11/24/13

A Turkey Day Toast To The Male Harem

Wild Turkey Hunting.

Wild Turkey Hunting.

With the season of the turkey upon us, 45 million are about to be sacrificed at the altar of familial harmony this Thanksgiving. But as America gathers round the holiday table – moms and dads, grandparents and in-laws, exes and step-kids – to carve up and devour the stuffed and tethered foul, The Sultanette gratefully raises a glass to the members of The Male Harem who have so nourished her life. Not a turkey among them!

That’s not to say that a few turkeys haven’t infiltrated the harem along the way. And so I first offer some helpful tips for recognizing the genus meleagris, in the hope that learning from my mistakes, you may avoid similar pitfalls.

imgres-1First, if you’re tempted to engage with a turkey, note that he has no external ears and so is a  lousy listener. He can see in color but it’s not been determined if he dreams in it. If he attempts to get you into the sack, note that he’s been known to sleep in trees. And as for the prospect of unbridled sex, be warned that he’s prone to heart attacks, as documented with turkeys near an Air Force base that dropped like flies from the shock of passing jets.

As far as flying away with a wild turkey, he may become airborne but he’ll make it about as far as the nearest Duane Reade. And if you need to chase down a domesticated reprobate, be warned that he can reach a groundspeed of 0-to-25.

Madame Récamier, Jacques-Louis David.

Madame Récamier, Jacques-Louis David.

If as Plan B, you’re considering hooking up with an eagle, I refer you to infoplease which offers that Benjamin Franklin endorsed the turkey over the bald eagle as our national symbol. With his characteristic diplomacy along with The Sultanette bets, drawing from the example of the French madames whose Parisian salons he frequented, BF argued that while the turkey might be “vain and silly,” it offered a far better calling card than the eagle who was “a coward.”

Following on Franklin’s philosophy, if you consider that the 200-plus million turkeys raised annually result in over $4 billion of sales, they’re doing at least as much to prop up the economy as the turkeys in Congress and on Wall Street.

Nonetheless, The Sultanette remains filled with gratitude for the poultry-free Male Harem accrued over the past two years. And so as they go forth to their lives or wives this Thanksgiving to eat their Butterballs and sleep in the beds they’ve made, she gives special thanks to each and every one of them as follows:

To the W.A.S.P. Meister for hosting Harlem gatherings with impeccable style, and for his incorrigible wit that would induce multiple orgasms if laughing were sex.

Elizabethan Cat: The Widow, Frederick Dielman, 1847-1935.

Elizabethan Cat: The Widow, Frederick Dielman, 1847-1935.

To Dr. Zhivago, edgy mensch, urbane artiste, cat-whisperer, and sexy beast. I would love him even if he didn’t have the coolest boho chic rooftop in Manhattan.

To Monsieur Bogey for the extravagant Madison Avenue shopping spree after a long lunch and a puff on his cigar.

To The Aesthete for his art appreciation and cultural gatherings from boxes at Carnegie Hall to boîtes in Little Italy, and for his gorgeous accent.

To E-Laureate, ribald bard of email innuendo, rock-and-roll animal, and fellow thrasher in the retail lagoon.

imgres-4To Biscuit Boy, for the song he wrote and recorded especially for The Sultanette, and for the perfect weekend with an Englishman in New York. He remains in my heart on my iPod Shuffle.

To Young Preppie for sending me the silliest card by snail mail to make me smile, just like in those Hallmark Moment commercials.

To the guileless but never clueless MOFW (Man Of Few Words) for his resourceful use of my candelabra as a sock rack.

Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch.

Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch.

To Naughty But Nautical for 3D ruminations on the earthly and unearthly from Gurdjieff to Beelzebub.

To The Impresario for his erudition in all things sacred and profane, for revealing the eroticism in good manners, and for letting me let him always win.

To The Dervish for his fanatical artistry in our creative collaborations and for the bird painting that soars un-turkey-like in The Sultanette’s parlor.

images-1To The Force who pumped up my mind and body with killer pushups and contraband Island rum.

To The Aficionado for lifting life out of the mundane with his musical passions, classical and classified.

To Nom de Plume for the sound bites on love and sex that I’ll remember long after dementia sets in.

value451And to two unconfirmed members of The Male Harem for enticingly dangling their carrots.

