Thursday, February 28, 2013

Escape from Bitch Mountain

Hell of a week, kids, and no mistake.  This is the season when The Home Office comes out to the Sandlands and wants to be entertained, meaning that this week I have had to throw two vast parties, one of which had what was absolutely without exception the worst background-music band that ever tried to carry off a cover of "Sweet Child of Mine" (which would have been horrific enough, but was all the more so because I had very carefully gone over a sample setlist of things like Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin).  The only saving grace was that (a) the Home Office execs were by that point more or less blotto and (b) the lead singer had what the immortal script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail described as Vast Tracts of Land, which very much had our lead VIP visitor in their thrall.

So, to turn to brighter thoughts, Mr. Muscato and I (that's his elbow)  are running away for the weekend to see the Bahrain Boys, and I write this from the cosy confines of that most civilized of modern creations, the Airport Premium Lounge.  As you can see, we're already feeling much better.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Suddenly, Laz Summer

On a most vexatious Tuesday, it's calming to take a moment and consider the roguish gaze of dear Mr. Rabih Laz.  Doesn't he look as if he has something startlingly improper in mind?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mystery Shopping: the Limits of the Infinite

Yesterday being the end of the weekend, Mr. Muscato and I went shopping.  Because it was the end of the weekend, we decided to avoid the mad hordes that descend on Saturdays upon the aggressively Britannic supermarket not far from the Villa Muscato; we went instead to the vast and always amusing Cooperative supermarket on the other side of town.  It's been nearly a month since we've been to one, and for this particular foray, we chose the very largest of them all.

The Coops are the kinds of store aimed squarely at an audience looking for discount beauty products, as above...

...and that takes its chickpeas very seriously...

On our way in, we had to admire the pluck of this fine young fellow.  Given his affinity for Grace Jones hairdos and Joan Crawford lips, he probably knows a lot about Rising Above Hate in this part of the world...

As always, I made for the toy department.  Mr. Muscato is nothing if not a discerning produce buyer, so I always have plenty of time to fritter away while he's making grave decisions of state about bell peppers.

There's something about Headscarf Barbie that never fails to amuse.

The range and sheer bizarerie of playthings (and their hapless packaging) are a steady source of bemusement.  On this trip I noticed a hitherto overlooked theme among them - an obsessive occupation with superlative enjoyment.  This mutant elephant pull toy, for example, is advertised with a bold promise:  "It will give you infinite pleasure!"  I understand that it's a New Edition, but that still seems a stretch...

This undoubtedly thoroughly licensed piece of Smurfiana, meanwhile, announces that "It will string along with you a pleasure childhood."  I'm sure it will, even though that sounds thoroughly illegal in most jurisdictions.

This hallucinogenically awful Lovely (???) Bee is apparently dedicated "To the children brought infinite happiness."  The honeydripping font, I can tell you, was even more unnerving in person.  As for the toy, I don't have any idea what it is, but it's definitely not coming to my house.  I'd never sleep again.

This mystifying Pooh-Bearische game (Little Bear Put the Fruit, indeed) can't settle on just one slogan.  Less focused on happiness, it is still hyperbolic, being "Infinite of innovative design" (which, if by "innovative," you mean "utterly bewildering," I might agree with).  At the same time, it wants to make sure you know it offers "Fairyland/The paradise of the dream/Let us playing together!"  Okay, but only as long as we can leave behind those frightening citrus creatures on the left...

While the parade of Engrish is for some reason worst in pre-school toys, those aimed at a moderately older set aren't immune.  It's not infinite, and it won't make you any happier, it seems, but this wall climber is "Smooth on the wall, the panel, the ceiling, the glass with a taxi."  Only a taxi?  Curious.

On our way out, we paused to admire/shudder at the kiddie attraction - a vast bouncy labyrinth, grubby and slowly but inexorably deflating - that fills the store's central court.  After everything I'd just seen, even that thing in the center - bear? mouse? hellhound? - didn't seem all that unusual.

Which is why, I suppose, we only go to the Cooperative once a month.  Anything more and I'd never be fit for re-entry to the dull world of Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and Giant supermarkets that will someday seem so pedestrian by comparison...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Does "Diva" Have a Past Tense?

"Probably, intending to be campy is always harmful."
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

It may not look like it, but what this video - a perennial favorite from 1985 (can it really be that long?) - represents is a diva in crisis.  It is, among other things, the last thing approaching a hit in the long career of Miss Diana Ross, and while at the time it all seemed very poppy and fun, what it really is, we now can see, is a dead end.

