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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

Tomorrow belongs to women, pronounces anthropologist Helen Fisher in her engrossing new book:  The First Sex: The Natural Talents of  Women and How They Will Change the World. A graceful writer about complex subjects, she explains how unique female faculties that have been traced to an ancient past will profoundly influence our future.

A trio of boys named Frank, Dean and Sammy went to Chicago one day in 1962. They sang, drank and played through a gig at an over-decorated supper-club backed by Sam Giancana. A tape of the show, with jokes, ad-libs and some good licks by all three, has been made into the CD: The Summit in Concert, and it's a trip in time.

Frances Mayes celebrates la dolce vita of Italy in Bella Tuscany and Barbara Holland's Wasn't the Grass Greener offers a curmudgeonly look at the present.


Right On! Mother Nature

The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Will Change the World By Helen Fisher (Random House; $25.95)

    More than six months away, the year 2000 is already being anticipated with wonder and hope. To many overly optimistic minds, it represents a tabula rasa, a fresh start, a slate washed clean. Well, not quite, and that's all to the good, especially for women. They are bringing a lot to the party. If the 21st century will indeed be a brave new world, the reason, according to author Helen Fisher, is because of radical changes wrought by the ways women think, feel and behave that reach back, back, back into deep history. Think of it like this: that long-ago female striding across the grasslands of Africa, her back straight and her eyes watchful, a child in one arm and a sharpened stick to ward off danger in the other, is walking with us into the future.
     And what a rosy future it looks to be. "We stand at the doorway of what may become an age of women," writes Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers and one of an emerging group of  researchers and writers examining gender differences in a positive light. It would be easy to point an accusatory finger and blame God or Darwin or Hugh Hefner for the notion of women's inferiority. Far better, as Fisher does, is to challenge assumptions and understand how men and women were specifically designed to be unlike one another in body and brain and how uniquely feminine attributes and gifts have recently begun to affect certain sectors of society that were previously within the masculine domain.
     Tackling complex scientific and social theories, Fisher combines the crisp authority of a scientist with the informal and easy manner of a born storyteller. In chapter after chapter, she delineates areas of women's strengths--regarded by some as their frailities--and projects them forward into the workplace of tomorrow. There, a woman's holistic and flexible thinking processes, her verbal skills and preference for connections are a perfect 'fit' with current business trends toward decentralization. Women's keen sense of  hearing, tasting, and seeing evolved from the need of primordial females to protect their young by possessing a  hyper-awareness of their surroundings. A higher sensitivity to subtle facial expressions and body language that gave females the ability to interpret the well-being of offspring and the intentions of a mate, give modern women the advantage of finely tuned people skills. All these are being put to great use by women in their work, whether it is in an office, bank, university, TV studio, hospital or stock exchange. 
         The natural tendency of women to heal, to mediate, to show compassion is already having an influence in education, law, medicine, and in local and international organizations; their impact in those areas will only grow. The feminization of the culture can be seen too in the home, especially in the bedroom, as women have altered the current states of  lust and love, marriage and divorce. 
       If the future does belong to women, and Fisher makes a persuasive argument that it will, a good part of the credit must go to older women. They will be not only leading the way but setting the direction. That is partly due to a nice little dividend they receive from Mother Nature, bless her kind generosity. As Fisher explains, "With menopause, levels of the estrogens decline, unmasking natural levels of testosterone and other androgens in the female body. The result is a more assertive, independent woman who not only takes her rightful and powerful place in the world but changes it for the generations yet to come.


Three For the Money

The Summit In Concert
Artanis; $30.97

      "When you're drinking, when you're drinking, the show looks good to you."

     The melody is When You're Smiling, and the words are different, but there's no mistaking the singer. The sleepy baritone voice, the careless praise of booze, the sly self-mocking humor--this was the hallmark of Dean Martin. Announced as appearing "direct from the bar," he's the first of three performers on a recording of a 1962 concert at a now vanished supper club on Chicago's outskirts backed by a mobster and grandiosely named the Villa Venice. 
     After Dean's opener, it's time for the entrance of the other two. Their names, as you may have guessed:  Frank and Sammy. Before the Three Tenors, before stadium concerts with their light and sound extravaganzas, listeners could be enthralled by a guy in a tuxedo standing on a nightclub stage with a band behind him and a tall shiny microphone in front. Multiply by three, and you have this  instant summit. Nancy Sinatra produced the excellent CD mastering of her Dad and his pals from a tape made during a live performance, and it evokes the cheery, ring-a-ding-ding past of intimate entertainment. 
     It's this summer's guilty pleasure. Minus two members of the Rat Pack, the trio indulges in a bit of their well-known braggadocio about women. If that seems sexist, keep in mind that women comics today use the same kind of unbuttoned, offhand honesty when they joke about guys.  Woozy from the sauce, Martin, Sinatra and Davis engage in their patented banter, giggling at themselves and breaking up the audience. They were working the crowd before political correctness had made its entrance on the American stage, and were bold enough to say things other people only thought. "Did you ever see a Jew jitsu," Martin asks. "Fair is fair," counters Davis. "How would you like it if  I said, 'Did you ever see a Wop-sicle?' "
      All little boys eventually get tired of playing, and midway through, the ad- libs and patter seem forced. Spirits revive when they just shut up and do what they do best: sing.. It's terrific to hear an informal Sinatra playing around with a song's rhythms, improvising without the super-arranged orchestrations on many of his recordings. Just a few melancholy bars of A Foggy Day, show his tender, easy way with a lyric. Martin lazes his way through Embraceable You with seductive Italian charm. Davis was so frenetic and multi-talented that it's often forgotten what a good singer he really was until you hear him on Out of This WorldHe and Sinatra riff neatly on Me and My Shadow, blending their voices and adding their own lyrics. At 78 minutes, it's a lengthy gig, but pop the CD into a car stereo and these guys  irreverence, affection for one another and way with a song would make any long summer drive a trip to remember.

And Consider This:

Books:  Bella  Tuscany by Frances Mayes (Broadway Books; $25)

After a hurtful divorce when Frances Mayes was middle-aged,  three good
things came into her life: a wonderful man; a run-down farmhouse in Italy, and a runaway bestseller. The San Francisco creative writing teacher has followed her 1996 book, Under the Tuscan Sun, with another beguiling memoir about the delicious tastes and heart-filling sights of the beloved region where she has spent nine summers. For those who relish the spoken word, Mayes has recorded both works on audio tape.

Books: Wasn't the Grass Greener: The Millennial Curmudgeon Strikes Again by Barbara Holland (Harcourt Brace; $23)

Grrrrr. Barbara Holland, author of 1995's Endangered Pleasures, is off and curmudgeoning again, looking back at the good old yesterdays and comparing them with the bad old todays. What ever happened to liquor cabinets with their array of glasses for every kind of drink from Martinis to Old-Fashioneds? Where have all the front porches gone? Does anybody remember those yellow telegrams delivered by young men in brown uniforms? Witty and warm, these 33 essays are right on target.


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