Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Misty New York Night in December

Foggy scene on Charles Street. 9:15 PM. Photo: JH.
I went to have lunch today with some journalists from Bloomberg, if you didn’t know, is the financial (and other) information company that was started a couple of decades ago by the current mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. Today it has thousands of employees all over the world and is one of the largest media companies on the planet.

Subscribers to its online business services pay $1700 a month per password. In the early 1990s, I was told, the company, already very successful, had less than 1000 annual subscribers; today they number more than 200,000 and are signing on in big numbers every week. The service now provides all kinds of general information besides its famous business data, including news on arts and culture. They publish in several languages as well as delivering news by radio and television also in several languages.

They are efficient over at Bloomberg ... well, most of the time: from Columbia to Columna. Well, close.
The company headquarters are now located in the Bloomberg building in the new Beacon Court (where Le Cirque resides along with a luxury condominium tower).

Perhaps it is because I am a New Yorker and am used to the presence of Michael Bloomberg in my life peripherally and politically, but ... it is impossible visit the company which bears his name (and which is now run by a team of executives separated from him) and not think of the man, the personality. He is not a charismatic figure as a public personality. That matter-of-factness can be far from charismatic. He is regarded as a manager – not a charismatic title.

However, back at the building: The interior is just as alluring and intriguing as the exterior. A lot of security to get in. This kind of thing is an immediate turn-off to me. I can “understand” the “need” for security but I don’t like the implications. I thought of turning around and leaving but my curiosity got the better of me; so I went through the process for entry.

One goes to a main desk manned by several men and women (very pleasant, very polite) who take your name, refer to the Bloomberg employee you are meeting. Then your picture is taken (you stand back from the check-in counter and look at what at first looks like a decorative  black glass strip on the wall behind the entrance attendant) and instantly printed out on an identification card with your name, your host’s name, and your business’ name. There is a lot of staff to assist and guide you to the proper elevator (and to see that you are wearing your identification).

I was directed to the sixth floor which has a reception gallery with a large soda fountain-like snack area. It’s eilliptical overlooking the courtyard. It’s beautiful to be in; there is something quietly exhilarating about it, sleek and efficient and light as day. On one wall behind is a long digital screen carrying the latest quotations, the latest news, the weather in various cities of the world (where Bloomberg no doubt has offices), the time in all the time zones on the planet and more news and market quotes. A lot of natural light provided by the almost entirely glass walls.

It is a very accommodating atmosphere, design-wise, imbued with a sense of order, organization and efficient management. It’s as if everything’s been thought of to make the workplace convenient, comfortable and productive. Indeed, watching the people walking about reflected that productivity: you can feel the mission to produce in the air.

This is what Michael Bloomberg wrought: an extremely efficient, state-of-the-art workplace being used by extremely efficient industrious workers. All amazing and an admirable accomplishment. But. I still had my reservations. I had the feeling that for all its efficiency and state-of the-art, I was in an Orwellian dwelling, a place for Kafka-esque dreams: the watchers are watching. I’m suspicious of watchers, no matter who they are. We are spies and we are fools. Of course I could just as easily be suspicious of the watched: the human condition is the human condition. I thought of a friend of mine who regards Mayor Bloomberg’s no smoking policies as well as his official policies on nutrition as loathsome, offensive and an infringement on a person’s rights to privacy. He would have hated this beautifully designed and executed place because it does speak of an almost compulsively thorough organization and control.

Bloomberg building in Beacon Court.
My host gave me a brief tour of the place, starting with the computer screens that are set up on a counter in the reception area so that visitors can actually see what the subscribers are paying for. From there we had a look at the television studios where news was being broadcast, and then past some audio stations where more news was being delivered. It’s a busy beehive of activity. Let me say this: it is awesome. You’re with a winner here.

Like everything else about the company’s headquarters, the information services that Bloomberg provides are without peer in the media business. Everything is the top, and you feel it. You’re reminded of that crusty old Dow-Jones which Mr. Bloomberg had the temerity and vision to take on when he went into business. Will Rupert Murdoch be able to revive it and compete with The Competition? Maybe, but when you’re in the Bloomberg stratosphere, you kinda think it won’t be easy.