"Chain Reaction," the video, appears to be an attempt to summarize Miss Ross's own version of, if not her career, then at least her persona, from start to finish.  At every turn, though, something goes awry.  It's not really a surprise that in her own imagination she ponied her way through a glossy version of the '60s very much alone - but why is she doing it in a space-age Louise Brooks wig?  Why are the Bee Gees represented by actors who seem to be portraying the Pips (off-putting, not least because the Gibbs sound more like Florence and Mary)?

More surprising is how not-right Miss Ross and the team got her contemporary incarnation.  It doesn't help that she's introduced in a gown that appears to be a line-for-line copy of the one immortalized by Divine at the climax of Pink Flamingoes (in the eighties, could anyone take a fishtail dress seriously?).  It's made worse when she appears to inspire a prison riot by appearing dressed as late-period Dietrich.  It's made fatal when she sprawls on an underlit dancefloor and writhes in what looks very much like Michael Jackson's idea of a sexy lady move.

It doesn't help that the song itself - which on many levels I adore, I'm not ashamed to admit - is so very incoherent.  Until I read the lyric yesterday, I don't think I'd ever understood more than about three-quarters of the words.  The best diva songs tell a story, either directly (Piaf actually does regret nothing) or implicitly (Midler is as a brassy as a boogie-woogie bugle boy, but also as sentimental as a Rose).  This one is all over the place - first she's on a pedestal wanting a mystery, and then suddenly she's on a journey for the inspiration, and it's all linked only by talking about love, love, love, and somehow it's a chain reaction.  You can get away with that if you're the B-52s, but not if you're trying to be, well, Diana Ross.

As she has since found out.

The problem with Diana Ross, today and in most of the years since "Chain Reaction," is that she's incoherent, inconsistent, diva-wise.  From the time she first started shouldering aside her Supremes, it had seemed that her control over and understanding of her own image was iron-clad, as steely as the broad smile that took her through her middling Hollywood period and saw her emerge as "The Boss."  It's easy to forget what a Very Big Star she was in those years.  She seemed to be on a permanent trajectory that even Mahogany and The Wiz hadn't been able to dent.

But then the narrative falls apart.  "Chain Reaction" makes it clear that she doesn't really understand her own past, while the recriminations of her former colleagues mean that she can only ever glancingly connect with it (to sing too many Supremes songs only makes her audience think of Florence).  And in the years since "Chain Reaction," it's become clear that she can't think of any way to self-present that wasn't set in stone by 1985; it's all still there - the vast hair, the fishtail gowns, the rictus grins - but in a way that now seems more like impersonation than performance.

Thinking about all this, I watched videos of her participation, last December, in the Washington Christmas concert - a very gala event, the Obamas present and all very festive.  When she chooses to be, Ross is still in excellent voice (for a contrast, try out some audience-made concert footage of the last few years - horrifying).  Her voice - never large, but at its best enormously effective - is smaller, but under her command as it is for few singers heading into their 70s.  How odd that the technique of singing, which she learned at church and by singing with two friends, has stayed with her, while the technique of celebrity, in some way, despite being forged in the Mines of Motown and refined through a decade of superstardom, has not...

Friday, February 22, 2013

(Mrs.) Nixon in China

Forty-one years ago today, Pat Nixon looked at ducks, plucked and otherwise.  At times - and really China was not by a long shot the most surreal passage of her life - she must have wondered how and why things turned out exactly as they had.

I was struck by this picture not just because, well, it's Pat Nixon looking at some very wizened ducks, but because, despite her rather dire coiffure (side curls, Pat?  Really?), that is just about the most chic dress I've ever seen her in.  I wonder what Madame Mao made of it...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Later, on the Dance Floor

As the years passed, it was decreasingly clear whether the widowed Lady Shufflehampton knew for certain if she was actually at a costume party or not.  Tonight, for example, she introduced her date to everyone as Sun Yat Sen, which is just silly; who here doesn't know he's Herman, the Tranquil Palms Retirement World's janitor?

Even so, I say that as long as those two kicky kids are having fun, let the music play...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No Place Like Home

Oh, lord, where to start?  Well, to paraphrase dear Miss Bette Midler, it looks like I may be a harbinger of news here.  There have been, for a while, you see, rumblings of various sorts.  Early in the new year, they turned into whispers.  A couple of weeks ago, they turned into omens.  Now, it seems, they are in the process of turning into an offer.  To be frank, they have in fact done so.  And I've tentatively said yes.

