Jun 10

Al Vareau, Bon Vivant

Al Vareau in Paris. © Tony Gale

Al Vareau in Paris. © Tony Gale

Al Vareau

Bon Vivant is the term that come to my mind to describe Al Alda and here are a few reasons why.

Al is a connoisseur of fine food and drink.  One year for his birthday, he asked his friends to take him out for a fine meal in the best restaurant in Paris instead of getting him gifts.  His knowledge and appreciation of fine food and drink is unparalleled.

Speaking of Paris, Brooklyn Boy Al has been living his childhood dream of living in the City of Light for the past 13 years.  He has even managed to secure a 10 year residency card, which is no easy feat and the French love him.

Language is Al’s passion and he is trilingual, fluent in English, Spanish and French and is now learning Arabic.   He opened up the Franco American School of Language when he was 27, specializing in teaching English to business people and companies.  Some of his clients are John Galliano and TOTAL.  John Galliano was so impressed with the quality of his language instruction that he hired the Franco American School of Language to teach Arabic to the sales staff in Galliano’s boutiques, allowing him to expand his staff and to bring on new teachers.

Al is charming and you can’t help but like him. He has friends from all walks of life, from TV celebrities, to bohemians, to yuppies and students.  Al once wrote a letter to Sharon Stone asking her to make an appearance at an event in Paris he helped coordinate and the letter was so persuasive that she came.

Al also has an incredible knowledge of movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age.  He and I once drove around the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Queens to find Mae West’s grave so he could pay his respects to her.

Al is a man of the world – he has set foot on 5 continents.  He has been to nearly every country in Western Europe, Africa, North America, South America, and his most recent trip has taken him to Asia, specifically Sri Lanka.  He also has the type of looks where he can pass as European, South American, Arab, Iranian, Tahitian or Turkish.

Al is a sweet, caring and dynamic man and I am proud to call him my friend.

Nominated and described by Michelle Kawka

May 10

Michelle Kawka, attracting attention

Michelle Kawka, photographed in Queens, NY. © Tony Gale

Michelle Kawka, photographed in Queens, NY. © Tony Gale

Michelle Kawka

Michelle once said to me, “I always seem to attract attention when I travel abroad, I don’t know why.”
I should have told her, “Darling! The French aren’t the only ones who appreciate your appeal!”
Her high heels leave a clicking echo behind her as she enters an art gallery and people can’t help but stare at this American beauty with a dash of a European flare that was certainly acquired during her six months in Italy where she perfected her flawless Venetian accent over a glass of Chianti. Of course, the gallery I’m referring to is the one displaying her own photography in New York City (or was it Paris? I can’t keep track).

Michelle had her privileged future mapped out for her, having grown up with a summer residence in the Hamptons and obtained her bachelor’s degree from prestigious Weselyan University in Connecticut. This did not stop her from rolling up her sleeves in an attempt to pierce through the very closed knit circle of photography in the Manhattan. This attempt turned into success after 6 years of hard work built over a solid foundation of pure talent. I could only imagine her mother’s reaction when she came home with the news that her work was now being displayed in museums (and that she had a pair of angel wings tattooed on her back).

If you speak to Michelle during her well-attended photography exhibits, make sure to put down your coupe de champagne, and take a close look into her eyes, and tell her what you see. She’s quite used to it. Some call it sectoral heterochromia. However, most just say, “You have two different colour eyes! “ Maybe it’s a vestige of her former life as a mermaid, of which she is very fond. Michelle could even make an atheist believe in Karma.

As our friendship reached the 15 year mark from across the Atlantic ocean, I am proud have Michelle as my friend and look forward to another 15 years (at least!) of good times.

Nominated and described by Al Vareau

May 10

Elodie Belmar, actress

Elodie Belmar, in front of Serge Gainsbourg's home. © Tony Gale

Elodie Belmar, in front of Serge Gainsbourg's home. © Tony Gale

Elodie Belmar

Lewis Carroll is a fucking genius.

