Monday, September 7, 2009

Down by the river

Sunday afternoon by the river with DPC.
September 7, 2009. Beautiful Labor Day Weekend in New York. Sunny and warm with a breeze that brought in the cooler air by mid-evening. Peaceful, serene.

I went to dinner Friday night at Café Luxembourg. Packed. I went to dinner Saturday night at Island on 92nd and Madison. Not so packed but a lovely night with doors open to the avenue which was practically abandoned of traffic. And last night I dined at Swifty’s. Busy. But the streets outside were peaceful and serene. All quiet and all wonderful.
I went down to the river to read and to get a few shots of boats that really feed my imagination (of personal pleasure). However, it is true that all boats impress me, and there isn’t a one that I see daily along this river channel that I wouldn’t like to be on. The oil barge in this group is enormous. To get an idea of its length from stem to stern, consider that on the far left is an orange dot. That’s a seaman standing there. A beautiful day to watch the world go by.
Death and Taxes. Robert Isabell, the floral designer and events planner, died just two months ago to the day, having succumbed over the Fourth of July Weekend at his Greenwich Village house. Mr. Isabell was in his fifties somewhere, although he’d fudged his age so many times that people couldn’t be sure. He came on the scene about twenty years ago at the zenith of what was then Nouvelle Society and made a reputation and a fortune with his creative talents.

By the time of his death he was still very successful with jobs all over the world but he was no longer the New Boy In Town or the Flavor of the Month. By then he had become a character to contend with, an ego that could flap its wings menacingly and with disinterest. To some he’d become an ambitious man who stored cash in his cellars (how would anyone know that??). To others he was quite simply a genius.

Nevertheless at the time of his death, he was expanding his business with a total renovation/reconstruction of buildings in the Meatpacking, and he had, as well, developed a very close relationship with Bunny (Mrs. Paul) Mellon who is both a very rich heiress (Listerine) and a very rich widow. And about forty years Mr. Isabell’s senior. Mrs. Mellon turned 99 this year.

A young Robert Isabell
May-December relationships, friendships, are not all that uncommon in this day and age. The Mellon-Isabell alliance was obviously the result of their mutual creative interests. The friendship with Mr. Isabell was well-known among their friends and acquaintances because Mr. Isabell talked about her all the time (dropping her name to the ears of some who knew him).

What did they do? What did they talk about? Well, Mrs. Mellon is a fascinating subject for a number of reasons and May-December relationships are always full of some kind of wisdom or another, to be shared, to be partaken. Furthermore Mrs. Mellon’s legendary wealth is a study in refined yet unabashed extravagance, the likes of which is associated usually with 18th century French royalty.

Nevertheless, despite her famous wealth and famous last name, and her well known friendships with people like Jackie Onassis, and her famous interest in the art of design, Mrs. Mellon has managed to stay far far from the spotlight. Proving, as a matter aside, that it is indeed very very easy to be anonymous.

In the last couple of years the relationship
between Mr. Isabell and Mrs. Mellon had escalated into a cloud of speculation on pending matrimony or adoption. Whether there was a scintilla of possible truth to any of the speculation is unknown to this writer. No doubt, however, she was a mentor of some kind to him, and no doubt he had a creative imagination which could astonish her. It was a marriage of creative sensibilities – often the most successful. And most desirable.

It is fair to assume that when Mr. Isabell died suddenly on that fateful weekend (where his body was not discovered until three days later), and so young, it must have come as a shock to his friend Mrs. Mellon, and a great loss.

So it was not altogether surprising, if a bit unconventional, when the news came out shortly after his death that Mr. Isabell would be buried in the Mellon Family Plot behind the Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, Virginia. There, the Minnesota born country boy who came to the big town to find fame and fortune (which he did) was to be buried alongside, among others, Mrs. Mellon’s late husband, the philanthropist and art collector, Paul Mellon, and his father Andrew Mellon who built the fortune (Gulf Oil, Alcoa, Mellon Bank, etc.) and served as Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury for the entire decade of the 1920s (Harding, Coolidge and Hoover Administrations).

This did come as a surprise to some people, but to others it hinted at unspoken or unexpressed vows of a nature most serious. What’s different about a May-December romance is that it evokes different kinds of questions about the nature of the relationship. Sex, for example, might be the last (if at all) question that might be asked. Money, on the other hand, might come at the top of the list. But then, a relationship between a man and a woman, where the woman is much senior, is also a meeting of the creative minds, similar even to those relationships we often have at the beginning of life, with playmates with whom we share in common joys of imagination and creative discovery. Or to the Greek ideal.

If you follow that thread, it is quite conceivable that Mrs. Mellon took a great loss that was probably the last thing she expected to experience in her very long life. However, that said, it is now being said that Mr. Isabell will not be buried with the Mellon Family behind the church. He will, instead, be laid to rest on the family farm in Upperville. In the meantime, his remains await burial in a local funeral parlor. For more on the church and Upperville, click here.
Enter your email address below to subscribe to NYSD's newsletter. It's free!

Comments? Contact DPC here.