My Next Ride

This weekend our pal J.A. was up in our neck of the woods (literally), and he dropped by in a Tesla roadster that was lent to him by a friend who happens to be a stockholder in Tesla Motors. It just so happens that my country estate, Bumfields, is located in an area that is frequented by sports-car enthusiasts and motorcyclists because of its natural beauty and the curvy, well-engineered, and uncrowded roads. Fortunately these enthusiasts are usually driving Triumph TR3s, Austin Healeys, and vintage 911s, and not those vulgar late-model Lamborghinis and Ferraris that mark a dual excess of money and testosterone. The Tesla certainly stood out on our street, which mostly sees traffic in tractors, hay wagons, Volvos, Priuses, and Subaru Outbacks.

Yes, this deep blue, low-slung car—which resembles the Lotus Elise it shares some parts with—would have turned a lot of heads in the neighborhood except that it doesn’t make any noise. It sneaks up to you, at high speed, which I appreciate since everyone in my neighborhood is always waving at me to slow down.

When the Tesla first appeared this year my interest was piqued. For one thing I have long been fascinated by the maverick genius Nikola Tesla, the inventor who pioneered commercial electricity and who seems to hold the world record for being ahead of one’s time. Although Edison got the credit and the money for electricity, Tesla was in fact the creator of the alternating current, and the electric motor.


Much of Tesla’s work was hindered because of his eccentricity, his foreign origin and contacts, and his rather bohemian lifestyle. (He lived at the Waldorf Astoria and hung out with Mark Twain.) He was also not modest about his genius and how he had figured it all out and was going to revolutionize the world. Which he did, though not quite as grandly as he expected. Tesla was perhaps the greatest genius of his time, but his PR was terrible, and despite his amazing accomplishments he suffered from characterization as a “mad scientist”of the sort that later ruined Wilhelm Reich. But his discoveries contributed to the development of radio, radar, x-rays, lasers, and radio astronomy. And in a way, to this incredible car.


I wasn’t up on just how spectacular an achievement this plug-in car is. I have driven a Prius hybrid but this is a whole other creature. This machine has no engine, just an electrical motor, although it looks like a traditional rich man’s toy. I expected it to be peppy, but I was not prepared for the actual experience. After climbing into the cockpit, and it is a cockpit, I had to be tutored in how to start it. Mainly because it makes no noise except for the hum from the battery, which was audible at the same level while it was parked. It was eerie backing out the driveway silently, but that was nothing compared to stepping on the….no, not the gas, the accelerator. My God! The Tesla Roadster Sport is a rocketship. Or maybe a UFO is a better comparison. This car does 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds. I did it myself. Silently! A full second faster than a Porsche 911, a tenth of a second faster than the quarter-million-dollar Ferrari F430. That’s remarkable enough, but the way it feels is astonishing. It hugs the road like a go-kart. This is by far the best-handling car I have ever driven, I guess in part because Lotus, the British manufacturers of the world’s best-handling cars, collaborated on the Tesla Roadster. The tires are super sticky and the considerable weight of the battery is perfectly balanced. I don’t know how close I came to flying off the road into a tree, but it never felt like I was close.

The most alien thing about driving a Tesla, aside from the eerie quiet, is that you don’t feel any shifting. This is an automatic, two-speed transmission. The tach goes up to a 14,000 rpm redline. With electric you get all the torque, all the time. Forget shifting. Floor this and you’re not in Kansas anymore. Flying around corners with just the sound of the wind, it was like being on the world’s fastest sailboat. Maybe they should sell a CD of high-revving gas engines for drivers having a tough time making the transition to quiet.


And, of course, you get 244 miles on a charge that costs about $5.

I was sold. This is the ultimate adult toy. It outperforms all those gas-guzzling cars that are the opposite of green, so nobody can knock you for it. Of course there are negatives. Like no room for the kid and the dog. Like maybe room for one set of golf clubs. So now I'm thinking maybe the answer is the Tesla S, the sedan that is due in 2011. The sedan will start at $49,900, including a $7,500 Federal tax credit, compared to over $100,000 for the Roadster, and it will be sold with battery-pack options, starting at 165 and going up to 300 miles.


The Tesla S looks a bit like a Maserati, and although it's not as fast as the Roadster, apparently it will keep up with the pricier German sedans. At half the price of the S550 I'm driving now, this car will apparently turn in a half-second faster, 0 to 60 time. And I'm told you can pack even more groceries into it. I'm thinking of putting my deposit down quite soon. I think Nikola T. would heartily approve.

The Real Cultural Revolution


First of all, I'll admit that China hasn't been high on my list of places I want to visit—it was well below India, Peru, Argentina, Ethiopia, Maui, and Falling Water. But watching the Olympics at odd hours and absorbing Beijing and its surroundings has piqued my interest. That and a commercial showing that you can get something good to eat 24 hours a day in some neighborhood called something like “Ghost Town.” And I must say that the incredible architecture of the Olympic venues has totally impressed me—from Herzog & de Meuron’s sublime “bird’s nest,” to “the cube” where the water sports go down.


It’s ironic that Mao called his repression a cultural revolution, because the real cultural revolution is what’s happening in China right now, with the blooming of art, fashion, and nightlife, and a general revival of individual spirit in a place we had just assumed to be a permanent monolith of totalitarian boringness.

Even the protesters are hot! I want to go to China and do some business.


As for the Olympics, well, it has been interesting. It’s a little easier to watch than it was four years ago when just about all we saw between events and national anthems was documentaries about small-town Americans who conquered incredible odds—crippling diseases, parental alienation, learning disabilities, eating disorders, combination skin, the heartbreak of psoriasis, whatever—only to triumph on the world stage. Boring! Save it for the Special Olympics. At least this year we got some backstory on the poor unfortunates who aren’t Americans! What a breakthrough!

The best events I’ve seen have been the basketball, where Team Endorsement actually played some D under Coach K, and the sprints where the dread Jamaicans have been so amazingly triumphant. Usain Bolt is phenomenal. I wonder if he could catch a Brett Favre pass? The dude blew everyone and the world record away and started celebrating with ten meters left. The astounded TV interviewer asked what he thought he could have done timewise if he hadn't started hamming it up and bowing way before the finish line and he said “I don’t care.” He had the gold medal and he got it with one shoe untied and a belly full of Chicken McNuggets. That’s the Olympic Spirit if you ask me.


