The Davinia files
I first remember when I decided I wanted to be a sychronised swimmer. I had worked out from watching coverage of aquatic events that synchronised swimming requires a strong body, agility, grace, timing and musical interpretation. When I first told my boyfriend, Duane, about my dream he guffawed.
“It’s not a sport. It’s a joke. People will laugh at you. Guys just watch it to see your body. I won’t have you being ogled by a bunch of horny men.”
“Duane,” I said using that voice and little tilt of my head that I knew drove him wild, “Elite level synchronized swimmers practice in the water 6 hours per day, 6 days per week. They also spend an additional 2 hours per day on land with cross training. Elite level synchronized swimmers can swim up to 75 meters underwater without coming up for air. ”
He wasn’t impressed.
“You will look like some stupid plastic clown. Look at how their hair never gets out of place. And those stupid bathing caps. They all have the most appalling taste. Their makeup is outrageous.”
” Its similar to running, while holding your breath, for 5 minutes. Try it and you’ll see what it takes!”
“You may as well run for five minutes and smash your head against a wall. Its dopey, really dopey Chrisinda.”
I found out that most synchronised swimmers have a deep knowledge of current fashion and of the subtle interplay between music and physical activity. Some have gone on and become fashion designers. My dream only got stronger. Duane became my ex-Duane.
The first thing you learnt was that synchronised swimming was all about style. You had to look good. That meant keeping an idiotic fixed smile on my face all the time. Even if I screwed up a routine. The first few weeks were just that. Ms Kynosinski videotaped us walking out from the competitors hut to the side of the pool, gesturing to the vacant stands, then diving into the pool and popping up with a smile on our faces. Even if the dive had knocked the breath out of you. Or you hit the bottom and scraped your chin or something. Tape after tape. “Smile girls, s-m-i-l-e. S-M-I-L-E. For Gods sake Chrisinda, SMILE.” Then you had to learn how to use the clip. The clip was my first real nightmare. I kept losing it, then I couldn’t find the spare, then I got water up my nose, then I coughed and spluttered, and then, it was very hard to smile, or remain dignified. Sitting on the side of the pool with snot dripping out of your nose and a big red mark where the bastard clip had dug into your flesh. That awkward nose clip. March out and the crowd are all suppressing a giggle and you are trying to keep a straight face. Then getting it off and out of the way before you gracefully emerge from the pool to reveal your unbridled beauty. Silicone gel to hold the hair in place even when you are spinning, spinning, spinning, underwater.
“Its the most important part of synch,” uttered Ms Kynosinski. She had started calling in synch after about the third session. The synchs in Atlanta had been ‘out of synch’, apparently because the Americans had looked vulnerable in the earlier part of the competition and there were rumours of the Russians taking drugs. I though to myself that I had not even entertained the thought that synchronised swimming would need any kind of drugs but Ms Kynosinski gave us a harsh lesson on keeping our figures and then on breath control and I saw where the drugs came into it. Ms Kynosinski taught us the media mantra if we ever were asked about drug cheating. “Yes, when it happened, it was a great shock for the team, the coaches, officials. Later, we gathered our strength and tried to forget everything. They were pills for weight control/asthma recommended to me by the Olympic committee. So, when the results were obtained by the doping committee, we were all surprised. Then we realized that (insert drug name) was in the food/asthma supplement and the food/asthma company was to blame.”
Then I moved onto the basic exercises. First I had to master the simple on the water stuff. The layout was easy and I itched to go further with the exotic names I kept hearing. The crane, dolphin, knight, flamingo, and fishtail. The hours spun into days, weeks, then months. I first noticed her as I practiced a complicated move. As I emerged from the water she sidled up to me and whispered in my ear.
“You should try moving your left leg a little higher in the transition. I think you will find it makes it a bit easier.” She then brushed my arm and, without a sound, she did a perfect half pike into the pool, barely rippling the surface. Davinia came to me more and more with little hints and words of encouragement. Finally, she suggested we might try some routines together as a duet. I hadn’t thought of anything as serious as that but Davinia said I had talent and Ms Kynosinski sort of shrugged her approval so we started working together. There had been talk of a rift between Ms Kynosinski and Davinia but I never inquired and Davinia never offered to talk about it.
Davinia was a whiz at design and music. She wanted to do our routine to the Fosse.
