31 July 2008

Nord e Sud

A wonderous dinner last night at the Park Hyatt, with a menu designed by Giovanni Pilu, from Sardinia, and Alessandro Pavoni, from Brescia. The two brought elements of their local cuisines – the mountains and the seas – together for a memorable meal. Here’s the menu with matched wines.

Thinly sliced swordfish served raw with grapefruit and Sardinian bottarga with capers
2006 Sella and Mosca ‘Monteoro’ Vermentini di Gallura

Braised organic snails and spinach on soft buckwheat polenta
2007 Castello di Luzzano ‘Carlino’ Bonarda Oltrepo Rosso

Black marron and white tomato water risotto
2007 Castello di Luzzano ‘Tasto di Seta’ Mavasia Colli Piacentini

Oven roasted suckling pig with scented apple sauce and rosemary potatoes
2006 Contini ‘Tonaghe’ Cannonau di Sardegna

Chestnut and amedei chocolate tortini and cream catalana
2004 Argiolas ‘Angialis’ Nasco di Cagliari

27 July 2008

Loveable losers: Sydney’s “double A list” are just LA’s leftovers

You can tell how quiet Sydney becomes in winter when the local gossip hacks are forced to lead with claptrap about nobodies.

Witness, for instance, Ros Reine’s column in today's Sunday Telegraph. It leads with the utterly banal story of a former prime minister’s daughter having a go on the turntables at a Kings Cross hole-in-the-back-lane bar where nobody dances. Yawnsies!

In order to justify the relevance of this nonsense in some way, Sydney's self-proclaimed “hottest gossip columnist” (we’ll be the judge of that, thanks) bangs on about the club’s supposed "double A list" exclusivity – neglecting to mention that it's the home of the $10 beer – before giving the game away with this hilariously pretentious sentence:

[I]t has attracted quite a roll call of international celebrities, including rapper Eve, the Kardashian sisters and Lance Bass.
Let’s examine that little laundry list of supposed fabulousness, shall we?

Eve was busted for DUI last year after slamming her Maserati into the divider on Hollywood Boulevard, pleaded no contest to drink driving and ordered into an ankle bracelet and AA, so it's no wonder she has to do her drinking in back lanes.

In their native land, the Kardashian sisters are considered pointless famewhores whose main claim to fame is that one of them had her home-made porno stolen. Go Fug Yourself nails them: "no demonstrable talents aside from walking around and having boobs."

As for poor Lance "I'm gay" Bass, wasn’t he in a late-90s boy band with Justin Timberlake before failing to find anyone to pay for his trip to the International Space Station?

Not exactly a stellar lot, are they? It's a sad indictment on how desperate the hacks are – or how out of touch with reality – that they try to present leftovers as haute cuisine.

It brought to mind a phone call I received last week from an anxious-sounding PR who told me breathlessly that the products she was pushing were used by "international A-list red-carpet Hollywood celebrities." In other words, actors – people who pretend to be other people for a living.

26 July 2008

My man of the match

An excursion out to Olympic Park tonight for the Bledisloe Cup. While I had a gold Wallabies scarf hanging around my neck, I had my eyes on the very handsome Richard Kahui – an All Blacks' rookie who also happens to be a great player. For the record, Australia won 34-19.

25 July 2008

How do Oprah, Wu Yi and Angela Merkel feel about this?

And what about Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the CommonwealthDefender of the Faith?

From today's news coverage of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s whirlwind visit to Perth.

The Sydney Morning Herald:

The world's most powerful woman strolled through the city's picturesque Kings Park before addressing an outdoor press conference in her last official duty as a guest of Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith.
The Brisbane Times:
The world's most powerful woman, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, landed in Perth last night surrounded by intense security for a whirlwind 18-hour visit.
Sky News:
As a gift from the school, she was treated to a rendition of 'What a Wonderful Day' from the school choir. "That's one of my favourite songs," the world's most powerful woman said in thanks.
The Australian:
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith hopes the world's most powerful woman will find the locals friendly and the scenery stunning when she flies into Perth tomorrow for a two-day visit.
The Times:
She may be the world’s most powerful woman, holding court with world leaders and standing centre stage on the international arena, but at heart Condoleezza Rice is just like every other woman – all she wants to do is shop.

Is it hot or crazy?

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain's campaign spokesperson's name is Tucker Bounds.

