On Super Bowls, Super Balls & No Balls

Vintage leather balls.

Vintage leather balls.

Cast away any notion that The Sultanette harbors a need to deliberate on the upcoming Super Bowl. It clearly states in the harem bylaws that all talk of throwing, hitting, or kicking of balls is verboten. (See The Male Harem FAQs). But given that this year’s super hurling of the pigskin is in my hometown, and more important, marks the tenth anniversary of Nipplegate, I make an exception.

Remember Nipplegate? That shocking display of Janet Jackson’s mammary that lasted all of one-half second? The bodice-ripping by Justin Timberlake that sparked congressional furor, resulted in a half million complaints to CBS and FCC fines, the banning of MTV by the upright NFL from ever producing another halftime show, and the instigation of a five-second video delay to protect you from ever, ever seeing such lewd behavior at halftime again? Unless you want to watch it on YouTube. As entered in the Guinness World Records, Janet Jackson’s half-second of nipple fame was the most searched event in internet history and most searched news item in a single day.

No, you probably only remember that the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 32 to 29. Or was it the Carolina Cougars?

imgres-3Only in America would we assign to this media caper the euphemism of “wardrobe malfunction” putting it on par with afflictions like irritable bowel syndrome, erectile dysfunction, and restless leg syndrome.

In the dark ages before video delays, men had to invent other ingenious stratagems to protect the fair sex from unseemly display. As told in Harem, Nurhan Atasoy’s exquisitely illustrated and provocative history of the Turkish harem, fabric walls called zokak were constructed in the palace gardens to shelter its residents from view while they frolicked there. In those days before loudspeakers were installed on minarets, the muezzin were forbidden to mount the surrounding mosques, lest the bird’s-eye view of the seraglio sporting would tongue-tie them from calling the pure to prayer. Only the Sultan was privy to the proceedings from the likes of his corporate box where he scoped out his next favorite.

Grande Odalisque, Jean August Dominique Ingres, 1814.

Grande Odalisque, Jean August Dominique Ingres, 1814.

It’s tempting to tsk at the way harem women were shielded from society, prohibited from having it all, deprived of the rewards of leaning in. And while an argument could be made for that, The Sultanette confesses to a degree of envy at certain aspects of harem life. Slipping into fine silks and jewels to cavort in exotic gardens, partaking in music, poetry and dance, and getting pomaded by eunuchs in preparation for opium-laced sex with the Sultan, can look like a pretty compelling alternative when dragging myself out of bed to face a volley of deadlines at a gulag on the other end of the crosstown subway.

It worked out well enough for Josephine Bonaparte’s cousin Aimée DeBucq de Rivery, according to Harem, The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lytle Croutier. At the age of twenty-one, upon returning from a convent school in Nantes in 1784, Aimée was kidnapped by Barbarossa’s corsairs. (After a stint with the nuns, The Sultanette suspects she threw herself at them.) Aimée was sold to the Dey of Algiers who presented the rare beauty to Abdulhamid I to curry his favor. Abdulhamid named her Nakshedil for Embroidered on the Heart, and she became his favorite. Abdulhamid died in1789, the year of the French Revolution, but not before his Nakshedil bore him a son, Mahmud.

Oh oh, Rococo!

Oh oh, Rococo!

After finessing political machinations that might even impress a Sheryl Sandberg, the uncle of Mahmud became the sultan Selim III and made Aimée his confidante. She taught him French, inspired him to start a French newspaper, and decorated the palace in rococo style which may have finally put his compatriots over the edge. Selim was assassinated for his Francophile leanings in 1807. After she cleverly shielded son, Mahmud from the ensuing political heat in a furnace, he became the next Sultan.

Relative to the fate of some Sultan candidates, the furnace wasn’t the worst sentence. As an alternative to the killing of siblings who threatened ascendance to the throne, an earlier sultan, Selim II, had issued an edict exiling them to the Kafes or Golden Cage, their company limited to sterilized concubines and guards with perforated eardrums and slit tongues. Even worse than this seclusion, was the prospect of reigning. When the number of one such prisoner, Ibrahim I, came up for the job, he was so terrified at the crowd rushing the cage to proclaim him sultan, he barred the door. (JSYK there are no Golden Cages in The Male Harem. Members and their members are allowed to roam freely when not engaged with The Sultanette.)

