Thursday, July 31, 2008

Street Scene: Two for Tea

While out strolling yesterday, Mr. Muscato and I spotted Edith Sitwell having tea with Virginia Woolf.

Why, yes - we may have been a little high. Why do you ask?

Get Well, Please, Cleopatra-Maggie-Martha-Velvet-Sissy Goforth

Elizabeth Taylor, reports the British, has been Very Ill, but is Now Recovering. Let's hope that's so, and while doing so, remember how incredibly beautiful, how gallant, and how generally a good old thing she is and has been, for so very long.

It also makes me oddly happy to know that her middle name is "Rosemond."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Unfortunate Public Art

The powers-that-be in these parts can maintain all they want that this in fact a portrait of 17th Century poet and all around aestheste Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft.

I know a bust of a Scary Dead Clown Shakespeare when I see it.

Seriously: there is some mighty bad street art in Amsterdam. This particular one just especially gave me the heebie jeebies.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Portrait Gallery: The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

Mr. Sargent, again. His portraits astonish me, and the chance to see this one at the Boston MFA before we left was wonderful (as was, unusually for a museum restaurant, lunch - a Sunday jazz brunch with a nice glass of Champagne does wonders for the art-viewing exerience, not to mention Mr. Muscato's patience).

But back to the girls. There they are, four Victorian misses, captured by the painter somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and Wednesday Addams. They totally lack the cloying affectations of children of the era, and the three who are looking at us have stares that are unnervingly direct and appraising: Who are you, and why are you in our drawing room?

The dish queen in me was thrilled to see that the MFA displays the painting flanked by the Boit's rather distinguished blue-and-white vases. Mr. Sargent did them justice, but it's nice to see them in person, as it were.

The indispensable John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery has an especially insightful dissection of the picture here. Apparently, the girls went on to fulfill, in various ways, the destinies he had painted for them. No surprise; that's what you get when you let a genius, of all things, into your drawing room.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Now, Voyager...

When did people stop dressing for travel?

I have to admit, gentle readers, that even I won't be donning a cloche and kicky traveling stole for the next leg of our seemingly endless journey, which today takes Mr. Muscato and me from glamourous Boston to exotic Amsterdam, where we will indulge in many of the local vices.

By which, of course, I mean tulip speculation and brisk walks along the canals.

Sure I do.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

RIP Youssef Chahine

Egypt has lost a giant of its film industry, writer and director Youssef Chahine. His movies were the darlings of critics in France and elsewhere overseas, but even at home audiences appeciated his vision of Egypt at a crossroads - between corruption and morality, between tradition and the modern world, and, most literally, as the place where East and West, often uneasily, meet.

He helped make Omar Sharif an international star, and he did wonderful work with actresses - a testimony to his patience, if nothing else, for Egyptian divas are an extreme version of the type.

Chahine will be buried in the city he celebrated in his films, beautiful, tragic, temperamental Alexandria, the biggest Egyptian diva of them all...

Gardens and Goodbyes

I've been feeling rather bucolic this week, sweeties, what with spending the long cloudy mornings sitting on a porch and looking at a lovely cottage garden the likes of which we simply don't have on the shores of the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Muscato and I have moved on from Provincetown, with another bout of travel imminent, but we take away some nice memories and some uncharacteristically sweet-natured garden shots:

I don't know - I've just gone all kind of Wallace Nutting over these flowers.

Hydrangeas are certainly the Flower of the Moment, turning up in all sorts of sizes and colors. When I was child, I seem to remember they were considered rather dowdy, the sort of thing that the unfashionable people at the wrong end of the block still had tarting up their yards.

They do add color.

During our Farewell Luncheon at the Lobster Pot (Mr. M. became as addicted to their lobster roll as he did to tea-dance), Mr. Muscato and I spotted this lady, who seemed a perfect combination of Hyacinth Bucket, Marie Barone, and the late Queen Mother.

She was perfectly turned out, her bright yellow cardigan over her shoulders, her hair a perfect fluffy cloud of a twice-weekly wash-and-set, and her makeup a splendid example of how a Lady of a Certain Age used to paint. She even, with that wonderful poise once so common at Your Better Restaurants, brought out a compact and thoughtfully corrected her bright-red lippie in between each course.

