01/24/17

Intimacy With Strangers

Beijing Chaoyang Park, 2008, drnan tu.

Open on woman alone in cozy living room. A sudden shattering of glass breaks the stillness as a man bursts through French doors behind her. He is hooded, all in black. He throws her to the ground. She thrashes back. Vases crash. He takes her violently and disappears.

I almost left Elle after Isabelle Huppert’s first rape scene, already skittish at the thought of returning to my New York apartment, alone with the image. Yes, I did say “first rape scene” and yes, I’m glad I stayed. Because after its brutal introduction the film, this year’s Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film, takes an even more kinky but intriguing turn.

Crime of Passion, Yumi Kimura.

To tiptoe around full disclosure (if you have a low spoiler threshold, continue at own risk) the woman Michele, played with icy reserve by Isabelle Huppert (Golden Globe Best Actress in a Drama) has a compromised past which keeps her from reporting the incident. When the attacker returns, she rips off his hood. She knows him. Previous casual encounters have been sexually charged. And now the games begin. Rather than repulsion, violence fuels their attraction.

CAVEAT: The Sultanette does not endorse the above. Though I’m all for sampling the next course on the sexual tasting menu, violence is not my cup of tea. But the film suggests (without presenting solutions, as the French have mastered over centuries) a more nuanced story.

The Fisherman & the Siren, Frederic Leighton, c.1857.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven of Basic Instinct, Elle is a sly exploration of the implicit understanding between two beings. It toys with who we sense behind the masks (and if we need to rip them off). And shocks us into contemplating the psychological forces that trigger sexuality between two bodies.

As previously stated on this blog (to the disappointment of the horndogs among you) The Male Harem is not about sex. But intimacy? Call me an intimacy whore. An intimacy nympho. I can’t get enough of it. Not the tell-all brand of intimacy pushed by the couple’s counseling industry. In the harem, we are strangers of a sort. We don’t share to-do lists. We aren’t responsible for each other’s lives. We share precious time together but not vows to stay together for all time.

Nude Boy & Girl on Beach, c.1913, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

What fills our time is the present. It might include good food, adult beverages, a movie, music, or play. It will not include conversation concerning the price of condos, celebrity scandals, Facebook, or Monday Night Football. (A girl just gets tired of talking about balls.)

If sex happens to be a component it’s not fuck-buddy sex. As anyone in holy wedlock knows, good sex doesn’t happen on a schedule. It rises from desire that’s not required. And the good kind satisfies the libido which curbs the need to settle for the boring kind. It’s like having “I don’t need to fuck you money” in the bank.

Amor & Psyche, William-Adolphe Bouguereau,1890.

Before The Male Harem I paid my dues: two committed couplings steeped in monogamy that added up to one-third of my life. I have no complaint with mutual bonding. I believe in loyalty, trust, and having somebody’s back. What confounds me is how proficient we are at inhabiting the same four walls and ignoring each other’s essence.

We’re wired to negotiate relationships by the jobs we have, the stuff we accumulate, the offspring we perpetrate. And while these are worthy tasks necessary for survival of the species, they’re hardly conducive to exploring the rich, sometimes contradictory, endlessly surprising subtleties of another human being.

Enter Under Your Own Risk

Self-indulgent? Impractical? Fantastical? Easy, really. You don’t have to borrow on the credit card, give up gluten, or spend an hour on the elliptical everyday. All that’s required is that you mute the mobile, dismantle preconceptions, douse expectations, and get your mitts off of shaping someone into your Fred or Ginger or Tonto or Trigger.

Online matchmaking has its merits. But it’s doped us into paying more attention to algorithms than instincts. What if all those carefully curated facts distract from the untidy mystery lurking behind them? In that sense, Isabelle Huppert and her masked intruder might be onto something.

09/23/16

Introducing the State-of-the-Art Orgasm

Vesper, Photo: Michael Topolovac/Crave

Vesper, Photo: Michael Topolovac/Crave.

You say your Apple Watch can give you an orgasm? Okay never mind then, you won’t need Objects of Desire, a tantalizing compendium of sex toys, brilliant widgets, and couture erotica you didn’t know existed, designed to inspire an orgasm you didn’t know you could have.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the book’s writer, Rita Catinella Orrell and designer, Jason Scuderi by email. What struck me was their smart and thoughtful approach to a subject that so often gets tossed in the taboo file. No, I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about pleasure. It’s now possible to get sex at the click of a mouse or swipe of an app but pleasure isn’t so easy to manufacture.