It may have been the eunuchs of the harem who enjoyed wielding the most power albeit at the price of their own jewels. During the harem heyday there were as many as 600 eunuchs, presided over by the Chief Black Eunuch. The highest–ranking officer in the empire after the sultan and the grand vizier, as Croutier tells it, he had complete access to the sultan including escorting a new odalisque to his bed. In case of emergency, he was the only person allowed to enter the harem, was official party-planner for births, marriages and circumcisions, and in charge of both promoting harem members and sacking them, literally, for drowning when accused of crimes. Filthy rich and feared, it’s no surprise that he was the most bribed official in the Ottoman Empire.

images-1But he’d already given away the store, most painfully. (Warning: The following images may be disturbing to some readers, most specifically people with penises.) The castration procedure consisted of first tightly binding the belly and upper thighs to prevent hemorrhaging. The parts in question were thrice bathed in hot pepper water before being removed with a sickle and the wound bound. The patient was then made to walk for several hours supported by “knifers” before lying down. Desert sand considered the most effective balm, he was sometimes buried up to his neck for days until the wound healed. I spare you the removal of the bandage.

For those of you who have read thus far, I reward you with the knowledge that all was not lost, including sexual desire. According to Croutier, some eunuchs had passionate affairs with harem women and were often favored by them. They became aficionados of aphrodisiacs and erotic paraphernalia and especially adept at oral sex. In fact, once they had sex with a eunuch, some women preferred the dickless fuck. According to one account from Croutier’s Harem, “Two odalisques were given their freedom and married off. A week after their weddings, the husbands divorced them.  The reason being that the odalisques told their husbands they did not perform as well as the eunuchs.”

Ecclesiastical castrati.

Ecclesiastical castrati.

Before you get your knickers in a twist over the barbaric rituals of foreign cultures consider that the Catholic Church beginning in the Renaissance, castrated young boys to preserve their soprano voices for the papal choir of the Sistine Chapel, a practice only ended in 1878. “In the eighteenth century,” says Croutier, “Italian opera favored castrati as well, some of whom became superstars, such as Grimaldi, Farinelli, and Nicolini.” In those days when civilization was deprived of ball-tossing, testosterone-pumped extravaganzas, the castrati were the best entertainment around, even barring wardrobe malfunctions.

In case the sanitized, politically correct Super Bowl XLVIII halftime spectacular fails to uplift you, here’s Janet and Justin to remind you of the hedonistic days:


A Match Made In Dominatrix Heaven

imgres-1While some followers of The Male Harem may envision The Sultanette as a whip-wielding dominatrix, I order you to ball gag that misconception. True, I don’t hesitate to hold a member’s feet to the fire when he lapses into a negligence of harem duties, i.e. not behaving worthily of The Sultanette’s attentions. But I’d never consider resorting to ropes, chains or handcuffs as disciplinary accouterments. And yet …

Mars and the Vestal Virgin, Jacques Blanchard, oil on canvas, ca.1860, Art Museum of New South Wales.

Mars and the Vestal Virgin, Jacques Blanchard, oil on canvas, ca.1860, Art Museum of New South Wales.

… but never mind. Far from a prurient interest, today’s meditation on domination and sadomasochism was aroused from a purely literary one. I was drawn to Toni Bentley’s February Vanity Fair profile of the dominatrix, Catherine Robbe-Grillet, because I had studied her late husband, Alain Robbe-Grillet, in college, as a freshly deflowered virgin. (My sexual status hardly matters here, just ignore that.) The spokesperson of a literary movement spawned in the sixties called the New Novelists, Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) was an author, critic of critics, writer of award-winning flicks including Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, and champion of ambiguity.

Amazing I remember him through the cloud of cannabis that informed academic life in those years but after revisiting the incorrigible contrarian in The Paris Review, I’m not surprised. His comments that Sartre just wanted “to please everybody” and that Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a Stalinist (“I can’t bear all this communist chic!”) are among my favorite pronouncements.