The one thing we haven’t heard much about is theories about how every swimming record is being shattered. I have been watching all of this amazing swimming on TV, watching that green line that is the world record pace crawl across the pool trying to catch seemingly several swimmers in each heat. It reminds me of…well it reminds me of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Of course we know that the swimmers are probably clean, since they have to pee in cups regularly, so what is it? What is it about Michael Phelps that enabled him to win 8 golds and shatter all the records?

Bob Costas explained it one night. Michael Phelps apparently owes it all to his long arm span, big hands and feet (size 14), and the relatively long torso and short legs of his 6’4” frame. If that’s the real reason I don’t know why I haven’t broken any swimming world records. I’ve got the same thing. My petite wife has the same inseam as me and I have size 12 feet and I can palm the rock. I can make it all the way down the swimming pool and back without stopping, but I’m sure not a medal contender. I’m thinking maybe I need a new swimsuit. I just remember the Nike spot with Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon asking Michael Jordan, “Is it the shoes?” and I want to ask Michael Phelps, “Dude, is it the suit?”


I like the suits. The Speedo LZR suits remind me of the bathing costume my grandpa wore in the roaring twenties. Back then guys wore tops, and I can’t help but think how that might improve the look of our beaches today, in an America where 65% of the population is overweight or obese. So many dudes need to wear a “bro,” or a “mansierre.” But I also dig the sort of cubist stars and stripes design of those American suits, and I’m not a lapel pin kind of guy. But aesthetics aside there is evidence that the water repellent fabric and laser bonded seams dramatically reduce drag, and apparently they also improve oxygen intake.



The Speedo suit, fear of which induced several national teams to drop longtime contracts with major sporting goods companies, has led some to charge that it’s “technological doping.” Of course everyone can wear the suit and nobody has to hide it, so it’s not really a valid analogy. It’s more like the sixties when pole vaulting records were shattered as we entered the age of fiberglass. It just goes to show you that all records are good for is breaking, by any means necessary.

When Mr. Phelps broke Mr. Spitz’s record, and pictures of Spitz were flashed all over the place, once couldn’t help but wonder what kind of times he might have recorded with a Speedo LZR, not to mention a shave on his lip and head. Ah, but those were different times. There’s always an asterisk. It’s just usually invisible.

It’s funny, but at the opening ceremonies I finally realized just how much I wanted to hate this Olympics. I was expecting the usual broadcast boosterism of all things American, and I was harboring a definite post-Tiananmen Square disregard for China’s government, but then the Olympics opened with the greatest spectacle since Jean-Paul Goude’s French Bicentennial Parade, staged by the director Zhang Yimou. Sure, there was a little goose-stepping, but it seemed more like it was out of the merry old land of Oz than the Third Reich.




Totalitarian? More like Totalarama! I’ve started to think that there isn’t anything wrong with China that can’t be fixed by fashion, art, entertainment, and consumer-branded materialism. Look at Russia. John McCain can rant all he wants about how Ronald Reagan brought down the Iron Curtain, but we all know it was Hollywood and Seventh Avenue. And the Olympics opening ceremony was the world’s biggest fashion show.

As far as I’m concerned the Africans won the opening ceremonies handily, with their jazzy ethnic regalia.






The Americans looked snappy this year in their Ralph Lauren blazers and Ivy League caps—all except for the guy out of uniform.



What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Part Four)

Apparently lots of rich people have summer homes on Panarea. A lot of them are tucked away but you can see them as you sail by.  Here’s a hillside house that we called "The Playboy Mansion."


We didn't meet anyone, although I think that the guy I kept seeing in the best restaurant, Da Pina, was probably the Parisian art dealer Thaddaeus Ropac. He was wearing a Richard Prince T-shirt by Marni. Da Pina is the best restaurant on Panarea, with amazing fish carpaccios, spaghetti con sarde, fabulous concoctions of shrimp, mussels, clams, and oysters, and the best tuna and swordfish on the planet.

It would have been difficult to simply re-enter New York life directly from the ancient calm that is the Aeolian Islands, home of the god of the winds. So before re-entry we decided to visit the beautiful ancient city of Taormina on the East coast of Sicily. Like many ancient towns this one is on a high hilltop (or is it a mountaintop?). Once this location repelled invaders. Today it attracts tourists. But even at the height of the season this is a delightful place. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Timeo, about as lovely a hotel in about as beautiful a location as any in the world. From our room we would see lava flowing from Mount Etna under the moonlight.

The Timeo, which opened in 1873, is located next to the famous Greek theater, an ancient venue that is still in use today. One night we could hardly approach the hotel for the crowds queuing up for a performance. Well, not queuing exactly. Italians don’t form lines, they swarm. It sounded like they were there to see Yanni. Here’s the view from my room at the Timeo.


And here's the bar.


Taormina puts things in perspective. It’s a perfect marriage of architecture and nature, art and cooking, tourism and mysticism. At the Timeo you could imagine yourself going back to the 19th century. We didn’t eat at the hotel. Having had a $100 tank of gas before I left New York, I was not about to have a $50 hamburger, but we did have numerous highlights at local restaurants like Granduca, which makes the best “al sarde” sauce I’ve ever had, with sardines and wild fennel. And here, as elsewhere, we drank only Sicilian wines, which hold their own with any in the world. On a hot day there’s nothing like a cold glass of Etna-grown Inzolia to make the time pass.

Sicily has a way of putting things in perspective. It gets you back to the important things in life, like the sun, the sea, lunch, viniculture, boat design, the way you wear your hat… After two weeks I found myself absolutely rejuvenated. Eric even got me out in a national park, driving for kilometer after kilometer, looking through a river for a rare Sicilian turtle. And after that, to please our young amateur vulcanologist, we drove as far up Mount Etna as a regular car could go. As we rose we passed from micro-climate to micro-climate until the treeline was in sight. And there was one of Mount Etna’s ski resorts. Buried under black lava. Imagine powder on a black lava base. It was chilling, in a good way.


