Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another sorta sunny mild almost-winter’s day in New York

A Central Park visitor. 1:35 PM. Photo: JH.
December 17, 2009. Holiday parties. Down at Swifty’s we had a holiday luncheon for our contributors to the New York Social Diary. This is of no particular interest to readers, I know, but it does amaze me and JH that there is a core group who provide interesting edit for the NYSD on a weekly basis.

Present at the luncheon were: Jeanne Lawrence (SF and Shanghai Social Diary), Alex Lebenthal, the chronicler of changing times amongst the Wall Street crowd; Jesse Kornbluth, book review blogger (, social commentator, and our literary Boswell of the world; Hilary Geary Ross who pens the Palm Beach Social Diary during the season; Charlie Scheips, the loquacious and peripatetic curator, art historian and uber-gadfly of the world of the creative arts; Jordana Zizmor, whose reviews and photos of the restaurants around town plus their bill of fare can make your mouth water no matter the time of day; photographer Ann Watt who covers many events for NYSD with her camera; Carol Joynt who records the Washington scene for us, and came up from the nation’s capital on the Acela to join us; Roger Webster who handles a lot of the NYSD public relations and events as well as contributes with his camera and reporting abilities; Wendy Lerman who reports on the New York Shopping Diary; Sian Ballen who has been working with JH and me since Avenue magazine in the late 90s, and Quest in the early Aughts, and who with Lesley Hauge, (also since Avenue) conducts the weekly NYSD HOUSE interviews; Gail Karr who goes out into the world and sells those beautiful advertisements that we see on the NYSD, and Sam Dangremond, a recent college grad and newcomer to New York who is working for New York magazine fulltime and occasionally contributing his reporting services to the NYSD. Missing were Anita Sarko (who was under the weather), Jamee Gregory, who had another lunchdate, Jill Krementz who is committed every Wednesday to volunteering at the Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center; Augustus (Clemmer) Mayhew who writes so many wonderful Palm Beach real estate and history pieces, and Ki Hackney who has been away from the fray for awhile but when she is present is a crackerjack reporting on things fashionable and stylish.
NYSD's contributors at a holiday luncheon at Swifty's.
JH and I started the NYSD in September of 2000. For a long time it was just the two of us – he on the camera and the technological and I at the Diary and whatever. Over time we’ve added, and are still adding to a staff of contributors who enhance the NYSD in so many ways. I know that many regular readers check out the Diary and the Party Pictures and forsake the other diaries and report, for whatever reason. Just so you know: the talent producing them is the best and there is very possibly something you will love learning.

Swifty’s provided us with a menu of choices in the appetizer, main course and dessert departments. For the seventeen of us, the bill came to a little more than $800 plus tip, or $960. That included three courses, drinks, coffees, teas, etc. which works out to a little more than $45 a person for a complete and delicious lunch. The service at Swifty’s is excellent. You feel like the staff cares about you. I report this just in case someone is looking for something like this.
Clockwise from above: French onion soup; Asparagus vinaigrette; Cheese souffle; Twin burgers.
Many of our contributors barely know each other, if at all. Although as New York goes, many of them know of each other from one direction or another because they are all pros in their fields. And so, from the moment they were seated at table, the decibel level of conversation was very high and unrelenting. Sometimes when I’d tap the glass with my knife to get attention, I’d get no attention because they couldn’t hear it through the din.

New Yorkers love to talk. And talk. And talk.

We met at 12:45 and luncheon was over at 3 pm. Nothing was accomplished except everyone getting a look at Who Else and possibly enjoying their conversation.
JH, Jeanne Lawrence, and DPC. DPC holds court.
Lesley Hauge and Sian Ballen. Jordana Zizmor and Wendy Lerman.
Carol Joynt and Roger Webster. Charlie Scheips and Ann Watt.
JH and Alexandra Lebenthal. Gail Karr and Sam Dangremond.
Hilary Geary Ross. Jesse Kornbluth. Stephen Attoe, Swifty's chef who made sure we didn't go home hungry.
There were a couple of weeks or period of days last summer when it seemed as if a large number of well-known people suddenly died. That has happened again, here in New York, on a somewhat smaller scale, in the past couple of weeks. Late last week, the great Thomas Hoving died at age 78 from lung cancer.

Mr. Hoving was an outspoken showman connoisseur. He had the common touch for those things which brought out the king in all of us.

Thomas Hoving.
It could be argued that both the Met and Central Park today are what they are to the people (not necessarily to the curators, art historians, etc., I know) because of Tom Hoving. He was the Piped Piper with the intellect to open our imagination.

I didn’t know him but I ran into him a couple of times and introduced myself so that I could partake of his unique intellectual charm. I last saw him at Georgette Mosbacher’s book party for Michael Gross and his “Rogues Gallery” biography of the Metropolitan Museum. He was tall man, with a bright yet bemused personality. I asked him what he thought of the book. He said he thought Michael had pretty much got it right. I asked him what he thought of his portrait in the book. He said, “Well, I come off like an asshole, but then I am an asshole.” And he laughed. And I laughed. I vote for him.

