20 December, 2011

The Duchess Writes A Letter . . .

Dear Santa:

The Duchess knows that times are hard this year, so she is asking for a gift that is totally free!  Please please please, in her next life, let her come back looking like this gorgeous creature here.  (Happy Birthday Lara Stone.)

That is all.


18 December, 2011

The Duchess Recommends . . .

If you can tear away from holiday charmers ("Elf", anyone?) to engage in something utterly spectacular, the Duchess has these four words for you:  THE TREE OF LIFE.  If you have not seen this film, rent or purchase or download it immediately. 

"The Tree of Life" (or "Tree" for short) was released earlier this year to coincide loosely with its premier at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme D'Or.  Though it has received tremendous critical acclaim (not from all corners, however), it hasn't enjoyed the popularity of more recently released flicks (such as "The Descendants" by Alexander Payne, starring George Clooney (wake me, I'm snoring) or some as-yet to be released (i.e., "War Horse" by Steven Spielberg, already nominated for a Golden Globe award for best drama--the Duchess won't be seeing it, so let her know how it goes).  It was booed and cheered at Cannes, and in brief unofficial pools, many people the Duchess has quizzed about the film (have you seen it?  what do you think?) didn't like it; some even walked out of the theater (as the Duchess should have done with "Black Swan"). 
But it is extraordinary.  Billed out to prospective audiences as the story of an eldest son's loss of innocence and his revisiting of his 1950's childhood, complete with soothing, domesticated mother and stern, authoritarian father, the movie in reality is a surging exploration of the interconnectedness of people and human experience, and the tension between that interconnectedness and the egoistic struggle of the self to rise above all.  It's difficult to provide a synopsis, especially a brief one, but in short the movie begins with a family tragedy (shown through parents Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain), then forwards for a moment to Sean Penn (their eldest son) as an adult, wandering aimlessly, searchingly through life as visualized in a sequence of phallic, anonymous high-rise buildings.  Everyone is seeking an answer to that eternal question, why?, and attempting to find understanding in the universe writ large.  Cue a montage of images documenting the beginning of the earth, and then the rest of this two hour and twenty minute masterpiece. 

Pitt is remarkable as the father figure, anchoring the entire story on both micro- and macro-levels.  Hunter McCracken, who plays Sean Penn's younger self, gives an incredible cinematic perspective on the developing mind of a boy on the quest for manhood.  Jessica Chastain is luminous, relatable, and the ideal yin to Pitt's yang.  The weakest link in the movie, interestingly, is Sean Penn; the Duchess read somewhere that in an interview Penn acknowledged the screenplay as the best he had ever read, but that he had difficulty relating the depth of emotion it sought to capture on screen.  The Duchess thinks that is true. 

Another real star of the movie is the music, a classical "who's who" encompassing Bach, Brahms, Berlioz, Mozart, Holst, and the enchanting "Lacrimosa" by Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner.

Terrence Malick has made only five feature length films in his four decade career as a director.  He held on tightly to his vision of a creative masterpiece, and he has succeeded.  He is a true, master auteur.  Like it or not, "Tree" is a weird, compelling work of art, the likes of which the Duchess hasn't seen (in any medium) in years. 

14 December, 2011

The Duchess Celebrates . . .

It's somewhat challenging to get into the Christmas (holiday) spirit when the tree is not festively lighted and trimmed, let alone en casa.  This year, instead of taking the time to visit one of the many local Christmas tree "patches," so to speak, we are chancing it with a fresh Fraser fir (say that three times, and fast) tree shipped directly from the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Not very green, and not something we'll be doing again.  Next year, the Duchess insists that we will invest in one of the fantastic faux Christmas trees that abound, which we shall store and reuse year after year.  Suzanne Kasler designed some gorgeous ones for Ballard Designs.

Soon-to-be our Blue Ridge tree

Divine design from Suzanne Kasler, through Ballard

Of course, when we finally get the damn thing, then we have to decorate it.  The Duchess suffers already from quaking fears of inadequacy:  Her tree will never measure up to the stunning creation of designer Benjamin Bradley, whose tree annually boasts over 2,000 ornaments, many of which are antique.  Visit New York Social Diary to see a complete tour of his apartment, decorated to the absolute hilt for Christmas.  It's inspirational, and makes the Duchess just want to swing by for some cider or glogg. 