The Male Harem observes no holidays but feasts on appreciation of the moment at hand. Intimacies are uncontrived and mysteries allowed. The Force, all sinewy instinct and visceral wisdom once said to me, “Everybody has a private life.” So as you face each other across the groaning board this Thursday, consider perhaps the distance, and not the closeness between you. It’s the exclusive place where The Male Harem lives and plays. And not all are invited to dine there.

With that, I bid all of you who have entered the seraglio today a Happy Thanksgiving with all the trimmings. May you find more heat than from the oven, more gravy than from a baster, and more to life than turkeys. As for The Sultanette, she shall be gobbling up wild rice and Cornish game hens.

11/14/13

The Sultanette And The City

LATEST EPISODE: Pheromones released at a downtown gallery make for an orgy of creative intercourse on a November Sunday afternoon.

NewYorkNYSkylineBlimpIn case you were thinking that the life of The Sultanette is all high glam and male attentions put yourself in her stilettos on a bleak and solitary Sunday afternoon in November when the first icy winds signal the end of the City’s world-class autumn weather. Still clinging to that fantasy, I’d foolishly worn only a thin leather jacket to make the subway trek to the Lower East Side.

David Mann. Acrylic and oil on canvas stretched over board.

David Mann. Acrylic and oil on canvas stretched over board.

I’d convinced myself to venture out into this inhospitable grey to hear The Aficionado in conversation with artist David Mann about his show at McKenzie Fine Art, just at the border of China Town and Downtown Chic. Two trains and too many windblown blocks later I reached nirvana – the welcoming warmth of the gallery lined with Mann’s luminous, exploding synapses and a plastic cup filled with vin blanc.

Why had I accepted this mission when my preferred activity would have involved a martini and the Sunday paper? I’d meditated upon the ancient Sultanette axiom carved in perpetuity on the crumbling walls of the seraglio: Getting off in life = getting off your ass. And off I’d gone.

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David Mann. Acrylic and oil on canvas stretched over board.

The Aficionado also provided high incentive. I’d followed him for a decade as he curated a rarified salon of classical music featuring gifted musicians, vintage instruments, and all the champaign and cookies you could consume. As thrilling as the live performances were, The Aficionado’s opening aria – an informed tutorial on the historical, personal, and whimsical context of the evening’s program – was worth the price of admission. Over the years, the association had evolved into a friendship and upon the inauguration of The Male Harem he had been immediately inducted.

Eager to hear every word he had to say about Mann’s provocative abstractions, I grabbed a front row seat and killed time reading about the latest art scam to get in the mood – a cache of Renoirs, Picasso’s, Lautrec’s and Chagall’s surreptitiously collected in a home in Munich from art the Nazi’s had declared “degenerate.” Whether they’d been looted or confiscated depended on your aesthetic sensibility but before he disappeared entirely, the collection’s owner had been last seen on a high-speed train between Zurich and Munich. No better foreplay than that.

op. 111, 1. SatzThe rest is best described in heady sketches: The Aficionado opened with who else but Beethoven? In struggling to translate his divine musical images from fingers to paper, he had slashed at the scores-in-progress with such violence the grooves are still visible in the original paper.

Riffing off of that, Mann said that he had once done a series of paintings based solely on Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet. Then fast-forwarded from Ludwig to Love Me Do, to explain how the layering in his images was first inspired by the double-tracking in the first Beatles recordings.

Not that creativity didn’t sometimes require making a mess of things. When asked how he worked his way through artist’s block, Mann replied that when a painting becomes constipated, he’s been known to throw a wash of paint at it to shake things up. Are there enough buckets of paint in the world, The Sultanette wondered, to toss at the images of half-realized dreams?

David Mann. Acrylic and oil on canvas stretched over board.

David Mann. Acrylic and oil on canvas stretched over board.

And so it continued as art imitated life. Mann talking about the significance of errors. (“So much of the experience of my art comes out of the making of mistakes.”) And about knowing when to surrender control of the process. And that a painting is finished when the light finds its way to the surface of the canvas.

With the early sunset, the gallery’s windows had become black reflections as the hour slipped by. On cue, The Aficionado remarked, “There are those moments in life that are so deeply pleasurable they change our perception of the passage of time.” In the intimate silence, he continued, “For me they are music, a delicious meal, standing in front of a work of art, a novel, looking out the window of a train, sex.”

piano_keys_01And wasn’t it all sex on this bleak November day turned provocative by ideas charged with artistic passion? There is real sex of course and not to be underrated. But maybe the best sex is a mingling of the two. The Aficionado left us with a quote from a Wallace Stevens poem, “Peter Quince at the Clavier” about the music of desire:

Just as my fingers on these keys

Make music, so the self-same sounds

On my spirit make a music, too.

