Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Confidence is everything

Statue of Teddy Roosevelt (Governor of State of New York, 1899-1901) at the entrance to the Museum of Natural History. 4:30 PM. Photo: JH.
January 13, 2009. A cold sunny day in New York. At noontime I went to a meeting on East 89th Street. When I got out, walking over to Fifth Avenue, I came upon and walked pass the Guggenheim, its exterior now restored and gleaming white. It amused me to think about Mr. Wright and his museum. With it he commandeered this avenue of classically beautiful 19th and 20th century neighborhoods. With it he confidently took us to another planet, and it’s a majestic one.

The ride down Fifth Avenue to 55th Street at almost one was surprisingly quick – six or seven minutes. I was aware of the lighter traffic and the convenience of moving quickly.

The cabbies are hurting, however. The fares are way off. I ask. Yesterday afternoon I had a guy who started to laugh and then cry when he told me that he’d been out since early morning, now getting toward the end of his day and he’d taken in only $80. He was an older guy, maybe late fifties. When he was counting out my change, his bills were fanned out before him. He needed another seventy to break even. I could feel his dilemma. Imagine working to lose money.

I’ve heard worse. The topic of conversation or in the news is often about the rich losing their money in the market, or now with Madoff etc. We overlook so many others.

The Obamas on their wedding day.
I read the piece in this week’s New Yorker about Obama and Michelle. With a photograph, a portrait of them taken in 1996 by Mariana Cook as a part of a photography project on couples in America. They were in their early 30s. Michelle mentioned that he was thinking about a political career but she thought he was too good a guy for the rough and brutal tumble of politics. She also wanted to have a family. He talked about how they came from very different kind of family relationships, and that she had so many qualities that completed the equation for him.

He looks different from any other President. It’s not his skin tone, his color. It’s his solid youthfulness, his physical stature, his face, his eyes. He looks like a very young man to these older eyes. But a very resolute young man who may just possess wisdom. Wouldn’t that be a wonder for us all. Several times I’ve read that he’s warned that “it’s going to get much worse” economically.

After reading the New Yorker piece, those words sounds differently to my mind’s ear. They had more weight. Maybe not heavy, but maybe he actually knows something. Howbeit, the man is a leader. A leader can inspire confidence. Confidence is everything. Frank Lloyd Wright put it succinctly on Fifth Avenue and 89th Street.

Then down at Michael’s it was fairly busy. I think the tables were full although the energy seemed somewhat quieter. In the bay was a table of prominent women including Louise Grunwald, Mica Ertegun and Cynthia McFadden. Once upon a time Mrs. Grunwald and Mrs. Ertegun would have been seen at one of the chichi restaurants in New York like La Cote Basque, La Caravelle, La Grenouille, Le Pavilion, Quo Vadis, Le Cirque, Mortimers, where the ladies of fashion and society lunched and held forth. Not that you might not see either woman at one of the surviving of the aforementioned restaurants.

But yesterday at Michael’s is the new ladies lunch, where you see prominent women and (less prominent) friends and they are discussing everything as well as the dish, right along with the tycoons and the media barons (and baronesss) at the surrounding tables. Although at the table in front of those girls, was George Malkemus, the man from Manolo.

A couple tables over, underneathe a red and green David Hockney painting, Anna Wintour was waiting for her lunch partner. Ms. Wintour is one of those people who -- because of her physical image as well as her now somewhat mythic Devil-Wears-Prada reputation – looks like the character in a movie.

Her lunchdate seemed to be running really late. Ms. Wintour checked her Blackberry, then took some of her roll and delicately slathered on some butter and waited. Then she checked her Blackberry. Then she sat chin resting on her hand. Waiting.

Because she is Ms. Wintour, with the aforementioned charisma, you could practically write the monologue of what was going on in the woman’s head. Waiting. I was thinking, whomever it is she’s waiting for, it must be someone important. Or someone who was about to get fired. (It’s a movie, remember?)

Finally, a tall, very slim women with a gamine smile and a frowning look of remorse and apology rushed by us to the table. Ms. Wintour looked up and flashed a warm smile at a friend. It was Diana Taylor. (So it wasn’t a movie after all).

At my table there was more talk of Madoff. Why is he not behind bars, people ask. Who do you think knew? People ask. After awhile, it’s not that interesting. The implications are still not apparent to us.

Another note: A friend told me Hassan, the great and dapper maitre d’ at Cipriani 59th Street had left. This comes as a great surprise, a shock really, and great sadness to many people. You’ve read about Hassan here many times. He’s one of the best-dressed men in New York. He has a wardrobe of something like 70 bespoke suits. And when he was working he changes twice a day, always looking impeccable and polished.

Every customer was treated to his Continental charm. He loved to tell somewhat corny somewhat racy jokes. He elicited a lot of laughs from his delighted customers. I once ran into him in the street, walking with his wife. He said hello and I didn’t recognize him. His black hair was wild and curly instead of being moussed and slicked back. He was wearing jeans and a jacket. He looked like a student.

I realized then what a pro he was; a charmer who gave Cipriani a sophisticated European touch. Although Hassan is Egyptian.

As a friend of mine emailed me last night with the news: “It is just one more thing about NYC right now.”

Other lives. My friend Jesse Kornbluth whose guest diaries appear here from time to time, and who turns out the daily book and entertainment reviews on HeadButler.com, did a piece on a new book called “Girls Like Us” by Sheila Weller.

I wouldn’t have read this review if Jesse hadn’t pointed it out with the message: “not that you care, but THIS is a terrific book.” I took it as a challenge.
Carol King Carly Simon Joni Mitchell
About Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon. So I read his review. He was right. I was surprised. I wanted to buy it right away.

Check it out. See what you think. Ms. Weller is now working on a book on Michelle Obama, the young woman in the portrait with her husband in this week’s New Yorker.

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