We only wished her companions made her happier and briefly considered kidnapping her. Sadly, we have other plans, more of which anon.

Birthday Trifecta: Songbirds and Skates!

Is it just me, or is July especially rich with fabulous birthdays? Those long autumn nights certainly pay off nine months later...

Today we celebrate three remarkable ladies whose glory days were the 1970s. I wonder if they ever shared the stage on Merv, Mike, or Dinah?

First up, only 'cause I adore her voice so very much, the former Queen of the Disaster Theme, Miss Maureen McGovern.

In recent years, this particular Miss M. has reinvented herself as the Empress of the Supper Club, her voice still silvery perfect and her act surprisingly funny. And yes, she will still generally sing "The Morning After."

I have to admit with shame that until very recently, our next birthday girl was only a half-forgotten name from chilhood. Our dear TJB has recently definitively corrected that injustice, and now I go around humming "Here's your one chance Fancy, don't let me down!"

Bobbie Gentry decided not to pursue a public life and has been offstage for thirty years now, and more power to her. Thank goodness she had the career she did.

Finally, that Sonja Henie of the Leisure Suit Era, the lovely and talented Peggy Fleming, whose television specials were the original Must See TV chez mes grandparents when I was a tot ("She's so wholesome!" they would chorus. As opposed, I guess, to those troublesome Lennon Sisters...).

I include her mostly because she turns up in my Bosom Pal Professor Bob's most frequently repeated joke, mostly because he suffers from frequent colds:

What's green and skates?

Peggy Phlegm!

Maybe you have to be there.

In any case, many happy returns to all three, wherever they are. Wholesome, plain, or fancy, they don't let us down.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lenya Singt Weill

But of course she does. That's what Lenya does - and better than anyone.

Goodbye to All That

Living in Cairo, it's hard to forget the 26th of July, if only because one of the main streets through town has been given the name (Shar'a sita wa ashreen iulio in Arabic, which really is a mouthful to try and relay to a taxi driver).

What the date marks, though, is the abdication of Egypt's King Farouk, an event that caused headlines in 1952:

Farouk's abdication marked the end of over 1oo year's rule by his family, who originally arrived in the country as Albanian soldiers of fortune in service to the Ottoman Sultan.

The revolution began a repudiation of all things royal, starting with the King's ubiquitous portraits.

Unlike their Russian or French counterparts, the family all escaped safely. Farouk departed Alexandria on the royal yacht, accompanied by hundreds of pieces of luggage, his daughters, and his second wife, Nariman, a commoner whom he had married only a year earlier in a (fruitless) search for renewed popularity and (more successfully) an heir, after having divorced his first Queen, Farida, for her unfortunate habit of having daughters.

Nariman never made much a splash; even at her wedding, she was overshadowed by her stunning sister-in-law, the Princess Fawzia (who looked not well pleased at the whole affair):

Farouk and family spent the first few years of exile in Italy, living in many ways much the same life they had in Egypt.

Nariman eventually returned to Cairo, marrying several more times and ending her days in a simple apartment in the city's Heliopolis neighborhood.

Farouk's later exile was, to be kind, undistinguished, involving a great dealing of gambling, eating, drinking, and cavorting with showgirls. He is now most remembered, perhaps, for the only witty thing he ever said:

"The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five Kings left - the King of England and the kings of diamonds, hearts, spades, and clubs."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Who Can You Trust?

...If you can't trust a biographer of Tallulah Bankhead? From the New York Times comes this bizarre story - one that goes to show that Nasdijj, JT LeRoy, and James Frey haven't had the last word in literary finagling, after all.

Writer Lee Israel, having hit a rough patch in the early nineties, apparently used her pitch-perfect grasp of various luminaries' styles to write and sell "autographed" letters, including some that have ended up as part of their putative authors' canons.

Israel's Miss Tallulah Bankhead sits on my shelf back home, one of the very first star bios I ever read and one I still remember as a glimpse into a world I very much wanted to know more about (and, if possible, inhabit).

Earlier this year, I read the new Letters of Noël Coward, which includes samples of Miss Israel's "work." I don't claim any special expertise, but I remember thinking at the time that Coward's catty comment about Julie Andrews (and her overbite) seemed somehow off - I suppose I attributed it to his having had too much Champagne the night before, and would certainly never have thought it an outright fraud.

