Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Eternal Question


Not so much at birth as by a century or so:

The great Slavic author Nikolai Gogol, whose fans this year are celebrating his bicentenntial, and...

...demento ultra-capitalist, Ayn Rand, the Danielle Steele of the far right.

I was reminded of the former while reading that the land of his birth, the Ukraine, and of his greatest successes, Russia, are now squabbling over his literary legacy.

While that's all fine and cultural, what really stopped me in my tracks was his trademark pageboy-variant bob, which immediately called to mind (well, my mind at least) the somewhat more severe coiffure affected by the latter.

I think that as peace-loving Americans, who would never want to see lovers of literature at loggerheads (and how's that for alliteration?), we should propose the following settlement: if the Russians will agree to give Gogol back to the Ukrainians, we will happily return any prestige associated with the memory of Rand and her tiresomely talky, philosophically dubious "novels" back to the land of her birth. Problem solved.

Except for that haircut...

So What Do You Think?

Okay. I give up. Can anyone explain to me just what that is that onetime screen favorite Constance Bennett had on her head at the wedding of her niece, Joan Bennett's daughter? No wonder the bride looks so startled.

In order to solve this fashion/grooming mystery, I'm launching the first-ever Café Muscato Poll! Simply turn your attention to the top of the right-hand column and let your voice be heard. Is it:

  • A Hat; it looks like that on purpose;
  • A Wiglet, unfortunately styled; or
  • An Ottoman; Connie had one too many and a little accident en route to the reception.
I already can't stand the suspense.

Well, What Brings You Here?

Koko, Miss Crawford, Dalida videos, Upen Patel - even Mr. Muscato. You'd think that any one of these Café regulars would be among the leading attractions hereabouts. But no. A quick perusal of our visitors indicates one clear favorite:

Yes, it's dapper Indonesian spokesmodel and political candidate Adrian Maulana!

In recent weeks, we've had scores of visitors from all over seeking our trenchant, cogent pensées on his chances in the coming parliamentary general elections. Dear Mr. M., you see, is one of a number of non-traditional aspirants - actors, models, TV personalities - known collectively as artis.

From Jakarta to Uppsala, Sweden (where there seems to be a positive Maulana-mania - hello, Uppsala!) and any number of points in between, they come for Adrian, and stay for the wry musings about Eastern-bloc design and misty recollections of days gone by.

I tend to find that Adrian's appeal is in inverse proportion to the actual amount of clothing he is wearing, and so find him preferable in sportswear...

...but really most in his element in even more casual attire. One almost hopes, guiltily, that he is not the choice of the Indonesian voters, just so we can be assured that he will continue in a career so clearly suited to his (considerable) gifts.

I hope our Adrian-seeking visitors find what they're looking for. I have to confess that beyond Mr. M., I know virtually nothing of Indonesia (although I do enjoy, as who doesn't, a nice Nasi Goreng now and again), and I really can't think that most of them are all that interested in Kay Francis and terriers.

But isn't that the joy of the Internet - how we can savor the way totally random things collide?

A Little Something?

Well, since Alf the Bartender appears to have brought the trolley 'round, may I interest anyone in a cocktail? Alf makes a mean Old Fashioned...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Soon it's Gonna Rain...

So. Remember that spot of weather I mentioned a while back? It would seem we're in for a fair spell of it, something quite rare in these parts. In preparation for what looks to be a day or so of moderate rain with some thunder and lightning, all schools have closed for two days, and the Interwebs are aflutter (if not quite aTwitter yet - we're late adapters out here) with rumors that the government will close, that the wadis will flood, and that vast hailstorms will roar out of nowhere and total all our cars, etc., etc., etc.,

I suppose this all wouldn't seem quite so absurd if I hadn't been raised in the kind of place where, when there's a four-day blizzard, we might maybe - maybe - get an hour's late arrival at school on day four...

Fashion Moment

Huh. I always thought this was a look that started (and ended) with Little Edie. Who knew it had its roots in a cut-rate album from the legendary Rondolette label?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Meanwhile, in Leningrad

Bulgarian pop princess Maria Koseva - who appears to have been something of the Connie Francis of the East - warbles her way through a number for Russian television in 1964. If the interpolated dance number is contemporary, it's a breathaking demonstration that Soviet choreography stalled somewhere about the time that Busby B. first stepped foot on a soundstage.