Last night I went back to the tower at Beacon Court which has private residences (“luxury condominiums”) from the 30 to the 55th floors where Diana Quasha was having a holiday cocktail party in her new sky-high apartment. Mrs. Quasha used to live in one of the great traditional Candela buildings up on Park Avenue. Now she is living in the sky where when she wakes up in the morning she looks out over Manhattan, Central Park, across the Hudson and up to the George Washington Bridge and the Jersey Palisades. She is impressed. You would be too.

The apartment has floor to ceiling windows with extraordinary views to the south and east as well. Although last night the temperature was rising and there was a light fog over much of Manhattan so the views covered in nature’s gossamer.

There were about forty or fifty guests. I talked briefly with the two Bartle Bulls. Father and son literary act. Really. The elder has written several books such as “The White Rhino Hotel,” “A Café on the Nile,” “The Devil’s Oasis,” “Shanghai Station,” and most recently, “China Star.” The son, also Bartle (but not Junior or a numeral – each has a different middle name), took himself to Iraq without credentials or experience as a journalist and came back with a brilliant piece written for Prospect, the British magazine, called “The Coming of Shia Iraq.” This year he published “Paradise Lost: In Search of Civilization in the Fertile Crescent” (Grove/Atlantic). They are explorer writers, maybe the 21st century version of the Dumas pere et fils?
Beacon Court all lit up
Diana Quasha
The two Bartle Bulls, son and father
You can see DPC digital photographing his emptied champagne glass on the table in the entry foyer
Also last night, downtown at the Stephan Weiss Studio, ACRIA held its 18th Annual Holiday Dinner hosted by Ross Bleckner, Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera, Donna Karan, Charla Lawhon, and Martha Nelson. Acria stands for AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. It is an independent, non-for-profit community based AIDS research center that studies new treatments for HIV-related diseases and provides health literacy and treatment education. Since its founding ACRIA has helped to make several news AIDS drugs available to people living with AIDS around the world.

This is a very cool event. The last few years it’s been held in the venue which was the workplace of the late Stephan Weiss, the adored husband of Donna Karan. Ms. Karan has maintained the studio on the corner of Greenwich and Charles Streets, and uses it for special events such as this. This event, because it was started by Ross Bleckner and other members of the artist and creative community, always has amazing and sometimes fantastic décor. It is basically a cocktai and dinner among a large network of friends and acquaintances.
The Dinner Scene at the ACRIA Benefit at the Stephan Weiss Studio.
Last night they honored Bob Colacello who has been on the ACRIA board for the past 12 years. Reinaldo Herrera and Ross Bleckner both read amusing and affectionate speeches about the honoree who was seated next to Carolina Herrera.

Among the guests: Jay Johnson and Tom Cashin, Virginia Coleman, Richard Weissman, Sandy Gallin, Suzanne and Bob Cochran, Brice and Helen Marden, Martin Saar (who painted the honoree), Robert Burke, Avril Lavigne, David and Sybil Yurman, Bernadette Peters, Jon Gilman, Hal Rubenstein, Francisco Costa, Barry and Sheryl Schwartz, Tiffany Dubin, Candy Pratts Price, Stefani Greenfield, Elie and Rory Tahari, Peggy Siegal, David Salle, Adam Lippes,  JulieMacklowe, S tan Herman, Paul Beirne, Jonathan and Jennifer Soros, Vincent and Shelly Fremont, Agnes Gund, Donald Baechler and Kevin Baker, Nicole Miller, Cyndi Lauper, Andre Balazs, Christian Leone.

The evening was sponsored by In Style  Magazine; Donna Karan’s new philanthropic design venture, Urban Zen (a shop next to the studio), and John Hardy. After dinner singer Vanessa Carlton performed.
Reinaldo and Carolina Herrera
Ross Bleckner and Gabby Karan de Felice
Virginia Coleman and Richard Weisman
Debbie Bancroft, Nicole Miller, and Jackie Astier
The crowd milling about during cocktail hour
Olivia Chantecaille and friend
Vincent Fremont, Carolina Herrera, and Bob Colacello
Martin Saar's portrait of Bob Colacello
Peggy Siegal and Brice Marden
Vanessa Carlton
Christian Leone and Seema Mehta
Robert Burke and Julie Macklowe
Gillian Hearst Simonds and Christian Simonds
Antony Todd and Tiffany Dubin
Tom and Suzanne Cochran
David Kleinberg and Peter Richter

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