I don't know how I feel about the author now having written a book more or less celebrating her derring-do. But I have a sinking feeling I shall probably read it...

Image du Jour: Miss West

Proof that with the right foundation garments, platform heels, and lashings of fox fur, anything is possible.

That might be my new motto to live by...

Her Name is ... Yolande

You do remember Yolande Bavan, don't you? I know you do, because I'm quite sure that in your various misspent youths, you must have seen the very wonderful film Parting Glances.

I know I did, dozens of times, hoping someday to live in New York and have those lives, those fabulous apartments, and especially those friends. Yolande was Betty, the wise, eccentric, heartbreakingly lovely lady who counsels Michael, puts up with Cecil, and has the best house of all.

So I was thinking of Parting Glances and of Betty the other day, and I'm happy to report that Yolande Bavan seems to be doing quite well. Her website is a little sparse, but perhaps she's just busy.

She's certainly had an interesting career; she was a friend of Billie Holiday:

And she replaced Annie Ross in the group that was, for a while, Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan:

(to my eye, this looks like an outtake from A Mighty Wind, no?)

Last fall, she joined other members of the Parting Glances cast to celebrate the film's restoration. Along with Kathy Kinney, she seems to have sailed through the years as well as or better than any of the film's male principals.

It's deeply depressing to think that a movie made while I was in college already needs restoration, but it's good to know that it's been done.

To some people, Parting Glances may be the first AIDS-themed feature, or the start of mainstreaming gays in independent pictures, or Steve Buscemi's first showy part, or even the movie with that broad from Drew Carey - but to me it will always be the dream that led me to Manhattan, and to friendships with my very own Bettys and Michaels and Roberts and Joans.

Hail Yolande!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Awful Truth

In light of today's shocking revelations over on JoeMyGod, I feel a need to come clean with all - both - my faithful readers. Muscato, darlings, is in fact not the spitting image of a slightly over-the-hill Kay Francis in something like 1946.

I know this will come as a shock. But there it is: it's only an avatar, one acting as a placeholder, as it were, for a forty-something Gentleman of Artistic Tastes, a stout party with a taste for chanteuses of days gone by, unfashionable artists of the mid-nineteenth century, and amusing anecdotes about obscure celebrities. oh, and Gabors.

Just to prove that I am not, in fact, a disturbed woman living in British Columbia, herewith as close as we're ever going to get to self-revelation around here. Yes, a childhood snap of Yours Truly, seen at the very last moment that my poor put-upon father had any hope for my future:

Hopes, I should add, that were dashed once and forever just a few minutes later when I traded the helmet for the hat my grandmother had come over in, along with her very fetching pale mink stole draped over the shoulderpads.

Evocative Images

So we come strolling up the street to the house today - a rather gray, rainy sort of July day in Provincetown - and see Gracie the Upstairs Corgi hanging out in one of her upstairs windows.

I know a photo-op when I see one, and grab a shot. Later, I sit staring at the picture, and think to myself: "Why does this remind me of something? What is it?"

And then I realize. Gracie, unknowingly - I presume - has taken on one of the iconic images of the 1970s: The Duchess of Windsor, in the first stages of the dementia that would eventually claim her entirely, watching the funeral procession of her husband from a window in St. James Palace.

And then I thought: perhaps it's time to leave Provincetown. I am turning way too much of Teh Gay.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

French Lessons: Leçon I



That is all.

Birthday Boy: The Perfect Brit

On noticing the auspicious anniversary that falls today, we immediately cabled home to the Café and directed that nothing but fish and chips be served, in honor of Mr. Arthur Treacher, Hollywood's Quintessential Butler, born 114 years ago today in lovely Brighton on Sea.

His may not have been the broadest portfolio in films, but it certainly was deep; in picture after picture, he played the efficient, sometimes put-upon, sometimes invaluable family retainer, sometimes credited only as "Butler" (as in Fashions of 1934 or Here Comes the Groom), tidying up after everyone from Bette Davis to Shirley Temple to, at the end his career, the Clampetts.