23 July 2008

Estelle Getty, 1923–2008

Oh, Estelle. For 173 episodes of this alone, thank you.

20 July 2008

Module behaviour

Which Sydney model has the stage-mother from hell? The chatter at brunch today was electric with tales of the pushy mom who’s riding roughshod over everyone in her daughter’s path towards – well, what?

Already chewing her way through agents, the model daughter had literary ambitions and engaged a writer who cooked up a concept, wrote two chapters and came up with a perfect title. Mommie Dearest was thrilled – until she found a better deal and took the whole package (complete with international rights) elsewhere. The writer’s “contract” amounted to a pittance for signing away all her rights and the threat, direct from Mommie’s lips, that if she went for anything more “we will destroy you”. Charming.

Like all great stage-mothers, Mommie is the über-agent for her charge, managing an ever-changing team of specialists in modelling, publishing, merchandising, film and PR. One of the agents, discarded for “not getting her face on TV enough” despite another agent’s instructions to “protect her from TV”, tells tales of hysterical midnight calls and threats of legal action.

One agent, still working for the model but cognizant of her own reputation, takes potential clients aside to warn them about the mother in advance.

The consensus has it that the module herself is undoubtedly pretty, but that there’s not much more than sweetly perfumed air circulating between her ears. She is also socially retarded; incapable of being engaged rather than looked at admiringly, she just stands there blankly while you talk. 

Photographers report working overtime to coax genuine-looking emotions from her and that even her natural smile looks rehearsed. One tells a story about asking her to smile, only to have her look at her mother, who demonstrated and had her expression exactly reproduced on her daughter's face.

Could the rumour be true? Mommie's suffocating presence serves the practical purpose of protecting the family secret: her gorgeous daughter, who's raking in the cash, has Asperger syndrome.

19 July 2008

Which New York socialite has the better name?

Is it Topsy Taylor . . . 
. . . or Muffie Potter Aston?

18 July 2008

As if public transport wasn't scary enough

Those devilish pranksters, Improv Everywhere, filled a subway carriage with identical twins, creating a human mirror simply to delight people or freak them out, depending on their disposition. Genius! Video and more photos from the event here.

17 July 2008

Will Nikki Webster infect me with malware?

I came across this warning while fact-checking a story.

And your brain, no doubt.

Here's what I remember about Nikki Webster: dangling from a wire at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Sydney eight years ago; a song called "Strawberry Kisses" that could easily become Rickrolling V2.0. That's it. And she's still, against all odds, trying to become a brand. Last I heard she was working the gay clubs. Nuff said.

16 July 2008

Odd jobs

In an institution as old as the British royal household there are some positions that go back centuries, to when the monarchy actually ran the country.

Some positions no longer exist because the roles were absorbed by government. The Master of the Revels, for instance, oversaw royal festivities and, oddly, stage censorship. The Master of the Great Wardrobe ran the office that provided clothing and textiles to the royal family.

The Clerk of the Closet, a position that still exists, has nothing to do with “the Great Wardrobe”. He’s the household cleric, usually a former diocesan bishop. The pay is lousy: £7 a year.

There’s the self-explanatory Keeper of the Queen's Swans (the Queen officially owns all swans in Britain) and the Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales – a job recently resurrected by the current PoW.

The Queen has two ceremonial “bodyguards” on some state occasions called the Gold Stick and the Silver Stick; Princess Anne is one of the two Gold Sticks at the moment (because she's Colonel of the Blues and Royals, part of the Household Cavalry) and you know you wouldn't want to mess with her.

The Page of the Backstairs serves the Queen and Prince Philip’s meals if they’re eating in their apartments. He also tidies up and lets people in and out of the apartments.

The Purse Bearer carries an actual purse (a big velvet bag) which is used to carry the monarch’s speech at the opening of Parliament (it’s done by the Lord Chancellor).

The Woman of the Bedchamber has nothing to do with the real bedchamber. She’s the Queen’s most senior lady-in-waiting. Her first Woman of the Bedchamber was the gloriously named Fortune FitzRoy; the current is Diana Maxwell, Baroness Farnham.

15 July 2008

Piss off a pilgrim

Two student activists took the New South Wales Government to court today to challenge the special World Youth Day laws that allowed police to detain people or fine them $5,500 for “annoying or inconveniencing” Catholic pilgrims (first discussed in this post) – and won.

They argued that the laws, which were never discussed or debated in Parliament, were unconstitutional because they would make peaceful protest illegal.

