Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Ultimate Diva

The Ultimate Diva:  Yma Sumac
By Suzanne Pestana

My very first memory of her was hearing a song of hers on television circa 1998.  It was used in a performance number on the Cirque du Soleil show "Quidam".  I remember they played the show in heavy rotation on the cable television channel "Bravo" so it wasn't hard to miss.  I was so obsessed with hearing this particular song that I memorized what part of the show it was played and would try to cue in just to watch that particular part of the show.  It took me a couple different Google searches but I was finally able to narrow down my search and found that the song was "Gopher Mambo" and was performed by the amazing singer Yma Sumac; a Peruvian songbird who had captured the world with her amazing four octave layered exotic voice.  She worked with the likes of Billy May, Les Baxter and was very influential in the exotic lounge music genre most popular in the 1950's and 1960's.  Sadly Yma passed away in 2008 at the age of 86.  I'm sad I never had the chance to experience her music live (even missing her next to last performance at the House of Blues in Hollywood) but I am happy her voice was brought into my life.

My record collection grew quite heavily and quickly with the recent purchase of my very first record player.  The first artist I seeked to own was Yma Sumac.  "The Legend of Jivaro" was my first find.  I hope to add many more of her albums to my collection in the future.  One day I was doing a random search of her on eBay and came across a purse that was being sold that once belonged to Yma.  It blew my mind that I might actually have the opportunity to own something that once belonged to her.  It took me a few tries at bidding but I was finally the owner of a piece of fashionable history that was once owned by Yma.  Below are my winning eBay item; a silver handbag and matching gloves.

I had some contact with the seller because to be honest, I couldn't believe I was being given the opportunity to buy these items.  I e-mailed the seller asking them a few questions and found out that the seller was Damon Devine, who had been Yma's makeup man and personal assistant beginning in 2004 up to her death in 2008. I was honored to be communicating with someone who had been so close to her in her remaining years and knew I couldn't pass on the chance to interview him.  Below are the results:

Suz:  When and how did you come about working for Mrs. Sumac?

Damon:  I saw her by accident in 1996 in Buena Park one day and thought she was a very exotic looking older lady.  I was not a fan despite many people my own age (in my 20's at the time) trying to convince me she was the greatest.  But after meeting her, she was so nice (in public!) that I became a serious collector and fan after that.  After three or four times of seeing her at awards shows (for her) and a concert, I tracked her down determined to befriend her.  She was VERY different behind closed doors.  Very strong, cautious and demanding.  She did not mellow out and we did not bond as human beings until about 2005.  It was an unbreakable bond after that.  We had a difficult friendship from 1996 to until about 2004, when I began to work with her on a professional level.

Suz:  Were you a fan of hers before you began working for her?

Damon:  Yes, and a friend.  By 2004, when she began to do things professionally again, I was her makeup man (the only other person to do it in her entire life, so specific was she about her personal makeup preferences), personal assistant, secretary, confidant and eventual webmaster (the next year).

Suz:  Did you get to experience her voice in performance and if so did you have a favorite song or performance?

Damon:  I saw her next to last performance ever.  It was at House of Blues in Hollywood.  The audience was totally hysterical for her and about every age and race you can imagine.  She was temperamental (well known) and chastised her musicians right there on stage.  Come to find out, she did this often.  She was used to huge 122 piece orchestras, not a "band" per se, and was long divorced from her conductor husband by 1996.  In concert, by the 80's and 90's, she chose to sing mostly her own compositions, which were in English (her version of it!) and they were not recorded that we knew of at the time.  I have since located 5 of them, all in studio, and released them as "Yma Sumac: The Final Recordings."  Taita Inty (Hymn to the Sun God) was my favorite, but at the age of 74, that would be an impossibility to sing.  Her voice was still astonishing though, but coloratura is a very delicate thing and does not last long.

Suz:  Mrs. Sumac was and still is a much admired Diva who had a vast collection of gorgeous gowns which she wore both on and off stage.  Do you have a favorite?  Who was the designer?  Did she have a favorite?

Damon:  I do have a favorite, and it's from a photo session for her album 'Miracles'.  I own the entire outfit.  I also have her beloved cape she wore throughout her Russian tour.  Most all of her nicer things were custom made for her.  She had extraordinary money and fashion sense and stood above the dress makers giving strict instructions.  Her favorite, did not last the decades and it was a huge blue and green taffeta gown with peacock feathers all over it and a headdress to match.  The headdress, has survived the passing decades, interestingly enough.

Suz:  You were greatly bestowed some of her prized possessions in her passing and have in the last year posted a few of those items on eBay.  Were there any items you were reluctant to put up for sale but still did so?  What was or were these pieces?

