April 20, 2011

Meet a dark and handsome stranger. ☜ ☝ ☞ ☟♫

How on earth do people do this?

The wearing of dark glasses in conditions other than bright sunshine is extremely counter-intuitive. It's hard to pull off when indoors, makes one very self-conscious, not to mention a danger to oneself and passers by at night, and looks incongruous when it's grey and overcast.

However, somewhere hovering around its edges is the idea that it’s also glamorous and enigmatic, and not a little film-starrish. One can't quite help but to stride around confidently yet warily, as if the paparazzi were lurking behind every bush and bollard. But like smoking it’s a faux-allure: neither smoking nor sunglasses effects a Hollywood transformation, it merely makes one faintly ridiculous.

Anyway, my sunglasses aren't welded to my head because I'm trying to develop a mystique. Nor have I become an overnight sensation. I'm merely trying to disguise the grimness of my appearance so I don't frighten small children, perfect strangers, colleagues, clients, or indeeed horses. For the last three weeks, I’ve suffered from a skin allergy afftecting the area of the eyes. I have unimaginable rococo flourishes in the form of monstrous swellings. Huge sunglasses only can disguise the ghastly disfiguring redness and swelling.

Eventually, I ended up at the optician, thinking of making an eccentric virtue out of the wearing of dark glasses forever more. But no, fears were groundless; I have merely to devote myself with vigor to a course of antibiotics until all symptoms have disappeared.

However, as a side story to all of this, the visit to the opticians has yielded quite a different return: having had perfect eyesight all my life, I discover I need reading glasses. And worse, the Optician says cheerily 'Don't worry Ms. Edna, it happens to everyone - it's just to do with getting older'. I restrain myself from clobbering him with something hard and heavy. Reader, you can inject industrial amounts of botox into your forehead, but once reading glasses are prescribed, there’s no disguising your real age.

Someone once remarked that Los Angeles was full of women who’d been 35 for years, and I’ve been inclined to agree. Yet with my fabulous new frames parked on my face as I stare at this screen - delighted to be able to see what I'm typing - appearances are giving the lie to my lies. Ah well.

April 19, 2011

Fadeout for artists?

The film director Steven Soderbergh recently announced that he plans to retire from movie-making once his next two films are finished. A folly? A whim? A PR stunt? Who knows, but he sounded sincerely tired of it all in the interview I read.

This startled me, because Soderbergh, while working in Hollywood, has gained a reputation as a serious film artist. And retirement rarely seems to interest serious artists – least of all visual ones.

Lucian Freud and Cy Twombly are still painting, and still doing powerful work, in old age. Nor is the career longevity (and physical longevity) of artists just a product of modern healthcare. In the 16th century, both Michelangelo and Titian lived very long lives and both worked brilliantly into their last years. Titian's late works are his greatest of all and several scintillating masterpieces were left unfinished when he died. Michelangelo also left an incredible unfinished masterpiece – when death obliged him to lay down tools, he was the architect of St Peter's.

If great artists work well beyond retirement age, it is surely because, especially for a painter, writer or similarly skilled worker, it can take a lifetime to learn all the skills. Only then can you work with total freedom: hence the striking phenomenon of "late" styles.

Today, the novelist Philip Roth consciously practices a "late style", describing his recent novels as Late Roth. He shows no actual sign of retiring, although he has spoken as if he might.

Soderbergh is a post-modernist whose artful film-making has never been that intense or personal – he is rather a master of style – so his claim to be outta here might be read as a cool rejection of the romantic idea of the consummate artist. And yet film directors have been just as addicted to work as any painter – Soderbergh himself made the film Eros with the veteran Antonioni, and Claude Chabrol made one darkly comic thriller after another up to the end. By the time he died last year at the age of 80, he had made more than 80 films. And he was a master.

There is at least one startling exception to the rule that real artists never retire: Shakespeare. He made his money in London then retired to his native Stratford, like Prospero relinquishing his magic in The Tempest. However, Shakespeare is an exception to every rule and the ultimate biographical enigma.

Anyway – a happy fade-out Mr. Soderbergh.
If he really does get round to it, he will strike a blow against the myth of the artist as someone driven by passion and necessity to do what she or he does.
How sophisticatedly modern is that?

for Beata

April 18, 2011

Ms. Edna's sacred and profane ‘whatever’.

I can never resist a gauntlet, well, not when it's thrown down by a dear friend. So, when the illustrious Charles put out the challenge to write about first ‘whatevers’ in all their glorious detail, I seized the chance to tell the story.