Photograph by Jeffrey Hirsch

It's also somewhat challenging to focus on the Christmas tradition of gift giving when there is so much financial inequity confronting us.  It's all fine and good for the Duchess to go gaga over a little Prada clutch every now and again--but let's be honest, as with most "eye candy" there is a lot of look-but-don't-touch going on, for the  Duchess and everyone else.  Times are hard, you're afraid to pay the fee (with apologies to Donald Fagen)--and you don't have to this year.  Focus on friends, family and other loved ones.  Start spring cleaning a few months early, and take your probably very precious cast-offs to your local charity--someone will appreciate them more than you do.  Drop off a meal for delivery at your church, or load up the kids in the car and drop off the meals yourselves.  There are small ways to contribute that take up very little time.  The Duchess is looking for more suggestions! 

Come back soon for posting on affordable, homemade holiday gifts. 

08 December, 2011

The Duchess Recommends . . .

Should the Duchess ever get off the phone with Barneys customer service (not likely at this rate), she'll spend some time this weekend at the Raymond Pettibon exhibit at Regen Projects ("Desire In Pursuyt Of The Whole," now through December 22).

Regen Projects Gallery

633 N. Almont Dr.
West Hollywood, California 90069
Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm
images via hypebeast

24 November, 2011

The Duchess Reads . . .

The November reading list is expansive but as always enjoyable.  May the Duchess recommend . . . .

"The Marriage Plot," Jeffrey Eugenides.  Completed and loved.  A light and entertaining read about a trio of college students, the literary Madeleine, the moody Leonard, and the mystical Mitchell, all of whom graduate and struggle to redefine themselves (and their relationships to one another) after donning their caps and gowns at Brown

"The Cat's Table," Michael Ondaatje.  Halfway through.  From the author of "The English Patient," an elegant story about a boy taking passage on a ship from Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) to England, where he will meet his mother whom he has not seen in years, and where he will complete his education.  Adventure through the eyes of a boy portrayed without sentimentality but with all the innocence of youth. 

"Blue Nights," Joan Didion (click link for a thought piece by Didion's late brother-in-law, Dominick Dunne).  Halfway through.  The Duchess was so looking forward to reading this that she even pre-ordered a copy from Amazon (rather than waiting to buy at Book Soup--she knows her mistake here).  This story, the author's memoir about her relationship to her adopted daughter who passed away suddenly as a young adult, is sadly failing to grasp the Duchess despite its poignant content. 

23 November, 2011

The Duchess Gives Thanks . . . .

Much to be thankful for this holiday season, and much too much to list it all here.  As many of her readers know, the Duchess was wed once again this past weekend in a tornado of champagne and tulle that still leaves her reeling, especially with feelings of love and affection for all with whom the Duchess celebrated, and of course for The Senator himself.

Reports will be forthcoming, but in the meantime, the Duchess welcomes a break from wedding madness to return to this e-land of art and beauty, good food and good wine.  Appropriately (given her temporary lack of derring do) today the Duchess features the country home of Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer, the granddaughter of legendary Estee Lauder and heir apparent to the Estee Lauder company throne.  Just looking at these photographs (by Claiborne Swanson Frank for Vogue.com) inspires the Duchess to hurriedly unbox the wedding gifts and manufacture some artificial snow for her warm Los Angeles clime, in order to recreate the dulcet loveliness of the Lauder Zinterhofer home.  Enjoy, and have a very happy Thanksgiving! 

13 October, 2011

The Duchess At The Weekend (Almost) . . .

Vogue reports the opening of The Writers Room, a bar replacing the former cocktail lounge in the back of the legendary Musso & Frank's, that for the last 50+ years has been used as storage space for the neighboring Vogue Theater.  Night life "impresarios" (is there any other kind?) Nur Khan and Abdi Manavi, along with a few others, throw open the doors (to the public; industry insiders have had access to the space for some time) to the "Old Hollywood"-vibey joint this weekend.  Looks quite groovy, but the Duchess won't go.  Most certainly you'll have to go out onto Hollywood Boulevard to smoke, and then there's never enough white wine. 