Hello Touch, Photo Jimmyjane.

Hello Touch, Photo Jimmyjane.

I know, I know, who has the time? Pleasure requires finesse. A slowing down and savoring. A connection with the sensorial coaxed by a willingness to be present. But if there is a single theme to the book’s array of elegant paraphernalia, it can be found in the introductory quote by American designer & architect, Charles Eames. “Take your pleasure seriously.”

A look at the table of contents reveals the stunning choices. Beyond dildos so brilliantly devised they could get off a rocket scientist, the collection includes vibrators, strokers, harnesses, couture, jewelry, light BDSM, toys for every orifice, and a chapter dedicated to “A category of their own.” (If you want to know about those cheeky items, including a Swedish oral sex stimulator that beat out Samsung for a Cannes Lions in product design, you’ll have to buy the book!)

Tailbud, Photo Rosebuds SARL.

Tailbud, Photo Rosebuds SARL.

Truth told, I’ve never been one to collect an arsenal of sex toys, generally preferring human beings to batteries. But these products aren’t just clever new mouse traps. “I don’t think replacing the middle man is the goal exactly,” says Orrell. “It’s that you now have more options to customize your experience.”

Example? If your lover isn’t the brightest bulb on the marquee, try the artificial intelligence of Hum by Dimensional Industries, Inc. “This technology can respond to the female orgasm and draw out the experience,” says Orrell. The smarts? “A 3D-printed internal structure, motion sensors, and thousands of lines of code, respond intelligently to movement and touch, delivering varying frequencies of vibrations in response to how much pressure is exerted, and in return, creating an organic experience for the user.” In short, fasten your safety belt.

Blue Leather Tassel Strap & Ceramic Dildo, Photo Shiri Zinn,shirizinn.com.

Blue Leather Tassel Strap & Ceramic Dildo, Photo Shiri Zinn,shirizinn.com.

But does the spontaneity get lost in the coding? Scuderi hit my cerebral G-spot when he explained it this way: “I like to think of myself as an adult but in all reality, I also like not to grow up.” These gizmos may be highly rational but their brilliance is in their ability to provoke highly irrational results.

Scuderi was drawn to the project when his work on conventional consumer products lead him to see the “addictive, almost sensual relationship” between products and consumers. He views the entrepreneurs featured in Objects as intensifying that connection through a kind of sensorial production quality. “These are real artisans with real emotion creating seriously designed pieces,” says Scuderi. “With a dash of sex aficionado thrown in for good measure,” adds Orrell.

Minna Limon, Photo Brian Krieger/Minna Life.

Minna Limon, Photo Brian Krieger/Minna Life.

Beyond possessing state-of-the-art brains, this new age of digital widgetry is as irresistible as it is ingenious. These are sleek objects you want to hold, exciting fabrications you want to feel next to your body, and elegant accessories that dangle around your neck like the discreetly vibrating pendant on the book’s cover. Which brings me to one more quality these products embody – a sense of complicity. And Ohmibod’s Bluemotion wins in that category hands down.

Imagine your standard office cocktail party. Your date appears to be fiddling with an app on his smart phone but in fact he’s remotely manipulating a massager tucked in your Ohmibod-designed lacey thong. Depending on which functions he chooses, you are experiencing various levels of vibration as you nibble on a shrimp canapé while talking office politics with your boss. When I commented on the delicious complicity of such a concept, Orrell concurred that Ohmibod is taking “the erotic experience out of the bedroom while keeping it discreetly between the participants.”

Might complicity be life’s ultimate aphrodisiac? Is there anything more intoxicating than the stolen kiss? The clandestine interlude between lovers? And now, the Bluetooth-enabled foreplay across a crowded room? Yet as we persist upon posting, sharing, and tweeting every digital detail of our existence, are we denying ourselves the joy of secrecy?

Seduce Me Collection, Photo Jimmyjane.

Seduce Me Collection, Photo Jimmyjane.

To further research this modern conundrum, The Sultanette is about to spend a month in Paris. There, in the city that invented the cinq à sept (the witching hours reserved for rendezvous between five and seven p.m.) I will contemplate keeping secrets. (Okay, I’m writing a book about a spectacularly surreptitious French affair, but why would I tell you that!)

