Friday, 30 December 2011

Like Fine Wine...Rudolph Valentino...

Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams.  --- Rudolph Valentino

Although Rudolph Valentino never lived long enough to age into his autumn years or beyond, I thought--browsing through photos of him taken throughout his life--he really did mature just as beautifully as a fine wine.

Most of us know THE Valentino of film glory. The first screen lover to break the mold of the wholesome boy next door the public had become accustomed to in early film. He was the first Latin Lover. To most--inlcuding this girl--he still, to this day, is the only Latin Lover and cannot be usurped from his position of celluloid sexuality.

But for those who aren't familiar with his life--with the stages which show a remarkable maturing and, more importantly, a very obvious growth in elegance and style--I wanted to spotlight him as my Like Fine Wine subject.

Would you believe this photo was the future Love God, the screen legend, the sachem of hearts? Yes, this is Valentino in 1913 on his way to America. Only here he was not Rudolph Valentino (later to be his screen name), but was Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D'Antonguolla. Try saying THAT three times fast. Whew.

He was a kid alone in a big, new country. Scared. But he worked his way through life with any job he could get his hands on. Even gardening. He dreamed of having his own vineyard.

Young Taxi Dancer Rudolpho.

Utilizing his dark---and very foreign----good looks, the young man began work as a taxi dancer. Dancing for money. Wooing women. Different accounts report he did many other things for money during this period, but it remains to be proven.

With the sleepiest bedroom eyes in the world, how could he have missed fame? To this day, one of the most incredibly sensual men to have ever lived.

Valentino wanted to be in movies--the bright, shiny new penny of indutries--and hung around motion picture studios, taking work as an extra and small roles whenever he could.

Beginning to show more refinement. Still the exotic beauty.

And then---and then---his life became the stuff dreams are made of.

Screenwriter June Mathis, one of the most powerful women in the industry, spotted young Rudy in a nondescript role in a film. She was overwhelmedw with his dark beauty and used her influence to push for him as the lead in the anxiously awaited motion picture The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This was a film even the top stars of motion pictures vied for. But Mathis knew her man, she knew what would make the film work. And she was right.

Valentino was cast---a virtual unknown---as Julio Desnoyers. Mathis' gut feeling paid off. A star was born.


Rudy in his famous tango scene from The Four Horsemen...The role that put his sopt on the map forever as the Love God.

He went on to make more films, all memorable. In all of them, he stole the scenes...

He was SO believable on screen, SO handsome, even the famous Nazivoma had him deleted from her famous death scene because his charismatic presence would steal her thunder.

He married a woman with a name as exotic as his own, Natacha Rambova.

The role for which he is perhaps most famous. The Sheik. Sweeping onto the screen as the hero of Edith Maude Hull's famous erotic novel, he took the world by storm...again. Women craved to be taken by their very own desert sheik, men hated him.

He played opposite THE Gloria Swanson in Beyond the Rocks. The public adored the pairing of their two screen darlings. But it was their only chance to co-star.

Blood and Sand as the fated Juan Gallardo. Getting more and more handsome by the minute.

While the public knew him mostly as the man behind the heavy actor's makeup, the real man--the Valentino on the street--was a suave, toned-down shadow of the screen's smoldering heartthrob. But still as handsome, if not more so.

A goatee. New look, started a craze in men's fashion. The sleek hair and goatee. Barbers protested, as more and more men started to go for this look and they lost business.

The real man loved to work on cars, and loved to buy elite foreign automobiles. And was quite the dangerous driver, as it's told he refused to wear glasses for his poor vision.

His last role, The Son of the Sheik, a sequel to The Sheik. He died the year this film was released.

Valentino died while on a trip to New York to promote his last film. Only thirty one years old.

Although he never had the chance to reach old age, he still matured through his short years and left the world with an unforgettable image of true beauty, potent sensuality and unmistakable class.

He died so very young, yet that brief life was just long enough to create a household name that still whispers romance and sets pulses racing...Rudolph Valentino.

This photo says it all.


Tuesday, 20 December 2011


This holiday season, I've felt my father's loss more than ever. So please accept this humble contribution to the magic that is all fathers as my gift to you for Christmas.

Bronx, 1944

The perfect Christmas Eve.

The heavy slate clouds had finally let go their burden, sending fat snowflakes—legions of delicate white crystal angels—swirling crazy and silent on the twilight breeze.
In the department store window, a collection of phonograph records hung from strings of glittery garland and the Christmas tree lights reflected on the shiny black disks.

The record jackets, propped in rows among blankets of fake snow and more lights, caught Carmen’s attention. Especially one. Thomas Beecham Conducts Carmen.

“Daddy.” Carmen shoved her hands deep into her coat pockets and shuffled sideways on the sidewalk to nudge her father. “Tell me.”

Benny Franchino shot a gloved hand to the spotless glass to brace himself against his daughter’s playful shove. He tugged the brim of his fedora. “Tell you what, baby?”

How embarrassing, how silly, to want to hear the story again. He’d been telling her the same tale since she’d been a tiny tyke—probably before she even learned to talk. In fact, for years she probably never even understood the words at all.

