Month: May 2008

Lucky Living: At Home with Alexis and Tico

Tico Torres (left) and Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte at home in New York.

Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte is an internationally acclaimed photographer whose work has appeared in magazines such as The New YorkerTown and Country, and L’Uomo Vogue. Tico Torres is a fashion stylist who, in addition to collaborating with Rodriguez-Duarte since the beginning of his career, has worked with such legendary photographers as Richard Avedon, Norman Parkinson, and Bruce Weber. (Torres styled Weber’s portrait of ballet star Damien Woetzel in this month’s Vanity Fair.) Together, Alexis and Tico have produced iconic portraits of such personalities as Gianni Versace, Gloria Vanderbilt, Andy Garcia, and most notably, Celia Cruz—their fifteen year friendship with her is documented in the photo book Presenting Celia Cruz. When they aren’t jetting off to Paris, Ibiza, or some other exotic destination for a photo shoot, Alexis and Tico divide their time between homes in Miami and New York. The Luck Guide paid a visit to their New York apartment, tucked away on one of the West Village’s leafiest streets. Here, lucky objects share the whimsically appointed space with a formidable collection of Cuban art.

Kevin: What fascinates me about your apartment is how you really incorporate all these good luck talismans into the décor of the place. The first thing I noticed is the horseshoe above your front door. It looks ancient. Can you tell me more about it?

Alexis: We found it in Colorado. We were out at a ranch in the middle of nowhere.

Tico: Actually, it was Daryl Hannah’s ranch. Our friend Jeffrey Cayle was working on the design of her ranch out in Colorado and he asked us to visit him and bring him some stuff that he needed for Daryl’s place.

A: So we drove—and it was an amazing road trip since it was the first time we had driven across the country. The house used to be a stagecoach stop and on one of the days we were out exploring the enormous property we found this horseshoe in one of the fields, which we decided to bring back with us.

K: You know it’s very lucky to find horseshoes by accident.

A: Oh really?

K: Yes, and every nail left in the horseshoe is supposed to count for extra good luck. Above the horseshoe on your doorway, it seems like you’ve got a whole treasure trove of little angels and sculptures…

A: These were picked up on a trip to Mexico. We went for the Day of the Dead and we got these in Patzcuaro.

T: The two on the sides are both statuettes depicting La Virgencita de Guadalupe, who is the patron saint of Mexico, and then there are three crosses with Christ on them, which are all handmade and painted right there in the plaza where we bought them. We picked them up right from the artist, so we thought they were really special because we actually saw them painting it right there. The three little cherubs and angel are from a dear friend of ours, Albin Kohanski, who was Joan Crawford’s hairdresser and colorist. He and his boyfriend were together for 51 years, and traveled all over the world. These three angels came from Italy, and I believe they purchased them in the 1950s.

K: Are the virgins supposed to bless you or bring you luck?

T: Both. Mexicans really believe that she will answer their prayers and help them. She’s very, very important in Mexico.

A: It’s very interesting because for us, we grew up catholic, but we’re not really practicing Catholics. These symbols, because of our family traditions, always had a meaning that went beyond religious faith, and we continue the tradition without being totally religious about it.

K: Well, is there any special reason you hang these saints above the doorway with the horseshoe?

A: Well, as always in our houses and in our parent’s houses, we like to hang lucky charms over the ledge of the front door. When you go out, the angels, the virgin, and the crosses will go out with you and protect you.

T: We also put them there so that as you’re walking out, it’s one of the last things you’ll see.

A: Before we go away on any trip, we always stand in front of the door and say a little prayer to let us have a safe trip, and to keep the house safe.

T: And we do this at our house in Miami, too, in front of the little saints that I’ve collected from my family.

A: I don’t know if you noticed, but on this other doorway leading to the living room, we’ve hung this pineapple drawing. The pineapple is always supposed to be welcoming and bring good luck into the home. It was given to us by Gilberto Ruiz, the Cuban artist.

K: I’ve never noticed that until today! Now, what are all these little saints lining the windowsill?

T: These are actually the ones they sell in Miami for you to put on your dashboard. They have little magnets at the bottom, and they bring luck to your car. When I was growing up, my Dad always had these little saints in the front of the car to protect you while you were driving. These four are the most important saints to Cubans: you have Santa Barbara, La Virgen de Regla, which I think is probably unique to Cuba, La Virgencita de la Caridad del Cobre, and San Lazaro.

