Babble-On By the Bay: The New Luxury … and an Antelope Named Ann

By Catherine Bigelow

Welcome to Miss Bigelow’s monthly items column, Babble-On By the Bay.

Standing in a socially spaced line at the de Young Museum in late September for the long-awaited opening of Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving (through February 7), a new catchphrase coined by my coiffeuse pal, Raegan Shigeyoshi, came to mind: “Safety is the new luxury.”

Distance warning stickers covered the floor of Wilsey Court as the line smoothly wended its way through Disneyland-style rope lanes. Visitors wore required face masks, after reserving timed tickets online.

Frida is an exquisite, intimate exhibition of family photographs, personal ephemera, her famous paintings and a show-stopping vitrine of Kahlo’s well-preserved collection of colorful, traditional Oaxacan costumes. But even with a staggered entrance, folks were so eager for an artistic outing that inevitable traffic jams bunched up around popular works. And moving through the largest crowd experienced in months, a COVID-19 instinct to flee through the gift shop kicked in.

That’s when I thought of Willy Wonka and the infamous coterie of sociopath kiddies touring his chocolate factory. So I channeled my inner Zen. The mighty internet has rewired our brains to expect that anything is instantly available at the click of a button — but COVID is resetting that switch. And the days of Veruca Salt stamping her feet over a Wonka golden goose while screeching, “But I want it now!” are in our rearview mirror.

Ro’, no: Ladies who lunch were crushed to learn last month the elegant Rotunda Restaurant (nicknamed Ro’ by those in the know) at Neiman Marcus was closing. But a few days later, a semi reprieve was issued: The Rotunda will reopen for the holiday season! Well, for private events only. (Yup: “Safety is the new luxury.”)

The Rotunda’s exquisite, landmark stained glass dome (the only remnant that remains from the late, still-lamented City of Paris department store) has long dazzled well-heeled social swans nibbling on piping-hot popovers — after, natch, a session of shopping among racks of designer duds.

For more than two decades, Ess Eff native and noted boulevardier Aubrey Brewster spent hours breaking his daily bread at Ro’ — a nickname he created for texting. “It was never about the food,” he admits, with a laugh. “The Rotunda is an elegant spot to meet Sonya Molodetskaya and talk fashion. If you lingered long enough, it was like a port of call where everyone was welcome at the table. I spent so much time there I was dubbed ‘Mayor of the Rotunda.’”

Brewster is saddened that the staff, many who were like family, were furloughed or laid off. But there’s hope some of his favorite folks and nibbles (Tsar Nicoulai caviar served “Aubrey”-style, with a side of chips) will return in 2021: “I was Norm and the Rotunda is my Cheers.’”

Debutantes denied: Another fallout of this crummy year? 2020 debutante balls went into deep freeze. Typically, this debut of young society ladies is a 500-plus person affair. While some folks may pooh-pooh the time-honored Whartonesque tradition, for others, it’s a treasured gathering of family, old friends and philanthropists.

The CPMC Debutante Ball hopes to “graduate” its 2020–21 debutantes in June. The Cotillion Club of San Francisco will do the same next December.

As the big kahuna of debutante balls, this is the first time since World War II that the Cotillion Club has postponed its fete. But as in 1945, when multiple classes of debutantes resumed their curtseys at the “Victory Ball” held at the Palace Hotel, so, too, will our white-satin-swathed debutantes rise again, per tradition, at the Palace.

Arts czarina: The San Francisco Arts Commission last month welcomed Denise Bradley-Tyson as acting director of cultural affairs. Bradley first landed in San Francisco to launch the Museum of the African Diaspora.

Since then, she continues to burnish her arts cred: She is also an SFFILM commissioner, and a former consultant to Bayview Opera House. And she assisted in securing funding for the de Young’s blockbuster exhibition Soul of a Nation. In between, she is founder-CEO of Inspired Luxe, an online shopping platform supporting international female artisans and entrepreneurs.

“Culture will play a vital role in San Francisco’s recovery from this unprecedented pandemic with economic, entertainment and educational perspectives,” says Bradley in a statement. “I’m honored to work with the SFAC, our cultural institutions and artists to ensure culture remains a vibrant, healing and inspiring aspect of the fabric of our city.”

Animal kingdom: While the San Francisco Zoo was on the hunt for Maki, the stolen lemur (thankfully, found safe by savvy preschool kids), Zoo Director Tanya Peterson found time to honor a beloved, recently deceased San Franciscan.

Meet “Ann Getty,” the zoo’s newborn kudu, a tall, graceful spiral-horned antelope native to eastern and southern Africa, the same territory where Ann Getty, the late philanthropist, thrilled to join in fossil digs.

“Our newborn kudu is elegant with a vibrant copper-colored coat, similar to Ann’s beautiful mane of hair,” shares Peterson. “I will always remember Ann for her elegance and gentleness, especially with children. Like Ann, our kudu is already connecting with and delighting children at the zoo.”

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