Miss Universe Canada Mariana Valente poses for a photo at Jeanne Lottie Boutique in Yorkville yesterday, preparing for tomorrow's charity bash at the Berkeley Church on Queen St. E. (ERNEST DOROSZUK/Sun Media)
Last time I saw Mariana Valente she wore a green bikini and four-inch heels.
Funny how you remember certain things, eh? The bikini was between lime and pea.
Ms Valente was waltzing across a stage at the John Bassett Theatre on her way to the Miss Universe Canada title last May. I was a judge.
We chose well, it turns out.
Our little miss is an angel of mercy for the kids of Brazil.
Which brings me, oddly enough, to a boutique on the eastern fringe of Yorkville.
Pink is very hot at Jeanne Lottie on Scollard St. The walls are pink, the pillows, the mousepads. Even the toilet paper is pink.
"Pink is the new red," someone tells me.
Many of the purses on display are pink.
Valente, 24, is here to choose one for the auction at her fundraiser tomorrow night. She helped the store with its breast cancer campaign, so a favour for a favour.
"What do you think?" she asks me, holding up a sizzling pink handbag.
She'd look good clutching a plastic bag. That figure is made for Copacabana. You could sink a rainforest in those big, brown eyes.
But I hate pink. She picks an orange one.
Tomorrow's gala is the reason Mariana Valente became a beauty queen. Miss Universe Canada is a good calling card if you run a charity.
Mariana's charity is the children of her native Brazil.
It started with her grandmother, who for years held a Christmas party for the poor in Caxambu, 300 km north of Rio. She died two years ago.
Mariana and her family kept the party going, long distance. They came to Canada in 1997.
And they set their sights higher -- rebuilding a ramshackle shelter for abused kids in Caxambu.
Headquarters for the charity, now called BASE, is the dinner table in Richmond Hill. There's Mariana, her dad Gustavo, an engineer at Bombardier, her schoolteacher mom, Ellen, sister Patricia, 26, and brother Luis Gustavo, 28.
"Winning the pageant," says Mariana, "meant we could help on a much bigger scale.
"What a great way to honour my grandmother."
The shelter is nearly done. Mariana, whose beau is a construction worker, goes to Brazil next month to scout the next plan: A school to teach adults basic job skills.
Much more than a pretty face is our Mariana.
She's had an action-packed six months since I last saw her. She didn't make the final 15 at Miss Universe in the Bahamas. But her roomate was Miss Bolivia, so she got caught up in the pageant's big international incident.
A sort of Misses Crisis, it centred on the national-dress event.
Miss Peru wore a diablada (dance of the devils) costume. Vivid colours, with a horned hat.
Neighbouring Bolivia, which claims diablada as its own, went ballistic. The minister of culture threatened to go to the International Court of Justice. An "unlawful appropriation of Bolivian heritage," he called it. I kid you not.
Bull-ivia! said Peru. Diablada knows no borders.
And you thought beauty contestants were catty.
"The two girls got along just fine," says Mariana, "but it got political."
So much for the eternal theme of pageants: World peace.
No dispute over Miss Canada's costume -- a sexy amethyst-themed outfit, for one of our national gems.
At Jeanne Lottie she's dressed down, if that's possible. Jeans and a dark turquoise top.
Lovely. Where'd you get it?
Well, I haven't a clue, really.
"No, no, Guess."
Right. She's just in from her part-time job at a Richmond Hill daycare. She's taking a year off York University to deal with the demands of her title -- charity events include Sick Kids, AIDS and breast cancer. A TV gig, surprise, surprise, might be in her future.
For now, she scrambles to get ready for tomorrow's shindig at the Berkeley Church on Queen St. E. (To attend or donate, see baseforchildren.com.) Dinner, dance, auction, and Cirque du Soleil performers.
She'll wear a gold, silver and black cocktail dress.
Sorry. No green bikini.