Music is feeling then, not sound;

And thus it is that what I feel,

Here in this room, desiring you,

Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,

Is music.

359789_bitlz_legenda_dzhon-lennon_pol-makkartni_dzhordzh_1920x1080_(www.GdeFon.ru)One of the last to leave, I blew an air kiss to The Aficionado who was perched on the window ledge on his cell phone, the profane having its way again. I zipped up my flimsy jacket and headed back out into the cold. But as I stood shivering on Allen Street waiting for a cab, I wasn’t alone. When the taxi drew up, Johannes, Wallace and Ludwig van, John, Paul, George, and Ringo all piled in with me for the trip home. There was barely room for us all.

11/6/13

In Praise Of Being A Loser In Love

“I weary in this playground of boys proud and happy in their balls and marbles.”

Margaret Fuller

Joe Mabel.

Joe Mabel.

Full disclosure: The Male Harem was born out of heartbreak and emotional mayhem. More on that after we cut to the chase – the sense of failure, abandonment, and incompetency at not getting it right after love is lost. The Big Ouch. Perhaps most of you have breezed right through that but for those who haven’t, The Sultanette offers inspiration in the life of Margaret Fuller.

Brilliantly documented by Cristina Nehring in A Vindication of Love, while Margaret Fuller’s accomplishments were vast, acknowledged, and esteemable, her love life was a series of train wrecks.

Born in 1810 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she was the eldest of seven siblings all of whom came under her care at the death of her father when she was twenty-five. She taught, wrote literary criticism and fiction, and mastered several foreign languages. She became the first editor of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The Dial, the first woman in America to report on a foreign war, and authored Woman in the Nineteenth Century, considered the first feminist work in America. Through her public Conversations “designed to encourage women in self-expression and independent thinking” she introduced the ladies of Boston to Shakespeare, Goethe, and Plato. She then moved to Manhattan becoming America’s first full-time female journalist before leaving to cover the Italian revolution for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune.

Not counting all that, her life was a disaster. That is, if living happily ever after with a man counts. Observed from the aerial view of biography, one watches as she ricochets from confidante to intellectual, philistine to sensualist, her generosity and passion ever open to exploring the next iteration, her spirit never surrendering to despair upon each demise.

“I knew myself incapable of feeling or being content with an ordinary attachment.”  Margaret Fuller

Her first love, Samuel Ward, was a painter cum banker who after years of soul-sharing and love declared, married her best friend. She bore it with painful equanimity. Enter Ralph Waldo Emerson. Dazzled by Fuller’s dynamic brilliance, he wrote in their formidable correspondence, “All natures seem poor beside one so rich.”

In his introduction to A Year With Emerson, Richard Grossman describes the force behind the Transcendentalist movement  as “one of the most provocative teachers who ever lived.” At the risk of busting this philosophical titan, he was wimpish when faced with the muscularity of Fuller’s emotions. “Can one be glad of an affection, “he once wrote to her, “which he knows not how to return?”

From The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Anderson, 1899.

From The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Anderson, 1899.

Emerson’s second marriage was anodyne, as described by Nehring, perhaps because he’d never recovered from the death of his first wife. He was a slight 150 pounds on a nearly six-foot frame and often worried about his health. But that was of no concern to Fuller. Upon cancelling a lecture because he’d lost a night’s sleep, her reaction to him was, “Lost a night’s rest! As if an intellectual person ever had a night’s rest!”

She was, he wrote in the Memoir of Margaret Fuller Ossoli after she died, “a foreigner from some more sultry and expansive climate.” While their sparkling intellectual rapport sustained the relationship for years, the man who wrote, “The life of man is the true romance,” was unable to inhabit the world of this “divine mermaid and fisher of men.”

 “I wish that I were a man, and then at least there would be one.” Margaret Fuller

Next, a German businessman. Fuller met James Nathan upon moving to Manhattan as a journalist to cover social issues, the arts and culture.  Described by Nehring as a “sweet-talking opportunist” Nathan spilled on her “his failures and sufferings in love.” Ever the Florence Nightingale of wounded souls, Fuller may have already begun to weary of him when she wrote, “My dear friend … It is a great sin even to dream of wishing for less thought, less feeling than one has.” He left for Europe, promising he’d return. They corresponded until the letter arrived, announcing he was marrying a German girl. Fuller ripped the letter into confetti and moved on.

