Friday, August 31, 2012

Mutual Admiration Society

Okay, I admit it:  I'm vain.  Not overwhelmingly, and not all that much, any more, about my personal appearance.  There's only so much to be done, really, as one's sixth decade approaches, without making it the sole focus of your life - I'm tidy and I don't frighten people.  Who needs more?

No, what I'm vain about at the moment (aside from a couple of never-fail recipes, possibly), is this very blog.  I like it when people enjoy it, and I spend perhaps a shade too much time tracking its traffic.  If I had the energy and was more clued in, I would probably try to find ways to really pimp it out.  I'm perfectly aware that there's only so many people interested in a (to be kind, even to myself) untidily eclectic combination of terriers, mutterings about life in Arabia, olde-tyme stars 'n' royalties, and the like, but still.

So I sat up and took notice (at least metaphorically - we have been very lazy hereabouts of late) when I started noticing, recently, a string of visitors from somewhere new.  Quite a number of folks make their way to the Café from wonderful places like The Redundant Variety Hour, Peenee-world, the exotic fever dream that is Norma's Mitten Drinnen, and the Towers of Dolores DeLargo; there's still a surprisingly stream from TJB's sadly neglected Stirred Straight Up; despite pleading endlessly with MJ, I can't keep out the riffraff from Infomaniac; and I practically seem to be Google's go-to site for searchers after Adrian Maulana, Celia Hammond (despite her having graced us only once), and, inevitably (and unsettlingly almost always in all caps) MARISA BERENSON NUDE.  But this was something I'd not seen before.

So, I went with interest over to Male Pattern Boldness, and darlings, I was enchanted.  The site is a cornucopia of devotion to every conceivable aspect of the very kind of glamour I find most delightful, and its creator, Petter Lappin, is an acute, funny, and very charming host.  He is simultaneously deeply erudite and boundlessly enthusiastic about things like how best to accessorize '40s beachwear, or how to carry off tricky period accessories like snoods and stoles.  He recounts his adventures in creating from vintage patterns a staggering array of period costumes, and he brings into it all his own joy in what is clearly a deeply rewarding hobby as a seamster and style maven.  I'm deeply flattered that he's added l'il old me to his blogroll, and I'm pleased to see all new Gentle Readers coming this way.

So check it out.  Go.  Enjoy.

But do come back - and if you like what you find, tell your friends!

Dinner Date


One knew, of course, that Miss de Havilland was born in Japan, but frankly I wouldn't have thought Miss Davis had a clue about chopsticks.

Do you suppose they stuck around for karaoke later on?  Something tells me that's not Bette's first bottle of sake, so anything's possible.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Namesake Superstar

This resplendently semi-clothed gentleman is, as many of you may already have recognized, Mr. Shahrukh Khan, a top Bollywood star for several decades but a relative latecomer to the exhibitionist and muscular tendencies that have made such favorites around here of Messrs. Abraham and Patel.  Still, he's no slouch, although I'm not sure the combo of leather pants and a kind of windowpane-eyelet puffy shirt is really a total success.  Frankly, clothed, I find him rather a bore.

He appears here today, in fact, only because (a) I was able to find a snap this fetching and because (b) today is the 635th birthday of someone I've never heard of, who ruled over (and this is what I found surprising) a realm I'd never heard of.  Having come into this world just before Labor Day 1377, he was Shah Rukh of Persia and Transoxonia, which was apparently a kind of joint empire along the lines of the late lamented Austria-Hungary.

Have you ever heard of Transoxonia?  It seems that it corresponded approximately to Uzbekistan and some other -stans.  I can't get over thinking it sounds like a spoof name out of a minor mid-century novel, along the lines of The Mouse That Roared's Grand Fenwick.  It's certainly, however, more euphonious than some of the region's other names over the years, like Prdry, which is practically Welsh in its impracticability.

So now you've learned something and had a chance to see a little BollyBeef.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Your Earworm for Wednesday

I know that I've already done this to your poor unsuspecting brains once this week, by resurrecting the lamentable but fatally catchy "Lucy in London," but I decided that since I'm now stuck with this one, you should be too.
You already would be, you see, if you watched as much Egyptian television as I do.  It's the hot video of the moment, appearing at least four times an hour on what seems like every station.   Yes, it's Egyptian leading man Hamada Hilal in the big number from his latest film, Mr. and Mrs. Awees, and how it can possibly fit into any plot known to man is a question I hope never to have to answer by seeing the movie.  Mr. Hamada's co-star, a fetching actress called Bushra (I'm not making this up, you know, as the divine Anna Russell used to observe now and then) appears briefly, as do a number of noted character players.
Within seconds, even without any Arabic you will quickly glean its title, "Ana Spoongebob," which means only "I am Spongebob."  The rest of the lyric is just about equally deathless.
If nothing else it's a veritable festival of copyright infringement, and I encourage you to try and see just how many different studios, estates, and other rightsholders might take umbrage were it to come to their attention.  I find myself watching it mostly for glimpses of the attractive moustachioed man in the furry suit, and that's just about how starved for entertainment we are hereabouts.  I'm starting to think we should get out more.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Calling Gloria

This pre-Raphaelite pretty got married on this day just 56 years ago, and photographer Gordon Parks was there to capture it.  Remarkably enough she's still with us.  She was even rather well-known in her own right, not just before she became Someone's Mother (and then, indeed, you're camp) but even before this wedding.

She, of course, is the original Poor Little Rich Girl, one who now, should she so choose to do, could rejoice in the full name of Gloria Laura Vanderbilt DiCicco Stokowski Lumet Cooper (Not all that many surnames, I know by Gabor standards, but enough, still, to have kept her busy for a couple of decades).  It was her second and this groom's as well.  He's Lumet, as in Sidney, as in movies; his number one was Hollywood hotcha (and Grace Kelly bridesmaid) Rita Gam (also surprisingly still with us).  He followed up, after Gloria, with Lena Horne's daughter, before ending up with a Gimbel (apparently not of the Department Store Gimbels, which I think is too bad).  First, though, he and Gloria gave it a go for seven years or so.  She moved on, replacing Tinseltown nobility with literary cachet, after a fashion; her last husband (and the father of You Know Who) was a literary dilettante whose friendship with Dorothy Parker is probably the most interesting thing about his nonVanderbiltische days.

