01/26/15

Venice Anyone? A Foolproof Guide To Getting Lost And Loving It.

unnamed-1Like a skillful lover, Dream of Venice stirs the imagination, exposes irresistible eye candy and cultivated charms, then leaves you chomping at the bit for a go at it. So before you pack up your masks, lacey underthings and unmentionable paraphernalia (TMI!) for a caper in the Serenissima, BETWEEN THE COVERS recommends you take a ramble through this guide to getting lost in love – of an entrancing city, yourself, and/or the one you’re with. Trust The Sultanette! The only other itinerary you need is your fantasies.

By now worldly reader, you’ve correctly deduced that this is no Travel Guide 101. It is Venice experienced at its best – aimlessly, sensually, and open to enigma. A true cognoscente, editor JoAnn Locktov offers no table of contents or page numbers to mark your way. Just excellent companions like Peggy Guggenheim, Marcella Hazan, Woody Allen, Claire Bloom, Julie Christie, Patricia Highsmith, and Erica Jong.

Writers and poets, architects and anthropologists, sommeliers, sopranos, and glass masters share personal experiences of Venice. Each literary nugget, provocatively paired with photographer, Charles Christopher’s luscious images, creates a visceral flash of déjà vu.

unnamed-3Open the book to a random couplet: Christopher’s image looks up from a gondola through the windows of a façade dulled by centuries, to a patch of luscious, painted ceiling where putti dance bathed in golden light. “I looked up at these rooms illuminated by enormous chandeliers made centuries earlier in this very city,” says interior designer, Matthew White. “They didn’t sparkle like the crystal chandeliers of Paris – the Venetian chandeliers glimmered with a dim luster like the inky water that held us aloft … “

I was there! A not-so-blushing young bride, not yet The Sultanette. I was in that gondola, looking up into those rooms, wondering what plot was unfolding there. A cabal of ancestral Venetians sipping Grappa? A clandestine interlude between two desperate lovers? Surely there could be no normal in these monuments to exquisite decadence.

unnamed-2We had just moved to Paris – brand new husband, the Good Ex, and I. No one was more in love. He’d had the brilliant scheme of spending our first Christmas in Venice at the Hotel Danieli. Looking back on the crooked line of impressions and images – there is no straight and narrow in Venice – the memories vibrate: A late afternoon lunch at Harry’s Bar – the woman at the table in the window wraps herself in a mink-lined trench before making her dramatic exit. The trickery of passages ending in reward – a fresco encrusted scuola, a plate of freshly cut pasta, a tiny shop of handmade soaps. Every moment shared in the glow of togetherness, like putti dancing in the glimmer of romance.

“Many people consider [Venice] the city of love,” says Alberto Toso Fei, descendent of an ancient family of Murano glass masters, “for others it represents a place of mystery and magic. His words in Dream, accompany an image that teases the wanderer to stray to a place that “becomes visible only as it moves into another dimension, free of constraints of space and time … “

unnamedI returned to Venice a lifetime later – after the Good Ex and I had gone back to New York, gone our separate ways, and One&Only had stepped in to fill the togetherness gap. A woman I’d met through a couple we double-dated with had invited me to visit her there – just us girls. I jumped at the chance to revisit heady memories.

Fuzzy from the all-night flight, I managed to find my way to her door through an ancient stone archway at the end of a narrow calle, past a neglected garden, down a dark passage and up a steep flight of stairs that opened into a vast room of sprawling couches and curtained windows looking out on the Grand Canal.

unnamed-4Every morning I woke up to the gentle slosh-slosh of Venice outside my shuttered bedroom. Every day, armed with my friend’s crib notes, I invaded a new corner of hidden pleasures. Every night I took my place at her dining room table. We talked of my day’s discoveries, our past marriages, and life in New York City, as her smiling housegirl served tortellini and her cats looked on.

I was on the other side of the windows now but what I found was a side of Venice that couldn’t have touched me with the Good Ex when I was intoxicated in romance. There was a melancholy I sensed now, more shrewd than sad. A bittersweet understanding that it’s not love but surviving life gracefully that gives a city, and a woman, her poetry. When I returned to New York I began to know that the fifteen-year love with One&Only was over. I also knew the singular pleasure of losing myself, alone in Venice.

unnamed-9“The ghosts are restless,” murmurs Erica Jong’s poem Dream of Venice where Lord Byron and Tintoretto make appearances along with the pickpockets dancing at San Marco. “It is all a stage set for our dreams as we wheel and turn thrashing up our pasts.”

