Rainy day savings
Looking north on Third Avenue and 55th Street. 6:15 PM. Photo: JH.
It rained in New York yesterday. And rained and rained and rained. And so … the traffic was enough to drive anyone nuts. There wasn’t a crosstown street that wasn’t clogged to the point that it took five or six light changes to move one block. Very bad for business. And very bad for everything else too. There are too many vehicles in Manhattan and although it is obvious, it is also a menace, dangerous and unsustainable for the health of the city.

I was in a cab, taking an hour for what ordinarily would have been a ten minute ride, over to “21” where Sir Harry Evans was moderating another one of those fascinating The Week luncheons. This was called “Memo to the President: Recommendations From the Private Sector.”

“21” was packed, despite the weather, upstairs and down.
Just inside the door, I ran into Pepe and Emilia Fanjul. Pepe was meeting the President of the Dominican Republic where he owns a little resort of not a little luxury called Casa de Campo. After the luncheon, he told me he was going to Spain to visit Juan Carlos, the King of Spain. Pepe gets around, no?

Meanwhile, the dining room upstairs in “21” was packed
… packed … for The Week luncheon. I was late, of course, so I’m relying on Jon Marder, who handles the PR for the event, but he handed me a list of the guests – Herman Badillo, Margaret Carlson, Monica Crowley, Robin Duke, Dominick Dunne, Princess Firyal of Jordan, Roy Goodman, Betsy Gotbaum, Catharine Hamilton, Sharon Hoge, Francine LeFrak, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Jamie Gregory, Mary McFadden, Dru Heinz, Skitch Henderson, Lynn Nesbit, Lauren Hutton, Sale Johnson, Myron Kandel, Henry Luce III, Georgette Mosbacher, Sam Peabody, Muriel Siebert, Bill Moyers, Jerry Speyer, Barbaralee Diamonstein and Carl Spielvogel, Andrew Tisch, Garrick Utley, Liz Fondaras, Donald Zilkha, and on and on and on.

Pete Peterson
The first guest panelists were Robert Rubin and Pete Peterson. Mr. Rubin, as you know, was the Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton and had more than a little something to do with the enormous reduction in the national deficit.

Mr. Peterson, who if you didn’t know, was a major corporate executive in his thirties (as CEO of Bell & Howell), also chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers, also Secretary of Commerce under President Nixon, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and current chairman of the Blackstone Group, the private investment firm. He’s also written several books including the current business best-seller Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It.

The title of Mr. Peterson’s book pretty much tells you how he feels about our current economic situation in this country. The situation from his point of view is pretty dire and will affect everybody when it finally hits. The reason the public is not more conscious of it, he thinks, is because there is a “conspiracy” between the political system and the media.

However, in his opinion, the growing national deficit and the current-account deficit (which refers to the country’s growing dependence on foreign capital) are heading for a meltdown. When this occurs, in the opinion of those who think like Mr. Peterson, the value of the dollar will plummet (even more than it has today) and the interest rates will climb fast and high. “A spike,” is Mr. Peterson’s word for it. How that will affect the average consumer can be imagined by anyone who has bought real estate in the past few years without a fixed rate mortgage. Or anyone who has credit card debt.

You wonder why the media and the politicians don’t want to talk about it? Mr. Rubin, also a reasonable man, like Mr. Peterson, who often in the course of the conversation today made the claim that anything he said was not meant to be “predictive” (in other words, he didn’t want to be held to it, but ...) did warn that “the unsustainable cannot be sustained.” I think he was talking about the acceleration of the growth of the national debt and the current-accounts deficit.

It so happened that yesterday morning before I left the house, someone sent me the editorial opinion from this week’s Economist entitled “The Disappearing Dollar” in which they pretty much said the same thing (Click here). Or, as we say in New York: Oy!

When Messrs Rubin and Peterson were finished, Sir Harry called upon Grover Norquist, Larry Kudlow who some somewhat different opinions about the matters at hand. Mr. Norquist is all for cutting taxes more. And more and more and more. Mr. Kudlow is optimistic about the deficits and thinks they’re good for business, worldwide. In fact, to listen to those guys talk, if you hadn’t heard what Mr. Rubin and Mr. Peterson had said, you’d think that any of the problems, such as those mentioned in the Economist’s editorial, were not so terribly pressing or even realistic.

Usually these luncheons end with some questions
but there were very few this time, just a lot to think about. The audience listened with great attention right to the very end. Leaving the restaurant I bumped into Mary McFadden who is just back from China and Argentina. The China trip was arranged by a Chinese woman who spent $500,000 taking one hundred people to Shanghai to promote her new art gallery. The hostess is also an owner of several luxury hotels – the luxury of which Mary said she’d rarely ever seen before.