In short, it would seem there is a possibility - a fairly good one, nearly a sure one - that the Powers What Am back in the home office of Golden Handcuffs Consulting Amalgamated International miss me.  They long for my dulcet tones and perhaps they want a closer look at this ponytail everyone's talking about.  They're funny that way.  Whatever the reason, the upshot of it all is that it may once again be time for me - for us - to take this show on the road, this time all the way back to the good old U.S. of A.

I'm terrified.  And kind of interested.  But mostly terrified.  I've been overseas since the second Clinton administration and have fully been expecting to remain so at least until the waning days of the second Clinton's second administration. Now we're looking, more or less, at being back sometime between Bear Week in Provincetown and Labor Day down the shore.  It's appalling.  Were this all to fall into place, the sheer amount of stuff that would have to be done to get us all settled would daunt anyone; for someone as fond of stillness and inertia as I, the prospect is horrifying.

The good people at GHCAI believe they have found, clever things, a perfectly legit way for Mr. Muscato (darn that DOMA, speaking of Clintons) to join me for the likely duration of the prospective engagement, which is promising, but he remains dubious about many aspects of the emerging plan, not least of the winter, which Egyptians don't much like at all, and rain, which they simply find mystifying (and during which, mostly, they generally stay home - not a practical solution on much of the East Coast for anyone not prone to agoraphobia).  He, of course, would be even more overseas than he is now, and while he's enjoyed his trips to the States, there's a big difference between swanning in and out for summer breaks and having to become a regular at Sam's Club.  And then there's the question of dragging the dogs halfway 'round the globe.

And packing the stuff.  And ridding out the wardrobes. And sorting the papers. And selling lots of things that overlap with the ridiculous amount of paraphernalia that's been sitting in storage waiting for me all these years.  And then, on that end, seeing all those things again and having to sort through them and wondering what to do with it all and asking myself why on earth I kept Aunt Edna's silver-lustre tea set that everyone who's ever clapped eyes on it since the Coolidge administration despises.  And - and I do realize this garners one little sympathy in many, many circles and quite rightly so - what on earth will we do without Mrs. Galapatti da Silva?  Una vita sans les domestiches - impossibile! Oh. Oh. Oy.

If this all seems rather disjointed, darlings, apologies, but I'm genuinely more than a tad flummoxed.  And intrigued.  And (have I mentioned this?) very, very terrified.  But parts of it may be good fun, I suppose.  In some ways, having been out for so long, going back will just be, in a sense, going to a new foreign place.  One, on the plus side, that speaks English, mostly, and mostly has potable water, even though it at the same time is full (if what I read is true) of gun-toting teabaggers, wild-eyed fundamentalists, and Honey Boo Boo-watchers.

Wish us luck.  If nothing else, I will likely not be short of things about which to kvetch write in the coming months...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Birthday Roundup (at the Dodge City Corral)

Some days simply dazzle with the range and odd juxtapositions of people who happen to share it as a birthday.  Here to sing us into a consideration of today's is television's prototypical bad girl with a heart of gold, Miss Amanda Blake, in a most peculiar novelty number from, of all places, Hee Haw (and when did you think that particular gem of American culture would show up in these parts?.

Today she's remembered, if at all, as an early Hollywood AIDS casualty (she died in 1989; in 1984, she had a short-lived marriage to a gentleman who shortly after their divorce died of pneumonia, and therein I fear lies a tale).  For two decades, though, she was Miss Kitty of the Long Branch Saloon, a stalwart of television's longest-running prime-time series and for many years its most beloved.  Although they never married (hell, they never even held hands, from all we saw) she and Sheriff Matt Dillon clearly had an understanding of some kind.  She wasn't all that bad a singer, as it turns out.  Novelty songs like this are pretty much dead as a dodo, aren't they?  The other one like it that comes to mind is Bette Davis crooning "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", and that's enough to put me off my feed for a week...

Sharing the day is a raft of luminaries, from one of the daughters of Edward VII (Louise, Duchess of Fife, who among other things survived a shipwreck off Morocco that did in the Duke) to an heiress of a rather different kind, Miss Patty Hearst (now best known, I suppose, as a member of John Waters's repertory company).  Two additional jet-setters are celebrating today, each in their own I would assume rather different ways - one wonders if Gloria Vanderbilt and Ivana Trump have ever met, and if so what they made, each of the other?

Music is more than adequately represented, with diva Mary Garden, folky Buffy Sainte-Marie, jazz thrush Nancy Wilson, and tragic grunger Kurt Cobain all sharing a cake.  Wouldn't they make a heck of a barbershop quartet?

