Graceful, tall and voluptuous, the legendary Sophia Loren is still arresting at 76.
She is proof that striking unconventional beauty - which she says has not been tampered by plastic surgery - can achieve iconic status.
I used to think that "timeless beauty" was a myth concocted by the cosmetics and marketing industry. I also believe that most celebrity photos are enhanced and made flawless through airbrushing and Photoshopping. But surprisingly, Ms Loren is all natural. The minute I saw her at an event recently, I thought: "Wow, she is almost 80?" I wondered what the secret was to her eternal beauty.
The night I met Ms Loren began with me moping around the house earlier this week. I was depressed over the loss of my grandmother, who went into a coma and never woke up, and the ensuing devastation of my mother, as well as the financial drain and logistics of a funeral and its various complications.
Then a film-maker friend called me up and told me to "get dressed", for she was taking me to "an exclusive dinner" in Dubai.
I was not in the mood and made my excuses. She wouldn't hear of it, and dragged me out.
"Sitting and feeling sorry for yourself will not bring your grandmother back. You need to be strong and be there for your family," she said. And that was that.
I wore a simple black dress and was driven to a dinner I had no interest in. It was a jewellery-related event with only a select group of people. A special collection was on display - the Sophia Loren line for the Italian company Damiani. I generally have no interest in jewellery, especially diamonds that cost hundreds of thousands of dirhams. But I took interest in watching the select crowd of the rich and famous making their rounds, and how they all seemed to know each other, or pretended to. It felt like they all belonged to a club of wealth, and I was just an outsider looking in.
It seemed to be turning into a an uneventful night, until Sophia Loren, accompanied by the professional Italian footballer Fabio Cannavaro, walked in. She was dressed in a royal blue dress and impressively laden with jewels. What caught my attention most were her pair of large eye glasses, which looked quite similar to the pair my father wears - but of course look much better on her.
People scrambled to shake her hand and Cannavaro's, and the place burst into the loud musical language of Italian.
Though I felt out of place, I recalled how my parents loved Sophia Loren, and so I thought to ask her for an autograph. Being a journalist, I always have some small notebook with me and a set of pens in my purse. I walked over, but my heart sank as I saw her refusing to sign anything. Cannavaro on the other hand was posing with every single woman in the place, signing whatever they gave him. I didn't feel like boosting his ego any further, so I just focused on Ms Loren.
As I approached her, she started to say no, but I said: "It's actually for my mum. She is sad tonight." I realised how cheesy this sounded, and so I started to retreat. But without further explanation, she autographed it, and smiled. I also took a photo with her, which I later sent to my mother, who said: "Wow. Sophia looks better than you! Ask her her secret." Thanking her, I went back to my seat. My filmmaker friend smiled at me and said: "See? Life is full of surprises, good and bad."
As I sat there watching Ms Loren, I remembered how she once said in an interview that the secret to her beauty was "love of life, spaghetti, the odd bath in olive oil … and always having one more dream that has yet to come true."
Until struck by cancer, my grandmother also looked great for her age. She was almost the total opposite of Ms Loren: petite, blonde and blue-eyed, you could never tell she was 70. My grandmother's secret was her "stubbornness", chamomile tea, and her belief that whenever something bad happened, it only means something good was going to follow. I regret not seeing my grandmother and saying goodbye. Rest in peace, Madam Bach.