Thursday, December 31, 2009

Here We Go Again

Let this celebratory image - Dan Weiner's New Year's Eve, Times Square, 1951 - stand as my best wishes to all for a festive evening and good start for this coming year. Let's hope for the best.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Inglourious Molly Freak

One of the joys of having longtime pal Miss Rheba out in our part of the world over these holidays - aside from her delightfully skewed take on much that we take for granted in this eccentric little Sultanate - has been resuming the marathon movie watching that has marked much of our friendship over the past thirty years.

In one stretch these past couple of days, for instance, we managed to take in the remarkably diverse buffet of Love Actually, Eight-Legged Freaks, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Inglourious Basterds. Of them all, I'd only (shamefully enough, Debbie Reynolds fans) ever seen the first. The combo left me a little dazed, I have to admit.

Love Actually is a guilty pleasure, old-style Hollywood treacle repackaged en style Cool Britannia, a Grand Hotel of varied stars and all-over-the-map acting, from another of Emma Thompson's exquisitely observed portraits of discreet anguish to Bill Nighy's scenery-chomping glee as a faded rockstar. We laughed, we cried, we wished we had some of those apartments.

I really rather thought, believe it not, that Eight-Legged Freaks and Molly Brown have a couple of things in common, principally the over-the-top dedication that their stars throw into making implausible vehicles as entertaining as possible. Both sets of performers clearly know that they're not in Strindberg, but decide to ride it out by giving it their all.

Miss Rheba once worked lights for an East Coast stage production of Molly Brown and regaled us with tales of what agony the cast had in trying to replicate even a fraction of the enthusiasm that Miss Reynolds and company brought to what is, at the end of the day, pretty eighth-rate stuff. She calls the show The Unsinkable Molly Reprise, pointing out that it has just about exactly three numbers, all of which are mercilessly recycled until the audience begs for release. On the other hand, Harve Presnell is pretty easy on the eyes and gets to stride about in some truly astonishing pants.

It strikes me that the tagline from the one-sheet above - "Get out of the way... Or get hit in the heart!" is way more Tarantino than MGM, and could just as easily work for Basterds. About which I don't have a great deal to say, other than that it was in parts very effective, in others extremely silly, and overall more a perverse valentine to cinema than, in itself, a film of any distinction.

But I do kind of wish that Tarantino would team up with Debbie Reynolds. David Lynch gave Ann Miller her last role, and just think what madness Jackie Brown's creator and Molly Brown herself could bring to the the screen...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Why Don't You...

...ratchet your look up a notch or two for your New Year's Eve festivities? What better model could you take, in terms of sheer more, than the divine Miss Ann? There's no hairdo that can't be made that much bigger, no eyes that can't use longer lashes, and no toilette that's truly complete without sequins, jewels, furs, and lashings of attitude, MGM-style.

I mean, seriously. Ann Miller. Just think "star" and take it from there. You know you want to...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Good Clean Fun

71 years ago today, impresario Earl Carroll (of Vanities fame) opened a nightclub in LA, inventively called The Earl Carroll Theatre. This was one of the acts that opening night. The past, truly, is another country...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Meanwhile, at Sandringham

Princess Anne is unnerved by a tot by the wayside. I am unnerved by the coat-scraps used to trim her hat.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mamie Christmas!

I can't think of a better way to wish all of you every good thing of this season and the Merriest of Christmases than by cribbing the Eisenhowers' 1960 Christmas card. I'm especially entranced with the calligraphic interpretation of the dear lady's trademark bangs.

It's a fine, clear Christmas morning here at the Café. As Mr. Berlin wrote, "The sun is shining, the grass is green;/The orange and palm trees sway." If we're not particularly dreaming of a white Christmas ourselves, it's likely because I think our day will be more than sufficiently merry and bright right here, however tempting it might be to indulge in nostalgia for days gone by.

In a little while, I'll go wake up Mr. Muscato and the dog, and perhaps rather more delicately intimate to the just-arrived Miss Rheba (a trouper after twenty-odd hours in the air) that too much sleep only makes the jetlag worse. We'll have breakfast, open a gift or two, and then, I think, go investigate the beaches and give Koko a chance to bark at the waves, a favorite pastime. Dinner, later, at one of the grand hotels. We are very lucky.

And I suppose we will spend a moment, here and there, remembering. Christmas, freighted down as it is with expectations and associations, tradition and religion, excess and obligations, becomes a kind of milestone, a stopping place from which we can look back and see, like the illuminated tableaux pictured on Victorian glass slides or the lighted tableaux of department-store Christmas windows, bits and pieces of ourselves from earliest childhood on.

Here's the year that there was so much snow that all the cousins and relations spent the night; there's the first year you knew that Santa Claus was really Dad. On they march - the first Christmas away from home, feeling very grown-up and secretly homesick beyond belief; the year that there wasn't much of a Christmas, after two funerals; Christmas in New York, surrounded by friends that formed a new family; and now, these last years, Christmases that feel like home again, wherever we may end up being.

Maybe that's a sign that you really have grown up; when the Christmas that you make for yourself, whatever it may be, feels like home.