Instead she'll just stay home and finish Alexandra Fuller's Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness (Penguin), the story of Ms. Fuller's African childhood under the governance of her larger-than-life mother, Nicola Fuller.  Enjoying this one very much. 

And finally, she'll try to make it over to the big sale at Hollywood at Home's new La Cienega showroom (750 N. La Cienega).  It runs through this Saturday, each day from 11 am to 3 pm.  Probably the Duchess should simply stay away.  The very tight pre-wedding budget does not allow for glamorous furniture and accessory splurges.  (Here's hoping Mr. Dunham throws another discount party sometime early next year!)

11 October, 2011

The Duchess Enjoys a Spot of Tele . . .

"George Harrison:  Living In The Material World"

You'd have to be living under a rock for the last several months not to at least be aware of the newly released Martin Scorsese documentary about the life of the now late George Harrison.  Yes, yes--he needs no introduction, but the Duchess feels obliged to say it--"ex-Beatle."  Though the documentary does attempt to expand its view of Harrison's life beyond the decade+ he spent as the moodiest member of the Fab Four, it's hard to argue with the conclusion that that early and literally life-changing experience set the stage for the rest of his life (and for the final 2.5 hours of the Scorsese film).

Harrison's no saint, according to Scorsese (the women!  the drugs!  the rock and roll!), but at least he wasn't boring.  (He took up with the wives or partners of Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Ronnie Wood, to name a few.)  That would be a fate worse than death, the Duchess thinks.  So, raise your glass for George and catch "Material World" (surely on HBO OnDemand by now, but also playing at the Laemmle Sunset).  It's time well spent.

With Pattie Boyd (later Mrs. Eric Clapton)

Tea & Sympathy

With Pattie, both a little older and wiser

With Eric Clapton

With President Gerald Ford, and on the right, Ravi Shankar

Really loving this hair (his not hers)

All Things Must Pass

10 October, 2011

The Duchess Dines . . .

Salsa and Beer

This weekend, on a somewhat lazy Saturday morning, the Duchess enjoyed one of the best meals she's had all year, and the best Mexican food by a long shot (perhaps ever).  Duchess and fam, in the general vicinity of the Van Nuys airport (sadly not to fly private, nor to explore the previews for the most recent Los Angeles Modern Auctions event (results here)), finally made their descent on Salsa and Beer, a festive little dive on the corner of Vanowen and White Oak Boulevards in Lake Balboa (Van Nuys adj.*).

What took the Duchess so long?  Her trusted sage a/k/a hair stylist (ask for Sheyanne) had informed the Duchess of Salsa y Beer's glory months ago; the Duchess's weekends, however, have been more than overwhelmed with activities social, work-related and otherwise, and she has never made the grand quest.  Readers, don't wait.  Salsa and Beer is worth it.

It's a brightly painted joint with D.I.Y. seating, a warm atmo, and a salsa bar.  The service is mucho slow, but is more than overcompensated for by the deliciousness of the meals.  El Senator had the shredded beef and potato burrito, natch, which was sublimely unbelievable.  Duchess enjoyed a plate of tender beer-marinated fish tacos, with corn tortillas made approximately three minutes before she walked in the door.  The kids' meals come with either rice and beans (unreal) or fries (equally good), and with drink max out at $2.99.  That's practically free for those of you who have the misfortune of not living in Los Angeles.  (If only we'd known that full service catering is available before booking the nuptial venue.) 

For discerning foodies or snobs in general, here is the real proof of the genius of Salsa and Beer.  We arrived at approximately 11:10 a.m.  The resto was bustling, but not totally full.  By the time we were rolled out on gurneys to our car at 11:50 a.m., people were waiting for tables.  Some people with larger parties (6 or more) came a half hour ahead of the rest of their compadres solely to reserve a table--remember, no reservations.  Oh, and our grand total?  $24.00 for a family of four.  This is factually cheaper than McDonald's (the Duchess's other favorite restaurant).

