Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life as a Novel

Bryant Park and the Tents, closed for the night. 10:20 PM. Photo: JH.
February 18, 2009. Another cold, mild, sunny winter’s day in New York.

The Madoff Watch. In the past three days I’ve had calls from three different organizations in production on some kind of documentary film or television show on Bernard Madoff and his kind. One producer wanted to hire the apartment from which JH once took a picture of Madoff and his wife relaxing in front of the TV in their penthouse apartment. The producer’s plan: to sit from noon to midnight on the terrace of said apartment until they saw someone moving about. The offer: $500 a day for five days. Or until they could get their shot (or shots). However, since the time that JH took that picture, the Madoffs have pulled their shades. Duh.

Yesterday someone told me that there is now emerging a belief that Mr. Madoff will get-off after making his deal and revealing all the other bad stuff he knows about others. Others? Fifty billion dollars ripped off of thousands of people and scot-free too? That sounds like the end.
Bernie Madoff in his penthouse apartment.
Monday in the New York Post, James Doran reported that senior executives at “some of Wall Street’s biggest firms were convinced Bernard Madoff was a fraud as early as 2005.”

None of them alerted authorities. Doran reported that a man named Leon Gross, once managing director in charge of worldwide equity derivatives research for Citigroup, was telling friends on Wall Street in 2005 that he thought Madoff was being less than honest about the returns he could make for investors. There were many others. Their knowledge and disinterest is part of a 700 page dossier of emails, letters and analyses that Harry Markopolos put together in his investigations that went back to the late 90s.
Ruth Madoff in the same penthouse apartment.
Don’t tell me I don’t want to know. Nobody said boo. Does that surprise you? Nobody says boo in child abuse cases. Or animal abuse. Well, not nobody. But most of us. If it doesn’t affect us personally it’s: let sleeping dogs lie.

Is silence in the light of a crime a lie? Is it lying by omission? These are the questions, the answers of which will define our times and the history of these times.

Last night I finished Anthony Trollope’s “The Eustace Diamonds.” I’d discovered the book through Patrick Gerschel, a New York man with a French background with whom I’d had a conversation several months ago about Balzac. Patrick brought up Trollope, asking me if I’d ever read him. No. A friend of mine had given me a Trollope novel called “The Way We Live Now.” About a thousand pages. I’m a reader by habit (and compulsion) but I also don’t have the schedule for a thousand page novel.

Click to order.
Nevertheless, someone had told me before that it was Dominick Dunne’s favorite Trollope novel and one that had been very affecting for him.

Patrick Gerschel, however, when I confessed that I’d never read Trollope including the tome that had been sitting on my bedside table for months, suggested I read “The Eustace Diamonds” first. What a good title, I thought. I went out and bought the book at Crawford Doyle the next day.

Diamonds. What does it make you think of besides the visual attributes of the actual physical image? Money. Treasure. Bright. Glistening; sparkling.

This book was a tome too. 770 pages and small print. I picked it up one night a little more than a week ago when I couldn’t fall asleep and it was 4 a.m. already. I thought reading a book supine would make me doze off instantly. At 6:30 I was trying to keep myself awake to read it.

Diamonds. Money. Treasure. And the lies that are used to acquire it in so many instances. Notice I didn’t say all. But many. Mr. Trollope kept me running back in any spare minutes to sneak some more pages of this book about Lady (Lizzie) Eustace, a lying, scheming, beautiful, very young woman who loved jewels. Like diamonds. All of which helped her down the primrose path to chronic mendacity and misery (especially for others).

The joy of Trollope is Nothing Has Changed.
Margaret Hoffman, Teddy van Zuylen, Carmen, and Allegra van Zuylen at Barbetta
I had dinner last night with Carmen, the Rolex model, who is famous now for being famous. She invited us to Barbetta, the wonderful Italian restaurant in a brownstone along restaurant row on West 46th Street (341, between 8th and 9th Avenues).

Barbetta was started in 1906 by Sebastiano Maioglio. Its first location was 39th Street. In 1925 Barbetta moved up to Forty-sixth Street when Mr. Maioglio bought four brownstones in a row. Today they are still owned by the family and two of them are occupied by the restaurant which has a splendid outdoor garden which is filled with tables in the warmer months. It’s Old World formal in atmosphere. Captains in black tie. Often men in suits.

Laura Maioglio, daughter of the Barbetta's founder
Mayor Bloomberg was there last night with a party of eight or ten including actor Bill Macy and the mayor’s very pretty longtime companion, Diana Taylor. I love trying the pasta in “real” Italian restaurants, so I ordered the linguine al pesto, a dish I happen to make at home fairly frequently (easy and mindless at this point). Barbetta’s was far far better than mine (and mine’s good). There’s just something about the touch in a real Italian restaurant. An elegance to the taste.