Eartha Cutie

Do you believe it's been a year already? When the sad news that Eartha had gone on before came, I wrote, "How characteristic of her, to slip away on Christmas day, guaranteeing that we would as much celebrate as mourn her. Certainly, it's just as she would have had it, for few entertainers were such thorough celebrators as Miss Kitt: of sex, of life, of love, of all the pleasures of the flesh and spirit."

And, of course, of the virtues of deeds, sables, '54 convertibles (light blue), a duplex, checks, and the occasional this and that bought at Tiffany. At least an approximation of which, from your own list, I hope appears under your Christmas tree.

Deck the Halls

I hope the Vionnet-clad elves of Deco-fabulousness have created holiday magic chez vous; here at the Café, in all truth, we are a trifle more homespun. Perhaps someday we'll have it all pulled together enough to manage a Cruella DeVil-style tree, but in the meantime, it feels like home.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kukla, Fran, and Christmas

Christmas, as the saying goes, is for children. This presents a certain dilemma for those of us who rather like Christmas, but of whom it is possible (if rather reductive) to say that we simply can't abide children.

In my defense, I can say quite truly that I wasn't all that fond of them even when I was one. They seemed noisy and unpredictable, something I now enjoy greatly in singing stars and screen legends, but which in person, then and now, has fewer charms.

Even my favorite programs as a child bore this out. Captain Kangaroo, with its gathering of middle-aged gentlemen in jeans and naval uniforms, enacting skits that were old when Vaudeville was a tot, was far preferable to the harsh urban realities of Sesame Street. And of course, a Saturday wasn't complete without time spent in the gentle company of this dear lady d'un certain age and her friends (Zoom I made an exception for, which in later years I realized was because it was essentially the pre-teen equivalent of a Saturday night at The Saint, minus the rampant promiscuity).

So here are Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, wishing us a Merry Christmas across the decades. I knew them, not from their '50s incarnation, but as the hosts of The CBS Children's Film Festival, the kind of good-naturedly improving kiddie show that's fairly impossible to imagine existing today. For me, the KF&O bits were always much more engaging than the frequently baffling short films from around the world, and having to sit through 20 minutes of goings-on involving a happy Bulgarian family was the price paid for the joy - truly - of watching a sweet older lady talk with a puppet crocodile.

My Christmas gift for anyone finding themselves in a similarly nostalgic frame of mind is to direct you here, and to echo the Kuklapolitans in saying, "Merry Christmas, Frannie..."

Putting the Rum back in Rum-Pa-Pum-Pum

Just in case you haven't seen it yet this year, the single greatest holiday moment in TV history. What are you waiting for, Christmas?

What a [Christmas] Dump!

Who better to get us back into a holiday mood than Miss Bette Davis? Not only is she seasonally decked out here (if not, truth be told, looking any too pleased at the situation), but she ties in with the balance of today's posts, as I'm sure she tried a Pall Mall or two (or two thousand) in her day, and I have all confidence that she must have been a hellion behind the wheel (she certainly was in The Star).

And can't you just hear her? "Meeeee-rry Christmas. Now get me a drink."

Or am I flashing back to my childhood again?

Drive Me Crazy

I hope you don't mind if I take a moment out of the current seasonally themed blogathon to air one of my major current grievances; pardon, too, any language not usually seen in these genteel premises.

In short, driving in Our Fair Sultanate is going to hell in a handbasket, and if something isn't done about the absolute fuckwits who make up what seems to be an ever-increasing proportion of local drivers, the already insane national traffic-fatality statistics (I've heard estimates that they are up to forty times most developed countries) are going to continue to skyrocket.

When we arrived here some years ago, aside from a plague of idiotic young men driving ridiculous cars bought for them with daddy's money, it was actually possible to get around from place to place without risking, at best, a heart attack, or, at worst, a grisly, gory death. No more. A simple run to the supermarket can allow you to witness a veritable catalogue of motorized assholery - not just your garden variety speeding, unexpected U-turns, or tailgating (although all of those are commonplace). Oh, no - I'm talking things like people deciding to pass into oncoming traffic just to prove, apparently, that theirs is bigger than yours; or family cars, loaded down with a dozen small children milling about in the backseat, roaring along at top speed on the shoulder of a packed highway; or death-wish driven shitheads inching into traffic to execute what turns into a fish-tailing left turn with brakes and horns squealing as a dozen other drivers have to slam on the brakes, and...

I mean, what gives? This is a placid, almost chokingly polite place, one in which voices are rarely raised, tidiness reigns supreme, and most people - local nationals and expatriates alike - seem to have bought into the kind of public demeanor that can make it feel like living in Stepfordistan. But put these very same people behind the wheel, and they turn into rejects from The Wacky Races, only without the cartoonish immortality.

When it reached the point that the Big Man himself, His Majesty, had to give a sharp scolding to the general public earlier this year, I thought things might improve. That was followed by the putting up of large and prominently placed billboards, with his smiling face accompanied by boldfaced declarations of the people's obedience to his wise advice. I'd like to meet those people, 'cause they're sure not on the roads.

Thank You, Throat-Scratch Santa!