She should have outgrown it by the time she reached her teens but she hadn’t. She never would. And here she was at twenty-five, still wanting, needing to hear the ridiculous tale. And the funny part? It was make-believe, purely fabricated in her father’s unending supply of tall fables. But Carmen didn’t care. It had been created for her and her alone. And it made her smile.

Pointing to the Carmen record cover, she sideswiped her father once more. Even to ask for the cockamamie story, as though she believed it, sent heat to her cheeks. She shifted her gaze to the sparkly flakes on the sidewalk. “My story. The Carmen story.”

“Ah.” Benny nodded. "You mean the story of how the opera Carmen got its name?"

It didn’t take much to get him into the heart and mindset to retell the absurdity.

Yes, make me three years old again. “Yes!”

“Oh, well….” Adjusting his hat once more, Benny glanced to the thick gray sky as though the words hid in its depths. “It happened, just as I’ve told you a million times….”


“The composer needed a name for his newest opera.”

“And…?” Oh, how terribly silly to even be listening to—much less asking to have it told—this outlandish fantasy.

“He came to me, Benito Franchino, because he'd seen your ma and me strolling with you in your carriage.”

Noting the smile, so lost in another world, on her father’s face, Carmen’s heart ached. A nice, beautiful ache, though. Could she possibly love him more than at this very minute? She thought not. How could her soul not swell to nearly bursting, seeing the reminiscing in his soft brown eyes, the contentment on his handsome face?

It wasn’t only the story she found so sweet. It was how he told it.

“And they—”

“Wait a minute.” Rearing back in mock disapproval, Benny narrowed his eyes. “Who’s telling this story? Me? Or you?”

Carmen slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. She nuzzled into the comforting wool of his overcoat. “You."

“Well, the composer proceeded to tell us he’d been inspired by the beautiful kid in the carriage.”


“Yeah. You.” Benny stopped, brushed flakes from the brim of his hat and continued walking. “Could he please ask your name, he said. A child so beautiful, he said, I gotta name my opera after her.”

Wanting to be a little child again, Carmen tucked her chin, fishing for the words she still loved to hear. “I was beautiful?”

“Ay-ay-ay.” Benny’s gaze rose to the gloomy sky again. Was it a habit or did he really see answers there? “You were the most beautiful kid in the world.” He draped his arm about her shoulders, drawing her nearer. “You are beautiful, bambina.”

That rushed the warmth to her cheeks once more. Not embarrassed but pleased. “And so the opera composer…?”

“Oh, yeah, him!” He held up a finger. “Well, I put up a fight, of course. You know me.”


Benito Franchino, former middle weight boxer. His career may have been over, but the fire, the intensity, in his soul burned just as bright as ever.

“Your ma begged me to reconsider. You know she always saw a future as a singer for you.”

“She did.”

“And she’d be so happy, baby, to hear about your contract with The Met.”

“Are you happy about it?”

Her father stopped so abruptly, a tiny avalanche of snowy dust drifted from the brim of his hat. “Am I happy? Am I happy?” There went his stare, squinting to the heavens, then returning to her. “I’m so goddamn hap—” At Carmen’s surprised gasp, he grimaced. “Sorry about the language....” He made a sign of the cross. “I’m so happy. Oh, baby, if I could only shout to the world just how happy I am.”

Carmen’s throat tightened. Tears were soon behind and she swallowed past the constriction to fend them off. “I’m glad, Daddy.”

Too tough—as always—to get caught in the sappiness of the moment, Benny cleared his throat and shot out his cuffs. “So this opera fellow….”

“Yes. Him.” How the love inside her wrenched her heart. Tears did well to the corners of her eyes, only to sting in the chilly air.

“Well, he put up a pretty good argument, too. So, finally, your ma and me figured why not? Quite an honor it was, we thought. You know?”

“So that’s how the opera got its name.” Carmen sighed. Yes, it was a crazy story, so whimsical. But, even in its zaniness, so necessary.

Benny turned his face to the clouds where evening had finally snuffed the feeble, muted light of day. “Guess it’s time I got back.” This time his gaze didn’t leave the darkening canopy.

“Not yet, Daddy.” Carmen wrapped her fingers around his forearm to pull him closer, a desperate grip to keep him from leaving. To hold the day like a still life painting. “A malted at Bernbaum’s?”

With a forlorn glance at the bustle of Christmas shoppers—as though watching for an approaching train—he shook his head. “I’ve stayed too long already, sweetie. I have to go.”

Like the baby in the carriage in her father’s silly story, Carmen yanked away from him. “I hate—”

“Carmen.” His gloved finger touched her lips.

She gave the tears permission to fall in earnest.

Her crying always tore her father's heart out, and she could at least make him feel guilty for leaving.

“Baby. My baby girl.” The sadness in his voice assured he couldn't be deterred by her tears this time. “You know I can’t stay.”

Carmen stalked to the store window, her boots crunching on the thickening snow. “Then go. Go.” Jerking from his attempt to cup her elbow, she moaned, “Why drag it on, huh? Just go.”


