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Behold, the wizard of blogs

April 10, 2005|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

Xeni JARDIN arrives fashionably late, her platinum curls bobbing above the crowd as she sheds a floor-length faux fur to reveal a white silk, backless gown that so effectively evokes Marilyn Monroe, it nearly stops cocktail chatter cold. And that's saying something, because there are some big brains in this room who aren't easily distracted, among them a lead scientist of the recent Mars missions and the inventor of the Palm Pilot.

Jardin herself is no slouch. Her glamorous mien belies what her colleagues say is true brilliance. She's a self-taught Internet code writer who can hold her own among the "alpha geeks" and speaks fragments of five indigenous languages, including three ancient Mayan tongues. Jardin's so well-versed in fine art that she once traveled the world as an art guide to wealthy tourists. As a co-editor of one of the Web's most popular blogs,, Jardin is the cyberpunk babe who ferrets out odd blips of pop culture to amuse the more than 240,000 weekday visitors to the site. On this night in San Francisco, she's accompanying NBC News Iraq correspondent Kevin Sites, who's among a half-dozen people being honored by Wired magazine for, in his case, maintaining a "war blog" that Jardin launched for him. But it isn't Jardin's work with Sites that draws people to her throughout the night with slightly star-struck expressions and earnest praise. It is the aura of the future that she projects.

Jardin is a very specific sort of rising star, the type born of the 21st century whose celebrity is fluid and self-made -- she's a journalist, a blogger, a TV personality, an artist and an entrepreneur. She is, at once, a member of the media and a media darling, who translates light-speed cultural shifts as they happen and looks great doing it. Jardin is the child of artists who revels in the Internet's infinite reach, but fights ambivalence about its impermanent legacy. She wears Gucci and drives a convertible Mercedes, but sees herself as an outsider.

"I want to see how far I can push it," Jardin says, "before they realize I'm a nerd."

Jardin is a contributing writer for Wired and occasional contributor to Playboy and Popular Science. Her "Xeni Tech" reports air regularly on National Public Radio's weekday show "Day to Day," and her articulate delivery and telegenic look land her frequent "geek guest" appearances on ABC's "World News Tonight" with Peter Jennings, CNN International, Fox News and the Fine Living Network.

In January, Fortune magazine featured Jardin's blond coif and expressive face on its cover, declaring, "There's no escaping the blog." In February, she was cast as the tech expert on E! Entertainment Network's new "office makeover" pilot, "Very Casual Fridays." In March, Boing Boing earned two of the top Bloggies, the Oscars of the blog world, for the second consecutive year, winning blog of the year and best group blog. Today, producers are hounding the Boing Boing crew to create a TV show with Jardin as the likely host.

"All the roles are being blurred," says Wired magazine's Executive Editor Bob Cohn. "Xeni represents the blurring."

Beyond her most recent accomplishments, however, Jardin is a mystery to all but a small group of intimates. It's as if she materialized in the late 1990s, just as the world woke up to the Internet. She's often cryptic when asked specifics about her background. For some friends, that evasiveness is part of her allure.

"I imagine she was a child of secret agents in Eastern Europe," quips Mark Frauenfelder, co-founder of and Jardin's colleague for nearly three years.

Xeni Jardin, pronounced SHEH-nee zhar-DAN, isn't her given name. Jardin doesn't reveal that, she says, because she wants to avoid dangerous people from her past. "Xeni" comes from "Xeniflores," a word with origins in Guatemala's native culture. Jardin means "garden" in Spanish and French.

It was a nickname that stuck during her travels through Mexico and Guatemala with her mentor, Dr. Munir Xochipillicueponi Quetzalkanbalam, a writer, performer, director, composer, entrepreneur and Mayan expert whom Jardin considers her adoptive father.

From here, the tale gets complicated and painful, she says. Still, Jardin agrees to recount it for the record for the first time. Ultimately, everyone wants to be understood, she says. Everyone wants to tell their story.

Teen years adrift

Jardin, 32, was born in Richmond, Va., the older of two children. Her father's homemade birth announcement read, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," a sense of displacement that followed Jardin throughout her early life.

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