To find the tale's beginning, we must return to the time of boarding school. Nerd Boy as we shall call him – naturally I have changed the name to protect the guilty - was my first foray into the nerd boy type, though he was much more rebellious and less geeky than later examples. He had the requisite disheveled look, nice manners and the wherewithal to buy a Cooke, but with added Bad Boy qualities - a shocking reputation for breaking hearts and being unrepentantly late with his schoolwork. Usually, nerd boys were shy boys, given to slipping science test answers into my pocket, but with his brooding way of turning up the collar against the rain, and of curling a sneering lip around a Lucky Strike, Nerd Boy had swallowed the anti-hero manual. His name was doodled on every exercise book. Truly, he was the Byron of Leysin.

As chance would have it, we ended up on the same dance floor gyrating to the Twist, this prevented close physical contact, and as the tension between us built, around the six- minute mark, we lurched into a fierce, compulsive embrace, my hair catching painfully on the parallel rows of buttons on his shirt. By the time Peppermint Twist had given way to Moon River, we were off the dance floor and smooching for Switzerland.

Reader, I'm sorry to disappoint, but this great Casanova’s kisses were torture. Did I let this put me off? I did not. I was filled with all the exultant triumph of a 100 to 1 racehorse romping home against all expectations in the Grand National. The prize longed for by the entire school was mine. ‘Whatever’ might be a drug, but victory is more potent and addictive.

I'm afraid Nerd Boy was a better trophy than he was a boyfriend, so quite how he was so prefixed with mystique, I have no idea. His dating m.o. mostly involved coming round on the pretext of helping me with my math prep but I never saw him get a book out of his satchel before he pounced. I can't say that I was immune to pouncing, being young and extremely curious, but his brand of pouncing was horribly inept, featuring more tortured kissing, vigorous rummaging, and orangutan arms. Within days, he was making so many irrepressible assaults on my virtue I knew exactly how Clarissa felt fending off Lovelace. Actually, scratch that -there is no literary analogy worthy of his persistence.

I felt like a leg to which an amorous dog had become attached: he was unshakable. Had the technique been more honed, and the execution more adroit and less enthusiastic, perhaps I would have succumbed, but at last, bored by my rebuffs, he decided enough was enough.

The Conversation took place on a train to Geneva. He'd been silent for the whole journey, and hadn't launched himself at me once, which was welcome, if unusual.

'We need to talk' he said, in that fabulously original way such conversations always start.

'Hmm' I replied, refusing to be drawn and having read enough to know what to expect from such an opener.

'I don't think we should see each other anymore. You see, I've got my exams coming up and I really need to get some work done. Oh, and I'm entering a seminary in September: I'm going to train as a priest.'

I was slow on the uptake. ‘A REAL PRIEST (is there any other kind)?’

'Um, yes. I've been called.'

I regained my composure as best I could and left him on the platform.

Really! I was taken aback. What was one to make of it? That I was so fabulous that only God would do next? That my failure to acquiesce to his base desires confirmed his vocation. Nerd Boy didn't become a priest, he became a monk, tending apple orchards.

Oh dear, oh dear, he may have developed a fast, extremely accurate electronic slide rule, the micro-processor, a Ms. Edna that would run on a Motorola 68000 microprocessor !

First ‘whatevers’? Overrated! Romeo and Juliet is just a story, and I think there was a dodgy monk in that too.


God Only Knows... ♪♪ ღ

Aus dem Bette!
Hör' mein Singen, hör' mein Pfeifen,
sieh die hellen lichten Streifen!
Auf, erwache!
Denn dein Schwesterlein
blogged in die ganze Welt hinein
und flüsterte in alle Ohren,
dass du heute wardst geboren.

April 11, 2011

Can you pin a medal on a cat? ='o'= ♫

The Royal Navy used to encourage its ships to adopt a ship's cat, believing they were good for morale and vermin control, though sadly since 1975 they are forbidden.

Simon, ship's cat of the HMS Amethyst, was wounded by shrapnel in the Yangtze Incident of 1948. In recognition of his valour, he was awarded three medals, and promoted to the rank of Able Seacat.

Oscar was rescued from the wreckage of the German battleship Bismarck by the HMS Cossack. They adopted him as their ship's cat, until, five months later, the Cossack too was sunk. Oscar survived, and was transferred to the HMS Ark Royal... which was sunk two weeks later. This time, Oscar was found clinging to a floating board 'angry, but quite unharmed.' He was renamed 'Unsinkable Sam', and retired to Belfast, where he eventually died, ten years after the end of the war, of old age.

Beauty, ship's cat of the HMS Black Prince, was present at the Normandy landings, during which she occupied herself giving birth to three kittens.

TBC-unusually, the gunship HMSGB-7 was never named, and nor was its cat, who was known as 'TBC'. Which stood for 'That Bloody Cat'.

Joey -In 1924, the HMS Hood did not have a ship's cat. It had Joey... the ship's wallaby.

April 06, 2011

Old School Ties and OMG Dress Codes.

I am spring-cleaning, still. Searching through closets and drawers to see what can be discarded.