Gloria's is a curious career, both lengthy and episodic, running from the Coolidge administration right up to today, in which she's appeared before the public in a series of separate and quite disparate guises:  orphaned waif and tabloid darling in the '20s and '30s; after the Second War, classical music muse and maestro's child-bride; conventional, comparatively, high-society fixture in the late '50s and '60s; then, with a fame eclipsing her earlier notoriety, fashionista and jeans impresario (impresaria?) of the '70s.  More recently, when not being referred to as a maternal presence only, she's been recognized as an author, artist, and a kind of little-seen but influential, somehow, presence that hovers gracefully over the Upper East Side.  As a whole, despite the dramas and the headlines and moments of definite darkness, her life has a kind of careless glamour that seems very much of another time. 

I'd like to think that on this day, at least, she really was Happy at Last, but the wariness of her glance, the stiffness of her pose, even the needless complexity of her many cuff buttons, all combine to make me think that in the end it was just one more thing to get through.  The downside of being rich enough to have anything, I suppose, is that nothing's all that exciting, after a while. 

What does she think now, do you suppose, of those headlines, which made her famous, or the headline-making-business that has made her best-known child even more so?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Question Time: Ask the Oracle

Hmmm... Mostly not terrribly surprising, but I have to admit that last one threw me for a loop.

Guess what - she is!  And so was the second Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.  It really is a small world after all.

It's a Mod Mod Mod Mod World

If'it's been a while since you've seen the video that explains - to the extent that anything can - this picture, well then it's high time you had another look.  The song got stuck in my head when we were in the UK earlier this summer, for obvious reasons - although I want to dispel any rumor that catty people (looking at you, Peenee) may have started about me gallivanting about anywhere "with a miniskirt on," as the deathless lyric goes.

And once you've recovered, we can consider whether there is still any comic fodder to be made of old people acting younger.  I've been away from American TV too long - is that still a thing?  If so, who are these older people, and what do they dress up as - Snooki?  Katy Perry?

As for Miss Ball, here, I have to admit, however grudgingly, that this still is distinctly less alarming than seeing her in motion.  It's not flattering - one couldn't go that far, not with those boots and that hat - but she can almost carry off the dress.  Almost.

A Chance Encounter

When, on their honeymoon at Deauville, the newly wedded Lord and Lady Splafford met up with good old Algie Templeton-Drake,  Lord Splafford realized slyly that he knew a great deal more about Algie's Prince Albert than Winifred would ever guess.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

26 Across: Birthday Boy

Mr. Shortz, captured in a highly appropriate medium
Here's something I don't think I've ever mentioned here:  I have a thing for The New York Times crossword puzzle. 

One of my earliest memories is of Mother Muscato (of sainted, mostly, memory) at the kitchen table on a Sunday morning, flanked by ashtray and coffee cup, working away - alternately gleefully and with enormous angst - at the Sunday puzzle.  One of her proudest boasts was that she generally could do both the puzzle and the accompanying acrostic, diagramless, or other alternate puzzle before we left for church.  Granted, some Sundays that meant we didn't get there 'til halfway through the sermon, but those Sundays were fairly rare. 

Mondays were for children - she started me down the garden path at about six - and it generally wasn't until Thursday that she'd have to resort to Bartlett's, Webster's, or any one of the other authorities we all relied on in those neolithically information-deprived days.  When in a real bind - over a quip that wasn't falling into place, or a truly impossible set of rhebus answers - she'd either make for the phone* and ring up either her mother, who didn't generally get up as early as she but was bound to be more or less polite, or she'd pace the floor until she thought she could get away with calling her childhood friend across town, Aunt Susan (one of those aunts who isn't blood family, but all the more beloved for it).  "Your Aunt Susan is my dearest friend," she'd growl, "but I don't understand how a grown woman can sleep until 8:00 a.m. every day," she for whom that hour was practically mid-day (and later on all too often cocktail hour, but that's another story altogether).  In conference with one or the other she'd struggle toward triumph, although of course she was always far more gratified when our phone would ring, with one of the two calling to get her help instead.  "That?  I'm not even sure I still have this morning's paper..." she'd murmur as early as 11:30, as if it were weeks ago.

The crossworld puzzle's editors loomed larger in our household than any of the Times's reporters - first, in earliest memory, Margaret Farrar, a towering figure who more or less overshadowed (Victoria to his Edward VII) her successor, the comparatively short-running Will Weng, and then for a very long time Eugene T. Maleska, with whom Mother M. carried on an occasional and not entirely one-sided correspondence.  When, in 1993, he was replaced by the unknown quantity of Will Shortz, she was dubious.  I rather liked him, though, and in time a combination of the excellence of his puzzles ("That's practically a Maleska!") and his on-air banter with NPR's Liane Hanson on Weekend Edition Sunday brought her around.  The last time I saw her, she had a crossword puzzle on her lap, and I knew it was all over bar the shouting when Father M. reported on the telephone , truly concerned even in the face of months of decline for the very first time, that she had decided that morning to skip the puzzle (it was, in fact, a matter of only a day).

I stopped doing the puzzle for a long time, but technology does have its benefits, and there is an excellent iPad app to which I've become devoted.  I'm a piker next to Mother, but I'm getting better at it again.  I finished today's in almost church-making time (not, in fact, a destination, not least because today is a working day in the Sandlands), and with minimal reliance on the 21st century Bartletts et al that is Google.

In any case, all of this is a very roundabout way of wishing Will Shortz a very happy "SUIT, OF A SORT," or "NATAL ANNIVERSARY," or however it might pop up as 14 Down.  He seems a most engaging person, dapper in a puzzlemaster sort of way, with, according to his NPR bio, "a Tudor-style house filled with books and Arts and Crafts furniture" outside New York.  And he's a confirmed bachelor.  In the immortal words of Mr. Nathan Lane, you do the math.  Were I not so happily married, I might have to 42 Across:  Set one's cap (MAKE A PLAY FOR)...

* We had one, hanging on the wall in the short corridor that separated the kitchen from the grandeur of the living room. That's the kind of thing that young people today simply can't fathom.  I now have an assistant at the office, a charming and well-educated young person, who has never dialled a telephone.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: "The PineSol Scented Air..."