“Why did you come anyway, goddamn it?”

“Carmen.” Was there a chuckle in his tone? “Pretty talk, bambina.”


“I tell you what. Maybe you’ll forgive me if you see what I left you.” Tucking a finger under her chin, he coaxed her to meet his eyes. “You just check under your Christmas tree. You just look, eh?”

“Sure.” Carmen shrugged away from his touch.

Somehow, it helped to bristle. She could pretend it didn’t hurt if she could feign anger. Of course, in time the resentment would fade and love would flood back in to fill the wounds. Love that would last until the day she died.

“No goodbye hug?” He made a big fist—the perpetual boxer in him—and gingerly grazed his knuckles on her cheek. His gentle prod was filled with the same sadness that rent her own heart in two.

Reluctantly, Carmen turned and leaned into him, melted into the familiar strength of his arms. She breathed in the comfortable aroma of his Bay Rum, the sweet smooth scent of his hair pomade.

Years in the boxing ring gave his arms such super human strength.

Carmen could hardly breathe in his tight embrace.

Tremors rippled through his body to hers. He was crying, too.
After a short eternity, he loosened his hold and stepped back. “You finished being mad at your old man?”

Shuffling and not able to stifle the smile sneaking to her lips, she murmured, “Yes.”

He swiped tears mingled with tiny snow crystals from his cheeks and turned to leave. Over his shoulder he blew a kiss. “Merry Christmas, baby.”

“Merry Christmas, Daddy."

He started down the sidewalk but stopped and jabbed a finger in the air at her. “Under your Christmas tree.”

And then he left—a tall, powerful figure in a long black overcoat and hat, blending into the flock of shoppers. Soon she couldn’t see him at all.

Carmen barely remembered the walk back to her tiny apartment. She stood on the stoop for a moment, drinking in the scene of the neighborhood kids shouting in the snow. Bundled in their thick coats, hats and gloves, they constructed a gaunt snowman. The white stuff hadn’t fallen thick enough yet to make much else—not after snowball fights, anyway.

With a sigh, she shuffled up the steps to the entrance and pushed through the thick wood door.

Christmas music from stereos echoed in the warmly lit stair well. Laughter pealed from behind closed apartment doors.
Maybe she’d go to a party later. After a good nap, she’d know if she felt up to mingling and wine and Christmas trees with big bulbs of bright light.

Upon entering her apartment, the first thing to greet her was her own tree. A tiny laugh escaped her. Why did she put up a tree every year? No one ever saw it but her. Yet she could no more think of not having a scant evergreen in the small abode than she could imagine holding back the wind with a butterfly net.

Growing up, she’d given up many childhood things. But a tree was the one thing she couldn’t part with. Maybe because of her parents, she figured. The warm, happy holiday memories she had of them when—no matter how little money they had—her father made sure there was a tree.

Kneeling on the worn carpet, she plugged in the lights and sat on her knees to watch the red, green, blue, yellow and white glimmer on the fragrant branches.

Peace. There was something so comforting about a green tree with lights and bogus icicles.

Carmen carefully plucked the snow globe from its cozy nest beneath the tree and wound it until Silent Night began to twinkle from its music box. She returned it to its lonely spot, dragged a couple of pillows from the nearby armchair and tossed them to the floor.

Reclining, she rested her head on the pillows and closed her eyes. The delicate music caroled from the globe and, within a few moments, Carmen drifted to sleep.

Later—had it been hours or minutes? She didn’t know—a soft, husky voice tiptoed through the mist in her mind. Under the Christmas tree, baby. Her father’s words filtered into her thoughts and excitement jolted through her. She jerked to a sitting position and studied the tree skirt for his gift.


Carmen’s body shook with the sobs that finally made it to the surface in her soul.

So it had been a dream. Just a dream. Beautiful, warm and tender, gut-wrenchingly loving. A year from—exactly, on Christmas Eve—the day he’d died.

There was no proof to assure he’d really visited her this evening. Yes, just a dream. Her father, so real, so touchable, so gentle. Daddy.

But even so, even that fleeting imaginary encounter, that silly re-telling of the absurd opera story was precious to her. She supposed it was the gift.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a something—something very small—nestled in the folds of the white tree skirt. Whatever it was, it wasn’t wrapped.

With trembling hands, she reached to pick up the item.
A tiny figurine of the saucy opera character, Carmen. The very porcelain trinket her father had given her on her fifth birthday.

The figurine which had tumbled from the knick-knack shelf years ago and shattered into a handful of countless colorful pieces. Its breaking had splintered Carmen’s heart into as many fragments.

But here it was, still worn but in one piece. Impossible.

She strained to scrutinize it through the limited lighting from the tree. It was the very same diminutive sculpture whose red dress had faded with millions of loving touches. The same chipped mantilla on the tiny opera singer’s shiny black hair.
But, oddly, no marks to show it had been repaired. Except for the fading paint and injured mantilla, it was as though it had never broken.