Over at Mean Dirty Pirate, Ayem8y claims that Santa smokes Luckies. Here at the Café, we know better; he's a Pall Mall man. And when he says they're smooth, he's got science on his side - the puff chart doesn't lie!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For the family? Maybe - if by family you mean this horrifyingly dysfunctional assemblage, gathered in a Tableau of Terror. It's a world in which armless Thalidomom tries with every atom of her being to act as if there is nothing amiss with her sadistic husband's latest gift, even as their son - the Spawn of Satan - shrieks in banshee abandon at her. Meanwhile, little Susie - a child of almost LucieArnazian unattractiveness - huddles in dread beneath the wrapping paper, counting the moments until she can once again crawl back to her "safe place" behind the basement stairs.

That's the kind of family this is a Singer Christmas for.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Grandmother Knows Best

See? What did I tell you? My Grandmother Muscato knew her way around mid-century consumer products, and this is no exception. Typical common-as-mud, sprawled-on-the-floor, housecoat-wearing, beater-bar-fondling Hoover Ho.

A Very Mitzi Christmas

Watching this vintage snippet, all I can think as I take in the wonder that is Miss Gaynor is, "waiter, I'll have one of what she's having, please!"

Although at my age, I'm not sure my system's up to it...

Jerry Herman was never the most subtle of songwriters, but La Mitz's manic delivery takes this little gem from Mame and turns it into a Lola Heathertonische moment of pure tinsel showbiz. And that is, in its own unique way, a most wonderful thing.

Smart Shopper

I don't know about you, but dear Alice Faye is way ahead of me when it comes to being ready for Christmas.

For one thing, I've got no idea where I put my matching gloves and hat...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Homefront Holidays

With word wafting in of snow back home, Mr. Muscato and I head into this festive week planning a quiet holiday. The tree is up, and we got a jump on things (and celebrated the Islamic new year) over our weekend by having people (the crowd we call The Boys, as opposed to The Office People, The Neighbors, or simply Those Awful People You Know) in for yet another in the seemingly endless series of turkeys that Mr. Muscato squirreled away in the freezers during a sale earlier this year. We're now caught up in preparing for the arrival of my longtime chum Miss Rheba, who will descend from the heavens Santa-style on Christmas Eve.

We're not being terribly inventive giftwise, I'm afraid this year; or rather, let me amend that - I'm not being terribly inventive. Still, I don't think I'm in danger of seeing the face a real-life '50s housewife would likely have come up with if faced with a Eureka under the tree, even if Mr. Muscato's gift is rather practical

Family fun fact: yet another of Grandmother Muscato's Indisputable Dicta was that anything other than a Bissell vacuum was vulgar - how she came up with that one, none of us know. But in her world, anyone with an Electrolux or, God forbid, a Hoover, was trash.

Noël en style Dalida

This Gallic take on Wham's "Last Christmas," performed with characteristic fabulousness by the divine Dalida, doesn't seem especially seasonal - but it's Dalida, so who cares? If nothing else, the gown does Christmas up the proceedings considerably...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Birthday Girl: No Regrets

Édith Givovanna Gassion was born 94 years ago, and after surviving a childhood of ultra-Dickensian horridness, she found a new name, Piaf, and international fame rivaled by few.

We see her here in 1962, at almost the end of her long, strange trip, singing a song that, although she debuted it only a year earlier and had less than one year left, has become one of the ones with which she is most closely identified.

If anyone on earth had cause to regrette beaucoup, it would have been she, but I dare anyone not to believe her...

Christmas Past

"Every happy family is alike; but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." No particular reason that those resonant words by Leo Tolstoy, the opener to Anna Karenina, should come to mind. But they do.

And isn't little Lucie a lump?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Her Heart Belongs to Santa

At a point one suspects fairly late in her relatively brief career as a Cheesecake Cutie, the first lady of the Broadway musical, Miss Mary Martin, adopts a festive seasonal pose.

Who knew that Maria von Trapp (not to mention Nellie Forbush) had such grade-A gams?

Book Nook, Opera Queen Division

Looking for a good read? I hate to be anything but a total enthusiast about someone so fabulous, but I'm afraid that after ten days of slogging, I can recommend one book to avoid.

A Prima Donna's Progress, the autobiography of the redoubtable Dame Joan Sutherland, the Antipodean sensation known to opera lovers everywhere as La Stupenda, is less a memoir than a semi-guided tour of the world's most detailed datebook. It chronicles seemingly every event in the lady's long and varied career, one that should be - one might think - absolutely chockablock with incident, drama, and anecdote.

Instead, we get a relentless listing of every flight, every rehearsal, and Lord knows every performance that took place in a career that stretched from the end of the Second War almost to the end of the century. In fits of enthusiasm, people she encounters are described as "clever", "kind", or (in a rare spasm of enthusiasm) "talented"; otherwise, she remains singularly and obdurately silent on questions such as personality, aesthetics, or even the occasional on-the-fly observation of the goings-on about her.

Even so, it must be admitted, something of the magnificent absurdity of a diva's existence does float to the surface, apparently despite the authoress's best intentions. There is, for instance, the evocation of a vanished world conjured up by the juxtaposition of the lady's activities during a single week in the early '70s, in which she combined rehearsals at the Met with a quick stop at the book launch for Cole Lesley's tome on his life as Noël Coward's amanuensis and companion, with a (one presumes) lengthier appearance at a record signing in her honor - at Korvette's.