The March of Time

The passing years are a challenge for even the greatest stars. One moment you're Queen of the Lot, at the top of your game, and the next you've started that long, slow slide that takes you through memoirs, TV movies, and appearances at increasingly obscure film festivals to oblivion.

It can start without warning. For example, I believe that Dame Elizabeth, whatever else happened thereafter, experienced the Movie Star equivalent of Jumping the Shark the moment she donned that headdress.

For many, the next step is an ill-advised return to the stage, all too often playing against type. Is there anything in the world less hard-boiled than Claudette Colbert, drooping cig or no?

Suddenly, you find yourself wearing unfortunate jewelry and biting nervously at the centerpiece...

Some few, in the end, achieve a rare grace; Miss Lillian, luckier than most, seems never to have made a wrong step (except perhaps that hat) during the last three decades of her long, long life, holding her own even against Miss Davis and coming out smiling.

But most are not so lucky, as evidenced by frail, sad Lucy, apparently attempting a slo-mo slap at the hapless (and for the moment, unsuspecting) Dorothy Lamour impersonator to her left.

Beyond that, draw the veil; you don't want to venture into the final stages, the time of This 'n' That, the Motion Picture Country Home ("Irving! Where is Irving? We'll be late for my premiere!"), and moments like the ghost of Mary Pickford appearing live, more or less, from Pickfair on the 1976 Oscars.

It's no surprise that Ruth Elizabeth said it best: old age is no place for sissies. Ironic, though - given that it's mostly sissies that are paying attention...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sly Fox

Herewith, another attempt, in the person of no less than Sylvester Stallone, to go beyond our usual diet of Subcontinental Cuties - and this one's art - a gen-u-ine Warhol.

Say what you will about the man's thespic gifts, choices of material, or refusal, of late, to age gracefully (or even particularly interestingly disgracefully, which we fully support) - he no question had a certain sleepy-eyed something...

Lady of the Eighties

Pia, clapping. Not to be experienced if you face any intellectual challenges today, as it will eat your brain.

(Later: AUGH! I couldn't remember why this had popped into my mind, and just now realized - it's because Donna posted it last week! I feel like Helen Keller when she got caught up in that childhood plagiarism scandal. But really - can you ever have too much Pia Zadora?)

Retail Update: Styles is Very Interesting!

So we headed once more this past weekend out to the One Rial Store, Mr. Muscato and I, accompanied by our friends The Shopaholics.

Generally speaking, we're perfectly happy making only the occasional foray into our beloved capital's limited retail scene, but these two live for it. What makes them tolerable is that they are every bit as giddily happy at the One Rial as they are at more shall we say upscale outlets, and they are quite content to entertain themselves, dragging Mr. Muscato along, in any setting involving merchandise, meaning I can potter about on my own.

As usual, I had my eye out for treasures, and found a few. For example:

Isn't this an absolute must? I've seen them now and then in other shops, although never in quite so tawdry a pink. It seems to be a prerequisite, by the bye, for Mosque Shape Alarm Clocks™ that they come, however miniscule the object or price, with the kind of speaker system most often seen at heavy metal concerts.

The toy aisle never fails to divert, and this expedition was no exception. Who could resist, for instance, a play phone that states proudly it is "perfect in workmanship"? No mere shoddy array of plastic this - it's Lovely!

Nearby, these dyspeptic junior harlots gave me a good case of the shudders. If they ever remake that Karen Black picture where the bloodsucking dolls come to life and nibble her to death, I think we've found our stars, no?

Oh, and speaking of bloodsucking:

Whatever else you might gather from the tagline - and for the record, no, you pull out a vacuum apparatus, thank you very much - on offer was not one but two handy-dandy cupping systems, perfect for raising therapeutic welts.

Whether this second set is specially to designed either to cause or to cure bizarre cone-shaped growths on the shoulderblades, I hardly dare speculate.

Apparently it's important that both contain 12 pieces, not one of which I would ever allow near my body or that of my loved ones.

Finally, as we were heading out - the Shopaholics having found an extraordinary array of things, including some surprisingly nice oven dishes, some car accessories, and a truly memorable Hello-Kittyesque (emphasis on the -esque) bathroom set - I saw this quite strong-minded water-jug.

I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that anything from the fine folks at RoyalBoss® would be "special for dominate style chef" (and haven't we all known a few of those?), and I'm glad that it's "in compliance with the new formation", but this "up:breaking heat" just plain makes me nervous.

We moved on to more conventional pastures with a quick trip to The Big Mall, which comes fully equipped with all mod cons, but really in comparison to such richness, it's rather dull stuff.

