Friday, July 31, 2009

Monkeying around town and remembering a royal princess

A New Yorker enjoys the summer air from her terrace. 10:45 PM. Photo: JH.
July 31, 2009. Very hot in New York turning humid toward evening. More thundershowers predicted for today.

Last night at Monkey Bar, the bar was packed as always (after-office crowd) and the restaurant was filling up so that by eight it was packed. In the mix: Ron Perelman and his daughters, along with Penny Marshall; also Betsey Johnson, Dennis Basso, Katie Couric, Richard and Diana Feldman and Charlotte Ford.

Katie and the Feldmans go way back because Richard and Katie’s late husband used to ride every very early morning in Central Park (Richard still does). She was telling them about her daughters whom they hadn’t seen in a few years and who are growing up. Her eldest is going to become a Yalie in September (making her mother very proud), and the youngest was in sleepaway camp in Maine and, like a lot of kids in the camp, came down with H1N1.

This flu is showing up in a lot of the camps and so the infirmaries are now often filled to capacity. Katie had to take the Tamiflu also, having been “exposed” because she had to drive her daughter home from camp.

The good news is her daughter has recovered quickly as did all of the others who were afflicted. But the bad news hasn’t passed as even the prophylactic Tamiflu can, according to doctors, increase one’s responding to anti-biotics. It’s something that’s going to be on our consciousness for a long time, or at least for the next several months.

Listening to Katie Couric talk about what she knows about the situation, it sounds like it is fully under control right now and that three or four days into it, recovery begins. One easily assumes that her knowledge is enhanced by her media position and access. This may be a flimsy assumption but compared to most of us, it’s possible. The lesson which seems clear is: be on the look out. Or, as the Hindus would say: Watch Out.

By the time we were leaving Monkey Bar (around 9:30), the crowd in the bar front had thinned out, some leaving dinner guests waiting for their tables, and the restaurant was packed and chatter-clattering. It definitely is the place to see and be seen these days.

As we were exiting, Diana Feldman’s son, Jamie Harpel, who is in from London with his partner (and mother of his two children) Carmen, arrived for a dinner for fourteen to celebrate Carmen’s birthday. Among the guests were Boykin Curry and Celerie Kemble, and Justin Smith who flew up from Washington to see is old friend, as well as Jamie’s pa Jim Harpel and his fiancée Ann Sutherland Fuchs.

L. to r.: Mrs. Alan Corey, Ayesha and Mrs. Pete "Dolly" Bostwick, with Alfonso Fanjul, Sr. in between Ayesha and Mrs. Bostwick. Bostwick Field at Old Westbury. 1950. 
Yesterday’s Diary, including the Telegraph obituary of Ayesha, the Rajmata of Jaipur who died on Sunday evoked a lot of response from NYSD readers. Beverley Jackson, our favorite Sinophile (you’ve seen her books here) was inspired to recall some fascinating and even amusing things about her friend Ayesha.

From Beverley in Santa Barbara:

Am truly saddened by today's Social Diary. But thank you for writing about it.

Ayesha was a great friend of mine. She was here in the 1980s with the polo team from Jaipur, which included stepson Bubbles, Maharaja of Jaipur and his brother Joey and two others.

They stayed in a condo at polo field for a few weeks but they preferred coming to my place. I finally gave Ayesha a key and I'd come home and find Bubbles searching the refrigerator, Joey asleep on a sofa in living room, and Ayesha spending endless time in the basement using the washer and dryer. She'd get the team to give her all their laundry, and a pile of quarters and she'd wash and rewash watching with fascination through its glass window at the stuff swirling around. She'd never seen before.

I was chairman of Una Noche de Gala fiesta party year they were here and they were my guests at my table along with Dorothy and Bob Mitchum and others. They certainly made a splash, Bubbles and Joey in their crisp white Nehru jackets and Ayesha in a gorgeous sari and truly splendid jewels. When I had my mews house in Belgravia, Ayesha and I would go to the movies any night we didn't have other dates. We both loved movies. She was a great sport. One night she called just before I was leaving to meet her, and said to dress up (we used to go to the movies looking like slobs!): we were going instead to a dinner party at her cousins (one of the Barodas, forget his name).

Cousin proved to be a very handsome young man in a flat in Belgravia, sort of below street level, filled with fascinating paintings and treasures. He also had some sort of a very frightening looking white bird that sat on his shoulder full time.

When we went in to dine I was seated to his left and the damned bird was on his left shoulder very near to my head!

I was not comfortable. Then about the third course of very good Indian food I happen to notice that my host had two fingers missing on his right hand.

I had to know. Was it an accident with a knife in kitchen? (He'd mentioned he knew how to cook.) Oh no, he explained, it was -- and he pointed to my frightening looking white feathered dinner partner.

At that point I made excuses and headed for the loo motioning Ayesha to follow me.

"I'm not going back to the table until he gets rid of that bird!" I said firmly.

She laughed. "Oh, you noticed the fingers!" Ayesha was both very sharp and had a glorious sense of humor. In minutes she came back to tell me the coast was clear and I could return to the table. I passed the bird in a cage on the way and I swear it really glared at me with hatred in its eyes.

She was a remarkable woman. If you haven't read A Princess Remembers, her memoir, it’s worth reading it through. Aside from politics she also started the home craft industry for the poor women of Jaipur. She started them making marvelous hand block printed cotton fabrics and things. This project, which was one of the first of its kind in India, was very successful and still continues to be tremendously successful today.

Some years ago I got a call from her. She was in Beverly Hills staying with a very prominent couple in the film industry.

"You’ve got to come get me out of here for awhile!" she said.

A command performance!  So I said “I'll come down tomorrow but I have to be back on SB for a dinner party.” I picked her up at the couple’s famous house. She was like a prisoner released.

"My hostess keeps me here except for lunch and dinner. Then she takes me in her Rolls from luncheon to dinner parties showing me off like a new pet poodle."

As we got out of the driveway, she said, or I thought I heard her say: “I need to go to a hat shop.”

I told her I got all my hats at Bullocks Wilshire. Best hat selection in town.

"No,” she said, “I want to go to a head shop."

I nearly hit a car I was so surprised.

I'd lived in SB so long I had no idea where to find one. We both knew with a phone call or two I could find out. Being the smart lady she was she quickly said she needed head shop to get holder for her incense. Sure!

I couldn’t help her. We went instead to a Thrifty Drug Store where she got tooth paste. Then I took her to Mr. Chows for lunch. She ordered practically everything on the menu. She'd had nothing but French food staying with her host and hostess who had a French chef.

I paid of course. We all know queens don't carry money!!!

Our last communication was close to two years ago when she wrote urging me to come stay with her in Lilypool, her private residence on the palace grounds in Jaipur. Now I wish I'd gone.

Most of world looked at her as a royal princess and then a queen, but never as a woman in old clothes going to movies with a pal with whom she’d share a large popcorn. But that was Ayesha too.
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