles (tbh I think she is a better journalist than novelist, but the book is still pretty good)
Part 1, Chapter 12
Or: War and Humility
Blood War: Masquerade of the Red Death Trilogy Volume 1
We’ve reached the penultimate chapter of Part 1, and the last Dire McCann chapter until Part 3.
St. Louis—March 13, 1994
The Prince held his council of war in his office at the rear of Club Diabolique. Attending were Vargoss, Flavia, McCann, a ninth-generation Brujah named Darrow, and an eighth-generation Nosferatu known only as ‘Uglyface’ for obvious reasons.
“McCann, Flavia, the Sabbat have struck! This insult will not stand! Summon two other guys!”
Darrow is Vargoss’ policy adviser. He seems like your stereotypical Brujah; rides a Harley, black leather outfit, body covered in tattoos. In reality, we’re told, “Darrow was no rebel.”
He had spent most of his life serving as an officer in the British Army. He had participated in many of the major campaigns of the 19th century and was the veteran of a hundred battles. He was a calm voice of reason, not afraid to contradict the Prince when Vargoss was wrong.
He might not be a molotov-cocktail-throwing anarchist, but Darrow’s not that much of a subversion of Brujah Kindred. He’s what you’d imagine a Camarilla Brujah is like: the voice of reason and superego, not afraid to stand up to the authoritarian Ventrue or the “ooh, shiny!” Toreador. You ever wonder how the “rebel clan” fit in with the undead equivalent of The Man? There you go. ‘Course, as of v5, the Brujah have (violently) left the Camarilla, so the clan as a whole has its limits of how much of the Establishment they’re willing to take.
Uglyface, meanwhile, has the prestigious title of Minister of Intelligence to counter his less prestigious name.
No one in St. Louis knew much about Uglyface’s background.
“Uglyface” is a lazy and vague name to give a Nosferatu character. You ask around for a Nosferatu named Uglyface and you’ll be asked to be more specific. It’s like nicknaming a guy on a basketball team “Tallman” or a self-described gamer “Badperson”.
Nearly seven feet tall and thin as a rail, he had lived in the city longer than any vampire. His face came from a Gahan Wilson cartoon—wide, bulging eyes, tiny button nose, a wide mouth full of yellow teeth, and ears that stuck out like antennae from the sides of his head.
Gahan Wilson was a cartoonist who did work for Playboy, The New Yorker, and National Lampoon, among other things, for almost fifty years. Here’s his wiki page, for those interested.
Uglyface’s grotesque features branded him an idiot. He was not. The Nosferatu vampire possessed an incredible memory for names, dates, and facts. Like many of his clan, he thrived on gathering and processing raw data into usable information.
There’re Brujah who aren’t rebels, Gangrels who live in cities, and Ventrue who don’t automatically think they have the divine right of kings, but do you ever see a Nosferatu who isn’t a huge nerd?
“The Red Death struck three times in America last night,” said Vargoss, resting his arms on his desk. He was obviously concerned. Troubled eyes stared at the trio facing him. To the rear, on guard as always, was Flavia. She was no longer in white leather but in black. And for the first time i decades, she stood alone.
It’s rare for a vampire to wear black out of genuine mourning, rather than just to be evil and goth.
Vargoss continues on saying he’s received reports about more attacks in Europe; the one at the Louvre, where five Kindred were killed (the number of ghoul deaths aren’t mentioned because Kindred are huge assholes), and one we didn’t see in Marseilles, where two died during a Ventrue clan meeting. Not very large numbers there, but in total there had been six attacks over the last twenty-four hours with a total of thirty-five Kindred killed, or “sent to their Final Deaths” because vamps are overly semantic about being undead.
McCann notes how fast Red D.’s moving in order to kill that many vampires around the world in a single day. Darrow voices his and McCann’s shared suspicion: that there may be more than one Red Death. Only he says it more Britishy.
“Are we positive it is the same bloke?” [...] “That bloody mockery of a face of ‘is was awfully distinctive. Maybe it was meant to attract attention, aye? Any Kindred adept at sculpting flesh could rearrange his features into that grotesque mask. Instead of dealing with a single Red Death, we may be faced with several. Maybe an entire Sabbat pack made a pact with a demon.”
“Sculpting flesh” is referencing- No, wait, screw it. We’ve got a lot to cover and I don’t feel like going on a Tzimisce tangent. Guvna.
“Following that same line of reasoning, are you convinced the Red Death was a vampire?” asked McCann. The detective was anxious to establish certain facts he already knew as truth.
“Are Gangrels just Brujah furries? Are the Followers of Set really sexier than the Toreador? Do we really hate Scrappy Doo or are we just repeating a forty-year-old meme? Does anyone else miss dodgeball?”