What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Part Three)

The best way to get around in the Aeolian Islands is by boat, and we got around some, checking out the local neighbors. There are a bunch of islets around Panarea that are apparently remnants of a big volcano that Panarea itself once belonged to. We motored over to Datillo, a remnant of the ancient super-volcano that collapsed about 10,000 years ago. It was a good place to swim, although that's where we discovered that jellyfish are on the rise in this part of the Mediterranean. Datillo comes from the Greek word dactyl, for finger, and there's a rock jutting out of it, well, like a finger. An ancient prophesy says that if that breaks off then Panarea is doomed. Or so said our captain Kika one day, a very cute, bikini-clad Panarea native law student who skippers the local waters during the summer.


Boating around the island we encountered some fumaroles, or undersea volcanic vents. You can tell when you see bubbles on the surface of the sea and smell sulfur. My son decided that these were the underwater farts of the god Vulcan. And we got a big whiff of Vulcan when we boated by the island named after him, Vulcano, a dormant volcano with hot springs which is a literal hotspot for for mudbathing tourists.  Eric got stung by a jellyfish early on off Datillo, and when we visited the local beach lots of kids were hunting them with sticks. Apparently they've been a problem for the last few years, perhaps because the water has been warmer than usual. It was the warmest I've experienced the Mediterranean at this time of year. Al Gore take note.

We did find a perfect swimming spot off the boat, right off the island of Lipari. Lipari is the biggest of the Aeolian islands, and it has a substantial year-round population. One of their industries is pumice—you know, the stuff that your significant other uses to soften her feet. It's volcanic, and they mine it right out of a mountain by the sea. This leads to the unusual sight of floating rocks. But the pumice dust also covers the sea floor offshore,` and so there's nothing alive down there for jellyfish to feed on. It's like a gigantic swimming pool.


After swimming at Lipari we repaired to my favorite restaurant on the planet, Filippino, which is located in a lofty ancient fort above the town, where the archeological museum is located. This restaurant has been serving since 1913 and they have perfected not only Mediterranean seafood cuisine, but also hospitality and service. You feel like a king, even in a slightly wet bathing suit. It's a nice feature of the islands that you can patronize restaurants dressed very casually, because that could never happen in America, where you'd encounter a big sign: No shirt, no shoes, no service. Italians and their aficionados seem to know that they should wear a shirt and some shoes, or sandals anyway, and even when they are quite dressed down they comport themselves with dignity. Meanwhile, Filippino's staff is dressed in dinner jackets and serves with great care and consideration. If I ever retire with the ambition to get very tan and fatter I think I'll move within a boatride of Filippino.


Coming soon: Sicily has a way of putting things in perspective.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Part Two)

I had been to the Aeolian Islands before, and suspected that this was where I'd like to eventually hide out. These are seven islands within sight of the main island of Sicily that have been inhabited since prehistoric times. The most famous of the islands is Stromboli, which is an active volcano that has been in eruption for hundreds of years. But it’s no Vesuvius. Stromboli is sort of the Old Faithful of volcanoes. It has been exploding rather spectacularly every twenty minutes or so for a few millennia. It’s a beautiful, slightly scary-looking cone poking about 3000 feet out of the beautiful blue sea.


At night you can watch it go red during explosions and see some lava flow. I have long been fascinated with Stromboli, at least since I saw Roberto Rosselini’s 1950 film of the same name, which starred Ingrid Bergman. The image of her running from a rain of rocks made me a little bit leery of the place, but we arrived in a quiet moment. We got our first up-close look quite unexpectedly when the captain of our hydrofoil decided not to stop at our port of call, Panarea, because there was a wait to dock, but to move on to the next stop, Stromboli. A near riot broke out among the Panarea passengers and I thought we weren’t stopping at all. It proved to be just a detour, one which allowed a great view of the island, recent lava flows, and the town with its beautiful black sand beach.

When we arrived in Panarea, I felt like I’d finally made it to the jet set. Not that a jet can come anywhere close, but the island is beautiful, with its bright white, Greek-style villas, its dramatic landscape, and its tropical vegetation. Only about 200 people live there year round, but in season it’s a glamorous community of part-timers, well-off tourists, nice shops, and good restaurants. There are no cars on Panarea, so one gets around by scooter or golf cart. Here’s the Panarea-style taxi.


Well, actually we got around by foot, or by boat. It’s a hilly place, so it was good exercise that worked off all the pasta and pizza we consumed.

The white houses surrounded by gardens are really delightful, and they are enhanced by ceramics embedded in the white walls or holding decorative vegetation.

Here are a few house details.




The houses of Panarea are often beautifully landscaped with wonderful gardens, despite the general dryness of the climate. Our house was surrounded by citrus trees, spectacular yuccas, cacti, and bougainvillea and the roof was a terrace, complete with rugs, pillows, and sofas from which we could watch Stromboli act up or the continuous parade of yachts, calling on the island or passing by. Here’s the view of Stromboli at sunset.


When you have an eight-year-old, volcanos become even more exciting, and sitting up here watching the glowing magma popping from the crater and the bats sweeping over the house and the planets moving along the plane of the ecliptic we had lots of speculative discussions about tsunamis (there was a 30-foot-wave caused by Stromboli in 2002), Krakatoa, Vesuvius, and the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Coming soon: More from the Aeolian Islands.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Part One)

Okay, so I disappeared for a couple weeks. I was on vacation. Did you think I wasn’t coming back? I really needed to get away. I wanted the sun, the sea, beautiful scenery, comfort, and great food. But maybe more important was what I didn’t want: To be found easily.

Sicily is a perfect place to disappear, as history shows regarding members of certain rumored organizations. You won’t find people minding your business. What you will find is a delightfully chaotic, fabulously anarchic though entirely civilized society that runs perfectly, as if through ancient unspoken agreements and inbred instincts.

