Dear Pan Am Pamelas & around-the-world Wandas,
From l'Égypte to Gay Paree, here is my year in pictures...
Last February, at the suggestion of my friend Susan Sabet, editor of Cairo-based fashion magazine Pashion, I jetted off to Cairo to cover Susan's Cairo's Fashion Night at the First Mall of the Four Seasons Hotel. Of course I made the requisite trip out to see the Great Pyramids. Tourist numbers have been very low since the tumult that erupted in Cairo during the first anniversary of Mubarak's ouster, so my experience at the Pyramids was quite existential.
For years I've fantasized about visiting the Great Sphinx of Giza and I did find his gaze mildly terrifying.
"I am standing in the sun
I wish that I could be
a silent sphinx eternally.
I don't want any past
only want things which cannot last
and I can't even cry
though God knows how I try -
a sphinx can never cry
and sphinxes never die." - Amanda Lear, The Sphinx
During my stay in Cairo, my friends Ahmed and Daki of the jewelry brand Sabry Marouf took me on a whirlwind tour of Islamic Cairo aka Fatimid Cairo. It was definitely a trip into the past.
Ahmed took this photo of me, for some reason I was feeling sassy.
With Ahmed (pictured) and Daki for some traditional mint tea and sheesha pipe at al-Fishawi, the most famous ahwa in Cairo.
After we left Fatimid Cairo, we drove near to Tahrir Square and I jumped out of the Ahmed's car to take photos of this women's protest. They are protesting against the institutionalized sexism of the Muslim Brotherhood and their government-organized sexual assault. (They send teenage boys into the Square to sexually harrass women to discourage them from protesting.) Work it, sisters!
On another day, I had a very meditative visit at the Citadel of Saladin. This was my favorite mosque, because it has an understated elegance. It was completely empty save for a mullah who pointed out some details for me. Built in 1318, the Mosque of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala'un is the only Mamluk (Egypt during the Middle Ages) work that Mohammed Ali didn't abolish.
Inside the walls of the Citadel.
An elegant gentlemen in the Al-Rifa'i Mosque, one of the "twin mosques" not far from the Citadel, where the Shah of Iran is entombed.
Susan Sabet, organizer of Cairo's Fashion Night, at the event at the First Mall in Giza. We sipped Egyptian champagne (which is actually quite good) and I met lots of interesting young designers and cosmopolitan Cairenes.
Ahmed and Daki of Sabry Marouf. They showed me their fantastic collection of neo-Pharaonic jewelry.
I work as a copywriter for Tiffany & Co. so it was fun to toast the Cairo boutique where I chatted with Hibba Bilal, the director of PR of the Four Seasons at the First Residence. I stayed at this luxe hotel for three nights--my room had a view of the Pyramids!
Hibba and I (and Ricky Martin looking over my shoulder) outside the Bulgari shop.
One of the craftsmen at the Azza Fahmy jewelry workshops outside of Cairo. Ms. Fahmy is the Middle East's leading jewelry designer and is known for breaking down barriers in design. In 1969, she became the first woman in Egypt to be permitted to train as an apprentice with the masters in Khan El Kahlili, Cairo's jewelry quarter.
After enjoying Cairo for 6 days (my visit to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities was a standout), I jetted down to Aswan, located on the most beautiful stretch of the Nile, in the middle of the golden Nubian Desert. This view is what I woke up to every morning as I stood on the terrace of my royal suite at the Sofitel Legends Old Cataract Hotel. Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile here. At night, the only sound one hears is the drumming of the Nubian tribes on Elephantine Island, which you can see in the photo above.
During my stay in Aswan, I took an idyllic cruise in a felucca on the Nile. We sailed past the Mausoleum of Aga Khan.
Moi and the Nile on my suite's terrace. To my left is the original building of the Old Cataract Hotel, now called "the Palace Wing."
When one winters in Aswan, it is absolutely essential to visit the mind-blowing Temples of Ramses II in Abu Simbel, near the border of Sudan. A 3-hour drive through the Nubian Desert is required to get there. Because of the drop in tourist numbers, my arrival at the temples was quite surreal--I was the only one there! Not even a guard. Just two black dogs languishing in the sun. (Lucky for me they were friendly dogs!)
When I told Camille Paglia about it, she remarked that I must have felt like a British archeologist discovering it for the first time in the 19th century! More accurately, I felt like I was in a Ray Harryhausen film! All it needed was a Bernard Herrmann soundtrack.
Inside the Temple of Ramses II
A charming building in one of the Nubian villages on Elephantine Island.
My hotel wasn't keen on the idea of me wandering around alone in Aswan's Fatimid Cemetery (which dates back to the 9th century AD), but I went anyway. The caretaker of the cemetery took me on a tour of the graves.
