Monday, March 9, 2009

A weekend of Spring-like weather

Looking south along the East River towards the Queensboro Bridge. 4:10PM. Photo: JH.
March 9, 2009. A weekend of Spring-like weather in New York beginning on Saturday morning. I went out on my terrace to see the street and everyone coming and going to the park were without coats and many in short sleeves and shorts. Warm in the 60s; beautiful days.

On Saturday night we turned the clocks ahead
and so last night it was still light at 7, with Spring less than two weeks away.

Walking along the river with the dogs on early Saturday night after dark, watching the East River’s tide flooding in, massive and powerful dark and choppy currents, with the golden light of the moon dancing on its waves. It was beautiful but the cool air coming in with the night reminded of the cold and metallic; and how much I was looking forward to the new season. This has been another mainly snowless winter, not beautiful. And the changes occurring in the economies of the world have begun to penetrate everyone’s craw to different degrees. Springtime is nature’s hope (“the promised kiss of Springtime,” Mr. Hammerstein wrote, touching hearts and soothing nerves).

Daniel Boulud and Sirio Maccioni.
Last night when it was still light out I went down to Restaurant Daniel on Park Avenue and 65th Street where Citymeals on Wheels was being hosted at a fund-raising dinner by chef Daniel Boulud. This is the eleventh year that chef Boulud has hosted this dinner. It’s always on a Sunday night with cocktails beginning at 5:30, dinner at 6. This year’s dinner was titled “Black Truffles, Blue Jeans, Burgundy & Blues; A Casual Sunday Supper with Daniel.” So guess what everyone wore. And ate. And drank. And listened to…?

It was a casual Sunday supper even though Daniel is one of the great gourmet restaurants of New York. However it was the restaurant boys night out too. Sirio Maccioni was the Guest of Honor.

It was in this same building where Restaurant Daniel exists today that the first Le Cirque was open and filled with the clamoring glamour girls of the Nouvelle Society. It was in that restaurant that Daniel Boulud worked for Mr. Maccioni.

That fact led to some ribbing aux restaurateurs last night. Daniel Boulud read his tribute to Sirio:

Top Ten Reasons to love Sirio Maccioni, boss, mentor, friend, inspiration.
• Because he’s NOT French.
• Because he learned the restaurant business from the French.
• Because he has John Wayne looks and Marcello Mastroianni style.
• Because he’s kissed the hand of every princess on the Upper East Side.
• Because he has three incredible sons but still won’t give up.
• Because he invented Pasta Primavera – the only dish at Le Cirque the chefs were forbidden to touch.
• Because he swears at you in Italian and kisses your ass in English.
• Because his favorite food is Eggi’s gnocchi.
• Because he is America’s greatest restaurant business hero.
• Because without Sirio Maccioni, I might have ended up a short order cook.
There were about 150 guests at tables throughout the dining room and laughter everywhere. The guest chefs last night were Michel Troisgros of Maison Troisgros, Roanne and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park here in New York. Wine Chair was Daniel Johnnes. Gourmands were Joseph M. Cohen and Scott Kasen. Live Blues Music was by Chris Bergson Band and James Ritchie of Sotheby’s was auctioneer for the spirited live auction which raised more than $100,000 of the almost half million that Citymeals has raised over this past weekend in New York.

The meal was exquisite. This was one of those lucky New Yorker moments when everyone in the room was having a Sunday Supper Extraordinaire in a fancy yet comfy down home atmosphere. It felt like a Sunday night and everyone was rested from the weekend and happy to be there. And happy to be helping this extraordinary organization that prepares and delivers weekend, holiday and emergency meals to the homebound elderly throughout the boroughs of New York City. Last year Citymeals underwrote the preparation and delivery of 2.2 million meals to 18,000 aged New Yorkers.
Clockwise from above: Daniel Boulud and Sirio Maccioni; Barabaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and friend; Mauro and Sirio Maccioni; Chris Beale and Marcia Stein of Citymeals.
Sirio Maccioni and Gael Greene (and her brooch).
Last night Her Eminence, the great Gael Greene who co-founded this organization with her friend Jim Beard, was there. Ms. Greene who has lived, loved, laughed and been happy and eating like an empress for the better part of the last few decades, was seated next to her compatriot Sirio. I asked if I could take a picture of them and at first Ms. Green said “no” because she hadn’t worn a hat and she never allowed herself to be photographed without a hat. That was how she visits restaurants as a critic so that she is harder to “discern.”

I took a picture of the back of her head, as you can see, as she and Sirio discussed the menu. Then I took a picture of her brooch, another Gael Greene touch.