Have You Met Our Mother?

(with apologies to Thombeau)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Diva Paraphernalia: Necessary Accessories

Another Fabulon inspiration: lorgnettes!

As wielded by a startling variety of great ladies:

Miss Callas, staring down an upstart who might actually be trying to give her direction;

Couturière Valentina, either trying to suss out the details of a somewhat-too-distant hemline or checking what mischief her husband is getting up to with Miss Garbo;

And last, but never least, the vivacious Miss Beatrice Lillie, deploying for comic effect what actually might be a rather useful thing: the lorgnette-six shooter.

Along with reticules, dress clips, and lipstick-covers, lorgnettes are among the most critically threatened entries on the Endangered Accessories List. Won't you do what you can to bring them back?

The Twig

And her acolytes. Or is it? The original caption simply identifies all involved as "Twiggy lookalikes". Some clearly more successful than others. I think an argument could made that the three in the back might well be gender illusionists in addition to being fans of the willowy supermodel; in fact, I think the one in the boater at the top of the pyramid may be Graham Norton.

Weather Report

The most interesting thing about the local weather this weekend (which for us, remember, is just ending now, on our local Friday night) is that we've actually been having some.

Before he left for distinctly less-green pastures, the DW was our guest at lunch on the beach, where there is a clever little bistro located in a seaside pavilion, an outpost of a Dubai chain, that ambitiously attempts to be a Lebanese restaurant, a sushi bar, and a luxe variation on a local coffee shop, with shisha (water pipe) and bitter little cups of coffee on the roof.

It was a lovely afternoon, actually, to sit up there and look out to sea, for it was uncharacteristically moody, gray and breezy (weather that, on the water, always for no good reason makes me think of The French Lieutenant's Woman), and looking back from the beach we could also watch the clouds roll in over the hills that are the backdrop for our little capital.

Such is the nature of my life that even on a weekend afternoon, I had to abandon Mr. Muscato and the DW for a dash of work, but as I left I took the above snap, looking back across the mangrove swamp that lies behind this stretch of beach toward the hills. By the time I reached my destination, it was pouring rain, and Mr. M. & Co. had sought shelter downstairs, just in time.


"There's a message from the bartender. Does Miss Channing know she ordered domestic gin by mistake?"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brought to You by MTM

Blame this one on Thombeau... and possibly the ill effects of too much listening to the Mame original cast album.


Ginger's looking a little off in this poster for the overseas market, and I'm not sure that "la super-dreadnaught de las musicales" is the most enticing tagline of all time, but when you get right down to it, anything con Harriet Hilliard is okay by me...

Kaffee Klatsch Redux

"That cow said what?" Doris smiled through her fury into the middle distance. "The next time I run into her in Better Dresses at Altman's, I'm going to cut a bitch."

Upen Update

Indotastic ultrastar Upen Patel continues his relentless assault on my virtue by appealing to my appreciation for classic portraiture and Raj-era fashions. I can't tell you how appalling I found his last missive, in which he suggested a "Lady Sylvia Meets the Maharajah" role-playing scenario. Really, Mr. P. - please understand that I can never be yours!


Frau Riva if you're nasty.

I Love the Nightlife, Local/Tiki Edition

Fresh from our holiday and firmly ensconced once more at the Villa Muscato, we've had this week the pleasure of a houseguest, one of Mr. Muscato's chums from his far-off bachelor days. Said pal is a dedicated, selfless foreign-aid professional working in one of the most difficult places in the world, so we call him the Development Whore, just to make sure he keeps things in perspective.

In celebration of the DW's temporary sojourn here in what passes for civilization, we last night ventured to one of our little town's most treasurable assets: yes, we have a Trader Vic's.

And really, does it get any better than a tiki cocktail or seven? Our edition of the fabled chain may lack some of the ambiance of, say, the legendary Manhattan Vic's in the basement of the Plaza Hotel, but it does the trick. The Plaza Vic's was where, ah, so long ago, I first tasted that staple of all tiki lounges, the Suffering Bastard (is memory playing tricks with me, or did it actually have dubiously Polynesiesque wall masks that would occasionally spit fire? If it didn't, it should have) and used to marvel at the honking LonGisland accents of so many of the patrons...

Sadly, the menu has gone upscale and no long features a PuPu Platter, but we did out best to recall the glory days by ordering as much sweet-and-sour and deep-fried tat as possible.

