A Colorful New York night
A set of Crayola Crayons at the Halloween Ball, a benefit for the Central Park Conservancy. 8:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Yesterday was a sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy day in New York. Some people had on overcoats for the first time. Midtown traffic was at a near standstill. Too many private cars, too many double parkers and too many BAD logistics, thanks to the mayor’s traffic-planners who are failing daily at their job. Avenues wide open and cross streets a MESS. Day in day out, week in week out, month in month out and now year in year out. Thanks. For nothing. The cabbies call them the Bloomberg streets. Very apt, Mr. Mayor, very apt.

I went down to Michael’s where Denise Hale, in from San Francisco was entertaining eight of us for lunch in honor Michael Gross and his new book 740 Park; the Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building.
Above: Michael Gross, Denise Hale, Bill Rondina, and DPC.

Left, top to bottom: Tatiana Sorokko, Giovanni LoFar, and Barbara Hodes; Ted Hiscox and Jeff Slonim.
Last night we started at the East Side townhouse of publishing executive Dick Snyder who was holding a book party for Julie Baumgold and her new book, The Diamond. It is a historical novel, as readers of NYSD have already read in my references to it. If you are one of those, like me, who is endlessly intrigued and almost compulsively fascinated by 18th century French (or British, or even European) history, Ms. Baumgold’s book is one of those books that takes you and plants you there and spins her astonishing tales of life in another time.

Michael Korda and Julie Baumgold
The “diamond” in the story is the Régent, now on permanent display in the Louvre, acquired by Thomas Pitt, the grandfather of late 18th-, early 19th-century statesman William Pitt, in India in 1701. It was the largest diamond of its kind (143 carats after cutting). Its history, from discovery to its places of lodging right down through the centuries; of the people it touched (it was first presented by Pitt for purchase to Louis XIV, later acquired by Philippe d’Orleans, the régent for the boy king Louis XV, then possessed by Marie Antoinette, then Napoleon for starters) transports the reader back to an age that serves to remind us of the confounding, relentless treachery of the human race. And what losers we are so much of the time through every fault of our own.

That is not to say that Ms. Baumgold’s book is about losers (although actually, come to think of it, it is) because it is about gargantuan power (no matter how fleeting) and gargantuan greed (always chronic) and where the pursuit of it very often leads those of us who appear to have succeeded in grasping it.

I’ve been reading books on French and English 18th century history since Nancy Mitford’s book on Louis XIV caught my interest in the mid-60s. I’m not sure, at this point, exactly what the fascination is on my part (aside from intellectual entertainment), but the quest (and it is a quest) continues unabated and unabashed. Occasionally there is a volume that comes along that is so satisfying with its information and its insight that I am left with the sense of having completed my education. Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette which was published last year (and covered in these pages) was one of those.

I am not by habit a reader of historical novels although I love histories. But The Diamond seems like a book that might have begun strictly a history. First of all, “novel” is an inadequate term for it is almost entirely historical fact. The author told me that, indeed, everything in it is true, based on her extensive research. Except for one tiny, albeit memorable, erotic detail, which I will leave the reader to guess. It currently demands, even owns my interest.

The Diamond. Click to order.
The story opens on St. Helena with the exiled Napoleon living out his last days. It is told by a man named Las Cases, who actually existed and who ended up accompanying Napoleon to St. Helena. As the story unfolds, Las Cases is writing a history of the diamond, always known as the Régent, and the history of its owners, from its discoverer and his fatal ending in India to the fates of everyone who suffered the delusions of its natural beauty and grandeur.

The passages about life with the Sun King, or life under Louis XV at Versailles are eye-opening reality lessons that have escaped most of the romantic histories that I’ve read of that age. Versailles was a hornet’s nest of intrigue and hideous human behavior, and a rather unhygenic one to put it mildly. For one thing it stunk (!) thanks to the utter lack of facilities and the madding crowd that quite naturally needed them. It also stunk politically, as expressed ultimately by the violent reaction of the Revolution where a million lost their lives.

"I tried to follow something something through time,” Ms. Baumgold told her friends who were gathered at the party last night in explaining how the book was set down, adding, “and I tried to understand what Proust called ‘the secret language of things.'” And boy, does she succeed, big-time.

My only problem with reading Ms. Baumgold’s history is time — my time. I have so little to spare with the schedule I’ve created for myself that I can only grab it in bits and pieces. But each time I put it aside, I find myself saying aloud: “I love this book.” A good book for me is a personal thrill, an answer to the past and a guide to the future. The Diamond is one of those, satisfying on so many levels – informative to the point of outrage, dreamy and poetic in the author’s (Baumgold, in the stead of Las Cases) reverie and introspection, and haunting in its insights that touch all of us, maybe now more than ever.

Last night’s reception at the Snyders’
(Mr. Snyder has recently married Terresa Liu) was one of those authentic New York literary ones — Ricky and Ralph Lauren, Amanda Burden, Michael Korda, Rex Reed, Joe Armstrong, Sally Bedell Smith, Tina Brown and Harry Evans, Michael Kramer, Marie Brenner, Mario Buatta, Chuck Pfeifer, Nan and Gay Talese, Patricia Duff with Arthur Altschul Jr., Edward J. Epstein, Judy Licht and Jerry Della Femina, Binky Urban, Hunter College President Jennifer Raab and New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin, Enid Nemy, Delores and Ed Klein, Ed Kosner (Baumgold’s in-house editor and husband and father of her lovely daughter Lily Kosner who like her parents is in the business of literary).
Sally Bedell Smith
Tina Brown and Julie Baumgold

John Schwartz and Enid Nemy
Ed Kosner, Patricia Duff, and Stephen Shepard
Edward J. Epstein, Lee Mellis, Chuck Pfeifer, and Ed Kosner
Harry Evans
Michael Kramer

Lily Kosner
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After our visit and JH’s quick tour with the Digital, we moved on to the Central Park Conservancy’s 10th annual Halloween Ball, held in their “haunted castle” (a tent erected across the road from the Bethesda Steps – mid-Park at 72nd Street). Chaired by Monica Gerard-Sharp and Suzanne Cochran, it was a “hauntingly” (gawd that word is everywhere tonight) magical evening of cocktails, dinner, and dancing to benefit the Conservancy.

Into The Light ...
More than 600 guests turned up. Laurence Craig Catering fed the ghoulish, the foolish and the famished. Matthew David provided the “hauntingly magic castle.”

The celebrity judges of the best costumes were: Alec Baldwin, dressed like a British barrister, Sigourney Weaver dressed as a sorceress, Frederic Fekkai turned out with a touch of Zorro, Felicia Taylor (I didn’t see her get-up but I’m having lunch with her today, so I’ll get the rundown) Nicole Miller (also didn’t see – I don’t think) and WABC’s Sam Champion was emcee.

This was the Ball’s 10th year and the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Central Park Conservancy. They raised more than $875,000 for their brilliant cause which provides 85% of the Park’s annual operating budget, funds major capital improvements, provides horticultural care and management and offers programs for volunteers and visitors. All in a day’s work for the Central Park Conservancy.

After that I went over to Swifty’s for dinner with friends where the conversation veered from Halloween directly to hocus-pocus of statecraft and Judy Miller, the New York Times former embedded, now beset upon reporter, with our ears filled with all kinds of information from people who have known her and her work for a long long time. But more on that later.




October 27, 2005, Volume V, Number 183
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com

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