Still - it's a long haul, and the occasional gems are few and far between. It's frustrating to spend time with someone who's met everyone from Marjorie "Interrupted Melody" Lawrence to the Queen Mother but who doesn't have an interesting thing to say about anyone, a certain sniffy dismissal of Pavarotti's starstruck ways possibly excepted.

Instead, why don't you read Cole Lesley's book, or the brief and touching memoir by Graham Payn, who was also Coward's intimate? The latter writes movingly on how much it meant that Sutherland - unlike many of the Master's other friends and toadies - kept up her relations with the eccentric band of companions Coward called "the family" even when the great man was no more (rarely has any widow been more thoroughly and completed dropped than Payn, and by people who really ought to have known better).

Reading Dame Joan, one senses that there is a fascinating, sympathetic soul in there somewhere lost in the rush to get from place to place; reading about her, one learns with satisfaction that there truly is.

O Night Divine

Resplendent in a gown from Mattel's Nolan Miller-anticipating SuperStar Barbie line, Miss Donna testifies. This solemn Yuletide season should always be so fabulous....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

File Under "Madding Crowd, Far From the"

You know, I think I shall have to complain to the municipality - the beach nearest to the Villa Muscato is really getting unconscionably crowded on the weekends now that the good weather is here.

Nonetheless, Mr. Muscato, Koko, and I braved the hordes - there must have been anything up to four dozen people at times - to spend most of the day near the water, and very pleasant it was. Now we've all got that lovely feeling you get after a day outdoors - a kind of Vitamin D haze, I suppose - and we are enjoying the spectacle of a thoroughly exhausted terrier.

They Got the Beat

In high school, Mary Margaret (second from left) always overidentified with Marilyn Munster, and never more so than during those awkward, embarrassing months when she was forced to join the family acapella group. Aunt Lavonne (second from right) sang bass.

Window Shopping

Before you get too stuck in the holiday groove of bitching and moaning about having to find the perfect gift - hell, any gift - for everybody from your mother to the mailman, stop and count your blessings.

The consumer society may have its drawbacks, but you could be in Novosibirsk in 1978. Which do you think Aunt Lyudmila will like better - the 5-watt bedside lamp, the space heater crafted from a tin pieplate, or the desktop fan that doubles as an amputation device?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Near and the Dear Ones

While much attention this week has been focused on Blondie's latest release, a timely if rushed-sounding version of We Three Kings, I was delighted to find this little extract from a Very Lower Manhattan Christmas, featuring the spectabulous Miss Debbie Harry and what is billed as the Middlechurch East Village Gospel Choir.

I think it makes a nice opener for the Café into the holiday season, as well as one of the few contexts in which I can imagine feeling - let alone admitting - that it makes me rather miss Yoko Ono...

What's Greek for Golddigger?

I have all due respect for America's Widow™, really I do, but in this shot I can only believe that what's running through her mind is "You said he's worth how much?"

Maybe it's just that I find snaps like this one, in which she looks so much like a rough-draft Norma Jeane, unnerving...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Birthday Back Up: 3 Girls 4th

She's one of history's most famous spare tires, someone who leapt into a kind of substitute fame in 1967 when she joined the world's most famous musical group pretty much just after it had any real reason to exist. And today, Cindy Birdsong turns 70. Does that make you feel as old as it does me?


Sometimes people look so much like themselves that they look more like imitations of themselves. I like that. And clearly, a little something to take the edge off never hurts...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Remember Her (One) Name

Little María Marguerita Guadalupe Teresa Estela Bolado Castilla y O'Donnell had clearly had enough of being so relentlessly polysyllabic by the time she made the long trip from Mexico City to Hollywood, for she became known to film fans simply as Margo. Under that clipped moniker, she was a reliable supporting presence for more than three decades, mostly in roles that called for a little exotic mystery.

She was, for even longer, Mrs. Eddie Albert, which is just about as far from being either exotic or mysterious as one can imagine. Although it does raise the distinct possibility that she got to hang out with Eva Gabor, which has to count for something. Also, she was Cugat's niece, which means that Charo was, at least for a while, her aunt. Which is kind of fabulous.

Here we see her working, as well as anyone could, the unlikely, unpromising glamour-shot combo of wicker and lamé.

When it Rains...

Sorry about that, kids - we got safely back from our little Red Sea jaunt to find that all hell had generally broken loose. The worst of it all is that absolutely none of it was of any real interest even in the slightest. Much has been resolved to most people's satisfaction, some remains to be dealt with, but after much smoothing of Dreary Office Politics and Soothing of Bores, life is again on something approaching an even keel.

I should have listened to the divine Miss Anita O'Day, seen and heard here live in Berlin, 1970, reminding us that when it rains, it pours.

That's something, improbably enough, we've been discovering right here on the edge of the great Arabian desert, we've been finding out. Nightly downpours for the past three nights have cleaned the air rather marvelously, giving rise to even-more-than-usually dramatic views and clear horizons. Now the air has something of the crisp, cool feeling of late April back home, which is really rather refreshing.

Unlike anything having to do with the sordid business of making a living. Why can't we all live on capital, like the good people of Tilling? A much more sensible way of passing one's days if you ask me, and such bad planning of our forebears not to have socked it all away.

But we'll always have Sharm...

Friday, December 4, 2009

What's in a Name...

"Where," asked Gentle Reader CK rather peremptorily in reference to the last post, "is this?"

