25 May, 2010

The Duchess Views, and Entertains . . .

Sotheby's Auction of Polaroid Prints, Le Chateau

Work by David Hockney

Oy. Yesterday afternoon the Baroness beckoned for some company at a viewing party hosted by Sotheby's in honor of its June auction of a number of Polaroid prints, and the Duchess delivered. Life was good; street parking plentiful; canapes and Champagne en masse. The Polaroid company will auction works by David Hockney, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, William Wegman, Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and others in June, now that a legal imbroglio over rights to the works has been resolved. Proceeds from the sale of over 1,200 photographs will be used to pay off the creditors of bankrupt Polaroid. Commerce wins again.

Post, the Baroness and Duchess cruised over to the Chateau where we met Grand-Mere for dinner, fresh off the plane from New York. Two hours of sleep never so looked so good as they did on Grand-Mere! Lovely to see you. All in all a wonderful Los Angeles night, sullied only by the Duchess's complete and utter failure to notice that she had parked her chariot in a Tow Away zone. Cost of doing business with the Duchess? Steep. Time spent with Baroness and Grand Mere? Why, priceless, of course!

24 May, 2010

The Duchess Recommends . . .

The Films of Abbas Kiarostami

Mr. Kiarostami

The Duchess can barely turn the radio dial without hearing chatter about the denouements of "Lost" and "24", neither of which the Duchess has ever seen (not even one episode). What the Duchess has seen, and recommends, are many of the films of Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, whose entry of "Certified Copy" into the festival at Cannes earned him recent recognition through the selection of its star, Juliette Binoche, as Best Actress. You won't hear of him on Ryan Seacrest, readers.

A still from "Certified Copy"

Mr. Kiarostami has been an active filmmaker, screenwriter, editor and artist since 1970 and has been involved in over forty films. He represents the creme de la creme of the Iranian New Wave, a group of Persian filmmakers whose cinema generally relies upon poetry and abstraction to comment subtly on philosophical and political topics. He won the Palme D'Or in 1997 for the suicide piece "A Taste of Cherry," and the Golden Lion of the Venice International Film Festival for the mesmerizing "The Wind Will Carry Us." He is a humanitarian and feminist filmmaker, and his cinema explores themes of autonomy, death, oppression and power.

A still from "The Wind Will Carry Us"

Mr. Kiarostami also wrote "The Circle", a film directed by Jafar Panahi, which was a powerfully feminist film that exposed the inequalities imposed upon women by the Iranian Islamist regime. Mr. Panahi was arrested earlier this year, along with his family, on allegations that he was making a film critical of the prevailing regime. His prison sentence was recently extended, prompting outcries from the international film community, including Ms. Binoche who (according to the New York Times) held up a sign bearing his name at the festival in Cannes.

The Duchess had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. Kiarostami at the 2001 Doubletake Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina, which premiered his film "ABC Africa." The prospect of traveling to Iran to witness firsthand the subject matter of his films held great promise in that pre-9/11 world. How beautiful the commitment and passion these artists have for illuminating something through film that many of us will never see or fully understand, and how heartbreaking that they -- most notably Mr. Panahi -- suffer for being messengers of truth.

21 May, 2010

The Duchess Dines . . .

Osteria Mozza, FIG, Tacos Por Favor

The rainy and cool weather here in Los Angeles has provided the Duchess with further respite from swimsuit season and thus ample opportunity to dig in to all manner of deliciousness. The weekly roundup included tucking in to nothing less healthy than prosciutto-wrapped breadsticks (swathed with ample amounts of truffle butter) at yummy Osteria Mozza, which was so crowded (on Lakers' game night, no less) that the Duchess repurposed some of that truffle butter to slip through the crowd.

After being unceremoniously turned away from Tacos Por Favor mere seconds after 8 pm last night, the Duchess and company attempted to stave off disappointment at FIG in Santa Monica at the Fairmont Hotel. Nice wines and cocktails, seasonally fresh menu, and the best implementation of quinoa around made for a decent, if not wholly satisfying, replacement.

The koi in FIG's courtyard are so chubby that they lightened the Duchess's guilt from indulging in a post-lunch, mid-LEXIS Butterfinger bar.

