08/19/16

The Care And Handling Of Pussy

Dali, Photo Philippe Halsman, 1948.

Dali, Photo Philippe Halsman, 1948.

The Sultanette refers here to those beguiling furry creatures that rub against you when they’re petted and go wild when toys are dangled in front of them. Did you have something else in mind?

Back to pussies that purr, when I read last weekend’s Wall Street Journal piece, “Wild Thing,” on training your cat to get along with people, my fur went up.

Satyr Mason, Agostino Carracci, 16th C.

Satyr Mason,Agostino Carracci,16thC.

I’ve treasured two main kitty squeezes in my life. The Abyssinian Turkey, who graciously agreed to relocate to Paris with me and the Good Ex. And Oscar Wilde the Persian who obligingly put up with One&Only for seventy-two cat years. (When his sweet life ended, a friend suggested it was a shame that the vet couldn’t have sacrificed One&Only instead.)

Turkey, Oscar, and I understood the key to compatibility. We agreed that there was one thing on earth we didn’t want to be told: What to do. So when writers John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis explained that “training can help our feline companions adapt to the demands we put on them” I wondered if they’d overdosed on catnip.

Little Jam Thief, McLoughlin Bros Pub, Pearl Series, 1880.

Little Jam Thief, McLoughlin Bros Pub, Pearl Series, 1880.

Cats are aloof, the article condemns. While man’s best friend, the obsequious canine, has been nuzzling up to humans for 15,000 years, it took cats another 5,000 to show a little love. And that was only when they realized it was easier to raid the farmer’s cupboard than the steppes.

The first evidence of cats becoming companionable was 4,000 years ago in Egypt, where archeologists have found them ceremonially buried with their owners, though that might have been a final effort to get them to stay off the kitchen table.

Regardless of their attempts at becoming warm and fuzzy Bradshaw and Ellis report, “owning a cat was taken as evidence of collusion with the devil.” Even into the 17th century, they were still making mischief, resulting in an association with paganism and witchcraft that lead them to be highly suspect during the Salem witch trials.

Cleophea Holzhalb,Hans Asper,1538.

Cleophea Holzhalb,Hans Asper,1538.

But this is now. Cats are clever enough to get with the program, right? Just like the male human is in relationship lockstep? Not so fast. “Cats aren’t programmed to interact with all humans,” the Journal reports. While felines may become “genuinely fond of their owners” unlike the tail-wagging pooch, “they don’t feel the need to ingratiate themselves with every human on Earth.” Don’t we spend millions on therapy to wean ourselves off of that behavior?

Off you go! Book cover, Anonymous,1922.

Off you go! Book cover, Anonymous,1922.

Themost shocking pussy report: “Cats like to be alone.” They don’t even much like to spend time with their own breed, says “Wild Thing.” Apparently before they joined civilization “cats’contact with one another was usually limited to a few days each year during the mating season and the few weeks in which mother cats raised their kittens.” No helicopter parents here. A little sex, a little time with the kids, and it’s off to the races!

The article does allow that “the independence of cats can be part of their charm.” Unless you ask them to leave home. “Cats’ solitary, territorial nature means they are more strongly bonded to the place where they live than with any of the people with whom they share it.” Really? When Good Ex and I moved to Paris, Turkey took to the pigeons toying with her like courtesans on our wrought-iron balcony much more readily than I embraced the dominatrix behind the counter at our neighborhood patisserie. Besides, everybody know these conniving creatures pour their greatest affection on those who feed them.

Cat in a Cage,Gottfried Mind, c1800.

Cat in a Cage,Gottfried Mind, c1800.

But never mind, these failings can be trained away! If this sounds daunting, Bradshaw and Ellis reassure us that “the goal shouldn’t be to bring cats under our control” but to teach them “how to control their own behavior in a way that forges a better fit between feline nature and 21st-century human life.”

Case in point, “cats are hunters.” Yet by keeping them cooped up at home, eating gourmet cat food and sleeping in their designer cat beds while we clean the litter box, we deny them the need to capture prey. Solution? To “reduce a cat’s stress levels” play hunting games with them. Research has proven it! We may think that Snowball is playing, but “the cat seems to think that she is catching prey.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1869.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1869.

As for those anti-social tendencies, “you can also train your cat to be more accepting of its fellow felines.” If a new cat moves in next door, for instance, organize a series of play dates. This is not as easy as Tinder and we are advised “to make the introductions very slowly.” First give them a scent sample like you might sniff an insert of Obsession in Vanity Fair. Then let them check each other out from afar. When you start seeing “signs of relaxation” reward them with a “tasty treat.” Only then can you allow the experts to chase tail.

