Sunday, November 30, 2008
Better not to think. That way madness lies...
We are rarely serious hereabouts, and very much on purpose, too (those who love me best know that there's a fine line indeed between serious and maudlin). I've been wondering what to think about the horror going on in India these past days, and now I'm very, very glad that someone has put my inchoate thoughts into eloquent words.
Everyone who loves cities should read this beautiful, mournful, hopeful column by Suketu Mehta:
"But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.
If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?
So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic."
All of us rootless cosmopolites are well behooved to think this through: we're the targets, we're the city-dwellers, and only we can keep the party going. Someday - as in New York, London, Madrid, now Mumbai - we may be called upon to do so.
It's amazing how one attached one gets to someone so very infuriating. But I'm sure he feels the same (and, in a couple of weeks, we're going to have the phone bills to prove it). Of course, he has all the many distractions provided by a large, fractious, and almost laughably stereotypical Egyptian family to cope with; Koko and me, not so much.
I suppose it's time to pull out the sheet music, sit down at the Café's battered old upright, and practice our new party song, as first peformed by Miss Maude Lambert...
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Sometimes I realize that every moment I spend not thinking about Dalida is a moment of my life I'll never get back.
When she sings - as here, but all too rarely - in Arabic (a child, after all, of Cairo's mixed cosmopolitan semi-slum of Shubra, in her own way a real Daughter of the Nile) I think of all that was lost when Egypt jettisoned the tens of thousands of foreigners - Greek, Italian, French, British, Jews, all - who made the country such an incredible potential bridge between East and West.
Too big is impossible. But: at all costs, avoid Jazz Hands (unless your last name is Minnelli; odds are, it isn't).
Friday, November 28, 2008
The overall effect here, albeit captured on the streets of Moscow, is almost horrendous enough to be Dubai...
(Another shameless theft from the ever-entertaining English Russia.)
How have all these years passed without my knowing that out of her misbegotten Batman appearance came a genuine fashion doll? Give the old girl a hairdo, a little lippie, and a nice Scaasi muumuu and she'd be quite presentable.
Which is more than I can say for myself at the moment...
So, herewith my contribution to Joe's Second Annual Turkeys of the Year. I admit its both a local and a personal concern, but it's one that has me - if I were to quote the immortal Ed Anger of The Weekly World News - madder than a pinko at a Young Republicans meeting:
Outdoor Public Establishments That Don't Take Dogs.
There. Just writing it down makes me feel better.
You see, hereabouts the weather is just about (as I may have mentioned before) perfect. And one of the few truly civilized innovations of recent times in this sleepy little capital on the Indian Ocean is a proliferation of café s and restaurants at which one can sit outdoors - from traditional Arabic coffee shops to Italianate bistros to innumerable iterations of StarCostaCupCafeBucks.
Logically enough, therefore, Mr. Muscato and I and our little band of friends like to go and sit at them. We pass the time, we smoke shisha if it's that sort of place, we dish the dirt and discreetly ogle passersby and generally make the most of this short part of the year that is not, in fact, so stinking hot you don't go outdoors.
And we like to go with Koko the Wonder Dog, who is, I have to say, an ideal guest: quiet, well-behaved, perfectly sized to fit under a table and equally happy to stay there, waiting for the occasional scrap or scratch on the ear.
And there's the rub.
Dogs, you see, are a sensitive matter in this part of the world, where local culture (and not Islam, don't let anyone tell you different - nothing in the Big Book but admonitions to be good to animals) make dogs more or less off limits. Now, I totally respect that. I would never take him to the house of someone who didn't invite him, and we only take him to places that are heavily if not mostly patronized by expats, in the middle of neighborhoods that are equally so. It's not like we're expecting Our Town to turn suddenly and overnight into Paris, where dogs are fixtures at even the gravest dining establishment (and where, to date, the world doesn't seem to have ended as a result, I might note).
Recently, though, several local establishments have made it clear that he is not a welcome guest, which means that they are places to which we will never return. Fortunately, they're also the places that are generally annoying in other ways, with slapdash service, mediocre food, and no particular attraction to their outdoor seating areas.
