Monday, January 9, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Words to literally live by

Cannery Row in Monterrey, the backdrop for John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Good Books ... Star Babies ... Jazz Ladies ... Doomed Lovers. And Dustin Hoffman as Giovanni de Medici. (Ratso Rizzo takes the bus to Florence!)

“FROM EARLY childhood on, I have found enormous solace in books. When I was lonely or hurting or confused, I read. When in midlife I searched for answers, or even just clues, I found them in books. Books were my allies, my passageway to thoughts, ideas and experiences other than my own. For my job, I read from dawn till nightfall.

“A recent Yale study found that book readers lived an average of two years longer than non-book readers; the more time spent reading books, the study found, the better. So my friends, no matter what fresh madness the New Year brings, armor yourselves with a pile of good books. Our lives, and our sanity, may depend on it.”

So writes William Falk, the Editor-in-chief of The Week magazine. These are not just words to live by, they are words I literally live by! And, I’m living longer, too. Who needs pills? I use bookmarks!
SPEAKING of books, I just finished two more.

“The Vanishing Year” by Kate Moretti, and Francesca Kay’s “The Long Room.” Both can be described as thrillers. “The Vanishing Year” has more than a few echoes of “Rebecca” but it is so smartly conceived, so chillingly twisty. I’m sure Daphne du Maurier would applaud.

 “The Long Room” which involves spying, is truly unique, and heartbreaking. I was anxious to get to the end of Moretti’s “Vanishing”, although I’d pretty much figured it out; I wanted to see how the beleaguered heroine coped. However, Francesca Kay’s “The Long Room” was another story. Halfway through, I didn’t want to go on.
Click to order “The Vanishing Year." Click to order “The Long Room.” 
Not that it was poorly written. Quite the opposite. It was so well done, the protagonist, alone in his eavesdropping, alone in his head, was rendered with such ominous empathy, I wondered if I cared to be depressed if it ended as I feared it might. When one is so affected by a book, now, that’s a great read!

I’m also just about to turn the last page of William J. Mann’s “The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family.” I am a longtime admirer of Mr. Mann’s work, most recently “Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood.”

The history of the Roosevelts — often cruel and incendiary — does not take a back seat to any show biz tale. More on this massive work later in the week.

I think the Roosevelt book alone put three more years on my life!

Congratulations to Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Mara Lane on the birth of their first child, a boy. They have named him Wolf Rhys Meyers and if that’s not a marquee name, I don’t know what is! So glad Jonathan has pulled himself together. I love him as an actor and of course I’ll never forget our one interview, in the midst of his “Tudors” success as Henry VIII. He wore a tee-shirt slashed wide and low, from clavicle to sternum. We disagreed slightly about the guilt or innocence of Anne Boleyn, but his physical impact was enough to make me back off. He was charming, although I did keep glancing warily around; had the actor traveled with a chopping block, just in case an interview went wrong?
... We told you some time ago about the Harlem Repertory Theater’s excellent and unusual production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The show has been so successful that it extended its run at Tato Laviera Theater (240 East 123rd Street) through May 27th. This is a marvelous experience for children and for adults who still believe in the power of hope. Call 212-868-4444.
... Get ready for Jazz Women of New York, a new all-female band conceived by vocalist Lee Torchia. She says  women in jazz are a force to be reckoned with. I thought women in jazz were already reckoned, but ... I reckon not. The core group is pianist Jill McManus, saxophonist and flutist Carol Sudhalter and bassist Melissa Slocum. There will be standards, original material and “multicultural jazz fusion.” These talented musicians begin taking bookings in March. Visit or contact / 917-624-0325.
... If you weren’t in Times Square, or at home watching CNN anchors and pop icons melt down, the place to be on New Year’s Eve, apparently, was NYC’s Metropolitan Opera, swooning over Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo in “Romeo et Juliette.” I have rarely read such rapturous reviews, and an opera-mad acquaintance of mine who attended the performance said that it was “among the top five most thrilling nights in opera I’ve ever seen!” I haven’t been to The Met in some time, but perhaps I’ll muster the energy to see the wildly praised Ms. Damrau and Mr. Grigolo before they leave the production at the end of this month.
... Perusing The Week magazine, I stopped on its Holiday Gifts page (“for those who have everything.”)  There was a monthly oyster subscription (50, fresh, delivered from Duxbury, Mass., $1,000 for a year) ... an exquisite dollhouse designed by Palm Beach’s famous Aldous Bertram. $9,500 and not something for kids to play with! ... Judith Leiber Balloon Clutches, approximately $5,000 each. (I keep my Altoids in a jacket pocket and reserve my clutching for pearls). But the best was a 19th century antique gown holder. It was found among the possessions of Egypt’s King Farouk. Fashioned of gold and diamonds it is designed to, well, hold your gown. This one’s about $10,000. I’d say just use your hand, but I don’t “have everything” so what do I know?
OH, The Golden Globes happened last night. Tomorrow, we’ll tell all. All that we watched on TV, anyway. We’ll give our vaunted opinions. In the past we’ve generally tried to stay away from fashion critiques. But I think 2017 requires a new playbook; last year upended so many things, yes? We shall see.

Attending the GG’s was always fun, the very best awards show. (Lots of drinking.) Just as the old Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton’s Restaurant was a total blast, an acid trip of star-gazing. (Lots of celebs too giddy from winning or losing to care who was listening to what they said.)
But those were days before social media, cell phones, iPhones smothered the world. You could actually hold onto a story, wait to file.

Wait. To. File. Three little words that meant so much!
And the Nominees are ...
ENDQUOTE: “Hazel’s mind was like wandering alone in a deserted museum. Hazel’s mind was choked with un-catalogued exhibits. He never forgot anything but never bothered to arrange his memories. Everything was thrown together like fishing tackle in the bottom of a rowboat, hooks and sinkers and line and lures and gaffs all snarled up.”

That’s from John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.” Since we started off with books, I figured why not end similarly?

That particular description; a mind “wandering alone in a deserted museum” always stuck with me. I thought of it again for some reason, and pulled out an old paperback copy of the book to see if I’d remembered correctly. I had. Now, I’m re-reading “Cannery Row.”
Truth to tell, this came about as I was trying to get through Netflix’s “Medici” series. I made a noble effort, but every time Dustin Hoffman popped up as Giovanni de Medici, I began snickering — totally absurd casting!  However the discussions of artwork in the show led me to think of museums, and that led me to think of ... etc.

I turned “Medici” off and Steinbeck on.
Contact Liz here.