Damon:  Oh yes!  The Russian head wrap with pearl edges about killed me to give up!  It went to a buyer in NY who I know fairly well, and he was one of the few trustworthy people that knew her in real life and was not an opportunist.  A massive cherished vintage oil painting also went recently to an adoring home here in California.  She never got around to a will, you see, so by California law, her money all went to her [considerably estranged] "next of kin."  Not a cent came to me.  Eventually, all of her personal belongings came to me.  I would have rather had these things as her archivist and as someone who loved her like a grandmother.  I know her entire history and have photos to match most of these items, so they were much better off with me.  What did not go to special fans, has gone to people all over the world and been brought back to life again.  That would have pleased her greatly.  She would have been mortified to know I ended up penniless after her passing, so I am sure she would be overjoyed to know at last, I live well, and was able to bring a little joy around the world too.  She was very much considered a mystery, so these things are precious to own.

Suz :  You have also mentioned that the auctions are drawing to a close.  Is this permanent or do you intend to put more items up in the future?

Damon:  The clothing is coming to an end soon. While she had a MASSIVE storage of 60 years worth of stuff...we must face it will eventually come to an end.  There is much jewelry left.  Her famous Inca jewels I am not sure I can part with.  They are VERY dear, to her, to fans, history and myself.  I looked into museums and they were all shysters.  Every single one of them.  So the Inca jewels remain with me.

Suz:  If you had one day or moment to relive with Mrs. Sumac, what would that be?

It was one day were got caught in a rain storm (rare for Hollywood).  We were returning from a nearby store and it started to pour.  Neither of us were prepared, so we grabbed each other's arm and walked briskly, dripping wet.  I have a sort of rock persona (tattoos, leather studded bracelets, etc) and was 50 years younger than her, and the image of an older lady (in huge sun glasses and giant straw hat) arm in arm with an very caring 'alternative looking' young guy, dodging flooded gutters with her, caused onlookers to applaud!  That and the rare night she went out on the town hoping to go unnoticed and INSTANTLY when we arrived inside a restaurant, a very young Rockabilly girl yells out "oh my GOD! Yma Sumac!" It was so funny.

Damon runs a website dedicated to keeping Yma's memory alive.  Please be sure to visit it at and the newly added Facebook page:  You can also find her eBay listings under "Yma Sumac owned" weekly.  Be sure to check it out for listings to be posted soon.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tiki Oasis 2012 Goodies

Here are some of the goodies I picked up at Tiki Oasis 2012  this year.  Below is a souvenir program for the event, Tikiyaki Orchestra CD, Tikiyaki hotel styled key chain, and octopus cameo styled broach.  The Tikiyaki Orchestra were the opening band for the first night and I have been looking forward to seeing them live for a while now.  They did not disappoint opening the show with their rendition (a very good one at that) of the 007 James Bond theme song.  Youtube it if you have time.  Love the CD and even recognize a couple of the songs they played at the show.

I had the honor of briefly meeting Josh Agle (aka Shag) at the Shag booth in the Tiki Oasis Marketplace this year.   The funny story is that I patiently waited in line, said hello to Josh, picked out the book I was going to purchase and have him sign, took a picture and walked away.   A few moments later I realized I did not pay for the book!!  Having the heavy conscience I have, I quickly returned to the booth, apologized having realized I had not paid for the book.  The girl helping him run the booth seemed she had completely forgotten as well and was very gracious I had returned.

My next find and purchase was this little ditty.  A vintage Disneyland ashtray (which I intend to use either as a cup holder or jewelry dish).  I couldn't pass it up.

I intend to make a tradition of purchasing a new mug at Oasis every year.  These were the two I settled on purchasing as I do not have any of this shape or size and loved that they were Californian (Marina Del Rey).

Dave and I wrapped up the weekend by having dinner at Wang's in North Park.  We were both very impressed with their food and drinks.  They even offer purchase of the below Tiki Farm mugs for an additional $4 on top of what you already pay for the drinks.  Pretty good deal.

That's it for now folks.  Had a nice weekend including a hike and visit with family in Los Angeles.  I have some more blogs in store for you including a surprise trip to see my uncle's "neighbors" while I was in Los Angeles over the weekend.

Till' next time,


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tiki Oasis 2012

Last year I got to experience a taste of the Annual Tiki Oasis event, which takes place here in San Diego, CA.  I made sure that this year I wouldn't miss out and purchased a pass to attend the festivities Thursday through Saturday.  I will do my best to keep my descriptions short as I have a lot of pictures to share.  It was hard deciding on these few amongst the over 150 pictures I took.

Day 1 - Dave and I are all dressed up and ready for the opening Tiki Oasis kick off gathering at the Bali Hai. 

Here I am with my good lady friends Angie and Natalie.  They are also my partners in planning the Annual Tiki Day event.

Day 2 - Every year they have a new display set up in the front lobby of the hotel.  This year's theme was "Agent".

It turned out that my need for a haircut and my stylists availability landed perfectly on a day of Tiki Oasis. I figured  I would have her help style my hair since I was already getting it cut.  This picture does not do it justice and I failed to get a good picture of the back.

Day 3 -   I scored this jumpsuit at the bi-monthly Frock you sale and was super excited to wear it for the event.  


Dave and I at the car show.

I got to meet Josh Agle of Shag, and he graciously signed  my copy of "Tiki Drinks". 

The Marketplace had a ton to awesome goodies.  I loved these variations of tiki furniture.  They are on my wish list for the future.

