Sunday, May 25, 2014

This morning

This morning, in the hotel courtyard, I sat before breakfast looking at the the terra-cotta architecture above me, watching the lizards jumping off the trees, bobbing and displaying their red throats, and smelling the gardenia behind me – the scent swelling as the humidity deepened – and, after last night's elegant party by the Tchefuncte River, wondering why it is a gardenia corsage or, for that matter, a gardenia buttonhole is no longer worn, even at weddings. The most heavenly of scents, gardenia, mixes well I find with smoke from the first cigarette of the day – not mine, for I gave up smoking thirty-six years ago – but that of the lank-haired trio tapping ash on the floor all the while ignoring the ashtray on the table between them. I wondered, too, at the other scent of the morning, coffee; why it is that however great the flourish with which it is presented and however risibly high the prices, this or that institution's weak and bitter swill is still served "with great pride "the continent over. It being too early in New Orleans for any Muse other than Moolah to be attentive. answers came there none.

I made two discoveries yesterday. The first that the Sazerac cocktail as made in the bar of the W Hotel – Sazerac rye, brandy, bitters, an absinthe rinse and a lemon twist – when combined with a good lunch, high heat and humidity, is one of the best reasons for an afternoon nap ever poured. Tasty, too.

The second discovery, recommended by a friend, was M S Rau, an antiques business, begun in 1911, the likes of which I have not seen outside Europe or New York. Here is the real New Orleans, I thought, cultured, learned, and almost hidden by the tourism-beset streets. M S Rau's business, of course, is rarely from people like me who, on a Saturday, walk in from the street and occupy the ever-patient staff members, but from museums, collectors, decorators the world over. I spent a brilliant hour or so looking at everything – from the exquisite Aesthetic Movement gasolier (now electrified), to the Hester Bateman silver jug; the Faberge cufflinks; a Belter child's slipper chair; a French Compendium clock; a micromosaic table; to the most moving set of photographs of Marilyn Munro (not, generally speaking, an object of interest to me) – the photograph of Monroe's ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, with his son at her funeral, August 8, 1962 is an eloquent portrayal of loss and regret.

One very noticeable aspect of New Orleans, and I suppose it is true of any popular destination on this continent, is that casual clothing, judging by the hoards that overrun this city, is any variation of clothing more suitable to the gym – be it fitting or no. 

As to Bourbon Street after dark – best left to be the hell it is. 

Well, did you evah?

What a swellegant, elegant party this was!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Heaven, hell and mosquitoes



   In new shoes and in New Orleans for an evening wedding. 
   Seersucker, spectators and mosquitoes. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A book recommendation for a memorial day

It isn't usual, I think, to quote the last few words of a book at the outset of a review recommendation but they are particularly apt as the basis of a post for the Memorial Day Holiday - the dawning of summer as emblem for the birth of another summer long ago cut short, not only on this barrier island, but the world over. 

"We cannot bring back that lost generation, but we can preserve its enduring artifacts. In his last public statement, Horace Gifford said it best:

'In the end, the past is personal, and that is what makes its preservation so urgent. It is our own memories intermingled with the collective memory that we call history; it is not so much truth as interpretation; but in that interpretation we can find beauty and wisdom, inspiration for living and guidance for the future.' "

I have never been on that long strip of sand called Fire Island, that runs parallel to the south shore of Long Island – never even knew where it was, though it formed a great part of my friends' conversations all through the 70s into the 80s. I lived in Europe and visited America each summer and my friends, who were much older, were more interested in what the city had to offer – a heady combination of sleaze, culture, freedom, friendship and community. In fact, a sense of community the likes of which has not been felt since. 

There have been many achievements since the 1970s and continue to be, increasingly, so it is interesting to listen to Larry Kramer in a recent interview pointing out "Considering how many of us there are, how much disposable income we have, how much brain power we have, we have achieved very little. We have no power in Washington, or anywhere else ..."

The importance of the past does not guarantee survival. Can the lost generation's artifacts, the houses in this book, however important they may be as representatives of a moment in Gay and Lesbian history, given the inevitable and rapid rising of the seas, be preserved? We are as powerless as King Canute in this regard and, if Larry Kramer is to be believed, not only on this front. On the other hand, a book like this is preservation of a kind – the transliteration of memory into history.

From the book: the living room of the Wittstein-Miller house, as arranged by Scott Bromley in the early 1980s. An image I remember from either Architectural Digest or House and Garden.

From the book: the annual invasion by Cherry Grove drag queens

I don't find Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction nostalgic, (excellent though it is, and about one architect, not perhaps that well-known and whose clientele was in the main was gay) for I was not there. My friend David, who was there in those days, was thrilled to see the book and has already ordered it. He brought out his albums from that time for me to look through. We spent part of the afternoon discussing those times that, had we but known it, were to be short and deadly, and there's little point in being nostalgic when all – in David's case, literally all – the people he knew are gone. Yet looking through this book and David's albums, remembering individual stories is, in its own way, the telling of tribal history.

Would that there were more books like this – books that show Gay as both a cultural phenomenon and a human one.


"I began what turned out to be an immediate connection with Fire Island in the late 1970's. The world was less accepting but The Pines were a magical place where I learned what it was like to be main stream, to be welcomed and embraced. My own sort of Alice in Wonderland experience included beautiful architecture that filled the space between the bay and ocean. Wild deer and even wilder gay life filled the dunes and near by trails. Everything seemed perfect, and no one knew the plague of the twentieth century was right around the corner. Low tea and high tea connected the perfect day with exciting evenings. The big wooden box called the pavilion was the stage for late night and many an early morning, of course with a big crystal chandelier to hang above shirtless beautiful men dancing the night away. For the lucky ones this would be the material that you could reflect on for years to come, innocent times blended with the bittersweet."