So imagine my delight when I opened this month’s VF to learn that my literary lion’s widow, the 83-year-old Catherine Robbe-Grillet, is France’s dominatrix de rigueur. There she was, all four feet eleven inches, weighing in at eighty-eight pounds, curtsying “girlishly” to Bentley upon their introduction.

The Marquis de Sade Swings His Whip.

The Marquis de Sade Swings His Whip.

Madame neither drinks nor smokes and has worn a child’s size ten all her adult life which would include the knee-high boots, black dress and turban she later appears in at the “theater of secular High Church sadomasochism” she stages with Bentley’s attendance. Up to the leather ensemble, there is an eerie resemblance to The Sultanette’s mother (RIP Yolanda) who wore hat and gloves to mass every Sunday but once admitted to reading all the books by the Marquis de Sade she could get her hands on at the Westmoreland Public Library.

And so back to literature! Alain Robbe-Grillet met his future bride, the 21-year-old Catherine on a train to Istanbul in 1951. He was a penniless agronomical engineer whose dirty little secret was writing in the attic above his parent’s Paris apartment, and it was love at first sight. “From the beginning” Catherine tells Bentley, “I knew what turned him on; it was cruelty.”

By 1957, Alain now established as a literary bad boy, proposed that Catherine be cruel to him until death did they part. On their honeymoon she learned that he enjoyed erections but was immune to penetration. (A similar ailment plagued the young Louis XVI, resulting in Marie Antoinette’s brother arranging for him to be snipped into submission, poor Louis thereby offering up two heads to the cutting blade.)

Catherine had already made it clear that she had no desire to become pregnant so the revelation was far from a deal breaker. The following year, Alain made another proposal, the Contrat de Prostitution Conjugale. The five-page handwritten scroll wrapped in red ribbon established the rules of future sadomasochistic events to be compensated at 20,000 (old) francs per session. Stating that “the young woman will be subjected to ill treatment, humiliation and torture beyond the extent of customary practice” and “accompanied by chains or any manner of restraint whose purpose will be to maintain the body in a specific position,” it makes The Mistress Contract by He and She, recently published to shocked reviews, read like a Girl Scout handbook.

Library of Virginia

Library of Virginia.

Catherine never signed the document because it fell short of all-inclusive submission. How can a respectable sex slave submit herself to a master who grants mercy? I scoured the Contrat at VF online (purely for research purposes) in its first published, unedited English translation and found the callous loophole: Should Catherine “experience pain too extreme as a result of this treatment, she might beg her master’s mercy which shall, in most cases be accorded.”

Marriage rules now established, Alain and Catherine tied the knots for the next fifty years until he died in 2008. The pact allowed for transgressions on both sides but the rules were theirs, not dictated by a marital industrial complex, and they endured. Alain’s ashes now hold court in an urn on a dining room bureau above the “Marital Whip” Catherine gave him in 1954 – still in use sixty years later.

In the VF images by Bettina Rheims, Madame comes across as an affable Nurse Diesel from High Anxiety (too much charisma for the Cuckoo’s Nest Nurse Ratched). And while she never appears in public until after 2pm (The Sultanette could benefit from lessons here) she has a full plate.

There is the vivacious, devoted Beverly (“I have given myself to her body and soul”) who met Catherine over twenty years ago when her late husband hosted an evening for Alain, and now resides in the gamekeeper’s former quarters at Catherine’s chateau and next door to her in Paris.

Quai of the Seine in Moonlight, Frank Boggs (1855-1926), oil on canvas, 1898, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Quai of the Seine in Moonlight, Frank Boggs (1855-1926), oil on canvas, 1898, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

There is the petit clan, a clandestine clique of six Parisian women, most married with children, including a prominent classical music critic and an actress with the Comédie-Francaise, for whom Catherine orchestrates events. Among the more memorable were the midnight whippings at a quai on the Seine in Paris, lit by passing boats. It is la complicité that bonds them, Catherine tells Bentley.

And of particular interest to The Sultanette are the fidèles, a “small circle of men she has known for many years with whom the trust is absolute.” At a ladies dinner cooked by a master-chef/submissive, Madame seated this game group under the table for an amuse bouche.