On one of my last mornings in Venice, I stepped out onto my friend’s veranda to dry my hair. Leaving the hushed, dim interior, I was met with a feast of sound and light. The grumble of boat engines and ripples of laughter mixed with the bright haze deflected from a million tangled streets of water. As a gondola drifted by, the couple in it looked up and smiled. Leaning over the veranda, wet-haired in the sun, I waved back at them.

“… I am laying bets on love again,” Jong’s poem concludes, “at least for now. Temporary, permanent, Who can say? I cast my dice for life. & the ghosts reel backward – & are gone.”

unnamed-6I continue to love men – my male harem. I revel in their attentions and am seduced by their deceptions. I learn from their intelligence, take joy in their wit, strength in their mettle, and am beguiled by their mercenary charms. But I don’t want to belong to one. And I still dream of Venice – the city that cloaks its mist around you yet remains always just beyond reach.

Dream of Venice, photography by Charles Christopher, edited by JoAnn Locktov. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Save Venice Inc. to support vital art and architecture restorations in Venice.

This is one in a series of book reviews for BETWEEN THE COVERS. For the true tale of an 18C Venetian love affair see The Male Harem post, What Happens In Venice Stays in Venice.

01/5/15

DICK OF THE WEEK Says Yes To Dr. No.

The Vortex. In or Out?

The Vortex. In or Out?

Reality or illusion? Good or evil? Choose. Or better yet, don’t. Since The Male Harem is all about the illusion of certainty and the reality of ambiguity, you’ll be in good company.

And who better to launch The Sultanette’s DICK OF THE WEEK series than a conjurer of that space between our better selves and the fascinating underbelly than production design auteur, Sir Ken Adam. (He’s a knight besides!)

Volcano lair, Ken Adam, wikia.

Volcano lair, Ken Adam, wikia.

If you weren’t too distracted by movie date booty, you’ve been aware of Sir Ken’s sleight of hand setting the stage for the clash of intrepid hero and unscrupulous villain in James Bond flicks from Dr. No to Moonraker. Before the age of computer-generated images, the worlds he concocted neatly captured the tension between reality and fantasy, like the million dollar fiberglass volcano that swallowed up helicopters and space rockets, built on a backlot for You Only Live Twice.

How can you not adore a man who bemoans the passing of the good old days when a villain was an unadulterated cad? “I think in the last Bond film I saw … they lost the importance of the villain,” Adam told The Guardian in 2002. “To me, designing the villains’ bases was a combination of tongue-in-cheek and showing the power of these megalomaniacs. I think the villain is just as important as Bond. Someone who simply wants to destroy an oil pipeline to me is just not sufficiently important as a villain.”

Connery & Andress getting behind their own scene, Dr. No, 1962.

Connery & Andress getting behind their own scene, Dr. No, 1962.

Adam’s brilliance occurred behind the scenes but Male Harem experience suggests that might be the most intriguing place to enjoy it. And now you can view the method to Sir Ken’s mad designs from his 40-foot high bullion-lined Fort Knox (Goldfinger) to the uber-creepy war room in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove through his drawings, photographs and films in the exhibition “Bigger Than Life” at Berlin’s Deutsche Kinemathek until 17 May.

Dr. Strangelove war room, 1964, wikicommons.

Dr. Strangelove war room, 1964, wikicommons.

Ever had the urge to push EJECT on your boss at the annual review? Revisit Adam’s user-friendly conference room in Thunderball. “I had these chairs with individual control consoles facing each other … then I had the idea of one of the chairs disappearing under the floor with a man who had betrayed Spectre and coming up empty.” (Hasta la vista, baby!)

Or how about suggesting an off-site meeting, say, in the Tarantula Room of Dr. No, a set thrown together as an afterthought according to Adam. “There was nothing in it except a chair, the door, and in the foreground a table with a tarantula cage. And so you got this surrealistic, very simple set with an incredible effect.”

Can you make this stuff up? “The Bond scenes which Sir Ken designed betray an insight into (his) personal struggle … between good and evil, albeit in the make-believe world of James Bond,” says Helen Fry, author of Churchill’s Secret Soldiers.

