Michelle Obama — Shelley O to her fans, like Tom & Lorenzo — wore a bangin’ dress to last night’s state dinner (pix at the link). And, whoa, it was Alexander McQueen?!?!?? I am impressed. I like the way she lopped those sleeves off; a woman who does her weight-room work the way Shelley O does has every right to display the First Guns* at every opportunity. Like Tom and Lorenzo, I’m not wild about the one-shoulder thing, but Alexander McQueen’s aesthetic — or that of his successor, as McQueen checked himself out of the game last year — is all about not doing the expected thing. And she looks amazing. (*Witticism by T&L, in a previous post about Shelley O’s wardrobe.)
I know we went through the whole first-lady-and-her-designer-friends scandal once before, with Nancy Reagan, who admitted to accepting high-end gowns as gifts from her very dear air-kissing pals and not declaring it on her taxes. I assume Mrs. O pays something for her wardrobe, but I honestly don’t know what that might be — the economics of haute couture has never been clear to me. Generally speaking, the more famous the body in the gown, the less it pays, usually zero. One red-carpet photo of an Oscar nominee in a recognizable designer dress translates to hundreds sold at full price to the wives and mistresses of Russian oligarchs, Mexican drug lords and hedge-fund billionaires. But it would look bad, very very bad, if the FLOTUS was working the same deal as Sandra Bullock. What does a custom-altered Alexander McQueen gown even cost? I’ll just throw a wild guess out there: $15,000. If someone knows, chime in.
Which brings us to an interesting thing I found yesterday: The 10 most expensive gifts given to the president in 2009. Diplomacy is a tricky art; when heads of state meet, they are expected to tote some host-and-hostess gifts along, but many of these sound ghastly. Topping this list is, natch, Saudi Arabia:
“Large desert scene on a green veined marble base featuring miniature figurines of gold palm trees and camels; large gold medallion with the Royal seal in a green leather display box; large brass and glass clock by Jaeger-LeCoultre in a green leather display case.”
The Chinese were almost as bad:
“39” x 49′” wooden framed and matted fine silk embroidery depicting a portrait study of the First Family.”
The English and the Italians did better, and the Pope gave a whole gift bag, including a silver keychain. I’ll let you explore for yourself. Gawker mined the list for the cheapest gift, and came up with a $75 bottle of olive oil offered by Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. That’s a great deal more than I ever paid for olive oil in any quantity, so I’ll reserve judgment. But some of the gifts are wonderful, and if I were the president, I’d be tempted to load a few of them into the moving van when I leave, especially the “Orange Batavus ‘Holland on the Hudson’ bicycle with an extra bike seat,” from the Netherlands. The Dutch make wonderful bicycles.
And Silvio Berlusconi is a virtual department store of gifty wonderfulness. Alan will like this one: “Two men’s Belstaff jackets; one women’s Belstaff jacket.” You know who wears Belstaff jackets? George Clooney, that’s who.
Well, spelunk away. It’s an interesting document.
Before I leave, a correction/clarification from yesterday: Syphilis doesn’t cause hair loss, but a pre-antibiotics treatment for it (mercury) does. The merkin allegedly evolved to cover the effects of hair loss, as well as to cover the odd chancre. You can find any number of sources for this sort of thing, but as always, the Straight Dope is a nice one-stop choice.
I never knew anyone who admitted to having syphilis, although there was one fellow in my circle who picked up gonorrhea, from a brief fling with a young widow, who was working out her grief through promiscuity. I hope he learned his lesson, although he never visited a doctor and self-medicated with an antibiotic course smuggled out the back door of a pharmacy where he knew the owner.
What I learned today before breakfast: “A night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury.” Ahem:
Though no proper studies were done to prove it, mercury may have been an effective, if rather brutal, way of treating syphilis. It was administered in multiple ways, including by mouth and by rubbing it on the skin.
One of the more gruesome methods was fumigation, in which the patient/victim was placed in a closed box with their head sticking out. Mercury was placed in the box and a fire was started under the box which caused the metal to vapourise.
Aren’t you glad you live in the modern age?
Work beckons. More coffee beckons. Thursday — the most sleep-deprived day of my week.