Herewith the too-little-shouted-about Miss Ellen Greene preserves on film one of the finer moments I ever saw in the theatre.  Actually, now that I think about it, the 1986 movie of Little Shop of Horrors isn't all that much shouted about anymore either, but I remember it in general as both great fun on its own and fairly true to the delightful stage version.
Greene has one of those trick voices that in the theatre can be uniquely thrilling - one minute a tiny, buzzy rasp and the next a bell-like clarion that raises the rafters and the hair on the back of your neck.  The first time I saw her sing this, way downtown at the old Orpheum Theatre, she made people cry, me among them. 
This one may not do that, but it does evoke quite effectively both her character's and our nostalgia (false, reductive, seductive) for something simple, that seems clean and fine and worthwhile.  It's not something that Ellen/Audrey ever achieves (the character, after all, gets mauled to death by a killer begonia run amok)* or that we really want - but in the moment, it's beautiful - and that, my dears, is camp.  More calculated than some, perhaps; some would argue that calculation itself puts it beyond the pale of campery.  I disagree - by turning something inherently ridiculous into something moving, largely through the art of Miss Greene, it becomes the real, tinselly thing.

* In the stage version, that is; I've just been reminded that in the film's revised ending (released in place of an also-filmed and truly apocalyptic version of the stage's "Don't Feed the Plants," a great number), Audrey actually does achieve her Better Homes and Gardens dream.  Which kind of ruins it really; I'm with the fans who say they should have stuck with the real ending.

Eastern Star

Even in these difficult, fragile times for my beloved adopted country, Egypt, some things give me hope.  One of them is the still-flourishing career of this remarkable creature, the durable diva of the Nile Miss Nabila Ebeid.  She's just finished starrring - and alongside the redoubtable Miss Fifi Abdou, no less - in a not-unDynasty-like Ramadan soap opera that offered plenty of opportunities for what these two ladies do best:  spats, tantrums, hairpulling, long lingering closeups, kittenish reconciliations with scorned lovers, telephone scenes, slapping, and even the occasion dance bit.

I can't help thinking that as long as the Egyptian popular imagination is seized with glamour at the very high level set by Miss Ebeid and her colleagues, the joyless clerics and their dreary hordes will at best enjoy a temporary vogue.  I certainly hope so, as I've already let Mr. Muscato know that we will certainly be revisiting our retirement plans at the first hint that the breweries are closing.

La Ebeid, by the bye, got her start back when Omar Sharif was still purely a domestic product, and she's been going strong ever since.  I had the great good fortune to meet her at a rather swank dinner nearly a decade ago, and it's clear that in the interval she's had a certain amount of highly successful general maintenance.  The lady, you see, admits to 67, which in Arab-megastar years likely means she's 75 if she's a day...

I Hate It When That Happens

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Portrait Gallery: Remembrance of Scandal Past

In light of today's unflattering headlines in regard to a lesser member of a certain British family, I think it's worth remembering that they've been through this kind of thing before.

For instance, the blue-eyed gentleman seen here, in a typically bravura portrait by dear M. de László, was the cause of many trials in his comparatively short life.  He is George, Duke of Kent, son of the difficult but distinctly longsuffering George V and Queen Mary, uncle of the present monarch and great-great-uncle of today's tabloid miscreant. 

His deeds and misdeeds ranged from a rather too pronounced fondness for the nightlife (he most certainly, in a different decade, would have been a regular on The Disco Round, especially in regard to its pharmaceutical angle) to a reputedly indiscriminate approach to matters of the heart (and other less seemly parts).  He is said to have included among his amours everyone from Barbara Cartland to the scandalous Duchess of Argyll, along with jazz diva Florence Mills, Mr. Noël Coward, and even the mother of Café favorite the Rajmata of Jaipur. 

He married well, to Princess Marina of Greece, and whatever else went on on the side, they seem to have gotten along fine.  In addition to his three Kentish children (all still among us and paragons of royal service, especially his daughter, the estimable Princess Alexandra, said to be the Queen's favorite cousin), he is alleged to have had several others; the Duchess of Westminster tried to start a rumor that one of them was Lee Radziwell's first husband, but that seems a little much even to me.

Rumors are just as rife about his political proclivities as his sex life, although scuttlebutt about his supposed Nazi leanings seem less justified than that that clouds the memory of his brother the ex-king and his harridan of a wife.  He died in service to the nation, in a plane crash en route to a visit to the troops in Iceland, just 70 years ago this coming Saturday.  His widow lived on irreproachable splendor 'til the late '60s, and the blots on his copybook have come, over the decades, to seem more interesting foibles than shameful lapses.

In short, a couple of blurry nudes should not, if all continues to be handled sensibly, go too far in diffusing the impact of these last few triumphant months for the Windsor clan.  They've gotten through Windsor and Wally's affair (not to mention Koo Stark, embarrassing phone calls, killer corgis, and unflattering headlines going all the way back to poor Lady Flora Hastings and beyond), and they'll get through this.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Whole Nine Yards

Nine.  Nine ladies dancing.  Cat o' nine tails.  Dressed to the nines.  Nine tailors, nine rings, and nine lives.  An anniversary celebrated with pottery (in the U.S.) and copper (in the UK), as well as with bird of paradise flowers (regardless of location).

And, in case you hadn't guessed, nine years to the day that Mr. Muscato and I met up.  We had both of us had rather varied lives to that point, and we mutually confessed a few years ago that our primary reaction at the time was something along the lines of, "Well, finally.  Taken you long enough.  Come along now, you, and don't dawdle."

"The bodily message of what it means to be a star..."

"Watching Liza triumph and then crash, crash and then triumph, we witness humiliation's fiery presence within the mother-daughter bond. ... As we watch her sing "New York, New York" again and again (even as we cheer, even as we shiver with uncanny pleasure), Liza passes on to us the bodily message of what it means to be a star. ... It might mean private planes and Harry Winston jewels, but it also might mean delirium tremens at the Betty Ford Center, and garish caricatures of yourself in the minds of others.  Not always garish: in many hearts, there are genuine shrines to the fallen star, shrines tended without irony, and without unkindness."

- Wayne Koestenbaum, Humiliation

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tango Whiskey Toothpaste

Sometimes the best inventions just don't, for mysterious reasons, find a foothold.  62 years ago today, the good people at Life magazine documented one such forgotten landmark: the creation of something that could have revolutionized grooming as we know it - whiskey toothpaste. 

If the cartons are to believed (and what could be more reliable than background props in what is likely, after all, a joke setup?), the product came in scotch, rye, or bourbon.  I'm mostly a vodka man, myself, if forced to abandon my beloved Champers, but I suppose I could have settled.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Movie Night

So, we're back from our little jaunt, and as always after the flash of Dubai, it's nice to be home and lovely to be with the dogs.

A highlight of this trip turned out to be just staying in, as we spent the first part largely in the hotel for the end of Ramadan and then enjoyed that so much (we got upgraded and lolled about in splendor) that aside from a brief mall jaunt we hardly stirred - even passing up a night out dancing with the boys.