He was everything Americans thought a Brit should be: reserved, aloof, but with the capacity to break out in the occasional soft-shoe or dry riposte.

What I hadn't known was that he varied the pace a little for a while as Merv Griffin's sidekick, acting, if the pictures are any indication, as the house Noël Coward:

Today, I think, he is best remembered for having been the spokesman on behalf of another great English tradition, fish and chips.

I wish all fast food chains were named for contract players and character actors. I think it should be a rule. Imagine a world of Marion Lorne Burgers, Cuddles Sakall Ice Cream Parlors, and Billie Burke No Place Like Home Family Restaurants.

It would surely be a better place.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Garden View

So yesterday turned out to be more of a gelato than a buttercream day, but, Mr. Muscato and I being hardy souls, we coped.

Today it's grey and even showery, but since we live in a desert that gets maybe three rains a year (about twenty minutes apiece), it's actually rather a novelty.

We've spent the day startling the passing tourist trolley by sitting out on the porch despite the weather, reading our books and gazing at the lovely plantings of our extremely festive landlady.

Here's the view:

Fortunately, it's clearing, so that Mr. Muscato will not be cheated of his daily dose of tea-dance, to which he has taken like ... well, like a gay man of a certain age to cocktails al fresco and a dose of techno.

Images du Jour: Two Ladies

Stardom: a study in black and white. Compare and contrast.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend update

Sunday with the Glamour Lesbians: brunch on a porch with little dogs; endless conversation about how next year, really, they will look around for a better place (you wait too late to make your reservation, girls, you end up in an attic at the Ptown Inn; that's the way the world works).

After a while, Mr. Muscato and I escaped; we were Men with a Mission. We had to achieve a dream that has haunted us since last summer:

Cupcakes at Relish. Until you've had them, you simply do not know the heights to which a humble buttercream can climb, the nirvana that can be achieved with a deceptively simple white cake.

We would have had six, but we had dinner reservations with the Girls. We ate, and ate, and ate. And it was good.

Then, having run the gauntlet of the busking cabaret performers, all shilling for their acts out on Commercial Street, we ran into a familiar face: the remarkable Lea DeLaria, taking a break from her stint as "Madame Delphina" on One Life to Live (is just me or is life in general getting quite surreal?).

So we went to her show.

And it rocked. She is, of course, not only the most foul-mouthed woman to hit the stage since Wendy O. Williams, but also an increasingly interesting jazz singer.

The combo is amazing, if occasionally a little neck-snapping. It's certainly the only show I've seen recently that combined a hilariously graphic routine about fisting and an impassioned rendition of "You Don't Know What Love is." The show features a surprise entrance, a lot of truly funny material, and an incredibly tight trio backing her up.

So it was quite an evening, after quite a day.

As Monday dawns, the GLs have departed, the morning has proven gray and rainy, and Mr. M. and I trying to decide how we can we spend the day most lazily. I suspect that additional buttercream may well be involved.

Life is good.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On the Road Again, Happily

Yes, Mr. Muscato and I have finally fled Our Nation's Dreary Capital, for points north and far more festive.

We're not fifteen hours in Provincetown yet, and we've already had silly cocktails, seen the extraordinary Kate Clinton's act at the Crown & Anchor (courtesy of the crowd of Glamour Lesbians we have for various reasons fallen among), eaten enormous lobsters at the local institution above, caught the tail end of Bear Week, and even gotten a good night's sleep in our charming (read: tiny) lodgings.

All of our neighbors appear to have adorable, voluble dogs, which only remind us of our beloved, absent Koko, but, that aside, life is very, very good.

(image courtesy of the very talented e-pics)

Birthday Girl: Kim Carnes

How do you suppose Kim Carnes feels about this song right now?

Her career is an object lesson in the dangers of being less interesting than the people you sing about.

(The video is by the fabulous Danorama, about whom too many good things cannot be said).

Appointment in Ekaterinburg

90 years ago this week, a middle-aged man, his invalid wife, their four daughters, and their hemophiliac son were shot in a basement in a small city in the Ural mountains of Russia.

What makes their death so ominous, to me, is not simply that the man was the Tsar of all the Russias, his wife the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and their children, surely, blameless of any crime, but that it somehow foreshadowed all of the senselessness that marked so much of the rest of the twentieth century.