I came across a stash of old neckties, bowties-my Dad’s, Rene’s and Charles’ pleasure (I can see a pattern here)-and an assortment of school ties. It's not surprising that I held on to so many over the years, since they are not exactly the kind of thing that one is inclined to throw away or send off to the jumble sale at the church. Heavens, that one should come across an unsuitable stranger wearing a friend’s old school tie!

When I attended school we were required, boys and girls, to wear uniforms. From fifth grade through graduation. The iron rule for girls was, No cleavage, NO knees, NO questions, until after graduation. None was shown, or ask, and we all graduated.

I never found the wearing of uniforms or abiding by dress codes as a girl to be an unpleasant or restricting requirement. They made my sartorial choices easier (or did away with them altogether). As an adult, I have come to appreciate that dress codes are a sign of respect for the places in which they are worn.

Alas, there was no formal dress code at college by the time I enrolled there in the mid-1960s, the wearing of a jacket and tie was expected of male undergraduates when attending university functions or other organized gatherings.

Men were expected to wear a suit, tie, and hat every day of the week. So it was until all Hell broke loose and "business casual" took over like so many canker sores.

O, and speaking of hats…I would be overjoyed should we start wearing hats again, I have a collection of those too . . . Of course you do.

April 04, 2011

Very Posh, indeed!

Oh dear, I have been impolite. Unforgivable. Last week sweet Frida told me at luncheon that Princess Antoinette of the Royal House of Monaco had died and I snickered. I keep forgetting how attached Americans are to the Grimaldi family. They ought to be. It was good hard-earned American Dollars that provided the clan and ‘principality’ with a much needed blood-transfusion.

The Telegraph of London posted an obituary of Princess Antoinette of Monaco, the sister of the late Prince Rainier’s. The princess, who died last month at age 90, was considered eccentric, and wild in her younger years (which extended well into her 70s), and definitely a woman who did as she pleased.

The most interesting aspect of the princess’ story, which is not unknown but rarely discussed, is the Grimaldi family lineage, which runs up and down both sides of the social ladder and fits nicely with allusion to the principality’s roots, in Somerset Maugham’s famous quote about Monte Carlo being a “sunny place for shady people.”

Princess Antoinette and Prince Rainer’s mother was Princess Charlotte, daughter of their grandfather, Prince Louis II. Louis reigned as Prince of Monaco from 1922 until in his death in 1949. Louis had married but had no heir. This caused a problem because of some legal agreement with Italy or France as to the ownership of the principality.

At the time of the “crise,” Louis, however, recalled that he actually did have an heiress ... a girl named Charlotte - who had been born out of wedlock from an affair the prince had with Marie Juliette Louvet who was either a cabaret singer or a washerwoman (that’s in the Telegraph). Probably the former. Louis didn’t marry Marie Juliette, however. His father, Prince Albert I of Monaco, disallowed it, since it would have been marrying “beneath” his station. Albert I was a domineering character; son had no choice. Afterwards he married his princess Ghislaine Dommanget.

This “discovery” of “an heiress” was stretching it for some people at the time because royalty in Europe never traditionally acknowledged bastards as legitimate. Just like non-royalty today. Although Louis XIV, the Sun King, considered it perfectly alright and legitimized his bastard children with Mme. de Maintenon.

In the case of Monaco, there was a law outstanding that in the event of no legitimate heir, the principality leaves the Grimaldi family. Or vice versa. So Louis did the only thing a prince could do: He changed the law and then he “adopted” his daughter Charlotte in 1919. She became Charlotte Louise Juliette Grimaldi, Princess of Monaco and Duchess of Valentois (a very old family title). And thus from Charlotte all Monegasquen blessings fell and her grandson now occupies the throne.

Old Louis himself came from a grander background than his daughter’s mother. His mother was the daughter of the English 11th Duke of Hamilton and Princess Marie Amelie Elizabeth Caroline of Baden (OMG Ms Edna!).

Princess Charlotte, it should be noted, did not have such a great time in her new found royalness. She was married off to a Count de Polignac with whom she had a son and daughter, but who basically had other interests.

In the 1940s Charlotte had finally got rid of Polignac and also renounced her rights to the throne of Monaco (her father was still alive), allowing her son Rainier to succeed her father. She moved to a family estate near Paris where she started a rehabilitation center for ex-convicts. She lived with an ex-con, a famous French jewel thief known as “Rene la Canne.”

It might be said that the Grimaldis have the most colorful genealogy of any royal family in Europe of the past  five centuries. The first Grimaldi took over the palace one dark night in the 13th century, dressed as a monk, with a knife concealed, knocked on the palace door one night and immediately murdered the owner and took over the place. Those were his politics.

Here's the link to the piece in the Telegraph of London.

At the request of, and for our friend Frida.