The temptations to be even more than usually sedentary were some of the usual suspects - our favorite hotel has a splendid indoor pool, a killer spa, and an open bar from 6 'til 9 - but also one more:  they now get TCM, and we lucked into a fun run of pictures.  It's pretty inexcusable, I know, after what's probably something in the low three figures of viewing, to spend prime vacation time watching The Wizard of Oz, but on a big screen in a decadently comfortable hotel drawing room, why carp?  Besides, Mr. Muscato's only seen it a few times, so we had some reason to be so lazy.  And you know what?  It never fails, in any way, to entertain.

That was good (as was a welcome rescreening of What's Up, Doc?, another never-fail favorite), but in addition we saw two movies in a row that really got me thinking. 

The first, as you might have guessed from the picture above, was Key Largo, which I'd seen before but really enjoyed, as I did on this second viewing.  It's a tense, atmospheric, weird picture, driven by an over-the-top performance by Edward G. Robinson as a high-strung gangster and, at the other extreme, by turns by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall that are so low-pitched that at times they seem to be standing perfectly still while the movie whirls around them.  They are tremendously effective, and I'm baffled by people who say that of their pictures together, this one has the least chemistry between them.  Their connection is the moral foundation of the movie, and while it's less flashy than the incredibly seductive To Have and Have Not, it's rock-solid.  Never in the movies have two so different people been so ineluctably right for each other, and they play the whole movie as if they know that, even when the rest of the world collapses around them.

As it nearly does when the hurricane hits.  Each of the characters suffers a kind of Dark Night during the prolonged storm sequence, but the greatest glory in it goes to the lady above, the incomparable Claire Trevor.  She plays Gaye Dawn, a faded nightclub chantoozie whose name at first seems a cruel joke - until, in the end, it becomes prophetic, for despite her desperate, destructive love for Robinson, her dipsomania, and her essential foolishness (summarized brilliantly by the tacky jewelry she wears like some sort of penance for getting older) she saves the day, and brings a happy morning after the storm.

So that was the good half of our impromptu double feature.  When I saw that the next movie was the 1976 A Star is Born, I was kind of jazzed.  I'd never seen it, believe it or not, as it came out just before I could have been allowed to see what was widely believed to be a racy film, and then its critical drubbing more or less removed it from consideration.

I'd like to report that I found it to be a lost gem, a worthy fellow for the versions by Constance Bennett, Janet Gaynor, and Judy Garland.  It's not.  It's not dreck, exactly, but it's awfully close.  No, I take that back - it is dreck:  endlessly long, excruciatingly paced, laughably staged, portentous and pretentious and utterly humorless.  It's hard to imagine that only four years separate the Barbra who was so effortlessly Judy Maxwell in What's Up, Doc? and the impassive, self-enchanted creature who walks through A Star is Born like it was a series of wardrobe stills for its misbegotten fashions (she spends what seems like hours in a knee-length white cardigan-over-bell-bottoms that made me want to throw things at the screen, while material success is represented by a series of increasingly flashy gypsy-style outfits that Rhoda Morgenstern wouldn't have been caught dead in with her eyes gouged out).  And let's not even start on Kris Kristofferson and how very much he looks like he'd rather be anywhere else, or the pointless series of cartoon bit parts for people like Gary Busey as a manipulative manager or the two unfortunate actresses who play Barbra's first-reel pals, whose roles are so exiguous that they are billed only as One and Two.  They're black, you see; fledgling-star Barbra's in a group with them.  It's called the Oreos.  Get it?  That, in fact, is the high point of funny in A Star is Born.  I rest my case.

What struck me about seeing these two pictures together is how simple Warner Bros. made Key Largo seem, and what obvious, lumbering, all-too-visible and ultimately crushing labor went into A Star is Born.  The former tells its story - nothing less than the rise and fall of its characters' souls - with essentially one set, a few not-terribly-convincing models for the storm sequence, and a short stretch on a boat.  It moves like the wind, without a moment's padding or wasted action.  Even a sequence that another script would have turned into a throwaway number, in which Trevor's Gaye helplessly displays the ruins of her voice by singing "Moanin' Low" in a sad bid for a promised drink, turns out to illuminate the character of every person in the room. 

By contrast, A Star is Born feels like nothing but padding, from the endless helicopter shots meant to awe one at the size of Kristofferson's audience to the whip-round of his Hollywood mansion that felt longer than Jackie Kennedy's tour of the White House.  Even Streisand's songs - theoretically, one would have thought, a prime reason for a Streisand Star is Born to exist - feel bloated and unnecessary.  And that's once you get past the movie's major implausibility:  unlike previous Norman Maines and Esther Blodgetts (the names are changed here, one suspects to protect the innocent, but the characters are more or less the same), the two leads have nothing at all in common including the métiers in which they perform.  Kristofferson's character is meant to be a sort of Jim-Morrison-if-he-had-lived, a full-on rockstar with a kind of grandeur in his desperate excess (that he's played by a singer/actor of middling repute and vestigial screen charisma doesn't help).  Streisand's songbird is a middle-of-the-road pop act at most.  It's as if Jimi Hendrix decided to throw it all away to save the career of Helen Reddy or Rita Coolidge (who actually makes a throwaway cameo as a Grammys presenter).  And it goes on and on, and finally it's over, and you find yourself sitting there in the dark wondering, "What the hell was she thinking with that pantsuit?"

Claire Trevor for the win.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Happy Eid!

The Sandlands are launched onto a three-day holiday, and Mr. Muscato and I have celebrated by darting off to Dubai for a couple of days of decadent downtime.  It's the Eid al Fitr, the festival at the end of Ramadan, which, frankly, expatriates mostly celebrate by having a drink at lunch, as neither would have been possible only yesterday.

A friend celebrated by sending 'round the image above, which set Mr. M. off on a wave of nostalgia.  What we have here is a page from the Egyptian Ministry of Education's official reader, circa 1970, the adventures of a brother and sister called Omar and Amal.  They were more or less the Dick and Jane of the Nile, and if nothing else the Omar and Amal books represent, especially today, a window into a vanished ideal of the modern Arab family.  Dad looks like Nasser in his Western shirt-and-tie; Mom is a blonde and sports the very latest fashion, clearly purchased at Cairo's equivalent of the big Soviet department stores, the state-owned Omar Effendi (Mr. M. reports that even his mama, today a vast and emotional lady swathed in traditional robes and acres of scarves, used to appear in a shirtwaist and blonde wig); and the kids appear to have popped in from the 1930s for the occasion.

