April 11, 2007 — -- In her debut novel, model and actress Paulina Porizkova follows Jirina, a gawky 15-year-old Swedish girl who spends the summer in Paris as a model.
In the process, Jirina experiences life's highs -- wild parties, feeling beautiful -- and lows -- womanizing photographers and unfriendly fellow models.
Porizkova, who is married to musician Ric Ocasek, is also the author of a children's book. The following is an excerpt.
It's not as if I'm scared to fly.
Even after the divorce, my mother usually scraped together enough money to take us on a reduced-fare vacation each year. But this trip is different. My mother, her ever-changing boyfriends, and my little sister Kristynka are still snugly ensconced in our small apartment back in Lund, while I am on my way to Paris, alone.
Well, alone except for Britta, whom I met less than an hour ago here at the airport. After introducing ourselves, we immediately sized each other up. Britta, with her long golden hair, dark eyes, and soft curves is nearly my exact physical opposite. I have straight brown hair cut in a bob, pale green eyes, and am as tall and flat-chested as the guys in my ninth-grade class. That I got selected for the high-fashion world of models not only confused my classmates, but also made me suspect I was the target of some elaborate joke. I still half expect someone to pop up from behind a hidden camera and laugh in my face, like on that American TV show.
"Flight 343, final boarding call," a female voice announces over the loudspeakers.
I look over at Britta. She is standing with her mom near the security gate, hugging tearful good-byes as I wait on the other side. My own mother had full confidence in my ability to make it to the airport by myself, though the trip entailed three buses, a ferry to Denmark, and an additional bus ride to the terminal. "If you can't get to the airport on your own," she said, "how are you going to model in Paris all by yourself?"
"What would you ladies like to drink?" the stewardess asks with the kind of smile all flight attendants seem to spray on before starting their shifts. "We have a nice red Jacques Dubois, Beaujolais Village, and a crisp white Burgundy."
My jaw drops to the vicinity of my knees. This is the first time anyone has taken me for a grown-up. I nudge Britta. She may be my modeling competition, but right now, she is also my only potential friend. What better way to break the ice than to share in the bounty of a stewardess who has mistaken us for alcohol-worthy adults? But Britta looks as though she's fallen asleep.
"What?" she moans, and opens her eyes.
"Drinks," I tell her, wide-eyed, nodding toward the wine bottles held up for our inspection.
The stewardess, seeing my expression, retracts the bottle and her grin, and grabs a can of Coke. "A soft drink, perhaps?"
We each get a Coke, Britta completely unaware of our missed opportunity.
She sits up and rubs her eyes. "Sorry, I must have dozed off -- I had a late night with Lars yesterday." She sighs. "He's worried I'm gonna forget about him or something, you know, being around all those gorgeous French male models and stuff. But I told him -- 'Look,' I said -- 'I'm sixteen and you're twenty; if we find somebody else, then it just wasn't meant to be, right?'"
I nod understandingly, as if I ever had a real boyfriend. Bengt hardly counts.
She pops her can open and pours the Coke into her plastic cup. "So, how do you pronounce your name, anyway? My mom and I couldn't figure it out from the spelling."
"Yee-ree-na," I tell her, mangling my actual name, Jirina, in the familiar Swedish way. The correct pronunciation, Yee-r shi-nah, I hear only at home. My name has always been a sore spot for me. Why my parents cursed me to navigate a world of Anikas and Gunillas with a name that so clearly indicates an immigrant background (a communist background at that), was, and still is, incomprehensible to me. To top it off, there is also my last name: Radovanovicova. It's a mouthful even in my parents' native language.
"Wow, is that, like, Russian?" Britta says. I think I can detect a slight wrinkling of her nose, a common reaction to my "communist" roots.
"No, Czechoslovakian." Not that that's much better. "My parents are from there. But I was born in Sweden," I quickly clarify, "so I am Swedish."
Britta looks at me with raised eyebrows and I'm immediately afraid she doesn't believe me.
"You want to see my passport?" I offer.
But she just shrugs. "I believe you," she says, and takes a gulp of her drink. "So, how did you get discovered?"
Relieved, I babble on about my best friend, Hatty, to whom I owe this outing in the clouds. It was her obsession with fashion and makeup that led her to find an ad in the local paper for a modeling seminar, run by a "famed modeling scout to the most exclusive modeling agencies in the world," whose only requirement was a fee of twenty-five kronas. Hatty seized this as an opportunity to offer her services as a makeup artist to a bunch of model wannabes and convinced me to tag along to keep her company. The class was held in the living room of the famed scout, and we turned out to be her only clients.
Malin, an older woman with dyed-red hair set in waves, pale, papery skin, and arched, black, stenciled-on eyebrows, looked like a nineteen fifties glamour shot that had been crumpled into a ball and smoothed out. Her living room was a mess of photos, many of which were old modeling shots of herself. They consisted of hand and foot ads from ancient newspapers. She removed her brown sneakers to let us admire her famous feet and I noted with a touch of horror that her toenails were long, filed pointy, and the same dried-blood color as her fingernails. Malin fluttered her hands about her as she went through stacks of magazines, clicking her nails against glossy pages. "Did you know Mia is missing a finger? No, you wouldn't because of the way she has learned to hold her hands. Do you see this smile? How real and inviting it looks? That's because this girl is really smiling, inside. Do you understand? You have to feel the smile on the inside." For three hours, we sat on her couch, nodding politely as she shuffled through page after page of models with perfect teeth, abundant hair, and never-ending smooth legs, while she pointed out their poses and expressions with a steady torrent of words, of which I retained about a third. How to merge this information with my life remained a mystery. At the end of the so-called seminar, Malin nodded at me and announced I had definite possibilities. She didn't specify, and as Hatty and I walked home, she was convinced Malin was talking about modeling. Yeah, right. Only a few days before, my classmate Pelle had whacked me over the head with his history book to "kill the lice," though my hair was, as always, spotlessly clean.