Warm May Days
Looking west along 26th Street. 8:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Yesterday was a very warm day at the end of May in New York. I was walking up Fifth Avenue after lunch passing Bergdorf Goodman and the new Apple glass cube in front of the former GM (and former Trump) building. North of Bergdorf’s and Apple, there was a strong redolence of drying horse dung in the air. From the horses who pull the tourist carriages that park just across from the Plaza.

I was thinking: A century ago when the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion covered the plot that is now Bergdorf’s, and the new Plaza Hotel (there was one before this one) was just about completed, almost all vehicular traffic in the city was horsedrawn. And so, on many days, especially warm days in New York, it must have stunk!! To high heaven! Even around Cornelius Vanderbilt-land.

There was something very nice about it today, however. (And maybe there was always something nice about it.) Something cozy and real in this great big glass cube of a world we now occupy (that is not a criticism incidentally).

Walking along Fifth Avenue towards the Apple Store

The Apple store, for example, is wonderful to look at. I went in last Friday. It is a very cool place. You take the escalator down a flight and you’re in Mac City. All very wood and grey and glass and chrome and white and grey and glass. And hundreds of people trying out hardware, buying software. And oddly Star Trek serene.

It is the now kind of store. The staff is very good. Young people who just know what you don’t know (if you’re like me). And very pleasant to deal with. Really nice. Not slick or impatient or condescending with us cyber dummies.

Meanwhile, back on the avenue, at the corner of 59th and Fifth, I took a picture of the horses. I always feel sorry for those horses. In fact I feel sorry for all the horses who serve mankind. What a thankless job. Although I am told that these Park horses actually have a very nice home to go to each night. It’s a new domicile and it’s really very nice. Cool in the summer and warm in the winter. So now you know about me and the horses. Now if we could only do that for all creatures great and small, including ourselves….

Henry Paulson

Which brings me to the man who has just been made George W. Bush’s secretary of the Treasury. Henry Paulson. I’ve met the man, in the howja-do fashion more than once and then asked if I could take his picture. I have had no other contact with him except to observe him at the podium of this benefit or that. I have never asked him a question or heard an answer. He and his wife do not have one of the grander or more glamorous social profiles in New York. Which leads me to conclude that they’re not particularly interested in such a thing, because it is definitely available to a man in his position and income. Instead, his name comes up with certain philanthropies, such as the Nature Conservancy.

Before moving to New York to head up Goldman, Mr. and Mrs. Paulson lived on a farm in Illinois. Even after the transfer, he commuted a great deal and still retains the property. There they raised a menagerie of animals, including among other creatures: raccoons, alligators, turtles, snakes. They are also bird-watchers and have participated in the Central Park Conservancy birdwatching. He even got Goldman Sachs (which he’s been heading up for several years) to pay for 680,000 acres of the Chilean island of Tierra del Fuego which was donated to the Wildlife Conservation Society. Not everyone was infatuated with the idea of spending the company money that way.

Has Mr. Paulson met Mr. Gore? I wouldn’t doubt it. But that’s just a calculated guess. Meanwhile, he’s been in charge at Goldman Sachs for several years now, having succeeded Jon Corzine, the current governor of New Jersey. Power-broking is said by some to be the new Treasury Secretary’s real strength. In other words, he’s the one who gets it done.

It was he who played a significant role in the ousting of Dick Grasso from his position as chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, after Mr. Grasso had been given salaries and bonuses of $139 million. And it was Mr. Paulson’s man, John Thain, who replaced Mr. Grasso. And it was he whom Mr. Grasso referred to as “a snake.” Mr. Paulson, the naturalist, it turns out, loves snakes.

Goldman Sachs bankers are Masters of the Universe, in the lore of the land. Mr. Paulson is said to be the “antithesis of that.” A graduate of Dartmouth where he was an athlete-scholar, his talent is said to be “less of analysis than that he’s a people man, who’s never been carried away by self-importance.” A friend of mine who knows him said that “you can’t find anything bad to say about Hank Paulson. He’s so nice, so unpretentious; everybody loves him." She said he’s not a (political) party guy. He and his wife are such conservationists and so environmentally conscious that a lot of people just assumed that if they had any party affiliation, they were Democrats.