It's a good day for actors, too, including Gale "Mr. Mooney" Gordon, Richard "West Side" Beymer, Sidney "Guess Who's Coming to" Poitier, and dishy Anthony "Prime Minister" Head blowing out candles.  Let's not forget the ladies, too, who run the gamut from Sandy Duncan to Brenda Blethyn, taking in Jennifer O'Neill and Imogen Stubbs on the way.  If only fellow birthday boy Russel Crouse had penned a script that would suit them all, to be directed, surely, by the also-celebrant Robert Altman.  Shutterbug Ansel Adams could have taken the cast photo, as they opened their presents.

Finally, it's hard to imagine a greater argument against any affinities conveyed by the accident of birth than to note that also born today are this strange pair:  one of the great toads of the twentieth century, the hideous Roy Cohn - and the fantabulously extravagant, inimitably transgressive performer/underground superstar, Dr. Vaginal Creme Davis.  If that doesn't make your horoscope want to take a bromide and lie down, nothing will.

In any case, many happy returns to all of them (except Roy, may he rot).  Take it away, Amanda...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Claudette Colbert

For no reason at all, except that she is superb, and rarely more so than here.

Colbert is one of those '30s ladies (along with Myrna Loy, among others) whose career took an unexpected turn.  We remember her as the durable Great Lady, full of a kind of high-mid-Atlantic sophistication, perhaps just a tad imperious with her insistence on only being photographed from the left, but with any suspicious foreignness (on account of her French birth) leavened by her good humor and common sense.  We can forget that, in addition to the fine comic timing that helped make It Happened One Night immortal, early on she was no slouch at the exotic, enlivening a series of pictures like The Sign of the Cross, Cleopatra (above), and Under Two Flags (in which she plays the deliciously vixenous Cigarette) with her very credible vamping.

After 1938 (and a last fling as Zaza) she more or less left that kind of thing behind, but perhaps it the lingering influence of her Poppea (not to mention Cigarette) that make her '40s matrons so intriguing.  It's a long, long way from the court of the last Pharaoh to The Egg and I, but Colbert makes it work.  She's also one of the comparatively few film greats who saw no reason (and had no financial need) to trash her own legacy in Gothics or grand guignols once her day as a leading lady was done.  She had a fine career on stage as well, and if she was the only reason more than a couple of her theatre outings lasted more than a night, audiences were always happy to see her and generally didn't mind that her vehicles were feather-light.  Remembering her as the queen of light drawing-room drama, outfitted in good tweeds and country-club evening gowns, isn't it remarkable how at home she looks in her lamé and albino peacock fan?  There's a lesson there for all of us, if we care to learn, about flexibility, durability, and, not least, that Little Something Extra, star quality...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Little Pony[tail]

Another famed ponytailer, by illustrator Lisa Zador

Remember my hair?  No reason you should, really, but like it or not it has once more turned into a front-burner issue in what passes for my life.

As you may or may not remember, it's been getting longer.  And longer.  And mostly, I think, that's very good thing, as I it's still reasonably thick, has struck what seems a workable balance between salt and pepper, has a nice natural curl, and isn't receding as much as it really ought to be on a gentleman who is hurtling toward his sixth decade on this green earth (I'm sporting a great deal less forehead, for example, than Nicole Kidman - and I can still frown, for what that's worth).

But it's been nearly a year since I first thought seriously about such a weighty subject, and aside from a quick trim in Provincetown last summer, it's continued to grow. And grow.

And so, I've crossed a follicular Rubicon:  I've started wearing a ponytail.  Not all the time, but mostly on weekends and when I need it out of the way.  Tonight, though, the New Look made its debut at a formal event.  This time of year, you see, when for a very little while the Sandlands are blessedly cool, a great many parties are held outside, which is mostly a joy.   The combination of  perfect temperatures, lovely sunsets over the sea, and a little something pleasant to eat and (most of the time) drink can lend a certain charm to even the dreariest office party.  However, these sundowners are also often accompanied by a fierce breeze, and by the end of one such outing last week, I more or less resembled Bridget Jones the time she went for an incautious ride in a convertible. So, over the weekend, I took the fateful step of upgrading from found rubber bands to hairties bought at the grocery store, brushed the hair back and tied it neatly up, put on my suit, and went to the office party.

It was, I think, rather a success.  Certainly it was from a practical standpoint, for despite near gale force winds, I ended the evening as tidily as I began it.  Those who commented did so favorably, and not all who commented depend on my good opinion for their bread and butter.  it's pulled straight back, but not so tightly as to seem desperate, and the tail itself curls nicely under.  I really think the effect is rather nice - less either the icon seen above or (worse) Jean-Claude Van Damme, and more an eighteenth-century gentleman sort of thing.  I'd like to think it was a shade Banderas-esque, but I'm not that vain (although one person did raise the idea of Russell Crowe, which isn't wholly unpleasing as a comparator).  It's certainly simple, compared to blowing it all out every day, and who doesn't need an extra 20 minutes in the morning?

