Thursday, May 17, 2012

On Your Plate

Reviving life in a back alley. 2:20 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, May 17, 2012. A sunny and mild day yesterday in New York, with a blast of heat and humidity from mid-afternoon to early evening. The weather always keeps us guessing.

Yesterday at noontime, City Harvest hosted its annual “On Your Plate” luncheon at the Metropolitan Club. Susan Fales-Hill was the guest speaker.

City Harvest was started thirty years ago this year. It was a simple idea that grew out of some people’s observations and sensitivities to what was going on in the community we call New York. The city was still coming out of it slump and doldrums from the 70s and there was a sizeable number of citizens who didn’t get enough to eat on a daily basis. Others noticed that the restaurants which were doing good business were also throwing away a lot of the leftover food every night. The idea was: why not re-distribute it? It was common sense.
Susan Fales-Hill, Shawn Searight, a driver for City Harvest, and Gillian Miniter.
Today City Harvest delivers more than 100,000 pounds of food daily throughout the city. 33 million pounds of food a year. It’s a real success story about what people can do simply and easily for each other if they are willing to give.

I was introduced to it almost twenty years ago by Joy Ingham who with Topsy Taylor and Emilia Saint-Amand were very involved in fund-raising for City Harvest. These women were dedicated and worked hard at it. Now, although still involved, they’ve stepped back to the newer generation of women who have taken the reins. They have taken a good idea and a good foundation and have made a marked difference in its growth and progress.

The authoress signs a copy of One Flight Up for Mr. Searight.
The organization has also progressed and prospered under Jilly Stephens, the executive director who started eight years ago as the Senior Director of Program Development. She and Patricia Barrick, Vice President of External Relations – the woman behind the fundraising and marketing – have presided over the growth of City Harvest with a strong executive staff, 18 trucks and four bikes and a corps of drivers who are as involved in the process of giving as is every donor. The drivers who deliver the food daily know their clients, often by name.

They understand the issues in the community and hunger is at the top of the list (but far from the only one). These men really understand the community, far better than many of us – including our politicians.  Their involvement in this job is also empowering.

All of this is a natural response to a growing issue in our community: hunger. It’s not far from any door anymore, even your own.

Susan Fales-Hill is a volunteer at City Harvest although she was asked to speak yesterday because she’s a lifelong New Yorker with a distinct sensitivity to city life and an interesting career. Her mother was the Brooklyn-born Haitian girl who emigrated to Broadway and became a star, Josephine Premice.

Susan’s father Timothy Fales was the son of a banker. Their marriage in 1960 made headlines and the tabloids marked it by reporting that the groom had been ostracized by his family as well as the Social Register. This apparently wasn’t true, but it reflected the accepted prejudices that were ordinary and unquestioned by most if not all.
Susan's parents, Josephine Premice and Timothy Fales.
However, the couple had a son – Enrico, and daughter – Susan. Susan went to Lycee Francaise and then Harvard. She’s multi-lingual – fluent in French, Italian, Spanish. After college she went to work in television in Hollywood as a writer (with Bill Cosby) and eventually writer-producer, and now a biographer (of her mother – Always Wear Joy and two novels One Flight Up, and the about-to-be published Imperfect Bliss.

Today Susan remains a New Yorker, married to a banker, Aaron Hill, and mother of a young daughter. NYSD readers recognize her as very much a part of the social and cultural scene of the city, active in several charities. She is also a woman who has a lot of friends – all the way from her school days at Lycee to new acquaintances.
City Harvest's annual “On Your Plate” luncheon at the Metropolitan Club.
A red velvet cupcake, fresh berries, and ice cream made for a scrumptious dessert.
You can see just from her resume that she’s a very smart woman, well-educated and also recipient of a somewhat unusual family combination. Bi-racial marriages and/or relationships are commonplace today, and even ordinary. Susan’s generation, reflecting its upbringing and education and its progression, marked the transition. One result of the world she was born into and grew up in is a sophisticated – and very funny – wit.

Yesterday she talked about that life to a rapt audience. JH was able to video a good section of it.
The first 16 minutes of Susan's laugh-out-loud and moving speech. Click above to watch.
Last week a new magazine emerged to join the host of magazines  in New York that focus directly on the city and its potential readership. It is called Vault,” a scion of the Andy Warhol/ John Fairchild Era of the popular fashion magazines. Those two – Warhol and Fairchild – revived and reconstituted the popular magazine of the last half of the 20th century. It’s been obliterated in the first 10% of the 21st century because of the internet. 

The Age of Television had obliterated the “pictorial” magazines that came before, so that’s what happens. If Warhol had lived another ten years, he’d have been in the center of the dotcom boom and its technological transformations. No doubt, he would have been looking at “new” in publishing, mainly he’d be looking on the web.

Vault is glossy and fashion-y and expensive looking. Looking at it, I was imagining the reader is between 28 and 50 and already has everything but is having a glass of champagne while reading the magazine, which fits that image and the “edge” required in 21st century hipdom.

Most interesting, or engaging was a piece that reminded me very much of early Warhol Interview stuff. It is laid out and set up like a conversation between six people in Kenny Lane’s alluring apartment in one of the few remaining Stanford White houses in New York. The guests/the cast: KJL himself, Richard Turley (the piece opens with “Words by Richard Turley), Ike Ude, Liliana Dominguez, Mary McFadden, Michelle Harper and Amy Fine Collins.

It is all dialogue. Like a script. But it reads in the style of those old Warhol Interview interviews. It’s about nothing. They talk about fashion in a vague way. Kenny Lane is his usual acerbic self, balancing the blather with a barb here and there, or a bit of intriguing information or fact.

Does it sound superficial enough? Triple it. It reads superficial. BUT: you keep reading and you realize that you’re eavesdropping, just like you do when you’re sitting around waiting for somebody, and you overhear a private conversation.
The cast: KJL himself, Richard Turley, Ike Ude, Liliana Dominguez, Mary McFadden, Michelle Harper and Amy Fine Collins. Photos: Chris London.
It’s not the information that draws you in or informs you. It’s the people, the manner, the personalities, the comments. You find you’re participating mentally. You pass  judgment, analyze personalities, make a joke about it to yourself, are suddenly appalled, or laughing out loud (whoops, don’t let them to hear me ...).

They talk about Mary McFadden’s marriages. You learn that she’s been married 12 (or 14?) times. This sounds unusual – as good a word as any for the situation – but Mary is entirely and thoroughly Mary, and if you know her at all, you know that. Besides, in the age of Fairchild/Warhol, what’s shocking? Why am I reading this? (Why is he writing this?) Whose conversation is it anyway?

I was told this piece is rehearsing as a play. After reading, it seemed like a play. About a group of people – New Yorkers Now – sitting around talking about what appears to be “nothing.” I believed that was what it was, spontaneous and irrelevant. Except: I kept reading, addicted. Was it art or only artifice? Is this where Marshall McLuhan came in?

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