Something under your hat?

Something under your hat, mother?

Can The Sultanette learn a thing or two from this doyenne of dominance? Was there something mother didn’t tell me after reading every book by the Marquis? I cannot imagine any implements in our home more provocative than the hedge trimmer but what was hiding behind Yolanda’s hat boxes? In our time that pushes for full disclosure in relationships could a dose of la complicité hurt? It is what we don’t know about each other in the harem more than what we do know – the lives we don’t share more than the time we share – that provokes the desire to dig for more.

In my course on Alain Robbe-Grillet at the University of Wisconsin, the prof avoided themes of eroticism probed by The Paris Review. “My own erotic tastes are rather sadistic,” he told the interviewer, “I can’t give you more details but you can have fun with the idea.” Ever the agent provocateur. And when asked about the difference between eroticism and pornography, Robbe-Grillet replied, “Pornography is the eroticism of others … In eroticism, there is a critical distance and a judgment on sexual impulses, while pornography is the absence of judgment.”

Eve Tempted by the Serpent William Blake (1757-1827), Victoria and Albert Museum.

Eve Tempted by the Serpent, William Blake (1757-1827), Victoria and Albert Museum.

Is that true surrender? Allowing for the eroticism of others? Of wives, husbands, lovers, strangers, occasional others, and ourselves? Submitting to unrehearsed passions, desires and deviations? Kicking away the comfort of beliefs gone stale? Always keeping the door open a crack?

When asked if he had been tempted to write for the theater, the contentious author, unconventional lover, and instigator of literary movements answered, “I can’t fulfill all my temptations, can I?”

But temptation isn’t love. Real sex is penetration not presentation. Complicity is lying.

And yet …


How To Be A Billionaire

Anouk Aimee, La Dolce Vita

Anouk Aimee, La Dolce Vita

The Sultanette has had a revelation. After long desiring to age like a French movie star – Moreau, Deneuve, Anouk, Ardant – with that insouciant air of the resigned siren who has had every man she wanted in any orifice she chose – I have a replacement. Elisabeth Badinter.

Not because Badinter happens to be a billionaire. While I value money for its access to life (and shoes) I suspect too much of it (like too many Manolo’s piling up in a closet) would crowd out other necessities.

Scrooge McDuck

Scrooge McDuck

And I’m an equal opportunities Sultanette when it comes to harem members’ financials. As with other male assets, it’s not size that matters, it’s how they manipulate their holdings. There is no bigger turn-off, regardless of net worth, than a stingy man.

Sorbonne Library

Sorbonne Library

It’s not that Badinter “is” a billionaire, but how she isn’t one. First, she is not a lady who lunches. Never mind that I first read about her in the Financial Times’ column, Lunch with the FT. “I like working in my archives more than anything else,” she tells Anne-Sylvaine Chassany at Le Dôme in Montparnasse. It seems she prefers squirreling for research on the 18th century to review on the weekend at her country house. (Okay that’s billionaire-ish but she could be entertaining her 100 closest friends instead, or Hollande or his ex, Ségolène or newbie Julie.)

Second, Badinter toys. “Why on earth did you want to have lunch with me?” she asks Chassany “with almost coquettish self-deprecation.” So wait. This 69-year-old philosopher and feminist writer – on the board of the world’s third biggest communications group and its largest shareholder – is a flirt? An American woman of her stature would be acting her age. Being handsome.

Third, this post-meno executive hasn’t packed away her passions. “It’s really cream?” she prods the waiter when ordering the crème au chocolat et craquant aux quatre épices for dessert. When it arrives she is adamant. “It’s not cream.  It’s not what I call cream.” And no, she will not settle for the sorbet.

The beauty of Google images is that you can survey your prey’s every iteration and I was curious to see if this woman had the earthy essence I imagined. They say you age into the face you deserve and as Badinter’s hair changed from blond to silver, she evolved from playfully coy to seductively intelligent. In one image she looks slyly at the camera from behind an artfully posed cigarette. (Take that, Moreau, Deneuve, Anouk, Ardant!)

