Monday, September 22, 2008

Goodbye to the old

The new Yankee Stadium. 11:00 PM. Photo: JH.
9/22. A beautiful first day of Autumn weekend in New York with temperatures in the low 60s and the sun shining.

Leaders from around the world began gathering in New York for this week’s 63rd annual plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly. Many heads of state will take turns this week addressing the General Assembly beginning tomorrow, Tuesday. The list of participants include President Bush, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There is a major rally opposing Mr. Ahmadinejad’s policies this morning.

Not all is rancor though: Sunday lunchtime Nicholas Sarkozy, the President of France (duh) and his pretty sexy Missus, Carla Bruni, lunched al fresco at Amaranth on 62nd Street between Fifth and Madison with nary a tweet from any of the local birdies.

Although it is very exciting to have so many leaders, diplomats and foreign ministers visiting New York for this momentous occasion, for New Yorkers it means one thing above all others: GRIDLOCK. It means “good luck” trying to get anywhere all over town.

In the name of “Security” for the visiting dignitaries, as well as the President of the United States, they close off blocks and blocks and avenues and avenues and streets and streets all over the East Side of Manhattan so that these guests can travel quickly and efficiently and the “people” can be kept at bay so as not to bother, upset or threaten. Irony rules and the question remains: when will these men and women create a safer world for the rest of us? Answer so far: Who’s kidding whom?

Shirley Lord Rosenthal, Minister of Greek Foreign Affairs Dora Bakoyannis, and Kostas Baykoyannis
Last night Shirley Lord Rosenthal hosted a dinner at her East Side apartment for Dora Bakoyannis, the Foreign Minister of Greece. Mrs. Bakoyannis is the former Mayor of Athens and is credited for bringing the Olympics to that city. She is the only woman ever elected mayor of Athens, and also the first woman to serve as Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs, the highest government position ever held by a female Greek politician.

Mrs. Bakoyannis is a member of a Greek political family dynasty. Her father, Constantine Mitsotakis was once Prime Minister. Her first husband Pavlos Bakoyannis was a journalist and member of Parliament, elected in June 1989 to his seat. The following September 26th, Mr. Bakoyannis was assassinated by members of the Revolutionary Organization November 17 as he entered his office building. That November Mrs. Bakoyannis successfully contested for her late husband’s seat and was re-elected. Many believe that she will one day become the first woman Prime Minister of Greece.

Now married to Greek businessman Isidoros Kouvelos since 1998, she attended last night’s dinner with her son Kostas Bakoyannis, who works in politics in Athens but did his undergraduate and graduate studies at Brown and at Harvard.

Among the guests last night were Gay and Nan Talese, Sid and Mercedes Bass, Michael Oreskes, former editor of the International Herald Tribune and his wife, Los Angeles Times columnist Geraldine Baum, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, also a Times reporter Sheryl WuDunn; former Times editor Jim Greenfield and his wife Enna; Barbara Walters, Betsy Gotbaum, Public Advocate for the City of New York, Antonia and Spiros Milonas, David Margolick and author Nicholas Gage. Mrs. Rosenthal is the wife of the late Times editor Abe Rosenthal if you’re wondering about the Times connection.

Conversation at table centered mainly around politics -- surprise, surprise -- and especially the upcoming Presidential Election. Opinions favored both sides of the political party aisle, depending.

There was – within my earshot anyway – some discussion of the ongoing crisis in the financial markets although it is surprising to me how very few very intelligent people understand what is going on and what is going down. The consensus seems to be based on whatever was last read either in the Times or WSJ, or what was last heard on television network news.

Jim and Enna Greenfield
All of the aforementioned media have been way behind in articulating the complexities of these matters. From what I have gathered at dinners such as these, it is because most journalists tend to adhere to the statements from officialdom about matters economic. However, if you go back and run through those statements of the past fourteen months, you will see that they are neither accurate nor reliable, to put it mildly.

This writer has recently had a number of inquiries from journalists looking for stories about the “effect” of the present financial meltdown on the social players here in New York. Geraldine Baum wrote a column in yesterday’s L.A. Times about the matter (including a brief anecdote from me about champagne spilling all over Muffie Potter Aston’s new Oscar de la Renta dress at last week’s New Yorkers For Children Gala Benefit). Most stories in print these days have had flavor.

