Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Old wives' tales

Looking south along Fifth Avenue from 70th Street. 7:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012. It’s warm in New York. 60 degrees at 11 p.m. And that’s one block off the river from which blows a strong breeze. It’s damp and the sidewalks and the roads are wet. That damp wet under a streetlight. It’s been raining on and off for the past four days, drizzle, rarely hard.

The week after next week is the beginning of the long Christmas weekend here in New York, and everywhere across America. The social scene will soon consist entirely of cocktail parties, holidays parties, cocktail parties and lots of dinners out.

Tonight is one of the last of the big galas for the holiday season. The Museum of the Moving Image is holding their 27th annual (they call it a “Salute”) and the Awardee is ... HUGH JACKMAN!

That means they’ll do very well because if there’s any one who can sell tickets by just showing up and they’ll come clamoring, it’s Hugh Jackman. You probably know more about this than I do but the last show he was doing here, his own show, they were paying a thousand bucks to sit in the orchestra and drool and shriek. And these weren’t teenagers. He has the magic touch. More on that on Wednesday after the ball.

Old Wives Tale. I was having lunch last week at La Grenouille. My lunch guest and I were seated next to two women I know, one a friend. When the other woman went to the powder room, my friend leaned over on the banquette, with a big smile as if she were about to laugh from shock, and said: “I’m hearing so much gossip.” I told her that lately I'd been hearing a lot of stories about the neighbors too. I said it must be in the air. Or the water.

“So tell us,” I urged my friend who is not what you’d call a gossip, or anything but amazed when she hears about the webs we weave when it comes to deceive.

She said, “She said I could,” referring to her lunch partner who was off powdering her nose.

Christmas decorations abound on the Upper East Side.
It so happened I knew the couple in the story.  I met them when I came back to New York in the early '90s. She was the very wealthy widow of an heir to a famous American manufacturing fortune. With two small children. Forty-ish; and he, mid-twenties. She is a very nice woman, down-to-earth, empathic, simpatico, intelligent, a welcoming hostess, easy to talk to, a good listener and obviously liked people.

I knew about her financial background the way most of her friends knew. Rich husband, the land of eternal trust funds. She handled her widowhood by getting out there and participating in the community. She was active in the charity circuit and a committed philanthropist. She had a big house in town, with a river view, and an estate in Southampton. Nothing pretentious about her, however; nothing.

He was ... a kid to these eyes. A proper young man, yes; neatly buttoned up and tied-out, hair slicked back, well-groomed. Maybe in a training program downtown? A bank? An investment bank? I didn’t know, I was guessing and I never asked.

At that first dinner party at her (their) house, he stood up after the main course, at one end of the table (for twelve), and gave a long toast to her at the other end. How wonderful and loving she was, he shared; what a great friend, so generous, so kind. And how beautiful, and courteous, and a good mother, and a great friend and the most wonderful woman a man could ever be so lucky to meet. Every time he looked at her over his glass of champagne, he sighed.
I don’t recall the words exactly -- only how remarkably over-the-top it sounded to these ears. Because he looked like a kid, which in a way, he was. From  the boonies maybe, maybe the Midwest (which it turned out he was). A nice kid, mind you. A perfect gentlemen (straight out of ballroom dancing school).  But what could he know other than maybe she was his own Mrs. Robinson. And here's to you ...

She beamed when he spoke, and her lady friends seemed to be pleased to hear of his thrill. I don’t know what the men were thinking. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn they were thinking pretty much what I was thinking.

Which was ... .here I am back in New York, the greatest city of commerce in the world, sitting in this elegant grand dining room of our hostess, all paid for by the great American fortune: listening to this Eagle Scout in the dark blue suit and the silvery Hermes tie.

He seemed very naïve.  Although, I could see, he was already playing in the big time. Or was I naïve?
His “toast” wasn’t offensive. What he was referring to is true: she was, she is, a very nice woman. And no bubblehead, but intelligent and thinking. Whatever else she thought, she had to recognize his youthful naïvete, however.  But obviously, at least she was amused.

I’d been told that life with her dear departed was no bed of roses. I assumed  a little bit of hayseed came as a relief – and couldn’t hurt the heart. New York women of means think that way, or at should think that way if they’ve half a brain to go with that great big bank account.

Not one of the guests mentioned the toast to me after dinner. I assumed this went on all the time. I later learned that it did.

That was at least fifteen years ago. I have seen the couple many times over the years, at her/their houses, at parties, at benefits. Years passed, and they remained together. He’d moved in and took part in the parenting – a kind and patient parent. He liked his life. She must have liked their life.
A few years ago, I heard that they’d “separated,” and that he’d got his real estate license, no doubt planning to use all the “connections” he’d made in her world to get into high end private residential market in Manhattan. It sounded almost like Junior had grown up and moved out of the house. He also, I was told (not by her), had a new interest: a boyfriend.

This was all hearsay, the kind of information that often comes my way when someone feels compelled to “spill” for their own reasons. They often assume I’ll repeat the story, which often has to do with someone’s sex life and getting even. I didn’t, and I don’t.