Of course the Duchess needn't have driven down the 405 freeway for an aperitif. Oh no. Cher Sid at Hush Up Salon in Manhattan Beach, that impresario of blonde, served up some Sauvignon while foiling away. Cheers, Sid! (And see you in six weeks.)

19 May, 2010

The Duchess Considers . . .


It's an endlessly fascinating subject, and under the cavernous umbrella of that one word exist innumerable permutations of the concept. It is at once both a universal and individual idea. From birth we are, most often, deeply and irreparably influenced by the marriages of those intimately close to us (our parents, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles); as we age, we undertake the mantle our own selves, and share in that status, that mindset, that legal relationship, that emotional free-for-all, with our friends, with our families, and most significantly with our spouses.

In the first few months after her wedding, many people inquired of the Duchess: "How is married life treating you?" Married Life. A life perhaps indescribably different (more profound or less profound? richer or poorer? better or worse?) than Single Life: Married Life had a life of its own; it existed outside of him and her; it was a force to be reckoned with; and it defined them, both to each other and to the outside world, with labels, responsibilities and expectations that neither she nor he (she now believes) understood in scope or magnitude. Married Life changes us in ways we cannot predict, in ways we do not want, in ways we later cannot reverse.

"Husband and Wife", the new novel by contemporary author Leah Stewart, explores the changes undertaken by two people of those same names (a Husband, Nathan, and a Wife, Sarah), or imposed upon them by Married Life. In the book both Husband and Wife are authors (he a novelist, she a poet) in spirit and education, but Wife has dutifully -- after the birth of Son and Daughter -- taken a respectably dull position as the manager of a neurobiology lab at Duke University. It has benefits, sure (health care coverage, steady income), and allows Nathan the freedom to pursue his literary career. As Sarah transforms herself into a seemingly responsible adult, she and Nathan, once bound together by youthful passion and artistic verve, find themselves drifting apart, increasingly entwined only by their shared love of Daughter and Son, their dwindling bank account, their memories.

Predictably Nathan has an affair. He loves Sarah, he assures her; it meant nothing, it was only one time, and it was completely, forever in the past. Predictably Sarah finds that this revelation destroys her carefully constructed world. Predictably we readers follow Sarah on her journey from denial, to indignation, to confusion, to understanding, and finally to forgiveness.

Key to her journey is Sarah's secretly held and long dormant passion for another man, Rajiv, with whom she shared romance before her marriage to Nathan. Through Rajiv primarily, Sarah experiences a reawakening of her former self, her pre-marriage self, and this restoration is essential to the restoration of the marriage.

It's nothing new. In fact, the story is ages old. But it raises those forever questions that we can never answer. Why does marriage change us from our pre-marriage selves? Should it? Do we want it to? What is the nature of infidelity? Does it depend on the commission of a physical act? Are mind-consuming fantasies sufficient to qualify as adultery? If not, why not? Can marriage last a lifetime? And how do we balance the pursuit of our own dreams with the potential hurt, and disappointment, such pursuit could render? What is love? Does it coincide with marriage? And to what extent must we, should we, share with our spouses the secrets and peccadilloes inside us all, knowing as we do that their revelations will wreak havoc?

These things the Duchess considers. A proud hurrah to Ms. Stewart for creating a suitable vehicle for exploration.

18 May, 2010

The Duchess Recapitulates . . .

Le Weekend

Julia Schwartz, "Morning Light"

Dear Readers, copious apologies for the posting delay. Utterly hectic weekend + technology breakup + tennis coma = la duchesse soporifique.

Friday's liquid diet transmogrified into Saturday's caffeine-fueled, chauffeur-driven escapades. Sufficiently calorified by a late night stop at Wendy's (Venice/Culver, Single (no cheese)/Chicken Nuggets (five piece)), we had no need for an actual breakfast; electrifying americanos from Intelligentsia sufficed. Friends, please spare the Duchess from further excursions to Intelligentsia, as her post-hipster, pseudo-cool days are far behind her.

A handful of truck tacos and hours of sleep later, the Duchess ventured over to Santa Monica's Bleicher/Golightly Gallery for an opening of works by painter Julia Schwartz. Stunningly beautiful work, so luminous in person. The Duchess accepts donations . . . . From there, out to quick dinner and drinks at the altogether unjustifiably busy Viceroy, and then to bed.