A: When I was a little boy growing up in Havana, I was run over by a car. My entire leg was crushed, my femur was severed, and the doctors said that I would be handicapped for the rest of my life. San Lazaro was the one who helped those with physical ailments.

K: He was the patron saint of lepers, I believe.

A: Yes, exactly. So on the seventeenth of December every year, there’s a shrine in El Rincón, and people would go on their knees to this shrine. As a little kid, my parents would make a pilgrimage to El Rincón de San Lazaro to make an offering so that I would be cured. And here I am today—totally healed—I don’t even have a limp.

K: As we enter the living room, I’m noticing all sorts of lucky charms. Where should we start first?

T: Well, we have our little elephant here on the mantelpiece, and following the Cuban tradition, we always have his butt pointing toward the front door.

K: That’s interesting, because in some other traditions, like the Chinese, the trumpet is supposed to be facing the front door, as if “heralding in” the good luck.

T: Really? That’s interesting. If you go to many Cuban households, you’ll always find a little elephant, and the butt is always pointing towards the front door. As a matter of fact, I remember that white ceramic elephants in different sizes were always popular in houses when I was growing up in Hialeah [a Miami suburb heavily populated with Cuban immigrants].

A: (Laughs) Yes, I remember that my parents had a set of those white elephants too. Three of them!

K: Looking up at that ledge by the window, I notice a beautiful recreation of San Lazaro.

A: Yes, that was my grandmother’s San Lazaro statue, and she had it for many, many years. And you’ll notice the cigar next to San Lazaro, because he liked cigars. You were also supposed to wash him every so often with warm water.

K: And put a cigar next to him?

A: No, actually you’re supposed to blow cigar smoke onto his face for good luck, because that’s what he likes. Now in this case, this is an actual cigar that Celia Cruz smoked. We were with her at a launch party for Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s book Holy Smoke, and these cigars were sitting on table. Celia turned to Tico and asked, “Do you have any matches?” She wanted to smoke the cigar, because it turned out that in all her years she had never smoked a cigar before.

K: So this is the first cigar that she ever smoked?

A: Yes! She was smoking it and she told us, “This is the first time I’ve ever smoked a cigar!” So we kept it and leave it up there. I don’t know if you see it, but in front of San Lazaro is a tiny little saint there—it’s called El Niño de Atocha. It’s a tiny little saint that was given to me by my grandmother when I first arrived from Cuba. And next to them are rosary beads given to us by a dear friend who had brought them back from Bethlehem. So we keep all these special good luck things up there on that ledge.

K: I’ve noticed this handkerchief tied to the leg of a chair. What is its significance?

A: This is another Cuban lucky tradition: whenever you lose anything—from your car keys to your passport, whatever—you’re supposed to “tie San Dimas’ balls” until they reappear. Basically, what you do is tie a handkerchief around the leg of a table or chair. Actually, you can use a handkerchief or grass, because in the countryside, that’s what they used. And as you tie the handkerchief or the grass, you’re supposed to say, “San Dimas, help us find the thing we are looking for.”

T: The basic premise is that you’re tying San Dimas’ balls and you’re not going to release them until he helps you find whatever you’re looking for.

A: Again, I should say that we don’t believe in this a hundred percent, but it’s one of those traditions that our parents have passed down through the years, and so we just repeat the ritual. Recently, I lost my passport and citizenship papers here in the apartment, and I just couldn’t find it anywhere. Tico was also helping me search for it, and he tied San Dimas’ balls. We were searching and searching . . .

T: . . . and we turned the apartment upside down, going file by file . . .

A: . . . and we just couldn’t find it. One day, I noticed that the handkerchief was a little loose. So I decided to make it tighter, and I said, “San Dimas, please bring me luck in finding my passport.” About half an hour later, I found my passport and citizenship papers—tucked away in of all places a file folder that contained articles and tearsheets—you know, the ones that give me ideas and inspiration for my photo shoots.

K: Someplace it would never be?

A: Yes, as a matter of fact, I wasn’t even going to look there. But as I came across this file, I decided to just throw some stuff out for recycling. So as I’m going through these old clippings, suddenly my passport appears.