Carmen’s breath caught and she nearly dropped the trinket. Clutching it to her bosom, she closed her eyes tight. Now she knew she was dreaming.

Another search under the tree revealed no note, no explanation. Did it matter? Even if it was a dream, it was perfect and Carmen refused to let any doubt, any questions cloud the sunshine filling the small room.

With a huge sigh she lay on her back on the floor and scrunched the pillows under her head to get a full view of the bright star glistening through the window.

She touched the figurine to her lips, hoping it would still be there in the morning. Hoping it wasn’t only her imagination.
“Merry Christmas, Daddy.” Wrapping the statuette in her fingers and clutching it to her chest. “See you next year?”

Then she felt—didn’t hear, but felt like the tender touch of a palm on her cheek—his voice, Merry Christmas, bambina.

Carmen smiled to herself, closed her eyes and fell asleep.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Last Bus of the Night...

Chase down your passion like it's the last bus of the night.  ~Terri Guillemets

Do you believe in signs? I do.

In what will be the craziest, off-the-wall post I've probably every made, I wanted to share an event that happened to me. A sign. A beautiful, crystal-clear signpost on the road to my writing journey. 

Why crazy? Why off the wall? Because when you read it, you'll probably snicker. Hey, go ahead. I'm laughing at myself but--on the same token--it's just too powerful for me to ignore, though I even admit to myself how zany it is.

Last week I popped in a DVD from my Blockbuster queue. La Vie en Rose, a lavish French film of the life of the legendary French singer Edith Piaf. I highly recommend this movie, by the way. It's not only stunning cinematography but superb acting, especially by the lead, Marion Cotillard. 

Mid-way through the film the viewer was introduced to Piaf's lover, the love of her life as she called him, French boxer Marcel Cerdan.

And that's when it happened. My sign. 

The moment---the second---I saw the actor I knew him. I'd never seen him before in films, but I knew him intimately from my own writing. He was a character I'd written.
I knew him SO thoroughly that I immediately recognized him, even from just a shot of his back...the masculine silhouette of a stocky man in a dress coat and dark fedora. The slope of his shoulders, the outline of his body. 

I thought how very cool! There he was, in the flesh. His body, anyway. I'd seen his type many, many times. What? Did you think I invented the noir figure with overcoat and fedora? Nah. But, even so, I always appreciate it when I see its form in films and pictures. 

Then...then...the camera zoomed in on his face. He spoke. And no longer was he just a look-a-like, a resemblance to the TYPE of man I'd written, he WAS the man I'd written.

Just as Piaf recognized him, after just one date, as the love of her life...I knew him as the love of my writing. 

The gentle twinkle in his eyes, the tilt of his head, the style and darkness of his hair, his soft yet masculine voice, his shape, his five o'clock shadow, his hands, even down to his damn wrist watch. His personality. His very soul. It was my character.

In fact, guess what? I'm going to force him on you. I was ecstatic to find a scene on Youtube featuring his first date with the singer. He's played by French actor Jean-Pierre Martins.

 That's my guy. Those movie folk used him and never even consulted me. They stole my man. 

All kidding aside, it gave me wonderful chills to walk smack-dab, right into my own creation. To see him so perfectly, vividly brought to life.

It was a sign. A sign for what? 

Oh, geez, I get so excited thinking about this, I can hardly contain myself.

The fact is, this character--my name for his is Salvatore--was the very first character I ever penned. The very first. And, yet, through the few years that I've been writing, I've never quite placed him in the setting he belonged. I've written and re-written him so many times, I finally became frustrated I put him aside.
But a while back, I mentioned I was going to start back into my hetero romances. I saw a beautiful, romantic painting by Jack Vettriano titled Back Where You Belong. It touched my heart, it was that same dark character with the sleek hair. 

 Back Where You Belong by Jack Vettriano
Salvatore had begun to call again. My beloved character wasn't happy being buried beneath hundreds of other creations. He was there first, and by gods, he was demanding attention. 

And then, SO determined to be noticed again, he showed up in La Vie En Rose

Here's the part where you will agree I'm certifiably off my damn rocker. 

When I first saw the actor's smile, when he opened his mouth to speak? I cried. Yep, I cried, tuned up the waterworks and cried. Not a sweet little dainty cry, either, but kind of sobbing. Happy tears, the kind when you find something lost. So ecstatic you want to shout but there's no one to shout to. 

Who on earth would EVER understand that sort of emotion over something so silly? Another writer, maybe. Or maybe just anybody, everybody, who has a dream and they stumble right into it by accident. 

Or is it accidental? I don't think so. I truly believe in signs, and even hold in my heart that our characters--existing ones and ones who are merely dreams yet to come--DO speak to us, they DO let us know when their time has come.

And my man spoke to me. 

I've some other things to complete, but he is next. 

And another thing? In retrospect, I'm really sort of glad I did NOT write him back in the day when I changed him daily like a baby's dirty diapers. THAT was a sign that--at that time--I wasn't ready to write him. 

But, since I did envision him so long ago, I've learned a lot. I've got a universe of knowledge still left to learn, but I feel I'm at least in a position to return to him. 

