Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wild and windy

Quality time in Riverside Park. Photo: JH.
Thursday, October 20, 2011. Rainy day and wild and windy rainy night. The slight chill of autumn blowing in, plastering the wet pavement with the leaves of the now shedding trees. A deeply nostalgic sight.

So did a lot of New Yorkers stay home?
Are you kidding? Of course not. Midday I went out to a luncheon upstairs in the private dining room at La Grenouille, hosted by Barbara de Portago, the president of The Versailles/Giverny Foundation.

Our hostess for lunch, Barbara de Portago of the Versailles/Giverny Foundation.
Barbara gives this lunch annually to thank the Foundation’s patrons and to introduce the people to each other. They came from all over. At my table there was a woman from Poland (who has houses all over Europe, however), a woman from Virginia, one from Los Angeles, not to mention some New Yorkers.

The mere mention of the name La Grenouille immediately conjures up a treat – a vision of special luxury in New York, for many reasons, not the least of which is the physical plant. I took some photos of the private dining room to give you an idea of what it might feel like to be lunching there on a cold, windy, rainy autumn day in New York. With a fire blazing and a magnificent arrangement of natural autumn colors, with tables beautifully set and courses you know will be delicious. This is what privllege is, in my book; and how lucky those of us partaking are to be there.

After the main course, Barbara got up to
address her guests (about forty of us). Her speaking voice has the quality of an early 20th century delicately stentorian schoolmarm. “Listen children.” Or maybe a docent guiding a tour of the palace. She is elegantly precise, factual, or so it would seem; plus as a perfect exception, her message is amusing, sometimes very funny. You listen, you learn. Just like the good old school days when you were a kid and everything was new.

The style with which she conducts her talks was also characteristic of her mother, the late Florence (Flaw-rawnss) Van der Kemp, who with her husband Gerald had a huge impact on the financing and restoration of the chateau at Versailles in the mid-20th century, after more than a century of neglect and deterioration.

Henri IV/Henri-Quatre, King of France, 1589 - 1610.
Today it is the treasure of France and one of the great historical monuments on the planet. Florence and Gerald van Der Kemp can be thanked for actualizing and inspiring that achievement.

But I digress. Yesterday, daughter Barbara told us how we had just eaten the favorite dish of Henri IV (Henri-Quatre). Henri was the King of France from 1589 until 1610 when he was assassinated (he was 56) by a fanatical Catholic (Henri was known for his religious tolerance).

Henri was the first monarch of the Bourbon line, and not so incidentally, was married to Marie de Medici (of those Medicis). He married her for her money and no one thought him the worst for it. Marie and Henri had six children.

He also had mistresses, so no doubt there were the Illegitimates as well. One of six with Marie became the Queen of Spain, another the Duchess of Savoy, another the Duc d’Orleans, and another the Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. His eldest boy became Louis XIII, father of Louis XIV, the Sun King who made the chateau of Versailles the center of the 17th and 18th century world,, as well as set the tone for the catastrophic climax of the Bourbon monarchy two hundred years after his grandfather assumed the throne.
Henry IV Recieving The Ambassador of Spain, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
Barbara familiarized us with Henri’s physical image by describing his style of dress, alluding to his “great legs.” Always a good garnish to a rich imagination at any table.

She said Henri loved this dish, which is now called “Poule Henri IV” (loosely translated: Henry’s Chicken), and not only is it a popular dish on the La Grenouille menu, it is served only at La Grenouille in this country. According to Barbara anyway. She seems so exacting in her descriptions that you tend to believe her. Of course that is also the way of a good promoter, all the social media notwithstanding.

For example. From Henri’s chicken to his great legs Barbara sequed into another monarch with great legs (again, according to her), none other than ole Henry The Eighth, a gastronomic wonder if there ever was one.
The private dining room of La Grenouille yesterday at the Versailles/Givery Patron's Luncheon.
That allusion took a little thinking as I’d never considered Henry’s legs, whatwith that mean face to greet you, those beady eyes, that near-snear, and all that girth filling up the canvas, (and all those ladies who got their heads chopped off when he was sick of them). No one ever assassinated Henry. They wouldn’t dare. And he was even religiously intolerant because it served his libido's interests.

Nevertheless, Henry VIII will be the subject at next year’s Versailles/Giverny dinner in April where there is always a royal guest who speaks on the history of the Royals. It is interesting whether you think so or not.
One of the room's autumn flower arrangements. A view of the upstairs skylight reception loft, with guests descending for lunch.
This coming year’s royal guest, we were told as Barbara began to end her little talk, will be making his second appearance at a V/G dinner, and it is a rare and privileged occasion. He is: Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, last son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

“And,” Barbara added to her description yesterday afternoon, “the Prince Edward’s favorite royal subject is Henry VIII, about whom he’ll speak.”

Now that will be very interesting. I don’t think Wessex is a direct descendant of Henri Huitieme, although they’re definitely related through business.
The table setting. The menu.
Then, after dark New York was back out on the town again. Muriel Brandolini, for example, was back at Phillips de Pury where she had a book signing the night before – this time for a “panel discussion” billed as “Mining the Unexpected; A Distruptive Approach to Design” (“throw the damn thing out….” – just kidding).

