Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sunny days ending in clouds

Different shade of stoop on the Upper West Side.
Sunny days ending in clouds, misting night with rain promised before the warmer Spring temperatures come in.

High minds; deep pockets. We are approaching the height of the Spring Social Season in New York. All kinds of galas, cocktail perceptions, openings. Yesterday there were two very special events on the busy calendar.

At noontime at The New York Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, in the Celeste Bartos Forum, they held the annual Spring Luncheon. That meant “readings” by authors.

This year’s luncheon was titled “A Funny Thing Happened at the Library.” Co-chairs were Joan Hardy Clark, Heather Mnuchin, Liz Peek and Calvin Trillin. David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker was host, and the featured readers were Jenny Allen, Andy Borowitz, Ian Frazier, Fran Lebowitz and Calvin Trillin. Noah Baumbach who wrote The Squid and the Whale was scheduled to appear also but couldn’t at the last minute.

Luncheon table settings.
This is basically a Ladies Luncheon but anyone who has loves books, writers, and libraries, would love this luncheon. The Celeste Bartos Forum is where many of the Library’s speaking events occur. It is on the ground floor and is large enough to hold several hundred in auditorium style or at table. Yesterday’s guests numbered about 450 and they made it possible for the Library to raise $383,300 for the Library to buy books.

Luncheon fare, catered by Hudson Yards Catering, was: Grilled Zucchini Roulade (Goat cheese, Basil, Aged Balsamic and Red Pepper Confit), Roasted Halibut with Truffled Brussel Sprouts, Artichoke, Parsnip Puree, Chianti Jus, and topped off with Chocolate Madeleines, Salted Caramel Ice Cream. Kathy Rayner arranged for the very amusing (and beautiful décor with table arrangements/flowers by Susan Miller Smith).

The Library’s president Paul LeClerc opened the afternoon with a brief speech about the Library and its significance in the community which is enormous and yet unheralded in the day to day. For example, in the last survey that was taken (2006), 38.4 million people visited the New York Public Library in all five boroughs versus 36.9 million who visited all the sports and cultural institutions. 60% of its users are people from the middle to lower-middle income levels. Many have very little access to bookstores. There is only ONE bookstore in the entire Bronx (a Barnes and Noble). Another 25 million visit the NYPL website annually. And all of it is FREE, thanks in many ways to people like the guests who attended yesterday’s luncheons. The Library is often where greatness begins and hope springs eternal.

These numbers are especially resonant and heartening to those of us who love books, covet books, feel we cannot live without books and would be nowhere without access to them. My only problem with books is that there are not enough hours or free moments during the day to read.

After Mr. LeClerc’s little talk, he introduced David Remnick. Mr. Remnick told us about the first time Paul LeClerc called and asked if he could visit him at his office. It so happened that many years before, Mr. Remnick had taken a book from the library and never got around to returning it. Aha! (Ever hear of such a thing, all you library-goers out there?)

So when he got the call, the editor naturally was slightly overcome with fear and anxiety that the President of the Library (i.e., the book police) was going to confront him about this  little (large) issue. Fortunately, the briefly unwitting Mr. LeClerc was only interested in securing the editor to serve on the library’s board. Whew.

Remnick introduced the panel of “readers” and Ms. Allen started first. I was familiar only with Mr. Borowitz (who is a riot), Ms. Lebowitz who is a wise wit, and Mr. Trillin who is a droll and clever one. Ms. Allen read a piece she’d written about the difficulties of women of a certain age (about fifty) waking up in the middle of the night. Funny? Hysterical. We were practically rolling in the aisles.

Then came Borowitz who read a piece about Double Legacies NOT getting into Harvard. Again; rollicking, laugh a minute. Then Mr. Frazier, the descendent of Protestant ministers (the brimtone guys) read a piece directed toward (his/a father’s) small children and the increasingly exasperated parent’s rules of the house and the dining room table. Again, a laugh riot.

Ms. Lebowitz and Mr. Trillin allowed us to regain our composure somewhat with their wry and witty humor about everyday life and the foibles and pitfalls of metropolitan civilization. By the end, the luncheon guests were  just about done in by their own laughter. It felt almost like we’d eaten too much of that caramel/chocolate madelaine — all pleasure and full-up.