You will also find arguably the best food in Italy, the country with the best food in Europe. You will find extraordinary natural beauty in an astonishingly diverse range of microclimates, and you will be amazed by the architectural of a culture that has been formed by the Greeks, the Romans, the Vandals, the Goths, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Jews, the Normans, the Aragonese, the Savoyards, the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons, and Napoleon. In fact, the same thing that makes Sicilian architecture so delightful—the uniquely broad tapestry of influences—is exactly what makes its food and other cultural manifestations so appealing.

Above all you find in Sicily a feeling (well I do, anyway) that this is a place where people know how live. How to be. It might have started with a knowledge of survival, but over the centuries it’s evolved into a true art of living. To be or not to be is no longer the question. The question is, what’s for dinner. And that’s one of the most important questions one asks in Palermo—one of the most deliciously mixed-up and delightfully funky places on the planet. Ah…Palermo! To Tony Bennett San Francisco is the “city by the bay,” but for me it’s Naples and Palermo.


It took me fourteen hours to get to Palermo, Sicily. That’s because I wasn’t traveling from New York, but from another spot in the Mediterranean, Ibiza, where I was on a job. Ibiza looked great. I hadn’t ever been there. But I only had about a day. Every time I took a taxi the driver was playing rave music, and I looked at each closely for signs of ecstasy use. Ibiza to Barcelona. Barcelona to Roma. Roma to Palermo—Alitalia all the way.

Italy’s national airline is a bit in distress. It doesn’t make money. Air France/KLM tried to buy it, but the deal fell through when the unions wouldn’t agree to reducing the workforce. So here’s an airline that’s shabby around the edges and iffy on performance. I boarded my final leg an hour late in Rome, then sat on the plane for almost another hour until they finally announced that the plane was broken. After one more hour I managed to talk my way onto another flight, to Sicily’s capital. And I got there too late for dinner with my friends. But I did get there. And after a hairy landing, I was grateful for that. As I deplaned I congratulated the pilots on our survival and told them how interesting it was to experience an aircraft-carrier-type landing. I’ve never felt brakes applied so hard or come so close to the end of the runway. And of course there was that feeling that all my luggage wouldn’t be waiting for me. I’m not psychic, I’ve just flown Alitalia lots. And I was right. So I took the bag that did arrive, the one with my shirts in it and some Graham Greene and Leonardo Sciascia novels, picked up a Fiat from Autoeurop, and drove into the city of Palermo itself.


Palermo is a strange tapestry of old and new, mainly because it was heavily bombed by our dads in World War Two, I arrived five days after the 25th anniversary of the invasion of Sicily by the Allies. So one moves from blocks of extraordinary baroque edifices to blocks of rather anonymous modernist post-war buildings. It’s easy to get lost. And I did. Around midnight, trying to find my hotel, the Villa Igiea, from memory. And it’s not that I don’t know Palermo, but darkness is a little darker there and memory plays tricks. After several conversations with people on the street and about an hour of driving in circles I finally managed to find the waterfront and then the hotel. Once inside the gates I felt very relieved. Palermo is funky, but I’m not afraid there. I was just tired and starving and anxious to get my missing bag.

The Villa Igiea is a splendid grand hotel on the harbor. Its style is Art Nouveau in a slightly Moorish manner, and it retains much of its old charm. Photos in the bar and public spaces show the history of the hotel during the Belle Epoque. The staff hasn’t been there since that era, but they do display old-world manners, and although they were unable to find the reservation we made through the Hilton website—Hilton acquired the property since my last visit—they did their best to make it up to me. They offered to put me in the “Presidential Suite.” Hillary Clinton stayed there, the desk clerk assured me. And it was a beautiful suite. Being worn and annoyed after 14 hours in the grasp of Alitalia, I accepted—they said they would give me a very good rate, but for one night, anyway, I didn’t care. The bellman showed me the room and cranked up the AC and I was just about to pop a cork when I noticed a large pool of water on the marble bathroom. Off to another room, much smaller but with a working air-conditioner. Once I got to the terrace bar, got some wine, a sandwich, olives, and my favorite caperberries and looked out on the lights of Palermo’s harbor, I knew I was on vacation.

The family arrived the next day and we hung out by the hotel’s delightful pool. It adjoins the ruins of an old Greek temple and there’s certainly a magic feel to the spot. It’s on a cliff above a yacht harbor. A few years earlier I watched in my bathing suit as a million-dollar yacht burned. This year things were quieter, but the yachts were even bigger. Supposedly this wonderful building was once a “rest home.” But whether it was a temple to Venus or to Freud doesn’t matter. This is a fine place to chill out and foray out into the delightful city of Palermo.


My friends Wayne Maser and Sciascia Gambaccini live in Palermo part of the year. Wayne’s a great photographer and Sciascia, named by her family after the great writer, is the fashion editor of A magazine. Palermo is a good place to shoot, and from here they can manage their properties on the island of Pantelleria. They live in a fantastic neighborhood, La Kalso, in an ancient building on Piazza della Kalsa, which was the Arab quarter and today it’s still something like a casbah. Their building sits on a massive fortified wall. In fact, Wayne said, “You’ll know the building. It’s the one that has a street running through it.” And it’s true.


Their apartment truly deserves the appellation “fantastic,” with antique-marble-patterned floors and neo-Egyptian motif wall paintings that would seem to date to the fantasy of a noble inhabitant or a long-gone occult lodge of the sort Aleister Crowley might have patronized. They took us to a delightfully funky and delicious seafood restaurant just off the piazza that was so good I ate mussels for the first time in about ten years.
It was ridiculously cheap and the seafood was of the highest quality. For dessert we visited a corner watermelon stand on the waterfront and ate perfectly sweet, perfectly cold, and crisp fruit.

The next night we took the opposite approach and went for the tasting menu at the Osteria del Vespri, a place I’ve visited on every trip to Palermo. It’s in a charming spot, in front of a palazzo where Luchino Visconti shot The Leopard. Again seafood was the specialty, but this time it was total nouvelle haute cuisine. Having hypnotized myself that the euro was equal to the dollar I was able to enjoy the six or so exotic courses the chef put in front of us. But I think if I lived in Palermo I’d eat in LaKalsa a dozen times to once here. Palermo has everything, I used to love shopping there but with the dollar situation it wasn’t quite as much fun as in the past.