Congratulations, you have now taught your cat to conform to the 21st century. Simple enough. But by the looks of how we’ve managed love, companionship, and the pursuit of sex and happiness in the 21st-century, might we be better aspiring to the ancient, worldly feline? Single-minded. Discerning. Detached. Playful. Never ingratiating. Valuing its solitude. With a little witchcraft thrown in. That even sounds worth a few hair balls.

05/11/16

Where Have All The Playboys Gone?

Giove seduces Olimpiade, fresco, Giulio Romano.

Giove seduces Olimpiade, fresco, Giulio Romano.

I remember the Playboy Mansion like it was yesterday. Gotcha, salacious followers! Okay, The Sultanette never wore Bunny ears and cottontail though I’ve been known to don the random, ribboned corset. And I did press my face against the wrought iron gate of Hugh Hefner’s Chicago chateau at 1340 North State Parkway in hopes of spotting a louche Leporidae.

Freshly graduated from Dairy State U, I was living up the street in a mansion that had been converted into apartments. On weekends, my roommates and I joined the throngs along Chicago’s Gold Coast single’s bars searching for Sex-in-the-Second-City.

Rush Street, ink, Scott Nazelrod.

Rush Street, ink, Scott Nazelrod.

When I found it on occasion, in a haze of marijuana-inspired gropings (The Sultanette never inhaled) it seemed hardly a match for the sybaritic antics at the mansion. Not that I had aspirations to serve cocktails in bunny drag to ogling James Bond wannabes. But Hefner’s televised series, Playboy After Dark, featuring girls with torpedo tits and perfect flips draped over Barcelona sofas enjoying laid-back flirtations with cool celebrities, seemed more compelling than suffering boilerplate come-on’s in the din of Rush Street’s beer palaces.

May ‘58 Playboy Playmate of the Month, Lari Laine & Ozzie Nelson on Ozzie & Harriet.

May ‘58 Playboy Playmate of the Month, Lari Laine & Ozzie Nelson on Ozzie & Harriet.

I was reminded of the Playboy heyday upon reading Christopher Turner’s review of the phenomenon’s recent interpretations, “If you don’t swing, don’t ring” in the London Review of Books. If the same publication that holds forth on Sartre, Freud and Descartes can spill ink on Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy” it’s worth a shout-out from The Sultanette.

Full frontal disclosure, I do have insider’s info on the Playboy days from the first Bunny costume design meeting to eggs with Lenny Bruce in the mansion’s breakfast nook. Nothing you can’t find in a memoir I collaborated on (unless you count the unpublished bits I’ll never reveal) with the artist LeRoy Neiman, “Hef’s” lifelong friend and Playboy Magazine contributor.

Memories of rich conversation while working on All Told with LeRoy are as potent as the aroma of the Cuban he puffed on everyday after lunch, its precarious ash accumulating as each story unfolded. But that’s another story. If you want to know how a Depression kid went from WWII GI to partying with Salvador Dali, cavorting with Sinatra, and sketching Muhammad Ali, Amazon awaits your order. For now, it’s Playboy’s art of sex for seduction sake I invite you to consider.

At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo, oil on canvas, 1892, Edvard Munch.

At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo, oil on canvas, 1892, Edvard Munch.

When Hef conjured up the idea that LeRoy would set up studios in Paris and London and record his experiences in Man at his Leisure, the magazine’s column became his Playboy Philosophy writ large. From nude beaches to Ascot, Paris discos to the casino in Monte Carlo, the life of a jet-setting bon vivant embodied “The Man Who Reads Playboy.”

While LeRoy was gallivanting, Hef was playing lord of the bachelor pad in his pipe and silk pj’s. Turner writes that his third floor bedroom with its “circular rotating (and vibrating) bed” served as Playboy HQ. If he didn’t invent the man cave, he furnished it. Playboy’s first editorial declared, “We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.”

Is there a sapiosexual in the house? Bookish Playboy.

Is there a sapiosexual in the house? Bookish Playboy.

Stop! When did the seduction playbook change? While The Sultanette may not require beluga or a discourse on Karl Marx to surrender her accouterments, how about a subject, a verb, and some savoir faire? And when did we become so authentic we lost our sense of irony? I would still prefer a tongue-in-cheek quip like, “I know a spot with some decent Bordeaux, good music, and rare filet mignon. My place?” to a “What’s up?” on WhatsApp, i.e., “Want to grab a drink and my dick?” Note to prospective Male Harem members: A text is not foreplay.

In Danger of Being Seduced, litho, 1855, Berlin.

