Fun With Faberge

Lord knows that we could all use a good laugh in these dark days of der Drumpf.

I’m not a laughy person, in general. I don’t chuckle at my own small talk, I don’t ha-ha when others punctuate their drivel with [seemingly] random jollity, I don’t chortle along with lame punsters. I hate puns. I’d rather punch a punster than  crack a polite smile. So let’s just stipulate that I’m a very straight-faced person.

So I am delighted to share with you two things that recently made me LOL, for reals.

I don’t care who knows this: I love the Real Housewives of New York. Mostly, I love them because I get to drink vicariously every time I tune in. Happily for me, in this season’s episode 17, they all went to Mexico for product research for Bethany’s Skinny Girl liquor brand, the product being tequila and the ROI being that they all got well and truly loaded. I’m talking Outstanding Television.

And then the Countess, LuAnn (was there ever a more hick/less Countessy name than LuAnn??), who is the tallest of the New York Housewives and quite the most pretentious, tried to walk away from the dinner table, and promptly  fell into the shrubbery.

This was  the best pic I could get of the incident, but I hope that you can see that she was not hurt, and that she kept giggling even as she struggled to get back upright (which she could not do — the waiters had wade into the bushes to pull her to her feet).

I’m still laughing. Not at her, but with her, because it does my heart good to see a woman in her 50s still making memories like that. For me, age 61, I’m pretty sure that my shrubbery-diving days are over, and maybe that’s why I don’t laugh enough.

Hmmmm. Food for thought.

The other spot of hilarity in my ho-hum life is that our Dear Reader and Commentor, Elizabeth, who is English, introduced me to a little society of English bloggers who all seem to know each other (mostly through their blogs) and all post the most delicious details about their everyday lives in various corners of Her Majesty’s realm. It’s like reading all the fascinating housekeeping bits from a Barbara Pym novel; the cupboard-clearings, the church rumble sales, the shopping for crisps, the gooseberry jam making — I love it.

About a week ago, one of the bloggers in Wales put up a wordless post, which was a  gif (a short video) from Disney’s The Jungle Book cartoon. It was about  a few seconds of beloved Baloo the bear, dancing:

He got 42 Comments, all taking a guess at what this blogger was celebrating with this joyous bit of dance, all from friends in the blog-o-sphere (remember, these people are English, and have an English sense of humor):

Comment: More in depth blogging.

Comment: I know, you’re dancing for joy because you get to revamp your kitchen?

Comment: It’s a bit blurry but clearly you have a unique dancing style. The little grass skirt really suits you.

Comment: If you turn around, are you bear arssed ?

Comment: Deep and meaningful.

And so on.

But my all-out favorite, the one that made me LOL, was:

Comment: You’ve reached your target weight at fat bastards club?

Now, that’s my kind of FUNNY. If I could figure out how to Comment myself on Blogger sites, I would have happily left my praise for such a happy band of like minds.

Speaking of like minds, I recently finished reading this book:

As far as being able to read a dictionary a page or two at a time, just for pleasure, John Simpson is my kind of guy. I can recommend this book to anyone who has ever wondered whether dictionaries wrote themselves, or what. It’s also a very English book to boot.

My favorite digression, one of many taken by the author, was about the word pom, which enlightened me about the close connection between Australian and English humor. (Yes, I’m italicizing English every time. It’s called a running gag.)

Pom, in case you don’t know your Monty Python routines , is what an Australian calls an Englishman. As defined by The Oxford English Dictionary, it is “an affectionate term of abuse” and that is why the Australians and English are funnier than us Americans. We only have nasty, rotten, hurtful, and ugly terms of abuse. We are too simple a people, too half-witted to have the subtlety and sophistication it takes to have an affectionate term of abuse. 

That’s funny.

There’s a slew of books, out now, written by millennial (barely 30 years old)  ladies, that are supposed to be funny. So far I’ve read:

Both these books are collections of autobiographical essays, so their subject matter is limited to: middle school, college, drinking, being 20-something broke, being a child in a dysfunctional family, and quite a lot about weight. Scaachi Koul is “chubby”, and Samantha Irby is “fat”. Samantha Irby is the better writer, but she uses a lot of F-bombs. A LOT. And she has digestive issues that she mentions almost every other page. Saachie Koul is Southeast-Asian Indian, and she needs to learn how to cut her word count in half. They are both very frank about bodily functions, and no indignity is off limits. Does that make them funny? They both make me miss Nora Ephron immensely.

Top Cat and I went to the movies, together, and saw The Big Sick. It’s a modern romantic comedy. You can tell it’s about millennials because the tag line includes their very favorite word of all freaking time: AWKWARD.