Louise XVI at the guillotine, Jan 21 1793, Place de la Concorde

Louise XVI at the guillotine, Jan 21 1793, Place de la Concorde

Which brings us to her love life: Met future husband when she was twelve years old. Married him when twenty-two. Monsieur, sixteen years her senior, was a justice minister for Mitterrand and criminal lawyer who wrote the law to abolish the guillotine in the ‘80s. (French traditions die hard.) They had three children and co-wrote a book on the French philosopher and mathematician, Nicolas de Condorcet.

Pretty text-book perfect if she would have minded her own business and shuttled between Paris and country house and Le Cap d’Antibes or wherever billionaires hide. But Badinter is a cage-rattler. She has written twenty books on philosophy and feminism and, like it or not, she has something to say.

“If a woman wants to rent out her body, that’s no one’s business,” she tells Chassany, concerning her protest against the French law to levy fines against prostitutes (now passed). “Prostitutes who are independent and not coerced by a third party have the right to prostitute themselves. It’s a question of principle.”

Another view that hasn’t won Badinter the Miss Congeniality Award was her defense of the sexual assault claim against Dominique Strauss-Kahn by the Sofitel maid. A group of US feminists accused the “French media and public figures” of soft-pedaling. To that, Badinter responds, “Maybe this is because I’m married to a lawyer, but immediate accusation and finger-pointing horrifies me.”

This mother of three also challenged, in her 1980 bestseller, L’Amour en plus, the notion that maternal instinct is a birthright. Would you expect less of a woman who sings the praises of Simone de Beauvoir? (“Her ideas gave us wings.”) She met de Beauvoir at her home near the Montparnasse cemetery and Badinter cites as inspiration, de Beauvoir’s argument in The Second Sex that “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman.”

Romulus and Remus nursed by a wolf, Peter Paul Rubens.

Romulus and Remus nursed by a wolf, Peter Paul Rubens.

In Badinter’s latest book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women, she questions the blind acceptance to maternal necessities like breastfeeding. “We forget that postwar children who were fed with the bottle are those benefitting from an amazing lengthening of life expectancy!”

Badinter feels that  women’s rights can be better won by advocating for gender equality  – a fight that needs time, education and “a bit of making men feel guilt but not too guilty.” That smacks of male manipulation, Liz! So old school. So un-American. We coerce men in America, where does she get these cock-eyed ideas?

“My father had a major influence on me,” says Badinter. “He made me believe that if I worked hard and had ambitions, the world would be mine.”

Badinter’s father, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, dropped out of high school and founded the behemoth communications company, Publicis, above a butcher shop in Paris. He bought a radio station and first broadcast on-the-scene news, advertising jingles, and Edith Piaf. When all was confiscated during the Occupation he went off to fight with the Free French. When he returned, he built it back from scratch.

INF3-304_Unity_of_Strength_La_liberté_pour_la_France,_les_libertés_pour_les_FrançaisBut Bleustein-Blanchet’s most ingenious legacy may have been Le Drugstore installed on the ground floor of the Paris corporate headquarters, a baguette-length from the Arc de Triomphe. While living in Paris with the Good Ex and later in New York, I had penned a few lines for the offices of Publicis but it’s Le Drugstore that I remember most vividly.

It was one-stop-shopping for weary expats offering comfort food, people-watching, literary fodder and fashion glitz. You could get everything there – the latest electronic gadget, CD or bangle, cigars or liqueur-filled chocolates, tooth paste or a tube of designer lipstick. After a Sunday night movie on the Champs-Elysées, the Good Ex and I would grab a salad nicoise at the fiberglass café and watch the tourist riff-raff and slumming Parisians parade by – then browse the international newsstand and French/English book store, never escaping without several pounds of glossy fashion rags from every corner of the earth.

A busy man, Bleustein-Blanchet, and yet Badinter can say of her father, “… he took care of me magnificently ever since I was very little. … I owe him a lot, for his interest in me, his love, the stimulation he never ceased to be.” And maybe the best example this firebrand adman gave his daughter was how not to be. How not to follow the rules. Not to placate the herd. Not to resist declaring, “I have a bizarre feminism!” Never to give in, not even to him.