The answer is the notorious resort Sharm el Sheikh, whither Mr. Muscato and I have repaired for a minibreak. We were startled to see the reminder of home shown above at the very entrance to the heart of honky-tonk Sharm, the town of Na'ama Bay.

It appears that all the principal thoroughfares are named for various regional leaders, but His Majesty has the prime luck to be namesake to the main avenue of approach. I'm not sure that the rather dismal T-shirt shops and shisha joints that line his street are exactly the image he usually tries to convey, but I'm sure the city fathers' hearts were in the right place when they named it.

A Room with a View

There is a great deal to be said for getting away from it all for a couple of days...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fly Away Home

So, as mentioned a couple of days ago, I've planned a little treat to make up for the trials and tribulations of this particularly tiresome November. I'm flying off to meet Mr. Muscato in Egypt and spend a few days on the shores of the Red Sea; it's a tad counterintuitive to go from one idyllic seaside resort to another, I know, but the Egyptian version has any number of diversions one doesn't find hereabouts - being in Egypt, principally.

With Ermilia safely home, I know Koko is in good hands, and with things humming over at the Chateau Thombeau, I hope I'll be forgiven if we once again slip - briefly - into intermittent mode.

Bad Boys

Oh, it's been a pattern since time immemorial; first the houseboys break into the liquor cupboard, then they get maudlin. Pliny the Lesser just hated it when it happened during his peroraration...

Star Quality

Miss Constance Bennett, superb, steely, languorous with self regard. She's the rare creature who can look both fluffily blonde and carnivorous...

Remembrance of Sleaze Past

I ran across this image recently and was seized with nostalgia. When I moved to New York in the late '80s, this fine theatrical establishment was just 'round the corner from my tiny flat, part of the great, messy, tawdry, crime-and-drug-laced spectacle that stretched out from Times Square and 42nd Street.

All these years later, that same neighborhood is Tourism Central, a cacophonous mass of souvenir shops, chain restaurants, and Disney musicals. The dim, cheap railroad flats like the one I lived in have been gentrified, and Hell's Kitchen is just another post-porno pomo-boho district. Of course, because of the Internet, these physical redlight districts have given way to their digital successors - meaning, in a way, that the old Times Square is now, to an extent, in all of our neighborhoods.

But I still miss passing Rhonda Jo Petty and her ilk on the way home from the grocery store on a rainy November evening. The muggings and the crack dealers, not so much. Pop-up ads and phishing schemes may be their contemporary counterparts, but there's nothing like the neon, carnie atmosphere of the old Eighth Avenue online, and in an odd way I can't help think that we're the poorer for it...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Crowned Head

Much as one adores the Queen, one must feel a tinge of sympathy for the journalists assigned to cover the Royal Beat, an assignment of ceaseless routine, implacable structure, and rigourous protocol, all centered around a woman who has not made a public misstep since the height of the Jazz Age.

Which makes it all the more admirable when a photographer is able to come up with any kind of innovation, even something as simple as a new angle. Her Majesty is seen here during the recent opening of Parliament, and the nameless Reuters shutterbug has really made rather an interesting picture - a backstage glimpse, as it were, at the person of the monarchy.

She's wearing one of her grandmother Queen Mary's diamond necklaces and what is more or less her travelling crown, the George IV State Diadem, familiar not only from its regular appearances worn to and from state occasions, but from its perennial presence on stamps and banknotes from around the realms. She has lovely hair, don't you think?

Boys will be Boys

Sometimes, if he would do their math homework, Dave and Chip would let Floyd watch them play "bunk bed gymnastics" - but only for the first ten minutes...


With the spare time I've had of late on my own, I've been, as previously noted, spending far too much time in front of the TV. Fortunately, I've been in good company, as I've been rewatching the three seasons of Arrested Development, and finding it even richer, funnier, and more subversive on a second go 'round.

I've become, more than anything else, an enormous fan of Jessica Walter, whose brilliant portrayal of monster mother Lucille Bluth is the heart (a cold, controlling heart, but still) of the show's dysfunctional family circus. She plays Lucille as a carnival of couture, cocktails, and collagen; despite being about the dressiest part imaginable, it's one that requires a total lack of vanity, and Walter comes through.

I always enjoy seeing a longtime trouper get a break. Walter's career, which stretches back to the early sixties, has been mostly a matter of guest shots, disposable-girlfriend roles, and movies of the week: a working actress, but not a particularly prominent or even interesting one. It's as if the chance to play Lucille unleashed something in her, a lifetime's worth of observation of California dragon ladies and West Coast pretension that all came together at once.

She'd bloomed like this only once before, really, as the sweet-faced psychokiller in 1971's Play Misty for Me (she's seen here menacing co-star and fellow B-list survivor Donna Mills). It got her a Golden Globe nomination, but not all that much more.

Frankly, I think the shag 'do is more than enough motivation for serial-killing; thank goodness Arrested Development brought her a role with better taste in coiffures...

Friday, November 27, 2009

With all the Frills Upon it him...

Conscious, perhaps, of his status as second-generation subcontinental cinematic royalty, Abhishek Bachchan is in general one of Bollywood's less ludicrously presented stars, a conservative figure in a firmament prone to spandex, regrettable hats, and other sartorial trappings of their trade.