In any case, I think I'm going to give it a whirl.  What do you think of men with ponytails  (bronytails?)?  Is it aesthetically defensible, or am I fated to look like Karl Lagerfeld or worse? 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion - "Paula Prentiss, Ditto!"

Successful Camp... even when it reveals self-parody, reeks of self-love
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

"Yvette Mimieux as herself"* - this is the kind of phrase that real camp-film aficionados - me, of course, among them - live for.  And poor Paula, just a ditto...

This movie appears to a nexus - actually, almost a Black Hole - of unwise trends and regrettable choices.  Among other things, Looking for Love manages to combine a whole raft of tawdry movie genres.  First, it's a prime example pop-star movie placement, no matter how unlikely the poptart (a trend that recently came back for a while - viz. the maiden films of such distinguished thespians as Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, Brandi, the Spice Girls, and, of course, Miss Mariah Carey, whose remarkable Glitter appears to have sent the trend back underground for a while).  Then, as so often happens, it's a "youth" picture apparently aimed squarely at the 42-55 demographic (Johnny Carson? Danny Thomas?).  It's a movie about television (in the same way that lesser thirties films tried to seem "hep" by promoting radio acts), as well as an "insider" story about the showbiz - a genre that sustained a near-fatal blow two years after this with The Oscar (which, in its screaming reds and self-conscious go at stylishness, Looking for Love oddly resembles).  Last, but hardly least, it's an example of that odd bird, the demi-sequel (I especially like how the narration all but promises that you won't have any nasty casting surprises - "nearly all the wonderful gang!").

And then there's Connie Francis, of whom no more need be said than that she is nothing if not enthusiastic.  She's had a hard road since, but here she's all bubble and nerve, and if that doesn't really translate into being very good, well, she's in there trying.  A lot.

* Actually, herself seems like rather an interesting person.  Yvette ended the sixties recording a spoken-word album of Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal with Indian sensation Ali Akbar Khan, was a longtime Hollywood Wife as Mrs. Stanley Donen, became an avocational anthropologist and real-estate magnate, and by the '90s had retired to enjoy her second marriage, to a rich executive and philanthropist.  We should all be such a camp-movie punchline.

Friday, February 15, 2013

No Business Like Shoe Business

Oh, dear.  I know it's been a while since he's been in an A picture, but I can't begin to figure out this arresting image.  You don't suppose, do you, that dear Mr. Upen Patel has been reduced to making some kind of very specific fetish porn, do you?

On the other hand - if you ignore the whole sneakers/trainers (actually, what are those?) angle - that might not be the very worst news I've heard this week...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

To You and Yours...

As is our custom, it's a joy from all of us - Mr. Muscato, Koko, Boudi, Mrs. Galapatti-da Silva, and me - to send you all best wishes on this Karen Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

At the Spotlight's Edge

So, during a quiet moment in the midst of a distinctly trying day this afternoon, I was calming my ruffled nerves by idly perusing, as one does, the website of The British Monarchy (what?  Don't judge me.  At least it wasn't illicit office porn, as it is for more than a few of my colleagues, far more often than they think I know about).  I found myself considering the rather interesting position of the gracious lady seen here, in a fetching Norman Parkinson snap.  She is the Queen's elegant (and reputedly favorite) cousin, the Princess Alexandra, more formally HRH The Princess Alexandra Helen Elizabeth Olga Christabel (!), the Honourable Lady Ogilvy.

The daughter of the rakish Duke of Kent (the Queen's uncle) and his elegant wife Marina, originally (like the Duke of Edinburgh) a Greek royal and therefore essentially Danish (don't you just love the oddities of European history?), Alexandra has long toiled in the second ranks of the royal business.  Although she was sixth in line for the throne at birth, these days she languishes somewhere down in the mid-forties.  Nonetheless, hers has been a life of perfect public poise and what seems like entirely natural grace.

Still, at times, she must find herself wondering.  How fair is the twist of fate that let her flibbertigibbet cousin Margaret take on all sorts of glamorous duties and patronages - off attending fancy foreign royal weddings and presiding over the Royal Ballet - while all the while flouting every basic expectation of a well-behaved British princess?  Alexandra has been far more diligent, infinitely less flighty, yet her public roles are generally a shade less soignée.  She did for a long while do some foreign touring, attending the independence of Nigeria in 1960, it's true, and she does have an interest in various arts, cultural,and charitable works, but then...