The family exchanges Eid greetings:  "Eid Saeed, ya Amal!" "Eid Saeed, ya Omar!" "Eid Saeed, ya Daddy!" "Eid Saeed, ya Mommy!"

Mr. Muscato was up most of the night having more or less the same conversation, if at significantly greater length, with friends and family around the world, so this morning will be a lazy affair, followed, very likely, by more of the same this afternoon (I'm thinking a rigorous round of pool/spa/pool/spa/cocktails, or the like).  Tonight, apparently, we're being dragged out to go dancing, so we shall see, but tomorrow will very likely be much of the same...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Better Red...

This week's SSCE is a full-on dose of Cultural Revolution Realness, right down to the dancing Red Stars that open the number.  I've long been fascinated by the oddness of 60s Chinese pop-agit-culture, something that's trying so hard to be totally new and totally Chinese, but which succeeds only in being an awkward fusion of traditional Chinese performance, Soviet Russian ballet, and what would seem to be the fading memories of Hollywood spectacles as preserved in the less-than-reliable mind of the formidable Madame Mao, a lady whose career as second-tier Shanghai leading lady Lan Ping paradoxically colored the entire arc of Chinese culture in the second half of the last century.

In any case, if you've ever wondered what Agnes de Mille might have made of a factory workers' picnic (other than the one in Carousel, of course), here's your chance.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Sports Update

Yes, you read that right.  There must be something in the air, or in the water, or perhaps it's the lingering effects of those games that the Duchess of Cambridge spent so much time at these last couple of weeks, but not only did dear Peteykins of Princess Sparklepony fame yesterday run not one but two at least tangentially sports-related items, but now even here at the Café, we've gone all athletic.

Or at least we're thinking good thoughts about athletes.  Perhaps you could say we were athletic supporters.  Or perhaps not.

In any case... The very vigorous gentleman above, you see, has been the topic of much conversation of late at the Villa Muscato.  Specifically, I've noticed Mr. Muscato talking about him with the many Egyptian pals with whom checking in for long phone/Skype conversations almost daily is apparently a core aspect of Ramadan devotions.  Generally, these chats cover topics such as What We Had for Breakfast (which is supper, which remains confusing even after nine years), What [Insert Actress Name Here] Is Up To On Her Ramadan Soap Opera This Year, Slutty Queens Other Pals Are Dating/Have Dumped/Will Absolutely Bag After Ramadan, and, being Egyptian, How Much They Miss Mama.  Politics figures, but rather depressingly of late.

Football has its place as well, but I've noticed that this year's iteration of that portion of the conversation is repeatedly interrupted by laughter - loud, raucous, and prolonged. 

This man, it turns out, is the cause.  He is a Ghanaian by birth and in the last few years has played in Europe and for teams at home.  Once upon a time I lived for a while in Ghana and loved it, so at first I thought it was some aspect of a place I love that was being derided and was distinctly chilly about it all.  Far from it, it turns out.

You see, Mr. Clottey has in recent months been under consideration for recruitment by one of Egypt's leading teams, El Ahly.  Ahly is one of the two big Cairo teams, and loyalties run deep both with it and with its arch-rival, Zamalek.  Having lived in the neighborhood of the same name, I'm an ardent Zamalkawi, while Mr. Muscato is a fervent Ehlawi.  We try not to let it get in the way of things too much.

The problem with the prospect of this gifted and not unpleasing young sportsman coming to play along the Nile?  Cue the screaming laughter from Egyptians, for the problem is his name.  "Clooti," you see, in the Egyptian dialect - and it really is pronounced exactly like the poor man's family name - means "my panties."   Say it aloud a couple of times.  His presence would force Cairo's sports announcers to keep a straight face while saying things like "...the ball goes to My Panties," "watch out! The fielders are tackling My Panties," and even, "Now the whole game rests on My Panties."  The gang just can't get over it.

Although it seems that the prospect of Mr. Clottey heading out from Accra seem to be fading, having gone in search of him proved worthwhile even absent the saga of his moniker, for it enabled me to find this memorable image of a happy Ghana fan:

Personally, I think Miss Richfield 1981 ought to sue.  Or start a franchise.  Either way - isn't she great?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bollywood Birthday Boy (Updated!)

Let's wish a happy 31st, shall we, to Indohunk extraordinaire, the Café's beefcake mascot, Mr. Upen Patel.  Word on the street is that after his stretch as a student in the UK, he's plotting his cinematic return.  Not a moment too soon.

Breathless Thursday Evening Update
Just in case it's of interest to any Gentle Readers in London, he's having dinner out!

Anyone brave enough to weather both a tony neighborhood and likely subpar teriyaki in order to take a quick snap of this historic occasion will obviously win my undying gratitude.

And yes, I realize that posting this image confirms (as if many of you had any doubt) that I'm Twitter-stalking him.  Don't judge.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This is the Way to Live

Oh, I know.  This one is all over the place and you've already seen it ten times today.  I don't care.  I think it's genius, and a fit and cheerful way to celebrate the centenary of someone whom I geniunely think a Great American, the late and so fondly remembered St. Julia of Child.  Gimmicky, I know, but catchy enough I can almost imagine it being performed in some other context - the lyric, for example, is both witty and, at least to me, oddly moving:

Freshness is essential;
That makes all the difference.
I like to smell something cooking -
It makes me feel at home!

Bring on the roasted potatoes!  Bring on the rosé! 
This is what good cooking is all about!

Cook and cook and keep on cooking!
This is the way to live!

Cook and cook and keep on cooking!
This is the way to eat!

Bon appétit!

If nothing else, thanks to the combined wonders of modern technology and the archival skill of our dear Thombeau (speaking of Great Americans), we now definitely know one thing: if she puts her mind to it (and with the help of a little AutoTune), Julia Child can easily outsing Gloria Swanson.

A Right Royal Birthday

For the past couple of decades she has been such a steady presence in the middle distance, increasingly dowdy, hard working, commonsensical, frequently glowering or just occasionally smiling under her formidable loaf of resolutely brown hair, that it can be hard to remember that once upon a time not really all that long ago, HRH The Princess Anne was rather a pretty girl. 

The Princess Royal is a woman in the tradition of her mother and her great-grandmother the late Queen Mary. She lacks the easy charm of her grandmother, as well as the Queen Mother's unique and specific glamour - although, especially after the death of her aunt, the late Countess of Snowden, there are few in the world so indisputably royal in their public manner.