T: So then we untied San Dimas’ balls, because he came through.

A: It was a little freaky, really, because I was never going to look there. Because I knew there was absolutely no way my passport or important papers could possibly be in that file. I was actually going to take that whole file and toss away everything, but something made me look in there, and voila!

K: Do you think that Cubans by nature are big believers in luck?

T: I don’t know if we’re bigger believers than other nationalities, since there are superstitions in every culture, but yes, luck does play a big factor for Cubans.

A: Well, take the lottery for example. Cubans are really into playing the lottery, and for them every number has a special significance. If you see a bird in the middle of a street, for instance, that symbolizes a number.

T: Every sign you see has significance that relates to a number. Number 15, for example, relates to a dog. A dove is 24, or a monkey’s 34.

K: What do you think is the most prevalent or popular Cuban lucky superstition? For example, the most widely held superstition in Japan is that if you cut your fingernails at night, your parents will die before you next see them.

A: Wow, I don’t think we have anything as dramatic as that. Some popular good luck superstitions are: leaving a place the same way you came in—from the same door, because you don’t want to take the luck of the place out, whether it’s good or bad.

T: Another one is to always walk out the door with your right foot first. There are a lot of little things, but I don’t know if there’s one ultimate belief.

K: I realize that with the saints, there’s a lot of superstition intermingling with Catholicism.

T: Catholic imagery and iconography has always been very prominent, because the Spaniards brought these religious figures with them, and then we get the slaves from Africa. The Spaniards did not like the slaves practicing their religion, which is Yoruba, and they would force them not to practice it. So the Afro-Cuban slaves started using the saints as substitutes but really still prayed to their gods. The Spaniards would see the statue of Santa Barbara in their houses, but really they were praying to Changó. So the fusion of superstition and religion has always been very strong. I remember that whenever my mom or dad played the lottery, they would put the ticket underneath the saint for the evening. My family was catholic, they weren’t into Santería, but they certainly mixed a lot of these superstitions. You would put an apple next to Changó, or Santa Barbara, because Changó liked apples. You go into many Cuban households, and even though they are not practicing santeros, they’ll have little offerings next to their saints, like food or little glasses of water. Saints were the ones that brought you luck.

A: In our house, we always did a lucky cleansing ritual by cleaning the house with water and ice. Once a week, you were supposed to open the front door and throw out a bucket filled with ice and water to “cleanse” the whole house out.

T: Especially on New Year’s Eve.

A: Yes, every New Year’s Eve, it was very important, and my grandmother always did that.

K: That’s such a cool tradition, no pun intended. Well, I think we’ve just about covered it all. Thanks so much for inviting us into your home!

–Kevin

A Penis a Day Keeps the Viagra Away

A platter of ox and dog penises.

A friend and I were discussing a recent article in Vogue magazine about the restaurant scene in Beijing. When I mentioned this article to my boyfriend, he forwarded me a link to the (English) online edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel [HERE], which ran an article about a restaurant in Beijing that specializes in dishes made from animal penises.

By way of explanation, the article quotes an apparently familiar Chinese saying: “Chinese eat anything with four legs, except tables. And everything that flies, except airplanes,” and then proceeds to describe the dishes in detail (and with photos!). The penises (ox, donkey, dog, sheep, yak) are prepared in a variety of ways (raw, roasted, with curry) and are thought to increase male virility and improve sex drive in men. Women are warned away from eating animal testicles, but it is noted that eating penises is risk free and may even improve a female diner’s skin.

So, what does all this have to do with luck? Glad you asked.

Toward the end of the article, the author writes, “At the end of the meal, Lucy [the waitress] hands over a little red box with ribbons on it. The dog penis bone is inside. It’s a souvenir, she says, and is supposed to bring luck and protect the holder against ‘harmful influences.’”

This is where I make a bad joke about how it wasn’t so lucky for the dog.

