Monday, June 29, 2009

Trailer Trash: On the Brink of Something Fantastic

It just seems appropriate. She was sensational. Come to think of it, I think I saw her a couple of times at the parade, too...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Heavens Over Berlin...

...were once full of stars. Some were born there, some passed through; some lingered long, some burned out young or moved too close to black holes artistic or political. You still feel them, at times, in the streets here, in the makeup of old women and the attitudes of young girls...

Pola, once a serious artist before becoming a Hollywood vamp...

Louise, who arrived something of a Hollywood lightweight and left, although she didn't know it for two decades, a sublime artist - and a has-been...

Miss Dietrich, of whom no more need be said than that she did quite all right for herself...

Anna May, who was here a bigger star than ever she managed to be again...

And the ineffable Lil Dagover, for a while the biggest lady of all of these...

Not to mention the problematic Fraulein Riefenstahl, long-lived - but not enough to live it down...

A trouble shared, to some extent, by the far less villainous (and infinitely more camp) Miss Zarah Leander.

I think I saw at least three of them at yesterday's parade...

Taking It to the Streets

Mr. Muscato and I, for various professional reasons, pretty much have to take our big vacation around this time of year; it's also a good idea to get a little time out of the inferno back home, so that the memory of cooler weather can help one last until mid-September.

The result, however, is that for the third year in a row - and really, really, we're not trying and it actually has been in each case a fortuitous accident - we've ended up in a new city for its iteration of that annual phenomenon of modern life, the ABCGLBTQMVP Pride Parade (I can't keep up with the damn acronyms anymore).

After Paris and Amsterdam in previous years, this time around it was Berlin's turn. Of course, one of the main critiques that people who find fault with these kinds of festive events trot out is that no one ever pays any attention to the tens of thousands of ordinary Joes and Janes (or, in this case, I suppose, Wilhelms and Wilhelminas) who turn out, instead concentrating only the the broadest stereotypes of gay life.

I guess you have to count me in, 'cause I all I took was pics of beefcake:

...(And I have to say there was some pretty good eye-candy on offer, although our Berliner friends moaned about the cloudy weather, which kept far too many shirts on)...

...and drag queens. I'm loving Marlene, but her companion looks like the world's most depraved leprechaun.

I think we saw Bruno.

And I know we saw a number of haughty, disapproving mesdames (do you think that the camera and Nivea goodie-bag detracts from the look? The latter were, by the way, weirdly omnipresent - Nivea must have hired about 5,000 good-looking boys to hand out little packs full of travel-size samples - a fairly clever promotion, as the giveaways contained everything from moisturizer to deodorant, meaning that every one-night stand in Berlin last night included a handy trick bag).

In addition to the ladies, as noted, there were plenty of gentlemen...

...more than a little sheer, brazen, and very amusing bizarerie...

...and, in amongst the wild-eyed apes protesting to Angela Merkel ... tens of thousands of Wilhelms and Wilhelminas (of all nations) having a wonderful time.

As did we, with a day that included sekt and strawberries at one chum's glam flat just off the parade route, a turn 'round the massive rally/concert/party in the Tiergarten after the parade (German festival food: fabulous), and an evening of (for us) extremely late nightclubbing at an Arabesque dance party in Kreuzberg.

We've done most of the heavy-duty museum going and other duty-travel that we planned for here, and so now the last few days of vacation will be, one hopes, less taxing; I don't know about Mr. Muscato (since he's still fast asleep), but my calves are going to require some serious downtime.

Friday, June 26, 2009

So Beautiful

A little speechlessness here; I've been waiting to see her since I was about 8. It was worth the wait. Some things in life are even more incredible than you imagine they could be.

Nefertiti - Nofretete in these parts, for various reasons Egyptological - means "The Beautiful Woman Has Come."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Long Ago and Far Away

Wow. Two in one day, and two like this. It's been so many years since he was anything but a sad wreck that looking at photos like this is somehow disorienting. What on earth next?


So we're staying well above our means, if not our social ambitions, courtesy of a chum in the hostelry business, at a very glossy establishment in the heart of new Berlin.

When we checked in, there were any number of nifty surprises, but certainly the most startling was this little offering of fruit. Is it special for us, since I noted that the reservation was for self "and partner"? Is it because this is Pride weekend in this part of the world?

Or is it simply that, to quote Dr. Freud, sometimes a banana is just a banana?