Julia Schwartz, "Cordon Sanitaire"

After a Soviet ass-kicking by her adored tennis coach, the Duchess went into rehab (incognito bien sur) at Kate Mantilini, setting the stage for a quiet, reclusive afternoon of books and movies at the Landmark. Book reviews to follow but the Duchess did enjoy (post-drink at the Landmark bar) "The Secret in Their Eyes", which won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

Putting to one side the fact that the male lead is mouthwateringly hot, the movie, thought the Duchess, was good, but not that good. And certainly not better than "The White Ribbon". As per usual, however, no one asked her for her opinion on the matter.

Bouchon Bistro, Beverly Hills

And oh, last night's dinner/drinks marathon, beginning at Bouchon. The polite way to put it would be to say that after an hour there the Duchess decamped for her most favorite Spago, only across the street in distance, but miles away in everything else.

Spago Bar

Self-indulgent Duchess? Yes, perhaps. But it is these things, the enjoyment of a drink with friends, the satisfaction of a delicious meal, the collaboration of particles on canvas, pushed together as in a desperate embrace, that rescue the Duchess from "ordinary unhappiness," in the words of Dr. Freud, from being trapped by endless malaise and ennui (never too far from the Duchess's grasp). All these things, of course, and the most delicious pleasure of all:

"We are fated to love one another; we hardly exist outside our love, we are just animals without it, with a birth and a death and constant fear between. Our love has lifted us up, out of the dreadfulness of merely living."

13 May, 2010

The Duchess Observes . . .

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston

Apologies for the absence, dear readers, but feasting on the buffet of life keeps the Duchess quite busy. She's sure you understand. The late nights and endless libations are taking their toll, but at least this weekend she can get away for a little R&R. Until then, no rest for the weary.

None at all. Last night, for example, the Duchess and partner-in-crime Marchioness feted the west coast premiere of Whitney Smith's pseudo-documentary Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston. Conceived and created posthumously, Smith -- in an apparent quest to capture the zeitgeist of the swinging '70s, with Halston at its helm -- necessarily resorted to personal interviews with Halston's friends, confidantes, and business partners. The interviews range from the wildly fascinating (muse Liza Minnelli) to the substantial (the elegant Naeem Khan, who apprenticed with Halston) to the grossly comedic (M Andre Leon Talley); at best, though, they were an entertaining collection of anecdotes in loving memory to Halston, a man so emblematic of '70s glamour and excess that he cannot be adequately explored in Smith's film.

The film, oddly, was really not glamourous at all; it was witty and self-effacing, and garnered its fair share of laughs from what was probably a pretty humourless audience. For all its star-studded cast and provenance, it wasn't inspirational (like Matt Tyrnauer's excellent documentary on Valentino Garavani (book coming out in July, published by Taschen)) and it wasn't exciting (like Unzipped). It was fun and lighthearted; not exactly Halston-ish (or Duchess-ish for that matter) but certainly a good excuse for a party. Which we of course did.

Marchioness and Duchess migrated westward to a little dinner held in honor of the filmmaker at the Soho House. Although the food wasn't so yummy, the company certainly was. Oy.

On another note the Duchess kindly thanks the Duke for an introduction to The Black Keys' advance releases from its new album, "Brothers", which drops (as they say) on May 18. The song "Tighten Up" perhaps could not be tighter (production by Danger Mouse). The First Duke tells her too that on the very same day drops an expanded version of "Exile on Main Street", which is in the Duchess's top two or three favorite albums of all time, and contains many of her favorite songs too.

But baby, I can't stay. You've got to roll me and call me the tumbling dice.

10 May, 2010

The Duchess Listens and Learns . . .

To and Of The Beatles

This Saturday marked the fortieth anniversary of the release of "Let it Be", the Beatles' last album and one issued after they had declared their separation. "Let it Be" was a long time in the making; many of the songs were recorded at Abbey Road prior to the recording of the album by the same name, but as they were unhappy with it, its release was delayed while Phil Spector remixed the songs, and cut "Don't Let Me Down" (shame, shame!) from the final edit.

For years the Duchess has much preferred the 2003 release "Let It Be . . . Naked", which contains different cuts of the original songs (including "Don't Let Me Down") and strips away much of the Phil Spector polish. "Let It Be . . . Naked" was conceptualized by Paul McCartney and filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg in preparation for the DVD release of the film "Let It Be", which documented the creation of the album and the Beatles' last public performance together, a spontaneous rooftop concert. It's a stunning film.