She is also patron of the British Goat Society, a doubtless wholly worthy concern,* but one - one must admit - with a somewhat different cachet than Sadler's Wells.  In the oddly angled snap above, it would appear that one of her patron-ees is contemplating taking a bite out of her hat.

Her page on the Royal site indicates that she maintains a residence at Buckingham Palace.  That's a pleasing thought, as to me it conjures up the cosy image of two elderly ladies, feet up after another tiring day of opening bazaars and congratulating lady-mayoresses, having a refreshing glass of something warming and recollecting the good old days.  It's nice to think that the Queen, who occupies such an odd and in many ways isolating position, has at least one person who Knew Her When and probably still, in the odd unguarded moment, calls her Lillibet.

* Its chief aim, the Society proclaims, is "to circulate knowledge and general information upon goats," which sounds oddly as if they're attempting to tutor the poor creatures.  That seems unlikely, but I suppose when it comes to British animal lovers, one never knows...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Birthday Girl: Yankee Princess

Let's wish a very happy 129th birthday to a woman of extraordinary longevity and vivid personality, someone who through sheer force of character dominated the social life of the American capital (and occupied a significant place in the national imagination) from the middle of the Edwardian era right on through the depths of the Carter administration.

Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth was, in no particular order, a beauty, a wit, a presidential daughter, a political animal, a woman of her time and class, a difficult wife and mother, a crashing snob, a Republican, a feminist (if of a very peculiar kind), a devoted grandmother, a tormentor of presidents and first ladies no matter whether she was related to them, a fashion sensation, a Bull Moose, a survivor, an author, a White House bride, a fierce egalitarian, a prototypical mass-media craze, an aphorist, a Democrat, an activist against racism, and a hell of a hostess, operating out of an Embassy Row townhouse of supreme eccentricity and luxe.  She was the embodiment of the Whitmanesque virtue of contradicting oneself, and so without question a quintessentially American personage.

She is one of my favorite people, for a great many reasons, from her remarkable adventures in Japan and China when dispatched on a quasi-official international tour by President Daddy in 1907, to her serenely mischievous dotage, when she surrounded herself in her mid-'90s with a young and admiring circle of acolytes.  She shone in many ways, through many decades, but rarely more brightly than when she informed the egregious Senator Joe McCarthy, after he declared that he had decided to call her by her first name, "Senator McCarthy, you are not going to call me Alice. The trashman and the policeman on my block call me Alice, but you may not."

She's someone I do hope the current presidential daughters have firmly in mind.  I would hate to see them turn into pale copies of Margaret Truman or the Bush II twins, and certainly when it comes to role models, it's hard to imagine anyone bettering her example...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Red Shoe Diary

Oh I used to be disgusted
and now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
But when they told me 'bout their side of the bargain,
that's when I knew that I could not refuse.
And I won't get any older, now the angels wanna wear my red shoes...
- Elvis Costello

I can't say I'm too broken up about the imminent departure of the Nazi hobbit, the world's best-known old gentleman in eyelet lace and scarlet pumps since the heyday of Milton Berle.  I do find it interesting that he's heading down the trail blazed by Queen Beatrix rather than showing the lifelong stamina that has characterized his predecessors since the late thirteenth century.  It's probably too much to hope that we'll get something better on the day the white smoke flutters out of that Italian chimney, but let's try.

In the meantime, of all the richness of inappropriate choices, at least today's surprise announcement gives me a reason to remind the world of my single favorite photo of @Pontifex, ever.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

This Precious Time

Maybe it's just these cool, hazy evenings we're having, or maybe it's just a random fit of nostalgia, but for no good reason I've spent the better part of this evening listening to various versions of a song that came to me again, after many years.  In its day, it seemed the height of romantic longing, white street lamps, stray cats, clicking meter, and all.  Now it feels like young romance remembered, and although I've since found that one to "keep with me forward, all through the night" on what would seem to be a permanent basis, it's rather nice from time to time to remember how strange and wonderful it felt, the first few times around...

Here's one version I especially like; I don't think of Cyndi Lauper as an especially Celtic sort of performer, and yet here's she's turned her '80s staple "All Through The Night" into a lovely number for dulcimer, fiddle, and assorted mostly acoustic instruments.  Judging from what one finds on YouTube, she's been doing it this way, with variations, for a few years now (this one's from 2007; I wish I could have found a good quality, more recent one, as if anything her voice seems stronger on the concert videos (alas too shaking or full of screaming bystanders) from 2011 or '12.  It's nice to see that she's still going strong, as idiosyncratic as ever, and treating her back catalogue with more respect than some of her peers do theirs.