So what we have here is a farmboy from the midwest who was well educated and competitive enough to rise to the top of Wall Street where the competition is fierce (and the money is big – a few years ago when Goldman went public, the partners collected $100 million each), and where his company has been one of the most profitable. And he’s a man who’s committed to the animal kingdom. Hey, that’s us; that’s him!

This could be Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Or it could be more of the same which will only change when Mother Nature comes along and sweeps away the past (our present). Right now, I’ll vote for the former. Mr. Paulson is, on the face of it, a sensible, intelligent, practical man who loves the living. In this world, in his world, that makes him something of a rara avis in itself.

By evening time it was still in the low 80s last night.  We went down to the Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts gallery at 526 West 26th Street in Chelsea where they are exhibiting “Luxury Goods,” a show curated by Beth DeWoody. It’s a group show that “interrogates the obsessive visuality of high end commodities, consumer culture and lifestyle both public and private. The artists recreated high end retail products by hand. Their objective is reconsidering the “value and such purpose of items that isn’t likely to happen browsing in a store for the real thing.” Although, you’ve never seen these products in a retail store.  Only in an art gallery. And when the question is asked, who is the greater influence on this generation of artists – Andy Warhol or Pablo Picasso, the answer is ... self-evident at the Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts gallery where the installation will be on exhibition through the end of June.

Preston Bailey, Beth DeWoody, and Marcy Blum
Charlie Scheips and Anne Pasternak
Kyle and Carlton DeWoody
Frederick Anderson and Douglas Hannant
Anthony Haden-Guest
Estelle Greer
Laurie Tisch and Michele Oka Doner
Christopher Mason
Ashton Hawkins and Michele Oka Doner
Elizabeth Kabler and Susan Davis
John Findysz and Carl Lana
Beth's curatorial eye at work.

They celebrated the 90th birthday of Celestina Wallis the other night in the private dining room of La Grenouille. Mrs. Wallis is an old girl who rather gets around in New York on a steady basis that could flatten an old girl one third her age. They picked Le Grenouille because Mrs. Wallis lunches there almost everyday which means, if you’ve never been to La Grenouille, (or Grenouille as its patrons call it), Mrs. Wallis lives among the culinary angels.

There were forty guests attending to the evening’s favorite. Mrs. Wallis who likes her martinis very dry was taught how to make one by FDR when he was in the White House. Five-thirty every afternoon (or was it six?), he’d mix up a shaker of them for himself and his guests. It was during those times that Mrs. Wallis also met Mr. Churchill who was also enjoying the President’s hospitality.

But that was then and this is now. New Yorkers who get out often see Celestina Wallis (she’s been in the NYSD Party Pictures several times). I got a shot of her the week before last at the opening night reception of Le Cirque. Many guests that night were on overdrive because of the crowds. But not Mrs. Wallis. She was cool as a cucumber and loving it.

She’s always very stylishly turned out and has a twinkle in her bright eyes. When I heard about her learning to make a martini from Mr. Roosevelt, I thought of those eyes of hers, with all their curiosity. I could almost see the girl, more than sixty years ago, watching the man who was the President sitting there, cigarette (in holder) between his teeth, holding the shaker away from himself for a brief but important shake. Much time (to some) has passed since then, and the world has certainly changed, but one can still get the impression Celestina Wallis is that same curious girl who gathers friendship wherever she travels that she always was.
Elizabeth Slone and Wes Carroll
Simone Levitt and Mary Libby
Simone Levitt, Peter Elliot, Celestina Wallis, and Mark Kennedy
Anne Smithers
"Please sign your name on the mat."
The table settings at Le Grenouille
Celestina blowing out her birthday candles
Suelyn Farel and Joanna Cutler
Stephanie Stokes and Dennis Karr
Gail Karr, Wes Carroll, and Felicia Taylor
John Oden and Joanna Cutler
Celestina Wallis and Diana Hill


Click here
for Today's Party Pictures
Click here
for NYSD Contents

May 31, 2006, Volume VI, Number 91
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch & DPC/NYSD.com


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