If you lean back, you can see the stars
The Miss Universe costume contest, Tomie dePaola, and more
Welcome, creatures! I’ve been enjoying walking around the alleys late at night, watching the cicadas emerge pale and ghostly from their shells. In this edition: Miss Universe, an appreciation of Tomie dePaola and the picture book that introduced me to the sublime, plus my recent articles and other flotsam.
The Miss Universe costumes! I love this every year and this year I finally have a substack to inflict it all on you! I promise not to do all of them. Hit the link to follow along.
Miss Albania starts us off as part of a high-school production of Six.
“Miss Argentina, are you single or is there a Mrs. Argentina?”
(Nothing implied here about IRL Miss Argentina, just the costume. My other take is that she’s dressed like she writes soccer RPF about the dude on her shirt. Her AOOO tags are like, “dreamsharing, freeform, I was high when I wrote this, no beta we dive like men, yelling GOOOOOOOOOL during sex, wingfic.”)
Genuinely like the bubbly water-ripple thing Miss Aruba has got going on behind her.
Miss Bahamas is… a sexy cosmic jet policewoman? I love this contest. Miss Bahamas is dressed as every plane interview Pope Francis ever gives.
Miss Brazil’s traditional national costume is nudity. Fair enough. Don’t fully understand the cotton-ball hindskirt though.
Miss Cameroon is good. Very, very impressive. Please don’t eat me. (No, I love this though. Didn’t Chanel once say you should always put on every single GIANT LION HEAD you own, then take off one?)
Miss Canada is liberal modernity. Her shoulders fire rockets but there’s a heart on her shield!
Miss Denmark is here to demolish your stereotypes about Denmark.
Miss Dominican Republic is sex pollen.
Okay, Miss Finland is the Northern Lights, that’s super cool. I also liked Miss El Salvador btw.
Miss France came as the French intellectual tradition i.e. mostly just nudity.
Miss Honduras is… a monstrance? In some sense I guess each one of us is a monstrance. Miss Honduras is a hot monstrance though.
Miss Iceland is Eurodisco Miss Finland.
Miss India is just wearing normal clothes?
Miss Ireland is a ragged sexy butterfly in dead-leaf colors and it’s all kind of “New from Studio Ghibli: Memento Mori.” Is Ireland okay.
Miss Italy has antennae.
For the record I always love the more traditional costumes like Miss Kazakhstan’s.
And Miss Korea’s, although my main thought here is that she could absolutely take Miss Japan in a fight. Look at that hairpin!
Miss Malaysia wore a whole dang house! Can you just strap a house to yourself and call it a costume?!
(Miss Malaysia’s costume is illegal in twenty states and lots of California.)
Miss Mexico has the actual best costume here.
Countless bodies litter the slopes of Miss Nepal.
Miss Netherlands is just wearing a picture-dictionary entry on the country’s principal exports.
Miss Nicaragua didn’t come here to make friends.
Miss Panama came as colonialism and/or piracy. A costume with complex political valence! (Next year I hope Miss Haiti comes as mutiny in the age of Atlantic revolution.)
Miss Paraguay and Miss Peru both go for dystopian glamour, but Miss Peru does it while being a bird so she’d get my vote.
Miss Philippines is being crushed between opposing larger forces. Huh.
Gosh, Miss Poland’s costume sure shows a lot of thigh for a country where the ruling party thinks God hates gay people. Meanwhile Miss Puerto Rico’s costume includes the astrological signs so integralism is having a banner day all around.
Miss USA is the Firebird! Or possibly the Thunderbird, now that I think about it.
Miss Venezuela is a snake-handler with lightning forking across her skirt. She’s basically Sexy Revival By Stephen King. Or possibly she’s experiencing carcinization.
Miss Vietnam is coming out of her cage and she’s doing just fine. Miss Vietnam is how we all hope to emerge from the crucible of these recent years. I suspect in fact we’re all just turning into a seething mass of rats but it’s nice to dream.
Of Course Homosexuality Is a Result of the Fall of Man
You know—like film noir, Juneteenth, and nursing.
The Day and the Night Might Fall in Love, But Where Would They Live?
When I was very little I got a book called Prince of the Dolomites. Uncle Storyteller comes to a village high in the mountains and tells the little children that once upon a time, the beautiful slopes were grim and gloomy. They were brightened not by the sun, but by the moon—and by love.
