Thursday, April 26, 2012

The World of Urban

Morning coffee. 11:00 AM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, April 26, 2012. Another day of morning Sun, then overcast then Sun; mild but cool.

At eleven-fifteen in the morning I went over to the American Museum of Natural History for their annual Environmental Lecture and Luncheon. The subject: The World of Urban Luncheon.
Outside the AMNH yesterday morning.
One of the chairs of this annual lecture, Connie Spahn, got me interested a number of years ago, and although I wasn’t able to make it in the last couple of years due to calendar conflicts, I think of it as one of the most important lectures available to the public in New York today.

The lecture is held in the Samuel LeFrak Auditorium – an enormous theatre. The first few years it got a decent crowd half-filling the auditorium. This year the place was packed. The messages are all about us and where we live; the air, the water, the land, the wildlife and the human life.

The formula is simple: three panelists who in one way or another are experts on the subject, and Lynn Sherr moderating. So you learn.

The lecture is really a discussion led by Sherr who is just about the best moderator I’ve ever seen. She keeps on subject but asks those “aside” questions that you’re thinking while you’re listening. She also lets the panelists, who are the authorities, do the talking. She keeps us, the audience, in mind. It’s never above your head and it’s always intelligent, thoughtful, and curious.

Click to order.
Ellen Futter the president of the museum opened the event with a few words. Futter is both a CEO and a professor. She tends to talk up to her audience; not down, as if she assumes you may not know but you’ve got a brain (the professor). It’s a pleasure.
On the subject of Urban Naturalists, she told us about Sherr’s new book: “Swim, Why We Love Water.” I thought: a book  about swimming?? A whole book?  

When Futter finished, I wanted to own it immediately.

It’s about you and swimming. And everything else and everyone else that swims. It’s about you and water and then you and nature and you and life. It’s your life as a bigger picture. The first thing you think of is your growing up. I began to get the feeling that reading it was little like actually swimming (on a comfort level).

The topic was: “The Urban Naturalist, the Roosevelt Legacy.” The Roosevelt being Teddy. The panelists were Douglas Brinkley who wrote a recent biography of Teddy Roosevelt, “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America,” Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the New York State Office Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and Steward T. A. Pickett, senior scientist and plant ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

Teddy Roosevelt, to whom the museum is dedicated (his father Theodore Sr. was one of the founders -- there’s still a Theodore V on the Board, I believe), was born in 1858 here in Manhattan, when much of it was still wild, especially north of what is now 59th Street. There was no Central Park, but there were thousands of acres, mainly uninhabited. It was a two hour or more carriage ride up to this part of Manhattan from where the Roosevelts lived.
Discussion in the LeFrak IMAX Theater with panelists Douglas Brinkley, Rose Harvey, and Steward Pickett, with moderator Lynn Sherr.
Summing up. It’s impossible to adequately report on the discussion which lasted for almost an hour. But certain points were emphasized. Mr. Brinkley’s stories about Teddy Roosevelt were engaging and thought-provoking. You wanted to know more about him. The panel pointed out by example how far we have got away, especially in just the past generation, from our relationship to the outdoors, to nature, and even to each other. 

It had me thinking about my own childhood in Massachusetts where if we weren’t in school, we were always outside, or at least as much as possible, and in the summer time, all day. We were all involved in physical activity even as simple as climbing trees and playing games of pretend (cowboys and Indians, etc.),or playing on swings. Children who stayed in the house were referred to as “hothouse plants.”
Panelists Rose Harvey and Steward Pickett, Museum President Ellen V. Futter, panelist Douglas Brinkley, and moderator Lynn Sherr.
80% of the population now live in urban areas. Kids today don’t have that and more often than not they’d rather be in front of a screen. By themselves.

The technology of our age has begun to slowly rob or deprive us of our relationship to each other. The outdoors is, for example, where we find, meet, see and connect with each other. The Park, it was pointed out, was where people could go and connect with each other.

I also learned we have a lot of nature around us right here in New York. 29,000 acres of it when you tally it. 843 of them right across the street from the museum -- Central Park. There are two million trees all over town. And all kinds of flora, fauna and wildlife. It’s the real school of life. That sums up Teddy Roosevelt’s aura.
Chairs Joanne Prager, Mary Solomon, Connie Spahn, Catherine Sidamon-Eristoff, Kitty Kempner, and Suzanne Cochran with Museum President Ellen V. Futter (center)
I’m lucky to live near a park and a river to remind me that the world is always moving on, and Nature is as close to Godliness as any of us will ever get in this incarnation.