Simon de Pury and Margaret Russell, the new editor-in-chief of Arch Digest were hosts, and Ms. Brandolini was joined by Clemence Krzentowski. All this is part of the Muriel Brandolini week at the auction house where her goods go up for auction tomorrow. In the world now saturated with the notions of Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, this is textbook for how it’s done when you want something done successfully. Its genesis is a story, not a social message, and probably a novel. Ka-ching, ka-ching. This is New York.

Over at Trinity House at 24 East 64th Street, the held a preview of their inaugural exhibition From Constable to Cezanne on view through October 27th. Hurry on over.

Then there was, while we’re on the subject of decorative arts and design, the “Relaunch” celebration of Newel (art and antiques) at 425 East 53 Street. Newel is very well known. Why, I do not know; I’m not in the business. But that’s how well known it is. Evidently they’ve done over their showroom. They are calling it a makeover. They sent out a stupendous invitation, a large six page, accordion-like foldout illustrated with 19th century silhouettes.
The cover of the six-page invitation to the Newel makeover relaunch.
Pages 3 and 5 of the same invitation.
While down at the New York Design Center, James Druckman, Carlos Mota and the Townsend Group held a cocktail reception for Corice Arman to experience Arman Signature Design(s).

Corice Arman.
The Installation runs through November 19th. Joan Juliet Buck wrote in the New York Times, “Arman was a founding member of the midcentury French New Realists and one of the giants of 20th century art.”

And back up at the Metropolitan Club,
the Royal Oak Foundation held its 14th annual Timeless Design Gala Benefit and honored (the late) David Hicks with the Timeless Design Award and Richard Broyd OBE with the Heritage Award. The Royal Oak evenings are always glamorous affairs. Sir Simon Jenkins was Honorary Event Chair.

The Honorary Committee included Jonathan Adler, Friederike and Jeremy Biggs, Louis Bofferding, Mario Buatta, Dick Button, Remmel Dickinson, David Easton, Patrick Gallagher, Alexa Hampton, Damaris and John Horan, Charlotte Moss, Mitchell Owens, Miles Redd and Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill. Gala co-chairs were Tracy Williamson Dart and J. Rodney Pleasants. George McNeely of Christie’s conducted the fund-raising auction. You get the picture.

The spirit of the evening was on the invitation with its timeline: “6:30 Optimist, Philanthropist, Connoisseur and Benefactor Greeting; 7:00 pm Main Reception; 8:00 Dinner and Program. Black Tie.” This is New York too.

Rewind. On Tuesday night, there was a book signing for Sandy Hill and her new book, Mountain, at the Top of the Standard, way above the High Line Park.
Sandy Hill signing for Fern Mallis.
Fern Mallis and Sandy Hill.
Shirin von Wulffen, Frederic Fekkai, and Sandy Hill.
Sandy Hill and Andre Balazs.
Sandy Hill and Stefano Tonchi.
Kelly Klein and Sandy Hill.
Sandy Hill and Peter Bacanovic.
Sandy Hill and Pat Schoenfeld.
Laurie Beckelman and Bo Pittman.
Blaine Trump, Steve Simon, Lisa Berget, and Christopher Trump.
Ellis Levine and Rhonda Kirschner.
Hannah and Emily Baker. Sharon Sondes and Geoffrey Thomas.
Gene Pressman, Tony Melillo, and Doug Lloyd.
Barbie Bancroft, Martha Baker, and CeCe Cord.
This past Tuesday night at Bulgari on Fifth Avenue at 57th Street, they hosted a book signing for Joanne King Herring, "The Real-Life Texas Socialite Behind Charlie Wilson's War" and author of Diplomacy and Diamonds: My Wars from the Ballroom to the Battlefield.
Lining up at Bulgari 5th Avenue.
Cece Cord, Joanne King Herring, and Montgomery Frazier.
Bettina Baban, Joanne King Herring, and Kyrill Firshein.
Montgomery Frazier, Lynette Dallas, and Zang Toi. Enid and Edward Sanchez.
Margaret Copeland, Marcia Biggs, David Levy, and Allison Levy.
Veronica Bulgari and Joanne King Herring.
Ali Velshi, Joanne King Herring, and Dr. Joe Agris.
Sharon Hoge, Larry Brookshire, and Sarina Bass. Roric Tobin and Geoffrey Bradfield.
Joanne King Herring and Anita Sarko.
Willard Beckham, Raynald LeConte, Courtney Hudson, and John Lee.
Jenna Claunch, Joanne King Herring, and Lara Koch.
Those two Chelsea residents who had an idea about their neighborhood's abandoned elevated railroad track and transformed it (and the entire neighborhood as a result) into a Park. They've written a book about it: High Line: The Inside Story of New York City's Park In the Sky. All go-for-it energy, grit and imagination, against a lot of (but alas not quite all) odds, these two guys changed their neighborhood and even the town. They had a book signing, also on Tuesday night, See what I mean about books and New York social life ...?
Joshua David, Robert Hammond, and Howard Smythe.
Stefano Baccari and Constantine Bouras.
Shelley Fox Aarons, Pat Hammond, and Matt Wolf.
Jay Anning and Paul Soulellis.
Kate Foster and Emeri Fetzer. Dionne Broadus, Robert Greenhood, and Kate Lindquist.
Karen Jacob, Meredith Kennedy, and Paul Vershvow.
Hal and Pat Hammond.
Frieda Wishinsky, Bill Wishinsky, and Susan Sermoneta.
Stephen Wilder and David Cobb Craig.
Diane Passage and Joshua David.
Jerry Saliman, Ray Vallejo, and Jack Schlegel.

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