After a few days winding down in a laid back urban situation I was ready for deep vacationing, so we hopped in the car and took the Autostrada East to Milazzo where we caught a hydrofoil for Panarea, where my family had taken a house with my pal Eric Goode and his significant other Miye McCullough. Just before our boat left we checked out the local newsstand. I was thrilled to find a copy of my magazine, Interview, there. 10 euros!


The hydrofoils or “aliscafi” are fast but not as much fun as they look, unless you hang around on the open deck with the smokers.


Coming soon: Glenn lands at his next port of call.

2008, a Year Made for Dandies

Happy New Year? You bet!

I meant to keep in touch more, but I get so wrapped up in the holidays that sometimes I forget my responsibilities. We try to celebrate Christmas around here with all the pagan trimmings, and this year I had to spend hours cleaning up my basement just to locate the ornaments for the crucial Christmas tree… which, of course, has nothing to do with Christ, but lots to do with green—evergreen, in fact. We put a lot of lights and balls and figures on the tree. I like to think of them as minor lares and penates, descendants of the old household gods kept on the hearth in the Roman household.

Here are a few of my favorite ornaments. The cold-blooded creatures:


The gherkin, or dill pickle, and the sock monkey:


Mammy from Gone With the Wind:


Not to mention the wise old owl, the Hindu marching band, the Joseph Kosuth silver balls, the glow-in-the-dark Colonel Sanders, and the Pomeranian dog, to name but a few. What better sort of thing is there to collect? My friend Robert Hawkins, over in London, has a swell tree, too. Here's a look at his.


Well, today the tree is coming down. As much as I hate to see it go, I hate permanent Christmas decorations even more. They're like tape left on windows months after a hurricane has passed. No, we're on to a new year now, and I have a feeling this is going to be a memorable one. There's a sort of 1967 buzz in my ears. Maybe I left the amplifier on. But maybe, just maybe, this year will see a cultural revolution, or at least a volution. I've got a feeling 2008 is going to be just dandy.

So in the spirit of catching up, I've been meaning to mention a great man for some time now, and this new year seems like an appropriate occasion.

I wish I could remember who turned me to Lord Whimsy. Please remind me, forgotten sir. Perhaps it was my itinerant snapshooter colleague the Sartorialist. Apologies for my absence of mind. It's the wine, perhaps. At any rate, Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy, as he calls himself (I doubt that a mother thought all that up), is the author of a very amusing and inspiring volume titled The Affected Provincial's Companion, Volume One (Bloomsbury, 2006), and the belletrist behind the blog (god, I hate that term, let's find another one) titled "The Affected Provincial's Almanack: A Journal of Aesthetic Particulars and Speculative Living." I try to check in there a few times a week, as if it were a sort of ethereal pub.

Here's a photo of Whimsy from his Almanac:


The novelette-sized Companion is a delightful collection of essays, homilies, poems, and social studies illustrated by Whimsy's own hand—which generally and genially exhorts the reader toward the veneration of endangered virtues and values. For one thing, the author is a gifted proponent of personality, and a well-armed enemy of the herd instinct so prevalent in our society. He is a self-confessed dandy, a connoisseur of trifles and niceties, and, it goes without saying, a gentleman and a scholar (in fact, a scholar of gentlemanliness). Tucked within a setting of bibelots and bagatelles here are numerous gems of wit-born wisdom.


"Once, sissies were mistaken for gentlemen; alas, now gentlemen are mistaken for sissies."

"A man's beard, that marvel of mandibular topiary and primeval source of virile powers, is the equivalent of an elk's antlers or a lion's mane—for it marks its owner as having completed his days a milk-lapping whelp, and heralds his becoming an adult male of the species."

"As opposed to ages past, the bon vivant of today can be known for doing something, but should be much more well known for being someone. The self is the bon vivant's main canvas and medium of choice."

Anyway, this is a must for the library, and a handy companion for the traveler. It will get you coast to coast by air more than once, as anything said well bears repeating. As for the blogue of Lord Whimsy (doesn't that look better?), it is a delightful source of knowledge that one is unlikely to find collected elsewhere. As someone who has spent a small fortune (by today's standards) on gardening, I have been particularly inspired by the horticultural notes he posts regularly. Actually, he's a big fauna fan too, and his postings give us a sort of underground Discovery Channel. Views of his "angel's trumpet" fill me with nostalgia for the daturas left behind when I abandoned ship vis-à-vis "the Hamptons." And I have mixed feelings about moving the country house from hardiness zone 7a to 5b. Whimsy got me all excited about a tree, the Franklinia alatamaha, which seems unlikely to grow in my new environs, but it seems like a dare. Anyway, Whimsy is an heroic, exemplary gardener, indoors and out. Here's a picture of his bog garden in winter.


One might take Whimsy (who would seem to be named Victor Allen Crawford III, he who holds the Lord's copyrights) for a retro personality, but that would be simplistic. This is a man who is not loathe to praise the works of mid-century modern designers like Tommy Parzinger and Finn Juhl or demonstrate an exquisite eye for mid-century ceramics. He explains his relationship to the past very nicely in a discussion of "trad" on the amusing website Kempt. Is Whimsy a Provincial? Well, he seems to live in New Jersey, near the City of Brotherly Love, which is where he appears to maintain a bastion of civilization against the assaults of vulgarities local, national, and international. I say wherever a fellow like this locates himself, that is a capital.

Another charming aspect of this author is that he belies in spectacular fashion the tired notion that to have style one most be homosexual. Whimsy is more living proof that you don't have to be gay to be a marginalized aesthete.

Anyway, I've just come back from vacation and all this typing has tired me. I have to run over to the private sale at Paul Smith. Why don't you switch over to the Affected Provincial's Almanack now and browse there for a while, while I get up the energy to prepare a new post on another, darker form of Dandyism-on-the-Rise.