Coincidentally or not the Duchess just completed "Life at the Dakota" by Stephen Birmingham. The book covers the creation, completion, and life of the Dakota coop on West 72nd Street and Central Park West (originally 8th Avenue) in New York, the building in which John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously lived. Lennon, of course, was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman at the entrance to the Dakota. This is perhaps its most notorious claim to fame.

At the time construction on the Dakota was completed, in 1884, there was little to no city development on the Upper West Side; someone suggested to Edward Clark, who built and funded the German Renaissance masterpiece, that it was so far afield it might as well have been "the Dakotas" -- and the name stuck. The book is a fascinating recollection of Clark's vision to build for moneyed New Yorkers a unique alternative to the grand palaces of the Fricks and Morgans -- it was New York's first luxury apartment building. The Dakota can be credited with introducing soigne apartment living, in the European style, to New York, and launched (of course) a thousand imitators.

The Dakota also can be credited with establishing the elan of the Upper West Side; to some, the east side of the Park, with all its gentility and poise, is sterile and restrained. The Dakota and its tenants epitomize the boheme, eccentric and intellectual aspirations of a certain population of New Yorkers, one that is too small (in New York and elsewhere) and ever shrinking. Commerce and trade continually win out over art and culture. "Life at the Dakota" subtly points out this inequality of power; it inspires wistfulness for a sea change. The Duchess recommends.

08 May, 2010

The Duchess Reminisces . . .

of Fridays, and of Home.

While everyone else in the Duchess's court is going to Graceland (quite literally!), the Duchess holds down the West Coast fort. Although she'd love nothing more than cradling that young Prince of Pennington in her arms (mon amour!), she has other pressing matters to which she must attend.

Par example, yesterday the Duchess was called upon to traverse her own local, yet hallowed grounds. The day began with a luncheon for the impossibly dashing Joe Nye (pictured above) at Hollyhock, where Joe and his peeking pocket square signed copy after copy of the terrifically enlightening book "Flair", Mr. Nye's own compendium of table setting and party planning tips. What a thrill it was for the Duchess to connoiter with the darling Mr. Nye, whose star is still ascending.

The luncheon was just one of a thousand events held yesterday in homage to the Legends of Design on La Cienega, Elle Decor and 1stDib's inaugural fete for the decorators and connoisseurs whose havens line that traffic-stricken street. The lovelies of C Magazine were over at Maison au Naturel, and Oliver Furth did a divinely inspired installation at Bausman & Company, but the Duchess (only slightly) preferred dishing with the Priestess and Margravine at Hollywood at Home. Oh, what fun we had, oohing and aahing over the trunk show wares and the spectacular window dressings. The Duchess gives thanks to her dear old Hollywood at Home pals, who rescued her from an otherwise sober existence.

From there, the Duchess was swept away to Cecconi's for an intense tete-a-tete with her beloved Earl of Burden. Several rieslings and beef tartare later, we were sated, restored, and prepared for the sublime . . . .

The evening wound down with an intimate fete in honor of Phillip Lim, the clothing designer whose architectural chutzpah humbles his North Robertson neighbors. Topped off with a nightcap or two, it made for a rather divine evening.

And today, the Duchess relished her two young lords, whose devotion and love salved all her wounds, and whose wonderment inspires her daily. Where would she be without them? Exactly. And so the Duchess gives great thanks to her sweet First Duke of Corbin, and the gifts he gave. In his memory she indulges today in a bit of Sauvignon Blanc (merci, Earl of Greenwich!) and the complete remastered edition of "Blood on the Tracks":

Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine have been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud
But there's no way I can compare
All those scenes to this affair
You're going to make me lonesome when you go.

06 May, 2010

Drink Early, Drink Often

Now that's advice worth taking! Today the Duchess minded her own heed (at least, she minded some of her own heed. Never one for exemplary behaviour, that Duchess). Stolen moments in the sunshine made sweeter by the nectar of the gods, and even sweeter by the company of the Duchess's dear ones.