Still, given half a chance he can pout in absurd costume with the best of them, as evidenced by this beruffled, boycolletaged re-interpretation of a Saturday Night Fever-esque suit. Perhaps it's the sort of thing we'll see more of if and when he really does do a sequel to Dostana...

It's Grand, isn't it?

I feel like dear Liza at just about 1:48 in this vintage little slice of Dinah Shore, for something rather wonderful, something almost too good to be true, has happened: just like Mrs. Levi to the Harmonia Gardens, Thom has at long last come back to us. Yes, it's so; he has descended from Fabulon to take up residence at the Chateau Thombeau.

And so, just a tad, I like the life I'm living, just a little bit more, nowadays...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mother's Little Helpers

Well, actually more like your Aunt Doris's, from before she settled down with Uncle Lew, back when she was stewing for Eastern and always going on endlessly about that one time she swears Merv Griffin made a pass at her in First Class on the way to Vegas once.

The ones on left and right more or less make sense - as much as anything of their era does - but I really can't imagine the challenges of integrating the center one into any kind of halfway not-laughable coiffure, not least because it's still well more than a decade before Star Wars. It is one piece, wrapped around the back, or two independent hair-blobs? Did it actually hook over the ears?

The past, it truly is another country...

Thanks, but...

It's going to be a quiet holiday at the Café; having had a business celebration earlier in the week, I'm sated on the turkey front and have successfully resisted all invitations arising from the overwhelming urge other expats have to ensure that no strays or orphans miss out on this lovely and traditional day of gluttony and family recrimination.

Oh, I'm fond enough of Thanksgiving, mind you, and have many happy memories, stretching from Rockwell-perfect celebrations in the late 60s to modish 90s family-of-choice observances in Manhattan. Since coming overseas, I've celebrated everywhere from Simpsons in the Strand in London to the Valley of the Kings. There will be something pleasant about a solitary day, marked, as Christmas skeptics do in New York, with takeout Chinese and a movie (although mine, alas, won't be at Film Forum).

It is not, of course, the mere presence of cranberry sauce in a crowd that allows one to be thankful, and even à deux with the dog over the local interpretation of Kung Pao chicken, I am. I'm thankful for all the essentials with which I'm blessed and for the extravagances and little extras life affords. I'm thankful for the challenges (trying as some of them are) of this odd existence. I'm grateful for the big things (health, Mr. Muscato, and a steady income among them) and the small (that iTunes, for example, has at last made available the Scarlatti keyboard sonatas as interpreted by the great Wanda Landowska, or that I've finally found a good moisturizer that doesn't make me break out - Oil of Olay Complete all the way, baby!).

Most of all, though, I'm more than ever aware of and thankful for all the connections that knit the world together - ones like family, which can often be as painful as they are joyful; friends, old, new, actual, virtual; and all the others - social, political, technological, physical, you name it. We live in this bizarre world in which something written at the far edge of the Arabian peninsula can instantly be read in places as far apart as Pakistan, Queensland, and Quebec (just to pick three Gentle Readers who've stopped by the Café in the past hour or so). We deal with high-school friends five thousand miles away as easily as we do colleagues the next office over. And we have to be as aware of what's going on in places like Mumbai, Beijing, and Manila (to choose the top three stories just now on Google world news) in order to figure out our lives as our grandparents did the three nearest towns.

With Mr. Muscato away, I've been watching lots of DVDs, among them the HBO production of Angels in America. There's a lot there to blow you away (and to be thankful for, for that matter), but the one that always does it for me (along with the quietly epic finale at the Bethesda fountain, on stage perhaps the most moving thing I've ever seen performed) is the character Harper's fantasia of healing while flying from New York to California:

Night flight to San Francsico. Chase the moon across America.

God! It’s been years since I was on a plane! When we hit 35,000 feet, we’ll have reached the tropopause…the great belt of calm air. As close as I’ll ever be to the ozone.

I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air…and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn. Patches of it threadbare as old as cheesecloth, and that was frightening!

But I saw something only I could see - because of my astonishing ability to see such things - souls were rising from the earth…far below. The souls of the dead…of people who’d perished from famine, from war, from the plague…and they floated up! Like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning…

And the souls of the departed joined hands, clasped ankles and formed a…a web. A great net of souls. And the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them and was repaired…

(pauses, tears welling up in her eyes, a sad smile on her face)

Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of…painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.

At least I think that’s so.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Birthday Girl: The Queen of Cartoons

The work of Roz Chast is one of the things that makes me very, very happy. Her scratchy little people, with their hopeless clothes, questionable posture, and ongoing existential dilemmas, are reminders to me that a certain strain of America continues, one nearly subsumed by mass media and Walmart. Bright, puzzled, well-intended, of a kind likely to subscribe to The New Yorker but not to show up at the more experimental first nights or daunting restaurants profiled therein, they are in some ways the stateside cartoon counterparts of the characters who populate the world of Alan Bennett. Let's just say I identify with their constant surprise at what the universe throws at them.