“Everybody’s moving away from classical now. In the free you want lots of movement and spontaneity. Fosse is unrecorded anywhere and you can really express yourself with it.” Then she started designing our costumes. She was into simple red and blacks and she thought the tighter the costumes the better. She would stitch something up in her front room flat and I would wriggle out of my robe and see if the new design showed my body off at its best. She thought we should do away with caps and just have a simple braid and an intricately designed scarf like wrap in a white and black motif. She braided my hair, and I hers, and I must admit that the finished product looked fantastic.
And now, here I am at the Olympics. All that hard grinding work to reach the pinnacle of your sport. We had really blossomed under Ms Kynosinski tutelage and whatever it was between her and Davinia seemed to have been patched up.
We had chosen the routine from Carmen for the final with the Japanese girls. The Carmen routine was perfect for us because Davinia had said that it showed the two sides of Carmen as she falls in love with and is betrayed by Jose, which we portrayed in the routine. It shows how opposites attract. Davinia and I are total opposites in real life, too, which is why I think we work well together in this routine. She likes driving fast cars, going out to bars and partying, generally having a good time, whereas I am more the stay at home type. But we have never quarreled over it. Davinia just accepts me for what I am. When my father heard we were doing Carmen, he said, ‘Tuesday finals with the Japanese looks like Carmen, so who are you? Jose?'” Its really lovely music and of course we can hear it all under the water. People think that the pool is shallow and that we just go through the routine and we can’t see or hear anything. We have our eyes and ears open the whole time and it only appears as though we are standing on the bottom because we create the illusion that we are with sculling and the eggbeater kick.
Facing Migici and Mako in the final was a physical as well as a technical challenge. Migici is a little smaller than Mako so they have a lot of trouble with heights and such. Whereas Davinia and I are about the same height (we stood by the mirror in our birthday suites and found that we are alike in other ways too) they look like an odd couple. But that can work to their advantage with some judges so we had to be very careful how we worked our routine. Our big surprise was our adaptation of the eight women team routine “Down the Drain.” Technically we shouldn’t have had it in but we figured with a combination of arms and legs we could create the illusion that there were more of us. I think it really made it for us and I was so proud of Davinia because it was her idea and her costumes that made it a dazzling spectacle.
Duane sat at home on the couch in front of the flat screen digital television with the surround sound and watched Chrisinda emerge from the water after her routine. He saw her proud smile and applauded her march around the poolside with her partner, Davinia almost like a Siamese twin, attached to her rear. He waited in a stretched silence for the judge’s marks. A 9.5 from the American – what was he thinking -or was it a she? 9.5, 9.6, 9.7, 9.9. The nines rolled on and Duane could tell from the look on Chrisinda’s face that she was a little disappointed, but mostly she was elated and Davinia looked into her eyes, and they hugged, and they kissed, and Duane felt a lump in his throat and a pain in his heart and he gulped at his beer and a little tear ran down his cheek. Duane’s mates all looked at Duane with a mix of shock and derision as he sobbed uncontrollably at the sight of Chrisinda throwing her arms around Ms Kynosinski and then Davinia and then they all kissed and hugged and walked triumphantly back to their poolside seats.
Cooking with Davinia
The music swelled and the studio lights gradually came up to reveal a fully functioning kitchen. Now that familiar tune, crudely borrowed and slightly disguised from the TV show The Avengers. Then, from stage right, i-i-i-i-i-i-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-s-s-s-s-s D-A-V-I-N-I-A. The studio audience gasp as she bounces across the set, he breasts straining at the diaphanous material of her blouse, her blond hair streaming behind her, eyes blazing with that, now-famous, look. She comes to a stop behind her massive wooden chopping board cum table and waits for the applause to die down. Gradually the thunderous adoration is reduced to a few isolated handclaps and the occasional wolf whistle. Davinia looks out into the lights and says “Thank you Frederick.” This brings a cacophony of fresh laughter and then further applause from the crowd. “Welcome to episode five of Cooking with Davinia. Tonight we focus on salads and I know I have some delicious little morsels for you. And please,” (here she stage suppresses a giggle) ” do try this at home.” The expected crowd response is immediate and prolonged.
