Thursday, November 5, 2009

Living, breathing landmarks

Central Park foliage. 1:50 PM. Photo: JH.
November 5, 2009. Off and on sun yesterday in New York with temperatures going down into 50s. I reminded myself that it was already November when I considered that I didn’t need a heavy coat.

I went down to lunch at Michael’s with Caroline Weber, whom I met through Beth DeWoody. Ms. Weber is a professor of French Literature at Barnard and Columbia. She wrote a famous book, published three years ago called “Queen of Fashion; What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.”

DPC and Caroline Weber at Michael's
Ms. Weber, it turns out – I learned at lunch – is also the potential leader of any gabfest when it comes to discussing history. Her curiosity exceeds mine even, and her knowledge surpasses mine by miles. So it turned out to be one of those (first time) conversations where there was too much to talk about.

I was surprised to learn that she had read a post we did here on the NYSD several months ago – a lecture first given in 1876 by Alfred Dickson White, the founder of Cornell University (with Mr. Cornell) on fiat currency in the last quarter of 18th century France. It’s very long (about fifty pages) and very dry to those who have no interest in the mechanisms of the financials in a society.

Michael’s at the lunch hour was lively and I was told there were several political operatives in the room sizing up Tuesday’s election and the winners and the losers, and there was a lot of table hopping.

I was back at Michael’s at 6:30, this time in black tie
(I was going on to the Living Landmarks dinner). They were celebrating the 20th anniversary of Michael’s in New York. There was a small line outside when I arrived, although mainly because Michael and his wife Kim were holding a small reception line at the entrance. We were all in a hurry to get inside because we knew we’d see people we’d like to see and talk to, and also: the food.
From our 2005 visit to Michael McCarty in his Malibu kitchen (holding a glass of his Pinot Noir from his Malibu Vineyard).
Michael, our host and the restaurant’s owner, is a very eclectic fellow, possibly the late 20th, early 21st century version of an epicure. He has this establishment in Manhattan and another in Santa Monica. He divides himself between the two but he and his wife, the artist Kim McCarty live mainly at their house in the hills above Malibu.

He’s been in the food business since his epiphany about it when he was sixteen or seventeen and going to spend the summer in France on an exchange plan. From there he later attended the Cordon Bleu and worked in the food business in Paris. The trail after that is not long but varied and full of experience on his chosen plane. However, another ingredient is the people.

Michael explaining to DPC the intricacies of grape growing.
The McCartys are people-people and they have a portfolio of friends all over the world who share their enthusiasms and interests. Many of them are famous, many of them are not. Most of them are doing something interesting or working at something interesting in their lives.

I was thinking last night looking around the room, recognizing many faces that I see on my frequent trips to Michael’s, how the clientele is much like Michael and Kim’s roster of friends. Very energetic. And talkers, among other things. And everyone just folks for a minute or more when your in Michael’s environment.

The food at Michael’s celebration is five star finger food and lots of it and lots of variety and lots. I oculdn’t find the fried shrimp that everyone throughout the restaurant was raving about. Probably gone. There must have been two hundred people enjoying themselves eating, talking, greeting.

People were telling me that yesterday’s Diary about not being on the list at Mr. Chow’s the night before resonated with many who’ve had the same experience elsewhere with both the same people and with others. It’s not unique to the people I was dealing with on Tuesday night, however. It’s widespread. And it’s us. We tolerate it and propagate it. It’s been the fashion.
I left Michael’s about 7:15 with Beth DeWoody who gave me a ride over Cipriani 42nd Street where the New York Landmarks Conservancy was hosting its annual “Living Landmarks ‘Sweet Sixteen’ Celebration 2009.” They were honoring Bill Cunningham, the fashion photographer of The New York Times, A.E. Hotchner, George S. Kaufman, Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo, Robert Morgenthau and Tommy Tune.

The decoration at the entrance to the dining room for the annual Living Landmarks Gala benefiting the New York Landmarks Conservancy, "Sweet Sixteen" Celebration 2009.
In a way it was an extension, an expansion of the mood at Michael’s. Indeed there were several people at Michael’s who also went on to Living Landmarks.

It’s a simple but glamorous evening. There were more than 530 guests, black tie, some pillars of the community, other movers and shakers, artists, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs. The cocktail hour is ample and the bar is total. Cipriani also serves its signature Bellinis, waiting by the dozen on trays held by efficient waiters.

It’s one of those big New York evenings where there are enough people you know or recognize to make cocktails an interesting prelude to what followed.

Then comes dinner. Then some dancing. Peter Duchin, a former Living Landmark himself (there have now been more than 120 of the most famous or/distinguished and/or exemplary citizens Living Landmarks so far).

The theme “Sweet Sixteen” was followed through by the songs of the late 50s, just pre-Beatles (like “You were just sixteen, my teen age queen ..."). A lot of memories floating around there. The dance floor was mobbed.
Some of the 530 or so guests at last night's “Living Landmarks ‘Sweet Sixteen’ Celebration 2009.”
After dinner, with the serving of dessert, Liz Smith took the podium and sang a song from Leo Robin and Jule Styne’s “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” Yes, Liz sings too. Had she not been a Broadway columnist in this incarnation, she definitely would have been on the stage. And although she’s not coloratura, she can definitely color the picture with her tonsills.

The whole night has a little bit of Broadway in it. As it should.

Although this is one of those evenings where there is a lot of talking from the podium, it’s full of amusement or fascinating memories. The usually taciturn, always focusing Bill Cunningham, in accepting his award, talked enthusiastically about his career photographing New York, sharing his observations and history of both its buildings and its fashions; and how he’d been noticing the city for all these years, and how what he saw was that it was constantly “getting better and better.”
Liz Smith introducing Beth Rudin DeWoody who will present the Lewis Rudin Award to Robert Morgenthau. Bill Cunningham accepting his award.
Cunningham and Smith. Bill Cosby and George Kaufman
George S. Kaufman, Bill Cosby, and Liz Smith.
Iris Love who presented the Award to Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo. A.E. Hotchner at the podium accepting with Liz holding up his award.
Tommy Tune singing his acceptance, George and Ira Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Liz Smith telling the audience how much she loves this guy.
Tommy Tune completed with a tap riff (wearing red suede shoes so you could see what those feet were doing).
Bill Cosby introduced his friend the Honoree George S. Kaufman. George owns the Kaufman Astoria Studios where Cosby filmed his show for a number of years. Two things: I forget how funny Cosby is just naturally (he started out long ago doing standup on the Ed Sullivan Show). That delivery of that commentary is sharp witted and yet droll. His monologue about his friend George S. Kaufman was both affectionate and vintage Cosby. A privilege and a treat for everyone.

Beth Rudin DeWoody presented Robert Morgenthau with the Lewis Rudin Award, named for her late father who was a great friend of Mr. Morgenthau. At the end Liz introduced her longtime friend Tommy Tune who is also celebrating his 50th year in Show Business. After accepting his award, he gave a song – George and Ira Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” which he completed with a tap riff (wearing red suede shoes so you could see what those feet were doing).

It was a great night. We took a lot of pictures of pictures with more coming tomorrow.
John Buffalo and Norris Mailer George Lucas and Nan Talese Eric Konigsberg and that guitarist songbird Roberta Fabiano
Marlene Hess, Robert Morgenthau, and Jim Zirin Peg Breen Bill Rondina and Peter Rogers
George Kaufman, Hilary Geary Ross, Tom Quick, and Marianne Kaufman Roberta Fabiano and Peter Duchin
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