|Monday. January 24, 2011. Weekend sunny and fair, and bitter cold in New York. Colder in the midnight hour with a sharp wind that bites streaming off the river.
Sunday night. I had invitations to two parties, each from a woman I like and admire. Unusual for a Sunday which is everybody’s stay-home night in New York. Early receptions, one celebrating a birthday of someone I’ve never met but only know of – a 90th birthday; and the other from a friend who is always good company and knows everyone in town. Both big parties and both late afternoon and early evening. I didn’t get there.
I try to reserve the weekends for myself; in other words no “social” Diary-related obligations. I become that old immovable object. A day-off sort of thing. Dinner with old friends maybe. I had already committed to dinner on Friday, and to lunch and to a dinner on Saturday. One meal out is my usual rule on weekends but a friend was in from London.
I’m one of those people who likes being alone. I have always been my best companion. And at this time in my life, I feel more and more compelled to read.
Friday night I invited Duane Hampton and Raul Suarez to dine at “21.” Duane you’ve read about here and many other places, and recently because of the book she published last autumn on her late husband interior designer Mark Hampton’s career; and their daughter Alexa who also recently published a book on her interior design work. Raul is an old friend. He’s an international art dealer and consultant for contemporary art at Sotheby’s.
Neither knew each other, which meant it would be interesting one way or another. However, they’re both very congenial personalities. They got on like a house-a-fire; no surprise. The subject that came up, and mobilized the conversation for the entire evening, god knows how, was Proust.
The restaurant was packed, incidentally. It’s one of those places that’s authentically New York fable. Now in its 90th year, if you can believe it – it started out as Jack (Kriendler) and Charlie’s (Berns) “21” club. When they first opened for business (it was a speakeasy) in 1931, there were two huge Vanderbilt mansions (Willie K and Alva’s and William H’s twin mansions) just next door on the uptown and downtown corners of Fifth Avenue (where 666 Fifth is today). In those days there were still a lot of horses in use in the city (pulling the milk delivery wagons, for example), and Fifth Avenue was two-way with traffic light posts manually operated in the middle of the road.
Still just as snappy today, and reeking of the old time collegial, “21”’s original secret door where they hid the booze from the Feds in the cellar is still there. The place is the closest most of us (including John O’Hara) ever got to what we imagine was the club-like atmosphere at Yale. Back in the days of Boola-boola.
Back at the table, Friday night. Both my dinner guests had read all of Proust. I know this is not a matter of interest to many, or everybody (including not interesting to read about), but for those of us who have always felt daunted by Proust and had/have tried and (so far) not succeeded, it is practically a jaw-dropper. For me anyway.
|Raul Suarez with Trudy Cejas.
Turns out Duane has her Masters in literature, and it was Raul’s major at Harvard. I sat there dazzled by their knowledge and literacy. That, the Dover Sole (grilled), the Stoli on the rocks (with a twist), it was a perfect way to keep warm on a cold winter’s Friday evening in New York.
Duane and Raul got onto the subject of Emile Zola’s Nana. I had never read it. Ahh, you’ve never read Nana! So good! They had such a good time talking about it I wanted to get a copy and go home and read it. The subject at table ran off into “Downton Abbey” now running on PBS Sunday night at 9. One of those great British series that conveys history as soap opera. What (or who) killed the Turk in Lady Mary’s bedroom that night? We’re all hooked on it.
Saturday I went to lunch at Sant Ambroeus on Madison Avenue and 76th Street with Charlotte Ford and her granddaughter, also Charlotte, who was in from Detroit visiting her grandmother for the weekend. Sant Ambroeus is the de rigueur neighborhood brasserie, very Upper Sets, East Side version, including extensively tempting pastry cases (so that its chic clientele doesn’t leave empty handed). Big comfortable tables; great menu, beyond great bread. Very pleasant service.
You see the world there (this particular world and its allied interests, that is), and on a Saturday early afternoon in January where practically everyone stays in town for the weekend, it’s packed. All ages, families, singles, friends, lovers, relations. Saturday Reinaldo Herrera was lunching with Lee Radziwill. At the table next to ours one of the women turned out to be from Detroit also and went to the same school as young Charlotte when she was growing up. Once JH and I met for a business lunch there and as we were taken to our table, Paul Simon, Mike Nichols and Steve Martin were just getting up from the (very same) table. A tri-fecta for fandom.
After lunch I went up to the Crawford Doyle bookstore on Madison between 81st and 82nd, and bought a copy of Zola’s Nana, went home and started reading it. Hooked.
Saturday night it was dinner at Chin Chin with my friend in from London. We ordered too much. And ate it. This can happen at Chin Chin where there are so many good choices. It was also packed.
Most of the mail we got last week was about the Diary about Hillary and her hair, and the one about fashion and the W cover. I did not know that the W cover was referring to the best selling trilogy and popular films, the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, and that the tattoo across the model’s chest spelled out the last name of one of the main characters, Lisbeth Salander. I haven’t read them.
This of course explains to those of us who are out of it and didn’t know, the sado-maso fashion statement that the magazine’s cover makes; like it or lump it, DPC. To others it has its own chic and sophistication. It is a ultimately a statement of the condition of man’s relationship to his self. To me it spells distress. Our distress.
My friend from London brought up the Hillary item at dinner. She’s an old friend and knows me well. She thought it was hard on Hillary. “There are some things that are very sensitive subjects for women,” she counseled.
She thought it sounded like I didn’t “like” Hillary and was kind of letting her have it when it’s obvious by her photos that the woman has been working very hard. I was surprised at my friend’s reaction (although she wasn’t the only one who expressed that sentiment), because my own personal experiences being in Hillary Clinton's presence were very affecting. I am mainly in awe of her intelligence and ability to work hard; and to communicate. She’s one of the few people I’ve ever seen who can stand before a group of people and give a substantive half hour talk on a substantive subject without a note in front of her. I’ve witnessed that several times. I am in awe.
That said, I mentioned it because, like the matter of the W cover, fashion is the subject and the fashion of the woman is important. It is always important. The Secretary of State never came to her position because of her fashion and style. She has always been recognized for her rare intellectual qualities and capacities, as is appropriate. Nevertheless fashion commands and commends. Leaders, male or female are most effective when their appearance does both.
Coincidentally, ironically, my dinner date Saturday night, Joan Kingsley, is the wife of Philip Kingsley, the London-based hair “doctor” (trichologist) who invented the term “bad hair day” (and has as his clientele some of the most famous hair – male and female – in the world).