Rained yesterday in New York. Poured.
Looking west across 42nd Street. 7:20 PM. Photo: JH.

It seems like it’s been a week of this and people are now complaining the same way they complained about the heat at the end of last month.

It was very difficult to find a taxi on East End Avenue. I stood there with a big umbrella which does not protect the shoes or the calves of the pants. Or the cuffs of the jacket. I took it in stride. I could think of a lot worse things that are happening to many of us in the world. But my noble thoughts did not produce a vacant yellow cab.

Then a doorman from the building I was standing in front of came out and asked if I wanted a car. If you didn’t know, this happens all the time in New York. There are the livery boys most of whom drive second-hand Lincoln Towncars. Some are in pretty good shape, others looks like they’re just about ready for Saturday stockcar races. Then there are the really nice ones. These are not infrequently corporate or private drivers who have some time to kill before they pick up their employer. They all ask a tad or a lot more than the cab meter.

So I asked the doorman how much the guy wanted for a trip to 55th and Fifth. He came back: $12. It almost always runs nine or ten bucks, 20% tip included. I said no. Standing there with the rainy wind whipping at my now creaseless pants. I don’t know why I said “no.” I was proving something to myself. I was saving two bucks. With the leather around the soles of my shoes starting to darken from the deluge. I waited a couple more minutes. Still no yellows. So I went back to the doorman.

Okay. Actually it was a very nice Lexus. Not a livery. Or at least not your typical livery. I was wondering if I was riding in an unwitting neighbor’s car. This is New York. Everyone needs to turn some extra bucks wherever they can.

He was a very nice driver. The traffic was really terrible. Drivers lose it on rainy days in Manhattan. They’re all over the road burning to get in front of the car in front which is hoping to do the same thing with the car in front. Sometimes I get into the anxiety too and start swearing at the drivers in front of us or beside us. Backseat driver Road Rage. As if they could hear (or care). Or the double parkers (they get the biggest torrent of epithets, all led mainly by an Eff-You-See-Kay, harrumph). Oh yes, nice little David swears his head off. I have a whole philosophy about people’s driving habits and our civilization, which I like to think is very clever. Today I was serene. I had other things on my mind; things that I haven’t cleared up for myself; doubts, troubles, worries, disappointments, the threat of sorrow; deadlines. Several days of rain can bring this out like a garden in full bloom. Which is not to say it was the weather.

I got to my destination in this very comfortable Lexus, feeling like Mr. Big, his very own self with his very own limo. I gave the guy $15. My luncheon date often has a car waiting at the end of a rainy day lunch. She didn’t today. Today she was going to walk up to Bergdorf’s for the 40% off sale. In the rain. So I went along that far figuring it would be easier to get a cab across from the Plaza. It wasn’t.

I walked up to the Sherry-Netherland where the doorman was getting cabs for residents and visitors. When he could. I was pretending to be a visitor. Standing under the enormous canopy, with the enormous umbrella and the wind whipping the rain against my shoes, pants, sleeves. No taxis. Thousands of them all occupied. Finally a chauffeur in a big SUV pulls up. The doorman asks if I want a ride. How much? Twenty. Twenty??!! The driver gestures with the palm of his hand and shrugs: “luxury car.” Yeah, somebody else’s, I’m thinking to myself. But not for long. I jumped in. 35 bucks round trip. I still love the rain.

Rain and all, there were lots of things happening in the city after sundown. I put on my black tie to go down to the Pierre for the Pasteur Foundation which supports the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The evening was presented under the Patronage of His Excellency the Ambassador of France to the United States and Mrs. Jean-David Levitte. Coincidentally we were at a dinner Nazee and Joe Moinian gave for His Excellency the night before last.

Last night’s dinner was honoring Elizabeth Fondaras whom you’ve read about here many times before. Mrs. Fondaras is a genuine Francophile. Very American, and a longtime New Yorker, (Jackie Onassis bought her apartment at 1040 Fifth), she nevertheless has had an apartment in Paris for the last sixty years! Married three times and widowed three times, when she was married to her second husband, Theodore Weicker, she also had an apartment in the fabled Hotel Lambert which also housed the residences of Marie-Helene and Guy de Rothschild as well as Baron Alexis de Rede. She has also been active much of the time for Franco-American relations as well as cultural philanthropies.

Liz Fondaras in her Paris penthouse. June 2004.

A half century ago she established the Elizabeth R. Miller (her first marriage name) Traveling Scholarship which brought ten talented young French surgeons to work in outstanding American hospitals. About that time she also initiated a scholarship for gifted French students to study at St. Paul’s School which has since been awarded to 100 French boys and girls, many of whom have gone on to become prominent professionals in France. She has also long been involved in the French-American Foundation with equal commitment to bicultural dialogue and exchange. She has served on many boards including the Children’s Storefront in Harlem and the Foreign Policy Association. For her work and her passion in strengthening relations between France and the United States, she was named Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in 1989 and Officier in 2002.