From there it was just across the way to our Local, which can actually get quite Festive, if you catch my drift, on a Wednesday night, for further refreshment. The DW got quite frisky, doing surprisingly naughty things with the little rubber hula man who came as part of the garnish (or at Trader Vic's, would it be flair?) on Mr. Muscato's Munahene Juice Cocktail, much to the amusement of the assortment of local color that had showed up to amuse us (and ogle the possibility of Temporary New Boyfriend - houseguests can be very popular in these parts).

So, even though we've left vacation, for now, behind us, I like to thing we're still finding ways to keep diverted. How's by you?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kaffee Klatsch

"And that's not all, girls," added Elaine, "I hear that not only does she do it - she likes it!"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

No. For the Love of God, No.

Well, let's just file this one under "things I'd rather decapitate myself than actually listen to." I think it exists only to make William Shatner's singing career look vaguely plausible.

That Foreboding Feeling

"And," thought Mrs. Blackpoole grimly, "I'll wager that 'tisn't just what's on the table that Lord Marylebone will think is food for the gods..."

RIP, Ernie Pook; Vivat Lynda!

I was fascinated to find a recent article from the Chicago Tribune on one of my 80s crushes, cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry. Back in the days of campus life and alternative weeklies, the best reason to rush out and find the Philadelphia CityPaper was "Ernie Pook's Comeek", her marvelous, wordy, frequently heartbreaking take on the life and times of a pair of drifting young sisters and their weird friends.

I honestly don't think she's crossed my mind since the fall of 2001. Then, her incredible meditation on 9/11, a series of pictures "narrated" by Emily Dickinson's poem 341 ("After great pain, a formal feeling comes") was one of the works that most affected me that dreadful fall.

It turns out she's had a difficult few years, marked by declining income due to the disappearance of papers like CityPaper and a bout of what sounds very much like depression.

It was good to hear, though, that while Groening-style mega-success may have eluded her, and while she recently retired "Ernie Pook", she continues to make wonderful art, selling some of it directly on e-Bay. Both of the examples seen here could now be yours - unless I outbid you.

Princess Blue Doggie reminds me very much of Thurber, and the sleeping dog has a wonderful, almost Japanese economy of line. Miss Barry's work goes far beyond spotty teens and cat's eye glasses, and it's amazing to think that genuine work by such an American original is just a few clicks away.

To Be Or Not To Be - Bad!

From 1930, sit back and enjoy the ... emphatic song-and-dance stylings of Miss Zelma O'Neal, putting across her big number, "I Want to be Bad" from the Paramount Technicolor spectacular Follow Thru.

I just think she's adorable, and I'm mad for the flaming trumpets. But I would be, wouldn't I?

The Birth(day) of Maria Malibran

Let's wish a happy 201st birthday to the Maria Callas of the early nineteenth century: Maria Malibran was the prima diva who in many ways set the mold that Great Ladies of the Opera have followed ever since.

She crammed an epic of color and incident into her tragically short life (just 28 years), commanding ovations from audiences across Europe in a repertoire that included creating the title role in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and a bouquet of Rossini heroines. From all accounts she was a vivid stage presence, and if this portrait is to be believed, a rather insinuating minx indeed.

She was impersonated onscreen by no mean slouch at insinuating herself, the fabulous Miss Candy Darling, in 1971's underground sensation The Death of Maria Malibran. Any excuse to bring up a Warhol superstar, no?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Star is Born

Lucille Faye LeSueur, b. March 23, 1905

Joan Crawford Fairbanks Tone Terry Steele, d. May 10, 1977

Over in his gorgeous corner of the Cybersphere, our dear TJB has written a far more eloquent tribute to the Great Lady than I could manage. All I can add is that I was lucky enough, in my New York salad days, to have known more than one person who knew JC, at various stages of her career, and they all agreed that she was marvelous fun and a great friend.

Most agreed, too, that she ought never to have tried family life, but there you go.

Here we see her as I imagine she would have liked to be remembered: the gala star of MGM, dancing with Fred Astaire in a picture she shared with Clark Gable, resplendent in ruffles by Adrian and fronting a dazzling set and a corps of dazzled extras. And on she dances, untouched by time or scandal, the Modern Maiden turned Queen Bee. Happy Birthday!

And We're Back!

Well, we went there and back again, and I have to say we had a lovely time. I hope a little Tiresome Travel Blogging won't offend too many. I will try to leaven it with trenchant social commentary and can promise at least one genuine Star Sighting, if that will help.