In Danger of Being Seduced, litho, 1855, Berlin.

Once in the door, according to Playboy’s “25 Steps to the Perfect Seduction” a mandatory piece of furniture is the bar trolley which “permits the canny bachelor to remain in the room while mixing a cool one for his intended quarry … “. In that vein, while Canny Bachelor is fumbling to undo Intended Quarry’s bra strap after a libido-lubricating conversation about Kierkegaard, his couch flips to horizontal at the touch of a button. Brilliant solution to the hazards of martini spillage on the commute to the boudoir.

The last official Playboy Club (Manila) closed in 1991. The sixty-year-old Playboy centerfold was inevitably eclipsed by online porn. But where have all the playboys … and playgirls gone? In a world of multi-tasking is there no place for an intermezzo with a chéri(e) amour? A stylish caper with a sig other in the midst of life’s daily barbarism? The thrill of complicity between consenting adults seeking mutual plunder?

Allegorical Scene, oil on canvas, Konstantin Makovsky.

Allegorical Scene, oil on canvas, Konstantin Makovsky.

Curiously, non-American men, seem to more readily embrace the concept that sex is an event that occurs before penetration, and that seduction involves gamesmanship. (Due credit to The Impresario.) American men, like good capitalists, just want to get the job done so they can concentrate on boosting the GNP and watching baseball. In their befuddled efforts to treat women as equals like they’ve been told, they’ve gone from behaving like gentleman to jocks.

In 1967, Hef fitted out a black DC-9 jumbo jet with the Bunny logo on its tail and christened it the Big Bunny. “It was a penthouse on wings,” Turner writes, “with dance floor, screening room, wet bar, sleeping quarters for sixteen and an elliptical bed for Hefner covered in Tasmanian opossum skins.” The last time we saw anything close were the bar stools on the yacht of Aristotle Onassis, upholstered with the foreskin of the minke whale.

“The Flying Nun” Sister Aquinas,1943, DC.

“The Flying Nun” Sister Aquinas,1943, DC.

The plane, alias “Hare Force One” was sold in 1976. Its latest clone was the private jet of “King of Good Times” Vijay Mallya, who stamped his initials in gold on the wingtip. It was verified to me in droll conversation with a former passenger (don’t ask) that babes were frequent flyers. But recent news that the roué’s misspent lifestyle has landed the plane on the auction block by Indian tax authorities could mean the demise of flying the horny skies.

Is it the end of getting high on seduction? Turner writes that Hugh Hefner founded Playboy with a loan from his mother who had hoped he’d become a missionary. If instead, he became minister to the Church of The Glorious Chase, get me to the nunnery.

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?

09/16/15

Space Travel: The Sultanette Guide To Wanderlust

Cocottes,1905, Axel Torneman, repro PD Posse Stryngford.

Cocottes,1905, Axel Torneman, repro PD Posse Stryngford.

The Sultanette has survived harrowing abandonment, deplorable betrayal, and world-class hangovers. Despite enough bad behavior to raise a nun’s eyebrow, I’ve managed to get home in the morning with keys, credit cards and lip gloss. To quote French tart and woman of letters, Colette, “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”

But who has time to reminisce? Now that The Male Harem has fueled my wanderlust, I’ll be heading for Mars on SpaceX as soon as Elon Musk offers in-flight Wi-Fi. Meantime I’ve signed up for another X-related adventure this fall.

View of Oxford,19C, William Turner of Oxford.

View of Oxford,19C, William Turner of Oxford.

No, not porn flicks, you wicked people! It’s Oxford I’m heading for (the one in England, not Ohio) for a ten-week course in European history – sex not included! (Unless an unscrupulous tutor convinces me it’s required for an A+ on my paper.)

So how the hell, you ask, have I pulled off getting high on education in “the city of dreaming spires”? That would require a multiple-choice answer: (A) Smart-ass Male Harem members stoke me to keep learning stuff. (B) Immeasurably kind friends are letting me freeload in their flat. (C) A fortune cookie proverb wedged in a framed photo at my computer (I’m looking at it now) inspired it.

Leopard in the Eye, Vinaypyatimani.

Leopard in the Eye, Vinaypyatimani.

The photo shows me grinning at camera poolside in a leopard-spotted bikini the year of my fiftieth birthday. On a hotel-quality towel beside me is Natalie Angier’s Woman, An Intimate Geography, a gender-bending source book that predates Caitlyn Jenner’s genitalia celebrity status. The proverb reads, “In order to remain young, one must change.”

