See Part 1 here.
Nathan Gelgud is an illustrator who lives in Brooklyn.
See Part 1 here.
Nathan Gelgud is an illustrator who lives in Brooklyn.
Italo Calvino Attends the Prada Spring/Summer 2013 Show.
You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s review of Miuccia Prada’s new collection for Spring/Summer 2013. Relax. Concentrate. Close out all other Internet windows. Set your Gchat status to Busy. Tell your friends right away, “No I don’t want to chat with you about the UN General Assembly right now, I am reading about fashion!” Type it in all caps—they won’t know that you’re yelling otherwise—“I AM READING ABOUT PRADA’S SUBVERSIVE FLOWERS ON COATS!” Or if you prefer, send them a GIF; just be like: here.
Virginia Woolf attends the Burberry Prorsum Spring 2013 show.
I dread not the PR girls at the door this morning at Burberry Prorsum, though the invitation I possess is not mine. Sneaking in? Dressed as a fashion dude? I hardly consider dressing as a man to gain entry immoral; unlike me, half the so-and-sos present don’t even know what Prorsum means; O! Prorsum; Opossum. Those people invited who are supposedly “forward” thinking; people who discuss fashion though they’ve never worn Burberry; never felt the blue-black silk lining of a trench-coat sleeve; the plunge of putting on a sturdy work of satin and cotton sateen. I wanted to come in holding something. Flowers? Yes, flowers, since I do not trust my taste in Filson bags.
I take my seat and then, parading in from backstage quite composedly, the models are copper-rose clones; carrying swollen candy satchels; attractive and shiny hosts in a grand entryway; it is all perfectly correct. Some designers are to be seen as poets. Christopher Bailey; coming and going with a pin in hand; a pin and a vision; no country but England could have produced him. Happiness is this, I think. The lights come on and the end suddenly comes in a rush; the luster has gone out of it; no showgoer looks photoworthy like before; glimpsing the future, that hot pants are still in for spring, ruins everything. We rise instantly.
Then: “Virginia! Your menswear look is Uh-mazing! Your oxfords are so cute!”
Somehow I am recognized, in people’s eyes, in the swing and shuffle as we depart, it’s become known who I am. “Comme des Garcons,” I hear a lady with silver hair ornaments say, and now I confess a bit of shock overtakes me. Suddenly everywhere in the crowd I see women in blazers and fine gray-white trousers; ladies wearing collared shirts like spruce old men. Is that a tie? Awesome prorsum.
A writer stands outside a story yelling, “Open Sesame!” and the story, as if a seed, opens. And treasure is found inside. That treasure, of course, is just another story, and it all begins again…
Or else, say the writer is no different from any other of his tribe—say he’s actually a thief. And the story is no story, but really a mountain. “Open Sesame!” (this writer continues)—the mountain opens and my meaning is revealed.
A version of this nonsense—this magician’s stage business—occurs in the tale “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” popularly known from the One Thousand and One Nights.
But Ali’s tale is not to be found in the oldest manuscripts of that collection. Some scholars believe it to be the invention of one Youhenna Diab, known as Hanna of Aleppo, an Arab Christian storyteller said to have communicated it to Antoine Galland, the first translator of the Nights into French. Others argue for a purely Western source, and believe that Ali is the incorrupt fiction of Galland himself (though Richard Burton, the first translator of an unexpurgated Nights into English, claimed that Ali was to be found in an Arabic original, a mythical manuscript often forged but never found).
I wake up early to make ice cream for an old friend who is visiting from Riyadh. I blow a fuse in the power converter getting the machine to turn fast enough, but I have a spare fuse and all is well. The visiting friend, Matt, flies in on Saudi Arabian Airlines, which is now a member of SkyTeam, so you can use your miles on Delta or Air France. That night, Matt, my wife, and I stay up late drinking beer and wine and telling stories about the life we shared in Riyadh, where my daughter was born and where Matt still spends weekends DJing parties.
Matt and I follow the old coast road up to Byblos, where the ticket taker laughs when I say we met in Riyadh. He asks, “You are an American?” When I confirm, he says, “Ahlen Wa Sahlen,” which means “welcome.” Under a blazing September sun, Matt and I climb ten-thousand-year-old stairs, noting how few guardrails or official paths there are. Then I find a pomegranate tree growing from rocky soil, and we pause to admire the strange fruit hanging from gnarled branches. Hungry, we take a car to a fish restaurant that’s been open forty years. Lunch is grilled sea bass, which we eat on a table in the water, so that waves wash up our legs and sometimes splash on the fish, giving it a little more salt. Before we can leave, our waiter insists on my taking a shot. I ask for something brown, and he takes down a bottle of coffee-flavored Patrón.
I make sure Matt sees this killer little cassette shop, Deep Music, which is just down the block from my apartment. Then we have a final lunch at a nearby restaurant, where they bake their own bread and many, if not all, of the salad greens are local and organic. We each drink a spicy pale ale, brewed by a guy I see around town, and then we share a bowl of merguez sausages drowning in sour syrup, and a seafood frikeh made with an intensely, earth-green grain.
Last year, I was given the birthday gift of a lifetime: I got to spend the occasion with Diana Vreeland. A friend, who has long been close with the Vreeland family, took me on a weeklong pilgrimage to the Marrakech home of one of Vreeland’s sons. Our hosts, aware of my longstanding obsession with Diana, settled me into what is alternately known as the “D.V. Room” and the “T.V. Room,” for it boasted a rather ancient television set that looked like it might electrocute anyone who dared near it. Above it hung the splendid William Acton portrait of Vreeland that graced the first edition of her memoir, D.V. (edited, incidentally, with gusto by Paris Review cofounder George Plimpton). The painting lovingly depicted her trademark red talons, lacquer-black hair, and the leather thong sandals she claimed to have had recreated from those donned by a slave perfectly preserved (in coitus, no less) by the ashes of Vesuvius. For Vreeland, inspiration came from the most unlikely of sources.
The local souk held countless wonders for the other houseguests, but the sprawling, glamorously disheveled Vreeland house engrossed me far more. The D.V. imprint was everywhere. First of all, nothing quite made sense—at least to the orderly, pedestrian mind. You had to resign yourself to wandering the labyrinth and surrendering to the various unexpected delights along the way, such as a turret room festooned entirely with leopard print, or a dark hidden library, filled with hundreds of Vreeland’s books, many (if not most) of which had been inscribed to her by their authors. In yet another room stood one of her famed Louis Vuitton traveling trunks, her initials D.D.V. emblazoned in imperial red ink on one side. One evening, after too many bottles of Moroccan wine, our party took a vote and elected to open it up. The candles in the room blew out as we lifted the lid. Vreeland was clearly present—and making it known that she could only tolerate so much reverential curiosity.