Thursday, July 14, 2011

Regarded by history

SoHo. 7:00 PM. Photo: JH.
July 14, 2011. Bastille Day. Regarded in history as the moment that sparked the French Revolution and brought down the monarchy of centuries.

There were probably only about 300 people in all of Paris that day who knew about the storming of the Bastille. Very possibly no one at Versailles heard about it, let alone King Louis and Marie Antoinette.

Two days later the prison was burned to the ground, a symbolic destruction of the “tyranny” of the monarchy. What is rarely pointed out in the history of the time was that the monarchy was broke and had been engaged in financial activity to bolster the failing financial system. The aristocracy did not want to pay taxes and of course the other biggest landowner, the Church, didn’t. So Louis and his ministers were out of luck.
Storming of Bastille, July 14, 1789.
Their solution was to print money – the newly printed paper were called assignats in – a fashion that today is known as quantitative easing. The government/monarchy had intended to do it only once. But after the fact, they need a bit more, so there was a second. And then a third and so on, until it was all worth nada. Just like the king, or so they thought.

Yesterday was very hot in New York. And humid. However, about 7:30 pm we had a sudden downpour that last for about twenty or thirty minutes. When it let up, the cooler air began moving in with a slight breeze, just in time for the full moonlit night.

As you’ve read here more times than you care to recall, New York is very quiet this time of year, at least on the social calendar. This comes as a welcome relief to this writer because it gives me a little time to come to my senses (if that’s possible). But it also provides the built in challenge of coming up with something for the Diary.
The calm after the rain storm, looking east toward Queens, taken from Third Avenue in the 60s. 8:00 PM.
Last night I went to Sette Mezzo with two friends. We talked about books and people and gossip about the royals (my friends had just come back from London). When I got home, thinking about what to do for a Diary today, I wondered what this time of year was like a few years ago and went into the archives for ideas.

On my trip down memory lane, I found this entry, after another hot day in August, two years ago. I’d forgotten about this. It amused me for several reasons, and of course reading about what the ancients had to say is always interesting ...

August 18, 2009. Very hot in New York.
At night too. It’s not the weather for a stroll down Fifth or Madison, or even by the river.

Pricing Tinsley.

You say: 'I did not think it would happen.’ Do you think there is anything that will not happen, when you know that it is possible to happen, when you see that it has already happened ... — Seneca (c.4BC – AD 65)

Seneca was a Roman philosopher, dramatist, statesman. The emperor Caligula wasn’t crazy about him and would have had him executed but Seneca was in such poor health by then that Caligula figured that he was going to die anyway. Seneca didn’t. But as fate would have it, Caligula did.

Claudius succeeded as emperor. Claudius’ wife Messalina wasn’t crazy about Seneca either and, accusing him of adultery with a married relative of hers, got Claudius to exile Seneca to Corsica.

Later Messalina carried on an adulterous affair with an attractive Roman senator, Gaius Silius. That affair got so hot and heavy they decided to kill her husband, Emperor Claudius. Someone else must have been in on the plot because it got back to Claudius. The upshot: He ordered their execution.

His and Messalina’s daughter brought her the news, saying to her mother something like: “forget it, it’s over.” Messalina had the option of killing herself but she was too afraid to. So a soldier decapitated her. That was her other choice. When Claudius received the news, he was dining, and asked for more wine.

Families. After the death of Messalina, Claudius married a woman named Agrippina, who already had a little boy named Nero. Yes, that Nero. Is it true he took violin lessons as a kid? So long ago, so hard to know. Agrippina liked Seneca and he became little Nero’s tutor. Then Claudius died and Agrippina worked it so that her little Nero could become Emperor instead of Claudius’ natural son, Britanicus. Are you following this?

Tinsley in the Evening Standard of London. Tinsley wears silk blouse dress, £1,705, Christian Dior (020 7172 0172). Satin shoes, £520, Christian Louboutin (020 7491 0033). Green Tourmaline Tower ring, £65,000, Ritz Fine Jewellery (020 7409 1312). Other ring, Tinsley's own.
Years later, Seneca, now retired and writing, was accused of participating in a plot to kill Nero and end his infernal fiddling. This plot did not work out and his former student ordered Seneca to kill himself. Just like what happened to Messalina. He did this by slashing several veins. It was widely believed afterwards that Seneca hadn’t been part of any conspiracy.

Now. Why was I telling you this? Oh, the quote from the ancient writings of Seneca. So apt, so timely, so many things.