Dangerous Books for Men

Sometimes I worry about my seven-year-old not being an avid reader, seeming content to watch TV and films and otherwise entertain himself without dipping into literature of his own volition. I have even gone so far as to buy Pokémon cards and books, hoping that his inexplicable interest in this vile cult would get him to read more. (It actually has.) Fortunately, boys are curious about certain things, such as volcanos, supernovas, war, geysers, sharks, snakes, man-eating animals, glaciers, polar regions, and, for some reason, penguins. So I was delighted to discover The Dangerous Book for Boys, a book by two Brit bros, Conn Iqqulden and Hal Iqqulden.


Nicely retro in its swashbuckling design, this book is a treasury of all things that separate the boys from the girls, theoretically, such as knot-tying, battles, table soccer, treacherous mountains, rockets, secret code, dangerous insects, tree houses, flags, and pennants. Well, I admit it, I partly bought it for myself. In any case, it's working. He's reading it!

The Dangerous Book for Boys is such a big hit that it inspired a spin off, The Daring Book for Girls, which to my dismay has no chapters on garter belts or Nabokov, and a satire, The Dangerous Book for Dogs. Ha, ha, by the way.

But this did get me thinking. It got me in touch with some interests I may have neglected. Well, not all that much. I actually have a secret hobby of picking up books that are not exactly fashionable but which offer a certain adventurous perspective. So let me name a few of them.

To most people, Halliburton means that evil corporation once run by Dick Cheney that represents the worst side of the military industrial complex; the company responsible for running the Iraq oil industry (into the ground), for the "clean-up" after Hurricane Katrina, and the company that made the study responsible for the privatization of war under the neo-cons, and the rise of such mercenary operators as Blackwater.

Well, to me, the number-one Halliburton will always be Richard Halliburton (1900-1939), an extraordinary character who was perhaps the most popular adventure writer of the 20th century. After Lawrenceville and Princeton, the young Halliburton decided that instead of taking a job he would swim the length of the Panama Canal. For starters. Halliburton decided that he wasn't meant for a desk job and that traveling to the world's most exotic spots was the life for him, and he managed to make a living at it through a series of best-selling books and the lecture circuit.

Halliburton's first volume, The Royal Road to Romance (1925), finds our hero climbing the Matterhorn out of season, getting arrested for photographing the guns and fortifications at Gibraltar, sneaking onto the grounds of the Taj Mahal after-hours to take a midnight dip, and climbing the Great Pyramid of Cheops, among other memorable jaunts.


In The Glorious Adventure (1927) the impetuous Halliburton first climbs Mount Olympus looking for gods and finds only shepherds; he then follows more or less the route of Odysseus across the Mediterranean. He swims the Hellespont, and visits Troy, Tunis, Malta, Stromboli, Sicily, and various other Mediterranean spots, trying to retrace Homer's legendary itinerary, although frequently with picnic basket and champagne bucket.

In New Worlds to Conquer (1929) our Ivy League hero heads down to Central and South America, diving to the bottom of the Mayan Well of Death in search of skulls, swimming the Panama Canal and wandering around Devil's Island.


In The Flying Carpet (1932) Halliburton goes modern, picking up a biplane and a pilot (also possibly bi) and flying around Europe and the Middle East, visiting Morocco, Algeria, the Sahara, Egypt, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, and then India, Nepal, and Thailand (still Siam then), and winding up with the headhunters, the proverbial wild men of Borneo. In Tehran Halliburton runs into another American adventurer, William McGovern, author of To Lhasa in Disguise, and they decide it would be most amusing to be incarcerated in a Persian jail. Through the Shah they arrange to be imprisoned "without favor," except not having their heads shaved and being pardoned "when we felt sufficiently punished," and they hob-nob with the cream of society, which happens to be imprisoned by the dictator.


In Seven League Boots (1935) Halliburton duplicates the feat of Hannibal, crossing the Alps on an elephant. He visits the killer of the the Czar and his family on his deathbed and learns the truth of the Romanoff's demise, and in the Caucuses he finds the oldest man in the world who turns out to be an alcoholic. (He took to drink in 1803, he claims!) Then he becomes the first non-Muslim to make the hajj to Mecca and live to tell about it.

It's all great stuff. Not only would these adventures be impossible to duplicate today, for reasons of politics, as well as the extinction of cultures, habitat, and the wonders of the world, but these books are written very much under the pressure of the white man's burden, with an attitude and vernacular as extinct as the Tasmanian Wolf. For the most part the antique violations of political correctness are simply amusing. That's the way it was, and through their bred-to-rule eyes we get a very realistic picture of the way things work, even if Halliburton's accomplishments are mostly staged stunts. Occasionally one also gets a hint that there is more to this adventurer than meets the eye. He seems to have wanted to escape the confines of western society for reasons that are never addressed explicitly. Halliburton, it seems, is one of nature's bachelors, and no doubt he frequently found strange cultures more hospitable to his inclinations than the one he grew up in. (It was rumored that among Halliburton's closest intimates was the flamboyant silent screen star and lifelong bachelor Ramon Novarro.)

Halliburton's disappearance was as spectacular as his appearance. In March 1939 he set sail in a Chinese junk from Hong Kong, headed for San Francisco, ignoring warnings of an impending typhoon. In the midst of the typhoon the junk was spotted by an ocean liner, the S.S. President Coolidge, to which it managed to get off a wire of his last words: "Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here instead of me."

Now that's the way to go. Live fast, die young, and have your good-looking corpse eaten by the fish. That kind of adventure is simply no longer available. Even for employees of today's Halliburton and other corporate adventurers. Get drunk and shoot up some innocent civilians today and you're likely to wind up with immunity. It's even harder to see the inside of a Middle-Eastern prison, unless you're hired to waterboard the wogs.

Another of my favorite adventure reads is a book found in a "free" pile in an antique store: Congo Kitabu (Random House, 1964) by Jean-Pierre Hallet. Jean-Pierre was the son of the Belgian painter Andre Hallet, who specialized in African scenes, and he was brought up in the Belgian Congo. He entered the service of the Belgian government and worked as an administrator until the Congo became independent in 1960. He lived among the Efe pygmies, by whom he was officially initiated into the tribe (quite an honor for a man of 6'5"), and he taught them to farm. He was also initiated into the Masai, after killing a lion with a spear.