My description of Gael Greene is not as wise-guy as it sounds. This is a woman who has fully taken advantage of metropolitan life and has drunk the waters and tasted the wines, as they say, and returned the favor a thousandfold with her creative and generous heart. All that and the kid still likes a good meal and a movie on a Saturday night on the West Side of Manhattan.
When I was leaving Daniel at the end of the evening, crossing Park Avenue I notice some unusual parkers in front of number 625, in what turned out to be a three-car collsion that began somewhere in the neighborhood of the island in the middle of the avenue and ended under the crumpled canopy of 625, home to among others Henry and Marie-Josee Kravis ...
At eleven-thirty yesterday (Sunday) morning I was in the kitchen and had the terrace door off my living room open wide. It was that warm out, and what seemed like a luxury, “fresh” air was wafting in. Suddenly there were a lot of sirens in the area and they were all coming to a stop right in front of my building. Three ambulances, four squad cars, two fire trucks almost filling up the block. There were a lot of people standing around in front of the building and in the blocks across the street – unusual for this time on this day. People looking.

From my terrace I could see firemen, policemen and medical attendants entering the building. My imagination covers the waterfront of guesses. Tales of the Naked City. I told myself that it was probably a neighbor suddenly fallen sick. Most of these men and women would be getting back into their trucks and departing in a matter of minutes, five maybe ten.

Nevertheless when you live in a neighborhood, even with a few thousand people, and this kind of activity is going on right under your nose, it’s like watching a car wreck where it’s all over. You gape. And you wonder grimly, according to your mental state.

I went back to the kitchen. I went back to the terrace. Back to the kitchen. Back to the terrace. Repeat. Then there was activity. They were wheeling out a person on a gurney. A large person strapped in, flesh exposed (white) from chest to belly, oxygen mask on face, what looked like IV elsewhere. I couldn’t detect the age or the gender because the person was otherwise covered. An older person.

Living in a building with a couple hundred others, quite a few of whom have lived here most of their adult years and are now over sixty, seventy and even eighty, one gets used to seeing the occasional appearance of the paramedics accompanied by the cops and firemen. This is an example of the finest when these departments are at work together. Heroics are often performed as a matter of course. And expertise. They are the town heroes. And heroines.

Yesterday’s episode, however, was not as I had imagined. And it turned out, I learned within the hour, that the man they were there for was someone I knew, not well but for many years, and with whom I shared mutual friends and acquaintances. His name was Dan Hirsch. He was a man in his late sixties or so, glasses, graying brownish hair, probably no more than 70. His manner as neighbor, friend of friend, was friendly, cordial, soft-spoken but deliberative. Occasionally I’d run into him at an event, maybe Lincoln Center, or Michael’s, and we’d have the occasional chat during an intermission or before the dinner or the lunch. He was a friendly guy, although not self-advertising in anyway. To these eyes he had the demeanor of an old time successful banker. Or a big time white shoe lawyer in a Manhattan firm. A mutual (woman) friend of his and mine described him as kind and gentle. He had that about him. He was very easy to talk to and inquiring in a way that reflected genuine curiosity.

Eventually I learned that he had been a lawyer with a solid and prosperous career. I didn’t know exactly what his business had been in the last few years because he seemed to come and go during business hours. Occasionally I’d see him along Madison Avenue in the afternoon having a conversational stroll with Saul Steinberg, a old close friend of his and someone with whom he shared many friends and acquaintances. He had been married, had two grown children, a recent grandchild which delighted him hugely, only a few weeks ago. He was a tall man, big framed. He had a large but kind of loping, almost sauntering gait of an athlete when he walked. It came with a slight stoop to his carriage, as it frequently is for men who are very tall, often leaning down, leaning in to hear or even to relate to everyone else.
He had had a couple of steady girlfriends in the years I’d seen him (we shared the same elevator, which is when we most often ran into each other). They were always very attractive, gracious, friendly women a decade or two his junior. That is how I knew him.

I passed him on the sidewalk late on Saturday afternoon when I was walking to the market and he was walking north toward our building. His appearance struck me as quiet, as if he were thinking. We spotted each other and instinctively both waved as we passed by each other without a word. I could relate.

He jumped yesterday morning from his eleventh story apartment window onto the second or third story annex to the back of our apartment building. A neighbor in 7 Gracie Square around the corner had heard a scream and then a thud. He looked out and saw the body. He called 911. He told me later that there were 20 people present at the scene within minutes. Dan Hirsch had departed this world.

I didn’t know him well enough to know what would motivate this. There may be no one who knew him well enough to know; such is the riddle of the psyche. I was told that he had suffered great financial reversals in these markets and lost a good portion if not all of his assets. Was that enough of a motivation? We don’t know these things about someone else. He was deeply depressed although not the kind of man who might seem depressed to a casual acquaintance since he had a naturally serious demeanor. He left no note and there are many deeply saddened and mourning his loss from their lives. He lived for years in a roomy apartment that had both east and west exposures (versus many apartments (smaller with only one or the other). He chose a quiet day. He avoided the public walk and endangering anyone else, or drawing attention to his personal choice. Which was his final judgment.
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