The pièce de résistance was this tomb of an important imam, decorated with hsbd-irty, or artificial lapis lazuli, which is considered humanity's first synthetic pigment. It was developed in ancient Egypt during the Fourth Dynasty, c.2575-2467 B.C., when it used to decorate the tombs of the Pharaohs.
When the caretaker showed me this blue-dusted tomb, I was struck with a jolt of déjà vu. I then realized I had visited this site in a dream a few years ago.
In July, I flew to Rome to cover Alta Roma fashion week for Diane Pernet. One of the highlights was our exclusive tour of the ateliers where the costumes and sets for the Rome Opera are created, at the Circus Maximus.
Even the fake set for the Mouth of Truth knows I'm a big, fat liar.
Below the Roman Opera ateliers is an ancient temple of Mithras. Popular before the Christians drove it out around the 5th century, the cult of Mithras was an all-male cult comprised of working-class and military men. After a bull was slaughtered and sacrificed, the animal's blood would pour down like a waterfall from the ceiling. As an initiation rite, the strapping, naked young military men would bathe and frolic and wrestle around in the deluge of blood. Now that sounds like a party!
I ran into fashion designer Paola Balzano at the A.I. Artisanal Intelligence exhibit at the show-stopping Palazzo Altemps, home of Angelica Library which, starting in the 17th century, became the world's first lending library.
Inside the library, Paola's dresses are up on the catwalk in the background. The skull sculpture is by Davide Dormino.
Musician Diego Buongiorno and I at the A.I. exhibit. Diego's latest piece is The Bush, an innovative project that puts both music and narrative together, which he devised, wrote, composed, arranged and produced.
After attending the sensational Jean Paul Gaultier show at Santo Spirito in Sassia (a communion-wafer's throw from the Vatican), we were invited to a dinner in Monsieur Gaultier's honor by Italian Vogue at the breathtaking Galleria Borghese. Above is one of the museum's most famous sculptures, The Rape of Persephone by Bernini. It certainly was a delight to be able to wander through the galleries at night while the museum was closed to the public.
Reunited: me and journalist Rebecca Voight arriving at the dinner.
We Are a Photograph
My biggest thrill of the night was meeting disco goddess Amanda Lear. JP Gaultier created the costumes for her recent one-woman show in Paris. I've been a big fan of her music for years. In September I read her amazing memoir, My Life with Dali. It is absolutely the best book to read while on holiday.
La Dolce Vita, Indeed
Dining under the stars: the enchanting table setting in the Villa Borghese gardens. I was over the moon for the caramelle arancia e cannella con vellutata di spinaci and the operatic sfogliata caramellata di millefoglie con crema chantilly e fragole, coulis di frutti di bosco. Yum!
One of the guests at the dinner was Simone Valsecchi. A true renaissance man, Simone has collaborated with Jean Paul Gaultier, Peter Greenway, Gianfranco Ferre and others and works as a stylist and also curator and collector of museum-quality dresses starting from the 7th century. He was a lender to the Museo Fortuny for the exhibit "Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland."
It was fun to see Susan Sabet again and we discussed the situation in Egypt at length during dinner.
Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves--and God
On another day, I was treated to a bespoke, hisory-laden tour of Medieval Rome by Roam Around Rome, a boutique tour company. Our first stop was the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati--the 4 Holy Crowned Martyrs.
The Basilica's hidden Romanesque cloister.
Paolo and Antonio of Roam Around Rome.
Ceiling of the Basilica di San Clemente, founded in the 4th century.
One of the main reasons to come to Rome, it goes without saying, is the food.
(She's In A) Bad Mood
On my last night in Rome I attended the opening of the new Ermanno Scervino boutique. Asia Argento, whom I adore, was there promoting her album Total Entropy.
Before Asia arrived at the party in a burst of glorious punk-rock impudence, as if she had been shot from a cannon, the soiree was a rather soigné affair. Men in expensive suits and women dressed as if they had raided Halson's closet floated in circles around the crowded room through champagne bubbles and a DJ set of fabulously louche '70s disco. Such a refreshing change from the typical New York fashion party, where douchey faux-hemian "DJs" try and fail to spin their way out of a wet reclaimed hemp paper bag...and everyone is dressed like they're competing in a Chloe Sevigny costume challenge.
The DJ booth at the party which doubled as Asia's stage.
In New York we have a plethora of bland, generic Duane Reades. Rome has this. (Located next to Leon's Place, the official hotel of Alta Roma this season.)
Sunset at the Temple of Vesta.
I always go to Europe for holiday in September and this time around I went to Paris to visit friends. Frédéric lives in a glamorous penthouse with a vast terrace that overlooks the Eiffel Tower. I offered to make us some of my world-famous Belgronis™ but since Frédéric had limited spirit options, we went into War-time rationing mode. We made do with some gin and red vermouth. Since he didn't have a proper cocktail shaker, I had to mix the cocktails in a wine decanter with a swan-like neck. Not easy to get the ice cubes in there! But we ended on a high note by drinking my Belgronis™ from Fréd's Christian Dior crystal tumblers.