Now he's smiling as I write that I'm taking him back to his roots, back to his original storyline.  

See? Told you I was crazy. 

But I'm hoping--no, I'm betting--that I'm not the only one who's encountered beautiful visions that nudged them onto the road, the direction they should go. You know. Signs.

Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.  ~Anne Sexton

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Like Fine Wine...Placido Domingo...

I don't remember the first time I saw the legendary tenor, Placido Domingo. But I DO remember the impact he had on me when I DID lay eyes on him. Well, do I even need to tell YOU? Think...this is C. Zampa. 

Domingo: tall, dark, handsome and...Spanish. His accent is delicate, lilting, sexy. And his voice, when he sings...smooth as the finest cognac, sensual as the softest silk touching skin.

I was head over heels, instantly.

I've never lost track of him during his career.

The first signs of aging were so subtle. But then, something inside him seemed to glow--this magnificent fountain of youth, this energy, this light deep in his eyes.

Gray hair appeared. But the inner beauty, the inner light. Still there, strong as ever. Oddly, he began to be more and more handsome.

The sensuality, the character, the beauty in those eyes. I can barely look into them without...swooning.

Eventually, the hair became this rich blend of gray and silver. Regal. Still so damn sexy. me, he's in his prime. Silver hair. Glorious. The eyes. Ah! That warm light, that maddening mix of geniality and sexuality...still there, strong as ever.

Placido Domingo. Living proof that--if that true light and spirit is inside---it cannot be diminished by time. It can only age fine wine.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

I've Had About Enough, Guv'nor...

I apologize in advance for my blog subject today. You've never seen me post on such a subject, and you probably never will again.

Just this once, though, please forgive me while I speak out on something I can't contain any longer. And close your 'ears' if I offend. I don't mean to.

I'm not into politics. You'll never see me in the middle of conversational cirlces at parties deep in a political debate.

Because I don't understand the inner workings of any of the levels of government, I don't speak up often. It'd be so damn easy to make a fool of myself, to get caught with my pants-of-ignorance down around my ankles.

But today I caught a youtube video, one of the newest in Governor Rick Perry's arsenal of campaign commercials.

And--although I'm still as dumb as a tree stump about politics--I DO recognize hatred when I see it.

And I saw hatred with a capital 'H' in this video.

To somehow find a way to connect the freedom of prayer in schools to gays serving in the military is--sorry, Governor--just plain stupid. Ignorant.

By producing this ad, Perry has not only embarrassed me as a Texan but I'd be willing to bet he's disappointed the very God whose platform he cowers behind.

No, I know nothing about politics. But I DO know I cannot tolerate a presidential platform which is founded on hatred of a group of people. To hear his bigoted, sanctimonious ad, I half expected him to be donned in a sheet.

And, Governor, please, please do NOT base your hatred-filled campaign on Christianity. The man on whom the very religion you cite didn't teach your brand of intolerance. He loathed it.

And one more thing, Rick Perry. When you stand on your pompous platform and say gays do not belong in the military, you're attacking friends of mine. Lots of them. And that does not set well with me.

Prayer in schools has nothing to do with gays in the military.

These gays you so hate are offering their LIVES to protect these children in these schools. They are willing to fight to protect YOUR children as well.

They are able bodied men and women who have every right to defend their country. You think their taxes are accepteble and I don't see you turning THAT away. In your supreme arrogance, money still talks--even gay money talks. Again, shame on you.

To my friends, again I apologize. Not for my thoughts, not for my words, but for the possibility it might offend any of you.
I have too many friends in the GLBT community, people who are precious to me and who are the salt of the earth.

And for once, for their sakes---and for the sake of our country's freedom to BE---I felt I needed to speak up.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Like Fine Wine...Louise Brooks

Most beautiful dumb girls think they are smart and get away with it, because other people, on the whole, aren't much smarter.   ---Louise Brooks

You know her face. Even if you don't know her name, you know the trademark bob hair style, the dark sultry eyes and the pouty lips. Louise Brooks. Legendary 1920's silent film star. Trendsetter, a dame way ahead of her time.

Everybody who knows the Zampster knows Louise Brooks is my idol, my girl dejour. If I could pick from a heavenly line-up of women I'd most choose to look like, it would be this beauty. Not so much because of her gorgeous, obvious looks--but because of her mystery, her sex appeal, her class.

Even without the trademark kohl-lined eyes, she had natural beauty. A glow.


...and then more versatility

But one of the reasons I've always admired her beauty was the grace in which she aged. Though dark beauty can fade, true deep-down-in-the-soul class and grace cannot be dimmed. Nothing can touch it.

Louise in 1957

Just look at those elegant lines...

Years did not diminish her inner warmth, that exquisite glow that came from deep within.

Among her last photos, she still maintined that regal beauty, still the goddess, still that fabulous glow.

Yes, not only the men can hold their own in the aging department. If true beauty resides deep within us, it will shine, even when we are mere memories.

Oh, Louise, you are so my idol.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Like Fine Wine...Gregory Peck...