I'd hate to name names, but for local readers, the prime offender to date has been an eatery that rhymes with Karcy's Ditchen. A place which, I have to say, is definitely coasting on the memory of the days when it was the only casual Western spot in town, and where I'm happy to see that business has been getting thinner and thinner in general.
So that's my gripe. That and that it's still so far off until January 20. Even here, in the meantime, we feel very much stuck with those turkeys (more annoying even than officious local waitstaff), and that's not a good thing.
One assumes it has some utterly innocuous meaning in Hindi, but nonetheless, reels the mind...
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
If I'm snippy, it's because bellydancing is Egyptian, darlings, and don't let anyone tell you differently. And Örzel just plain isn't.
Living here, too, the album's title is one of those things that make you go hmmm, since one of the local preoccupations involves switching 'round the last two nouns...
More than that, being a Broadway star was, in some existential way, being a Real Star (the last gasp of this fleeting situation is seen, of course, in All About Eve), one that could land you, say, on the cover of Time.
And in such good company.
The first of these three formidable profiles was at the time the greatest star and is today perhaps the least remembered. In her devotion to the stage, Katharine Cornell made only one film, as Herself, as if being Katharine Cornell were in itself such an all-consuming experience that it could be subsumed into character only on stage.
She was the quintessential Great Lady of the Boards, the ultimate expert at Entrances, Exits, Gracious Acknowledgement of the Audience, the Doubting Pause, and other necessities of her trade.
The lady in the middle is Dame Judith Anderson, so indelible as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca that her decades of triumph on stage are rather overshadowed. A little girl from Adelaide who made her way halfway 'round the world to New York and stardom in classical and modern drama, Anderson dabbled with more variety in films serious (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and less so (Lady Scarface).
As this superb portrait demonstrates, she had full command of all the trappings of Great Lady status, from beauty-marking to fur-wrangling. Where has such deft handling of Glamour gone?
Last but hardly least, and looking uncharacteristically swank in this portrait by Beaton, we have Miss Ruth Gordon, avocationally Mrs. Garson Kanin, who parlayed her years on stage into a late in life run as Beloved Oldster in films like Harold and Maude. Many of her coevals felt she rather overdid her Gleeful Granny shtick, but she clearly had a marvelous time, so what's the harm? She'd worked hard for it.
Oh, and why are these three amazons gracing the cover of Mr. Luce's little magazine? They were not only on Broadway - the were on Broadway together, in Chekhov.
Which makes the latest Mamet revivals seem a little bland, no?
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Aside from far too much quiet chez nous (I'm with Mr. Peenee when it comes to separation: "A weekend without him reminds me, potently, that he is the center of the universe..."), the major practical effect of these occasional family forays is the pressing question of Presents. You don't go to Egypt, you see, without a little something not just for friends and family, but for most of their friends and family, and a few bit and bobs in reserve just in case, as well.
Therefore, we headed out to the edge of town to the remarkable Rameez Centre, aka the One Rial Store. It's a phantasmagoria of tack, a warehouse full of the very lowest rung of mass production, and a repository of things too horrible even for Value City and other similar destinations back home.
I adore it.
While Mr. M. busied himself buying mountains of children's clothes (actually a real bargain there if you look carefully), "Limoges" knick-knacks, and off-brand colognes (always in demand by his sisters-in-laws' endless numbers of brothers), I pottered about looking for treasures. Nothing truly deathless on this round, but I was amused by a couple of things.
Marketing for the most conservative end of the market in these parts presents some real challenges. Here we have a ladies' shampoo called "Al Abaya" after the long black cloak/coat that is de rigueur streetwear hereabouts (and legally so in Saudi). Perhaps it has special properties that prepare one's hair for being covered completely at all times...
She might not rise to the heights of Joe's new mascots Benign and Blandness Girls, but this Barbie Wannabee is rocking a kind of Circassian-Bride look that recalls early-70s YSL, in packaging that is delightfully dada: "Super Star / Twinkle Enter / Collection Edition". I'm heartbroken that my wholly inadequate cell-cam wasn't able to catch the tag above the headline, an imperative we could all take to heart: "Quote the Vogue Current". Or else!