If a tangle offers itself at cinq o’clock, I may not refuse. But there will be oysters on the half-shell and aperitifs at the Ritz, shopping in Le Marais and book stalls along the Seine to keep The Sultanette entertained. And a state-of-the-art toy or two in the privacy of my pied-à-terre? Maybe so, but I’ll never tell. “I love products that hide secrets” says Orrell, “they are magical in a way.”

06/7/16

Sex Talk 101. Will you pass or fail?

Miss Moneypenny negotiates.

Miss Moneypenny negotiates.

“This is important to me. How can we create a situation that is comfortable for both of us?”

Talking points for your annual employee review? No, this is pillow talk as reported in the May 31 Wall Street Journal piece, “The Question About Sex So Many Men Have Asked” by Elizabeth Bernstein.

S Wheeler Toilet paper, US patent illus,1891.

S Wheeler Toilet paper, US patent illus,1891.

Note the diplomatic use of “we” vs. “you.” (No more accusatory phrases like, “I want you, you dirty sexy beast.”) And no more delirious spontaneity. Jumping your partner on a random Sunday afternoon has been replaced by “sitting down to solve the problem together.” What was once a reckless escape from daily life is now a domestic chore like changing the toilet paper roll.

As for the sex question so many men want to know? A study by the Universities of Toronto and Western Ontario just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals the startling truth: “Women may want more sex than their husbands or partners think.”

Shopping at Agent Provocateur.

Shopping at Agent Provocateur.

Easy to say but how to drag Dagwood away from the football game for a bodice-ripping timeout? Forget parading in front of the tube in your latest confection from Agent Provocateur. The Wall Street Journal report quotes that couples should: “Communicate – not just about when they want to have sex or what they like but also about what signals they use to show their desire.” Does congress put that much effort into the national budget?

And speaking of getting screwed, the article also suggests that you “consider having sex if you’re not in the mood.” Formerly known as “faking an orgasm” research now dubs it “sexual communal strength.” It’s a proven fact that “people in long-term relationships who do this … are better able to maintain their sexual desire over time.” So the more you do it when you don’t want to do it, the more you’ll want to do it!

Punching the Clock, Philly,1942, Marjory Collins, Library of Congress.

Punching the Clock, Philly,1942, Marjory Collins, Library of Congress.

If you can’t fake it ’til you make, consider scheduling sex. Here’s how: “Explain that you find your partner attractive and want to be intimate just not at the moment. And promise to find another time.” (Your Google calendar might be helpful here.)

“It doesn’t sound romantic” the Journal observes. But Amy Muise, a University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow says, “It lets you plan and get psyched about it.” You might think Amy is talking about creating that warm tingling feeling that begins in the loins and fills the body with a sense of urgent anticipation. Not exactly. Dr. Muise prefers to think of the sensation as “pre-negotiating a good time.”

Rendezvous, Konstantin Somov (1869-1939), Oil on canvas, 1918.

Rendezvous, Konstantin Somov (1869-1939), Oil on canvas, 1918.

When did sex go from reckless surrender (the French call it la petite mort) to a dilemma that needs to be examined until all the lust is x-rayed out of it? Speaking of the French, one solution to weathering slumps in the marital mattress touted by those frisky philanderers (men and women alike) is the discrete affair. Like a vacation from a demanding job, when the affair packs up, the adulterer comes home recharged. (“Mon dieu! You are such the insatiable rascal tonight, cheri(e)!)

I know what you’re thinking. What does the Sultanette of a male harem know about keeping the flames fanned with a significant other? May I remind my voyeuristic followers that before curating this mentourage, I spent time in the trenches? Once the explosive passion cooled to a sizzle with One&Only, I settled down to fifteen diligently faithful years of pleasurable but predictable sex. Looking back, if I’d known it would go south, would it have hurt to take a few hot detours along the way?

Sex Experts?

Sex Experts?

I don’t knock going for marriage refresher sessions with a good therapist. But how did getting sexual pleasure evolve into a pass-fail course conferred by academia? For prepubescents, the subject of sex as a body-rocking turn-on is considered pornography. When we’re old enough to enjoy it, wired with guilt and shame, we’re treated to psychobabble from institutions of higher learning to fix it.