“The abomination belonged to the Kindred,” said Vargoss, angrily. “My will touched his when I commanded him to stop.”
It’s only gay if the wills touch.
“Blood called out to blood, McCann. The Red Death was definitely one of the Damned.”
McCann plays dumb, asking if there are any disciplines capable of turning a vampire into a being composed of living fire.
“None practiced among the Camarilla,” said Uglyface. His high-pitched voice squeaked like a cartoon character’s.
Alright, Clan Nosferatu fans. You guys are all “Oh I’d fall in love with a Nosferatu, I don’t care what they look like” but what if they’re confessing their bestial love for you in a Mickey Mouse voice? How committed are you to this monster-fucker image of yourselves?
Vargoss believes Darrow’s right about the Red Death being from the Sabbat. He claims they’re “demon lovers” who “mock the power of the flames” and cites a ritual of theirs called, creatively, the Fire Dance as proof. That’s where Sabbat pack members prove their loyalty and bravery, or just to psych themselves up before a battle, by dancing around and eventually jumping through a bonfire (though Vargoss says it’s a funeral pyre) without flipping out and running away. Any similarities between this evil Sabbat ritual and certain real-life cultures’ rituals are unintentional on White Wolf’s part. Hopefully.
“Sorry,” said McCann, “but I don’t accept those kinds of deductions. I’m a detective, remember? Let’s use a bit of logic. Leaping over a fire like Jack-Be-Nimble is a lot different than burning your footprints into the floor.”
Turn the condescension down a bit there, hoss. You may be the Dark Messiah but you’re no Beckett.
Tacktlessness aside, McCann’s got a point and starts poking holes in the Red Death’s cover story. He says while he doesn’t discount the Sabbat being responsible he wonders why, during the Sabbat’s five-century-long war with the Camarilla, they’ve never busted out these Red Death attacks until now. Darrow again sides with McCann and gives us a rundown on Sabbat invasion tactics.
“These friggin’ attacks make no sense. Usually the Sabbat spends years organizing a Crusade to take over a city. We all knows the procedures. First they send in the spies. Then they place traitors into the Kindred council of elders. Next comes their efforts to expose the Masquerade through carefully planned acts of murder and terrorism. And then, during the resulting chaos, they attack in overwhelming numbers, exterminating any vampires they cannot convert to their cause. There’s no place for the Red Death in such plans.”
Uglyface suggests maybe they’ve finally came up with a new strategy, using the Red Death to wipe out a city’s Camarilla elders in one night instead of spending time and resources on a Crusade. McCann counters, saying that’s not what happened, at least in their case. Vargoss isn’t dead (and remember when McCann noticed the Red Death hesitate to kill Vargoss until the twins could save him?), the Sabbat aren’t invading, and while he killed a few Kindred, they were mostly later-generation, weaker vampires. Aside from trimming the population and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone, nothing’s changed.
With a “Bloody hell” Darrow says that they’re missing the most important question: Why did the Red Death attack a little nothing city like St. Louis in the first place?
“No offense, my Prince, but St. Louis ain’t a major Sabbat target. Leastwise, not according to our intelligence reports.”
Good save, Darrow.
“They have their eyes on bigger, more important cities.”
Way to blow the save, Darrow.
“What made us so bloody special we warranted the friggin’ attention of this fire monster?”
The Red Death needs access to Monsanto. He’s got this hilarious idea for a prank involving Roundup and cancer.
“No offense taken, Darrow,” said Vargoss. “I value your honesty more than any flattery. And your point is well presented.”
Vargoss may be a dick at times, but after Bloodlines and L.A. by Night, it’s nice to see a Camarilla Prince who has his shit together.
Vargoss had been discussing the matter with other Camarilla elders and as far as they can tell, St. Louis was the first stop in the Red Death’s rampage. The question is why? McCann suspects Red D. came for him, but obviously he’s not going to say that. Instead he fingers the late Tyrus Benedict. This prompts Vargoss to pull out a several-page-long fax from the Tremere HQ in Vienna, written by “Etrius himself.” McCann’s not only a magic man and a secret Methuselah, but he’s also “a student of Tremere history and organization,” so he recognizes the name. Etrius is the head of the Tremere Inner Council of Seven.
Etrius served as the guardian of the founder of the clan of undead wizards, the powerful sorcerer known as Tremere. The vampire himself lay dormant in torpor in a stone sarcophagus in the catacombs beneath Vienna. Strange rumors swirled about regarding the condition of Tremere’s body. Rumors that Etrius refused to confirm or deny.
Etrius is both an established character in Vampire: The Masquerade and a viewpoint character we’ll see in Chapter 8 of Part 2.