 Fantastic tiki bar, also added to my wish list.

There were plenty of dresses and shirts on sale.

The all mighty Tiki idol bar.  Every year they have a different one.

Packed pool. 

I decided that my "Agent" themed costume item would be more villainesque.  Found this book at  Good Will a month ago.

View of the main stage, from a room party, while Thee Swank Bastard's preformed.

Tiki Agent!

 Kate Flannery, of the Office, was there to perform with her duo group "The Lampshades".  They are a essentially a comedic take on a drunk loud mouthed lounge act.

 Angie and I were sitting pool side listening to the bands when guess who popped his head over to say hi.  Charles Phoenix!  We jumped up to say hi and made sure to pose for a picture with him.

 Day 4 was the last minute shopping day at the marketplace.  I bought a few mugs that will be in my next thrift blog. 

 Awesome Tiki art.

We had a blast and now we are just 358 days away until Tiki Oasis 2013.  I heard next year's theme will be hulabilly.  I already have some great ideas hatching. 

Till' next time,


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Feeding that Thrift Addiction.

This blog is back tracking to last weekends finds.  I have been a busy bee with hosting friends in town a weekend ago and with the Tiki Oasis events starting up mid-week last week (blogs to follow).  So here is what we found on a trip to AmVets.

Dave spotted this kitty on our way out.  It has a couple markings where wood is showing through.  My guess is someone painted the teak kitty black.  I haven't decided if I want to restore it to the teak or keep it black covering up the spots.  It was a no brainer buy at only $1.99.

Love this gold lame' handbag.  Every girl needs at least one gold purse in their closet.  I think this is number three for me now!

 I'm getting good at spotting these mugs.  Dave is always ashamed of himself when he walks by these without spotting them first.  No markings on the bottom but still a good buy for $0.99.

 I got this cute baby blue Barclay vintage polo shirt.  It's probably something I will save to wear in the fall and winter months as it's Acrylic material and I nearly had heat exhaustion trying it on.

Elvis trivia game.  No brainer. The questions are actually pretty hard.  Looking forward to playing this with my dad.

 I came across this ceramic mug and was intrigued by it.  I know it's not Tiki but thought it would fit in with my collection.  Does anyone know anything about it??   I tried searching online but could not find anything similar.

These are just a few retro styled patterns I came across on eBay and purchased with the idea of using these for a dress project with a friend.  I would love to use the floral material I found last month on one of these patterns.  

Lastly my Tiki Day bag arrived from Cafe' Press just in time for Tiki Oasis.  I had fun using it and even received some awesome compliments.  I'm a month and a few days away from the event!  Look up our page on facebook at

Hope you all are having a great summer.  I can't believe it's already drawing to a close.  Several more blogs to follow soon with my Tiki Oasis pictures, another thrift blog, and possibly a special interview.

Till' Next Time,


Monday, August 13, 2012

Balboa Park Koi Pond

The divide and disgust for how I feel about my generation sometimes, just continues to grow; especially after reading this article about what happened to the koi pond located in my neighboring and historic Balboa Park.

It seems a late night water gun fight was organized, via facebook, which drew in close to 2'000 attendees.  I know not everyone that participated was at fault for the vandalism and destruction which was caused to the koi pond and it's inhabitants; but the lack of respect for a historic site was universally guilty by all.  Truly a shame.  Here is a crummy cell phone picture I took of the pond during a recent stroll through the park.  I plan on seeing the damage in person tonight and finding out if there is anything I can do to help restore it to its former self.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dressing Up!

Dave and I love to have any excuse to dress up for any occasion and we have had various events in the past few weeks and next few weeks to do so.  Here are just a few pictures of us getting prim and proper for the occasion at hand.

A few weeks back, my sister and her fiance' Jeff tied the knot on Coronado Island over looking the San Diego bay.  It was a gorgeous day and of course an excellent excuse to get dressed up.  I was actually given the dress I wore that day from my very gracious friend Rosalynn.  Indeed it was perfect and it gave me an excuse to buy and wear a crinoline slip.

Here's a picture of Dave and I dressed up.  Dave is such a great dresser with a fantastic taste in vintage clothing. 

My sister picked out a very gorgeous 50's inspired knee length ivory dress.  She was a very beautiful bride shown here walking down the aisle with my mom.  My dad (who's not pictured) contributed by playing his ukulele for the bride's entrance.

Dave and I attended a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy show at Anthology in downtown San Diego last Saturday night.  I had seen them years ago in Modesto when I lived in the Central Valley but this was Dave's first time seeing them live.  They did not disappoint and we got a taste of some of their new songs off their 9th released record.  This, of course,inspired a viewing of the movie "Swingers" the moment we got home.  Here we are pictured before our evening began.

I thrifted my dress a while back for a very reasonable price; I think I paid around  $4 for it.  I'm a sucker for any chiffon styled garments. 

Once again, Dave impresses with his choice of wear for the evening.

I got to debut my lovely hairpiece as shown in a previous blog made by my friend Natalie. 

Great venue, great music, great drinks, great fun!

Till' next time,