And what inspired it? The news going around the web today, this no-news day, that Tinsley Mortimer has left her husband Topper (which was first printed on these pages January 12th although I have seen them out and together many times since then). According to an article by Spencer Morgan in New York magazine, the couple have been separated since then.

Mrs. Mortimer is now in London where she is seen around with Prince Casimir Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, a young Prussian prince from an almost-ancient family of the Rhineland that dates its prominence back to the 10th century. At one point the Sayn-Wittgensteins basically owned a country (now part of Germany) and had dozens of castles.

Coincidentally, the prince’s family’s economic and social background is not dissimilar to that of the Mortimers, who are famously descended from wealth and prominence in the nation’s history.

Prince Casimir and Tinsley, their first (photographed) public appearance together.
Topper Mortimer, born Robert Livingston Mortimer, is a descendent of the first Robert Livingston, lord of Livingston Manor (Columbia County), 180,000 acres in that neck of the woods. Mortimer descendents are also related to John Jay, the first Supreme Court Justice of the United States. Although more recently, and more importantly according to today’s values, Topper Mortimer’s grandmother was an heiress to one of the Standard Oil-related fortunes.

While the Sayn-Wittgensteins were a wealthy family for centuries, the 20th century and two world wars rendered all that void. Nevertheless, like the Mortimers in America, the Sayn-W’s kept their prestigious position in society. As vacuous as this may sound, the value of that position is incalculable to any intelligent and/or clever individual, from the basic access to three squares a day to professional connections within one or two degrees of separation. Politics at its prettiest.

Prince Casimir’s background mirrors that and no doubt greatly assists him in his businesses today. His grandma, who is known to that world as “Manni” is also a direct descendant of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, through a daughter, and therefore a relation of Queen Marie-Antoinette of France. So what’s Lord of the Manor?

Manni is also a famous paparazzi of international royalty and society named Princess Marianne Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn – or Manni to her private jetloads of international friends and royalty. Manni knows everybody and in the past six or seven decades, she’s photographed all of them. Although I’m not certain that she ever turned her lens on Mrs. Mortimer crossing her ankles. Nevertheless, her archives are treasures, photo-chronicles of an era now past.

Grandma Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn with Andy.
Princess Mani Sayn-Wittgenstein, looking royal.
You’ve read about her and her books of photographs here on the NYSD. Her work is a combination of Slim Aarons and Patrick McMullan, or Jerome Zerbe. Manni now in her late 80s, lives in Germany although she’s always on the go and traveling the world.

She and her husband, Prince Ludwig (known as Udi) married during the Second World War. After the War much of the family properties had been destroyed, sold or confiscated. When Udi died suddenly in 1962, the lady, mother of five, had to go out and earn some money.

She did this with her camera, photographing the parties she attended and the friends she knew, and selling them to European publications.

Because she was titled, and from an old family, she had access as well as the cleverness to know how to use it. This is what I was referring to in terms of “position.”
Manni became the foremost paparazzi of international society, and by birth always a coronet apart from any of her professional peers.

In fact, because of her obsessive avocation of picture-taking, a number of years ago Princess Caroline of Monaco said to her: you’re not paparazzi, you’re “mamarazzi.” And so it has been.

Tinsley Mortimer, incidentally, born a Mercer from Richmond, Virginia, also claims an illustrious lineage which includes Thomas Jefferson, John Randolph and James Madison (and Sally Hemings while we’re connecting the dots). Two presidents and a direct descendent of Princess Pochahantas and John Rolfe, founder of the Jamestown Colony in 1607.
Tinsley at “Tinsley Mortimer with Q Magazine” party last month.
In New York, however, this kind of geneology is not only unknown to The Way We Live Now, but also irrelevant. Tinsley Mortimer is a contemporary woman and knows this. She has followed a path created by another individual with a “family” name: Paris Hilton. Tinsley has been Paris Hilton’s New York version ever since Paris abandoned New York and retuned to her native Los Angeles to live, love, laugh and be wealthy – through marketing herself as a business.

Tinsley, according to an interview she gave to the Evening Standard of London, reported by William Cash, wants to have a business like that of Tamara Mellon or Tory Burch, or their professional grandma, Diane von Furstenberg -- who found her way professionally when she was married to another European prince of similar extraction, Prince Egon von Furstenberg. She’s already got a handbag license with Samantha Thavasa. Now she wants a clothing line. She wants to be a brand. She won’t be Tinsley Mortimer. She’ll just be the brand. (“How much Is that Tinsley in the window?”) And maybe a princess too. Princess Tinsley Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn.
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