Love And Marriage? Or … Lovers And Marriage?

Marriage Bared, José Reyes Guillén, 2007.

I almost abandoned The Lovers at the AMC Loews Cinema when I learned I had to choose a designated seat. I stared at the offerings on the screen the ticket-seller swiveled at me. How would I know, I asked him, if the seat I chose was not behind the woman with big hair, or next to the guy smacking down a tub of popcorn, or in front of the ladies offering continuous commentary on the action? He looked at me blankly.

Choose! I had to choose! Is nothing left to chance? To his relief, I chose Seat B3 and headed up the escalator. I told the friendly girl who looked like she would have preferred any option to ripping tickets on a sunny afternoon in New York City, that if I’d known this was a seat-assignment theatre I wouldn’t have come here and I was never coming back.

All Seats Reserved! FernandodeSousa
Melbourne, CreativeCommons.

With that I entered Theatre Number Four with my ticket marked Seat B3 and settled into Seat C7. The Sultanette has never been a fan of taking orders. Good news is the seat was a cushy leather affair with electronic adjustments. I buzzed into reclining position and settled in for the ride.

As it turned out, the AMC venue offered the perfect foreplay to The Lovers because it is all about choices – the ones we make, the ones we avoid making, and especially the ones we think we’re making.

Out of Tune, Allen Lai, CreativeCommons.

Mary and Michael, played with comedic precision by Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, are long-married. Long past the resentment stage, the disappointment stage, the passion stage – too indifferent even to be bored with each other – they are tethered to the baggage of a remote past. In a reference to the piano parked in the living room that he once played back in the day, Michael says, “It’s way too heavy or it would be long gone.”

Instead of playing the piano, Michael has cultivated a pot belly. Mary’s neck is showing crepey signs of withdrawal from youth. Their house in Anywhere, California is decorated with framed memories, neatly grouped on vast blank walls. Every morning they dash around each other, separately slurping coffee before rushing off to work in cubicles. Michael stares at graphs on a computer and Mary sorts out stats for meetings in a glass-walled conference room, dressed for success but bored to death.

The Stolen Kiss, Jean-Honoré Fragonard c.1780, Hermitage.

Sound like fun? Or even familiar? Don’t abandon The Lovers yet because Michael and Mary are both involved in juicy illicit affairs with legitimate hotties. Michael does pliés with a supple ballet instructor, Susan, (Melora Walters). Mary tumbles with Robert (Aidan Gillen) a writer of impish charm. Can anyone blame them? (Well the New York Times did but that was just another of the paper’s retrograde cultural rants dressed up to look politically correct.)

When Mary and Michael aren’t indulging their libidos, they are concocting the intricate lattice of lies required to keep from getting caught – excuses that seem unnecessary since they both prefer to avoid each other’s company at all costs. This is brilliantly portrayed in a scene when fate brings them together for an evening.

TV Stattic & No Signal, Liz Sullivan, Creative Commons.

To his surprise and horror, Michael arrives home early to find Mary on the couch, staring at the TV with a glass of wine. After an awkward exchange – both searching for excuses to cover up for the lies they had originally made to see their lovers that night – Mary half-heartedly invites Michael to join her for a glass of wine. Their awkward attempt at mingling resembles kids on a first date. Except these two have spent a lifetime together.

No spoilers here, I promise! To see the provocative resolution you’ll have to go to the movie which The Sultanette highly recommends. For now let’s just say that director/writer Azazel Jacobs doesn’t let you take sides. None of the four lovers are bad or callous. They’re just lonely people with big, needy hearts. The lines between passion and a shared past, love and loyalty, promise and predictability are not neatly drawn. The affairs are more than sex. The marriage is more than routine.

Three Lovers, Géricault c.1820.

“Let’s do something normal,” Michael tells Susan one night, and next scene they are cuddling at a movie. When Robert and Mary playfully seduce one another, the sexual frisson is delicious. When feelings between Michael and Mary begin to stir, it’s more than a desperate attempt to make things right again. The comfort of normalcy, the delight of sensuality, the pulse of consistency – don’t we crave it all?

The beauty of The Lovers is that as in life, the choices aren’t always clear-cut. Sometimes you just have to sign up for Seat B3 and settle into Seat C7. When I left the movie, the friendly ticket-ripper said, “Have a nice day.”