The Full Bench of the Federal Court ruled the definition of "annoyance" was too broad and the scope of the laws was uncertain.

The students now intend to stage protests about abortion, homosexuality, contraception . . . you know the drill.

Frankly, while I admire their moxie, I don’t know how much they’ll achieve in the face of 150,000 relentlessly cheerful people who will not stop singing. Ever. They were singing clap-happy songs about Jesus on the train today – during peak hour. It was, I can assure you, extremely annoying.


The Coen brothers are channelling the spirit of Saul Bass in the poster for their new film, Burn After Reading.

By the way – quite the cast, isn't it? It opens the Venice Film Festival at the end of August, arriving in cinemas swiftly afterwards. The trailer's here.

14 July 2008

Black-collar crime

The Pope's in town and says he'll apologise for all the pedophile priests. Sorry about all the kiddy-fiddling! Happy World Youth Day, everyone!

Broken Rites is a group that helps victims of church-related sex abuse to obtain justice. Since 1993 they’ve documented thousands of cases, in particular involving the Catholic Church. Here is their list of the 107 Catholic priests and religious brothers who have been sentenced in Australian courts in recent years. The group says it’s the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, it's an international problem. The New York Archdiocese produced a comic book, "Being Friends, Being Safe, Being Catholic". On this page, an angel warns a child putting on an altar boy's cassock not to be alone with an adult while a sinister-looking priest waves from the doorway.

13 July 2008

Then why, exactly, are you here?

What is the one thing that all dreadful people on reality TV shows say to excuse their dreadfulness?

12 July 2008

Recycle your spam

Forward a piece of spam to the Spamrecycler. Its address is spam@spamrecycling.com.

It will send you back a link. Click to watch your inbox-clogging piece of crap turn into something far more interesting to look at. Here's what it made out of mine.

11 July 2008

Movie star morphing

Two excellent videos by Phillip Scott Johnson. How many faces can you name?

Men in Film

Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Errol Flynn, Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, Tyrone Power, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Gene Kelly, Burt Lancaster, William Holden, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Anthony Quinn, Gregory Peck, Richard Burton, Jack Lemmon, Sean Connery, Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston, Steve McQueen, Peter O'Toole, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, Warren Beatty, Dennis Hopper, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Harrison Ford, Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner, Michael Douglas, Christopher Walken, Mel Gibson, Sean Penn, John Travolta, Antonio Banderas, Tim Robbins, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, George Clooney.

Women in Film

Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Norma Shearer, Ruth Chatterton, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Vivien Leigh, Greer Garson, Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, Gene Tierney, Olivia de Havilland, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, Loretta Young, Deborah Kerr, Judy Garland, Anne Baxter, Lauren Bacall, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Audrey Hepburn, Dorothy Dandridge, Shirley MacLaine, Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Janet Leigh, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Ann Margret, Julie Andrews, Raquel Welch, Tuesday Weld, Jane Fonda, Julie Christie, Faye Dunaway, Catherine Deneuve, Jacqueline Bisset, Candice Bergen, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sigourney Weaver, Kathleen Turner, Holly Hunter, Jodie Foster, Angela Bassett, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Salma Hayek, Sandra Bullock, Julianne Moore, Diane Lane, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry.

10 July 2008

On yer bike

A bicycle by Chanel. A steal at $13,000.

07 July 2008

For all your fashion news and views

The very fabulous and fearless Patty Huntington has abandoned the shackles of mainstream media to strike out on her own. The author of, most recently, the Fully Chic blog at news.com.au has gone all indie on our ass with her very own blog, [frockwriter].

There's a great story about Patty being banned from some off-schedule New York Fashion Week shows a couple of years ago by a megalomaniac PR -- she once called herself "the Mother Teresa of the avant-garde" and dresses like this -- who Gawker described as "insane, possibly in the paste-eating way". These posters were plastered around the venue:

That's cred, people. The lady knows her business. Subscribe! Comment! Get over there!

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

There's a wonderful expression in French, l'esprit d'escalier. It means "the wit of the staircase", thinking of something brilliant you might have said during a conversation – as you're leaving.

Its origins come from leaving the drawing room of a grand 18th-century house. (The drawing room, where guests were entertained, was on the first floor – thus Upstairs, Downstairs.)

The Germans have a word for it, too, of course: Treppenwitz, "stairs wit".

I found a funny site entirely devoted to people's stories of l'esprit d'escalier here.