Instead, its as if she were a distillation of all the House of Windsor's least flashy, mostly most admirable, virtues: dutiful, dedicated, uninfluenced by the buzzing of critics; occasionally tempery in a way that indicates a rather sharp brain operating behind the bland facade of royalty.  She's had her surprising moments - fighting off a would-be kidnapper, for instance ("not bloody likely!"), competing in the Montreal Olympics, and, apparently, quietly indulging an abiding interest in lighthouses.  She endured a wedding (successful) and a marriage (less so) in the bright glare of publicity while she was young, and has since more quietly pursued a second iteration of both.  She successfully raised two children (an accomplishment that recalls, now that I think of it, her more volatile aunt), and she endures.  With luck, she'll be doing more or less exactly the same thing for the next several decades.

Oh, and she's 62 today.  On the off chance you hadn't guessed, and although she's rather a change from the Dalidas, Garbos, John Abrahams, and other Fabulous Creatures who normally populate my feeble brain, I really do rather admire her.  Happy Birthday, ma'am!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

Unsafe at Any Speed

Modeling for secretarial-study album covers, Margie soon learned, was hardly a demanding job, but it gave her plenty of time for her twin hobbies:  enigmatic-expression cultivating and extreme eybrow grooming.

(I'm pretty sure this little gem must have been a follow up to my all-time favorite terrible present, here.  Keane Records must have pumped these out; I wonder if they had one for filing?)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Birthday Boy: The Greatest Showman on Earth

Today's birthday boy, who turns a youthful 131 today, is not in fact the glistening creature seen above; no, he is instead the director who gave birth to this and countless other memorable images and who, thanks in no small part to a movie in which he appeared but did not direct, is best remembered as "Mr. DeMille (I'm Ready for My Close Up)."

Cecil B. DeMille's legacy in pop culture is a funny thing, reliant on his own late-in-life self-promoted image (all jodhpurs, monocle, and riding crop) and his last few pictures, which were bloated, pompous things in comparison to many that preceded them over his long career.  Those who only know DeMille from his second go at The Ten Commandments would be amazed at the slick, cosmopolitan melos that first made Gloria Swanson a top star, with racy titles like Why Change Your Wife? and (the picture from which this still is taken) Male and Female, as they would be even by his earlier epic pictures like King of Kings or the first Ten Commandments, which managed to combine solemnity and salaciousness in a very audience-pleasing sort of way. 

When it comes to Male and Female, there's no question - even in that Ziegfeldian headgear - on which side of that equation the gentleman pictured, leading man Thomas Meighan, stands, is there? 

This high-toned lubriciousness was the kind of thing in which earlier DeMille excelled - giving moviegoers a touch of inspiration (from the Bible, often, or, as here a hit play by J.M. Barrie, of Peter Pan fame) accompanied by a hefty dose of sex and other thrills - Mr. Meighan, above, or Miss Swanson menaced by a lion in Male and Female; Claudette Colbert, in her alas too-brief exotic phase, eponymously as Cleopatra or as Poppaea in Sign of the Cross; a decadent Dirigible Ball in Madam Satan.  By the time you get to Chuck Heston parting the Red Sea or the odd spectacle of the, shall we say, disparate acting styles of Betty Hutton and Jimmy Stewart crossing paths in The Greatest Show on Earth,  that earlier DeMille seems very far away indeed.

Personally, I think it's no accident that the end of his more interesting phase coincides with his experience directing my least favorite of all the Hollywood ladies, Miss Loretta Young.  Perhaps once he survived her Berengaria of Navarre in The Crusades, to which role her blonde-banged wig brings more verve than the lady herself, he'd had enough, and decided it was easier to direct pyramids and herds of circus elephants than actors.  You can hardly blame him.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Dream, Girls

The death this week of Tony Martin, MGM crooner and serial star-marryer (if two - Alice Faye and Cyd Charisse - can put him in that rank; it's not like he's a Mdivani or anything), provides the excuse for this week's SSCE.  It's less obscure than most to date, but instead an opportunity to see what the very toppest-of-the-top in Hollywood could pull off when no expense was spared, and how Metro did things differently.

Integrating the number into the story, for one thing:  this is the first big moment in Ziegfeld Girl, giving some stage time to all three of the picture's heroines:  Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, and Judy Garland (we catch a bit of the last two in the dressing room right at the beginning - maybe Hedy was already off dealing with her imposing headpiece).  It makes it clear that Hedy and Lana are in it for the glamour, to be Real Ziegeld Girls (eventually, one flies and one falls), but that Judy has Talent (you can tell because she's one of the dancers, as opposed to being a showgirl, the most elite of whom didn't even have to walk).  It also means that she trades a stunning Adrian gown (just look at Hedy in hers - it's what she was born to wear!) for what is essentially a tinsel poncho, but there you go - it's the singers and dancers, if they're lucky, who become the biggest stars.  Just ask Miss Brice.

The other MGM difference, of course, is scale - no other studio could pull together all the resources required to do so much, so lavishly, so consistently.  Warner's went big with its Gold Diggers numbers in the mid-30s (it is, after all, where Mr. Busby Berkeley, at the helm on this movie, learned his trade), but had pretty much passed on large-scale musicals by this time (1941, by the bye).  RKO had taste and glamour, and certainly their big numbers (think Fred and Ginger) are ravishing - but few were sustained spectacles like this.  Paramount had fun, but couldn't throw this many stars into one mix - Bing Crosby pictures didn't need a raft of leading ladies the way this story did.  Fox never had taste, and the sustained tone of this number is utterly beyond the studio's reach - Zanuck's boys would inevitably have thrown in a dance break for the Albertina Rasch troupe or a Dubious Comedy Interpolation from the likes of the Ritz Brothers or worse.  After that there's pretty much only the also-rans, like Universal (which mostly dispensed with big numbers in favor of The Many Moods of Deanna Durbin) or Columbia, which had Ann Miller for fun and Rita Hayworth for glamour, but did all of it on the cheap.  Of what's left, the less said the better.  Anybody up for a Vera Hruba Ralston tap number over at Republic?

No, this is pretty much the State of the Art, MGM at its MGMiest: vast staircases, lush orchestrations, armies of Beautiful Girls, and fabulously demented costumes (look out for Eve Arden at about 5:00, managing not to look too mortified in one of the most celestially ludicrous, a Moderne explosion in an angora factory).  Adrian clearly relished these opportunities - who else could have come up the passementerie madness that precedes Miss Arden?