Roz aside (and why aren't there more Rozes in the world, and what can we do to encourage them?), it's a fierce, fierce birthday day, kids - she shares her celebrations with an intimidating array that runs from Her Imperial Majesty Maria Feodorovna, last Dowager Empress of all the Russias (and her niece, the signficantly mousier Maud of Norway) to Her Imperial Majesty, Miss Tina Turner. Also in the running: Supreme fifth wheel Jean Terrell, delightfully oleaginous belter Robert Goulet, and Lindbergh-baby ultrabaddy Bruno Hauptmann.

Koko Lives!

Several Gentle Readers have written in noting the comparative absence in these pages (in this digital data?) lately of that domestic tyrant, Koko the Wonder Dog. There were even fears of kidnapping, heaven forfend.

No, he's out and about as usual but hadn't, until I recently grabbed this casual snap, been in the mood for a portrait. He's funny that way, but then again some beauties are; for a terrier, he is rather Garbo-esque...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

File Under "Complaints, Litany of"

So sorry, mes amis, to have been such an utterly remiss host over the past two weeks. Life has been something of a trial, and I post the above snap, of the palms at our favorite seaside café, only so that neither you nor I lose the context that, horrid as some things have been, there are still consolations to be found.

To pick up where we left off, our little gathering all that while ago was in fact very pleasant indeed, and a much-needed moment of fun before things went to the usual place in the proverbial handbasket. Much good food was prepared and enjoyed, there was music and dancing and gossip, and it was a very late morning the day after. All to the good.

And then, as had been planned (but which I always manage to put at the far side of consciousness until it's actually happening), Mr. Muscato jetted off to be a good son and brother chez la famille. We get irritable on our own, Koko and I, and this time has proved no exception. Although this time around we have had very good reason.

First, I had to deal with a weeklong visit by Important People From The Home Office, a phrase that strikes fear in all of us who operate almost (and almost is the key word there) independently, but remain nonetheless part of a larger entity. They arrive, they expect to be entertained in High Style (but then get snarky about one's knowing how to do so, with dark hints of misuse of the corporate dime), they want to know why this is happening and why that isn't, they unnerve one's colleagues who are unused to such periodic descents from on high, they offend one's local network, they make a long series of almost entirely irrelevant, impractical, or utterly laughable recommendations, and then they fly off at 4:00 in the morning and expect you to take them to the airport. We were not amused.

And while that was happening, our irreplaceable Ermilia had to be replaced, at least for ten days, to deal with various issues back in her far-off home. I know this will stir not one scintilla of sympathy in something like 99.99% of readers, but really it's difficult to cope without her; I've been feeling very Georgie Pillson-deprived-of-Foljambe, even though before taking flight, Ermilia brought in a pinch-hitter in the form of a tiny, silent, and rather mysterious presence called Flordeliza who is at least keeping the dog happily walked.

And then I got the 'flu, or something equally nasty. Splitting headaches, among other joys too disgusting to enumerate.

And another (albeit comparatively, next to the floods of September, minor) plumbing disaster.

And so on, with lots that I've doubtless already put out of my mind. I have been sufficiently shaken by all this nonsense and negativity as to require getting an early jump on the approaching long holiday, the Sultanate having combined the observance of the Eid al Adha with the days off given for November 18's National Day (which in a curiosity of local life is never actually itself a holiday, reputedly so that everyone doesn't travel and leave no one to say Happy Birthday to the monarch).

Said early jump has meant a heavenly morning under those palm trees with a very content terrier, even in the trying presence at the next knot of sofas of a pair of terrifying blondined Russian housewife/socialites, chain-smoking impossibly long, thin, and vilely scented cigarettes whilst chatting intimately at top volume about, from what I could gather, the inadequacy of local luxury shopping and (inevitably) the iniquities of their husbands, neighbors, and servants. Nice to know that worldwide financial collapse is sparing some people...

So things do seem on the upswing. Having begun to regain my senses, I've organized a little treat, more of which doubtless anon, and for the next few days will try to enjoy life seul before that begins.

In any case, I hope to be a little bit less of an absence henceforth. Did you miss me?*

* Pardon the intrusive and recurring Francophony; I'm currently reading André Aciman's quite marvelous Out of Egypt, a memoir of his family's cosmpolitan existence in Farouk-era Alexandria, and finding that his dialogue is contagious...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Home Front

Mr. Muscato and I, aided and abetted by the doughty Ermilia, are spending Veterans Day in a domestic frenzy. We're having people in (a far less formal - or organized - concept than having a party), with a seafood theme.

The weather is finally lovely, and so the doors and windows stand happily ajar, with the breezes from the nearby Gulf a more than satisfactory replacement for air conditioning and a joyful dog gamboling about, in and out chasing Ermilia's cat, as if there had never been a summer of being cooped up from the heat.

There are, of course and as always, more than enough things to cause worry and concern, but for today we're boiling shrimp and reviewing my Grandmothers' simpler recipes, with the prospect of a glass or two of Champagne and some good company tonight.

When I was a child, on the 11th of November we would go out to the cemetery to pay our last respects before the real winter set in. The various family plots, tidied up on Labor Day, the geraniums and such of Decoration Day brought home, would get a final trim about the evergreens, and my grandparents would point out the advantages of the large and well-placed area they'd chosen for themselves not long after their 1920 wedding. "It's on the hill, you see, and so we see the rest of the family and the Lake," my Grandfather would note with satisfaction, "and there is plenty of room for all of you."