I had that stubborn streak, the Irish in me I guess.  ---Gregory Peck

In my series, Like Fine Wine, I take admiring glances at men and women who have not only become universal icons whose fame stood the test of time but whose lives and careers paraded before us in a pageant of beautiful, graceful aging.

This week, I'm wallowing in the pool of girlish fan worship with one of my all-time favortes.

Tall. Dark. Handsome. Suave. Classy. Classic. Character. Integrity.

Gregory Peck.

Just starting out. Would you just look at this face that have stepped out of a modern Dolce & Gabbana ad.

Peck, with his trademark chiseled featrues, played a number of personalities....
Noir (and we know this trips ol' Zampa's switch...)

Older man with a younger woman (here with Audrey Hepburn), a very sexy role for him...

Quintessential man with glasses, a look that turns my knees to Jell-O

Mad Captain...

But one thing about him--that lands him on this page--is not only his dashing, extraordinary looks but his passge from youth to late years without skipping a beat in grace or losing an iota of his distinguished beauty.

Was it in the genes...?

That touch of class and masculinity that time cannot touch...

The trademark dark brows, silver hair...Gregory Peck. 

And don't forget that voice. Deep as midnight, rich as velvet.

But something else rode his persona, something no role--no matter how hard he tried--could cloud: his character. He just seemed to be an ordinary, good Joe. No conceit, no airs. Just an authentic man.

Ah. Looking at Peck with deep and dreamy sighs brings to mind the old proverbial they just don't make 'em like that anymore.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Blame it On the Bossa Nova...

I am told to just be myself, but as much as I have practiced the impression, I am still no good at it. ~Robert Brault

Sometimes I fantasize I’m Joan Jett. Yeah, Joan Jett. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve rocked with the scratchy-throated hard rock diva with her song, Hide-n-Seek. In the privacy of my white truck, I’m cool, I’m badass. I’m the sultry crooner with the scruffy jet locks and perfectly smeared mascara. I’m skinny, I’m bitchin’, I’m Joan.

This morning on the way to work, I played Eydie Gorme and her 1963 hit, Blame it On the Bossa Nova. Passing driver hadn’t a clue that in the nondescript vehicle zipping down Highway 90 West was a sixties gal dressed in cute Capri pants and ruffled cut-off top—teased bubble cut hairdo, the whole nine yards. Yes, I imagined I did the Bossa Nova, just like Eydie, with some wallflower guy who just happened to be able to swing his hips like Elvis.
The car and the bathtub. My two favorite places to create imaginary worlds where I can be anybody, do anything. Singer, dancer, actress, famous author, world traveler, queen of a country, mysterious rich recluse, 1920’s flapper, swooning captive of a desert sheik.

In my dreams, I’m always cool. No matter what I’m doing or who I am, I’m…cool.

To BE cool is a fantasy for me. But in reality? I’m really pretty boring. I don’t stand out in a crowd. Hell, I’ll rarely BE in a crowd. I’m not in the ‘in’ crowd at work, I’m never on the inside track of the good jokes. I just hear the laughter from my desk. I’m not…cool.

As I’ve matured—and, damn, that seems to have taken forever—I’ve learned to accept not being on the inside of the nucleus. I’ve embraced my life, just as it is, and I’ve found it’s not so bad. It’s not so bad being C. Zampa.

One thing, though, that’s still in the infancy stages of my journey of self-acceptance is my writing.

I’m going to get some frowns when I say what I’m about to say, and that’s all right. It’s important to me to understand myself and my flaws in order to progress, to grow in my writing career.

What am I going to say that might make you frown? I’m going to be honest and say I sometimes get jealous of others’ writing talent. There. I said it.

It’s just the truth.

One of my writing idols is James Ellroy. I took a moment to read a bit from his American Tabloid last night and found myself envious of his snappy style. His ability to draw this panoramic painting with nothing but a fast-moving stream of short, clipped semi-sentences. As though he wrote the entire novel huddled under a window with bullets flying over his head…but still produced a powerhouse of a story.
I’m jealous of that. Why can’t I write like that?

I love to read romance novelist Laura Kinsale. Her characters—especially her heroes—are so achingly real, so brilliantly layered, I lock them up in my heart long after the book is returned to the shelf.

Again, why can’t I write like that?

Mary Renault. Oh, why, why, why can’t I bring my thoughts to life as she could?

So many authors, so many books, so many VOICES.
And that one word—voice—is the key. Every day, I have to force myself to focus on that one tiny word. Voice. And, if I CAN focus on it, I realize it’s not a matter of whether writers are better than each other. It’s a matter of styles. It’s a matter of readers’ tastes for various styles. Voices.

If I spend my career trying to mold my own voice to mimic an author—any author—I admire, I am wasting my time. I will NEVER grow. I will NEVER know what I’m truly capable of.
Oh, I might be successful in my echoing of some other writer, but I’ll lose out on the most fabulous, the most beautiful, the most rewarding and satisfying part of my own journey—FINDING MYSELF.

I have to cultivate my own voice.