For me, there were four big laughs in it, but I can’t recommend it because the actress playing the girl friend has acute vocal fry. And OMG, what is it with millennials that they all have to be so grubby??? The lead guy has an apartment that is so grungy I’m amazed that a girl consented to spend the night there! I swear, the whole time I was dating (in real life) — which was many years, over my 20s, 30s, and 40s — I never had a date with a guy who had an apartment that scuzzy. And if I had, I would have made excuses and shot out of there like I had Crohn’s disease. (Thanks for that, Samantha Irby. I could have lived my life quite happily without ever knowing the details of chronic bowel inflammation.)

So as you see, I am doing my best to amuse myself these days, and not ending up in the bushes, even though, like I said, the thought has occurred to me.

But I promised you a Barbara Sinatra story last week, and here it is:

Barbara Sinatra, Frank Sinatra (Old Blue Eyes, Chairman of the Board — in the olden days they  used to give famous people fun nicknames) died on July 25. She was 90 years old.

Kevork Djansezian/AP

The Washington Post had the best obituary. I think the Post caught how down to Earth, and un-Hollywood she was.

In the Fall of 1994 I spent an afternoon in the Sinatras’ house in Palm Springs, CA because I was the Faberge expert for Christie’s auction house and the Sinatras had a Faberge collection they wanted appraised. For some reason, Christie’s decided that it would add glamour to the house call if I took the European Faberge expert wth me, a twerp who was supposed to be some Russian Prince. Actually, Alexi wasn’t as bad as some of the other Russian “nobility” I’ve met in the course of my work in Faberge, which has left me with a profound skepticism that the words “Russian” and “nobility” ever make sense together.

P.S. Most of them are broke and dumpy, but very impressed with themselves.

Mrs. Sinatra greeted us, and sat us in her living room, where the Faberge was kept in a glass-topped showcase/end table (all small bits: gold boxes, stone and crystal statues of animals and flowers, some nice enameled picture frames, if I remember correctly). I got these pix of Frank’s Faberge from the internets:

And then Mrs. Sinatra did something that no one in her position ever does, when Christie’s people are appraising: She offered us coffee.

She was the very rare client who did not make us Christie’s people feel like The Help.

I thought that was uncommonly gracious of her, I accepted, as did Alexi.

And I don’t even drink coffee. In fact, that cup of coffee in 1994 was both the first and last cup of coffee I’ve ever drunk.

And the other thing that impressed me about Mrs. Sinatra: In every, and I mean EVERY collection of Faberge, there are going to be fakes. It’s just a fact. So, of course, I spotted two or three fakes in  the Sinatra collection and gently explained to Mrs. Sinatra that Christie’s could not catalogue those times as Faberge.

And Mrs. Sinatra just nodded in agreement and said, “I was sure there were a few fakes. More coffee?”

THIS NEVER HAPPENS. Usually, people are so personally insulted when you inform them about fakes that they turn on you. They tell you that, why, just last week someone offered them tens of thousands of dollars for that very piece; or that they have a deep, deep  feeling that I’m wrong; or they snatch the time out of my hands and tell me that I can’t possibly know what I’m talking about even though appraising Faberge is what I do for a living and they, on the other hand, are dentists.

Mrs. Sinatra sat with us, making nice small talk until Alexi and I finished our appraisal. I remember she told me about having been married to Zeppo Marx before Frank, and how one of the older ladies in the California Christie’s office was an old friend of hers from their show girls days. She went into her bedroom, or maybe it was the vault, to fetch the diamond necklace that this old friend of hers calls the “Oh Shit” necklace, because whenever she (Mrs. Sinatra) wears it, people look at it and go, Oh, shit! It had a lot of big diamonds on it.

Then she asked if we’d like a tour of the grounds. Of course I said yes, and NO, we did not run into Frank. She took us into the office, and we were able to stand nose-to-nose with Frank’s Oscar for the Best Supporting Actor, 1953, From Here to Eternity.

You know, all these years I’ve been puzzled why I swear I remember seeing TWO Oscars on that shelf. I knew about the Supporting Actor one, so I’ve always assumed that my memory was wrong about that second Oscar. Just now, thanks to the internets, I have discovered that Frank DID win a second Oscar, in 1971, when he was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Thank you, you glorious series of tubes.

Mrs. Sinatra also took us to see Frank’s train collection. (I got the following text off the inter webs because there’s no way I want to write about trains.)

The trains resided in a replica of an actual railroad station that was located in Ramsey, N.J. Sinatra crammed his station from the floor to the rafters with wooden display cases and shelves brimming with trains of every type and manufacturer. The huge layout dominated the center of the room. Five trains could be operated simultaneously on the layout while others ran on separate loops or around the ceiling. A prominent area of the layout depicted Frank’s hometown of Hoboken. Another area of the station served as a library nook for Sinatra’s many train books and periodicals.