Over it all soars the voice of Tony Martin, a slick '40s update to the traditional Irish tenor.  Watching him, I can see why he was a better fit for Charisse than for Faye - he's a bit too solemn for the Girl from Tenth Avenue, a little too replete with self-regard (something I've always thought, too, however divine she was in Singing in the Rain, about La Cyd, so they worked).   He was originally meant to be a kind of singing Gable, and if that didn't quite come off over the long haul, he's still a pleasure to watch here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Birthday Girl: Just Like Ronnie Sang

On this, the 69th birthday of Miss Ronnie Spector, girl-group diva and Phil Spector-survivor, one thing seems certain:  in an all-girl-group, no-holds-barred catfight, the only ones who might not be totally trounced by the Ronettes would be the Shangri-Las, and that's only 'cause then it would be four-on-three.  Oh, sure, the Vandellas would hold their own for a while, but you don't want to get Ronnie mad.  The Supremes?  Don't make me laugh - Diane wouldn't stand a chance, not least because Florence, if she knew what was good for her, would switch sides halfway through.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why Don't You...

...take up a hobby, like dear Miss Dinah Shore here?  Prolific!  While you're at it, be sure to match your palette to your sofa cushions, for that little something extra.  There's simply no such thing as Too Much Williamsburg Blue.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Birthday Mermaid

The one and only Miss Esther Williams is 90-something today (her exact birthyear being lost in a discreet, MGM-imposed haze - my money's on 91).  She may not have been the rangiest star ever, but how many performers can say that an entire genre was created around them, and that when they were done, so was the kind of film in which they starred?

No one was more pleased with her stardom than she herself, and when she'd had enough, she went on to other things.  Add her name to the Graceful Exit Club (even though, among other things, audience satiation and third husband Fernando Lamas played their parts) and think her of the next time you take a swim...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Meanwhile, in the Garden...

It's now official:  I've been home long enough to want nothing more on earth than to be back in Provincetown, land of twee garden corners just ripe for the snapping.  I'm not sure what I found more dispiriting today: the sandstorm, the Ramadan driving, or the sheer backload of drudgery that builds up in one's absence.  In my mind, I'm still there, off Commercial Street, taking portraits of lawn geese...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Reminder from Miss Ruth Chatterton

I'm not Mitt Romney (lord knows), but I suspect he'd approve this message.


What's getting headlines today, of course, is that it is, unbelievably, 50 years today since the death of Marilyn Monroe.  Many, many others have written and will write about her today - her incandescent beauty, the ups and downs of her tangled, messy life, and the amazing way in which today, when she's been dead for more than a decade longer than she lived, she's a still a bigger star than ever she was alive.

No, I'd like to think a little about the other bombshell who left us on an August 5, seven years before Marilyn.  In many ways, Marilyn and the woman born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha, who became in her prime the best-paid woman in the U.S., have more in common than one might think.  Principally, each became trapped, in different ways, in a popular image that threatened to overwhelm the woman within.

It would probably suprise Carmen Miranda's contemporaries that she remains such a vivid, present, immediate figure, someone who still turns up on campy greeting cards and in impromptu impersonations (put some fruit on your head, strike a pose, and bam, you're Carmen Miranda - who else can be evoked so effortlessly?).  She was seen primarily as a novelty star, someone to drop into a plot (such plots as they were, in the mostly shambolic 20th Century Fox musicals that immortalized her) for a couple of numbers and a few zingy one-liners.  Today, she's often the best (and sometimes the only) reason to watch more than a few of her pictures.  Whatever the billing in 1948 or so, now she's the star.  Consider:  anybody up for a Jeanne Crain film festival?  Sheila Ryan? June Haver?  I thought not.

Like Marilyn, too, she cemented this indelible image in a short time - less than a decade of top stardom - and in surprisingly few movies, just a dozen or so features.  Both capitalized on and exaggerated their features, until at their most extreme both are nearly unrecognizable.  It's almost startling, as here, to see Carmen turned out more or less like other stars (although even here, the trusty Fox wardrobe department has seen fit to add a little Miranda-esque bling to one glove).  

Most of all, like Marilyn, Carmen left too soon, too suddenly, and in a way - a sudden heart attack after bouts of depression and addiction - that highlights, perhaps unfairly, the sadder, darker side of what, mostly, is a pretty fizzy tale:  little girl from a Portuguese village becomes in turn the top star of Brazil, a Broadway sensation, a pop phenomenon, and the toast of Hollywood.  I've told the story before, but I think it applies here, too:  I once asked a Star Who Was There about knowing Judy Garland, and the response - immediate, unpracticed - was:  "What everyone forgets is that an awful lot of the time she had an enormous amount of fun."  I hope we don't forget, in the hyperbolic, elegiac tributes to Norma Jeane Baker, superstar, that much the same could be said of her, and I hope, too, of Carmen.

I wonder if they ever met, the Blonde and the Brazilian Bombshells, and what they might have had to say to one another...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Sarong Song

When you think about the pre-Internet age in which we grew up, it's astonishing how comparatively media-deprived we were.  Film-buffery, they say, really took off in the early days of television, when it became possible to see movies outside the week they were released or at second-run houses, art cinemas, or film clubs scattered here and there.  Still, I remember how astonishing it was when we first moved from our home town to suburban Philadelphia - from four channels to an amazing seven!

The paucity of outlets meant that you knew a lot about some things, and almost nothing about others.  When it came to cartoons, Looney Tunes ruled the world, given their Saturday-morning omnipresence, with MGM's Tom and Jerry, Disney's characters,  and a few other offerings following on.  Some, appearing at off-hours on early Sunday morning or in between late-night movies, seemed incomparably bizarre - the weird mutterings of Popeye soundtracks or the sheer anarchy of Fleischerland seemingly written in another language from the lush animation and smooth plotting of Bugs and Co. (and even then, it was odd, sometimes, to watch earlier Warners cartoons, with Elmer Fudd not quite himself and even Bugs moving, speaking, and looking so off kilter).

Mighty Mouse, Fox/Terrytoons' flagship franchise, was definitely not prime-time Saturday material.  This little treasure, though, came to occupy an inordinate amount of space in my mind thanks to a combination of late 70s thrift-shopping and, it must be admitted, a certain amount of casual consumption of illicit substances.

Back in those palmy high-school days, my pal Miss Rheba and I used to love finding the strangest possible second-hand stores, and in those days, on the further fringes of the Main Line, there were some doozies.  Our very favorite was located in a half-abandoned strip mall outside of Phoenixville, PA, a place that always seemed a little patch of Appalachia compared to the stultifying Tracy-Lordish atmosphere that prevailed closer in to town, in places like Haverford and Bryn Mawr.