Photo: TheSultanette

PARIS UNPLUGGED: Liberty, Equality, Jewelry!

Photo: TheSultanette

B&W in bloom from “Flora”

As if we don’t owe the French enough for teaching us how to tie a scarf, now the culture connoisseurs offer us another life lesson. No, I’m not talking about how to elect a president with the smarts to marry a woman old enough to be his mistress. I’m talking about L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels. Liberty, Equality, Jewelry!

Shortly before the French hit the polls last week, I headed to a presentation on Van Cleef’s School of Jewelry Arts hosted by the Albertine Library.

Photo: TheSultanette

The Albertine beckons

A project of the cultural services of the French embassy, Albertine is an intimate alternative to the Metropolitan Museum of Art holding court up the street. Its calendar of events features the latest in literature, dance, art, and of course philosophy (France’s Mick Jagger of punditry, Bernard-Henri Lévy, spoke there).

If you simply want to partake in the French art of dawdling, the book store is an oasis on Fifth Avenue. With its dreamy, star motif wallpaper, it could be a scene from Le Petit Prince. Comfy leather chairs, velvet settees and books in French and English ranging from graphic novels to fashion, food, architecture, literature, and politics beg you to browse.

Photo: TheSultanette

Bottoms up at “Flora”

Entering the foyer for the presentation, any doubt that I was now under French jurisdiction was dispelled when I was handed a glass (not plastic) of wine with a starched linen (not paper) serviette (not napkin). Vive la France!

I followed the chatter into the main gallery. Not a fashion victim in sight among the standing-room-only crowd of all ages – all there to learn about “Flora and the Art of Jewelry” from the jeweler who has decorated the Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Photo: TheSultanette

Bouquet of bling at “Flora”

Two professors from L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels faculty, Inezita Gay-Eckel and Gislain Aurcremanne, briefly described the courses which attract jewelry lovers from all over the world to an 18th century Paris townhouse (details below). They then treated us to a bouquet of nature-inspired bijoux – stunning pieces designed from the fleur-de-lis, orchid, chrysanthemum, poppy and rose. (In the French romantic tradition, a red rose symbolizes love while the yellow rose allows for cheating.)

Beginning with the dawn of ornamentation – basically the fig leaf – we were transported through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Mughal Empire and Victorian times, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods based on holdings from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Along with descriptions of each piece’s provenance, the presentation was sprinkled with historical anecdotes.

Photo: TheSultanette

Jewels to drool for at “Flora”

If you had a few francs on you in 1887, a bargain might be yours at the Louvre fire sale – an auction celebrating the firing of the royals. With the last emperor, Napoleon III, replaced by presidents of the Third Republic, the crown Jewels went on the block. “No crown, no crown jewels” said Gay-Eckel, producing a collective gasp from the audience.

And if you think coordinating your Birkin Bag and Manolos is daunting, imagine the woman of Victorian times (the “matchy-matchy” period according to Gislain) when the lady of the house was required to coordinate her accessories with the colors and theme of her interior decor.

Photo: TheSultanette

“He loves me” … or whatever!

To the age-old dilemma, “He Loves Me” or “He Loves Me Not” the most useful French factoid concerned the humble daisy. No settling for “oui or non” here. In France, the daisy augurs six possibilities: Oui (Let’s have at it), Oui un peu (Try me), Beaucoup (What are we waiting for?), Passionnément (Why do we still have our clothes on?), A la folie (Where’s the whip?), and finally, Pas du tout (The park’s closed).

Photo: TheSultanette

Finger food at “Flora”

After consuming all that eye candy, the only possible fallback was patisserie and the reception after the lecture did not disappoint. While drooling over glass cases of exquisite baubles, The Sultanette probably grabbed a few too many yummy confections. But I’ve never regretted the extra nibble.

The Van Cleef & Arpels School of Jewelry Arts is located in the Place Vendome a stone’s throw from the Jardins des Tuilleries. Fourteen courses of four hours

are led by jewelers, art historians, gemologists, and watchmakers.

With each course limited to twelve students it’s assured that you’ll be “right up close to the Savoir-Faire.” If you’re aspiring to a summa cum laude in bling, apply now. As for lessons in savoir faire, we Americans might take a page from the playbook français as we contemplate la folie presidential.

Stay tuned for more posts in Paris Unplugged.