Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Light but steady

A wet snow falls in Greenwich Village. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
February 4, 2009. It snowed all day yesterday in New York. Light but steady but too warm to accumulate. Except on the branches of the trees and in the parks where it was poetic and a palliative for these bleak mid-winter days in Manhattan.

I went down to Michael’s to lunch with Gillian Miniter.
We’ve known each other for several years now. One of the interesting aspects of this beat is watching the transitions, the transformations and the natural changes that occur in the very fluid and dynamic society that is New York. Gillian is exemplary. We met when she became more active in some of the prominent philanthropies such as the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy and City Harvest, to name only two of the several organizations she supports. She’s a young mother with two children, teen-age and almost, wife of Sylvester who is in the investment business, and one of the most industrious committeewomen in New York today.

Our favorite Vogue editor lunching with Manolo's Mr. Malkemus at Michael's yesterday
I learned this about Gillian from my friend Joy Hirshon Ingham who with Topsy Taylor and Emilia Saint-Amand has been actively working at fund-raising for City Harvest for several years. Joy is nothing if not outspoken when it comes to what she sees and what she thinks. Her frankness is predictably refreshing although an acquired taste for some because she doesn’t waste words. It was she who told me Gillian Miniter “worked and boy did they love her for it.”

The charity circuit in New York has been a powerful financial force in American philanthropy, especially in the last two decades. It is the direct result of those who support and run them. One of greatest outcomes of the Great Financial Bubble that occurred over the past decade has been the philanthropic achievements that have been funded by it. It also spawned a new generation of women and men who are actively engaged in community work. Gillian Miniter is one of them. From what I have seen of her in the last few years, the impact of her interests will be an asset to the city.

Gillian is on the City Harvest committee for their annual fund-raising luncheon this coming May 13th at the Metropolitan Club. The so-called honoree will be this writer. So between this time and that, I’ll have to do something worthy of the honoring. Like selling a few tickets, maybe? I will also be speaking at the luncheon, answering questions about the eating habits of the rich, the chic and the shameless.

The bursting of the Bubble, as it will no doubt
be remembered to some degree of accuracy, has already made itself felt to New Yorkers of every ilk and stripe, incomes high and low and in many cases, disappearing. Its depth and breadth remain speculation but the daily reports of the financial health of the world banking system continues to threaten. The President reiterated yesterday that the crisis may not be righted for years.
Plowing in Central Park. 3:00 PM.
As the media has reported enthusiastically about Bernie Madoff, so too have the rich and well-fixed suffered financially. People of means now admit openly to having lost 30% – 50% of their net worth investment-wise over the last eighteen, especially eight months. Yes there are some investors who have made spectacular gains, but they are all exceptional at maneuvering in stormy weather. Otherwise most have been at the effect of the seizing up of the worlds’ markets both financial and industrial.

And then there are those, like the Madoff investors who actually bought a pig in a poke.

It is one thing for the rest of us to snicker over the losses of the rich, and god knows the arrogance that accompanied a lot of that New Wealth is intolerable, but. But loss is loss and they are the tip of the ice berg of this phenomenon. It does not bode well for any of us. And especially for the children and the animals. The dependents.

New York is in the midst of that now. It’s mainly unspoken. But the cutbacks are everywhere and filling everyone’s strategy. The private schools are now aware of it.

There’s the joke about certain families on the North Shore of Long Island (the Gold Coast) where the choice comes down to an either or: Either the Private Schools, or the Membership at Piping Rock. There are many young families looking to find a respectable way out of the financial quicksand they’ve found themselves in. Those with multiple residences are looking for alternative residences – like maybe moving out of the city, selling the apartment, taking the kids out of Collegiate and Spence at $34,000 a year each, and putting them in some public school up in Connecticut or out on Long Island, or in New Jersey. Or upstate. Something.

There are a lot of young families caught in this historical debacle. We are all coming off an enormous high. There are a lot of people living what is the High Life of New York-Southampton-Palm Beach who have actually lost everything and are dog-paddling to keep their heads above water. What is significant about these stories is that they reflect the reality of the greater community.

Gee, that was picker-upper, wasn’t it?

Well, that’s where we’re at these days in the Big Town. It’s palpable, and being a grey, sorta cold, not so cozy winter in the Big Town, with no flowers in sight, one is quite aware of the downside of a day. However, from this vantage point it will be curious to see how the Gillian Miniters of this world -- and there are lots of them out there -- go after solutions and restorations and new dynamics and new community spirit that will help us all. This will follow, of that I am convinced.
 
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