Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sunshine and clear

A family picnic. 3:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012.  It was like a mid-Spring day, yesterday in New York. Sunshine and clear with temperatures in the low 70s. The glorious pear trees made their annual debut on East End Avenue (and elsewhere around town). I took this shot below on the edge of the park on 86th and East End.

The corner of brick Victorian residences across the avenue are known as Henderson Place (there is a tiny mews a couple of doors into 86th Street).
The pear trees in bloom all of a sudden as of yesterday morning on East End Avenue between 86th and 87th Streets.
The Neighborhood. Across the street in the Carl Schurz the forsythia are in high bloom. This parkland surrounds Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayors of the city. (Mr. Bloomberg prefers living in his own house down on 79th Street and so now the house is used – constantly – for sundry municipal and cultural events).

Archibald Gracie IV.
The name of the property – originally known as Horn’s Hook – on the East River, comes from an early owner, Archibald Gracie, an enterprising Scotsman who came to New York in 1784 with goods to sell.

This put him in a business which flourished, making him rich. At one point his business partner was Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury. Gracie was also a friend of John Jay, the first Supreme Court Justice of the new United States.

A great-grandson, Archibald Gracie IV was one of the few male survivors of the Titanic. He survived by standing on an overturned life raft although he suffered hypothermia as well as physical injuries.

On arriving in New York on the Carpathia, he immediately set out to write a book about his experience of the sinking. The book, “A Survivor’s Story and the Sinking of the S. S. Titanic” by Archibald Gracie and Jack Thayer, is still in print. Gracie died only a few months later, on December 4th, 1912, never really having recovered from the maritime disaster. He was a month from his 54th birthday.
Looking across East End at 86th to Carl Schurz Park.
Rhododendron popping open....
Monday night I had dinner at Sette Mezzo with Joan and Philip Kingsley who are in from London – although Philip travels the Atlantic every six weeks or so to tend to his salons here in New York. Philip is the primo hair doctor in the world. A London boy, he started out as a kid, sweeping floors in the salon of an uncle. The uncle advised him that being a hairdresser was not what he was cut out for, suggesting that he instead learn about haircare.

This was a new topic of popular interest when he began his business in London more than a half century ago. Since then the list of famous clientele that has darkened Philip’s salon door is long and famous and even beknighted, not to mention – so I’ve heard – Royal. Philip will never tell because he’s the master of the delicately discreet. By which I mean, he will enjoy the speculation with you while ignoring the question.
A plate of cookies at Sette Mezzo.
Conversation at table led to the Queen’s Jubilee in early June which will include a 700-boat flotilla on the Thames with all London already claiming their spots to view this once in a lifetime event.  

All this led to a couple of books I’d recently read: Sally Bedell Smith’s “Elizabeth, The Queen” and Anne Sebba’s “That Woman,” yet another biography of Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. I wasn’t going to read it, figuring I knew enough about the lady to have lost interest in knowing anymore. However, a friend of mine told me he felt the same way but that Liz Smith had given it to him because she felt the same way … and couldn’t put it down.

The teenage Wallis at the Oldfields School, affecting a monocle and anxious to be fashionable and make an impression.
I could put it down, as it turned out, but not for long. Sebba writes giving the lady the benefit of the doubt. The “doubt” being her worthiness. She explains the duchess’ beginnings – always the most important part of the story of a life – and you see that she was profoundly challenged from birth, for physical reasons, to claim an identity which she could live with.

That sounds peculiar, I know, but the woman’s medical condition was peculiar to the lay person, and never discussed otherwise. The image that she developed for herself was that of a femme fatale (“that woman!”) with a past resembling Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart in “House of Mirth.”

By the time she became famous as the lover of the King, she had accommodated the delicate balance of her physical self: She was highly feminine with some very masculine physical and psychological attributes. One of her best friends growing up, Mary Kirk (who married Ernest Simpson after Wallis divorced him), concluded she was “evil.” But Wallis was ruthless about getting what she thought she needed. (Which at the end of the day was like a lot of us: Money.)

