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The Borzoi Killings: A Conversation with Paul Batista

October 27, 2014

I recently had a chance to preview the latest legal thriller by Paul Batista and ask the New York Times bestselling author a few questions.

The Borzoi Killings will be out in November.

TGD: What made you turn from the coutrtroom to writing?

PB: Trials are theatrical, creative experiences. Writing, too, is the same kind of experience. Over the years I learned in the fast interplay of a major trial the need for quick, instinctive reflexes.

Writing, too, requires creativity, spontaneity and fast instincts. The major difference is that the act of writing is done in isolation, as it must be. But at least for me the process of writing offers the same need as a trial to concentrate on a basic rule: Expect the unexpected.

In fact, I still practice law and try cases. I know many full-time writers who spend hours and hours each day in a room where they have few or no interactions with other people. That’s not for me. As a still active lawyer, I’m constantly surrounded by and interacting with a range of people and their often astounding stories. I draw from that exposure when I take the time, as I do every day, to enter the interior world where my fiction-writing takes place. So I have not reached the point where I’ve totally abandoned the courtroom for writing. One feeds the other.

TGD: Mission accomplished. Even when you’ve been warned there’s going to be a surprise ending, you don’t see it coming. I went back to certain sections to see if I missed clues. And I did, starting with the first chapter. Message to the reader is that we see and believe what we choose. Was there an aspect of human nature you were actively exploring?

PB: It certainly was. We are always asking ourselves in life – or let me say I am always asking myself – what is it that I missed about this man’s or woman’s behavior that should have given me some clue or foresight as to why the person ultimately did or failed to do something that was surprising.

The Borzoi Killings is obviously meant to be a “thriller.” That means surprise is at its core. Yet in a sense every book worth reading is a thriller, a series of clues, suggestions, foreshadowings, connections.

The Borzoi Killings has multiple surprises, not just the ending at which the unexpected grabs the reader’s attention. In a sense, a totally unexpected ending is just an anomaly unless a writer has laid out clues and secrets along the way. I plotted The Borzoi Killings carefully because in real life the seeds of real life outcomes for real people are scattered throughout the events of their lives.

Author and attorney Paul Batista (Photo by: wikipedia.org) Author and attorney Paul Batista

TGD: This thriller lends itself perfectly to the screen. Do you prefer Antonio Banderas or Benicio del Toro? Any other actors in mind?

PB: Sure, myself thirty years ago! I’m as Latin as Juan Suarez, one of the main characters, and as Banderas and Benicio.

But Benecio would be my choice. Juan, an “illegal” immigrant, is not only exceptionally handsome, as are both Banderas and Benicio. But Benecio conveys the same range of charms, innocence, mystery and moods that Juan Suarez has. Benecio has that enigmatic range that I tried to endow Juan Suarez with.

TGD: Characters seem to play against and to stereotypes. Was that intentional?

PB: No. And do you want to know why? There are no stereotypes. Take the billionaire who is brutally murdered in the first chapter. In those first pages he is or appears to be the stereotypical hedge fund billionaire. Vast fortune, even vaster ego. Yet, as the story and trial unfold, we learn so much more about him: a genuine philanthropist with compassion for the scorned immigrant community of gardeners and day laborers in the Hamptons but also a man with unexpected, uncontrollable sexual impulses and a secret drug addiction that may, or may not, have played a role in his murder.

I’ll concede that there may be one stereotype: a playboy former U.S. Senator who plays off – as well as plays with – the complex widow of the slain billionaire. He is in many ways the unknown focus of the Carly Simon song You’re So Vain.

TGD: Do you think Juan is evil?

PB: Juan Suarez, of course, is the handsome, charismatic “illegal” immigrant who worked for the murdered billionaire and his wife, the complicated Joan Richardson. If I told you whether I thought Juan Suarez was evil, I’d have to kill you. Let’s just say he’s a man of many parts, all of which he plays convincingly.

TGD: Anything you’d like the readers of The Georgetown Dish to know about your passion for the law and how it plays out in real life drama?

PB: When I came out of an Ivy League law school after a stint in the Army during the Vietnam War, I was fortunate enough to get one of those plum jobs at a big Wall Street law firm. It was fortunate because I quickly became bored with contract documents and corporate law and was still young enough to venture out into where the real drama of the law is. And that’s the defense of men and women accused of crimes.

Possibly as a result of my experiences in the Army, I’ve always had a fascination with how men and women react to danger. In my practice, it’s the danger of scorn, ruin and imprisonment. Some people react with fear, confusion, anger; others react with what Hemingway defined as courage – grace under pressure. I feel passionate about the people I’ve represented in the law – both the rogues and the saints and the range of others arrayed along those extremes. I have the same passion about my fictional characters. If I didn’t have that passion about those fictional characters and how their lives turn out, I’d spend my time at the movies instead.

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Uber's Travis Kalanick Tops Fortune's 40 Under 40 List

October 9, 2014

The Georgetown Dish was not surprised when Fortune Magazine announced its 2014 list of the 40 most influential people under 40, and Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick tied with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for first place.

It was 2011 when Kalanick and Team Uber launched their on-demand private car service in DC.

Thanks Travis, for making uber our city's favorite verb!

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Georgetown Via Umbria

September 28, 2014

When the owners of an Italian lifestyle shop explain that "a truffle hunter we know helps guests pick their evening meal at our Umbrian villa," you know you're in the right place.

Marc Ulep with Lucia (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Marc Ulep with Lucia
The Georgetown Dish had the chance to sit down with Suzy and Bill Menard on the eve of the opening of Via Umbria. Their tag line is 'Discover, Savor, Share' and for these informal ambassadors of Umbria, a passion for all things Italian has been turned into a business. "It's the right place, the right time and the right audience," they explain. Locals may remember the charming Bella Italia in Bethesda, which the Menards ran for 10 years. At Via Umbria, the shopping experience expands exponentially: from ceramics and gifts to an Italian market, cooking classes, a book club, art gallery, chef events, and yes, customized food and wine tours of Umbria.

Geribi ceramics from Umbria (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Geribi ceramics from Umbria

Through their longstanding relationships with local artisans, the Menards have access to the very best indigenous products straight from the source. 

And they have also made their idyllic farmhouse, Fattoria del Gelso Casa in Cannara (Umbria’s artistic, cultural, historic, culinary and oenological center), a rental! Whether hosting visitors themselves or merely designing customized itineraries, they're able to offer an intimate experience of the striking landscape and the traditions they've come to know and love so well.

Fattoria del Gelso Casa (Farmhouse with Mulberry tree) (Photo by: viaumbria.com) Fattoria del Gelso Casa (Farmhouse with Mulberry tree)

Having recently bought the Georgetown building (formerly the Tari boutique which has reopened at 1742 Wisconsin Avenue), the Menards are here to stay. Now through the end of the year, the first floor is a holiday pop-up boutique filled with imaginative and useful gifts for cooking and entertaining, and an enormous collection of Geribi, their favorite Umbrian ceramics. From authentic cooking tools for making pasta in all sorts of shapes and handmade local pottery, to iconic Alessi designs. All things Italian, and everything made in Italy.

Ceramic wine bottle corks (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Ceramic wine bottle corks

"Our sense of discovery has led us to seek out amazing things, and enjoy wonderful company," says Bill, a former lawyer. Clearly commited to the concept of sharing, the Menards also own a butcher shop in Rome. Imagine the artisanal gourmet treats that await us.

Benvenuti in Georgetown!

Via Umbria is located at 1525 Wisconsin Avenue. Tel: 202.333.3904

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