Suppose you have two gardens, side by side. In one is a collection of beautiful cacti. In the other is a bed of lush tropical foliage. If you attempted to tend both gardens the same, one of them would die. The cactus would die from too much water or the lush foliage would die from none. They’re not the same. They each need cultivation to be what they’re intended to be, to reach their full beauty. But only cultivation for their own particular variety.

Same with our writing voices.

It’s difficult to relax, to let go and allow your own voice to mature. There is so much talent out there among my peers and it’s so hard to not be envious.

But, hey. Just as I’m not cool, I’m indeed not Joan Jett—C. Zampa is also not James Ellroy, nor does she need to try. I don't want Ellroy to feel threatened…joking here…but I also just needs to realize something. The important thing.

Being C. Zampa isn’t so bad, either. Who knows, when I realize my potential, just what that will be? Whatever it turns out to be, the voice will be mine.

And, in closing. Just what the hell IS the Bossa Nova?

Joan Jett C. Zampa

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Back Where You Belong...

may i feel said he
(i’ll squeal said she

just once said he)

it’s fun said she

(may i touch said he

how much said she

a lot said he)

why not said she
--e. e. cummings

Two things happened very recently, triggering something in my gut.

First, I came across the above painting by my favorite modern artist of all time, Jack Vettriano. The title of the piece is called Back Where You Belong.

Anyone who knows me at all can tell you the spirit of the painting could practically be a poster for my passion: romance of eras past. Although this painting depicts a modern setting, it seems to have a days-gone-by mood. The heart of the picture is timeless, though— man and woman. Passion.

It reminded me of my true love: gritty, sexy stories of men in fedoras and overcoats. Old Spice Aftershave, Lucky Strike cigarettes, fancy cufflinks, hair pomade, mobsters. Clandestine whispers on Bakelite telephones from the shadows of cheesy restaurant phone booths. Stories of a time when sex was all the more sexy because it wasn’t plastered on every billboard—no naked Joes and dames in every ad in every magazine. Lovemaking—hot, sweet-and-naughty, a secret between lovers.

Everybody tells me those times weren’t as innocent as they seemed. I know, I know, and that’s why I love it all the more! Sex and danger, hotter than Hades but wrapped up in a deceptive package—gals with soft skin, pretty lace slips, seamed stocking, satin peignoirs, powder puffs and Chanel No. 5. The tough guys in dress shirts and suspenders who lusted to get their hands on the garters they knew teased just beneath those kick pleats. But they all looked Sunday-go-to-meetin’ good with Ipana smiles and fancy threads.

My attraction for these eras, though, is the HEART of Vettriano’s painting. The one factor that turns my knees to spaghetti, gives me delicious shivers: the man and the woman. The sizzling chemistry—the sensual chemistry—between a strong man and a girly girl. Call me old fashioned, dial ‘F’ for the Feminist Patrol, lock me up in the too-old-timey-to-live slammer. I admit. I’m a goner for the dynamics of testosterone meets sugar and spice.

The second thing to happen—the second thing to trigger that uncomfortable there’s-something-I-should-be-doing feeling in my gut— was reading the above snippet of a poem by poet E.E. Cummings, May I Feel Said He. There it was again. Man. Woman. Sex. Touching. Feeling. Pleasure.

What’s the big deal? You’re talking about romance. Been around since time began.

Yeah, yeah. I know. The big deal, and it’s just a personal revelation for me, is that—well, damn it—I’ve missed writing my guys and gals.

At this moment, I write male/male romance. I do not write it because it’s a trend, nor because of money. Although I stand strong for equality, particularly in same sex marriage, I don’t even write male/male stories to address the cause. My writing is not a platform. It is a PASSION.

When I stumbled upon the true, natural beauty of men’s love for each other in a WIP of mine, I fell in love with it. It is sensual, it is sexy. But it has one benefit that I find most important: a better knowledge of men in general. Over time, through writing these male/male relationships, I began to see how really beautiful men are.

I’m not what’s popularly classified as a ‘gay man in a woman’s body’. No, I’m 100% woman in a woman’s body. And, yes, a 100%, pure, Grade-A woman CAN find passion in writing male/male stories. Like I said, I do.

To be honest about something, though, as I began to abandon my writing of the relationships I knew by heart—the woman and her man—I began to find myself in a grey zone with my own sexuality. I started to lose focus of the basic need of the feminine side of me—the love, interaction and, yes, the sex—with men. I sort of lost touch with who the hell I even was.

THAT is how closely my writing weaves into every fiber of my actual life.

To lose your footing is scary. Especially when it affects something so personal, so extraordinarily intimate.
Most female writers of male/male romance do not have this problem, I’m sure. Many vow to never write anything but gay fiction or male/male romance. My motto is to ‘never say never’. And I’m glad I did not say ‘never’ because I hadn’t expected the big hole gouged out in my heart from missing my beloved male/female characters. My friends know them: Salvatore and Kate, Enrico and Miss Anita, Sam and Lizzie, Patrick and Mary.

I love and miss them. And when I stared at Vettriano’s painting, I knew I had to return to them.