They were an awfully handsome family.

Don't F*ck with Me, Fellas!

This exquisite image comes from the almost impossibly fabulous Barbie Doll Portrait Project, a site to which you must go now and experience the full rapture of the true fashion-doll addict.

Consider it a tribute to Mattel, which this week showed that it will do what it takes to retain primacy in the world of 11 1/2" unhealthy images for little girls and obsessions for certain big boys, having vanquished in court (for total damages still to be announced) its dreaded rival, the unspeakably atrocious Bratz.

Barbie fun fact: in parts of the world, the venerable idol's chief rival is not, in fact, the loathesome Bratz, but Fulah, a doll heavily financed by shadowy Saudi money and promoted as a positive - and thoroughly covered - Muslim alternative:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"But it's My Only Line!"

When I was a little boy in a very boring town, my beloved older sister turned me on to an incredible window into another world: Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Carol is Mrs. Atilla the Hun

Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion; The Larch; "Cuidade, cuidade, cuidade - los llamas!" But most of all - even more than the glory that was Terry Jones in drag or Graham Chapman on a tear - I adored Carol Cleveland.

She had the deadpan, not-quite-in-on-the-joke affect of Margart Dumont, plus a very specific early-70s glamor that was a nice offset for the Python boys, whether she was playing a bride in search of a bed or a girlfriend attacked by Deidre, a terrifying hag who "smells a bit, but has a heart of gold."

Sadly, though, I didn't grow up to be a kicky Brit TV blonde. In fact, I suppose, I'm great deal more like a far more recent crush: the extraordinary Mrs. Bubbles DeVere.

While shopping last weekend at a vast outlet clearance scale, I heard a peal of Mr. Muscatoish laughter two rows over. I trotted over to find him propped against some shelves, heaving with giggles, holding up a terrycloth wrap with a velcro close. "I thought," he gasped, "They made these up for Bubbles!"

Fortunately, I was able to convince him not to buy it. But really, it looked very comfortable...

"My Favorite Animal is Steak"

Are you old enough, darlings, to remember the dear distant days when Fran Lebowitz actually wrote things?

As for me, I consider Metropolitan Life a formative text.

Nurse! Nurse!

Very early on in a career that saw more than its share of nurses (and housekeepers, and nosy neighbors...), Mary Wickes played Charlotte Vale's longsuffering nurse in Now, Voyager. "I suspect," remarks Charlotte, "You're a Treasure."

She was.

She left her papers to her alma mater, Washington University (that's their library there, in the background, behind the purse). Her personal correspondence, under the terms of the donation, is embargoed until 2027.

I can't wait.

Birthday Madness

This is one of the most schizophrenic birthday-days I have seen in a long time. Luminaries born today run the gamut from David Hasselhof to HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, with Phyllis Diller, Phoebe Snow, and Art Linkletter thrown in for good measure. And James Cagney, for crying out loud.

So let's just wish them all every happy return and focus on this remarkable image of another of today's birthday girls, Miss Diahann Carroll, a lady whose six decades in the limelight have taken her from House of Flowers to Dynasty and well beyond.

Not to mention being the model for the very first black character fashion doll, Julia, seen here looking hipper than I remembered.

Let's hope that even now she's having Lots of Lovely Love and wearing something highly dominiquedeverauxische.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Why am I not convinced? If you've got to claim it in all caps, it doesn't seem likely...

Image du Jour: The Baroness

She had a farm in Africa, you know - at the foot of the Ngong Hills. Wonder if she shot the coat herself; wouldn't put it past her.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kukla, Her, and Ollie

Fran Allison - the first woman on color television, sort of. I miss her.

Glimpses of Everyday Life

So we're stuck in this hotel. It's perfectly adequate, and not one iota more, but my God the people. I got onto the elevator yesterday morning, running a minute late, and was joined by a nice, round lady in a tracksuit coming out of the breakfast room.

She was holding a plate, reverently, covered with a napkin. She looked at me, wide-eyed and almost dazed at the thought that, as she told me, "They have sausage every day."

After a beat: "An' mah li'l doggie's goona be soooo fat!"

Paints a picture.