Who knew that Frank loved model trains? Mrs. Sinatra pointed out the most recent bequest, a Japanese bullet train presented to him by some important person in Japan. The Prime Minister?

Anyhoo, I left Christie’s a year later, so I was not involved in the Dec. 2, 1995 auction of about $2 million of Mr. Sinatra’s household goods.But the Faberge estimates where all mine, baby.

Here’s how the Faberge did:

There were some 30 objects by Karl Faberge, all of which sold for a total of $818,685. Among them were two jeweled gold presentation boxes, made in St. Petersburg, which were bought by an unidentified Russian buyer for a total of $291,000.

And that’s my Barbara Sinatra story. Thank you all who voted to hear it.

Thank you for all you reading recommendations last week. I have already finished one of the books (The Cake and The Rain — AWESOME title!) that I might tell you about next week, so long as I don’t fall into any bushes and break an arm or something. I do have a Liz Smith story also, which I will have to tell you because it’s helped me decide what I’m going to do with my life, now that I don’t seem to be writing books any more. Next week, Dear Readers.

Have a great weekend, whether it’s Summer or Winter wherever you are.

7 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan August 11, 2017 @ 4:51 am

    Marvellous story and so nice to hear about a down to earth person who was polite and considerate. That is the way the world should be, she sounds marvellous you were fortunate to meet her and have such a great experience. Have a lovely weekend. Seems to be summer here in Aus… so warm but very windy, not sure if that was the end of winter. Hope not.

  2. Kirra August 11, 2017 @ 5:11 am

    Thanks for another entertaining blog Vivian! My favourite bits: ‘Punch a punster’, ‘Shrubbery-diving days’ and ‘More in depth blogging’. Ha ha ha ha!

    Of course we call them Poms and they will say we’re from Oz (Australia). I agree English/Australian humour is rather different to American humour.

    Mrs Sinatra sounds like a nice person, and what a great story. Who knew Mr Sinatra was into trains? Not me!

    Megan is right, we are getting strange warm weather here…..

  3. Casey August 11, 2017 @ 9:04 am

    As a matter of fact yes I have wondered whether dictionaries wrote themselves. Ha ha, YOU are funny.

    Are you ever too old to give up shrubbery-diving?

    Great blog post today, like getting a nice juicy letter from a BFF full of news of the latest things that have crossed a very interesting mind. I’m going to save my second reading for my lunch hour, to give me something to look forward to!

  4. Elizabeth Schmid August 12, 2017 @ 7:28 am

    Lots to talk. about here.
    So glad you are enjoying English blogland and its food and humor…

    As to the fall of the Russian aristocracy, try the horribly chilling “Former People”….
    I wonder if you know my chum Margaret Trombly who was in charge of the Fabage eggs at the Forbes collection – when it existed?
    She is doing a show at a museum in Baltimore – more when I chat to you.

    When I worked at an art gallery in Beverly Hills in the 70’s I got to meet lots of so called ‘celebs’. Some funny stories.
    We will be on LI for 2 weeks from tomorrow.
    Maybe we can do lunch?

    Warmest greetings.

  5. Marg-o August 12, 2017 @ 6:58 pm

    Deeeeelicious. Casey, I recommend re-reading with a glass of wine. How I wish I could sit on a porch, with a Summer breeze, and trade stories about life. Except mine would be all about real estate listings and yours would be about handling Faberge. Did you ever hold an Imperial egg?

    What do Australians call Americans? I have never heard of “pom” or “Oz”, maybe I should start watching more BBCAmerica.

    Thank you, anyway, for being the best pen pal/blogger.

  6. Margot August 14, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

    Thanks for the warning about *The Big Sick* vocal fry. I’m allergic to the fry and turn off the radio when I hear it. My sense is that it’s a young-person way to drive older adults crazy and it works. I’ve read this is sexism (internalized sexism), because it’s a thing that young women do, but if professional actors & journalists are doing it on purpose, it’s meant to let me know that whatever they’re doing is Not For Me.

  7. jeanie August 14, 2017 @ 4:01 pm

    Now THAT’s how I like to hear notable rich people behaving — graciously, down to earth and with grand equanimity. (I had that coffee thing happen once when we were in Japan and it would be impolite to refuse. First and last.)

    Vocal fry. I hate it but this weekI have really nasty laryngitis (day 6, thank you very much) and I feel like my own chords are fried. No wonder they call it that. I’m more like a squeaky toy or what Lizzie sounds like when she burrows under the quilts at the lake all day and I periodically press on her to make sure she’s still breathing and she squeaks.) Anyway, I hate it too.

    Thanks for making me smile today!

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