The stories of takedowns, fall downs and financial disasters, however are just beginning to surface. Many wlll probably not become public except to close friends and family members. However, the horror stories have begun. I learned a couple of days ago of a woman active in social and philanthropic circles whose family trust lost more than $80 million when Lehman collapsed last week. Ditto something similar in the fall of AIG. These stories are the tip of the iceberg. The local press, however, reported that Lehman’s executives will be protected somewhat (?) by a $2.5 billion fund. Whether this irony is true or not I do not know.

Money Makes the World Go Round. As they say. It also makes for some pretty nasty stories about human relationships and the injustices of greed – which comes in all forms of family.

Yesterday’s New York Times’ Real Estate section included an item, titled “Royal Ruckus” about a 14-room duplex at the Pierre, owned by Warburg Pincus founding partner Lionel Pincus, and recently put on the market (with a $50 million price tag) by Mr. Pincus’ sons Henry and Matthew, acting as his guardians after he was found mentally and physically incompetent about a year ago. This “incompetence” developed about two years ago after Mr. Pincus had cancer surgery.

Princess Firyal of Jordan and Lionel Pincus
The “Ruckus” in the items title refers to a lawsuit filed to block the sale in Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan by Princess Firyal of Jordan. Judge Kristin Booth Glen overruled and cleared the way for the sale despite the protest. Princess Firyal who was married to the brother of the late King Hussein of Jordan, is a well-known figure in international society. She has also been for several years the companion of Lionel Pincus.

In his will, Mr. Pincus promised the apartment to Princess Firyal and, according to the Times by directing his personal trust to provide her with proceeds from the sale after expenses, if it were sold before his death.

In the court papers, the princess claims she was “unfairly portrayed by the sons as an ‘economically motivated interloper.’” And until the sons gained control of their father’s affairs, she also claimed, they were largely “uninvolved” with their father’s health and happiness. In an affidavit, Samuel Butler, a trustee of Mr. Pincus’ trust, “complained” that the maintenance expenses on the apartments at the Pierre (and in Miami where the couple also had an apartment) were “draining resources.”

New Yorkers have read about additional complaints regarding Princess Firyal and her business associations with Mr. Pincus in which she has been accused (falsely I am told) of putting a private investigator on the wife of one of the Pincus sons.

Lionel Pincus had a long and successful career as an international investment banker headquartered here in New York. He was a gentleman, conservative in his conduct and a man of means (his fortune has been estimated at more than $3 billion). Tall, whitehaired, handsome, softspoken although resolute, he was well known in the community and lived a quiet life void of publicity or spotlight.

He had had a long and successful marriage to the woman who was the mother of his children. When she died several years ago he grieved dearly over his loss. When he struck up a relationship with Princess Firyal, a bright, clever and worldly woman of Palestinian origins who is 18 years his junior (62 to 78), it appeared to many of his friends that he’d found a new lease on life.

The princess, who once had a long relationship with Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos, and maintains homes in London and Paris made him very happy. Whether they planned to marry, I do not know, but they spent a great deal of time together traveling, as well as here in New York, and he provided her with an apartment in the Pierre besides the apartment at the center of the lawsuit.
The princess made the man very happy. She has the intellect and worldliness to stimulate and challenge an intelligent and curious man. Until he fell ill, Mr. Pincus spent as much time as possible in her company. He was a wise man, neither extravagant nor foolish in his decisions. Despite his infirmities, the princess continued to take him out to dine with friends, to keep him “in life.”

I saw Lionel Pincus at dinner three weeks ago at Swifty’s. He was accompanied by friends and a caregiver and although he was able to sit at table and eat unassisted, he had to be assisted in leaving the restaurant. When he passed my table I shouted out a greeting to him and he looked by way in acknowledgement although he was unable to speak. I could only think how tragic it is for the man to be removed from his life and have decisions he made in his competence for someone he loved be reversed by others who naturally did not share his sentiments or judgments.

“Economically motivated interloper” is just another term for the same age old problem when it comes down to the will of a rich man or rich woman and all parties involved. Lionel Pincus is/was a man of distinction in his business. He was decent, kind, not insensitive to those around him. In his remaining years he found solace, comfort and amusement in an exotic beauty who attended to him in a way that impressed him deeply.

CLICK here to subscribe to NYSD.