A couple of years later, I saw them together again. Talking to them, they seemed the same as they had the first days that I knew them, both pleasant and engaging. I thought, maybe they’d worked out whatever their issues were, and decided they were a good team together. Because they looked it. I assumed the big bad world out there was tougher than he’d conjured.
That was about six or eight months ago. According to my neighbor on the banquette last week, nothing with the couple was what it seemed: Our friend learned that her man (now no longer a kid) had stolen $500,000 worth of her jewelry to pay some debt of his that involved a court case that dealt with a debt three times that. So, Ohio or no, our boy wasn’t exactly supercalifragilisticexpialadocious.

Our friend, the once merry window is now very angry. Very. No one said anything about her being hurt, but that’s probably at the bottom of her rage. She’d been betrayed, 17 years of betrayed. In retrospect, she’ll probably see how she should have known, how she went along with an idea of someone that had more to do with an ideal. My memory harkens back to that first time I heard him make his toast. A voice within me was saying: “he must kidding.” I dropped the thought because I could see, over time, that it worked for them. Until it didn’t.

And that’s all I know at this moment,
and maybe all I’ll ever know. The children, of course are grown and living large on their own trust funds. So the parenting part, which must have been a boon for our Lady at the time, is over. In some way she may even think it was worth part of the price she was paying. But just a very small part. Betrayal owns the rest.
Robert A.M. Stern, award recipient, Elizabeth and Sam White (great-great-grandson of Stanford White), and George Ranalli, award recipient at ICAA's kick-off reception for the Stanford White Awards.
Back to what the city does best for the best of the city. Last Friday night over at a private club on Park Avenue, the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) held a reception for their first of what will be the annual  Stanford White Awards. The Awards are the ICAA’s first regional recent project-specific design awards. The White Family has approved it, and Sam and Elizabeth White, the great but ill-fated architect’s descendents. The special evening was even held in one of his masterpieces.
Mark Ferguson, award recipient. Lloyd Zuckerberg, awardee for patronage, with his sons Henry and Toby.
Steve Ballenger, Barbara Eberlein, Paul Gunther, and Suzanne Stephens.
Hyungjin Lim of the winning firm of George Ranalli Architect, and awardees Edmund Hollander, Peter Pennoyer, Thomas Nugent, and John B. Murray.
Calder Loth, Master of Ceremonies.
Paul Gunther hands certificate to 15CPW developer Will Zeckendorf and design winners Paul Whelan and Michael Jones of Robert A.M. Stern Architects.
The ICAA's 2012 Stanford White Award recipients:

Residential Architecture – New Construction
Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, LLP
A New Residence and Outbuildings
Peter Pennoyer Architects
Drumlin Hall
Robert A. M. Stern Architects, LLP
Residence in Westport, CT

Residential Architecture – Renovation and Additions
Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, LLP
Alterations and Additions to Pepperidge Farm
Wright Architects, PLLC and Richard Cameron, Design Consultant
Richard Morris Hunt Carriage House

Residential Architecture – Townhouses and Apartments
John B. Murray Architect, LLC
Park Avenue Apartment
David Scott Parker Architects
Eastside Aesthetic Brownstone

Residential Architecture – Multi-Unit Buildings
Zivkovic Connolly Architects, P.C. and John Simpson & Partners Ltd.
Carnegie Hill Apartment Building
Robert A. M. Stern Architects, LLP
Fifteen Central Park West

Commercial, Civic and Institutional Architecture
George Ranalli, Architect
Saratoga Community Center

Landscape Design
Edmund D. Hollander Landscape Architects
Forest Retreat

Historic Preservation
Franck & Lohsen Architects
Old Westbury Estate Garden Pergola Restoration

Craftsmanship and Artisanship
Hyde Park Mouldings, Inc.
Louis XV Mirror Surround
John Canning & Co., Ltd.
The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist Church
Les Métalliers Champenois Corp.
151 East 79th Street

Patronage Award
Lloyd Zuckerberg
Last Thursday night Larry Lederman held a booksigning for his great new book Magnificent Trees of the New York Botanical Garden. Also on hand were Larry’s collaborator (writer of the book’s text, Todd Forrest). A week before, the New York Times chose it as one of their top ten choices, a first for a coffee table book (and about trees). It’s a beautiful book, as you may have read here before. It’s nature’s canvas that Larry has captured in a project that he committed himself to over many years through all the seasons, of the forests and woodlands of the New York Botanical Garden. A soothing trip for all eyes.
Sara Vass and her red bicycle in front of Archivia where she'd biked to say hello to her friend Larry. Authors Larry Lederman and Todd Forrest.
Click to order
or buy immediately at Archivia.
Cynthia Conigliaro, Archivia's proprietress, with Larry Lederman and his wife Kitty Hawks.
The Hawks-Ledermans in front of the Archivia window which Kitty designed.
I stopped by Archivia that afternoon to find Alex Hitz autographing customers' copies of his new cookbook,"My Beverly Hills Kitchen; Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist." 70 copies by the time I got there.
After leaving Archivia, I took a short walk up Lexington Avenue to look at the season's resplendence.
Roberta Roller Rabbit.
Lexington Gardens.

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