–Deb

(Photo by Reuters)

Bragging on the Blog

Most people know that it’s bad luck to boast of good fortune. And many say that people (dating back to pagan times) knocked on wood as a way of acknowledging and securing favor with the gods who dwelled in trees, particularly if they had said something that drew attention to their good fortune. “He who talks too much of happiness summons grief” goes the old proverb. And there are a couple of theories as to why knocking on wood is supposed to help. One suggests that knocking on wood frightens bad spirits away or prevents them from hearing of your good fortune and taking it away. The other claims that the knocking acknowledges and calls to the good spirits who use their power to ensure you keep the good luck. So, just as example, if I were to hypothetically say something like, well, I don’t know, maybe “Luck: The Essential Guide is getting some very nice reviews, including one on the recently launched New Yorker blog called The Book Bench (click HERE),” I might knock on wood after I said it to make sure that the next person who writes a review doesn’t totally slam it. Just hypothetically, of course.

–Deb

Did the Football Star Kill the Unlucky Cat?

Inter Milan footballer Luis Figo was accused last week of killing a black cat that lived at the football club’s training ground, believing that it would turn the team’s luck around following a string of losses.

Vittorio Feltri, editor of the Libero newspaper, sparked the controversy when he alleged in an article that Figo had deliberately run over the “beautiful black cat” with his sports utility vehicle. Figo vehemently denied the charges, stating on his club’s website that it was “completely untrue.” Feltri, however, stands by his story, stating that he will bring out witnesses if the controversy goes to court.

Whatever the truth may be, Italian football fans are up in arms over the controversy, and the popular Portuguese star was booed by the crowd as he arrived for training last week, with one fan even holding up a banner that read “Figo, you’ve killed a black cat, the whole world is disgusted with you.”

Since the Middle Ages, black cats have been associated with witchcraft and bad luck. It was believed that if a black cat crossed your path it was a sign that a witch was around, or an indication that the devil was taking notice of you. Either way, they were creatures to be avoided.

Which brings us back to the Inter Milan cat: Since its demise, the club has continued its run of poor results, and Figo was injured in the match that followed the supposed SUV vs black cat incident. It is rumored that the team has since paid a visit to the Pope, a cat lover, in an attempt to rid themselves of the black cat’s curse.

For the full story, click HERE.

–Kevin 

(Cat depicted in the above image was not harmed in any way. Photo ©2007 by Dino Quinzani)

An Unlucky Royal Wedding?

Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly’s wedding was supposed to be a fairy tale affair. Here was the dashing favorite grandson of Queen Elizabeth II (and for those who care, 11th in the line of succession to the British throne), marrying a beautiful working-class girl from Canada. But the wedding became dogged by bad luck last week when it was revealed that the bride-to-be had sold exclusive photo rights of the wedding to Hello! magazine for £500,000. The press began to call her “the new Princess Pushy,” photos of her twin brother smoking “a very suspicious looking cigarette” surfaced, and Prince William (who once hero-worshipped his elder cousin) inexplicably decided not to attend the nuptials in favor of the wedding of his ex-girlfriend’s brother in Africa. And when the big day finally came last Saturday, we were dismayed to notice a few more unlucky details:

–Green happens to be the unluckiest color and is not recommended for any special occasion, let alone a wedding. Yet here was the entire bridal party outfitted in what has now been dubbed “Kelly Green”– bridesmaids in green chiffon dresses, groomsmen in green brocade waistcoats, and even the groom sported a green tie. (And don’t get me started on how the English bespoke industry must have felt to see Peter walk down the aisle in such an ill-fitting cutaway.)

–The bride wore a pearl necklace and earring suite given to her as a wedding gift from the groom. Pearls should never be given as wedding gifts, since they mean that tears are to follow.

–Princess Beatrice (the daughter of Prince Andrew and Fergie) showed up wearing a rather ridiculous headpiece made of fake butterflies. If seeing three butterflies together on a leaf indicates that bad luck is on the way, we can only wonder what a hatful of them must mean.

–Kevin

Slappin’ the Nitti

From one of our loyal readers: 

We have our own little lucky charm here at Methodikal. It’s called “The Nitti.”

It all started when we were at our old ad agency. Seth, my business partner, and I were sitting around reading the Boston Globe when he was stopped in is tracks by a photo in the obituary section. A man named Tony Nitti had died and the photo (above) was included with the obit. [Ed note: The photograph did not appear in the obituary section of the paper in hot pink. The version sent to us that appears above was colorized to match Methodikal’s corporate colors.] Seth was like, “Holy crap. These guys look like they could sell anything to anyone. They’re like the patron saints of selling shit.” [Ed note: Apologies for the use of the word “shit” in two recent posts. I don’t know what’s going on although I have been told I have the mouth of a truck driver.]

