Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The day before

A walk in the rain. 12:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011. Last night: a rainy night in New York on the night-before-the-night-before Thanksgiving. My cabdriver told me that people were already leaving the city for the holiday weekend, that the bridges were bumper to bumper, and it was a two hour ride to JFK (approximately double the usual time).

Thanksgiving, the holiday, begins to set in on the Monday before; you can feel the difference. Same feeling you had in school when you were a kid, or in college. It’s a long holiday weekend that always “is” since it’s always on a Thursday, and it marks the beginning of the holiday season and another year drawing to a close.

The cabbie also said that by this afternoon, the town will be empty. That’s a wild exaggeration. But here in borough of Manhattan, in the most affluent neighborhoods, people clear out.
I was on my way to 72nd and Lex while taking this all in, going to Archivia to cover a booksigning. The place was crowded – I mean, you had to maneuver around – despite the heavy rains outside. New Yorkers like to stay home when it’s pouring. I went only to give a little support to Cynthia Conigliaro, Archivia’s proprietress. She was worried about the inclement weather too. And surprised at the big turnout. Lucky it was raining; they would have had to turn people away.

Tells you a little something about the book, Private Paradise; Contemporary American Gardens by Charlotte Frieze, the former garden editor at House & Garden. It’s definitely a hot one. What fascinates me about gardens – other than the obvious visual effects and designs – is the passion it evokes in people. You could see it last night in not only the line waiting for Charlotte to sign their books, but in the atmosphere of the room. Full serious enthusiasm.
The window featuring Charlotte Frieze's Private Paradise at Archivia last night.
Umbrellas waiting outside for their owners. People crowding in to buy the book.
On the left, the line of book buyers waiting for the author's personal inscription.
The book signing.
Kitty Hawks standing behind the author while she signs. Charlotte Frieze's Private Paradise. Click to order or buy immediately at Archivia Books on 72nd and Lex. The perfect weekend house gift.
When I got home I went right to the book to see what was the big deal. This is not your typical garden book – although there is beauty and allure throughout. This is about the art of exterior design. You can see novels in them, all kinds, in the locales. This is not the Chelsea Flower Show ad infinitum.

Seeing interior designer Kitty Hawks having her book signed, I recalled how she’d told me a few years ago that she was completely devoted to her garden, that it was all she wanted to do all the time. I pictured Kitty padding about in her garden with its rows of posies, etc. with her shears and her spade.
Kitty Hawks (and Larry Lederman's) private paradise. Planting the dam with grasses and forsythia enhances the view of the former reservoir from the house. The walk to the boathouse, the former sluice house, passes under trellises covered with wisteria and sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata).
Also Kitty: Looking through the pink cherry blossoms in April, bright yellow forsythia rules the dam. The ornamental grasses are not visible, having been cut back in March. Photographs Lawrence Lederman; Climate: USDA Hardiness Zone 6; Existing conditions: Rocky hillside with no flat surfaces, dense shade.
I did not know when I saw her getting her book signed that her “garden” is in it. Well, no padding about for Kitty. This garden is the big screen version; Cinerama brought to life. She’s taken over from van Gogh and Monet. She wasn’t kidding about her “devotion” obviously. This is a masterpiece, a vision.

Private Paradise is an interesting book for gardeners obviously, but for the non-gardeners like this writer, it is an eye-opener of what a garden can be. It is about the changing styles, the times and the movement of sensibility. These are obviously the gardens of the rich and wealthy (whether they’d admit it or not). They are emphatically luxurious. But it is nature’s luxury for a change, not the consumer’s; and you get the designers’ motives. The gardens are inspirational. It got me thinking about my own poor little basic New York apartment house terrace, and how it’s just waiting for some of this sensibility to take it in hand.
New York penthouse: The interior living area seamlessly segues into the terrace. In the view from the living room, the outdoor furniture was designed to look well year-round. Architect/landscape architect: Sawyer/Berson; Photograph: Billy Cunningham; Climate USDA Hardiness Zone 7; Existing conditions: Full sun, wind.
Waves of native blue lupine (Lupinus sp.) in the meadow to the north of this house in Snake River, Wyoming. Photograph D. A. Horchner. Climate: USDA Hardiness Zone 3B; Existing conditions: Set in the Wyoming plains; rugged natural riparian landscape; view of the Grand Tetons; formerly a cattle ranch. Special conditions: Wind, snow, and dramatic fluctuations in hot and cold; limited plant palette due to Arctic cold fronts that sweep through in winter; warm but windy summers with a generous growing season.
The night before last, Monday, I went to a dinner that Shirley Lord Rosenthal gave in honor of two good friends, Norman Sunshine and Alan Shayne who have written a double memoir, Double Life about their 53 years of their lives together.