What old song kicks your nostalgia-meter into overdrive?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Room with a View

I hope you'll pardon the hiatus of the last couple of days; Mr. Muscato and I have been off on a more-or-less unplanned little jaunt, courtesy of a friend in the travel business.  We are, you see, in the early stages of what chez nous is considered the busiest holiday season of them all:  Mr. Muscato's birthmonth.  Back home in WASP-land, we tapered off on birthdays by ten or so; not so, it seems, in Egypt, where birthdays are big business for, as they say at the circus, children of all ages.  In any case, various friends up in Dubai wanted to throw him a party, and at the same time, we got an offer to spend the weekend in what must be one of that very silly city's very silliest hotels at a highly advantageous rate.  Of course, we leapt at the chance.

The hotel in question is located out on The Palm, Dubai's man-made peninsula in the shape of a many-fronded tree surrounded by a halo of land that both acts as a breakwater and the home for a series of resorts.  The most famous of these, I suppose, is Atlantis, an overblown horror show I once wrote about after what the Mister and I realized was our last visit to The Palm, some four years ago.

Our hotel is a more recent arrival, a resplendent pile meant to recall the splendor and excess of the Ottoman empire, which, it must be admitted, to a creditable degree it does.  Unlike so much of Dubai, most of which is as humorlessly charmless as a place devoted to Fun at All Costs can be, it shows signs of having been designed with a certain wit.

Here, for example, is a quiet corner of the lobby.  The snap hardly does justice to the riot of colors and textures set against the limitless expanses of polished inlaid marbles, but whether or not one fully approves of the taste, one has to grant that it has a very definite Wow Factor.  As did our suite, the view from which appears up top (with Dubai doing a very creditable impression of a real city, in the distance; being on The Palm does give one lovely skyline views).  It was a dark and rather mysterious lair, with the walls colored a  burnished bronze that was offset with long panels of antiqued mirrors, a great deal of Louis-XIV-meets-a-belly-dancer furniture in black and gold, and a bathroom that would not have been at all out of place in a Gloria Swanson-Cecil B. DeMille epic.  If the place didn't also sport a spa that recalls in scale the Baths of Caracalla and in decoration the home of Miss Belle Watling, we might have just stayed in the suite all weekend.

Breakfast is served in a vast long gallery that's working hard to recall the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, but which seems in the end more like a department-store dining room of the mid-thirties.  The food was great, but I'm afraid my attention was riveted on this dear lady.  As with the snap of the lobby, this photo is but a pale indication of the splendor of her hairdo, even of her general presence. Sadly, we see the coiffure here on Day Two, when it was more than a tad deflated and even a little scruffy around the back.  The preceding morning it had been an orb, nearly perfectly spherical, made of descending rows of tidily arranged little curly waves; better preserved, I think, is the color scheme, which alternates patches of cotton-candy pink and an amber-yellow.  She seemed very proud of it.  Bless.

Oh, and that birthday party?  Well, few things on earth are less well organized than the average group of multinational Dubai-based confirmed bachelors, and apparently it's next weekend.  We didn't mind all that much; we steamed and swam and had very good massages and ate far too much and made good use of the Free Flowing Champagne offers on hand (and good stuff it was, too, not the usual sparkling vinegar Dubai seems to specialize in) and generally forgot how very dreary it can be at the office.  Back to reality tomorrow, but for moment, now that we're home and the dogs have calmed down, all's well.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Start Spreadin' the News...

Big news on the Rialto, kids - Pia's back, and Manhattan's got her!  Yet another reason to regret our Sandlandian exile, for if only we were back on the other side of the world, we could toddle up to the Big Apple this week and catch That Somewhat Different Bombshell, The Lonely Lady herself, the one and only (and thank goodness for that) Miss Pia Zadora in her first cabaret engagement in yonks.  Not since Edie Beale took the backroom at Reno Sweeney's by storm has there been such an eagerly anticipated gig.  Catch all the details - from no less august a source than The Wall Street Journal - here.

Truth to tell, for someone who's seen the ups and downs she has, Pia sounds like a pretty good egg.  A PickFair-destroying, Golden Globe-buying, Voyage of the Rock Aliens-starring, Jermaine Jackson-dueting, "Clapping Song"-making good egg, true, but after all these years, I suppose that's mostly water under the bridge.  If any Gentle Reader happens to be in town this weekend, please do drop by the Metropolitan Room over on West 22nd Street and give us a full report.  If the simple Pialicity of the occasion doesn't appeal, you might be tempted to know that her gowns (and you can bet there will be plenty) are by Bob Mackie!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Meanwhile, in 1909...

