Friday, January 25, 2008

Hoping against hope

Stuck in traffic on 84th between Fifth and Madison. 4:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Again, the weatherman says storms coming our way. I’m still out there looking at clouds, hoping it will snow. I think it’s hoping against hope.

Yesterday in New York Sotheby’s had a Great Masters auction. Very successful, very. Titians, Tintorettos, Brueghals. If nothing else you remember them from Art History class. Or maybe not at all except as images that have somehow passed through your consciousness (in an ad, in a book, somewhere ...).

Three, four, five hundred year old works of art. A century ago the great collectors of the New World were paying the premium prices for them. Now the collectors are paying premium prices for sharks in tanks that are deteriorating before our very eyes (and need to be restored). I am one of those who believes that all art is legitimate expression of the Us and the Great Unknown, lest you think I’m passing judgment. I’m not trying to be cute by saying that although I know it sorta sounds it. But all art speaks of its time, its civilization. What is speaking now is for us to figure out. Or, if not, then maybe find out. Or maybe not.

Yesterday at Sotheby’s, the message was: return to quality, safe havens. Art that’s been around for centuries.

Outside the rooms of Sotheby’s, in the rooms where New Yorkers lunch and dine, the conversations these days (aside of the endless blather that fills most of our lives most of the time) are about two things: the Presidential campaign and the Financial Markets. The latter is mainly a mystery, or at least mystifying to most of us. Reading about it you read (or hear) “return to quality,” “safe haven.”

I have always been intrigued and fascinated. Economics is sociological. And there is a Common Sense to it. Or at least Common Sense within the laws of nature. Common Sense is an interesting topic itself because there appears to be a massive paucity of it in this world of ours. Perhaps it was always thus but maybe moreso now compared to others times.

The Gone! Gala
However. Also last night in New York, there was the Karole Armitage The Gone! Gala with a performance at the Joyce followed by a dinner at Splashlight Studios. Ms. Armitage is the dancer/artist. She has a powerful support system in the New York Art World, as well as the Dance. More on that coming later.

And over the Pierre, they held the 3rd annual Opera News Awards. The winners of the 2007 Opera News Awards were American mezzo Stephanie Blythe, Russian mezzo Olga Borodina, American baritone Thomas Hampson, the now legendary American soprano Leontyne Price, and the Principal Conductor and longtime general director of the New York City Opera, Julius Rudel. The presenters were (to Ms. Price) Van Cliburn, (to Ms. Borodina) Joyce DiDonato, (to Julius Rudel) Sherrill Milnes, (to Ms. Blythe) Jack O’Brien, and to Thomas Hampson, the presenter was Deborah Voight.  Was the audience impressed? Can you think of why they wouldn’t be?

Downtown, Uptown; culture, the impassioned, the creative, the talented. And often the fearless. Aha!  I missed both of these events because I was elsewhere but I’ve covered their events in the past and so I know. It’s an amazing cross-section of New Yorkers who passionately and devotedly support both and without condition. Many of these supporters are from the Financial World, and the Corridors of Power.

Snapshots. At lunch today at Michael’s, in the bay were Lynn Sherr, Ellen Futter, Linda Fairstein, Faye Wattleton, Leslie Stahl and a couple of others outside my glimpse. These are all impressive women in the New York scheme of things, maybe even in the world scheme of things. If you don’t know who they are, Google them and plan on spending some time because they are ... impressive. I’ve seen this same group lunch at that table in Michael’s fairly frequently over the past few years. I have no idea what they talk about and would be inclined to think it was very substantive. Although I think it is basically a girl’s lunch. But impressive. New York.

Last night Casey Ribicoff gave a small birthday dinner at “21” for our friend Peter Rogers. The hostess, this writer, Liz Smith, Adolfo, Elizabeth Peabody and Alex Hitz. Casey had placecards made of cookies. Peter is holding his for my camera. After dinner they took our picture. I’m saying “keep your eyes open” because lotsa times people get nervous and don’t. This crowd didn’t get nervous, as you can see.

Peter Roger's birthday cookie at "21"
This kind of crowd talks about New Yorkers and books and you’re likely to hear a snippet or two about some celebrated or very social individual’s personality. Maybe a short story. And funny too because there is always a laugh not far from Peter Rogers; for he doesn’t miss much and has a refined sense of irony (he’s from Hattiesburg, Mississippi if you don’t know what I mean).

Last night they were talking about the campaign. Nothing about the Financials. Nothing. The Campaign though covered the gamut of candidates. Hillary, Obama, McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Edwards, Huckabee. To varying degrees. Hillary got a lot of time because everyone at table has met her or knows a lot of people who have. And she’s one of our Senators. Not everyone at the table would vote for her although there was none of this hate Hillary stuff that you so often encounter. Mrs. Ribicoff is the widow of the late governor and senator from Connecticut Abe Ribicoff. Her political connections on a national level are excellent and she by nature has the gift of friendship. So everyone paid attention when she had something to say. Common Sense is in her possession.

The barroom at “21” can turn people on in a way not dissimilar to Karole Armitage or the Opera News Awards. I first learned about “21” reading references to it in John O’Hara’s novels and short stories. Those same characters are still lunching and dining there as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know all of them but I know their stories are as fascinating as the ones John O’Hara wrote about.

At table last night, Peter Rogers was the Numero Uno mutual friend. The rest of us are friends because of our association with him. He’s a very friendly fellow although he has a curious tendency (and he’s very expressive; tell it like it is) to dislike people first. “Oh I hate him,” I think he said to somebody about me when I first met him a number of years ago. “Geez,” I thought, “I better steer clear.” However, because we had mutual friends, we somehow got to know each other. He’s the curmudgeon with the sunny disposish. You couldn’t find a more generous and loyal friend. I don’t think he actually hates anybody; he doesn’t have it in him. Although that doesn’t mean he doesn’t call a spade a spade. Besides he’s an artist. Fearless.
Peter Rogers, Casey Ribicoff, Alex Hitz, Elizabeth Peabody, Adolfo, DPC, and Liz Smith. I'm telling everybody to "keep your eyes open" and now think I shudda kept my mouth shut.
He had a big career in advertising as a kind of maverick with a big range. He created (and wrote) that ad campaign for Blackgama “What Becomes a Legend Most.” When he got tired of it, he sold up and now lives the life of Reilly. He wrote a lot of famous slogans but that Legend one sticks out. Glamour. Stars. Beauty. Last night he was telling us how after Joan Crawford posed for him, they became good friends, and often came to “21” to dine.

Crawford was the ultimate movie star and loved playing the part. Peter is the best audience you can have if you’re good in your part, and especially if you can make him laugh. One night at “21” just before she entered what was a full dining room of major New York and international characters, she said to Peter, “now I’ll show you how a real star makes an entrance.” She slipped out of her sable, flung it behind her and dragged it into the room behind like a pet panther. The crowd applauded.

All of that political discussion somehow eventually ended up with “Do you remember where you were when JFK was killed?” Everyone at the table remembered except Alex Hitz. He hadn’t yet appeared on the scene.

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