Flapper in smoke, circa 1920, Russell Patterson (1893-1977).

Flapper in smoke, circa 1920, Russell Patterson (1893-1977).

Adam grew up in the Berlin of the “golden twenties” in an upper-middle-class Jewish family who owned a high-fashion clothing store and summered on the Baltic. After the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, the shop was forced into bankruptcy and his father, a former officer in the Prussian cavalry, was arrested.

A shop-employee who had become a leader in the SS arranged for his release and the family left for England in 1934. “My father went out with a little suitcase to sell gloves,” he tells Steven Karras at web2carz. “It really destroyed him, there was no question about that.” He died in 1936.

Hawker Typhoon Operation Overlord, 1944.

Hawker Typhoon Operation Overlord, 1944.

Adam’s architectural training got him an apprenticeship at a firm designing bomb shelters and he enlisted in the Pioneer Corps, a unit for trusted German nationals, before transferring into the Royal Air Force as one of three German-nationality fighter pilots in the RAF during WWII. He flew the powerful Hawker Typhoon armed with rockets and cannons to support the advancing British army. After attacking the Falaise Gap in Normandy he visited the battlefield with his commanding officer, a scene of death and stench he tells Karras that was “a shock to the system” he never forgot.

After the war, a draughtsman position at a film studio lead to work on movies like Ben Hur, Around the World in 80 Days, and the first Bond film, Dr. No. “But nothing could have prepared him,” Karras writes, “for the tornado that was Stanley Kubrick.”

Self-portrait Stanley Kubrick with Leica III, 1949, wikicom.

Self-portrait Stanley Kubrick with Leica III, 1949, wikicom.

“I used to drive him to Shepperton Studio in my E-Type Jaguar and he didn’t allow me to drive faster than 30mph,” Adam tells Karras. “And while it was a close relationship, at the same time I felt that it was fatal for me to be that close to someone like Kubrick … He was the most possessive director I’d ever worked with and at the time I swore [Dr. Strangelove] was the last picture I’d work with him.”

Adam won his first Academy Award in 1975 for his work on Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. He was knighted in 2003 for contributions to Anglo-German relations and gave his work to the Deutsche Kinemathek in 2012.

Thomas Mann the Adlon, 1929, German Federal Archives.

Thomas Mann the Adlon, 1929, German Federal Archives.

Jet-setting schmoozer that I am, The Sultanette spent a week in Berlin several years ago, as guest of The Antiques Diva and her charming hubby. Beyond trolling the flea market with indefatigable Diva Toma, strolling across the site of Hitler’s bunker, or taking in le jazz hot at the Badenscher Hof, I can offer no better preparation for Sir Ken’s ingenious fabrications than an aperitif in the swank lobby of the Hotel Adlon.

There you will feel the ghosts of former guests Einstein, Edison, FDR, and Thomas Mann, Chaplin, Caruso, Dietrich and Josephine Baker. In 2002 Michael Jackson dangled infant son, Blanket, out the window of the legendary Adlon … CUT! … Or is that the ersatz Adlon!

The original Adlon was built in 1907 across from the Brandenburg Gate on real estate so prime it took the intercession of Kaiser Wilhelm II to raze the fusty landmark Neo-Renaissance palais cluttering the site. It was all but destroyed by fire in 1945 during the last days of the war when celebratory Red Army officers went incendiary in the wine cellar. A remaining wing served as the Hotel Adlon, East Germany until it was entirely demolished in1984. … TAKE TWO! …

Detail Hotel Adlon II, Paul Hanninen.

Detail Hotel Adlon II, Paul Hanninen.

When The Wall came down the Adlon went back up. Bought by a West German investment firm and designed by Rainer Michael Klotz, the reincarnation, inspired by and re-built exactly on the site of the original, opened as the Hotel Adlon Kempinksi Berlin in 1997.

Historical illusion or reality du jour? As Sir Ken told the Guardian about his design of Fort Knox after seeing the lackluster original, “The inside of Fort Knox in Goldfinger is completely unreal. There’s no place like that, any more than the war room I designed for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove exists.”

Who says the artful duplicate isn’t as tantalizing as the real thing? Or the mise en scène can’t be savored, bigger than life?