As the Duchess's hair has finally grown longer and taken shape . . .

she wasn't embarrassed to schedule a date with the Countess. We met before the sun rose over the Big Island and carried right on through till lunchtime, or until the management over at Little Dom's booted us out. Thank heavens the Countess is expecting, otherwise the inevitable boot-out certainly would have occurred much sooner. We splurged on breakfast pizza (Countess) and poached eggs with a side of mimosas (Duchess) -- rather lush.

A few more breakfast sessions with the Countess and the Duchess will be sporting Ralph Rucci gowns a la Andre Leon Talley. Such a bad influence, Countess! (Not that you weren't before . . . .)

Even the Marchioness made a cameo at Little Dom's. One more royal and we'd have a shooting party.

En route to the manor the Duchess stopped into Assouline, the bookseller at Melrose Place. Tucked away behind Assouline's stuccoed gate is the new rendition of Bastide, petite and discreet. Le menu appeared to be quite divine, and the rustle of trees shading the al fresco dining room lent the entire spectre a hedonistic glow. The Duchess shall return.

05 May, 2010

The Duchess Despairs . . .

Her Return to Reality.

Oh, Fantasyland! Our romance ended far too soon. Careless whispers of desire and longing, gone in an instant; we forego the disillusioning discussions of long-forgotten ex-lovers, we bypass the bitter taste of tears, we miss the mascara running down the Duchess's face as she brushes your cheek with a goodbye kiss. Fare thee well, darling. Your memory lives on.

So much so that the Duchess, despairing over quotidian insults the like of which Fantasyland has never seen (Time Warner Cable bills, dirty laundry and the ever-so-pesky hangnail), has taken to bed where you may find her buried under a mountain of Paulette . . .

eaten with a handful of Librium, washed down with a carafe of Cloudy Bay.

Cries of sorrow harmonize pitifully with the Duchess's bluesday playlist. Since misery adores company, darlings, won't you have a listen, too?

Steely Dan, "Deacon Blues" from Aja.

Cocteau Twins, "The Spangle Maker", self-titled

Roxy Music, "More than This" from Avalon

The Smiths, "There is a Light that Never Goes Out," The Sound of the Smiths

The Eagles, "Tequila Sunrise" (don't judge the Duchess)

The Church, "Under the Milky Way" from Starfish

Kate Bush, "Running Up that Hill" from Hounds of Love

The Beatles, "You Never Give Me Your Money" from Abbey Road

and, the ultimate tearjerker (advise listening with hanky in hand),

Bob Dylan, "Mississippi" from Love and Theft

A demain, darlings, a demain.

04 May, 2010

The Duchess Enters Fantasyland . . .

And Goes Shopping at Sotheby's

Pierre Bonnard, Marthe et son chien assise devant une table

Dear American Express. It isn't that the Duchess is screening her calls, per se, but she admits to delaying answering them until she figures out exactly what to say. That she has entered rehab for indulgence? That frugality is not written on her chromosomal data? That life is simply too short to live without beauty (and thus, sadly, without some means)? She's still working on her oratory, but in the meantime, she encourages you and everyone else to open your eyes to the world around you. There are so many lovely things to see!

Today the Duchess made a brief stopover, somewhere between Highland and Robertson, into Fantasyland. You've been there, readers, haven't you? You know the place. It looks a bit like the Plaza Athenee. A nice Sancerre is served at the door, catering is by David Myers, all the denizens are quite nice and well read, and there flows an endless supply of gorgeous bits and bobs. It's a veritable buffet of desire, and today's offering came courtesy of Sotheby's, which tomorrow evening holds its auction of Impressionist and Modern Art in New York. Like puppies, paintings need companionship, so the Duchess picked out a handful to take home.

Henri Matisse, Bouquet de fleurs pour le Quatorze Juillet

Henri Matisse, Nu au Fauteuil, Jambes Croisees

Kees van Dongen, Jeune Fille au Chapeau Fleuri

Pablo Picasso, Femme au grand chapeau Buste

All the excitement was so draining. The Duchess took a seat en aux fauteuils. Just a brief rest, darlings . . . .

Vintage chairs by Jack Lenor Larsen, available at Wright Now, Chicago, Illinois (and 1stdibs)

The Duchess will return from Fantasyland tomorrow. She's certain that it cannot be so bad. Especially with a little Sancerre.


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