For once there lived in that land a young, joyful prince, whose gentle life held only one strangeness: Each night he stared longingly at the moon. When it was time for him to marry, his mother brought him princesses from many lands, but he was unmoved by them all. After dark he wandered out into the garden. And there he swooned, dizzied and undone by a vision of the princess of the Moon.
The prince became ill. His people made fun of him, calling him Prince Pazzo, moonstruck, lunatic. He wandered his palace sickly pale and sleepless-slender, until at last he found a way to travel to the moon.
This two-page spread in the book glows turquoise and white with the terrible beauty of the moon.
I think I always imagined the moon princess, Lucia, as Asian like the Korean girl in a different picture book I liked. She has the same night-black hair and dark tilted eyes, but she’s bone-pale, where Aekyung was warm. Lucia is beautiful but unearthly.
The prince will go blind if he stays too long on the dazzling moon, so he and his bride return to the gloomy mountains. There it is Lucia’s turn to languish. Her spirit is oppressed by the grim mountains, and no flowers can revive her. Then in a scene as haunting as the prince’s first moments on the Moon, the little men who protect nature weave the moonlight, calling it down into the bones of the mountains until the rocks glow with rainbow light. The prince and his beloved are saved. “They lived a long, happy life and had many children.” And that, children, is why your mountains glow today. You live within the reunion of these separated lovers.
Sometime last year, I think, I learned that Tomie dePaola was gay. I think it might’ve been from this article, which links DePaola, Maurice Sendak, and Arnold Lobel of Frog and Toad fame. DePaola is the author/illustrator of the incredibly charming Strega Nona books, about a witch with an ever-flowing spaghetti pot, as well as many many Catholic books (The Clown of God was my present to my godson for his baptism), some autobiographical works, and more besides. And also Prince of the Dolomites. He lived with the Benedictines for six months as a young man, and designed “murals, a crucifix, and a line of greeting cards for various Benedicine abbeys.” You can see in his books a kind of “1970s Fra Angelico” touch.
I don’t know how he negotiated life as a believing Catholic, as he seems to have been, and a gay man—a kind of life which can seem more like an inescapable conflict than an “identity.” One of his picture books is called Oliver Button is a Sissy, and based on an incident from his own childhood, which suggests he did not escape contemporary Christian childhood entirely unscathed. (Speaking of classic homosexual experiences, his given first name was “Thomas.” He chose to embroider it.)
There’s a lot to say about this—about how many of my own gay friends feel a deep need to serve the next generations, to “be fruitful” as teachers, children’s-hospital volunteers, adoptive parents. DePaola, who, I think, did not have children from his brief marriage, found a way to have spiritual children in the millions.
And it may seem strange to name Prince of the Dolomites, a book about the heterosexual origin of geological formations!, as one of the books where I think his being gay might be most relevant. The beauty of the women in Dolomites is the beauty I see in them: the beauty I started seeing in childhood and never stopped. But the book is filled not only with beauty, but with images of painful and ecstatic sublimity. Prince Pazzo turns away from normal beauty (normal, diverse beauty, depicted with such tender attention) to abnormal beauty. The book is suffused with longing for the unattainable—or perhaps only not-yet-attainable. Love is a problem and a puzzle, as it is for many gay Christians; but there’s a deeper resonance as well. There’s an otherness to the moon princess which can be an image of the otherness of God. To love her as we are is painful—and as necessary as light.
The children of the Dolomites grow up surrounded by evidence of Love’s promise: reunion after longing and confusion. But I think they will someday learn that they are still in the part of the story where the Prince wanders in longing, knowing something of his love’s beauty but not its fullness. I sought him, but I did not find him. We live by moonlight, whether we give our bodies to another or reserve them for Christ’s kisses alone.
I’ve still got my copy of Prince of the Dolomites, and every time I open it, it’s still as tender and enthralling as it was when I had it read to me. Again, I know nothing about dePaola’s inner life or beliefs. But it reads like it was written by a man who knew, from his own life or from his encounter with others, the romance of celibacy.
I wrote about Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book Generation X, which named my generation not as a marketing gimmick but as an expression of downwardly-mobile mysticism.
I also interviewed a bunch of people about their experiences with anti-gay conversion therapy in Catholic settings, and argued that the influence of conversion-therapy thinking among Catholics is much more pervasive than you might realize.
The Church, “Under the Milky Way.” Wish I knew what you were looking for….
I gave the Clown of God to my godson for Christmas, because of course.