Tropical Fruit

Low tea

Low tea from High tea

The Calvin Klein house

Those were the days, my friends, we thought they'd never end ... indeed. 

Thanks (and copyright) to David for the photos.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Vampire chic and my personal favorite

It struck me as I listened to the waiter's inventory of fishy specials that every waiter under forty had a beard and that their grandfathers or, more likely their grandfather's gay brothers, all had facial hair, also. Gay clones, we called 'em then, I thought as I sipped my cocktail and, wonderful as it is to see the wheel of fashion revolving yet again, it is clear the tipping point – the point where individuality tips towards uniformity – has long been passed. Young men, generally speaking, have facial hair – unkempt or not – and their female cohorts, uniformly, have long straight hair and wear the same style print short shifts. Wondering aloud about why we are persuaded that uniformity is individuality wasn't, I knew, going to fly as a subject of conversation with the three HQ dandies sitting with me at table, so I reached for my cocktail again, whilst the waiter informed us about his personal favorites. A collective cringe affected even those checking in on Facebook. A waiter's personal favorite – there's a thought! A personal favorite? As silly piece of tautology as that often-spied "Private Residence" for aren't all favorites personal and all residences private? 

A none-too-private residence, purportedly that of the Salvatore brothers in The Vampire Diaries, surrounded by office towers, is nothing less than an atmospheric shell now that the family has dwindled, removed itself and left the house in the hands of an "events manager." With logs burning in the fireplace, it is easy to imagine the house as a character in a novel: perhaps Michael Innes's The Open House – a mystery story where the hero, John Appleby, after his car breaks down on a deserted road, comes across a large house whose windows are illuminated, the front door wide open and the house empty. Better yet, this "living hall"in the picture below, despite being over-furnished in an Edwardian way, brings to mind the great Hall of Stanyon Castle in Georgette Heyer's A Quiet Gentleman where the hero returning from the Peninsular wars is met by his estranged and unwelcoming family. This hall is, indeed, an opulently ordinary room, as conventionally decorated as all of its kind, but could be a place for any vampire with romantic sensibilities to have a quiet evening at home, on the Knole sofa, listening to wolf-song, sipping occasionally from a companionable vein, much as one might sip bourbon, and reading the The Monk by M G Lewis, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Anne Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho or, even, a family biography, fanciful though it is, by Abraham Stoker.


The Knole sofa seems to me to be the ideal for those of us who love to lay down whilst reading – almost a room within a room and in such a large high space one of the best draft excluders there is. There was a time my sofa, a Chesterfield, provided similar refuge from the howling wolves black dogs, reading many an e-book male/male romance/mystery as I lay on it. Genre fiction, a term that always sounds acutely demeaning, has occupied me in the long watches day and night and I have come to appreciate its humane portrayals of the naturalness of love between males. Love is love.

If I were to give a list of genre fiction: mysteries; m/m romance; historical romance I would begin with three writers. The first, Michael Innes, whose detective stories are the most dexterously literate I've ever read. My favourite book of his, Lord Mullion's Secret, is no detective story at all but a foxtrot through Englishness, character and erudition – a description that could be applied to all his stories. I adore them.

The second writer, Georgette Heyer, whose Regency Buck I read first in the 1960s and reread again only this weekend, is perhaps more famous for her Regency Romances than for her detective stories of which she wrote eleven, or twelve if one counts The Quiet Gentleman as a mystery set in the Regency period. Nowadays we'd call it a cross-over, I suppose – historical romance and mystery. All her mysteries are superb, witty, well-observed and occasionally downright funny. I'd cite They Found Him Dead from 1937, the connected Duplicate Death from 1951, and Envious Casca from 1941 as the ones I enjoyed the most.

The third writer is Josh Lanyon: unknown to me until two years ago, I have since read most of what he has written and thoroughly appreciated his characterization, humaneness and humor. The Adrien English series of books – five interlinked stories of (without wishing to sound like a blurb writer) love, loss and redemption – Fatal Shadows, A Dangerous Thing, The Hell You Say, The Death of a Pirate King and The Dark Tide, are the ones I would recommend anyone new to this genre to read.

The point to me in all this, is not that one is unshaven, wouldn't know tautology if it slapped one up the side of the head, or even whether one sips from vein or goblet, it is the creation of a coherent world – be it Jane Austen's small piece of ivory (two inches wide), or Shakespear's Journey's End where lovers meet – in which the characters can act out their stories. In genre fiction the world is not smaller and the past is not a foreign country where things are done differently.

Couch chair at Knole, Kent

"Stuffed and covered with crimson velvet. The cushioned headpieces are hinged to the arms, and adjusted with rachets. The upholstery if fixed with gilt nails and trimmed with silk thread fringe, overlaid with silver threads. The dating of this unique couch has been much disputed. I incline to c.1640 on the basis of entries in the 1630s in the furniture bills of items suppled to Queen Henrietta Maria (Appendix A15). I have not yet established the precise differences between a couch chair and a couch bed. Similar items were supplied by John Casbert, the French upholsterer to Charles II from 1660."

Quotation about Couch chair at Knole, Kent from Upholsterers & Interior Furnishings in England 1530-1840, Geoffrey Beard, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1997.

Photo of Couch Chair from same.