Etrius, who Vargoss calls “a cold, merciless bastard like all of his clan” (like a Ventrue should talk about other clans being jerks), didn’t care much about Benedict’s death but was interested in the Red Death and his fire powers.
“No bloody surprise, that,” said Darrow. Like most Kindred, he feared and distrusted the Tremere. Though they protested that they were loyal members of the Camarilla, everyone knew that the wizards worked for their own ends. And those plans they kept to themselves. “What those devils would give to wield a power like the Red Death! They’d probably burn us all off the map. And laugh at us for providing the information while they did it!”
Yep, everyone hates the Tremere. So much so that their clan weakness in Bloodlines 2 is going to be taking more damage from Kindred enemies. Other vampires hate them so much they’re inspired to punch a Tremere just a little harder in the face than usual.
Vargoss nodded. What small trust he had in the Tremere vanished when his closest advisor, Mosfair, turned on him a few months ago. Only McCann’s intervention had saved the Prince from the ultimate betrayal. The detective had never revealed that Mosfair had actually been acting as an agent for the Sabbat, not his own clan. McCann disliked alliances between the major Kindred bloodlines. And he worked very hard to prevent them from succeeding.”
Considering the two biggest Kindred sects are alliances between major bloodlines, somewhere along the way McCann fucked up big time. And so much for the Sabbat having no interest in St. Louis.
But as untrustworthy and scheming as the Tremere are, Vargoss reveals the fax dropped a bombshell on them. Benedict had visited to warn about the total blackout, the Shadow Curtain, of Kindred activity in Russia, and show Vargoss the photos of the Niktuku Baba Yaga the Tremere obtained. But Etrius says he was only sent to St. Louis to personally apologize for Mosfair’s actions and be all “the actions of this employee do not represent the views of the company.” Benedict didn’t have any documents on him about Baba Yaga or Russia.
The Prince paused, obviously enjoying the astonished looks on his advisors’ faces. Vargoss possessed a strong sense of the dramatic.
A vampire with a strong sense of the dramatic. Imagine.
Etrius also said that while Benedict got the basic facts right, no one the Tremere sent into Russia ever returned, with or without photos. He didn’t know about any photos or Baba Yaga’s Army of Night.
Darrow suggests the obvious, that the “slimy wizard” is lying, but Vargoss believed the fax. Its tone suggested Etrius was deeply disturbed by the news and asked Vargoss to give him every detail Benedict said about Baba Yaga.
“According to the ancient legends of my clan,” said Uglyface, “the Iron Hag was the greatest sorceress in the world. She was one of the Niktuku, monsters created by Absimiliard, the first Nosferatu, in his days of madness.”
Father Naples in the prologue described the Niktuku as fourth generation Nosferatu. The book generally goes with that description and so have I so far, but there’s another theory about them, possibly hinted by Uglyface here. Niktuku aren’t just fourth generation Nosferatu, or even uniformly fourth generation, but a separate “minor” bloodline altogether. Absimiliard thinks that if he wipes out his progeny, the modern Nosferatu, Caine will forgive him and lift his curse, and Absimiliard’ll get his good looks back. So he created the Niktuku to serve him and kill Nosferatu. There could be Niktuku with generations higher then four, but they’re all low generation and very old.
But it’s just a theory, another one of those things kept deliberately vague in the setting, being true or not depending on what the storyteller desires. What is known is that sometime in the late 90′s another Niktuku killed Baba Yaga and ended the Shadow Curtain. Right now though, in 1994, Baba Yaga’s alive and a problem.
“Her powers rivaled those of Lameth, the Dark Messiah.”
“It sounds like someone tampered with Benedict’s thoughts during his journey here from Vienna,” said McCann hurriedly. He was anxious to shift subjects again.”
“Yes, yes, she sounds like a powerful but clearly inferior rival to Lameth the Handsome, but if we can get back to Benedict-”
“Actually as a Cappodocian Child of Asshur Lameth would have looked like stale cheese. He was also an incompetent boob when it came to Jyhad. And fighting. A child with a jumprope could take him.”
“Who said- Um, ahem, that’s nice, Uglyface, but about Benedict-”
“Yes, good Noferatu, they also say Lameth’s attempts at Jyhad were to compensate for��how should I say this in polite company?—having a ‘blunt fang.’”
“...Interesting, my Prince, but back to-”
“Blunt fang’s just a fancy way of saying ‘is willy didn’t work, innit?”
“Indeed, his penis was impotent and also small.”
“OH COME ON!”
“No wonder the notion upsets Etrius. Messing with the mind of a wizard is no job for a lightweight.”
“Oh I wouldn’t go that far, McCann. Remember when Darrow told you having a hand bigger than your face meant you had cancer?”
“Yeah, and yeh put yer ‘and up in front of yer wizard mug and I made yeh slap yerself!”