The lecture is followed by a delicious lunch in the Roosevelt Rotunda (I was going to Michael’s to lunch with Blair Sabol). They raised $400,000 which goes to support the Museum’s scientific research and educational initiatives, including important work in biodiversity conservation. We were all lucky to be there.

The lecture/luncheon co-chairs who really produced results/turnout with the excellent product (it’s a basic business at this turn), were: Suzanne Cochran, Katheryn Kempner, Joanne W. Prager, Catherine Sidamon-Eristoff, Mary Solomon and Connie Spahn. 
Moderator Lynn Sherr with chair Connie Spahn.
Anne Sidamon-Eristoff and chair Catherine Sidamon-Eristoff
Charlotte and Ottavio Serena di Lapigio.
DPC and Blair Sabol.
Museum Provost Michael Novacek and Joe Gleberman.
Chairs Connie Spahn and Mary Solomon with friend.
Nancy and Hart Fessenden with friends.
Maryll, Blake, Stephen, Connie, and Kirk Spahn.
Joan Henle with friend, Jill Rappaport, Emily Bogle, Melanie Shorin, Judy Dimon, Jody Arnhold, Laurie Maglathlin, and Sue Mandel.
Lunch in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.
Tulip centerpiece with potted herbs.
Raspberry shortbread napoleon.
From the lecture it was down to Michael’s Wednesday, and full up. Just inside the door and Mary McFadden, Jackie Weld Drake, Anne Eisenhower and Saundra Whitney were lunching, as you can see. Around the room, a variety of trades and types: Bob Arum, the mega-fight promoter; Jewelle Bickford with Michael Fuchs; Susan Blonde with Javier Colon, James Cohen with the legendary Bo Dietl; Steven Haft, Gerry Imber and Duh Boyz – Della Femina, Greenfield, Bergman. I didn’t see Kramer the playwright. Next door, Hoda Kolb with producer Amy Rosenbloom, Simone Levinson at another table. The Angelas: Mariani and Missoni; Alice Mayhew, Paige Peterson and Anki Leeds, Connie Anne Phillips, Peter Price, Judy Price with Sarah Wolfe; Catherine Saxton; Stan Shuman, Steven Stolman, Sheldon Tannen, Boaty Boatwright with photographer Jean Pegliuso; Beverly Camhe, Caroline Hirsch and Andrew Fox with David Steinberg and Mrs.; Jack Kliger; Steve Mosko with Jerry Stiller; Jenny Ji, Martin Puris; David Beal; Saundra Whitney, Lyor Cohen; Jeff McDermott; Jay Cross.
Mary McFadden, Jackie Weld Drake, Anne Eisenhower, and Saundra Whitney at Michael's.
Last night at the Pierre, the Versailles Foundation Inc. /Claude Monet-Giverny held its annual black tie dinner in the Cotillion room of the hotel. In the Presence of His Royal Highness The Prince Edward Earl of Wessex.

Barbara de Portago who heads up the foundation hosts this dinner. Her mother, the late Florence Van der Kemp and her stepfather Gerald Van der Kemp were almost entirely responsible for the great restoration of Versailles in the last half of the 20th century. They were masters at the art of raising funds and restoring and the world came to their doors. Barbara is, in her way, their heiress of professional purpose.

The evening always features a royal personage speaking of his or her history. All of them reflect a very human, even humble side. The biggest draw are always the British because they are the premier royal family in the world today having survived the halcyon days of Empire.
Last night's program.
Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh made this event once before. I recall it only because  at the time when I asked if I might take his picture, he replied very politely but pointedly, “I think we have had enough pictures taken already tonight.” I was put off by it but I also knew what he meant. Simple enough: he didn’t want his picture taken. I often feel the same way (although the comparison is weak).

I also got the impression that he was not entirely comfortable in the situation anyway. Perhaps he was shy, or perhaps he’d also had enough of these events, formal dinners, etc., as well as enough pictures.