This was a New York dinner party at its very best, at least for me. There were 12 or 14 many of whom are writers and journalists. That means no dearth of conversation no matter what. And a great diverse variety of experience and interest.

Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine.
Furthermore the conversation goes right to center table, rather than left-right/right-left. And no distended ego, at least not at that table.

Shirley’s late husband Abe Rosenthal was for years one of the important editors at the New York Times. Times staff is almost a society unto itself in New York. Its exponents eventually fan out all over publishing and media. It is, or rather was, or has been for years, the ultimate provenance for “serious” journalists as well as writers. I put the Serious in Quotes quite seriously.

At table this factor only served to enhance. Sunshine and Shayne, at the request of our hostess, each talked about writing their book and living their lives and their life together. Norman, who is now a full time professional artist, had a great career in advertising, copywriting, scriptwriting.  Alan started out life as an actor and eventually became one of the most important television programming producers in the industry. So they both had satisfaction and success in their professions.

They also talked frankly about the worlds they grew up in, in the 1940s and 1950s when male homosexual couples were almost always closeted for the obvious reason that it was “frowned upon,” as practically criminal activity. In England they went to jail. It was always the secret that never was.

Norman explained how they’d actually got married about seven years ago on Nantucket. They did this because after having been together for so long and having built a domestic life with assets (real estate, etc.) they realized that without a marital status, the state and federal governments ignored their economic reality totally if and when something happened to the other partner.

Greeting the guests at Shirley Lord Rosenthal's dinner Monday night for Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine. Click to order.
In Shirley's library, Peter Heywood's painting of a New York skyscraper reflected in the all glass facade of another New York skyscraper.
Massachusetts was one state (or rather, Commonwealth) that recognized single gender marriages, so they chose to legalize their domestic relationship in Nantucket.

Last night Alan recalled how nervous he was about going through with the whole thing. Only six or seven years ago, men were not marrying men. At least not so’s you’d notice. But they met the Justice of the Peace, a flame haired, very friendly woman named Catherine Flanagan Stover – who coincidentally is a distant relation of mine –The ceremony was held on the beach. The two men were initially nervous but Mrs. Stover quickly put them at ease.

Many of the dinner guests had read the book. Several were old friends of the men. One, Aileen Mehle, stated that aside from the sexual politics, as a “couple” whom she has known well for a long time, they were “unique” in their ability to support, foster and nurture a personal partnership for that duration, no matter hetero or homosexual.

Monday night was also Norman Sunshine’s birthday. Last night was Alan Shayne’s birthday. Or vice versa. In recognition of this, Shirley arranged for two cakes and a round of Happy Birthday to You. And an excellent ice cream cake!

It was quarter to eleven when guests rose from the table and moved into the living room of Shirley’s very English-comfortable apartment. The Rosenthal residence is traditional classic. Cocktails are held in a lovely, also comfortable library of people who read a lot, as is evident. The atmosphere was perfect, all such a pleasure to punctuate the fast, sometimes racing New York life.

Among the guests were Judy Miller, Ene and James Greenfield, Barbara Goldsmith, Roberto Couturier, Mrs. Mehle, Lynn Sherr, David Margolick – who also has a new book just out Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock -- a very different kind of couple from our guests of honor, although with a story every bit as compelling, and historic. Also at table: Amanda Gordon, Geraldine Baum and Mike Orestes, and Peter Heywood, an Englishman currently visiting New York, having just returned from Santa Fe where Alan Barnes Fine Art is exhibiting a collection of his work.
Holiday time has come to Treillage on Lexington and 73rd, last night on my way home from Archivia.

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