While The Sultanette chooses less dramatic tacks than Ms. Jenner, I’ve learned in life that nothing beats a leap into the unknown to flush the cheeks and refresh the libido. It certainly had an effect on Caitlyn. Yet the hoopla over channeling her inner pinup on the cover of Vanity Fair begs the question: Why are we so uncomfortable accepting the way a woman defines herself until we can assign her a stereotype?

Serena by Pascal Kirchmair (Own Work), 2014, WikiCommons.

Serena by Pascal Kirchmair (Own Work), 2014, WikiCommons.

Anomalies like Caitlin Jenner or the erotically ferocious Serena Williams must be properly classified. Who do they think they are? Thankfully, the problem is resolved once a woman passes into the neutered safety of old age. Once she is post-menopausal, she becomes unassailable. What was a bitchy Millennial is now an adorably feisty octogenarian. The smart aleck is anointed guru. Raunchy is cheeky. What a gal!

If you don’t believe me, try googlng an American matriarch and watch pages of quotes get top SEO billing. The culture that claims being too highly evolved to put a woman on a pedestal elevates these wizened wisenheimers to oracles.

Platform stiletto,Terry de Havilland, 2007, Electra7 (own work), WikiCommons.

Platform stiletto,Terry de Havilland, 2007, Electra7 (own work), WikiCommons.

Let those who rail that a woman is judged by her looks head for the salon when 90-something accessory queen, Iris Apfel declares, “If your hair is done properly and you’re wearing good shoes, you can get away with anything.”

Authenticity-seekers heed the words of legendary Diana Vreeland: “A lie to get out of something or take an advantage for oneself, that’s one thing; but a lie to make life more interesting – well, that’s entirely different.”

closed-for-businessUnlike the Jenner’s of the world who are questioned for making media sensations of jumpstarting their vaginas, once a woman unplugs from her erotica we celebrate her booty news. Does “85-Year-Old-Wonder” Amy Greene (a former Glamour Beauty Editor whose outré statement is mismatched socks) have a boyfriend? New York Magazine reports her spunky reply: “I have gentlemen callers but I’m out of the vagina business.” Mazel tov!

microphones2

Microfonos, Installation, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, 2008.

Why are American female role models required to be bastions of certitude? Has the clamor to claim “our voice” drowned out the notion that we can have our way in life without always having our say?

Don’t get me wrong. I admire the swagger of these accomplished dames. I only question why we feel the need to spin our role models into caricatures while other parts of the civilized world are satisfied with flesh-and-blood icons.

I offer the following quotes from virtuosos who have made their way with passion and purpose in less evolved feminist environments, yet are not above teasing out the answers:

“The more the years go by, the less I know. But if you give explanations and understand everything, then nothing can happen.” Anouk Aimée, “Goddess of Cinema Mythology” whose seventy films include A Man And A Woman, 8 ½, and La Dolce Vita. Eight-three years old.

Ready for your closeup? Alfred Cheney Johnston, c1920.

Ready for your closeup? Alfred Cheney Johnston, c1920.

“If you haven’t cried, your eyes can’t be beautiful.” At eighty, the new face of Dolce & Gabbana, Sophia Loren.

“As you get older, naked stuff gets easier.” British bombshell, Helen Mirren. Seventy.

Film director and Ingmar Bergman muse, Liv Ullmann, when asked what she’d like to say at the end of her life: “I loved and I was mystified. It was a joy sometimes, and I knew grief. And I would like to do it all again.”

Spacewalk, Astronaut Nicholas Patrick, 2/17/10, NASA.

Spacewalk, Astronaut Nicholas Patrick, 2/17/10, NASA.

Which brings me back to fortune cookies, dreaming spires, and space travel. While the next stop is Oxford, I don’t intend it to be the last. To quote a youngster of fifty-seven years, Madonna, from her song, Jump, “There’s only so much you can learn in one place.”

Call me a dilettante. Accuse me of being a louche adventuress. I’m off to experience events unforeseen far away from home and more important, from what I know. But I will have my ashes scattered over Mars before I think I have all the answers or forget it’s a multiple-choice question.

Golden Rule Girl, 1943, John Vachon.

Golden Rule Girl, 1943, John Vachon.

Maybe one day, I’ll learn how to accessorize like Iris or cultivate Sophia’s knowing eyes. Acquire the naked confidence of Helen, Amy’s moxie, and Diana’s artful deception. Anouk’s seductive uncertainty and Madonna’s restless defiance. Or maybe I’ll settle for sultanette-in-progress, destination unknown, satisfied, mystified, and like Liv, ready to do it all again.

I invite you to follow the next installments of The Sultanette on sabbatical at Oxford. No matter what they try to teach me, I intend to learn something.