at JFK i overheard her telling another member of our group that she'd once gone to the ukrainian border to examine the potatoes grown for chopin vodka, but i'd have picked her out anyway: there's a certain kind of lightweight trench coat one only sees on traveling wine-and-spirits journalists. when we were on the jetway waiting to board our plane to reykjavik, her companion wondered if martin miller was still alive. "he died in december," i blurted, because i am only sometimes able to remember that real life is not like watching jeopardy! in your living room.
we coincided a few days later when i was working my way through the group with questions about ethics; it had shocked me to learn that, for example, the new york times asks its travel writers to sign statements saying that they haven't taken a press trip in the last five years (my magazine allows its writers to go on press trips and has given its blessing for each of mine). she'd just written a book about press trips, as it happened. her co-author used a pseudonym; "i, of course, will be the baroness," she said.
i didn't really get the baroness thing until we shared an armrest on our flight back to new york the next morning. i mentioned somewhere over greenland that joe and i would be celebrating our wedding anniversary that week, and she told me that her marriage had soured quickly. she'd lived in her husband's castle for four years,* she told me, and was miserable; after nine years, he wrote a single line—I DISINHERIT MY WIFE—and killed himself with a shotgun.
we exchanged contact info when we parted at customs. "i don't have my other cards with me," she said, "so i'll give you a baroness card." "i haven't got one of those yet," i said, and she laughed.
*09.16.14: four months, that is (i tracked down a copy of her memoir and just finished it).