Among the guests: Cetie Ames, David Beer, Bill Bernard and Catherine Cahill, Joan Bingham, Susan Braddock, Susan Cullman, Fred Doner, Susan Fales Hill, Christy Ferer, Wendy Gimbel, Kitty Hawks, Nina Griscom, Stephanie Guest, Patti Kenner, Caroline Milbank, Lyn Chase, Connie Chung Povich, Joan Hardy Clark, Bob Colacello, Virginia Coleman, Heather Mnuchin, Enid Nemy, Sue Newhouse, Guy Robinson and Libba Stribling, Fiona Rudin, Christine Schwarzman, Barbaralee Diamonstein Spielvogel, Daisy Soros, Hannah Pakula, Billy and Kathy Rayner, Gayfryd Steinberg, Merryl Tisch, Alice Tisch, Helen Tucker, Lauren Veronis, Kari Tiedemann, Suzanne McDonough, Sue Ann Weinberg, Linda Yablonsky, Caroline Zinsser, Judith Ginsberg, Jeanne Lawrence, Ann LeConey, Joan Lewisohn, Jay Cantor, Lynn Goldberg, Donna and Robin MacNeil, and Catie Marron.
More library luncheon table settings.
Then last night at Cipriani 42nd Street, the American Academy in Rome held its annual Awards Dinner, with a very special evening chaired by Mr. and Mrs. Oscar de la Renta. Adele Chatfield-Taylor, President of the American Academy, was host. Her husband playwright John Guare was Master of Ceremonies.

The American Academy dinner is without doubt one of the most glittering cultural dinners of the Season in New York. A reporter called me yesterday to ask me who represented the top of the list socially in New York today. That is a difficult, even complicated, albeit amorphous question to give a solid form to but the guestlist at Cipriani last night certainly provided some definition. It is a matter of consensus that is so private as to be almost invisible. Some of that consensus is revealed in the support for the American Academy in Rome.

Established in 1894, the American Academy in Rome is one of the leading overseas centers for independent study and advanced research in the arts and the humanities. Each year it awards the Rome Prize to 30 outstanding artists and scholars, providing them a place to live and work, a stipend, and, most importantly, access to Rome.

Notable features of the Academy are its first-class research library of 128,000 volumes and its photographic archive. The Academy is a founding member of URBS (Union of Scholarly Libraries in Rome), an association of sixteen libraries, including the Vatican Library. The primary goal of URBS has been the creation of an online union catalogue of the library holdings of its members, which now exceeds 900,000 records.
The American Academy of Rome dinner last night at Cipriani 42nd Street. The Academy's building is on the screen.
There are also several artists and scholars who are more senior in their fields, who are invited to become Residents of the Academy. Rome Prize Fellows, Residents, Affiliated Fellows and Visiting Artists and Scholars make up a community of approximately 125 individuals encompassing the disciplines of architecture, design arts, historic preservation and conservation, landscape architecture, literature, musical composition, and visual arts, as well as ancient studies, medieval studies, Renaissance and early modern studies, and modern Italian studies.

Its founders included Charles McKim, William K. Vanderbilt, Henry Clay Frick, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Andrew Carnegie. Its main building – opened in 1914 -- was designed by McKim, Mead and White. Its Villa Aurelia, formerly a country estate built for Cardinal Girolamo Farnese in 1650 served as Guiuseppe Garibaldi’s head quarters during the French Siege of Rome in 1849. Years later it was purchased by the Philadelphia heiress Clara Jessup Heyland who bequeathed to the Academy in 1909.

In 1991, Mercedes and Sid Bass became involved in the Academy and through their auspices – and Mrs. Bass’ vivid interest – they have restored that villa and made many other contributions to refurbishing and beautifying the property as well as its facilities. The American Academy has become of central interest to the Basses’ philanthropy as well as inspiring Mrs. Bass to expand her intellectual and cultural philanthropy. Indeed, from the sound of things last night, it would seem that the Academy and Mrs. Bass have both been deeply enhanced by the partnership.

Robert Silvers, co-founder of the New York Review of Books, presented the Centennial Medal to John Richardson, scholar, wit, art historian and author of the seminal biography of Pablo Picasso (in three volumes). In his acceptance Mr. Richardson thanked Mrs. Bass for devotion to his project which she encouraged in a number of way including raising funds to assist him in his research. It was that factor that was decisive in his completing the awesome task so far.

John Guare, Adele Chatfield-Taylor, Mercedes Bass, and David Childs, chairman of the AAR
His Excellency Giovanni Castellaneta the Italian Ambassador to the United States presented Ronald P. Spogli, the U.S. Ambassador to Italy.

And a new, special Award for Excellence was created for Mercedes Bass for her far-ranging generosity and devotion to the AAR, presented by David Childs, Chairman of the American Academy.

In her acceptance, Mrs. Bass graciously thanked many members of the staff and organization for their encouragement and assistance, and expressed her excitement and enthusiasm for what she has seen, learned and gleaned from her involvement with the Academy.

