Sunday, September 16, 2007
Dinner with Madonna
When Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Kevin Flower, began gesticulating wildly at me from across the dinner table, pointing at his chest and mouthing some word I mistook for an obscenity, I thought maybe he was trying to tell me the bill was here and I owed him a LOT of money.
It took me a while to realize that he was actually pointing at a petite blonde sitting at the table behind him instantly recognizable as the one and only Madonna.
Suddenly, the place was buzzing. Waiters dropped their dishes. Diners stopped chewing and turned around to stare. The more quick-witted ones whipped out their mobile phones and snapped grainy pictures.
But while the rest of the place craned their necks to get a better look, I was shrinking into my seat hoping to disappear from view.
You see, I did a story recently on Madonna, Kabbalah and her visit to Israel for the Jewish holidays. Suddenly, face to face with the subject of my work, I was terrified.
I had a vision of her marching over and slapping me with her dinner napkin, deeply offended at my pathetic attempt to report on her celebrity supremacy as husband Guy Ritchie glowered at me from a distance.
So, I took decisive action. I decided to ignore her. I turned to a fellow journalist beside me for support.
"What about these rumors of the Egyptian President’s failing health? What does it all mean?" I asked in a desperate attempt to look serious and sound earnest, pretending to be utterly unconcerned with the superstar in our midst.
But it was unavoidable. All around me people wanted to talk Madonna. What kind of shoes is she wearing? What is she eating? Is it kosher? What size do you think she wears? She’s so tiny! Why does her hair look so great? Atika, why does her hair look so perfect? You have the best view!
That was the worst part. I had a clear shot to the Material Girl herself and I was too embarrassed to even glance in her direction.
My friend Katherine, a professional photographer who is much braver than me, suddenly announced, "I want to take her picture but I don’t have a camera."
Guiltily, sheepishly, I slid my CNN-paid-for videophone across the table to her, an enabler to paparazzi.
You know, as a journalist, I’ve walked into the aftermath of a tsunami, stared down the barrel of a kalashnikov, and run headfirst into a riot. I’ve interviewed presidents and prime ministers, even a convicted cannibal.
But I couldn’t even gather enough guts to press a button and take a photo of Madonna.
We struggled for at least 30 minutes like this. Giddily taking photos of each other. Surreptitiously zooming in on the real target behind us.
It was a mess.
The closest we got was a very unflattering picture of Bureau Chief Kevin Flower and Madonna’s two bodyguards blocking the view behind him.
So, at the restaurants urging, we finally paid the bill and walked out, utterly defeated.
Of course, I’m sure Madonna had no idea what was going on. She probably didn’t even watch CNN and had never even seen my piece on air and didn’t give a hoot except to think: What a bunch of losers these people at the next table are.
Outside, the paparazzi pounced on us as we exited, flashing and snapping their cameras then groaning when they realized their mistake.
What was I doing? I should have elbowed her bodyguards aside, brazenly snapped a photo and demanded an interview with Madonna mid-bite. That's what a real journalist would do.
So, Madonna, I apologize for not doing my job and interrupting your dinner and bombarding you with questions until I was forcibly removed from the building.
I admit it: When it comes to celebrities, I am a bad journalist.
-- From CNN International Correspondent Atika Shubert in Jerusalem.
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