“My Prince, Darrow, I’m clearly talking about brainwashing, not childish pranks.”
“Childish pranks yeh walked right into, guv’.”
“Yes, McCann, your affable buffoonishness reminds me very much of Lameth the Dark Mes-”
“Stay on topic stay on topic STAY ON TOPIC!”
“I asked Uglyface earlier to backtrack Benedict’s trip,” said Vargoss. The Prince shifted his attention to the Nosferatu. “What did you learn?”
Uglyface gives three important details; that Benedict used “unconventional” methods of transportation, that he arrived in Washington, D.C. three nights ago, and that he couldn’t get in contact with his usual Washington source, a friend named Amos. None of his messages were answered.
The second detail catches McCann’s attention. If Benedict arrived in D.C. three nights ago, and arrived just last night, it leaves one unaccounted for night where he could have been mind whammied. Vargoss brings up the Sabbat again, since they have their eye on conquering Washington. Darrow says that D.C.’s still a Camarilla stronghold, and the Tremere are powerful there. He namedrops some more established characters and explains some of their politics that he knows about for some reason.
“Peter Dorfman is Pontifex (high-ranking Tremere who answers directly to a member of the Council of Seven) there, and he is very ambitious. For all we know, Benedict may have received new instructions from a member of his own bloodline there. There’s a bitter rivalry between Dorfman and other Tremere elders. Meerlinda, leader of the U.S. branch of the clan, plays one against the other in order to maintain absolute control of the bloodline. In turn, she and Etrius both scheme to take charge of the entire clan. It’s a frigging bloody mess, and anything’s possible.”
If some Brujah in another city can figure out your plans, you’re not exactly a subtle schemer.
So the two leading theories among the group about what happened to Benedict are Sabbat brainwashing or inter-clan Tremere bullshit. But what, if anything, does any of that have to do with the Red Death? Whatever’s true, Vargoss decides that the only way to learn what the hell’s going on is to send someone to Washington and do some snooping.
All eyes focused on McCann. The detective laughed.
“Why do I get the impression I’ve been elected?”
Vargoss smiled. “You are the obvious choice, McCann.”
Along with this being McCann’s job and everything, he can also work during the day while the Kindred are sleeping and helpless, so that’s a plus.
“Yeah, and I have my mage powers to protect me,” said McCann. “Not that they would do much good if I stumble upon the Red Death.”
Yeah, what could a reality-shaping World of Darkness mage do to a vampire? Make him explode only a little?
“I assume you’re willing to pay well for this scouting expedition?”
Vargoss laughed. “What I like about you, McCann, is that you’re so pleasantly frank. After listening to lies and half-truths, it amuses me to hear real, honest greed.”
“Am I chopped liver or wot? I’m supposed to be the honest one.”
“Yes, Darrow, but you’re not honestly greedy.”
“I can be honestly greedy. I ‘ave needs.”
“I already pay you in beer.”
It seems like the matter’s settled, but then Flavia, remembering that she became a real character back in Chapter 5, whispers something in Vargoss’ ear. He excuses himself and leaves the office with his bodyguard. The three still in the office play some gin rummy until Vargoss and Flavia quickly return.
“The plans have been altered slightly,” announced the Prince, taking his seat. Flavia returned to her position at his right. “You are still traveling to Washington, McCann. But you are not going alone. Flavia is going to accompany you.”
“What?” said the detective. “What?”
[live studio audience laughter]
“Flavia argues convincingly that a lone human, even a mage, cannot stand against the concentrated attack of a Sabbat pack.”
There’s a molotov cocktail of a statement if there ever was one.
“Especially if the Red Death is involved. Besides which, Flavia has contacts with the important Camarilla leaders of the city. I am forced to agree. She is right. You need protection and introductions. And she is the one Kindred who is capable of providing you with both. Darrow will take her place at my side during her absence.”
“In addition, the large amount of tourists Washington attracts each year makes it very likely that the only hotel room you will be able to secure will be one with a single bed. Flavia convincingly argues she must be there in such a situation, in order to provide both sitcom hilarity and sexual tension.”
“I work on my own,” said McCann, feeling trapped.
“Not in this case,” said Vargoss, in a voice which brooked no denial. At his side, Flavia’s lips twitched in the slightest of smiles. “Do not anger me, McCann. You will discover the truth about Tyrus Benedict. And Flavia will guard your back.”
“And you will provide me with inspiration for the fanfiction I am writing about the two of you.”
“As you command,” said McCann, bowing to the inevitable. “It should be an interesting trip.”
Flavia nodded. Sensuously she licked her upper lip with her tongue. McCann grimaced. She winked.
McCann dry heaved. She blew a kiss. McCann projectile vomited. She pelvic thrusted victoriously.