Ann Patchett used to be a writer for Gourmet with a bottomless expense account. You never will be, because Gourmet is dead, killed partly by bottomless expense accounts. But Ann can give you a glimpse of Conde Nast's glory days.
Patchett's written a wistful remembrance of her ten happy years as a journalistic beneficiary of Gourmet's beneficence for the WSJ's new Off Duty section this weekend. No expense account request went unfulfilled! A small sample of what you missed out on:
When I was writing a novel about an opera singer who was taken hostage, I told them I really needed to go to Italy to tour the great opera houses. Never mind that the food in opera houses consists of boxed mints and tiny cups of espresso, they were behind me all the way. When I told Sertl the trip should include Venice, he reminded me that the opera house in Venice had burned to the ground ten years prior. I said that I still thought it was important, you know, spiritually. He understood.
And when I had a particularly endless stretch of house guests, I told Sertl I would like to check into a very fine hotel alone and not leave the premises for a week. He thought this was a terrific pitch. What hotel was I thinking of? I was thinking of the Bel Air in Los Angeles... My week as a hotel shut-in was wonderful.