Businessman Victor Shafferman died at 68 of pancreatic cancer; financial guru and mutual fund manager Christopher Browne died suddenly last Sunday of a heart attack, and Faith Geier died suddenly on Tuesday in her Gracie Square apartment.

All three were very active in New York life, and although none were celebrities, all were very prominent with their hand in many New York organizations and philanthropy.

Victor Shafferman was Swiss born and raised in Canada.
He’s maintained a residence here in New York for many years, and as long as I’ve known him, he has lived at 973 Fifth Avenue, the limestone Stanford White townhouse once owned by Oliver Payne, the under who built the adjacent house (now the French cultural center) for his nephew Payne Whitney and his wife Helen Hay).

Victor Shafferman
Victor was very European in his sensibility, a highly intelligent man who enjoyed conversation especially on levels of economics, politics and history, and who transported himself around town in an extra large maroon and black Rolls Royce limousine with liveried chauffeur.

Although he enjoyed the social life, Victor was unimpressed by celebrity and in no way associated with it. I was never certain of the roots of his obvious great fortune although he was said to be a descendant of the founders of Ciba-Geigy. He was also, at times, a major real estate owner in New York, and in the past several years had been actively involved in the restoration of Carrere and Hastings designed Blairsden, the 38-room Louis XIII style mansion on 50 acres in Peapack-Gladstone, New Jersey built in 1898 by Wall Street banker C. Ledyard Blair.

Victor was a man who liked being somewhat under the radar but connected to the center of things. His Fifth Avenue mansion was filled with priceless 18th century furniture and decorative objects but he rarely entertained. He was a frequent guest at the major charity and cultural events but steered clear of the limelight.

He was for many years, a lone man on the scene although less than a decade ago he met a man somewhat younger than himself with whom he struck up a solid domestic relationship. Philip, that man, survives him.

Christopher Browne, who died suddenly
of a heart attack at age 63 last Sunday night, had some things in common with Victor Shafferman. He too was very active in New York philanthropic life and the financial world. A prominent Wall Street fund manager (Tweedy Browne, founded by his father who was broker for early Warren Buffett and for Wall St/investment guru Benjamin Graham), Chris was the man who was an investor in Hollinger International, the Conrad Black publishing entity that went awry with Lord Black’s management.

Chris Browne
It was Chris who looking at the annual reports first noticed the anomalies of expenditures that favored Lord Black over the stockholders. It was he who brought the matter to bear on Lord Black’s business conduct.

Like Victor Shafferman, I did not know him well, but I saw him from time to time. He was a big supporter of the Nature Conservancy and loved acquiring property and building something beautiful on it. About twelve years ago, he paid what was then a record price for an oceanfront property in East Hampton -- $13 million and allowed the seller to remain in residence for several years thereafter because he, Chris Browne, wasn’t ready to put it to use.

Also like Victor Shafferman, he was a single man of a certain age who, several years ago met a man of a younger age with whom he struck up a solid domestic relationship. In Browne’s life the man was Andrew, an architecture who shared many of Chris Browne’s passions for architecture, landscape and garden design, environment and conservancy. When I ran into Chris a couple of weeks ago at the North Carolinian’s party at Richard Jenrette’s house, I asked him what he and Andrew were doing next. A new project. Some kind of house. I remember most the look of complete enthusiasm, like the kid with the new electric train. I was thinking, knowing him, it will be a work of art.

Faith Geier was a friend and neighbor. I wrote about her husband Phil’s book party last week at the Four Seasons restaurant. I took a picture of Faith. Faith had an interesting intense personality. She had a way of seeming slightly distracted while intensely pursuing her curiosity. That probably doesn’t make sense. She was a very friendly neighbor, always asking questions about what I’d seen or heard or knew about the neighborhood. She loved living on the river.

Faith Geier
A couple of years ago her husband, the advertising magnate, Phil, had a heart transplant. Faith was in a celebratory mood. She talked about this triumph like a kid who’d just experienced a miracle. Just about this time every year, the Geiers had a family tradition of going down to Greenbrier for the holiday. It was more complicated than that, but what I remember most is Faith’s explaining to me how she and her husband and their children and their children’s children had this annual Christmas tradition.

I have no idea what that could be like but I had in my mind the image of three generations of a family together, away from their own homes and celebrating their togetherness. I may be an idealist, but knowing Faith, I know that’s what it was for her, and probably everybody else.

She died suddenly on Tuesday. Her housekeeper found her in the bathroom. It was an aneuryism. She was in perfect health. Or so it seemed. She was my neighbor. Very friendly. Warm. Dashing off to hail a cab. Returning; always inquiring. I shall miss her.

This continues to be holiday cocktail party week.
There seem to be more this year than before. I’ve been remiss in covering many mainly because I’m in constant distraction at this time of the year. When everything in New York is about to come to a week’s respite. You can feel that energy starting to roll into our daily lives. What all these parties mean, however, is that people are making the effort to “get together.” This is a palliative and common sense whenever possible. There’s still merry to be had.
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