Hallet loved Africa and Africans, both human and animal, and he devoted his life to helping them. During a famine Hallet took to dynamite fishing in Lake Tanganyika, and he provided tons of fish to feed starving pygmies, before he blew his right arm off when a stick of dynamite exploded prematurely. After that incident he drove himself 200 miles to a hospital on a treacherous dirt road.

During his years in Africa Hallet saved many animals that would have died otherwise, and he accumulated one of the greatest collections of African art. Hallet died in 2004 of leukemia at the age of 76, and his collection was auctioned on behalf of the Pygmy Fund.


Congo Kitabu is a great true-life adventure, but it is also one of the best books in explaining the state of colonial Africa at the time of Independence. There's an amazing chapter on the events of 1960, when Belgium left the Congo—thousands of people running through the streets chanting "Dependence! Dependence!", a perfect expression of the cruel ironies that would follow. I also wholeheartedly recommend Hallet's other two books: Animal Kitabu (Random House, 1967) and Pygmy Kitabu (Random House, 1973). Hallet was enchanted by the pygmies. When he first encountered them the other tribes, such as the Hutu and Tutsi, famous for the Rwandan genocide that took place later, did not even regard them as humans, but Hallet explains how this oldest line of homo sapiens has much to teach its taller brothers.

All of this armchair adventure is bound to make a guy thirsty, so that's when I pull out my leather-bound copy of The Gentleman's Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask (Crown, 1946). Delightfully written by Charles H. Baker, Jr., this "exotic drinking book" is ostensibly a collection of cocktail recipes from the definitive and original to the recherché and occult. Here you will learn to make such concoctions as the Antrim Cocktail, "found in the quaint little Overseas Club in Zamboanga on the Island of Mindanao"; Ernest Hemingway's Reviver; the Sahara Glowing Heart Cocktail "from the hands of one Abdullah, an Arab Muslim wizard back of mahogany at the Mena House Bar, near the pyramids of Ghizeh"; the Mexican Firing Squad Special from La Cucaracha Bar, Mexico City, 1937; the World Famous Quarantine Cocktail, "No. 1, favorite in Manila"; and The Swiss Yodeler, from Villa d'Este, Lake Como.


There are many dozens of recipes in this book, but the most intoxicating thing about it is the spirit in which it was written. Surely it was composed under the proximate influence of intoxicants; but it never crosses the line into decadence, always upholding the convivial nature of imbibing while decrying loutish behaviour: "We prefer firmly to go on record that we find scant humour in dipsomania, or in potted gentlemen who in their cups beat wives, or in horny-handed toilers of any class who fling their weekly pay chits onto the public mahogany while tearful mates and hungry infant mouths await by a cold hearth."

No, it's civilization we're talking about, boys. Any civilization worth having is bound to entail some adventure. Sure, it's dangerous sometimes, but are we not men?

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The Class of the Classy

It's not very classy to talk about classy, but sometimes it just can't be avoided. Class is what makes life worth living. But, like kicks, it keeps on getting harder to find.

Today I feel like a sports orphan. All dressed up and nobody to root for. Ordinarily I would be getting geared up for the NBA season, as I did for the twenty years I was a Knicks season subscriber. Ah but the storied franchise has fallen on hard times, and I have no sympathy. They still call and ask if we'd like our seats back, but I have to say no.

"Call me when Isiah's gone," I'll say. "Or, actually, call me when the Dolans are gone." I could take losing. I sat through years of it enjoying myself, like I did during the 1985 season when we went 23-59. Hey, we had Pat Ewing, and the future looked bright.

But when the classy Larry Brown was done in by the smarmy Isiah Thomas—that eye-rolling, baby-faced malefactor; the guy who froze rookie Michael Jordan out of his first All-Star game, refusing to pass him the ball; the guy whose leadership killed a whole league, the Continental Baskeball Association; the guy who presided over the team with the highest payroll and the worst record—well, I couldn't hang anymore. And as the recent sexual harassment trial rolled on I was hardly surprised as the once-glorious franchise was forever tainted by the behavior of an uncouth coach in cahoots with an uncouth owner.

Payback is a bitch.

I could be enjoying the NFL season, but that's been hard, since my team, the New York Jets, is 1-4. They could be 2-4, perhaps, had not America's greatest football coach, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, demonstrated an utter lack of class by violating league rules and taping signals made by Jets coaches. The same Belichick who shunned his former assistant, Jets coach Eric Mangini, apparently for going out on his own as a head coach, refusing to speak about him or make eye contact with him. No class. But it doesn't stand out much in a classless league full of stars like Terrell Owens, Michael Vick, Tank Johnson, or teams like the Vikings—remember the seventeen players on a boat full of hookers?


That leaves baseball, and I'll continue to watch, but it's hard after the fall of the Yankees. I continued to watch them for several innings after I stopped listening. I had to turn the sound off during game four of their ALDS series with the Indians. It was a good game, although marked by questionable umpiring, but I couldn't stand listening to the commentators. All they could talk about was Joe Torre getting fired by George Steinbrenner if the Yankees lost, or Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and other players bolting from the team.

The Yankees are a team people love to hate, but you have to honor the achievement of manager Joe Torre, who took the team to the post-season twelve years in a row. Perhaps more than that, you have to honor the achievement of Torre in not only leading the Yankees to an unprecedented performance in an age of parity (none of the teams now competing for the world championship were in the playoffs last year), but in managing to more or less silence the volcanic ego that is George Steinbrenner. Torre led the Yanks to the post-season in each of his seasons with the team. In half of his seasons the team went to the World Series, and they won four of the six they played.


Steinbrenner has owned the Yankees for thirty-five seasons now. In his first 23, he changed managers 20 times. Torre not only transformed a team that hadn't won a series in 18 years, he actually transformed the owner. Steinbrenner's public side was ugly and vulgar, from his conviction for illegal campaign contributions to Nixon and obstruction of justice to his public explosions and vendettas aimed at employees and players, even widely beloved players like Dave Winfield. When Steinbrenner was "banned for life" by Commissioner of Baseball Fay Vincent on July 30, 1990—after it was revealed he had future Hall-of-Famer Winfield spied on—the crowd at Yankee Stadium gave the news a standing ovation.