I don't know what Umm-in-law would recommend, but it would definitely be fattening. And involve getting married.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I would truly have not thought it possible: one can wear pearls, earrings, a turban, and a Fortuny-pleated, Empire-waist blouse and still be butch.
At least if you're Bollywood heartthrob (and Café obsession) Upen Patel...
Get outta my dreams, you Norma-Desmond-impersonating heartbreaker, you!
I've long had a soft spot for Tokyo oddities Shonen Knife, a keening trio of power pop devotees who apply their talents, such as they are, to numbers both original (I'm awfully fond of their environmental anthem "Bear up, Bison") and, as here, classic.
Warning: do not click unless you have an inordinate liking for rainbows, kittens, cuteness, jangling guitars, and an almost damejoansutherlandische disregard for consonants. And Monkees covers, of course.
Which seems a distinct possibility. Although then I suppose they would bill themselves as Der Speers.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
What at first seems an almost risible Vaudeville actually - as with so many improbably lovely things - has a back story strange and rather sad. You can read more here about the picture, and the dancer, a onetime star of the Ballets Russe called Marina Franca, née Wilhelmina Roothooft, sometimes known as Marina Lord. She ended her life Marina Salz, the widow of a prominent art dealer.
Weegee captured her about halfway through her transformation from ballet girl to society lady, on stage between pictures at the Radio City Music Hall. Apparently the tail was motorized, which only makes the whole thing all the more fabulous, no?
But... right now, the evening weather is like the finest nights of summer in the south of France, we finally have a couple of decent bakeries, household help remains affordable and omnipresent - and this is the view on a weekend morning from an upstairs balcony of the Villa Muscato.
This whole expat thing can drive you crazy, but it has its moments.
- Anastasia (Bergman, Hayes, Brynner, shameless melodrama and Martita Hunt!)
- Babette's Feast (sheer beauty)
- Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (Cher beauty)
- Dostana (or, Come Back to the Villa Muscato, John Abraham, John Abraham)
- Eyes without a Face (High-fashion creepiness)
- Follow the Fleet (Ginger sings "Let Yourself Go"! Randolph Scott! Harriet Nelson!)
- The Gang's All Here (Every single bloated, delirious minute of it)
- Holiday (or, Why Hollywood Couldn't Sell Early Hepburn, but still a very wonderful thing)
- Imitation of Life ("Oh, Mother – stop acting!" – I wasn't aware that she had started)
- Judgment at Nuremberg (Dietrich, Garland, Clift, Tracy, and an indictment of fascism – what's not to love?)
- King Kong (love me some Fay Wray)
- Love Actually (I confess – I cry every time, several times)
- Milk (haven't seen it yet, but I have a feeling it belongs here)
- Night of the Hunter (the film sublime)
- Opening Night (Rowlands and Blondell, by Cassavetes; very eccentric sturm und drang)
- Parting Glances (see 12, above)
- The Queen (I find myself unable to distinguish between Mirren and the real thing at times)
- The Rose (protean Midler, before Disney discovered her)
- Star Struck (the ultimate 80s musical)
- Taxi zum Klo (the ultimate 70s underground gay German watersports movie)
- Under the Cherry Moon (so there, Peenee! It's not good, but it does have Kristin Scott Thomas)
- Victor, Victoria (never as good as it was in memory, but still great fun, isn’t it, Pookie?)
- The Whales of August (I bet you're surprised it's not The Women; it's not a great movie, but the combo of Gish/Davis/Sothern/Price is irresistible)
- Xanadu (like there was that much choice…)
- The Yacoubian Building (a reminder of the glory of Egyptian film, a genuinely moving exploration of everything that's wrong and hopeful about the country)
- Zoo in Budapest (one of only a handful of films in which I can tolerate Miss Loretta Young)
So there you have it. I had thought about finding a piquant illustration for each and every choice, but Mr. P., even my devotion has its limits.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
One would long for a transcript of that conversation, the meeting of two Fabulous Monsters, two Geniuses of Neurosis, if only it weren't such an intrusion. He who interrupted them would have risked being turned to stone.