She was, in her way, the defining beauty of an era; she even turned out to be something of an actress, of the sort whose successes, fairly or not, are each treated as a surprise.

It was always odd and somehow unsettling to think of her as a 60-something invalid, and in time perhaps some of her less fortunate moments will fade and we will think of her as I think she would have liked, all hair, teeth, and California charm.

(Image from the fabulous photostream of Bouffant Headbutt)

Headline du Jour

Like daughter, like mother, apparently. And this on a day when other choices (from just the Telegraph) were such that I could just as easily have gone with "Monkey Urinates on Zambian President" or "Canterbury is Sufficiently Gay, Council Inspectors Rule" (and what a relief that must be to all concerned).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Girl Who Gets Around

I swear, today was going to be my day to be all cultural. Mr. Muscato had plans of his own, so after lunch (which itself followed a vigorous morning of shopping at Printemps and the Galeries Lafayette, frustratingly the day before the big annual sales start) I headed off across the Tuileries and the Seine to the Musée d'Orsay.

Once there, however, I found enormous queues of exceedingly regrettable types touristiques. I decided I simply couldn't stand waiting in line for an hour more and was, therefore, forced, forced! to move to my Plan B.

Which was to visit the Musée de la Poupée, which turns out to be one of the hidden gems of a capital full of them. It's a miniscule private museum tucked into a tiny street near the Place Beaubourg - only half-a-dozen rooms or so, but all packed with every conceivable kind of 18th, 19th, and early 20th century doll (and a generous helping of teddy bears, doll furniture, and associated treasures). They are all displayed in enchanting and extremely creative dioramas - an Edwardian parlor, a Victorian classroom, a Trip to the Zoo, etc., and are just adorable.

I had been attracted by an advert for the museum's current temporary exhibition, "Rêve ta vie avec Barbie", a comprehensive look at Mattel's fair-haired girl's enviable career over the past half-century. If you're in Paris before the end of September, you really ought to stop by.

In one of those little happenstances that makes life interesting, this infinitely twee destination is just next to, of all things, the Jardin Anne Frank, a hidden oasis of calm and green in one of Paris's most congested neighborhoods, where if you like you can sit for a while and think sad thoughts. I did.

But then I went and found Mr. Muscato and, as usual, felt much better.


She's on my mind.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Musique, Musique, Musique

Sunday in Paris was the annual Fête de la Musique, a day, we learned, in which Paris boasts upwards of 20,000 concerts, ranging from orchestral galas in the city's great parks to impromptu busking pretty much everywhere we looked. Despite all the apparent variety, though, it still seemed to us that about 19,900 of the concerts featured regrettable young people playing loud local variations on "le rock" circa 1993.

Even so, we had fun. The Egyptian Cultural Service, which we passed by chance, had rather surreally brought in an obscure star of state television, a beaming, wigged, elderly gentleman who plays what can best be described as an Arabic take on cocktail organ (now there's a forgotten genre. And with good reason). Enjoyed amongst a crowd of mostly entirely baffled French people at a street concert, his art took on an air of the sweetly surreal.

And in the Marais, the music ran from Piaf to techno (not all that far, really, with that crowd), and we lounged in the Rue des Lombards until all hours. Mr. Muscato is quite fond of an establishment called Le Bear's Den; I was actually rather taken with the local version of the Eagle, which is infinitely lighter-hearted and more festive than either its Dutch or American sisters.

On the way home we passed one of my favorite landmarks, this flamboyant tower not far from the Rue Sebastopol.

And then another old friend, the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt; in addition to having staged some of that great lady's greatest triumphs, the café on the corner there is where I had my first ever French lunch - a croque madame, if memory serves - all those yonks ago on my very first trip to Paris.

C'est Paree!

While our exuberance may not quite equal Marie-Claude's (seen here attempting the world's first can-can-mambo-jazzercise routine, all to the mellow rhythms of Herr Maier), we're having a lovely time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


As part of our goings-on this week in Paris, Mr. Muscato and I carried out a long-time resolution.

We started by fortifying ourselves, having taken the Metro up, up, up to the further end of Montmartre, with a little something for luncheon at a very nice little neighborhood spot called, charmingly, Ginette de la Côte d'Azur.