The British Royal family evidently referred to her as “That Woman” and considered her highly ambitious beyond anyone’s ken. The official Royal position on her Presence on the Planet – which influenced official state policy – remained the same from the beginning (when she was a divorcee married to Ernest Simpson and first becoming involved with the Prince of Wales, soon to be Edward VIII).
The house at Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania where Bessiewallis Warfield was born on June 19, 1896.
The Prince, always known as David to his family members, was a hybrid of generations of royal unions – as were all of his siblings. The Almanach de Gotha is garnished with this situation. In his late teens through his thirties, Edward, the Prince of Wales was the most famous and beloved British Royal in the World. And that was when the empire was The Empire. A very small man (“the little man” – he was five-seven and very slight) was often the pejorative reference to him in his waning days as monarch). He ate very little and challenged himself physically to prove something to himself. He had a charming smile, bright pale blue eyes, blonde hair and loved everything American. He was, in his own eyes, the very model of a modern monarch – a child of Scott Fitzgerald’s “Jazz Age.” Or so he probably thought. And so did she, and a lot of their friends in the early days of their relationship.

He was always attracted to older women and had had two famous affairs with married women before Wallis – one of them being the aunt of Gloria Vanderbilt – her mother’s twin sister, Lady Thelma Furness.

Design of a brooch the Duke commissioned at Cartier for Wallis in 1940.
The finished product.
Cut to the chase. The Attraction is the reason the relationship and marriage of Wallis and David, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor is so compelling while so mundane. She was the “butch” and he was the “femme”in their domestic political arrangement.

I know that sounds crass, but those seem to have been the rules that naturally were written between them psychically. Author Sebba presents the idea that Wallis may not have wanted to marry him by the time he abdicated the throne for her. Perhaps being the upper middle class American  girl with no knowledge of how things worked, she had once actually thought one day she might be his Queen. She wouldn’t have been the first. Her road was a long one. She was forty when they met. That was distinctly middle-age in those days. Fate would have it that she was going to get what she wished for – namely money (financial security) and a title, not to mention international social prominence. To a good Southern girl (Baltimore) this was the most important currency she could acquire.

So they married. But not before the relationship turned into a media circus that today could spawn a whole empire of merchandising and marketing  celebrity.

He was the one who couldn’t get enough of her. And when it came down to the British Throne and the Empire, only five months from his planned coronation, he dumped the whole thing and told the nation that he was leaving “for the woman I love.” As romantic as it sounds, it was heavy. It was so heavy that his own family banished him from their lives forever. In case you wanna know how forgiving those Royal Christians can and cannot be. Poor little David found out the hard way. They ostracized him, and denied him forever the one thing he wanted for the woman he worshipped, that she be given the title of Her Royal Highness. Duchess, yes. Royal High, uh-uh. Just like Diana, just like Sarah.  You don’t fool with Mother Nature’s Sun.

There have been all kinds of suppositions made from the beginning as to what her sexual techniques were with him. There has also been testimony of his interests being homosexual (and hers too, according to Scotty Bowers in his new book “Full Service”). What is clear is that the man had an obsessive/compulsive relationship with her that had the same intensity as if it were sexual. So, in a way, it always was. Her presence in his life, his idolizing her somehow gave him an identity that was “freeing.”  He lived for it. She was his Goddess. That wasn’t her fault, although the common opinion amongst his relatives was that it was.  That Woman.

