Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Snow no more

Waiting out the cold in Central Park. 5:20 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, March  29, 2011. Sunny and cold in New York. Some brief talk of snow. Forget it. The forsythia are out despite the temperature.

I went down to Michael’s to lunch. The city was relatively quiet; typical of Mondays at this time of year. Michael’s had its good share of familiar faces but the decibel level was decidedly lower, which is never a bad thing. On the ride home, the taxi went through the Park, where the roadway was busy with the horses and carriages out on their trips, as were the bicycle transports, and the joggers. However, coming out of the Park at 72nd Street and turning up Madison (to cross 80th over to East End), traffic was still moving easily. That’s quiet in New York.
Spring on the cusp ...
I also had nothing on the calendar for the night which frankly is so infrequent that I wonder if I’ve forgotten something or someone. In my line of work, that’s like finding you have a day off. Which isn’t ever really true, but I’ll take it.

I’ve been reading a book called The Hare With Amber Eyes. I picked it up a couple of weeks ago on one of my Zabar trips. I saw it at a bookstall on the street. The Hare with Amber Eyes; A Family’s Century of Art and Loss. By Edmund De Waal. The cover features a vintage black and white photograph of an older woman and two little boys, an illustration of a young couple waltzing (he in white tie and tails), a color photo of an ornate ceiling, and a black and white vintage photograph of army tanks rolling into a city with its citizens looking on from streetside.

Click to order The Hare with Amber Eyes.
The hare with the amber eyes.
I’m not quite sure what caught my eye. Maybe it was the business about the hare with the amber eyes and what that had to do with this agglomeration of images. A mystery to be solved, perhaps. The city on the cover, it turned out, was Vienna. The tanks were Nazi tanks entering as part of Hitler’s Anschluss in March 1938.

The woman in the black and white photo was named Emmy Ephrussi and the little boys were her grandchildren. The illustration was of her when she was a young and eligible girl in Vienna, before she married, in the last quarter of the 19th century; and the ornate ceiling was from the first floor apartments of the immense Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse in Vienna (still standing), where the Ephrussi family, bankers of Russian Jewish descent lived for more than a half century until ...

The “hare” in the title refers to a netsuke. Perhaps you know about netsukes. I didn’t. They are the miniature sculptures that were invented/created in 17th century Japan and later became a highly desirable collectibles among the connoisseurs in late 19th century Paris. A member of the French branch of the family, Charles Ephrussi, was one of its most prominent collectors in Paris at that time.

Edmund de Waal, the author of the book, is a descendent of this family. He is a man who I would guess to be in his middle-age. He is by profession a potter, an Englishman, and his story is about his family but also about his “search” for its history, using a particular netsuke as a guide and a key to relating the story to us readers.

I don’t have all that much time to read and I am not one of those people who can sit with a book for an hour or more and not get up to either do something or go somewhere. I’m often pressed for time. I’m used to catching a couple of pages at a time. But this book, which I started when I got home that day, while often read in that fashion, has had me in its thrall. I think because it’s about a family. A good family. A family that treated each other well – generally speaking, of course. A family that had cohesion and unity and yet space for everyone to express themselves.
Palais Ephrussi in Vienna, built around 1875 for the von Ephrussi family.
There happened to be a generous spirit that nurtured and was nurtured by the members of the Ephrussi family. Fate and History challenged all of the above.
The history starts in the middle of the 19th century when the family emigrated to Vienna and Paris from Odessa to avoid the pogroms. They were grain traders who later became bankers in the fashion of the Rothschilds. They prospered greatly and assimilated into the community almost seamlessly. Aside from the not minor fact that they were Jewish in a world that would in time grant political power to monsters plying their brand of evil through prejudice.

Emmy von Ephrussi and her grandchildren, circa 1930.
The story ends (I am now close to the ending and have discovered the significance of the title) in contemporary times. A man has gazed upon his legacy and faced its fate, our fate really, granting us the opportunity to see. The business of “learning from history” and the ability to “see things clearly for what they are” is as cogent in today’s world as it was in 1938, perhaps even more so because of modern technology.

Meanwhile today on NYSD, we welcome a new contributor, Reggie Darling who has a blog by the same name: “Reggie Darling; A view from Darlington House.”

I’ve been a regular reader for some time. Reggie and his partner Boy Fenwick (these are both “nom de plumes” or aliases, depending) have a country house north of here and they’re connoisseurs of the relatively creative and yet not extravagant good life. In real life the possessors of Darlington House have business lives and in their spare time they commune with nature, with friends and neighbors and with those they meet on their stops along the way. It’s a very creative existence within the parameters of basically conventional lives that most of us like to think of as not creative. Reggie proves a point and constantly reaffirms it with good cheer.

We chose this first entry for the NYSD because it’s what some people used to call horse talk, common sense, about making one’s life work. Many know of all the opportunities out there (often requiring a fee for a professional, or a book, or a class, or a program) about getting our act together and feeling better about ourselves. Reggie’s philosophy is agreeably old-fashioned and even inspiring. Or at least something that will give you pause, maybe even a laugh, a definitely a memory of another time in your life.

But before we go, we wanted to run some photos from Patrick McMullan of a kick off party at the SoHo Mondrian of the upcoming  AmFAR New York Inspiration Gala. This year the black tie gala is honoring James Franco and it will be held at the Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday, June 14th. To learn more, go to: www.amfar.org
Richard Chai, Lady Fag, James Gardner, Michelle Harper, and Tim Goossens.
James Gardner and Michelle Harper. Chris Salgardo and Cheyenne Jackson. Thom Browne.
Cheyenne Jackson, Kenneth Cole, and Christophe Manet.
Josh Wood and Robert Geller. Robert Geller and Richard Chai.
Jared Levan and Lance Lin.
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