Love in the Afternoon, Cooper & Hepburn, 1957.

Love in the Afternoon, Cooper & Hepburn, 1957.

Might there be more effective ways to get a bang for your buck than a university sex study can recommend? How about telling the office you have a family emergency, turning off all electronic devices, and stealing a few hours at the No-Tell Motel with partner, lover, or gardener. If you’re looking for a better idea, get a subscription to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and dive between the spreadsheets.

03/2/16
PHOTO: TheSultanette

Redress For Success

Photo: TheSultanetteI didn’t want to like Jacqueline de Ribes. Just another hotel-particulier-born French woman with fabulous clothes. She even knew how to do an honest day’s work, not that you can compare running a fashion house to flipping burgers. But it was time The Sultanette raised your bar with another installment of CULTURE SNATCH, so I headed uptown to take a look at Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style at the Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The introduction to the exhibition only fueled my animosity. It drooled of her “relaxed confidence and precocious sophistication” at once “noble and mysterious.” Avedon adored her nose. She was on Capote’s A-list of “swans.” Her profile was more photographed than the Taj Mahal.

PHOTO: TheSultanette

The red and the black.

But as each spotlighted mannequin emerged in the darkened gallery, revealing another side of de Ribes, I succumbed. “The fact is there are at least fifteen Jacqueline’s,” Carolina Herrera said of her, “all of them fascinating.” She knew who she was. Every one of her.

Jacqueline de Ribes was born on 14 July, 1929, anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Her parents favored yachts over children. Her grandfather who doted over her died when she was nine. “He was the only one who loved me,” she tells Amy Fine Collins in her Vanity Fair profile, “The Last Queen of Paris.” With the outbreak of World War II, she and her siblings were shuttled with nanny and governess to safe havens outside Paris shared with occupying German troops.

PHOTO: The Sultanette

Backless but not tactless.

When she was eighteen she met Vicomte Edouard de Ribes whose ancestors had financed La Nuit de Varennes, the ill-fated attempt (depending on whose side you are on) at Marie Antoinette’s escape from the guillotine. Two years later she became Vicomtesse de Ribes and set about escaping the strictures of a bourgeois marriage and her reactionary father-in-law. She skied in Saint-Tropez, hosted black-tie dinner parties in the wing of her in-laws 19th-century Parisian residence, and dazzled the beau monde with her singular style.

PHOTO: TheSultanette

Dressed up goose down.

It was a successful arrangement. After sixty-two years of marriage, she tells Fine Collins, “To catch my husband is not easy. He thinks that he can’t catch me either. This is the secret of the couple. We love each other – but we agree we need independence. Sixty-two years with the same man is not so easy! It’s marvelous when you can manage to make it work. There are so many different ways of loving. How can you know someone is the best if you cannot compare? The French attitude of marriage, couples, love is complex.”

One distraction was the “Ball of the Century” – the masked Bal Oriental orchestrated in 1951 by flamboyant and filthy rich Charles de Beistegui. On the way to the event at Beistegui’s Palazzo Labia in Venice, hoards of invading Rolls Royce’s caused bumper-to-bumper traffic on Switzerland’s Passo del Sempione.

PHOTO: TheSultanette

Haute Oriental.

Among the thousand guests photographed by Cecil Beaton were the Aga Khan III, Barbara Hutton, Orson Welles, the Duchess of Devonshire and the Princess de Polignac. Dior and Dali designed each other’s costumes. Lady Diana Cooper showed up as Cleopatra. For those who appreciate men with hoses, a brigade of Venetian firemen formed a human pyramid in the grande salle.

Anyone care to sign up? But the glitterati wasn’t enough for de Ribes. Nor was Capote’s anointing her one of society’s swans. “The swans of the times of Truman Capote did nothing,” she tells Robert Murphy in a Bazaar interview. “They did not work. They didn’t fight for life.” At the Met show, she is quoted as saying, “I am not a lady who lunches.”

PHOTO of photo: TheSultanetteShe had dipped a toe in the fashion world “apprenticing” for Cassini and Pucci. Diana Vreeland had arranged a photo shoot with Richard Avedon. Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent were confidantes. In 1956 she was voted into the International Best-Dressed List and in 1961 to the Hall of Fame. In 1982 on her fifty-third birthday, she informed the family that she was going into business as a fashion designer.