Having polished off an excellent terrine de lapin and assorted other goodies, we proceeded through the hilly, leafy streets of the quartier, up a flight of vaguely baroque stairs, and reached:

Yes, it's true: we had embarked on one of the lesser, but more intense pilgrimages known to music lovers, the Tour de Dalida. We started in the lovely square that has been named in her honor, an irregularly shaped space of dignified apartment buildings, venerable trees, and, in the center:

This lovely sculpture, with, it must be admitted, more emphasis on the bust than most busts.

It's a popular spot. We weren't alone with our thoughts for five mintes before tourist groups started coming by. The ones who lingered were, I can't deny, more on the elderhostel end of the traveling scale, but they were having a wonderful time.

I was especially taken with this dear lady, who dutifully took notes in her little red notebook. I admire how she has so sensibly stashed her handbag under her very practical spring coat. Either that or that's one hell of a sanitary appliance.

Then it was on to the nearby Rue d'Orchampt, a tiny lane with a sharp elbow turn, at the very corner of which you find:

Chez Dalida itself, commemorated with this touching plaque. It really is a marvelous house:

Called, for reasons I have not discovered, the House of the Sleeping Beauty. It's currently, it seems, having some kind of overhaul but appears to be in private hands. We thought about trying to talk ourselves into its vestpocket garden, but instead decided to move on, through the narrow streets filled with odd shops, desultory galleries, and dark bars, down to our final stop - and hers.

The Cimetière de Montmartre is a densely packed necropolis, chockablock with mausoleums, marble slabs, obelisks, and other funerary monuments. It has a distinguished roll-call of residents, ranging from the original Lady of the Camellias and Dumas, who immortalized her, to the fabulous painter Gustave Moreaue, the great Taglioni, the playwright Feydeau, Truffaut, and even (although I'm ashamed to say I didn't seek her out), the inimitable Musidora.

Of course, we had but one goal in mind:

I'd only ever seen head-on photos of the Diva's magnificent tomb, which make it seem as if set to itself, in some pastoral setting. Much more fitting for this quintessential girl of the city is the reality, which has the tomb at the very edge of the cemetery, with views of Montmartre.

She is surrounded by ordinary Parisian families, whose relatives must wonder - even if they themselves do not - at all the hullabaloo she has brought to their quiet little corner. The grave itself is beautifully planted, and it is surrounded, to the point of spilling over to its neighbors, with flowers, plants, and all sorts of tributes and memorials.

I was especially taken with this little china book, placed now on the nearest flat slab next to Dalida's tomb. I think I will do all possible to popularize the cordial use of "Dalidamicalement."

So it's in this spirit of Dalidaffection that I offer a final image of the great lady herself - depicted as the Apotheosis of Cabaret, Our Lady of the Music Halls, a diva in its truest meaning: goddess.

The rest of our day (and night) was rather in the same spirit, albeit carried out in the district that today is as louche as Montmartre was once, the divine Marais. But more of that anon...

Seen, in the Rue Ste.-Anne

What I've decided is proof positive that Magda didn't really die, but simply came to Paris and, following in Mama's footsteps, opened up a shop. Hell, you could half-convince me that she's got Jolie and Eva helping her out; I think a Death Becomes Them scenario is all too plausible with those gals.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Ascot Gavotte, 2009 Edition

Just because we're running around the capitals of Europe discovering how many different ways there are to eat foie gras (answer: many, and they're all delicious) doesn't mean that I'm not doing my best to keep an eye on the critically important developments in this troubled world of ours. Fortunately, I'm also still able to gloss over those and focus on what really matters.

Yes, it's that time again already - the annual festival of Royal-watching that is race week at Ascot.

The older folks are looking well this year, although the Duke is starting to get that tell-tale old man expression that may just be bemused absence or may in fact be a genuine lack of any idea at all where he is.

Personally, I always like Her Majesty better in bright colors, as here in fuschia. That is, by the way, a single stone there in the middle of that brooch - I believe it may be a piece of the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

The York princesses remain wholly regrettable, the Countess of Wessex gives every indication that she's well aware she's in the midst of an only middling bargain, and the Duchess of Cornwall is looking well. The real news, though, is that the Princess Royal is, after a long era of rather disastrous appearances (all too many of them in uniform drag), making an effort.

She looks jaunty in orange, and certainly seems pleased with herself...

...and while I think we may have seen this yellow-and-blue number before, it has a classic appeal.