Just ask Elodie Belmar. For the past two years she’s been Alice in an original production of Alice au Pays des Merveilles (Alice in Wonderland) with the French theater company “La Petite Fabrique.” Of the experience Elodie says the best part was learning to be present every second of every performance and striving to create something new each time – instead of doing the same thing over and over, ‘like a sad robot.”

In addition to being a working actor, she recently completed her professional certification in shiatsu massage. Both theatre and her work as a massage therapist help her stay connected to the present moment and the people around her. “Shiatsu and theatre [are] very linked for me. Listening, concentration, connection with the other…always beginning a show or a massage without knowing what’s going to happen, and [discovering] little by little – It’s a bit scary, but always [results] in…good surprises!”

That’s basically Elodie’s philosophy on life – start every moment with the knowledge that anything is possible.

That’s why she travels. She’s been all over the world. Mexico, Morrocco, India, Hungary, Cabo Verde (to name a few). “There’s no better feeling than [being] lost somewhere and taking the time to discover a place, the air, the time – and the people.”

Of course, she’s a master at finding beauty in the everyday, whether it’s in Paris or…Dublin…or New York. A look, a smile, a good movie, anything. That’s why she’s equally happy cooking at home as she is traveling, acting and skydiving – which she’s tried, and she says she’d like to do once a month if possible.

No, Elodie Belmar is definitely not a sad robot.

Nominated and described by Nicole Cordier

Jan 10

Davone Madison, a force to be reckoned with.

Davone Madison, photographed at the Stonewall Inn. © Tony Gale

Davone Madison, photographed at the Stonewall Inn. © Tony Gale

Davone Madison

Davone Madison, Business Woman and Entrepeneur, is a force to be reckoned with. As Founder and CEO of The Dollhouse Enterprises Inc., Davone has established a foundation and meetup.com network of several hundred professional women with alternative lifestyles. Her goal is to create a safe place for lesbians, bi-sexual women and their friends to socialize and network with like-minded professionals. With her visionary work, Davone is helping eliminate the stigmatisms and stereotypes associated with alternative lifestyles. Dollhouse members participate in raising awareness and funds for charitable organizations, including the LGBT Center, and also gather for social events ranging from nights on the town, bowling and movies to exquisite brunches and dinners.

Davone also co-hosts Lezplay Radio every Saturday, an internet radio show for lesbians, hosted by lesbians, which covers many topics relevant to the lesbian community, including relationships, sexual conversation topics, parties, domestic violence, and more.
Davone has passionately taken on the need to nurture an underserved community and educate society on what it means to live an alternative lifestyle, and she is doing it with her characteristic style and charisma. Kudos to Davone!

nominated and described by Andrea Reese

Jan 10

Leonard Knight, maker of monuments

Leonard Knight at Salvation Mountain © Tony Gale

Leonard Knight at Salvation Mountain © Tony Gale

Leonard Knight

There should be more Leonard Knights in the world.

Leonard is a simple man. In his late 70’s, he is hard of hearing and becoming fragile. He lives in a 20 foot trailer 150 miles from what most of us would call a real city; in the desert, on abandoned military land. He has no electricity and brings water to his home in a 200 gallon tank. Leonard calls it paradise.

Driven by a singular passion, Leonard Knight has devoted decades to constructing a monument. A monument in paint and straw bale and mud to love and God…..Crackpot? Corny? Weirdo? Yes on all counts, by contemporary standards. But Leonard doesn’t care much about contemporary standards. Leonard has nothing to sell.

So if you get lost in the desert some dark night, and don’t like scorpions, or rattlesnakes, or the cold, or the heat, or the loneliness; stop by Leonard’s. He’ll probably say, “thanks for coming by, would you like a blanket and something to drink”?

There should be more Leonard Knights in the world.

Nominated and described by David Zimmerman


Dec 09

David Zimmerman, photographer

David Zimmerman, photographer. Photographed at the Imperial Sand Dunes, © Tony Gale

David Zimmerman, photographer. Photographed at the Imperial Sand Dunes, © Tony Gale

David Zimmerman, photographer

David Zimmerman is an amazing photographer. He has won numerous awards, including the 2009 L’iris D’Or, for his work in White Sands. He built a solar powered studio in Taos, NM that gets all its water from rain… in the desert! He is a pilot and built a plane from a kit. He has lived in all four continental US time zones.  He is passionate about his personal projects, and on the strength of his photographs,  able to get visibility and attention for places that need all the attention they can get. He is basically what I think all photographers want to be.