Afterwards Adele Chatfield-Taylor reported that a magnolia tree had been planted in Mrs. Bass’ honor on the grounds of the Academy, pointing out that the magnolia which has been around lending its beauty on the planet for at least 80 million years, was chosen to symbolize the permanence of Mrs. Bass’ contribution to the American Academy.

Honorary Chairmen were: Dr. and Mrs. Henry Kissinger, Lord Rothschild, Mr. and Mrs. Sonny Mehta, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman  and H.E. Ambassador and Mrs. Antonio Puri Purini.

Guests included HRH Princess Firyal of Jordon, Francine du Plessix-Gray, Gil Shiva, Charlie Rose, Agnes Gund, The Honorable Mario d’Urso, Alexis Gregory, Duane Hampton, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, David and Shelley Mortimer, Linda Wachner, Shirley Lord Rosenthal, The Honorable  Kimba Wood and Frank Richardson, Jayne Wrightsman, Alexandra and Philip Howard, Duane Hampton, Edward Lee Cave, Joy and Jonathan Ingham, Lauren and John Veronis, Aileen Mehle, Robert Hughes, Sam Waterston, Barbara Walters, Joel Klein and Nicole Seligman, Richard Meier, Virginia Coleman, Academy Trustees  Thom Mayne,  Susan Nitze, Fred Wilson, Richard Meier, RAAR’74, (Fellows of the American Academy), Robert Beaser, FAAR’78,  Wendy Evens Joseph, Paul LeClerc  and Michael Graves, FAAR'62, RAAR'78.  Also in attendance were ,amu AcademyFellows and Residents such as Francine Prose, RAAR’06, Lukas Foss FAAR'52, RAAR'78, Paul Moravec, FAAR’85, and Carrie Mae Weems, FAAR’06.
Mercedes Bass solo; with Sid and Jayne Wrightsman; on stage accepting her award.
Princess Firyal of Jordan, Gil Shiva, Lyn Nesbit, Joel Klein, and Nicole Seligman
Duane Hampton and Edward Lee Cave
Francine Prose and Barbara Goldsmith
Kim McCarty and Miriam Wosk
Linda Wachner and Kenny Lane
Robert Hughes and David Mortimer
Alexis Gregory, Pat Patterson, and John Richardson
Catie Marron and Shirley Lord Rosenthal
Bunny Williams
Bruce Levingston and Martin Klein
Jamie and Lee Niven
Richard Meier, James Reginato, and Nicholas Berggruen
Special to the New York Social Diary, by Margo Howard

The Carnegie Hall farewell to Norman was 2 1/2 hours -- lotsa talking, video, and two wonderful musical pieces. It really did seem like everybody and their dog was given a speaking part, but most of it was captivating. ALL the children spoke (that would be nine people) and they were surprisingly touching or funny. Stephen Mailer, who I was told is an actor, said he was going to "channel" Norman; then he promptly fell down on the floor and got up and did a great Norman imitation -- with beaucoup de profanity. The daughter named Katy was hilarious. The kid really is a stitch. I cannot imagine having all those loose siblings, but many of them said that Norman saw to it, for one month every summer, that they were all together, and so they felt like sibs. The old boy was smart because he decreed "no friends," so it really was just his kids. One wished there had been a chart of which one belonged to which mother.

Norman Mailer at the 2006 Living Landmarks gala.
Tina Brown and Joan Didion also spoke. Charlie Rose emceed. William Kennedy was terrific, as were Lawrence Schiller and Sean Penn. Penn was funny. He said he and Norman talked about what he might say, and Norman said to write it on a Blackberry, and when it said "full field" you would know you were done and it would be brief." So he did, and read it from the berry.

Loni Ali was quite moving talking about a Norris and Norman’s visit to her and Mohammed in Michigan. The other speakers were Don DeLillo, J. Michael Lennon, David Ebershoff (Norman's last editor, quite young), Neil Abercrombie, Ivan Fisher, and Gina Centrello (don't forget, this was Random House's party.)

The music was marvelous. A trombonist named Peter McEachern played "Requiem for a Boxer," and Sasha Lazard (Mrs. Michael Mailer) sang, gorgeously, something that sounded like opera, then swung into an English song called "Romance." She was accompanied by piano and cello.

There were wonderful videos -- one of Norman talking about the world and writing from various stages of his life, and the one that knocked me out was one with Norris singing "You'll Come Back (You Always Do)" with pictures of her and Norman over the years. It was so good to see her in all her gorjus glory. She made it, but only stood to wave when Charlie Rose introduced her. There were many references to her in people's remarks.

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