The last time I visited, I realized that they were right. The view is lovely, and while some of the trees and plantings have grown enough that they would take some cutting to let one see the oldest family graves below, there is a pleasant sense of permanency. All the grandparents are there, and my mother now as well. I usually stop to straighten the holders behind each grave for the little flags that various organizations bring out in the spring - one with a Navy seal for Grandfather; DAR for one Grandmother and Eastern Star for the other. Mother, never really a joiner, could I suppose have had one - does the Junior League bring flags to members' graves? - but would have been mortified at the prospect.

In those days, one felt a genuine connection to World War I, and the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was, after all, Grandfather's war, even if he never ventured closer to the Marne than Buffalo. It still surprises me that they're all gone now, World War I vets, every one of them.

In any case, I stopped this morning, thinking of a bleak November day in 1918, when even sensible people hoped that not just that war, but War altogether, had stopped. And then, in the same way that the grandparents would bustle us back into the car and on to lunch at the club, with one last backward glance as if to assure the family they would return come spring, I went back to getting ready for our party. I think we'll have a lovely time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Such a Nice Young Man

Mrs. Stassinger over on Shawnee Court thought it was just marvelous that her Lloyd was so eager get a jump on his Christmas craft projects. The lower-rent mothers two blocks east had a thing or two to say about the boy whom, over their ChampAles and Parliament Menthols, they called Queeny McPrissyPants...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Stay Very Still..."

I've been remiss, having been meaning to feature this treasurable little moment of international drama ever since dear Plumcake brought it to our attention back around Hallowe'en. Yes, it's the coming together of two of the world's more glamourous power-spouses, and don't they look like they're having fun?

Mme. Sarkozy appears to be hoping that a coping strategy more usually used when confronted with bears will prove effective; she is fighting to stay as calm as possible and likely about to try sidling out of range in the hope that that her formidable neighbour won't notice. The divine Mme. Chantal of Cameroon, by contrast, is (as usual) not impressed. At all. What she's thinking about la Carla's mousy 'do, gray pinstripes, tacky folk-pop singing, and nude photoshoots clearly doesn't bear repeating.

But wouldn't you kill to hear her inner monologue?

3 Girls 1

Sorry, carissimi, for the little hiatus 'round these parts, but life is unendingly boring and deeply practical and all sorts of things that keep one from Thinking Good Thoughts.

In the meantime, why not consider the mysterious identity of the versatile young lady we see above? She's someone I know many of us adore, but in these guises I find her nearly unrecognizable. I'll be interested to see if you do, too...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Swiss Mister

Some day, I want Swiss Guards. Most of the Vatican is just too overdone for my tastes, but their uniforms? Just about perfect, and when we visited, they were about the only thing that Mr. Muscato and I agreed on; the particular guard snapped here was especially memorable...

Funny how they're all such elegant specimens themselves, too. Say what you will about the Mother Church's hierarchy, but they know a strapping young Swiss when they see one.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Perestroika Pop

I don't know what's going on here; I'm not sure I want to. I just want to encourage all of you to fall helplessly into this little slice of 80s heaven à la Russe. I'm finding it hard to believe that it's not some kind of Toni Basil-choreographed parody, but it's evidently the real thing.

The terrifying girl singer (who reminds me of Janis Ian on acid) aside, all involved look rather sheepish, as well they might. Still, it must have a seemed a breath of fresh air at the time, don't you think?

Birthday Beauties

I'm normally not very fond at all of February, but it's clear that there is some strange magic to that unpromising month, if only based on the extraordinary gifts it seems to have bestowed on what would appear to be a disproportionate number of children born nine months later.

Today, really, is an embarrassment of gorgeousness...

We start with the woman Cecil Beaton described as an "Asian Venus," the extraordinary Princess Fawzia of Egypt. Today she's a little old lady living quietly in Cairo, but in her time she was rather a handful, as well as being the Shah's first wife.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have art-film darling Tilda Swinton, seen here, I believe, doing an al fresco Carrie Nye impression. Or is it Cybill Shepherd?

Joel McCrea ended up a grizzled character player in Westerns, but in his youth he was a gleamingly handsome leading man at the dawn of the Talkies.

Ah, Lady Olivier. Mercurial, brilliant, and capable of inspiring, based on all one reads, almost boundless reserves of affection among friends and loved ones despite infinitely bad behavior, Vivien Leigh never quite recovered from the strain of being married to one of the few people on earth perhaps as lovely as she and yet more able than she to be regarded even more for his acting than his entrancing bone structure.

Speaking of which, bone structure would likely have carried this young man far (or at least further than sleazy Joan Collins TV movies) had not an unkind fate intervened. Somehow one feels there is an element of mercy in Jon-Erik Hexum's having been saved from a future as the David Hasselhoff of the 2020s...

If Hexum's presence here adds a note of the tragic, let's scurry right back to the ridiculous and consider the last of our birthday belles and beaux, the smoldering Miss Elke Sommer. Here we see her in full Scandinavian sexbomb bloom, in a still doubtless drawn from one of the almost endless number of All Star International Productions of the 1960s to which she contributed ... well, not very much at all.

The last I heard of her she was feuding with Zsa-Zsa over who was or was not a bigger has-been, but that was years ago. I'm sure it's still a question she's mulling over, but even so I hope she's having a happy birthday.