Wednesday, June 2, 2010

All is quiet in the city

Looking west across 72nd Street from 3rd Avenue. 8:45 PM. Photo: JH.
June 2, 2010. A very warm day, yesterday in New York, with rain clouds hovering. And quiet: the cab ride down the East Side Drive and across 57th Street to Fifth Avenue was almost entirely unimpeded traffic-wise.

The big news yesterday was of course the Tipper and Al Gore separation. No reasons for the break after forty years was given although a writer friend of mine quoted Edith Wharton: “A divorce without a lover is as unnatural as getting drunk on lemonade.”

However, that said, Washington Social Diary’s Carol Joynt has filed this latest report on the news:


Tipper and Al on their wedding day.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the man who said, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet” would use email to announce the possible end of his marriage. The real surprise, for most people in Washington, was that former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, are officially separating. And, yes, the news arrived in a blast email to friends that was instantly forwarded to and re-blasted by the media.

“Hi,” it began. “We wanted to share this personal news with you because we care so much about you as a friend. We are announcing today that after a great deal of thought and discussion, we have decided to separate. This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration. We ask for respect for our privacy and that of our family, and we do not intend to comment further. Hope to see you soon. – Al and Tipper”

Here’s my version:

“Hi. We have more friends than we can count and so we’re using the list serve to get the word out. Phew. The lawyers have given us the go ahead. It was hours of negotiations but we’ve worked out the tough stuff. We’re both cool on everything and we’ve made enough money in the last few years to go our own ways and remain friends rather than staying stuck in this marriage and starting to hate each other. We’re not saying another word until “Oprah” or “60 Minutes” offers a platform that is fruitful for the inevitable book contracts we’ll both land due to this announcement. Hope to see you soon.”

A recent photograph published in The New York Times.
I’m making fun but the truth is these are good people who both have a lot of friends in Washington and the general reaction here was surprise. But as the news settled in it changed to less of surprise and more of, “Well, he is married to climate change. He is on the road all the time. He is a driven man.” And Tipper? “She’s got her own life, her photography.” Close friends speculated that she would rather not wait at home alone. There did not seem to be any dark secrets, but who knows? If they exist the Gores have kept them well in the shadows.

“I’ve traveled with him dozens of times,” said a friend. “Believe me, he doesn’t have the time. He’s on a mission and that’s what consumes him.”

So, it seems, even the icons of a perfect marriage can fall to earth. Maybe it’s a jinx for a Presidential candidate to give his wife a big wet one on national television, as Gore did at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2000, when he won his party’s nomination for president. In fact, who would have thought when the Clintons and Gores joined up in 1993 that the couple to separate would be Al and Tipper and not Bill and Hillary?

At a party Tuesday night I cornered Washington “wise man” Vernon Jordan and asked, “Are you surprised?” In perfect wise man fashion he replied, “There’s nothing that surprises me.”
The social scene has begun to let up some and will let up more as the energy is transferred out east to the Hamptons which will soon be a circus of social activity from now until Labor Day.

This week I am participating in The Writing Center of Marymount Manhattan College’s “Writers Conference & Intensives 2010.” My “intensive” is about “Cultural Writing and Columns” and runs from 6 to 9 pm. I thought my nightly rounds gathering information for the Diary was intense. An “intensive” is more intense.

Recalling for the group how I recalled the first piece I ever published which was for California Magazine, then edited by the late great Harold Hayes in 1984. It was entitled “On Having Met Mr. Capote.” I did a re-cap of it here on these pages twenty-one years later in July 2005. JH, who happened to sit in on most of last night’s Writer’s Conference session, suggested we run the piece again. And so it is, on today’s Social History.
Albert Barnes hired the noted French architect Paul Philippe Cret to design the Gallery, which were completed in 1925. He commissioned bas-reliefs by the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, and tile work using African designs and themes by Enfield Pottery and Tile Works, to adorn the building.
Two weekends ago, JH took a little side trip to tour the famous Barnes Collection. The following is his report and photographs:

Visiting the Barnes.
A couple weekends ago I visited the Barnes Foundation's Galleries and Arboretum in Merion, Pennsylvania, about 5 miles outside of Philadelphia.

In case you're thinking of going, you can't just show up at the Barnes. I made the reservation online several weeks in advance, also booking a room at the Rittenhouse for an overnight stay. The drive was an easy one, taking about 2 1/2 hours to reach the Barnes from the Upper West Side. I had always been aware of the legendary collection, but the film The Art of the Steal is what induced this trip.

Inside the Barnes Foundation's Galleries.
The collection is set to relocate in 2012, moving to Center City, Philadelphia. According to the Foundation, Dr. Barnes planned for it to remain in Merion so long as that was financially feasible. Alas, it is no longer in a financial position to remain in its original location. And yes, there were many powerful forces who wanted the Barnes in Philadelphia. Those same forces can rightfully claim that by moving the Barnes, everyone will now have an opportunity to see this mind boggling collection of Picassos, Matisses, Cézannes, Renoirs and Modiglianis, and important examples of African sculpture. And that is true. Whatever your feelings on the subject, visiting the Barnes in its original environs is something everyone should see.

I assume those that have pushed for the relocation of the Barnes (and the list is long) have done so out of the intense appreciation and the acknowledgement of the art, while others did so because they wanted to be noticed.

I now think of the collection's move as a family that has outgrown its home. Each work of art or family member is familiar and comfortable with his/her standing in the family. And they are leaving the place where their bond was cultivated. They will soon acclimate to their new surroundings and continue to support, strengthen, and empower each other, educating and mesmerizing those of us who are lucky enough to visit them.

In case you don't make it to the Barnes Collection before the move, here are some pics I snapped inside the galleries and of the surrounding Arboretum ...
The Barnes was intended as "a living museum of art and as a botanical garden to be used as part of the educational purposes of The Barnes Foundation in both the art and horticulture programs."
When Dr. Albert and Laura Barnes purchased the property in 1922 from Captain Joseph Lapsley Wilson, they agreed to preserve Wilson's plantings, which became the nucleus of the Arboretum. Laura Barnes, with the support of Dr. Barnes and Dr. John Fogg, carefully enhanced the living collections to over 3,000 species/varieties of woody plants gathered from different sources around the world. The diversity of species and varieties growing in such a modest area is one of the most noteworthy features of the Arboretum.
In 1933, Laura Barnes testified her purpose in developing an area behind the gallery building as, ”…to obtain a compositional effect that would be beautiful in it and also a unit that would harmonize with other units and form a composition of all parts of the Arboretum. In doing this, I followed the same instinct as the painter does in organizing his canvas. … It takes time to find rare trees and to find out by experiment the particular arrangement of masses, colors, graceful lines and spatial intervals that gives the most beautiful effect.” 
The plants are cultivated in a fine landscape and garden setting that reflects concepts from the unique arrangement of art works in the Gallery rooms.
The Arboretum will continue to be owned by the Barnes Foundation. The Arboretum will remain open to the public and the horticultural programs will expand. The Foundation's archives will also remain in Merion and become more accessible to scholars.
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