Really, that sad, straggling row of shops had everything:  a great, cheap Chinese takeout, a fab used-book and magazine emporium that offered everything from dog-eared biographies to unbelievably skeevy porn (we fondly remember a publication called Sex Freaks Quarterly that first exposed us, as it were, to the subsequently Supremely notorious Long Dong Silver - we hid it behind a pile of old Looks and pored it over most of one summer), and, especially, stuffed into an abandoned A&P, the thrift shop.

Not only did it offer an incredible range of tragic fashions and horrendous home decor; it also had a few sad, battered kiddie attractions, the better, I suppose, to allow Mom to dig through piles of old car coats and prom dresses without distraction.  They included a rocking dinosaur with a broken sound-loop that made it sound like a dying hippo, a little firetruck that shook its hapless riders like popcorn on the fire,and, especially, memorably, and irresistibly - a tiny cartoon mini-theatre, with a repertoire of exactly one film.

And there, O best beloved, Miss Rheba and I discovered Krakatoa Katie.  Stuffed full of pork lo mein, clutching our latest thrift finds, and more than a little buzzed, we would cram ourselves into a booth meant for perhaps three four-year-olds, and marvel, over and over again, quarter after quarter disappearing into the slot, at the wondrous thing that today, you can see at the click of a mouse.  I bet that if you woke Miss Rheba up unexpectedly, she could still sing you most of the song...

I don't suppose we considered this little epic's political subtext.  Made in 1945, it premiered just a few months before a population of real-life Polynesians were relocated, somewhat less heroically and for reasons far more ominous than a cartoon volcano, from Bikini Atoll.  Mighty Mouse didn't save them, but I wonder if anyone then made the connection.  Or were they too entranced, like Miss Rheba and me, at the dancing palm trees and rubber-limbed mice?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Visit to the Portrait Gallery

On our last day in Washington, while Mr. Muscato slept (Ramadan being, for the fasters, a time for mornings starting as late as one can possible manage it), I slipped out and went for a walk.  It was the first time I'd been able, what with matters business, medical, and bureaucratic, to get away and actually be in the city, wander around, enjoy it a little.

I am surprised to say it impressed me.  I've always spent as little time as possible there, hurtling in for boring corporate stuff and flying away.  When I was first spending much time there, I was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, and part of that package is a certain snootiness about Our Nation's Capital.  Also, in those days, much of the central part of town, away from the Federal Disneyland, really did look like a bomb zone.

Now, though - not so much.  We stayed near Thomas Circle, an area I remember finding distinctly unsavory, and on my morning out I walked from there, in a circuitous sort of way, down to one of my favorite places, the National Portrait Gallery.  It's astonishing how much the whole area has changed.  I suppose it's all really gentrification at its worst, and has all sorts of negative ramifications invisible to the outsider, but my goodness - the restaurants, the shops, the tidy new buildings of offices and apartments (many of them unusually quite handsome, and most at least in keeping with the city's distinct architectural atmosphere)!

Even the Portrait Gallery, along with its sister Museum of American Art, has been given a once over, the historic building they share gleaming and a dramatic new glass umbrella covering its central courtyard.  Fortunately, on the whole it has been spared the fate of Kensington Palace (and not a few of the other Smithsonian entities - and yes, I do mean you, Museum of American History) and not been hyper-stupidified for the benefit of the imagined hordes of ADD-afflicted tourists who seem to be the prime target of museum designers these days.

So I had a lovely hour or so, checking in on friends old and new at the Gallery, and I'll likely be sharing a few in days to come.

For example, a highlight of the New Acquisitions room is the lovely drawing above, in unexpected polychrome, of one treasurable New Yorker by another.  I really can't quite grasp that neither are still around, but hasn't Mr. Hirschfeld done well by Miss Sills?

I'm an unabashed, star-struck Bubbles fan, which I know isn't strictly fashionable these days in opera-queen-land, but what can I do?  She was a staple of television when I was a tot at my grandparents' knees, and while I only heard her in full performance once (a Barber of Seville in Philadelphia - I remember principally that she wore a powder-blue gown and romped beautifully), I had the enormous luck to spend a little time with her, some thirty years ago.

She came to campus, as a Distinguished Guest, for a week of talks and other programming.  As one the university's more obviously aesthetic types, as it were, I suppose I was drafted into helping, and so ended up taking her from activity to activity, holding on to her things when she was speaking and generally presaging my future career as a modern-day Birdie Coogan to the Great and Good (a phase of my life that I often reflect on for its sheer oddness).

She was everything one could hope - charming, funny, sensible, and with that great gift of the greatly gifted of making you feel, when they speak with you, that you are at that moment the center of their attention.

She was not, as you may remember, a small lady - in any way.  Sills was tall, and zaftig, and when she laughed, she laughed, in a way that made you laugh, too.  She was perfectly turned out, in a succession of elegant diva-in-the-daytime numbers, the shoes, the bag, the bits of jewellery here and there, all of them almost exaggeratedly understated, as if to offset her own larger-than-lifeness.  At one point, she noticed me noticing one piece that remained unchanged throughout the week - a ring that was noticeable precisely because it was larger and a shade more extravagant than the rest of her discreetly elegant accessories.

"Ah, you caught me."  And she showed me the ring, large and round and, if memory serves, diamond-encrusted - with, in the center, a tiny, ticking clock.

"I was raised, you see, that it was rude for a lady to check her watch, especially when people are talking to you.  But I have to keep on schedule, and nobody ever thinks twice about a lady admiring her own ring!"

And for the rest of our too-brief time, I would notice her, during Q&As or chatting during the inevitable coffee-hours after, discreetly looking with satisfaction at her perfectly manicured hand, and starting to make her goodbyes.  And off we'd go to the next engagement.

Sadly, she said her final goodbyes far too early, professionally while she was still in relatively good voice (and could likely have gone for years in undemanding recitals and crossover parts) and then, at last, permanently.  I don't know that we'll again have opera singers with her kind of general celebrity.  Then again, I don't suppose we today have anyone quite like Al Hirschfeld to immortalize them.

Home, Home...

...On the range.  As in hot.  Get it?

Yeah, pretty weak, I know, but what do you want? We've been traveling for two days.

Finally, though, we've made it safely home, at last.

Happy dogs are happy.

Tired travelers are tired.

But lord, it is hot.  Those wimps back in Washington have no idea.