Nominated and described by Tony Gale

Nov 09

Meryl Finger, Glamazon

Meryl Finger © Tony Gale

Meryl Finger © Tony Gale

Meryl Finger,  Glamazon

I’ve known Meryl Finger, the creator and mastermind behind the plus size burlesque-pop girl group the Glamazons, for about a decade.  She’s a Jewish native New Yorker, she loves leopard print and hot pink,
she married her husband on a reality show, they both work in the Gay community which can make
dating hard…so it’s amazing that they found each other!  Meryl is one of those unassuming people who knows everyone,
who’s family members are famous (her cousin is the lead guitarist of the Bravery, her other cousin is the keyboard player
for Fountains of Wayne, and her other cousin is a comedian, and her other cousin is a gay pop star)

Nominated and described by Natalie Ferraro

Oct 09

Liza Lentini, renaissance woman

Liza Lentini, Photo by Tony Gale

Liza Lentini, Photo by Tony Gale

Liza Lentini

Liza Lentini is a true renaissance woman.  Most people know her as an award-winning playwright, having her first professional production in her native Boston when she was just 19 years old.  Insistent to follow all of her passions, she’s combined her lifelong apprenticeships in the arts into several prosperous businesses: writing, jewelry making, makeup artistry, photography.

But the cause that is closest to her heart is her charity, started in 2006 by cashing in her pension and diving right in, Elephant Ensemble Theater.  A few times a month, Liza and her group of actors travel around New York City children’s hospitals with uplifting performances of plays Liza’s penned herself.  Many people talk about dong it, but Liza actually did it.  Not just a little bit, not half way, but with the lioness determination she’s earned a reputation for.  And one thing that’s as legendary as her theatrical career is her dogged determination to do good work, not just as an artist but also as a human.  Now, that’s an artist with a cause!!!!

Nominated and described by  Ericka Gutierrez

Sep 09

Shien Lee, Patron of the Arts

Shein Lee. © Tony Gale

Shein Lee. © Tony Gale

Shien Lee

Do not let the façade of pastiche vintage fool you, Shien Lee is not someone living in the past. In fact, she definitely a product of the Twenty-first Century, and her retro sensibilities are a sign of things yet to come. Her style is so unique, a stew of the best of every fashion and period, that the events she calls Dances of Vice have become their own genre. A patron of the arts, she brings together all her favorite people: dancers, singers, painters, illustrators, photographers, musicians, magicians and whomever else she feels will cross pollinate and influence each other to create something old and new, beautiful and monstrous. Using the latest resources to promote her vision, she gleans gems from all eras like a time traveling proprietor of a dime store museum. Impossible to fit into any one category, fans of her work simply call it Dances of Vice. Look to the style of the future and you’ll find Shien Lee.

Nominated and described by Don Spiro

Sep 09

Kate Cusack, Costume Designer and Artist

Kate Cusack, photographer in her studio. © Tony Gale

Kate Cusack, photographer in her studio. © Tony Gale

Kate Cusack

There are many beautiful qualities and interesting things I could say about Kate Cusack. One of the aspects of her personality that I find most admirable is her honesty. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, what you see is what you get with Kate. She is who she is and does not waste time pretending to be otherwise. She is more true to herself than anyone I have ever known and I admire her greatly for that. She is driven and focused and believes in herself and her creativity to an impressive degree. As well she should! She has been carving out an impressive career in the Arts from a young age and there’s no sign of her slowing down.

Kate studied fine Art in undergrad and completed her graduate degree in theater, specifically, costume design. Currently she is focusing on her ever-expanding Art jewelry collection, made entirely out of zippers. She has always had a knack for turning humble materials into beautiful works of Art and her zipper jewelry is an amazing example of her talent.

Nominated and described by Margaux Lange