She was now three for three. But what was it about Margaret Fuller that was allergic to sulking off and licking her wounds? Unlike the men in her life, she didn’t compartmentalize her passions. While caring for her siblings, she fiercely pursued her talents. While intellectually sparring with Emerson, she exposed messy emotions. In a time when it was respectable for a woman to live through a man’s life, had she embraced that love could be more inspiration than obligation? More influence than sustenance?

Coco with friends.

Coco with friends.

“Never did Fuller act as boldly, write as gorgeously, or argue as acutely,” Nehring says, “as when she loved.” The frisson of intellect, empathy and intimacy she felt in every nerve-ending of her relationships became Fuller’s muse, not her savior. In the next century, another brilliant original, Coco Chanel, would declare, “No matter the age, a woman who is unloved is lost – unloved she might as well die.”

The Male Harem began with the deaths of women. (I told you we’d get to this part.) My mother at ninety-six, piss and vinegar to the end. (See Mom’s philosophy in “It Depends On What The Meaning Of The Word “It” Is”) Two months later, my sister of cancer. In the aftermath of emotions, I began to see that One and Only and I were running on empty, and that after losing my family, there was no one there to catch me. By my calculation, counting on nothing was more reliable than half of nothing so I ended the relationship.

Not for the first time I began a new life, but after sixteen years of comforting habit if benign neglect, getting through a weekend was often harrowing. On one of those first solitary Saturday nights, I was walking home up Second Avenue after watching an obscure documentary film with a girlfriend. Couples spilled out of bars in boozy embraces, winding down from a lazy day of brunching and beaching.

I began to have the sinking feeling that I was the loneliest woman on earth. And then I noticed beyond the glare of street lamps, the thinnest sliver of moon in a deep velvet sky. Struck by its pristine beauty in the grimy heat of the Manhattan night, I paused at the gnarled traffic on 14th Street and had a Margaret Fuller moment. It was time to stop relying on the illusion that families live forever, and relationships never self-destruct, and that once I got it right I’d be happy. I started walking up Second Avenue like it was my first, and into the adventure of The Male Harem.

ship_01Fuller’s final grande passione ended in a shipwreck. While covering the Italian revolution she had met Count Giovanni Ossoli, a solder eleven years her junior. More brave than bookish, more virile than intellectual, he got her like no others had. He fathered her child and the Cambridge crowd did not approve. Returning with her family on a stormy night in July, the boat was lost at sea. How apropos that this woman who was never afraid of the flames of passion ended her life just off of Fire Island.

Some losers go down in flames. Some poke around in the ashes and find something to revel in again. Fuller once wrote to Emerson, “You are Intellect, I am life.” To her, even the fleeting passion between men and mermaids was a fine philosophy.

“Happy the survivor if losing his friend he loses not the idea of friendship.” Margaret Fuller

Coming soon … the precarious, gregarious, and multifarious charms of  The Male Harem.

11/1/13

Notice: To Those With An Appetite For More

images-1The Sultanette has been knee-deep in a tantalizing foray that strikes to the marrow of Male Harem maintenance: The fine art of kicking ass and taking names, mainly her own. So as I hit a new stride, I offer a tempting assortment of new topics to tease you along this precarious, erotic and invigorating path of self-discovery.

imgres-1Stay tuned fellow chain-jerkers, chop-busters, and cage-rattlers for future confections to chew on including: the joy of risk (savored only when you discover what’s next after you think you’ve lost everything); the exquisite pain of happiness (nirvana being not all it’s cut out to be); the power of making a world-class exit (only one carry-on of emotional baggage, please); and the thrill of cerebral foreplay (synapses and the single girl).

Also down the pike, the long-awaited follow-up to The Male Harem: FAQs based on The Sultanette’s most recent fieldwork – a guide to male harem membership levels for those of you contemplating curating your own.

imgresIn the meantime, if you have a request you’d like The Sultanette to riff on or an experience to share within the anonymity of the seraglio, I welcome your engagement. Who knows what other provocative themes The Male Harem will inspire as we continue on this road trip?