Fun With Faberge



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.)

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

    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

    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

    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. 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

    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

    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. 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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