Carmen has been going there for years. She is an old friend of Laura Maioglio who is the founder’s daughter. The other guests were Teddy van Zuylen and his beautiful daughter Allegra who were visiting from London for a week, and Margaret Hoffman who has known Carmen most of her life.

Carmen lost her life savings with Madoff.
She didn’t know better. Someone wise, probably from some big investment firm, advised her. Others she knew went there. Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue are full of people of varying degrees of wealth who had put at least some and in some cases all of their money with Madoff. People, many of whom are rightfully regarded as intelligent, careful, even prudent. Many were there for a long time. Ten, twenty years. They had no reason to suspect even if it were presented to them. That’s not greed. It may be ignorance but it’s not unlike a lot of things in life where although it sounds too good to be true, it was/is/has been true; so “let’s leave it at that.” At least until ... it wasn’t. A lot of personal relationships, a lot of marriages are like that. It’s not cynical, it’s us humans.

Carmen incidentally doesn’t talk about her Madoff adventure. It’s not her style. And as you can see, she’s got a lotta style. A lot inside too. Serenissima, you might say it sounds right. She’s worked all her life – since she was 13 and she’s now 77. She still works. She leaves for London this week to do a Rolex shoot.

Although the matter of money came up at tonight’s dinner table. Baron van Zuylen who is European but about as American as you can get having gone through schools and college (Harvard) here was talking about the financial situation of the world. This is the subject of discussion more and more. We’re moving beyond the Madoff Swindle into a sea of swindles of all kinds that are now threatening a variety of financial collapse. Many of us are still not aware of the immensity of the matter but anyone who reads the financial papers (and particularly the financial blogs) knows. The discussion of the subject seems to be getting more serious by the day. That is, for those who are aware of it. Eventually everyone will be, of course.

It was the expressed opinion at our table last night that Mr. Obama is the man to lead us out of this. “He has already said that it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Mr. van Zuylen reminded with admiration. He is realistic and he is optimistic.

Meanwhile Mr. Madoff remains in his penthouse apartment. The man who was talking about him at lunch said that it is now believed that Madoff has the best lawyer. Ira Sorkin.

People believe Ira Sorkin will get him off. I wonder. Let’s say that is so. A year or three or four have gone by. Sorkin gets his client off. If the financial state of the world is not measurably improved from its current state by then – and many now believe it won’t be – then Mr. Madoff as a free man who robbed billions of their property might be as good as a dead duck. I think we may have arrived at that moment in our history when people have had enough of the swindles and the lies and the lawyers who appear to profit from everyone’s misfortunes while fanning the flames of our transgressions (to put it nicely).

This is not to suggest schadenfreude will take an active role although schadenfreude is unleashed among some people these days. There are many who are not sympathetic to those who’ve lost their assets, nest eggs, fortunes, etc,; many who celebrate the reversals and losses of the rich. It might feel good but it might also be premature to congratulate oneself over anyone else’s financial obliteration no matter who that anyone is. It may very well be only the beginning for many of us.
Monique Lhuillier presented detailed eveningwear at the Plaza’s Oak Room.
Several show trends fully emerged this season, accelerated by the economic downturn ...

Beyond the lack of amusing promotional gift bags, or even, any printed notes regarding the fashion show (as in the very pretty Jill Stuart Collection at the Library) far too many shows were held at seemingly lower-cost, but exhaustingly distant locations from the tents – such as the edgy Rag & Bone held at Cedar Lake at West 26th St and the Hudson, and lovely Karen Sahag held ten blocks north in a remote gallery space.

Alice & Olivier showed an array of lovely-little-dresses for the young set who lunch and are on-the-go. 
Also apparent was the proliferation of fashion presentations replacing runways. Easier to view, and eliminating the endless waiting about to view collections (average 20-30 minutes standing to approach the show, 30-45 minutes for it to begin). Monique Lhuillier presented exquisitely detailed eveningwear at the Plaza’s Oak Room. Spanx showed its new upscale intimates at the Bryant Park Hotel (so beautiful one could wear this innerwear as outerwear), and Alice & Olivier – whose presentations were artfully constructed vignettes – showed an array of lovely-little-dresses for the young set who lunch and are on-the-go. 

Group shows within a larger theme, are on the rise. From the now annual “Heart Truth,” the Red Dress Collection in which celebs strut fabu red ensembles by popular designers (see yesterday’s Party Pictures) through Arise Magazine’s African collective in which four interesting designers debuted, with a finale where all the models wore long white sheaths silk-screened with images of our new President.

And finally, instead of the chic café traditionally served beneath the venerable Fashion Tents, there is “McCafe” – yes, MacDonalds, serving “Designer” coffee with skim-milk iced mochas topped with whip cream. Yes, d-lish!

— Jill Lynne

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