Viva Salsa y Beer! 

*Vanowen and White Oak intersection is no longer Van Nuys.  In 2008, Los Angeles County approved a motion renaming a larger portion of Van Nuys to Lake Balboa--this includes all of White Oak Avenue south to Victory Boulevard.  Vanowen is the next major intersection with White Oak north of Victory, and thus is squarely within the Lake Balboa boundaries. 

Picturesque Lake Balboa

14 September, 2011

The Duchess Dines . . .

Despite increasing pressure to fit into a sample size wedding gown, with that very significant date fast approaching, it's true that the Duchess still dines.  And not always with great success.  To wit, Rose, a fatally trendy and borderline pathetic mid-century-meets-attempted-st.-tropez on La Cienega.  Poor baby.


The Senator and Duchess went to Rose, oh, about a month ago, a couple of days after its "soft opening."  Though it was a warm and tactile summer night, no dining on the patio!  Oops, haven't gotten our license for that yet it seems.  Never mind, we were in a generous mood and wiggled our way into a corner banquette, nestled intimately between a hostess stand and some other diners.  Not that the conversation about their marriage wasn't interesting, mind you. 

Rose bills itself as a South France-ian-type bistro, but it doesn't do bistro food well.  The steak frites were a mess.  Soggy frites, tiny steak.  The garcon brought the Duchess some gazpacho, which he described as "chunky" ("I want it like salsa.  Is it like salsa?" "Yes, Duchess."), that was two drops of water away from being tepid tea.  Yuck. 

The worst part is that Rose only carries its own bottles of rose that start at appx. $47 per bottle.  Say what?  The Duchess knows she is the only diner not rolling up in a white Merc with tinted windows, but come on--that's still a little spendy, even for this nabe.

For those of you concerned that the Duchess airs her nasty grievances only to you, dear readers, never fear--the maitre'd got an earful on the Duchess's way out.  (Too bad he got a pocketful too.)

Readers, please, if you must:

861 N. La Cienega
Los Angeles, CA 90069

12 September, 2011

It's been quite the literary summer for the Duchess, whose plane flights and late nights have lent themselves perfectly to lots of great reading.  Most recently completed is Stone Arabia, a novel by the National Book Award-nominated author Dana Spiotta.  Stone Arabia explores the relationship between an adult brother and sister, who grew up in Los Angeles in the late seventies and early eighties.  The brother, Nik, is an artist and musician recluse living in Topanga Canyon who subsists on a bartender's salary; his sister Denise lives alone in Simi Valley, works a day job on Fairfax as a personal assistant, and tends to their aging, demented mother in her spare time.  The tension between their closeness and their alienation (Topanga to Simi??  That would end any relationship) keeps the book interesting until its fateful denouement.  The Duchess doesn't rate her books a la The Baroness, but on a scale of one to ten (ten being Gatsby or something along those lines), Stone Arabia garners a very respectable 7.5. 

The Duchess enjoyed way more than Stone Arabia the memoir Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, who helms the restaurant Prune in the East Village.  This really was a magnificent retelling of the unsuspecting culinary education of a top chef, and about her struggles as a woman in this still male-dominated field.  It's very well written until the last quarter or so, which slows down and meanders considerably, but the first half of the book is so delicious that the Duchess didn't mind.   

And finally, no summer would be complete without the necessary bit of pulp.  Thank you, Kitty Kelley, for The Royals, a juicy little compendium of all of the prurient details of the House of Windsor.  It was published just before the death of Princess Diana, and thus omits that tragic event.  But had Diana passed away before The Royals was completed, perhaps many of its more lascivious and scandalous tidbits would be missing.  Can't have that.

11 September, 2011

10 September, 2011

The Duchess Recommends . . .

It's a big gallery night out.  The Duchess recommends . . .

KAWS, "Hold The Line," at Honor Fraser

Joel Kyack, "Escape To Shit Mountain," Francois Ghebaly Gallery

Martin Kersels, "Passionista," ACME Gallery


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