Writing later, Sitwell said that she found in Marilyn "a benevolent dignity" and "extreme intelligence." They seem to have struck, if this photo is to believed, a natural chord of sympathy; not surprising, perhaps, between two such entirely damaged, brilliant, self-constructed persons.
Here is la Loren today, just six years shy of the age she was made up to be. She'd need just as much time in the chair today to play an old lady as she did 40-odd years ago. There's a lesson there for all of us, if only we could find it...
And confess, Dirky-Do - had you seen Lady L, or was that an actual guess? I'm just surprised no one guessed Tovah Feldshuh.
The only reason you are reading this now is that at some point last spring, Fabulon forced us lurkers to stir ourselves and register an identity. And here we are now, proud proprietors of the Café, wondering what to do without a daily dose of the divine. Here's hoping that when life smiles again, perhaps he will reincarnate and return to us. In the meantime, I do hope he remains a visitor here, and I really do recommend his lovely, evocative, meditative music, Arcanta.
Confidential to T.: please please please don't take it down too soon. Please?
Friday, November 21, 2008
So, for a change of pace, I give you:
Steve McQueen's butt.
It would mark a significant butching-up of things around here - if only my first thought on seeing this snap wasn't an echo of the voice of Mary Boland, exclaiming "Musical! Simply musical!"
Oh, well. I've tried.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I found this little gem and was going to come up with one of the usual slightly off-kilter scenarios, but I've decided that, in this case, nothing can improve on reality:
"(L-R) Bess Kidney, Leota Stout and President of DAR Mrs. Roscoe O'Byrne, sharing a cup of tea."
Bess looks a little startled to be there (if not a little high), but nothing ruffles the unflappable calm of Mrs. Roscoe. You don't get to be President of the Brookville, IN, DAR for nothing.
And Leota? Oh, haven't we all met a Leota a hundred times over? A good soul, but the only question here is: how did she end up center stage? The Leotas of this world generally hover around the fringes, taking out the teacups and making sure old Mrs. Pennyfeather has a comfortable chair.
Perhaps it's her birthday.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Herewith a somewhat later edition of DQ; interesting to see that the emerging Great Depression turned up even at these rarefied heights...
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Oh, the things I do for my Gentle Readers! Fired by the encouragement of Thombeau and others, Mr. Muscato and I and a select little theatre party sallied out last night to our local picture palace and caught - to our delight- Dostana.
You may remember my surprise about this film's ubiquity on our recent jaunt to the Emirates, and my even greater surprise that it is in fact Bollywood's first foray into gay(ish) comedy.
What it turns out to be, in its own way, is a variation on those old trio movies that in the 30s would have starred Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, and Clark Gable or, in the 40s, Betty Grable, Don Ameche, and John Payne - if Franchot and Clark had had to play gay in trying to get Joan.
You can get a flavor of the piece from the credits, above, which pair an annoyingly, fairly irresistibly catchy masala-techno song, Shut Up & Bounce, with the kind of candy-colored visuals and fabulously skimpy costumes that rule the picture from start to finish. This is only the first - and by far the least flashy - of the musical numbers that punctuate the action;. The others range from an over the top hommage to Indian pulchritude (My Desi Girl) to a hilarious send-up of Bollywood excess when a traditional Indian mother finds out her son is not the Marrying Kind (the overwrought lyrics of which give rise to memorable subtitles like "Oh day of woe!/My son rides the bridal palanquin!").
Dostana is set in Miami, or rather it's set in a place of neo-urban tropical splendor that bears exactly the same relation to Miami that the Paris of An American in Paris plays to the real city.
Its central trio - Betty, Don, and John, as it were - are Priyanka Chopra (the gal), Abhishek Bachchan (the charmer), and John Abraham (the hunk). They are enormously engaging together, and if Abhishek rather overdoes his swish, and if Abraham really does recall Payne in terms of thespic ability, the two get a lot of mileage out of their faux-soulful glances (and garner yet another musical number, recounting their mythical, impossibly romantic meeting in Venice).
The script is not, arguably, a Deathless Work of Art, and the whole thing, for Western tastes, goes on rather long. Even so, Dostana is saved by what so often makes Indian movies such terrific fun: their sheer joy at being movies, their gleeful intoxication with all the possibilities of cinema (an underpaid male nurse takes over a whole amusement park for a night to impress his lady-love? Why not! A fashion photographer can plausibly never have met a gay person before? Whatever you say!).
