Friday, April 13, 2012

Early April cool in New York

Looking southeast from 42nd Street and 11th Avenue. Photo: JH.
Friday, April 13, 2012. Sunny Spring day in New York with massive purple grey rainclouds moving in to the south ... and then away, and then more, and then away. But no rain. It’s early April cool in New York. I always forget Spring has some very cool days.

I won’t belabor it but moving around the city today I am still amazed at all the flowering beauty. It almost seems as if Mother Nature is lingering on our behalf — not only in the parks but on the streets and avenues, in the window boxes and the plots surrounding the trees. The tulips and those flowering trees, the pink, the white. It amazes me here amongst the towering canyons of steel and mortar and glass, and brick and macadam to be reminded of beauty by these touches of nature — big, small; all beauty.
City life is harsh in many ways, no matter the season. I was reminded of that specifically the night before last at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House gala when honoree Diana Quasha talked about what she encountered when she first visited the House. The hardship. Poverty is oddly unrespectable in our material world, but  is crushing and daunting for those of us who live it. Confusion and extreme emotions abound and the spirit is weakened dangerously.

There are more people in need and more people in New York these days, on the sidewalks, with their hand out; all kinds, including the professionals. The professionals make it more difficult for those who are truly desperate. The forces like the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House and others like them — the East Side House Settlement, the Henry Street Settlement House, to name only three — are working at it day and night. In the past they’ve strengthened the community. But they can only do so much. They need too: help to help.
A couple of weeks ago about 9:30 I went into an ATM on the Upper East Side, just a block from Park Avenue. In the corner next to the stand where you write out the deposit, I notice a pile of blankets with something under.  When making my deposit, I heard movement. I turned around. It was a woman of maybe 45, maybe 50. Her face was hidden but I asked her if I she were all right and she came out of hiding.  She was open faced and lovely but fragile.

On my questioning, she told me that she’d lost her apartment and her job months and months before, and now she was on the street. How did she get to that point? Some would have an idea — drugs, drink, insanity. Those are often the “explanations” we make to ourselves without knowing the truth.
She told me she’d chosen this particular neighborhood because it was “safer” than others, and it was a cold night. She hadn’t eaten either. Her demeanor, her manner, even her appearance betrayed her state because she looked healthy and hardy despite the circumstances. If she’d come into the bank without the blanket and wearing a coat, I would have thought she lived in the neighborhood.

I gave her some money to get something to eat, and some ideas in finding shelter. But for a woman in her state, that was a less then temporary solution. I left her hoping she had the strength to lift herself out of it. Those of us who have never been confronted with that task wouldn’t understand, but it’s monumental and for some, almost impossible.
If you are rich in New York, or even fully and well employed, and have the privilege of evading or avoiding many aspects of the harshness of the city life, that’s a blessing. But even the very rich are confronted. For example, the noise on the streets can shock you. At certain times of day, you can’t avoid it. The hammering clamor, the bleating horns of all sorts and volumes, the banging, the slamming. And the rush — to the bus, the subway, the taxi. The rush to get ahead. The madding crowds. That’s the city.

Many in that rush are careless and arrogant and insensitive. This is never a good sign, and if you have had enough of that and you are vulnerable, you can think you hate New York. It has always been this way — or at least in my long lifetime experience. Although it is harsher for everyone (including mentally) these days, than ever before in memory. It is noticeable to the older generations and apparently oblique to many in the younger generations, But they are naturally used to it.
The other night I was sitting next to Victoria Hagan the interior designer who lives with her husband Michael Berman, and their twin sons in Connecticut. She loves the City and works here where she has an office and a staff of eighteen So she’s busy. That means rush. Hurry. But she’s home every morning and home every night. She told me she decided when they were born that she didn’t want them to grow up in the City because she didn’t want them to be 14 and 15 and sneaking out at midnight to go to a club while their parents slept. She wasn’t condemning it but instead regarding it as City life. And not the best idea for anyone involved, especially in these uneasy times.

This story certainly isn’t new, because that’s city life. Brigid Berlin, the famous Warhol Factory girl and film star told me once growing up in the maisonette at 834 Fifth Avenue, one of the poshest co-op buildings in the city, she and her sister used to exit via their bedroom window, over the canopy and slide down the side out of the sight of even the doormen. Her parents would be in bed asleep and the sisters would be out half the night at the clubs. This was fifty years ago.

But that’s New York too. And if you’re a kid or a very young man or woman, it’s fabulous and enervating no matter what the parents think. It’s New York and you’re IN it.
From the flora and fauna of New York Springtime to life on the streets. How did it get to that?  Riding along West 81st Street by the American Museum of Natural History yesterday after noon, walking up Broadway in the 70s where the islands are festooning planted with flowering trees and tulips, set against the steel and mortar and brick I am still astonished by the beauty.  All of it put there by creative hands and some generous hearts. I was reminded that hope is real and so are its results.
Last night on my way to dinner at Swifty’s, I stopped by Archivia where they were hosting a booksigning for interior designer Jennifer Post. I’ve met Jennifer before although we hardly know each other. However, she’s easy to meet and there was a big crowd, many of whom were fans of the designer, even Margaret Russell, the new editor in chief of Architectural Digest put in an appearance.

I got there more than an hour into (a two-hour) reception and the store was still packed. Interior designers in New York are a hard working lot. This is not a leisurely profession. All kinds of considerations are presented by each new project and each new client.
Jennifer Post Pure Space in window display at Archivia.
Jennifer Post through the window.
It’s a 24/7 profession and it’s important to make it look effortless at least to the client, if nobody else. Jennifer, I can see is very industrious, and seemingly unflappable and focused.

A friend of mine who had been there before me and remained after I left, later told me that the designer is “very nice and very sweet.” How could she tell? “Her staff loves her. She practically did a huddle with them at the end of the evening, thanking them for helping her get to this point etc. that's a sign of grace, right?”

It’s in the work, and in the book.
Jennifer Post posing with and signing Pure Space. Click to order or buy immediately at Archivia at 72nd and Lex.
Jennifer Post and Margaret Russell.

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