When she was first recruited to assist the Pasteur Foundation (which is involved in funding biomedical research), she said she knew nothing about biomedical research. But when she was told that the Institut was globally recognized for its work on infectious diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis, malaria and certain cancers, she joined in.

The view from Liz Fondaras' Ile St. Louis penthouse looking towards Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

Mrs. Fondaras’ work has brought in millions for the Foundation and therefore the Institut. Her enthusiasm and generous spirit has also enhanced the reach and results of the Foundation’s fundraising.

Unfortunately she could not be present last night because she’d just returned from Paris two nights before and had come down with a bout of pneumonia. Lionel Larner, a friend, told me that she had flown to Paris only a few days before, had gone that night to a dinner given by Guy de Rothschild and then to a lunch the following day and then had given a dinner at the Voltaire the following evening. Jet-lag and all. Then flown back to New York. Mrs. Fondaras also celebrated her 90th birthday a few weeks ago at a bigger party in New York.

So they feted Elizabeth Fondaras in absentia, recording the proceedings for her to listen to in the morning. Kenneth Jay Lane, a longtime friend, opened the evening saying that the honoree had not been pasteurized because she was the crème de la crème. And to her many friends and admirers, she’s simply and lovingly, Liz.

Monique van Vooren, Orin Lehman, and Michael Holly
Mario Buatta, Lionel Larner, and Sharon Hoge
Delphine Hibon, Madame Levitte, Agnes Hibon
Conrad Kessee and Irene Aitken
Shirley Lord Rosenthal with Spiros and Antonia Milonas
Victoria Wyman, Frances Hayward, and Kenny Lane
Say de Brancovan, Luc de Clapiers, Nina Miness, and Jean Doumanian
John Loring, Francois Gilot-Salk, and Ambassador Levitte
Frank Wyman
Counsel General of France and Mrs. Francois Delattre
Elbrun Kimmelman
Heather Cohane and Frances Hayward
Dinner in the Grand Ballroom at the Pierre

And that wasn’t all. Last night the Central Park Conservancy held is annual Taste of Summer 2006 at the Bandshell in Central Park. There was a tent. No standing around in the rain. More than 35 premiere New York chefs from the city’s top restaurants provided the al fresco dining. Sushi, tapas, gorgeous, gorge-able desserts. And, even in the pouring rain, it was OVERSOLD.

Co-Chairs were Susan Shin and Gillian Miniter. Vice Chairs were Lisa Airan, Lisa Anastos, David Patrick Columbia (yeah, him), Elizabeth Finkle Eliot, Braden Keil, Patrick McMullan, Coralie Charriol Paul, Angel Sanchez, Samantha Topping, Christina Wood, Christine Cachot Williams. Junior Chairs were Martin Dawson and Stella Keitel. Support from Taste of Summer directly enhances the preservation of Central Park. The Conservancy is responsible for 85% of Central Park’s annual operating budget and this event helps the Conservancy keep Central Park the unique landmark that we all enjoy.

Despite the weather, which certainly did not seem to deter many, the tent at the Bandshell was packed. The food was marvelous, and it was an interesting party because of the diversity of the crowd. Not the usual suspects, but people of many different groups. Everyone danced, drank blue cocktails (the evening theme, consisting of Grey Goose and Blue Ice), and ate heartily from the nearly 40 tasting stations provided by Serafina, Jon Georges, Country, Zocalo, Circo, 57, Colors, and many others. One no-carb eater I know found herself getting quickly addicted to the ravioli provided by San Domenico. Silent auction donors included: Plaza Athenee Paris, Sea Island Georgia, Brazillian Court Hotel, Remede Spa, Stephen Knoll, Diane Von Furstenburg, Lambertson Truex, Carolina Herrera, among others.

Among the crowd seen were (some of these were committee members) Woody Johnson and Suzanne Ircha, Jim Brodsky, Nina and John Richter, Frances Schultz, Bill Smith, Marina Killery, David Orentreich, Henry Stern, Doug Blonsky, Heather and Tom Leeds, Tracy and Greg Warner, Marie-Anne Dreher, Cece Black, Jeff Hirsch, Jason Hirsch, Elisabeth Saint Amand, and Ashley Allan.

Paul Lowerre, Jennifer and Bill Danner, Ursula Lowerre, and Cece and Lee Black
Laurence Lebon and Harry Stendhal
Christine Cachot Williams, Lottie Oakley, Coralie Charriol, Susan Shin, and Kat Cohen
Paola Isabella Rocha Tornito and Steven Redler
Emily and Leslie Keno
Sylvester Miniter and Samantha Topping
John Hay and Doug Blonsky
Patrick McMullan and Lisa Anastos
Tim and Nina Zagat with Adrian Benepe
Gillian Miniter and Liz Finkle
Woody Johnson and Suzanne Ircha
Angel Sanchez with Tatiana and Campion Platt
Jon Eliot and Liz Finkle with Jason Hirsch
Mark Piegza, Woody Johnson, and Jon Eliot


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June 7, 2006, Volume VI, Number 96
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch & DPC/NYSD.com


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