Having delivered his shocking confession, Lord Throckmottle fell silent.  Pulling on his meerschaum, Sir Antony Londerbaugh gazed up at the abashed aristocrat quizzically, appalled to think that his old school chum could have got up to such antics while off on the Continent.

Bertie fforbes-Hamilton, meanwhile, resolved to find the address of this Pensione Regina Vittoria post haste; it certainly sounded better fun than the dull hotel of his last stay in Firenze.  "Moroccan houseboys!" he marveled to himself, "Who would have dreamt they could think of such bully things to do with an ear trumpet?"

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dream Weaver

Oh, I know, other people's dreams really are dull, and mine are no exception.  Even so, I'm going to beg your indulgence and hope that you gentle readers might help me parse out one I've been having lately.

Maybe it's just a delayed reaction to reading her obituaries last summer, or maybe it's just the effects of reading too many show-biz bios, but she keeps popping up.  Usually, I'm in some random situation from everyday life, albeit one that has, for no good reason, become peppered with the great names of cinema. For example, in one I was a waiter (which I was, once upon a time, by the bye, and a damn good one), at a smart urban joint waiting on a very chummy Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (BD circa 1943 and JC 'round about 1970, it seemed, but it didn't faze me at the time) having a girls' lunch out.  As I hand them the check, I say, "Boy, that Celeste Holm sure was a bitch, wasn't she?"  Surprised expressions all around, a couple of raised eyebrows of agreement, and curtain.

In another, I am playing bridge with Gloria Swanson and a couple of Waxworks, and apropos of nothing, during a lull in a conversation about real estate (the consensus: sell), ask the same question.  Miss Swanson looks disapproving, as if she believing that if someone were to make such observations, it should be she.

Then there's the one where I'm rehearsing a dance number with Charlotte Greenwood and Kay Thompson (and there's an unpicturesque trio - with me standing between them, we'd look like the number 101) and I stop the piano player to demand of my partners, "Tell the truth - was Celeste Holm the biggest bitch you ever worked with or was she not?"

Finally, and most chillingly, there's the one in which I don't remember of whom I ask the fateful question (Margaret Rutherford? Theda Bara? Nancy Kulp?), but after doing so I turn and realize that standing behind me is... Celeste Holm.  And in that moment I know, in a flash of shock and fear, that "bitch" doesn't begin to describe it.

Sometimes I think I need to drink more before bedtime.  What do you think?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Birthday Girl: Infinite Joy

Today marks the 113th anniversary of a singularly good thing: the birth of Miss Mabel Mercer, the Queen of Cabaret.  I rarely run sound-only videos, but the combination of this roguish snap and her just about perfect go at Cole Porter's "Experiment" seems a lovely way to mark the day.  The lyric is one of those deceptively simple things that Porter makes seem so easy, while Miss Mercer turns into it as good a credo to live by as any I can think of:

Be curious, though interfering friends may frown;
Get furious at each attempt to hold you down.
If this advice you only employ
The future can offer you infinite joy
And merriment. Experiment -
And you'll see.

Mabel Mercer, did for 84 years.  I was lucky enough to hear her once, and in some ways things never again were the same.  For which I am eternally grateful...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: One Mississippi

To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

In honor of her birthday this week, a reminder of why Miss Carol Channing is (a) divine and (b) the Queen of Camp, Broadway Division. No other performer, I think, combines so much skill with so much self-awareness, assurance, and flat-out eccentricity.  She has been playing the role of Carol Channing for 60 years or so, and it's safe to say that no one could ever do it better.  The miracle of it is that she has been able to channel that extravagant persona into genuine characters:  her Channingness, if you will, proved far more adaptable than you might think, so that when she played Dolly, she was Dolly, or Lorelei, or any of her parts.   She's a camp, but not a stunt.

Here she demolishes, in sequence, two kinds of show-biz survivors (not to mention two kinds of speech impediments): first, Dietrich in her glam-grandma phase (I adore how the Channing grin fights for dominance with the Dietrich pout in what really is a masterful impersonation) and then the myth-ridden once-upon-a-timer (Cecilia is a hoot, but with just a shade of a dark side; there really were ladies pretty much that deluded, after all...).

I can't believe I've never seen this clip before - is it something everybody knows about and I've been mysteriously in the dark?  If so, I'll never forgive you for not telling me before.  Enjoy.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Laz Tango

You know, I can't think why, but ever since I first ran across Lebanese hunka-hunka burnin' love Rabih Laz, I find my mind drifting off his way at the most inopportune moments...