“He tried everything, absolutely everything” to lure her down the advertising path, she says. “But he had a very very strong personality and if I wanted to exist, it was certainly not by going under his wing.” Instead, she chose a world “radically opposed to his.”

Strawberries_and_crème_fraîcheThis billionairesse feminist philosopher with a penchant for flirtation, a passion for real cream and a talent for speaking her mind, says, “If fathers took care of their daughters the way he did, women would never see themselves as victims.” Can our mothers, as much as they want the best for us, allow us that?

For all we are told to be, perhaps it’s in the refusal to fall in line that we find our strongest and most original selves. What I love best about The Male Harem is what we are not. I am not wife, girlfriend, mistress. They are not husband, boyfriend, keeper. We come together unlabeled, breathe the pure air of uncertainty, revel in an unprescribed intimacy – and find in the “not” a new place to be.


After Midnight

pb-130101-new-year-trash-001.photoblog900Happy new minutes of 2014, intrepid followers! While you were cheek-by-jowl watching balls drop in Times Square and blowing your horns the world over with grownups behaving badly, The Sultanette was flying solo. Yes, after an illustrious track record of Amateur Nights (highlighted below) I decided to risk self-imposed house arrest this year. Would I be up to it? Would I, upon hearing the gregarious yelps of street revelers, feel like the loneliest Sultanette in Manhattan? As a safeguard, I invited to my sequester the indomitable woodswoman, Anne LaBastille.

I discovered LaBastille at Hoss’s General Store in Long Lake, New York, an outpost of civilization in the Adirondack National Park. Its two floors, endlessly groaning from the constant foot traffic of hiking boots, were crammed with mountainwear, camping noshes, books of local lore, greeting cards, handcrafted jewelry, candles, stuffed animals and souvenir tchotchkes – most all of it bear-themed from T-shirts to toilet paper holders.

KingKoneTwistWith Custard’s Last Stand next door and the Adirondack Hotel down the road, its name painted on a massive boulder out front that looked like it had rolled down from one of the surrounding mountains, this was the north wood’s Times Square. Long Lake was a metropolis compared to Newcomb where One&Only and I drove several times a year to stay at Aunt Polly’s B&B and enjoy the wilds of soaring pines and the warmth of his family.

After hiking Goodnow Mountain to gasp at devastatingly majestic views from its windblown fire tower, dining on steak the consistency of beef jerky, and grabbing nookie under Aunt Polly’s handmade quilts, there was little left to do but have a good read. So when I found  LaBastille’s Woodswoman series of books displayed prominently at Hoss’s – her post-divorce tale about escaping with her dog, Pitzi, to live Thoreau-style in a cabin she’d built on twenty acres of secluded backwoods – I snapped her up.

Living in a cabin with no plumbing or electricity (“Why do I need an electric hair dryer? I have the wind.”) didn’t come second nature to LaBastille. Though she was drawn to camping and hiking in high school and majored in wildlife conservation at Cornell where she later received a doctorate in Wildlife Ecology, she grew up in New York City. Even after retreating to the woods, she accepted research and consulting trips to Central America and the Caribbean that earned awards and citations from the Explorers Club and the World Wildlife Fund.

Still water wake, Baie FineSo what compelled her, after the demise of a marriage spent managing a resort lodge with her husband, to head with dog and aluminum boat into a part of the Adirondacks tucked away somewhere in the folds of that vast view from Goodnow Mountain?

In that motorboat, she towed two piles of 16-foot unpeeled spruce logs purchased from a sawmill to a spot so remote “no track or trail linked the dirt road and public landing to the property one mile an a half up the lake.” Two brothers from the local hardware store helped her dig eight holes for foundation posts and piece together her Lincoln Logs hideaway.  And suddenly, she says, “I had a home. I had a door to open or close to the world. There were windows with peaceful views … and a sturdy, well-pitched roof.” A bookcase and benches, Boston rocker, Navajo rugs, filing cabinets, desk, and loft bedroom finished the job. “I would truly be alone in a cabin in the woods.”