One thing they had in common was the love of jewels. He loved giving her jewels and had she been his Queen as he would have hoped, she would have been bedecked from night to early morn in them. As it was, she amassed a fantastic collection, all gifts from her David.
The Duke and the Duchess on the way to the Bahamas in 1941, where she is wearing the Cartier Flamingo clip.
From Sebba’s book:

“And the British royal family could not prevent the Duke buying Wallis gifts of jewellery fit for a royal highness. The duke had visited Cartier in Paris just before the fall of France with pocketsful of stones, some of Wallis’ bracelets and a necklace, together with instructions to make up at least one piece, a remarkable indication of his obsession with pleasing one woman above all the terror, privation and dislocation surrounding him in France. He was apparently oblivious to the notion that his requirements for production of such a jewel in wartime might strike some as insensitive. The bold diamond flamingo clip with startling tail feathers of rubies, sapphires and emeralds, was made in Paris in 1940 according to his instruction that the brooch should have retractable legs so that Wallis could wear it centrally without a leg digging in to her chest if she bent down. Wearing this magnificent three-dimensional flamingo with its brilliant plumage would have been audacious at any time. Wallis, who used jewellery not simply as a display of wealth but to express her bold style and above all her personality, wore it as she set off on her controversial October 1941 visit to the United States with the Duke .... Together (the Duke) and the Duchess became major jewellery buyers and connoisseurs.

Click to order or buy immediately at Archivia.
Author Sebba takes you right to the heart of this fairy-tale life among the savages. The British Royal Family with the assistance and probably the advice of the political establishment cut the boy loose. From the Sun and the Moon to Phhht.  Never again – until Diana – would a Royal personage have the impact on the world that he had as the heir to the throne. He lived through decades of adulation until That Woman came along.

And hindsight provides the denouement of having such an impact on the world, in the eyes of the British Establishment. Ironically Diana’s departure put Prince Charles in a light similar to that of his great-uncle David, when he married Camilla Parker-Bowles. However, times have changed dramatically (and drastically) and the present day Royal couple have not suffered the same banishment.

You could say that Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor got what she wanted in life. Talk about winning the lottery. She got the jewels, and the jack, as they used to say in her youth. And she got the man who worshipped her to his last breath. However, with that ticket came the burden of being at the effect of his madly “obsessive” love, as well as her never being accepted by only those whose acceptance would indemnify status and respect for a girl from a once fine Maryland family.
The house in the Bois de Boulogne, 4 Route de Champ d'Entrainment, where the Duke and the Duchess lived in Paris from the late 1950s, and where she died in 1986. The house was loaned to them by the City of Paris, underlining the irony that a country which had destroyed its monarchy and executed its king and queen, should bestow palatial living quarters to an exiled king from a constitutional monarchy. None of this was lost on either the Duke or his Duchess.
The only one who really seemed to have come out of it with the one thing he wanted, was the Duke himself. Wallis was most definitely “the woman” he “loved” come hell or high water. No matter how he preferred it, she was the only thing he really ever wanted. And being King, he naturally thought he had every right to it, even if it meant casting the Throne aside.

And so it was. The Duke died in 1972 at 78, and Wallis lived to be 90, in grave health in her last years, isolated from the world by her lawyer. After her death, the jewels her prince gave his beloved were auctioned off in Geneva (London was out of the question), raising more than $50 million for an AIDS charity.
April 30, 1986, the Queen Mother (with Anne, the Princess Royal behind her), watches as the Welsh Guard carries the coffin of her lifelong nemesis, the Duchess of Windsor, down the steps of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, before being laid to rest next to her husband at Frogmore. Behind is the Queen and Prince Charles, followed by Princess Margaret.
Meanwhile, JH had a quick look around the Upper West Side ...
Meanwhile, in Maastricht for The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) ...
First time TEFAF visitors Dr. Patrick and Dana Stübgen are contemporary art collectors. While Dr. Stübgen, a neurologist, said, "this is the best contemporary art show in the world ... it engages the eye and the mind," his wife found a bangle bracelet at Hemmerle. Photographs by Guy van Grinsven, NL.
Henry Moore's 41/2 foot long Reclining Figure: Curved. Considered one of the sculptor's greatest pieces, it has never been on the open market. $35 million, Landau Fine Art, Montreal, Canada.
Anselm Kiefer's Merkaba at Applicat-Prazan, Paris, FR.
Giuseppe Penone's Acacia thorns on silk, Haunch of Venison, London, UK.

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