August 21, 2012

The story of an Olympic scarf

Waaaaay back in 1948 during the London Olympic Games, Rosita Missoni was introduced to Ottavio. She was a sixteen-year-old student learning English and he was a handsome twenty-seven year old member of the Italian 400 meters hurdle team.  After watching him run at Wembley, Rosita and her fellow students were invited to lunch with the Italian athletes, and it was love at first sight.
Shortly afterwards, Rosita saw this Arnold Lever Olympic Scarf souvenir at Harrods which included Ottavio’s name as an Olympic winner and remembering the handsome, intelligent athlete she had had lunch with, wanted to buy it, but was afraid her fellow schoolmates would make fun of her. 

She regretted this…and for the past sixty-four years has been trying to find another one…luckily this June, one was found at the renowned Alfie’s Antique Market in London.
Yes, they lived happily ever after - Ottavio and Rosita were married in 1953.
Ottavio Missoni also produced the 1948 Italian Olympic team sportswear, marking the beginning of the Missoni fashion empire.


August 10, 2012

The Big Lasagna Tour - ‘having way too much mulah’.

I just read author Peter Mayle’s wonderfully informative guide “Acquired Tastes.” As one might suspect, Acquired Tastes is devoted to the little and not-so-little extravagances that make life worthwhile.

Now the skeptical might, rightfully, inquire as to why post instructions on the good life when there is so little bloody good to be had, but an appreciation for quality is rarely tied to wealth, but education. Who of us, after all, has not known an obscenely rich individual who displays vulgarity in all aspects of life — with impudence? While shouldering through a depressingly austere period of lack, why not develop a “prosperity consciousness” and train yourself in the ways of a discriminating connoisseur and practiced bon vivant.

Expectations tend to increase in direct proportion to the amount of money being spent, and if you’re spending a fortune you expect perfection. Alas, life being the badly organized shambles that it so often is, and with so much of it dependent on the behavior of erratic equipment (servants), perfection is rare.  After a while, the ‘having way too much mulah’ realize this, and then they start looking for trouble. I’ve seen them do it.

Details that I would consider trivial assume enormous significance: the breakfast egg is inedible because it is marginally under boiled, the silk shirt is unwearable because of a barely visible wrinkle, the chauffeur is insupportable because he’s been eating garlic again, the doorman is either insufficiently attentive or over familiar – the list of maddening blots on the landscape of life just goes on and on.

How can you have a nice day if some fool hasn’t warmed your socks or ironed your newspaper properly (how is that going to work with on-line editions)?

This was brought home to me one evening a few days ago at the house of a charming couple who suffered from ‘having way too much mulah’. One of their guests—it may have been me, now I come to think of it—accidentally nudged the heavy gilt frame of a murky painting in the living room. The alarm went off, and the security service had to be called and reassured and placated before we could sit down to dinner. While we were eating, our hostess spoke about another daily problem, that of the cutlery. It was beautiful old sterling, irreplaceable and heavily insured; a priceless heirloom. Unfortunately, the insurance was only valid if the cutlery was kept in a safe during off-duty moments, and so knives, forks, and spoons had to be counted and locked up after every meal!

Well, you may say, these are only minor drawbacks to the otherwise enviable life of bliss that is enjoyed by the ‘having way too much mulah’. But after pressing my nose up against the window and watching them in action from time to time, I’m not at all sure that they enjoy themselves as much as we think they do. And why?  Because, damn it, something is always not quite right.

…Then I remember during my stay in Venice, a magnificent establishment with an equally magnificent chef. Impossible, I thought, to fail to enjoy dinner in such a place. But I was wrong. Sitting at the next table were four resplendent examples of ‘having way too much mulah’ from Milan. They were not happy. The white wine was not chilled exactly to their taste. A finger was lifted, but the waiter took longer than thirty seconds to arrive. Good grief, what is the world coming to? Throughout dinner, I could hear totally unjustified mutterings of discontent. No matter how delicious the food, how splendid the surroundings, things were not quite right. And this atmosphere—almost suspicious, poised for disappointment—pervaded the entire room. There wasn’t a jolly millionaire in sight. It will be the last time I eat in a subdued Italian restaurant.

After a few experiences like this, the thought of living permanently among the ‘having way too much mulah’ doesn’t appeal to me at all. But I have to say that some of their minor investments—the small consolation prizes that they award themselves as they struggle to get through each day—are extremely pleasant, and potentially habit-forming.  Once you’ve tasted caviar, it’s hard to contemplate its distant cousin, lump fish roe, with any real gusto.

Perhaps the single most enjoyable part of my research, which has covered a period of about four years, was meeting the artists themselves, the people who provide the luxuries. All of them, from gardeners to tailors to shoe makers to cooks and wine blenders, were happy in their work, generous with their time, and fascinating about their particular skills. To listen to a knowledgeable enthusiast, whether he’s talking about a hat or the delicate business of making pasta is a revelation, and I often came away wondering why the price wasn’t higher for the talent and patience involved.