Davinia starts to explain the various oils and vinegars that make up the basic ingredients in vinaigrettes and dressings while she absent mindedly massages up and down the neck of a particularly well constructed olive oil bottle with her thumb and forefinger. The males in the audience shift uncomfortably in their seats. She suddenly realises what she is doing and with girl-like-embarrassment she blushes, causing the Floor Director to yell “Cut, cut, cut.” He loudly taunts Davinia to get her bloody act together and is she ready for a two shot of the start up again. There is murmuring heard in the audience, mostly directed at the Directors crude interruption of what, for many of them, has been an inspiring moment in the career of Davinia White, Mistress of Chefs. True, there had been the rumours of the failed marriages, the affairs, the scandal in the country manor, the drugs, but now Davinia is at the top of her profession. From airline hostess, to author, to top TV cooking presenter. In just four years.
“Right Mr Director Person”, Davinia, taking her cue from the audiences anger, lets do that two shot and could I have some water over here.” Davinia then adds a very ironic please which brings a further response from the audience. Had they known that the ‘water’ was in fact straight vodka they may have been less generous in their rapture.
“I will first show you how to make a basic dressing to go on any salad.” Davinia crushed garlic and Maldon salt, mustard and peppercorns in her pestle then added balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Her vigorous manipulation of the pestle caused fascinating movements of her voluptuous breasts and now both men and women were lost in her story of why Lord Mountbatten had been a more competent maker of vinaigrettes than Queen Elizabeth. She finished by titling the resulting mixture to the camera for an overhead close-up. She was on a roll.
The Benzedrine was starting to kick in as she moved to her glass of water and downed 7ozs in one long gulp. But Davinia remained focussed. Apart from the Benzedrine and the vodka she was drug free. Or was that yesterday? “I’ll now explain a little bit about the various leaves that make up a salad. Isn’t that a fascinating word leaves? Like loaves and fishes, and, indeed salad leafs are our most basic food items.” Davinia starts to show the curly endive, the rocket, the cos, and the Chinese cabbages but she seemed to be dropping leaves as she spoke and the floor of the kitchen was starting to resemble a battlefield. Fortunately the camera can lie and the TV audience would only see the glorious Davinia reciting another hilarious anecdote to win ratings and, hopefully, another series.
“Now, darlings. Lets put this all together in our first salad of the evening – a hot beef salad with an Asian flavour. First we will wash our salad. Personally I don’t favour washing but most cooks do, so we will do it tonight. Opps taps only for decoration. Well we will use this drinking water.” Davinia drowns her lettuce leafs with 60 proof vodka. “Now we will dry them off by whirling with this little whirly thing. Weeee! Oh that’s so much fun.” The audience are still with Davinia but there is some murmuring in the front row. “Next we slice up some of this rare beef that through the miracle of television has suddenly appeared in front of me.” Davinia, after loudly demanding more water, has started to cut into the meat when a tear forms in the corner of her eye and then she asks for the cameras to stop rolling. As she downs another glass of water she tells the audience how she was driving to the television studio this very morning when, out of the corner of her eye, she notices what she thinks if a piece of paper blowing toward her Mercedes SL Turbo with white leather seats and Blaupluket stereo just newly purchased for a mere $300,000US. Then there is a sickening thump, and Davinia looks in the rear vision mirror and a beautiful off white Burmese, or possibly, Pekinese, she always gets the two mixed up, cat is desperately trying to get back on its feet and Davinia watches in horror, ignoring the path of her own vehicle, and her own very personal safety, as the poor creature writhes and turns. But its little back or legs or paws are broken and suddenly it just goes all loose and twitches one last time. And this meat has reminded her of the cat and she is just filled with remorse and horror and she will have to waste at least one, possibly two, sessions with her very expensive therapist, trying to work out the inner meaning of all this.
A few members of the audience are getting to their feet and moving out of the studio and the Director, who knows Davinia, and who knows that Davinia works best when she is in this crazy, zany, drug and alcohol fuelled rage that she has now entered, calls for the cameras to start rolling and could Davinia please get her act together. Knowing that this is the trigger that will get Davinia through the rest of the show. And Davinia then adds the oven-scorched red peppers and the feta cheese and the toasted pine-nuts that have all been prepared beforehand. Davinia then tosses the dressing over the combined ingredients and then after wiping the mascara that has smeared the off camera side of her face immerses her hands in the mixture and gently massages it like the lover that massaged her this morning or was that last week?
Then Davinia dishes a small amount of the salad onto a small plate and the final test, the Tasting. The Director, who knows Davinia well, knows that he has to have split second timing here or the days filming will be a complete waste of time. Davinia spoons a portion into the red gash of her mouth and the camera stops as she suddenly exhales salad, vodka, last nights pizza, this mornings croissant and coffee over the studio kitchen. Another day, cooking with Davinia.