We started our little whirlwind getaway, Mr. Muscato and I, with a couple of days at a glamourous desert resort, just the place to unwind, relax, and stare at sand:

This is the view from our suite, really a sort of pavilion, which came with canvas roof, lovely wraparound teak deck, and (the place's big selling point) our own Private Plunge Pool. Which was exactly as much decadent fun as that sounds. The place also prides itself on its exciting desert activities, but they struck both of us as far too strenuous, and we limited ourselves to more leisurely pursuits:

Here we see Mr. Muscato exercising vigourously in the complex's main pool, which lies just outside its splendid spa, itself just down the hill from a central building that recalls something along the lines of an (even more) Arabesque San Simeon.

The cook, who is apparently Kenyan, is a Genius, and that's all I can say. We feasted, we sunned, we spa-ed, and, after an all too short two days, we headed into Dubai proper.

The Death of Dubai, to steal from Mr. Clemens, is a claim highly exaggerated. The place seemed somewhat less jammed than it had last year, but the restaurants, malls, cafés, and nightclubs (at least the generous sampling of each that we tried) seemed unaffected by Total Global Malaise.

Above is the view from our room at a local hostelry. The yellow structure at the right is in fact the Dubai Metro under construction; when complete, this neo-monorail will snake through much of the city, most of it above-ground. Here, at least, it will give a bird's-eye view of the hotel pool.

We really did keep busy. In addition to the obligatory spa-time (why else does one travel?), we actually caught some culture: we went to the Dubai Art Fair. If you ever want to know what the au courant sheikh is looking for in the way of a sofa painting, I can now tell you. Actually, some of it was rather splendid, and certainly no expense was spared in turning the massive Madinat Jumeirah hotel/ballroom complex that was the venue into a worthy rival to Basel, Miami, or other similar Art destination.

The highlight, from my perspective, was an incredible exhibition of jewels by Van Cleef & Arpels, ranging from the tiara that Princess Grace wore to her daughter Caroline's (first) wedding to some bracelets of the Duchess of Windsor to some amazing examples of their signature "Mystery" pavé settings. I especially lusted after a truly jaw-dropping necklace-collar of carved emeralds, diamonds, and pearls. So practical.

Joining us in ooh-ing and ah-ing was none other than Miss Glenn Close, in town we later read to lecture to film students one Emirate over and looking charming in what can only be referred to as Resort Wear (patterned raw silk tunic over loose linen trousers that Mother Muscato would have referred to as Palazzo Pants). I did the usual double-take and caught the lady's eye just in time to look fascinatedly at a brooch of Barbara Hutton's. She seemed relieved both to have been recognized and not to have been approached - simultaneously, I suppose, validated and unbothered. She has gorgeous skin.

We caught up with the many Boys of Dubai who form our cercle in the Emirates, hearing all the latest gossip (considerable) of course, and among other things having a lovely dinner at the Yacht Club, a creekside venue with to-die-for views.

We also hit one of the evening establishments much favored by Confirmed Bachelors and can solidly affirm that there is no shortage of them in these parts. And they tend to wear regrettable club clothes, but to have the bodies to get away with them.

Finally - and for the first time ever, which suprised even us - we took advantage of one of Dubai's legendary Friday pastimes: the Depraved Champagne Brunch. Above we see an impressionistic study of one of the other brunchers, who represents the greater part of the clientèle: gangs of British gals, scary hen parties clad almost uniformly in acid-colored sack-shaped minidresses, vertiginous faux-Blahniks (Fauxniks?), and extreme coiffures. This is very definitely the Look of the Moment, for what it's worth, should you find yourself brunching in these parts any time soon.

So what did we learn, on our little sojourn out of the ordinary? We learned to love phrases like "at your service, sir," and "pillow menu". We learned that Bad Festival Art (only slightly leavened with better stuff) is now truly an international commodity, and that Glenn Close is not as short as you expect most movie people to be (she does have the requisite big head, though, to look good on camera). We learned that we like not working very much, thank you, but, perhaps best of all, we learned that we were glad to come home to our quiet little Sultanate and the unbridled affection of Koko.

So what's next?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Knock, Knock

"No, I'm sorry; the Muscatos are still not home ... I'm sure I couldn't say ... yes, of course I'll let them know you called."

"Koko? No, I'm afraid he can't come out to play right now; he's having his Beauty Nap."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dancing Day

There are some who question the orthodoxy of the Sisters of St. Patrick; but nobody denies they have a wonderful time.