“Whatever I did in life it was against,” she tells Fine Collins, “Nobody ever approved.” The Sultanette can always get behind a contrarian vicomtesse. But as I took in the show, I grew to admire more than a spunky aristocrat’s metal. This babe knew how to put herself together. I liked … mea culpa! … the way she looked.

PHOTO: TheSultanette

Demure meets décolletage.

Today admiring a professional woman’s appearance is met with a flurry of reprisals: It’s politically incorrect, demeaning, objectifying! A man is never described by the clothes he wears! The fashion and beauty industries are in cahoots with craven media moguls to keep women enslaved to unattainable standards! A woman who wafts around the workplace like a female won’t earn the respect of male peers!

Who says? Maybe that works until a woman steps up, stops listening to chauvinists of both sexes, and reveals all – balls, brains, and bling. If she is subliminally judged by the men’s club, so what? Following the rules like good girls never got us anywhere. I’m not suggesting that a professional woman undermine her dignity. Only that she takes control of the definition.

PHOTO: TheSultanette

Polka dot disruption.

De Ribes’s haute sexuality was born of self-assertion. She exudes the enigmatic, intangible power of a female who follows her own rules. In all their back-slapping, gonad-bonding bravado men still find that confounding, perplexing, and baffling. They have been brought up as rational beings, poor left-brainers, perhaps that’s why they have so much trouble controlling their penises.

PHOTO: TheSultanette

Bows take a bow.

Yes, de Ribes existed in a milieu when a woman’s power was equated with her presence. Yes, women were shut out of male-dominated professions. Indeed, that right of entry has been, and is justifiably fought today. But if there is a war between the sexes does that mean we dismantle our nuclear allure?

I arrived at the final gallery of the exhibition, an homage to the glitterati’s glam orgy at the Bal Oriental. It may have been the romp of the century for some but for de Ribes such affairs were to be taken seriously. “Balls were not for one’s amusement,” the show quotes her as saying, “They were for being ravishing.” If you’re going to shatter the glass ceiling why not dress for it?

Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style closed on February 21. Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France is hot on her heels at the Met until May 15. Look for The Sultanette’s CULTURE SNATCH to come.

01/26/16

Do You Want Sex Or Düsseldorf?

Prostitutka, Boris Grigoriev, 1917.

Prostitutka, Boris Grigoriev, 1917.

The World Happiness Report is out! In its third survey since 2012, the United Nations reveals the happiest places on earth. Or so they say, reports John Kay in, “Why ‘happy’ is boring.”

I spotted Kay’s piece in the Financial Times Weekend last September, just as I was escaping New York City for three months in England. According to the UN, I had the wrong country. The winner was Switzerland. (We’re getting to Düsseldorf, intrepid globetrotters, restrain yourselves!)

As Kay assesses the findings, “Switzerland is rich, temperate and has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. … You feel completely safe in the streets. And yes, the trains run on time.”

“You can have that, I have plenty.” Heidi, Jessie Wilcox Smith illus.

“You can have that, I have plenty.” Heidi, Jessie Wilcox Smith illus.

Security, consistency, and the goodness of nature. That would be enough to seduce any sentient being, right? Isn’t this why so many retirees flock to golf courses? Or babysit grandchildren? But Kay has another take on the Alpine paradise: “Boring.”

Kay’s recent book, Other People’s Money was named 2015 Book of the Year by the Economist, Bloomberg and the FT. In 2014, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) “for services to economics.” But what does a numbs and figs guy know about happiness? Everybody knows money can’t buy it, even though, like sex, we’d still prefer to have as much of it as possible.

Dusseldorf-Benrath, M Stephan.

Dusseldorf-Benrath, M Stephan.

This brings us to Düsseldorf. It comes up sixth in a study compiled by benefits consultants Mercer, and here Kay shows he can look beyond a spreadsheet. “There may be a surer way to end a promising relationship than to propose a romantic weekend in Düsseldorf,” he offers, “but it is hard to imagine one.”

Now we’re getting somewhere, Mr. Kay, or may I call you Johnnie? Do we want Düsseldorf or romance? Rational or sensational? Security or ecstasy? Are we after a livable life or a lived one?

Welcome to Peggy's place.