But the exemplary gentleman Joe Torre managed to defuse the loutish Steinbrenner with calmness, patience, probity, grace, courtesy, frankness, and credibility. The more virtuous and modest Torre appeared, the less Steinbrenner was able to lash out. As a result "the Boss" interfered with the team less and less, leading to more and more success. This new Steinbrenner became almost loveably eccentric, appearing as a regular character on Seinfeld. And Torre was the master of using gentlemanly behavior to manage a team of millions, getting them to work together as a unit.


But when the Yankees fell behind the surprising Cleveland Indians in the ALDS this fall, Steinbrenner could no longer contain himself. He hinted that Torre would be dismissed if the Yankees didn't win game four. And that, of course, was all the media could talk about. That was all the TBS team of Chip Caray, Bob Brenly, and Tony Gwynn could talk about, even with innings left to play.

Sports has been destroyed by the gossip-mongering mentality of the media—who's making how much, who's maneuvering to move on, who's stabbing who in the back. We had shots of Don Mattingly, Torre's bench coach protégé. Would Don be taking over for Joe? What about the game?

More and more I find myself turning off the sound. Why? No class. The commentators are tuned to the lowest common denominator. Rather than criticizing Steinbrenner and praising the gentlemanly Torre, the media behaves as if Steinbrenner were some sort of Jaweh, an angry god who must be appeased, rather than the crotchedy misanthrope he is.

Joe Torre's post-game news conference was a primer in the art of being a gentleman. He gave thanks. He praised his team. He gave due credit to the victors. He teared up but didn't cry. He said all the right things. Torre exhibited pure class. He is an utter mensch.


And the next day the cover of The New York Post carried a large color photo of George Steinbrenner leaving the stadium. His baby-blue eyes looked blank, anesthetized. On his head was a baseball cap with the legend "Majestic Warrior." I later learned this is the name of one of his race horses, but I can't help but feel that this is also a sort of a tacky crown he put on, thinking of himself as precisely that. The majestic warrior who fires all losers for their own good, who rises while Kate Smith sings "God Bless America."

As I write this Joe Torre's players seem to be sticking up for him, suggesting that his retention as manager might be a factor in their resigning with the team. Good for them. For what it's worth, Giuliani, who has suggested that if he's elected he might name Torre to his cabinet, and Mayor Bloomberg have both come out in favor of Torre continuing as Yankee skipper. Perhaps the Mayor could put his money where his mouth is and buy out Steinbrenner, or perhaps the city could take the team, arguing public domain. If you follow the money the city has been paying the Yankees, supposedly for the new stadium, there might be an argument for that somewhere.

But it's all too sad. We grew up thinking that sports would teach us important things like, well, sportsmanship. Not to mention honesty, selflessness, teamwork, competitiveness, and modesty. Alas. Today sports seems to teach ruthlessness, hot-dogging, gamesmanship, self-gratification, and greed. Well, at least NCAA basketball starts soon. And even though golf is played for millions, self-penalization is still practiced by professionals, and club players frown on rule breakers and mulligan abusers. And we still have croquet, badminton, and bocce.

It's up to each of us, as gentlemen, to stand up and be counted. And together we count. Otherwise the Knicks wouldn't still be calling. So allow me to suggest that teams and their merchandise who do not adhere to our codes be strenuously boycotted. Take off that Yankee cap until the skip is back. You're on notice George, Hank, and Hal. And you too, Belichick and Kraft. And you Dolans, too. Send Isiah back to the Motor City. Maybe he can help GM fail. And all the rest of you knuckleheads. Pay attention! We're gentlemen, and we're not going to take it anymore!

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More Creme from Brule

I think I was a little too hard on Wallpaper magazine a few years back. I think I was taking out my problems with the boom in "lifestyle" on them. I guess it's better to have a lifestyle than to have no style. And in retrospect, Wallpaper was quite brilliant, and almost surprisingly (after its sale to Time Life), it remains a very intelligent and well-done magazine relating to the stylistic aspects of life. They do a particularly good job on travel, providing tips for a person of taste on where to stay, go, eat, drink, etc., in a different city every month. They continue to be good on architecture, furniture, and objects, and they have some of the silliest fashion spreads ever. I think a lot of the brilliance of Wallpaper came directly and indirectly (oracularly, perhaps) from its founder Tyler Brûlé. And his brilliance is showing again in his brilliant new magazine Monocle.


Monocle looks businesslike. It's compact and somewhat type-heavy for a mag published by a noted aesthete. But really it is the best jetset magazine yet. It tells you what the smartest people are doing around the world, and it tends to tell you first. The Monocle's eyebrow—that's industry jargon for the description above or below the logo like Playboy's "for the man of the world"—is "A BRIEFING ON GLOBAL AFFAIRS, BUSINESS, CULTURE AND DESIGN." I bet it hasn't altered one word from the way it appeared on the business plan. And why should it? Monocle is smart. And it's adult. It's so adult there's none of that adult stuff in it. Even the fashion is refreshingly sensible. They seem to have very good instincts on where to find excellent under-the-radar (or gaydar) product for those of us who like our labels very much on the inside.

For me the fifth issue, "July/August," is the best yet, maybe because it's the "World's Top 20 Most Liveable Cities" issue. That feature is well reported and well considered, and it will certainly give me something to think about as my approaching vacation winds down and I start to reconsider the liveability of New York City. Don't worry, that happens to be every time I go some place. Monocle also has a feature called "50 Things to Improve Your Life." And although I generally despise enumeration in magazines, particularly in the form of coverlines like "309 Essentials for Fall," Monocle, with offices in London, bureaus in New York, Zurich, and Tokyo, and correspondents all over, really comes up with some clever life-improving suggestions. I plan to look into Schiesser underwear and Nantucket red pants. I already subscribe to the Mogens Koch library system.

Anyway, I would just like to doff my Montecristi straw hat to Monocle for daring to be grown-up, intelligent, and stylish all at the same time. Monocle costs ten bucks and it's well worth it. Investigate please, my readers. You might even meet someone interesting if you're seen reading it in public.

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