And I decided I’m going to let them share my time, my pen, with my male/male heroes: Candy and Carlos, Honor and Raimundo, Michael and Anthony, Valentino and Lucky. I think there’s time for them all. There certainly IS room in my heart for all of them, for keeping the genres separate, but still addressing both loves.

The Last Great Romantics II by Jack Vettriano

In fact, to celebrate my decision, I’m going to share a chapterfrom one of my gazillions of WIPs, a glimpse at two of my favorite characters. People tell me all the time, “Don’t post stuff from your WIPs on your blog!” But you know what? I have a thousand characters in my head and a thousand stories for each character. So I’m going to share two of them with you today. There are only a billion more where they came from.

Here are Ben and Suzy (quite unedited, mind you), just grabbing them from my Mount Everest of WIPS. And not sharing because it's good, just to show you my kind of couple.

"Night Geometry" by Jack Vettriano

* * *
Every gaze in the joint focused on him and I was sure he knew it. He always did have that sort of Svengali power.
With a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, he swayed to and fro, slow and sensual—hips and shoulders moving to the rhythm of the bass in Good Rockin’ Tonight. A six-foot-four, sultry, jazzed-up tiger.

His trollop of a partner circled him with fancy dance moves like a ditzy little planet revolving around a big, lazy sun.

I took a fast drag on my cigarette, thumped ashes in the ashtray and nudged Darlene. “Get a load of him, will you? How big is New York City? How many nightclubs in this town? And Ben Cohn comes to this one.”

“Maybe he’s following you.” After dipping and twirling it in her drink, Darlene popped the cherry in her mouth. She sucked and chewed on it for a bit, then pulled out the stem to stare at it.

“He was here first.” Turning to study him once more, I shook my head. “He’ll think I followed him.”

Darlene’s boyfriend, Bobby, rolled his eyes and muttered, “He’s a conceited creepsmobile.”

The music stopped, and the band started into another song.

Ben put a hand at his partner’s back, steering her off the dance floor. They headed in our direction.

My heart rushed, all panicky. Torn between bolting for the powder room and staying at the table to face him, I froze.

They passed down the aisle, closer and closer to our table.

If luck favored me, I’d be able to ditch the joint before he spotted me.

Then the strangest thing happened. Or, considering the history between Ben and me, I suppose it was only normal.

Something sort of took over my brain, shooting adrenaline through me. One of those moments when the mind decides to do something without giving the body a chance to put on the brakes.

Just as Ben reached our table, I stuck out my leg.

I’d have paid best-seat admission to see the stunned look on the arrogant son-of-a-bitch’s face when he tripped and grabbed air, trying to keep his balance, then crashed to floor on all fours. The drink flew from his hand into the air, but he held onto the cigarette.

His five-and-dime partner’s face went a hundred shades of red and she sped away in a jiggly frenzy, clearly mortified.

Chuckles wafted from amused onlookers.

“Goddamn you!” Ben rose, dusting off his trousers. Whirling around to face me, sparks flashed in his eyes. “Why, you—” The words deep-sixed on his lips the second his gaze met mine. A husky whisper, bewildered, “Suzy Q.”

Pretending it didn’t send my heart into a nose-dive to look into those familiar green eyes, I took a slow draw on the cigarette and let my gaze travel up and down his lean frame.

I slowly blew smoke into a cloud around him. “What are the odds of running into you in the middle of nowhere?”

The  Lucky Strikc mist swirling in his face didn't even get a blink from him.

He didn’t ask to sit, just pulled out a chair and sank into it, crossing his long legs at the ankles. Tapping a finger on his chin, he murmured, “I never thought I’d see you again. What the hell are you doing back here in New York, baby?”

“Business.” Shrugging. “May go to work for a paper here.” I tried hard not to smile. God, I hated the bastard, but loved and wanted him something fierce at the same time. “I see you still have your good manners. I didn’t say you could sit, Don Juanstein.”

He rubbed the tip of his wingtip on my ankle.

I crossed my leg to get away from the flirty shoe.

With a slight smile turning up one corner of his mouth, he perused me from head to toe, but didn’t comment.

Darlene just eyed us during the silence, twisting the cherry stem between her red-tipped nails.

Bobby watched Darlene.

Suddenly the sun came out on Ben’s almost-handsome face. He said, “You got custody of my manners in the divorce.”

Ah. My insults never did have any effect on him.

“Oh, yes, that’s right. I sold them with your car that I also got in the divorce.”

“Speaking of....” He cocked a brow and leaned closer. “I have a brand new 1947 Series Sixty-Two Cadillac convertible, right off the showroom floor, outside.”


With a voice soft as mink, he whispered, “Wanna go have sex in it?”

Damn. He didn’t even have to pitch me a hard-sell line to bring a smile to my lips. A glance into the deep-set eyes and I swept out to sea on his seductive tide, my legs—crooked seamed stockings and all—washed out from under me. Right back where it all began.

The schmuck had me and he knew it. So it surely didn’t surprise him when I met his gaze head-on, ground my cigarette in the ashtray and breathed the word. “Sure.”