Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

No one walks in LA except prostitutes, the poor and the insane. So I walk for a good hour
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The Independent Online

This time I got it right. I got off the phone, jumped in the car and told the driver to take me to the wholefood store. Here I was, fresh from Sydney, 8am in LA, rolling peaches in my hands and squeezing avocados. I had already called ahead to the hotel to ask that everything be removed from the mini-bar. Being a Fruitarian is not that difficult; you just have to think ahead.

The hotel is very white - sort of minimal in a 1990s/1950s kind of way. The clientele are a cross between "Yeah, I've a script to read," Puerto Rican rock chicks, and roadies from Motorhead. And on the entire 12th floor, the King of Bling - great big guy and his entourage take up the whole lift.

As I checked in, they said: "Well, Miss Emin, you have come well prepared." I've checked into hotels with my Dad before - hotels where you have a suite of rooms including a kitchen. And I swear my Dad will have a whole bloody suitcase full of food - tons of vegetables, spices, cooking knives, lemons. He'll go shopping in the markets and return with mountains of melons and vine tomatoes. Then he'll just have the stuff perched round his room, loosely displayed. I always thought this bordered on the insane. But now I see exactly where he was coming from. Keeping a routine, staying in control.

So here I am in Room 1122. Every morning chopping up fruit salad, and with each little chop, running a mantra of: "I can eat what I like!" And while my fruit salad ferments, I take to the streets. I go for an early morning walk. Right out of the hotel, down Fountain to Santa Monica, up La Cienega and along Sunset, passing Book Soup.

My friend Daisy Bates told me my book was in Book Soup. So yesterday when I jogged past I thought it would be nice if I signed a few copies, as I like Book Soup. I stood at the counter all sweaty, in my giant purple sunglasses and said: "Hi, have you got a book called Strangeland by Tracey Emin?" (J R Hartley's Fly Fishing flashed across my mind.) I back-tracked and said: "No. I'm Tracey Emin. I wrote the book." I was blushing. I then had to explain I didn't want a copy anyway, and she told me there was no record of such a book. She called over all the other staff to ask if they'd heard of the book. They all shook their heads and said, "No." Then the guy said: "'Strange thing', you say, by Tracey who?" I then heard myself saying: "Tracey Emin. Tracey Emin. It's my book - I wrote it!" The girl looked down and said: "It's OK. We believe you."

No sweat

Nobody walks in LA, apart from the prostitutes, the poor, the criminal and the insane. I think that's part of the reason why people are afraid to walk here. But then of course if you do walk, why shouldn't you be as scary as anyone else? So I walk for a good hour. Get really sweaty. That's another thing you never do in LA - sweat. I'm sure people don't even sweat when they fuck here. I then hit the pool and swim for 45 minutes.

Sometimes I get my little routine wrong, which Zadie Smith, the novelist, bore witness to. I forgot to say, it's been Oscar week. The place has been full of this person, that person, that party, those cocktails. The atmosphere round the pool is pretty intense. People are laid-back and dudeish, but still all posing. Apart from the beautiful Zadie, who sits totally upright, with a large yellow flower in her hair, tapping away on her laptop.

We haven't seen each other for years. It's a very nice thing about LA - it's incredibly easy to bump into people, make new friends or rekindle. Anyway Zadie and I rekindled. I told her I was just waiting to sign the papers for a hire-car. Then I was going to go for a swim. Zadie laughed, like I was cracking a really funny joke. The hotel pool is very small - say 12x7 metres - very warm, shallow, resembling a cruise pool. Something you would get on a ship.

Around it are low sunloungers. On the sunloungers lay the "cool". They drink bourbon on the rocks, speak very loudly, smoke, posturing with their cigarettes, blowing smoke in tight streams into the blue sky. (The ones who smoke are hardcore - it's like jacking up in public.) All the waitresses are very skinny, wearing sarongs, showing off their midriffs. The roadies are on our left in the shade. The hip-hop crew, with the woman with the amazing S-shaped figure and giant Afro, are down the end - half shade, half sun. And the tits-and-tans Miami Vice crew are all blanched out to the right in the sun.

The temperature is about 75 degrees and the pool is empty. It has not been touched by human flesh all day. And it's crying out from its shallow, turquoise depths: "Christen me! Christen me! Make me ripple! Make me feel like a real pool!"

I pull my tracksuit bottoms off and Zadie says: "You're not really going in there?" As she looks down at her screen, SPLASH, like a true Selkie, I launch myself across the surface of the water, creating an almighty mini tidal-wave. A scream as a pink Chanel handbag gets drenched. The Hip-Hop gang stare briefly in disbelief, and the fully clothed Miami Vice squad pipe up: "Jeez man! What is this crazy lady doing! Why can't people just chill? Like she's swimming - my script is soaked!"

I say I'm sorry and curb my breast stroke. The guy puts his hand in the water and says: "Yeah. I guess it's a pool."

Dinner for one

Last night, due to bad timing on my part, I ended up at the Chateaux Marmont (a place to be seen) having dinner alone. Something I would never do in London. But I sat there all cosy in the garden, eavesdropping two men's conversations about their wives, with my one glass of champagne, carving into my steak, wishing I'd had spinach instead of fries. I raised my glass and took a sip, and thought: "It's a damn sight better than room service and the Murder Channel."

Today I fly to New York and on Saturday my gallery will throw a party for me. Then it's home. I'm not homesick, I'm not travel sick, but I'll be happy to be back. And the one big thing that I have learnt from this trip, this piece of distance, is as long as I can make the choice, I can be very happy on my own.

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