Welcome to Peggy’s place.

Casting aside polls for people, I invite you to Peggy Guggenheim’s eighteenth century Palazzo Venier in Venice, where her louche, eccentric spirit still lurks among one of the world’s most audacious art collections.

Was she a quirky socialite who slummed with creative types? A serious art connoisseur? A bag lady with a trust fund? A flighty romantic who chased from one lover’s bed to the next?

Peggy’s indomitable originality has always intrigued me, so I recently headed for the Film Society of Lincoln Center to see Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.

I Know, Godromil, Venezia Biennale d’art 2007.

I Know, Godromil, Venezia Biennale d’art 2007.

If you are tempted to assign Peggy the role of Venetian vixen who flaunted her family fortune to play patron and pussy cat with the art crowd, prepare for disappointment.

The film, centered around a taped interview unearthed from a basement cache of books, brings the private Peggy out of her public persona with sympathetic detachment. The woman we see and hear suffered the death of her adored father when she fourteen (on the Titanic). Her certifiably narcissistic mother was no consolation. One of the “poor” Guggenheim’s, she endured the condescension of her posh and supercilious relatives, who disdained her taste in art.

Louise Nevelson and Neith.

Louise Nevelson and Neith.

She had an eye and she would follow her instincts. A young Lucien Freud made his first appearance in a children’s exhibition at her London gallery. In 1943, she organized the first show devoted exclusively to women that included Louise Nevelson and Frida Kahlo.

She was instrumental in the careers of Kandinsky and Motherwell. Not only did she take a chance on the work of undiscovered artists, she provided a stipend for the struggling Jackson Pollock so he could pursue his muse unfettered by the natty demands of survival.

During the war, she staged a brilliant scrimmage to prevent the German’s from appropriating her collection. She later helped put the Venice Biennale on the map. All of this while dealing with love, loss, and a botched nose job.

Peggy’s Palazzo, Jean-Pierre Dalbéra. Fondation Peggy Guggenheim "Torre: a Cor-Ten steel tower, with ogival windows, tracery and turrets in the International Gothic style, on the terrace of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, overlooking the Grand Canal " http://www.guggenheim-venice.it/

Peggy’s Palazzo, Jean-Pierre Dalbéra.

But then the film asks the ultimate question: Did it make her happy?

Alas, Peggy never found lasting love. (To the question, how many husbands had she had, she was said to reply, “mine or other people’s?”) It’s been suggested that she was looking for too much love on all the wrong mattresses. That her serial romps were a desperate attempt to fill the vacuum left by childhood abandonment.

When the film’s director was asked in a Vanity Fair interview whether Peggy had pursued art as a safe harbor from the personal tragedy in her life, Vreeland responded, “[Peggy] identified with the art and the artists and found solace in all of it.”

Bill at the London Parliament,1995.

Bill at the London Parliament,1995.

A man’s happiness is seldom offered as a criterion of his accomplishments. His sexuality rarely shows up on the scorecard of a fulfilled life. While some may debate the merits of the Clinton presidency, few feel it necessary to analyze whether the skirt-chasing Bill was a happy guy. It is his long-suffering wife that we tsk at for putting up with his antics. It will probably dog her reputation even if she saves the free world.

“I’m a lone wolf,” Peggy says in the film. No apologies. You could say she was lousy at love and a shameless hussy. But must a lack of romantic closure deem her life unfulfilled? Or her sexual proclivity cast a shadow on her accomplishments?

To the growing minority who believe that art is important for life’s sake, perhaps Peggy Guggenheim’s singular passion for championing genius, supporting the unanointed, and risking a fortune on a new way of looking at things, might be enough to celebrate. That’s not about getting trains to run on time but a world that too easily rationalizes the banal might be unlivable without it.

Byron in Venice, Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky.

Byron in Venice, Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky.

Which brings us back to the United Nations Happiness Report. “Why do so many young people,” writes Kay, “go to London or New York in search of the excitement and creativity rather than the livable?” To answer, he takes us to the Floating City.

“Venice is crowded, hard to navigate, inadequately served by public transport, its public administration is hopeless and its commercial activities are corrupt,” he concludes, “but however often you have visited, the magic remains.”

No coincidence that Peggy Guggenheim made this uncooperative, impious, ineluctable city home. Düsseldorf anyone?