With LaBastille as perspective, signing up for New Year’s Eve in my Manhattan apartment outfitted with fireplace, cheap caviar, and a refrigerator stocked with rocks for Vodka, seemed more excessively indulgent than courageous. And as I sipped on a vodka and soaked in the solitude, highlights of pre-Sultanette New Year’s Eves offered themselves up like martinis on a mixologist’s cocktail menu, reminding me that while midnight is a fleeting high, life is a countdown. As highlighted below there was …

no-heavy-petting6THE HORMONAL: Brewed in Wisconsin, this hearty blend of Kaukauna Klub Cheese, summer sausage, and Chex Mix was enjoyed by the pre-Sultanette tween with mom, sis and dad, as her thoughts strayed to heavy petting with the high school squeeze.

THE HALLUCINOGENIC: Not to be ingested while operating heavy farm machinery, this magical mystery brew inspired a barely memorable but mind-expanding excursion on a post-college New Year’s Eve in Chicago at haute hippie boyfriend’s apartment.

THE CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES: Consumed with caviar one block from the infamous avenue upon moving to Paris with the Good Ex. So giddily in love, we knew nothing better than to spend our first married New Year’s abroad assembling a jigsaw puzzle on our living room floor.

THE SWELLEGANT: Imbibed in Black Tie while dancing with the best of friends in a New York townhouse, this stylish aperitif precluded a feast that lasted until dawn. Choosing this memorable party over a hot date with a new heart throb remains documented proof that friendship endures longer than a horny man.

THE JOCK: Served in plastic cups to festively-dressed joggers at Central Park’s Midnight Run (yours truly attired in an Armani tux) surrounded by the glittering walls of Manhattan high-rises and the refugees of boring parties who gathered roadside to cheer us on.

imgresTHE STALEMATE: Shaken, stirred and shattered with one part denial and two parts defiance, then imbibed watching TV screen as ball dropped in Times Square on the last of sixteen New Year’s Eves with One&Only. Nothing so distant as the three feet between us.

A Cavalry Charge, Winslow Homer, 1862 Brooklyn Museum

A Cavalry Charge, Winslow Homer, 1862 Brooklyn Museum.

LaBastille was peacefully ensconced in her woodland idyll when the testosterone cavalry arrived. She had met Nick in her other life and now he passed through the area with hunting buddies. Both divorced, the connection was immediate and the wilderness woman became a giddy girl in love. (“Why couldn’t I be suave and confident like the Cosmo girls?”) The relationship was rich and enduring until two years later when Nick got the offer of his dreams to teach in Alaska. Would Anne come with him?

“Should I go with the man I loved?” she asks, “Or should I stay here alone in the home I’d built, in the mountains I loved, with the profession I had created?” She acknowledges the void in her “that can only be filled by a man’s love” yet she knew what her choice would be, even with the man she felt deeply connected to: “As much as we loved each other, he couldn’t stay and I couldn’t go.”

When do we learn it’s time to put distance between us and why do we too often wait too long? Why did things have to go stale before I saw that One&Only had too much past and I had too much future?

The Earth at Night, NASA.

The Earth at Night, NASA.

The noisemakers have calmed down on this New Year’s Eve, and the bleating has quieted, and I’m thinking about what LaBastille learned surrounded by the good earth – that it’s the distance we ignore that is  heartbreaking but the distance we choose is sublime.

“Sometime I sit in my log cabin as in a cocoon, sheltered by swaying spruces from the outside world. From traffic, and noise, and liquor, and … life seems to have no beginning and no ending.” Woodswoman, Anne LaBastille (November 20, 1935 – July, 1, 2011).

Oh! Almost forgot tonight’s cocktail, especially created for The Sultanette …

THE CINQ A SEPT: Named for the hours between 5pm and 7pm when lusty French engage in extramarital rendezvous (American version: “Honey, I’m still at the office.”) this intriguing mix was consumed at an impromptu get-together in Chelsea during the above hours of  New Year’s Eve 2014 – the perfect prelude to an evening spent contemplating the joys of solitude in a world populated by not-too-distant strangers.

So what are you doing after midnight?