Mary was deeply impressed with everything about the country – the money, the numbers, the huge migration of people from the country to the city (the greatest migration of its kind in history, she called it). Shanghai, she said, has forty million people living there. All I could think about was how they got across town. Then Mary mentioned it – getting across Shanghai can take forever. I was thinking about the air pollution and the mobs. People management – there’s a future profession for someone …

Monday night Alice Mason gave her annual Holiday dinner
at her Upper East Side apartment. Up until a few years ago, Alice, who has been giving her at home dinners for more than forty years, used to give them once a month. I think she’d stop in the summertime. Her guest list has included just about every prominent social, media, publishing, political and diplomatic individual who ever mattered in New York over those years.

Alice Mason
These dinners, which by now must total in the hundreds were orchestrations of guest lists, (her private resource for her guest list includes more than 600 names), seating, and menus that bespeak a unique political acumen and perceptiveness that also made her one of the most successful private residential real estate brokers in the history of the city. That is no small statement, I realize, and Mrs. Mason, has been no small force in the past half century in seeing that the rich, the famous and the powerful have found suitable (read “perfect”) domiciles through her canny guidance.

The parties themselves are staged in what, for the number of guests, is a relatively small space – a living room, a dining room and a library, with sixty guests at mainly tables of eight. The menu is provided by Daniel Boulud’s catering company. Conversation is the highlight of the evening from the moment the guest enters and signs the guestbook and is given his or her seating Mrs. Mason’s daughter Dominique Richard.

There are cocktails and hors d’oeuvres from 8 to 9 in the art-filled living room and the library. There are many framed photographs of many of her distinguished guests including Presidents Carter and Clinton and their wives. At the appointed hours, the tables, which are already set up, are moved into the spaces and people take their places. The tables are purposely on the small size – the proximity of guests to each other is, in the hostess’ opinion, very conducive to conversation so that there are often whole tables involved in the discussion.

The women dress; the men are in black tie. Just as the hostess intends, there is a kind of coziness to the atmosphere. There are always people you know, people you know of and have seen or read about. In the crowd I saw David and Helen Gurley Brown, Vera Wang and Arthur Becker, Paula Zahn and Richard Cohen, Steve Kroft and Jenny Conant, Anthony Haden-Guest, Mario Buatta, Eileen Finletter, Gaetana Enders, Michele and Larry Herbert, Olivia and Warren Hoge, Joy Rosenthal, Carmen, Boaz Mazor, Christopher Mason, Evelyn and Leonard Lauder, Mary Tyler Moore and Dr. Robert Levine, Kathy Sloane, Maurice Sonnenberg, Charlie Scheips, Peggy Siegal, Nan and Gay Talese, Mary and Mike Wallace, Laura and Will Zeckendorf, Connie and Randy Jones, Serena Stewart, Roger Webster, Alexis Gregory, Roz Jacobs, Paul Beirne, Jacques Leviant, Sondra Mack, Marisca and Jan Vilcek, Alex Donner, Mona Ackerman and Richard Cohen, Mary Fitzgibbons, Laura and Will Zeckendorf, Patricia Altschul and David Coiro.

If Mrs. Mason were to write about the intricacies of her business and its success or even the history of her fabled party-giving, it could be the ultimate book on the business of private residential real estate or the ultimate book on entertaining in New York. But alas, she never will.
Guy Talese and Olivia Hoge
Charlie Scheips and Paul Beirne
Serena Stewart
Mary and Mike Wallace with Mary Tyler Moore
Christopher Mason, Nan Talese, and Alexis Gregory
Christopher Mason and Boaz Mazor
Arthur Becker and Mona Ackerman
Mario Buatta and Connie Jones
Kathy Sloane
Jacques Leviant and Gaetana Enders
Dominique Richard
Michele Herbert and Vera Wang
Pat Altschul and Maurice Sonnenberg
Larry Herbert
Warren Hoge and Mary Hilliard
Joy Rosenthal and David Brown
The dinner table pre-dinner
The dinner table during dinner
L. to r.: Randy Jones; Paul Beirne, Boaz Mazor, and Alice Mason; Anthony Haden-Guest and Carmen Dell'Orifice.

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The Windows at Bergdorf Goodman
The new snowflake on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street



December 8, 2004, Volume IV, Number 190
Photographs by DPC & JH/NYSD.com

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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com