Monday, May 30, 2016

Travelogue - Here's Grace (and Oscar, and Oysters and...)

So I'm home, much to the relief of two little terriers and one sizeable Egyptian, and while it was a lovely adventure (interspersed with a sloggy lot of work, of course), it's awfully nice to be back looking out from our own little balcony, apparently none the worse for wear.

It's hardly news, I know, but San Francisco really is a most picturesque sort of place.  From my admittedly rather humdrum base in the Financial District, I spent as much of my spare time as possible roving around, and I'm rather proud that my long walks almost offset my rather stupendous gluttony.  Up top there is the verdigris Italianate home of Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope - film work up top and a pretty café on the ground floor. The richness of local food and drink options is such that I never made it there - or even to the all-garlic joint, the Stinking Rose, not too far away - but oh, my goodness, did I eat, and drink, and do both very, very well.

Lashings of excellent local wines and great heaps of seafood were common themes. Here we see an extravagance conjured up at a very nice joint to which I was taken by none other than our own Mr. Peenee. The old rogue is just out of frame to the left, while on the right is the intriguing and amusing Secret Agent Fred. Spending time with both was a highlight of the trip - certainly far more rewarding than the employment that was the ostensible purpose of the journey.  Taken together, they're even more fun than those oysters, and that's saying something.

Peenee says we only talked about porn, and while I won't aver that the topic didn't come up - he very carefully walked us by the stately headquarters of at one point, for God's sake, so it's not like it's all my fault* - our conversation was in fact far more broad ranging, taking in everything from our lives and times to, I must admit, more than a few of our own Gentle Readers. All I'll say is that if Thombeau's ears were burning once or twice over the past two weeks, there's good reason.

With only one weekend sandwiched between two weeks of toil, most of my time on the town, as it were, was in the evenings.  I did make it to several local attractions, though, and two of the exhibitions I took in made for an especially interesting (well, at least to me) compare-and-contrast.

The de Young Museum is currently featuring a lavish retrospective of the works of Mr. Oscar de la Renta, and it was, in a way - although not the one, I suspect, that the organizers might have hoped - eye-opening.  While he was without question a leading figure in American fashion for several decades, and while his creations are unfailingly sumptuous and undeniably deluxe, it's all - despite every bell-and-whistle of the splashier end of the curatorial trade - more than a little underwhelming.

The great problem, I think, is simple: the man appears never in his life to have had one single original idea.  Decadently luxurious of fabric, meticulous in execution, there is nonetheless something meretricious about his works when seen on this large scale.  Seen en masse, the rows of frocks and gowns and frothy creations are all far too clearly borrowed goods.  His toreador outfits summon up memories of more interesting bits of Schiaparelli, and his caftans are watered-down Poiret.  A Russian gown of 1998 might as well be a 1933 Travis Banton for Marlene Dietrich.  He's drawing on good stuff, no doubt, but not doing anything interesting with it. It doesn't help, I suppose, that his prime clients - his muses, as it were - were generally themselves so second-rate.  How inspired can you be, after all, when you're creating for Nancy Reagan?

So that was Friday evening (the de Young is open late; I walked from my hotel, discovering when I got there that not only had I covered several miles, I'd climbed the equivalent of 57 flights of stairs. Hilly, San Francisco). On Saturday morning, I ran into a rare bird of rather more interesting feathers...

The Museum of the African Diaspora is currently hosting The Grace Jones Project, a small but dazzling tribute to the fierce and rather terrifying singer/entertainer/Amazon/ultrastar, and despite being done with little of the expense and none of the artifice of the de la Renta show, it immediately and totally convinces one of the lady's authentic ability to startle and amaze. She has more creativity in one lean and beckoning finger than the fashion designer had in every bustle, train, sequined bodice and ruched sleeve. So potent is her presence that simply alluding to her in hommage raises the quality of what otherwise might be rather pedestrian photographs, collages, or video clips, while the pieces on show that give direct access to her - the album covers, as above, and a video wall that ran one through her oeuvre - are like shots of adrenaline.

Finally, on my free Sunday (still reeling from being so roundly and bibulously entertained the night before by the entrancing duo of Fred 'n' Peenee) I made my way to pay tribute to Kim Novak at the Legion of Honor, walking through Lincoln Park and taking in some lovely views en route.

The Legion, while lovely, is a much smaller museum than I would have thought, and while very nice (and with a first-rate café, at which I had a most restorative lunch), not, frankly, all that fascinating a collection.

I did find one treasure after my own heart, though...

The Divine Sarah, the ultrastar of Paris a century or so before La Jones, is captured by M. LePage gazing at what might as well be the Sarah Siddons Award a few decades avant la lettre.  I don't know what I admire more - her posture or her fichu.  What I do know is that Oscar de la Renta would have killed to come up with so elegant and flattering a toilette as Sarah's. I'm surprised he didn't steal from her as well as everybody else**...

I had one other small adventure, one about which I'm still pondering. I had very little time to plan the trip, you know, and so had done very little looking about to see, Peenee aside, how I would amuse myself.  I was quite startled to see, therefore, that on offer last week was a Great American Classic - and not only that (not so surprising in itself), but the very one that had been the reason for my last trip to San Francisco, just twenty years ago. It seemed a very distinct coincidence, and I was sad to learn that it was sufficiently popular that it was quite entirely sold out.  One way or another, though, I snagged a ticket, and the experience was... curious.

It's an odd thing to see a work one knows so well (I'd also worked on another production several years prior to the last, that one in London) but has never actually, as it turns out, seen (I was always working, you know, not in the audience).  It was all very well done, although in a very different way than it had been all those years ago, and afterward I went backstage to congratulate the great and the good and to reintroduce myself. It gave me a strange sensation, to drop back into that world after two decades doing something else entirely, and to realize that if I hadn't gone off to see the world with Golden Handcuffs, I might still be a denizen of the dressing rooms and wings, dancing attendance as some of the very people with whom I'd worked back then still are.  It made for a thought-provoking bookend to that night a couple of years ago in Vienna when I had a rather similar experience, and like that one it reminded me that time only rolls forward, and while it's nice, now and then, to dwell in the past, one can spend too much time wondering about where the time has gone to...

But now it's Decoration Day, and while the weather in Our Nation's Capital continues to disappoint, and the Mister is working, so our celebrations will be muted to the point of nonexistence, the dogs and I will spend the day enjoying each other's company.  I hope you're enjoying your holiday, if it is one where you are, and that like me you're feeling content not just with where you are, but where you've been.

* In one window, we glimpsed a man wearing an Orthodox hat and long, curling payess and not much else - one can only wonder what particular fetish community is going to enjoy the result of that filming...

** To be fair, Yves Saint Laurent did do so, and more than once.


  1. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for your rendezvous with Fred 'n' Peenee.

  2. I am as intrigued by the mystery of which "Great American Classic" you went to see as I am by the thought of the Peenee'n'Fred'n'crab gossip-fest and the Grace Jones exhibition... Jx

    1. Ah, my dear - a boy has to keep some mysteries...

  3. Exactly what MJ said! I'd have loved to have been an eavesdropper.