It's a quality that American movies seem to have lost (for no particular reason I blame Rosemary's Baby: the rise of mean cinema), and one that allows you to enjoy the all-singing/all-dancing/all-credulity-stretching fun without worrying about the plot holes or the bits that fall just a shade flat. Hardly a revolutionary convention breaker (although the gay theme clearly titillated the mostly Indian crowd last night), Dostana - which after all means friendship - ends up a surprisingly sweet-natured paean to platonic friendships (and shirtlessness, which is all to the good).
So: if you like sun, fun, extensive displays of exotic beachwear, melodrama, hyper-costumed musical numbers, and a happy (and even slightly unexpected) ending, Dostana may just be your cup of tea.
It certainly was ours, and we spent the balance of our evening BollyBoogying around the Villa Muscato. Why don't you try it out?
Local note: this is a movie that features wall-to-wall bikinis, a fair amount of causual profanity in at least two languages, a generous helping of mock-homoeroticism, and the indelible image of John Abraham hiking skimpy briefs up over one very exposed cheek. Yet, it seemed, not a moment was cut. What gives? Do our local censors simply ignore Hindi movies? Arabs clearly go (the subtitles were English and Arabic), and had this been an American movie, I think it would have lost at least ten minutes - starting with most of the credits. Is it all somehow less corrupting-of-youth if it's subcontinental? Add it to the list of local mysteries...
Monday, November 17, 2008
Winnetka's own Roy Scherer, Jr., was born today in 1925. He grew up to be a mechanic and truck driver who fled to Dreamland and transformed himself into America's favorite side of beef, Rock Hudson.
Onscreen, Hudson was able to mock the conventions of Hollywood masculinity even as he embodied them, his air of Never Quite Taking It Seriously helping to leaven his perfect beauty, making it approachable and nonthreatening.
It also deflected too much curiosity about the star's private life, which belied his macho image even more than did his occasional forays into onscreen bubble baths. Hudson's tragedy was the way his image trapped him in the closet, believing as he did (and was likely right for his times) that his public preferred the myth to the (gay) man.
But, oh, he was lovely.
Equally lovely - and infinitely more fierce - is today's second birthday, a man for whom the closet has never been anything more than a place to hang his fabulous gowns:
RuPaul burst out of Atlanta onto New York's club scene in the late 80s, a breath of fresh air who shared with Rock a lightness of touch and lack of seriousness that was a joy to behold next to some of Manhattan's more Solemn Evil Queens.
He's since parlayed the RuPaul persona - saucy, sweetly acerbic, and upbeat - into a surprisingly durable career, taking in comedy cameos in mainstream pictures, stints as a spokesmodel, a talk show, and - inevitably, I suppose - an upcoming reality show.
Through it all he's kept up a level of glamour not seen since the glory days of Cher and a level of energy that almost approaches the Charoesque.
And - fun fact I honestly did not know until today - RuPaul is even his real name.
Tiny name-droppy brag of the day: back in my glory days, I actually met both of these heavenly creatures: Hudson when he was touring (surprisingly creditably) in a revival of Camelot and I was an usher, and RuPaul when we were both young and staying out all night on the Lower East Side. Both were darling, but only Rock made me weak in the knees...
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Another fab moment from the vaults of Hollywood on the Nile: the uninhibited Miss Hind Rostom is seen here in one of her great hits, 1963's Shafiqa the Copt. With a cast of jaunty chorus boys, an enthusiastic audience, and a coterie of acolytes in the arts of raqs sharqi, known to the vulgar as bellydancing.
And yes, that is a candelabra on her head. Don't ask. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Bellydancing fun fact: Egyptian audiences, to this day, actually do get up and dance along with their favorites, just as seen here. They do not, however, usually join in harmony to close out the number. Which seems a shame.
What makes the column stand out for me, though, is this: "my great-grandmother was, of course, a Victorian, and so my mother was brought up with strict moral values."
Honey, my great-grandmother was a Victorian. Joan Collins's great-grandmother must have been positively Elizabethan.