She saved the real fireworks, though, for day three, with this pleated crêpe jacket, gorgeous black gloves, and a hat that must have added almost a foot to her height. Already the hardest working woman in royal business, she may have an eye on finally dressing the part. Brava!

All in all, it seems to have been a thoroughly satisfactory week all around, although at times...

I do suspect the Queen must wonder how it happens that she has to spend time with some of the people thrown her way. Yes, that is indeed Sheikh Mo of Dubai in top hat and morning coat. Oh, dear...

Movin' On Up

Sorry for such a long interregnum - we've been very busy. What can I say? It's Paris, bitches...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Suddenly Sunday

Mr. Muscato has always been fond of those "hear no evil" monkeys, ever since he happened on a stash of them at a thrift shop in central Pennsylvania (oh, we get around). He was, therefore, inordinately pleased to discover the same theme over one of our favorite bars, translated into cherubs. In Amsterdam, even bar tchochtkes have a kind of faded elegance...

Unlike the Rijksmuseum, one of our Sunday destinations, which is in the midst of some multi-year makeover and therefore has on display only a greatest-hits show, which felt to me like getting one of those "original artists" CDs out of a bargain bin. Even so - Vermeers, so I really can't complain.

And: a lovely lunch with the executrix, cakes at a shop called Pompadour (exactly as foofy as it sounds), dinner at our favorite fish restaurant (the lobster bisque of death), a walk through the redlight district (teeming on a Sunday night), a very brief stop at the local iteration of the Eagle (distinctly scarier than its American incarnations), and a much longer and more convivial stop at the bar of the three cherubs, where Pieter the bartender does a fierce Miss Ross. Good times.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Communing with Nature, Etc.

Despite what Mr. Muscato refers to as "the bitter, bitter cold," we are tremendously enjoying, after our first few weeks of the Arabian summer, the simple opportunity to be outdoors here in the north.

Not, of course, that we mean the great outdoors in any sporty sense; not at all. We just mean things like sitting in a garden while having lunch.

Where, yesterday, we were joined by visitors. It's much harder, it seems, to photograph a bee than you might think.

At another café - this one overlooking a lock - another visitor. The sparrows are so tame as to be postively friendly. One sat at the edge of a plate yesterday, quite un-self-consciously joining in on bread and butter.

But of course all this nature is quite exhausting. We restored ourselves with a good long seige of nightlife, which varied from observing quite incredibly young people going mad at one establishment as if it were the first time they'd had the chance to sing along to cheesy 70s pop (as perhaps it was) to a distinctly more to our taste boite in which older and more respectable gentlemen - well, went mad at the oppotunity to sing along to cheesy 70s pop, this time under the direction of a large person dressed as Marlene Dietrich.

By the time this and more was all over, we had heard Abba's "Does Your Mama Know That You're Out?" at least six times, which meant it was more than time to go back in, which we did at a ridiculous (for us, at least) hour.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Overheard, in the Tourist Quarter

A large group of young North American ladies passes us by...

"Well, there I was, without any idea what to do...."

"So, anyway, after I wandered around for a while - I bought her some edible underpants.."

"And then anyways, everybody was happy!"

[general noises of understanding and agreement from the girls...]

Frankly, it's only the emphasis on everybody that leaves me wondering - just what kind of wedding party are we dealing with here?

Seen on the Voyage

Another perfect day in Amsterdam, brisk and sunny. Mr. Muscato and I go about bundled up in sweaters and scarves, even though the locals appear to be under the impression that it's high summer.

The insistently chinois motif on two walls of our otherwise tremendously comfortable room brings to mind dear Mr. Wilde's deathbed comment: either this wallpaper goes, or I do. Since the rest of the hotel is so entirely pleasant, however, we've decided to stick it out.

Not least because this is our view.

Mr. Muscato's old friend The Dutchman took us motoring today. It turns out, rather to our surprise, that Amsterdam is in fact entirely surrounded by Holland, a country distinguished, from our limited experience, by scenic villages, sheep-ridden meadows, and, as above, absurdly picturesque vistas. This was a lovely castle, poised between a river and the Zuider Zee, surrounded by gardens of an almost numbing beauty.

And then, as if life weren't ridiculously lovely enough, we had a memorable lunch at a tiny, scenic inn, one at which I noticed only as we were leaving the discreet Michelin star tucked away inside the door.

Tonight: dinner chez l'Executrix and then some pub-crawling.