So we cut the photo out and hung a copy over the door to our office. Whenever we were going out to present ideas or work to a client, we’d always give the picture a little good luck love tap, much like Notre Dame football players slap the “Play like a champion today” sign on their way out of the locker room. The process became affectionately known as “Slapping the Nitti.”    —Mike H.

Although Mike and Seth have struck out on their own since discovering “The Nitti,” the “Slappin’ the Nitti” tradition lives on. And since their company seems to be doing well, I guess it’s working for them. You can see for yourself at www.methodikal.net.

 —Deb 

Lucky Sh*t

On the surface of it, there are few things in life that seem less lucky than poo. (My sister, who recently had a baby, tells me that “poo” is the term of choice for new parents, who, I guess, spend a lot of time thinking and talking about it.) But actually poo has a long history of lucky associations.

Stepping in livestock poo (aka manure) has been considered lucky since the 17th century, as was having bird droppings land on you.

The Japanese have an incredibly popular good luck charm called Kin no Unko (The Golden Poo), which gets its lucky vibe from the fact that the word unko is a homonym for the word that means “luck.” To get some, click HERE.

And the Parisians believe that it’s quite lucky to step in dog poo, particularly with your left foot.

As a New Yorker who has had my fair share of run ins with dog poo, I have to ask, Why should the French have all the good luck? They already have better bread, Alain Delon, and a keen sense of style. But I shouldn’t worry. The genius designers at Atypyk are working to bring that little lucky merde to your doorstep. If you visit their site by clicking HERE , you can click on “LUCKY SHIT,” which will allow you to virtually visit the factory where this crap (literally) will be made and packaged, see the vehicles that will be used for transport, and you can become a member of the LUCKY SHIT fan club.

What more could a person want?

–Deb

A Lucky Weekend for Cameron?

Cameron Diaz’s new movie What Happens in Vegas opens today, and with the scathing reviews the flick has been getting—this one from the New York Times is likely more entertaining than the movie itself—Diaz is going to need all the luck she can get to prevent a box office disaster. Thankfully, according to columnist Stacy Jenel Smith, Diaz is, in her own words, “completely, absolutely” superstitious—she wears a lucky charm necklace given to her by a friend that she believes will ward off the effects of aging and she “knocks on wood all day long.” We recommend she ask co-star Ashton Kutcher to take over the knocking in the evenings.

–Kevin

Hoop Dreams

Anyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the last few months knows that today are the primaries in Indiana and North Carolina—the two biggest states left to vote in the primary season. It appears, from recent polling, that Obama has survived the Jeremiah Wright debacle and it is thought by many that he will carry North Carolina (although by a slimming margin). Although early voting in Indiana tilted toward Obama, polls suggest Clinton will take the state.

Many believe that if Obama could actually win Indiana, it would be the death knell for the Clinton campaign and this death march to the Democratic Convention would be over. And it appears Obama is doing all he can to make that happen, canvassing the state, holding rallies, and even holding meet-the-family picnics with wife, Michelle, and kids in tow.

So what’s Obama going to be doing today? We hope playing basketball. Apparently Obama’s one superstition is that he believes he has to play one game of basketball on a voting day in order to close the deal. Before Iowa? Hoops. Won. New Hampshire? No hoops. Lost. And he’s played every important Tuesday since.

On a related subject, during his walk-in-the-park to the nomination, we learned that John McCain is incredibly superstitious. According to The Washington Post, McCain must see a movie before the votes are counted in a primary, and while campaigning he wears particular shoes, carries a compass, a feather, a flattened penny, and sometimes, even a rock—all for good luck.

If I were running as a Republican after eight years of Bush, I’d be loading up the good luck charms, too.

–Deb

Who Says You Can’t Get Lucky Online?

Welcome to the Luck Guide!

A wise old man (actually, it was Confucius) said, “The more you know, the more luck you will have.” In an effort to follow his sage advice, we’ve created this blog as an online resource for anything and everything lucky–bringing together news, stories, and trivia from around the world. We hope you’ll enjoy reading the entries, and that you’ll be inspired to submit your own. (Check out our submission guidelines HERE.)

Cheers,

Deb and Kevin