May 23, 2013

I’m so over this, and this, and this, and that, and '☋'

Only Langella and Clint Eastwood look good in a cape. The rest of us look as if we are on our way back home from electroconvulsive shock therapy. Brains now addled by 3000 volts of electricity, the trustees have acquiesced and released the bindings from our tad tight strait jackets.

Do you like unicorns? The color pink? Then I'm sure the cult of the cupcake has become a modus vivendi for you. They are pretty and they are oh so tasty but wake up and smell the cupcake you run the risk of being considered nauseatingly sweet. This in turn puts you at risk of being chased along the street by your sickened friends whose exhausted gag reflexes has driven them to wield a giant needle loaded with insulin. Let us harken to a world BC (before cupcakes).  Macaroons be warned: you are headed down the same rocky road to perdition.

Oh dear, unless you are Joan Collins in her Dynasty era or living life through an opium soaked haze and require a sheath of netting and froth to detract from a pallor last seen when the Black Death was rife, please eschew the fascinator. Any woman, who has to purchase a quality in order to possess it, then, attach it to her head, may as well walk naked down the street wearing a sandwich board. 

“We saw your boobs…” Well, we did, do! Our latter day well corseted Venuses are rarely seen without their well cantilevered bosoms spilling from a gown like hastily formed hillocks of vanilla Playdoh. Ripe of body, they have sashayed centre stage into our consciousness and allowed us all to wolf down dessert without guilt. But, ouch those engorged globes look positively painful, someone stick a pin in those balloons. There is also the small matter of decorum to be considered.  Really?

Great weekend friends on the other side of the herring pond.

May 7, 2013

The Ebony Tower.

We met by accident. The first time I saw her she instantly reminded me of a woman in a fresco at the Palazzo Ducale di Mantova.  Hence the allusion to The Ebony Tower.  She was telling the waiter in her fluent but accented French that he had got it wrong, again. She turned to me, for no reason other than I was at the next table, and asked if I knew how to mix a drink. I could try, and I did, and she was delighted.  Her tipple, as she put it, was red vermouth, un Martini rouge, with a very precise proportion of soda-water and ice: ice first, then the vermouth, then the bubbly. She decided she liked me because I got the mix just right for her.

Madame was old when I met her. She married late in life and had been, even so, a widow much longer than she had been a wife. The table scraps of her personal biography that she fed me every once in a while didn’t make a feast, perhaps a casse-croûte and a slim one at best, but it was an interesting life she had led. An army brat from Oklahoma, daughter of a perdurable colonel who amazingly managed to dodge retirement in the face of the army’s up-or-out version of the Peter Principle, she had nothing to tell me about the time after she left college—I think without bothering to graduate—until she met her husband when she must have been near forty. Then it got good.

He was a diplomat, and either someone at le Quai d’Orsay really didn’t like him or he was a born adventurer, but he was posted to Vietnam, several countries on the verge of riot and dissolution in Africa and, as a treat, Bulgaria or Albania, but not both. Madame loved it. As an ambassador, he always had enough of a budget to live well, which in those countries at those times was not difficult, and not far shy of splendid: good wine always materialized, servants were abundant, grateful for the work, and did not steal more than decency permitted, and the European works of art that came on the market were definitely not forgeries—he evidently had the eye of a connoisseur and the heart of a detective—and could be had for practically nothing with nothing by way of provenance either.

Best of all, as far as I could understand the stories, there was really nothing to do in these posts save passing the time with the other European diplomats, their hangers-on, and the occasional transient ex-pat, who may or may not have been a spy or a crook, but could always tell a story or sell something cheap to earn a meal and a free flop for a week or two. Considering newspapers arrived two or three months late if at all, radio was BBC on shortwave or nothing at all, and local news was nothing at all minus a great deal, visitors were bundled right into the bosom of the community and tended to stay. The cagey ones were able to figure out how to arrive at a diplomat’s new posting after a decent interval and start the process all over again.

Why not? Everyone came out on top, which is even better than everyone being above average. It was like frontier life, but instead of the tales around the campfire or singing around the piano in the parlor, there were complicated narratives, sexual and political intrigues, a fair amount of gambling for petty stakes which had a way of mounting up, and best of all dressing for dinner. With a longish siesta in the afternoon in all these sweaty boon dock posts, it was possible to sit down to dinner, with silver, china, crystal, and servants in uniform, all the guests dressed to the nines, including jewelry, around eleven in the evening. Samuel Beckett said that all days are the same, except the last day, which is shorter. They did Beckett one better. Dinner at eleven meant going to bed after five or six in the morning, and waking up just after noon in time for a light lunch in the heat and, a little later, a siesta. Short, sweet, days, in an ebony tower.

It was a lovely, fun-house-mirror of a moveable feast that had passed by. No one was ever going to see it again. But she did not seem to care about that, only that her mirror was smashed when he died of a heart attack while on leave in Paris. So she stayed.  This is when I first got to mix her a drink.

Even then, it was clear, if I bothered to think about it but tried not to, that he had died with his boots on, that the broadsword of history had clobbered that—what was it?—early post-colonialist or pre-post-modernist moment not long after his heart called it a day, but slowly, by a thousand cuts, with bits and pieces falling off the wagon, the paint chipping, the windows breaking, until there was nothing left but a pile of scrap by the side of the unpaved road. If Madame knew this—of course, she had to—it had no place in her recollections.  And good for her.

Better to be sociable tell stories and to listen to stories from me and her other admirers who would arrive and depart as erratically as I.  She came leaning on her cane the table was ready for her drink and a chair waiting. The coming and the going, however slow and difficult, were le prix d’entrée for her, just like travel on dirt roads and by rubber-band airplanes once upon a time.

I was called away.  When I returned I went by the café and asked for Madame.  I learned that she had not been around for a long time.  No one even knew where she lived. The waiter shrugged and asked me if I wanted to drink to her memory, on the house. I declined.