Friday, January 9, 2009

Birthdays of yesteryear

Central Park MistleToe. 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
1/9/09. Yesterday was sunny and mild and not very cold.

Today is the birthday of Richard M. Nixon who was born in Yorba Linda, California in 1913. Mr. Nixon, from the time he was 33 years old and Congressman from California, riled a generation of Americans both loathing and loving, and became one of the most complex figures to dominate American politics of his era. His career ended in disgrace, the results of which are still disputed but pretty clear to anyone with half a brain. In his heart he would have been a great leader but in his head he had stronger conflicts. Some other famous Americans born on this day are: Joan Baez who was born 68 years ago, Gypsy Rose Lee who was born a year after Mr. Nixon, Simone de Beauvoir (1906); Winston Churchill’s mother, the New Yorker, Jennie Jerome (1854); the heiress/artist and collector Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875), Fernando Lamas, father of Lorenzo (from his marriage to Arlene Dahl), Crystal Gale, Susannah York, Dave Matthews, Michiko Kakutani, AJ McLean and Maggie Rizer.

This is the unprettiest time of the year in New York. Leaves are gone, flowers gone, lights from the decorations gone. So it’s drab or grey or harsh and occasionally bright and sunny.

Nevertheless, the town’s around. Judy Price, the founder and former publisher of Avenue magazine, and currently the founder and head of the National Jewelry Institute, gave a luncheon at her Park Avenue apartment for Daisy Soros.
Judy Price's luncheon table set for Daisy Soros, yesterday.
Actually Dior, who has been a sponsor of Mrs. Price’s development of an eventual jewelry museum, was going to give a luncheon for her. But she thought it would be more interesting to do it for Mrs. Soros because Mrs. Soros and her husband Paul have long been big benefactors of many charities and organizations in New York. The Soroses sponsor the “Midsummer Night Swing,” 25 nights of dancing outdoors at Lincoln Center. The town turns out and even if you’re not a dancer you can stand and watch New Yorkers having a ball as the sun goes down over the city. When you see people dancing at the Midsummer Night Swing, you get a glimpse of the best of us.
The luncheon was catered by Daniel Boulud and served by his waiters.

During the first course, a young wearing a black suit and white gloves came out with a leather case of of decorative rings with semi-precious stones. Augustin de Buffevent, Executive VP of Dior in New York, explained that these were the designs of Victoire de Castellane for Dior.
Some of the rings designed by Victoire de Castellane for Dior.
Susan Burke, Augustin de Buffevent, Donna Rosen, Jamee Gregory, Daisy Soros, Judy Price, Annabelle Mariaca, and Pam Baxter.
Mrs. Soros, it just so happened was wearing one, given to her by her husband. I tried to get a shot of her ring. It’s big and yet delicate and sweet. Mr. de Buffevent told us that some of the rings by Mlle. de Castellane are one-of-a-kind.

Not being personally interested in jewelry but more in its artistic and economic significance; and considering the economic temperature that many are taking these days, I was thinking about how the creativity continues because the creative spirit continues.

Daisy Soros who is a very vivacious woman, quick to laugh (and there are a lot of laughs around her), and just as quick to call it as she sees it. She speaks with a thick Hungarian accent, as does her husband. They’re very American yet also very European, which is attractive to this thoroughly American.
Daisy modeling one of the rings from Dior. Susan Burke with a Chinese statue that demonstrates a light diet like the one we had for lunch.
She’s not so much effusive as jolly, as well as very sophisticated. Last year she privately published an autobiography that she wrote herself. She did it so that her grandchildren and their children would have a frame of reference as to where they came from and how their antecedents lived.

She told me that growing up in Hungary at her age, she’d lived through feudalism, Nazism, communism, through the Second War, and also as a Jew -- therefore under double threat. So these times of ours do not give her pause.

She told me once, in explanation of the way she looks at the troubles of the world we live in, that having lived through all the aforementioned, she simply looks at life as making the best of it. She has two sons and several grandchildren, besides her husband; and once had a poodle named Truffles who remains a powerful memory of adoration. I think she should go out an adopt another poodle who needs a home right away, but she’s not there yet.

We were seated next to each other and so there was a lot of talk. Daisy told me she had many friends in Europe who suffered great losses with Madoff.

Alexandra Penney
My friend Alexandra Penney, as many people know, lost her life savings, and has lived to write about it on the Daily Beast. Alexandra is clearly flummoxed and very uncertain about her future which up until about three or four weeks ago was very luxurious. Luxury which she earned, incidentally, the way a successful person can be rewarded for their professional success.

Her blog, however, is drawing a lot of highly critical, reproachful and even ridiculing responses. Along the lines of “get over it,” or even more unsympathetic. As if they knew how they’d behave under the same circumstances.

I’m sure Alexandra will get over it. She may not be feeling this way right now, but she’ll pick herself up, dust herself off, and start all over again. She’s what used to be referred to on grade school report cards as “Initiative and Self-Reliance.” She’s got it in spades. That’s how she made her small fortune in the first place.

Right now she’s sorting her head out in print (which is how most writers get to be writers). This is her therapy. There are many many others, people we don’t know about, will never read about, will never hear about -- people who were not victims of Bernie Madoff; men especially, who earned millions annually and lived like kings compared to the rest of us.

They are having a much much harder time than Alexandra Penney. Shrinks I know have told me that their business is casualties from the financial meltdown. Men and women who have been suffering for months, even years with the stress of what’s been happening. Many of these people are out of jobs and even out of money while living in multimillion dollar aparments and houses that they can’t sell. Many of their therapy sessions are reduced to sobbing; lost lambs, former masters of the universe.

A trainer told me recently about a client, a hedge fund guy in his early forties who, suddenly during his workout burst into uncontrollable sobs and cried for several minutes before he could pull himself together. We could snicker at such adult behavior also, and many of us would, but few of us are really immune or fortified to radical changes in our lives, especially financial ones. The problem people are having at this early stage is they don’t know what to do and don’t feel like they can do anything. This is what Bernie, among others, has wrought. And what we have bought. Not all of us, but a lot of us.

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