This is all imagination from what I’d read in the papers about him, since I do not know the prince at all and have never even had a conversation with him.
Lee Black, Elizabeth Stribling, and Guy Robinson. Tinu Naija.
Guests moving into the Cotillion room. Margo Langenberg and Mario Buatta.
Margo Langenberg's little gift to Mario last night.
Mitzi Perdue being escorted into the dinner.
Last night his subject was Henry VIII. The program stated that it would be 15 minutes. As soon as he took the stage he told us that he couldn’t remember how Barbara had persuaded to come back for a second time, and secondly, fifteen minutes was not nearly enough time to talk about the life of Henry VIII. He was amusing in the telling but it was a way of expressing the discomfort that comes from getting up and having to talk. However, with that expressed, the prince launched into the life of the man we think of as the king who beheaded his wives and had a lot of them. Six I think it was.

Prince Edward began by telling us that what we knew about Henry was an outgrowth of legend and theatre and film and novels and biographies, but that the reality of the man and his life was not quite how it has been presented. 
The Cotillion Room set for dinner just before the guests entered with cadets from Valley Forge Military Academy and College.
Guests assembled watching the cadets precede the entrance of HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
Gillian Fuller being escorted to her table.
Mrs. John Dorrance III being escorted to her table.
The prince then explained the origins of the man (a young king who married his late brother’s fiancée, Catherine of Aragon who was 9 years older than he when he became engaged to her at age 9, marrying her before he was eighteen).

That first marriage, the first of six, lasted 24 of Henry’s 38 years as king. The first two thirds of his reign was with Catherine as his Queen and Wolsey as his premiere advisor as well as Cardinal of the Church. These were obviously the great years of the king’s reign with Wolsey firmly in control. All that came to an end with Anne Boleyn and politics. Prince Edward’s take on that relationship was that Boleyn was playing a high stakes game in a bid (for her family) for political power wrested from Wolsey. She succeeded, but Henry’s life was downhill after that in more ways than one. And so was Anne Boleyn’s, as we know.

The prince’s more than 15 minutes was fascinating and animated. He has some of his father’s natural exuberance speaking publicly,  and his wit and charm too. He seemed a little nervous about staying within the limits of quarter hour (impossible). My only regret was that he didn’t have more time.

More on the evening later ...
The Prince arrives; Barbara de Portago's son, Russel Grant (in foreground), who recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Over at Tiffany two Tuesdays ago (April 17), we missed the cocktail reception they had for the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy. Tiffany had unveiled their store windows paying tribute to the Conservancy and the upcoming 30th Anniversary of the Women’s Committee’s Frederick Law Olmsted Luncheon which is scheduled for next Wednesday, May 2nd.

The Luncheon (which we like call the Hat Luncheon) is the ultimate Spring fashion parade in New York among the smart set. It’s a feast for the eyes, not to mention the photographers. JH will be there working is photo magic along with the best of them. The Luncheon honors private and civic leaders for their involvement in the restoration and maintenance of Central Park. This sold-out luncheon has become the signature event of the Conservancy’s Women’s Committee, and is the premier Springtime luncheon in New York City. 

Each of the five Tiffany windows are dedicated to the Park and the lush scenes that all of us can enjoy. You will be able to see these window through Sunday, May 6th.
Tiffany Window - Conservancy Garden.
Tiffany Window - The Dairy.
Tiffany Window - The Reservoir.
Tiffany Window - Bethesda Fountain.
Tiffany Window - Conservatory Water.
At the Tiffany cocktail: Anne Harrison, current president of the Women’s Committee, Gillian Miniter who is this year’s honoree -- and was the previous president of the Women’s Committee; luncheon co-chairs Andrea Henderson Fahnestock, Amie James, Sheila Labrecque and Lizzie Tisch (those are only the names I gathered – there are more). It is an amazing New York event, a scene which is classic New York harking back to more traditionally oriented times in the last mid-century.
Amie James, Andrea Henderson Fahnestock, Lizzie Tisch, and Sheila Labrecque.
Beth Canavan and Anne Harrison.
Tania Higgins. Victoria Foley, David Foley, and Tiffany Moller.
Gillian Miniter, Doug Blonsky, Sheila Labrecque, and Maureen Mulheren.
Cricket Burns and Jacqueline Curley. Donald and Barbara Tober.
Betsy Pitts, Amelia Prounis, and Wendy Carduner.
Podie Lynch and Karen Klopp.
Angela Clofine and Shannon Henderson. Gillian Steel and Amie James.
Anna Safir, Eleanora Kennedy, and Elizabeth Stribling.
Nyssa Kourakos and Yesim Philip. Richard Moore and Fernanda Kellogg.
Rich Wilkie and Steven Stolman.

Photographs by D. Finnin (AMNH); Patrick McMullan (CPC).

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