The view from Fréd's terrace at night.
I stayed for two glorious nights at the Hôtel de NELL in the center of Paris. The star of my room was a Japanese bathtub carved out of a single block of raw marble, bathed in natural light. The tray, seat and footstool are made from the lightest Oregon myrtlewood. I thought the seat was a bit strange but then again, I've never taken a bath in Japan!
I dined in the NELL's formidable restaurant, La Régalade Conservatoire, with Rebecca Voight. I chose as my main the scorpion fish fillet cooked in a bouillabaisse with snow peas and shaved fennel. Supèrbe!
Meanwhile, at the Folies Bergère the gilded tuchas of the iconic Art Deco can-can dancer was being polished for maximum shine.
Because it's just not a trip to Paris unless you drink Champagne with Diane Pernet at Café de Flore on the Rive Gauche.
Diane & Akiko Hamaoka, the Mayor of the Marais. And Lemon!
Après Champagne, Diane and I embarked on a magical mystery tour of Paris with Akiko. One of our stops, L'Hotel, was where Oscar Wilde uttered his (disputed) last words, "These curtains and I have been fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go" or "Either this wallpaper goes or I go." Or, more likely, "WHAT a DUMP!"
We passed by the majestic Tour Saint Jacques and Diane was amazed that she actually walked through tourist-y Les Halles, where she was barraged with gawking gasps and boorish commentary. But Diane is stoic, as am I, so it rolled off her like water on a duck's back. And we had a good laugh and exercise.
I think this might be how the day started out: the healthiest vegetarian lunch you can possibly imagine at The Tuck Shop. This zucchini soup rocked my world.
The divine Puurple Rain! She works hard for the money at the TUCK SHOP (which she co-owns)! Bringing vegetarian delights to the Croque Madame-stifled masses....
On my last day in Paris, I had lunch with the delightful Angélique Bosio, director of the terrific documentary on Bruce LaBruce, The Advocate for Fagdom. I (and my alter ego) appear in the film and Angélique interviewed me for it in 2009 when I was staying in an apartment in Pigalle.
See if you can guess which one is moi in this trailer:
After my high-end stay at the Hôtel de NELL, I schlepped my cookies up to Montmartre and checked into this very homey bohemian flat that was discretely tucked away in the Passage de Abbesses. Backstage photographer Sonny Vandevelde turned me onto it.
Renting an apartment means having your own kitchen to make dinner: salad, baguette and cheese from the fromagerie around the corner. Rich and perfect morbier and pesto gouda which I only bought because of the color (the pesto flavor was too overwhelming.)
One day I had brunch with the boys--fashion designer Teddy Parra and his partner, the actor Jean-Luc Bertin--in Le Marais. I paid a visit to Teddy's boutique--where he designs and produces splendid made-to-measure men's and women's clothing--and this book was displayed in the salon. Le bulge seems to upstage everthing else in the photo.
Dali in Montmartre
I went to my friend Nancy's favorite Moroccan restaurant and on the way back I of course had to take a photo of Sacré-Cœur Basilica, or "the giant baby bottle for angels" as one anonymous poet once put it.
After Paris, I jetted over to Vienna to meet up with my friend Carole Pope and to attend MQ Vienna Fashion Week.
Detail of my suite at the 19th-century circus-themed 25Hours Hotel.
Amazon alert! MQVFW organizers Elvyra Geyer and Zigi Mueller-Matyas.
Taking in the sights backstage at the Tiberius show.
Moi avec champagne et Tiberius ostrich-leather gloves in the VIP Tent at MQVFW with Tiberius designer Marcos Valenzuela.
Carole and I paid a visit to the atelier of Austrian couturier Susanne Bisovsky and it was quite a treat!
Susanne's enviable high-ceilinged kitchen is a riot of cookie tins collected from flea markets all over the universe.
After our atelier visit, Carole Pope and I sank into some sublime apple strudel at my favorite cafe. Yes, dolls...this is MY joint in Vienna.
The cafe is tucked away behind Vienna's famed opera house.
On another day, Carole and I were treated to a rather grand vegetarian lunch at Tian in the center of Vienna. The multi-course meal included this "tea" of tomatoes and basil that was simmered in a Japanese coffee pot.
The dizzying array of dishes at Tian kept soaring higher and higher to new artistic heights. While this salad resembles a Cubist painting, it's meant to mimic a game of Tetris. Bravissimo!
Elvyra and The Shit it girl, Bonnie Strange in the VIP Tent at MQVFW.
Thanks for taking this trip with me.