06 July 2008

Mind your manners, please

Having just finished reading a series of books set in the 1920s and 30s filled with details of calling cards and dressing for dinner, I’m currently obsessed with old systems of manners and etiquette. I’ve uncovered some gems, including the English Manners And Tone Of Good Society, Or Solecisms To Be Avoided by A Member of the Aristocracy (1879) and the American Mrs John M. E. W. Sherwood’s Manners and Social Usages (1887), both tomes booming with authority and low opinions of interlopers, climbers and anyone who dares to ignore their advice.

Here are two enlightening extracts from others, more than a century apart.

From Society Small Talk or What to Say and When to Say It, by A Member of the Aristocracy (1879): Dinner-table talk
Pleasant, agreeable "small talk," necessary as it is on all social occasions, is more particularly so at the most important of all social gatherings, namely, dinner parties, and it is at dinner-parties that the greatest call is made upon the social qualities of the guests, and upon their powers of making themselves agreeable.
To make pleasant easy small talk is to pave the way towards pleasant companionship, and the slightest thread is capable of being woven into a substantial fabric. A matter-of-fact conversation often commences in this wise, "We must take care not to tread upon that smart train," referring to the dress of a lady who was preceding a couple to the dining room.
"Yes, that would never do; trains are very graceful, if they are inconvenient," To which her companion might observe -
"Oh, I admire them, of course; I am only so afraid of treading upon them, and of bringing down the wrath of the fair wearer upon my devoted head. "
"Are you very unlucky in this way? And do you think a woman could not keep her temper if her gown were trodden upon?"
"Well, if you ask me really what I think about it, I should say she was a very exceptional woman if she stood such a test - but here we are; we are to sit this side."
Or - "Have you been to the French plays? I suppose you have."
"No, indeed, I have not; we thought of going one night next week, if we can get stalls."
"If you want to see a really good piece you should try and see____" and at this point of the conversation the name of the "only piece worth seeing" would be mentioned, and if the lady were endowed with tact and cleverness, she would lead her companion to give her his impressions of the piece, and of the cast; by which means she would gain a certain knowledge of the subject, while he would gain, what men most appreciate, a good listener. On such slight foundations as the foregoing, does the matter of fact, or the commonplace small talk rest. The gossipy and the polite small talk have a still flimsier raison d'être and run very much after this fashion.

From Debrett's Etiquette for Girls (2006): One-night stands
The one-night stand (ONS) is a bit like fast food: tempting but with nauseating afterthoughts. Any dark alley gropery on the way home is just not ladylike and is bound to be viewed by an audience or CCTV. Also, don't force taxi drivers to witness any indiscretions. Once home, leave him to marvel at your record collection and superior taste in wine while you do a turbo-tidy. Conceal any embarrassing exhibits if bothered by such trifles, but if it's a true ONS, is shouldn't matter. Then attend to the lighting, play some music and sit together. Slip shoes off, gently shake out hair, nibble seductively on a cocktail cherry and chuckle at his jokes. Then stop talking and smile with your best come-to-bed eyes - intimacy will surely follow.
Once you're in the bedroom, forget all about your cleanse/tone/moisturise bedtime routine, Leave make-up intact and pyjamas in their drawer.
If you're at his, the ONS is not over until the walk of shame - going home in last night's dishevelled clothes. Steel yourself for the aftermath and hold our head up high. If you wake up early, it is acceptable under the circumstance to slip out without waking him. If you are possessed of any concern for good manners, then it's imperative to leave a cute note and a good excuse, with or without your telephone number.
If at yours, offer him breakfast and, assuming you want no more of him, say that your mother is on her way round. Bear in mind, however, that concerted maturity and politeness will ultimately lessen your own shame.

05 July 2008

The Stepford munchkins

Before-and-afters from Pageant Photo Retouching, a service specialising in work for children's pageants. And they're special, all right. I'm warning you: only pop them open if you're feeling brave.

More horror here.

01 July 2008

Fashion police - for reals

New regulations came into force today for World Youth Day – a Catholic event in Sydney featuring special guest star, the Pope. (What, have they run out of kids to molest overseas?)

It’s not a “day”, either: it’s five. The new laws are in effect for all of July, even though the event itself is in the middle of the month.

There’s one that says you can’t do anything that "causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event", including handing out condoms or wearing anti-Christian T-shirts. I guess this one’s staying in the wardrobe.