Tuesday, September 17, 2013

There’s something about the clouds

7:15 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, September 16, 2013.  Nice day, yesterday in New York. Temperatures around 70. Partly sunny, often cloudy. And then noticeably cooler, autumn cooler at nightfall.

There’s something about the clouds. I don’t know if it’s just that I never noticed, but the skies have often been very dramatic lately. At six last night, I took the dogs down to the Promenade by the river and was glad I brought my camera because ...
View from the entrance of the Promenade of Carl Schurz Park at East 83rd Street looking across the East River northeast toward Roosevelt Island, Queens, and the RFK Triboro Bridge.
And to the southeast to Roosevelt Island and the 59th Street Ed Koch Bridge.
Look at that cloud cover over Roosevelt Island and Queens stretching out over Long Island Sound. It’s so beautiful. and yet casually threatening ... a storm maybe; an omen?

The tide was coming in. You can always see the river flowing north with a strong, swift current full of large eddys. This is power; it’s not a notion, this it. A beautiful sailboat. About a 39-footer, with two people on deck, was coming up from the South. These boats are never full sail (or any sail) when moving on the river.  I’m not a sailor so I don’t know if that’s the law or if it just doesn’t work as well. So they motor. It’s interesting to watch them moving north when the tide is going out. Motor and all, they barely move upstream when she’s going out. Patience provided by Mother Nature.

Last night, just about sundown, a single sailboat, La Nelga (I couldn’t read the port) was motoring north with its mainsail open also. Sail or motor, nothing was necessary: the current was carrying them along rapidly. The travelers were on Alert. Attention must be paid now. You’re entirely in the moment and nowhere else. The world was moving on in that single boat.
La Nelga moving north. They were moving right along with the strong tidal current.
The wind and the water picks up their speed.
I love watching the boats. There’s not one, especially the sail boats, that I don’t imagine myself on. I look at the crew and I equate it with not-having-a-care-in-the-world. It’s a moment of private relief for me. I know; it’s delusive. But it’s my trip to bountiful at the end of a New York weekday in mid-September where the Sun and the Clouds and the Changing Tides are all around us, at our door, or closeby. The Washington Navy Yard shootings. You can feel them in New York. You could feel the dark moment right after. You could see them in the clouds. 9/11 did that. Period. Those clouds I was watching were carrying messages. Moving on. Peace somewhere out there. East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
La Negla in the distance moving toward the bridges and Long Island Sound. 5:45 p.m.
Over the weekend, I got caught up in reading “The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy” by David Cannadine. I’ve had this extraordinary book for years, for so long that I have now two copies, one more recently published. It was originally published in hardcover in 1990.  It’s a tome, 600 or 700 pages.

The new (top) and old versions. Click to order.
I probably first bought it in paperback a few years later. It was another one of those books that I bought because of the cover. In fact the newer different cover was as alluring as the original and I bought it a second time last year, having forgotten that I owned it. Anyway, I am glad to have two copies, one updated.

Mr. Cannadine is a scholarly writer. You have to pour yourself into the thicket of information about a world, a way of life, a point of view that is unimaginable to us Americans — or anybody else for that matter.  It’s jammed with facts and information detailing an epoch. In fact, I’ve never finished it. I just go back every now then mainly because I’m curious about something.

The British aristocracy in its 19th century heyday at the height of the Industrial Revolution and old Queen Victoria was a way of life that is still imitated, perhaps, in a kind of faux way – and maybe now moreso than ever. Nowadays the plutocrats have their fantastic and fabulous lairs and estates, yachts and jets, greater than anything, technologically than the British aristos could even have imagined.

However, back then they lived on a different planet and they lived well. So well that when Americans see depictions of that way of life (all coming from the UK), such as Upstairs, Downstairs, Brideshead Revisited, Downton Abbey, we swoon to the dramas they provide about that way of life. Because you can only think (without thinking), I’d take that.

Of course, that was not exactly what it’s cracked up to be in retrospect (which makes it all the more believable to us working stiffs). Because as all good things come to an end with one Sundown or another, so it was for the Brit. Aristos a century and more ago.

The Marlborough Family, 1905 by John Singer Sargent. Aristocracy merges with the plutocracy in its most famous and enduring example, when Consuelo Vanderbilt married the Duke of Marlborough. Four generations later, their great-granddaughter, Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, is a prosperous member of enterprising workforce, international interior designer and author, a 21st century working girl.
With that, I will stop writing about “The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy” except to say that in its riveting account about the evils of plutocracy overtaking it, I came upon this quote by Arthur Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby  (1871 – 1946), a British writer/politician/social activist (and third son of Sir Henry Ponsonby, the long devoted Private Secretary of Queen Victoria  — one of those “Serving Victoria”).

Lord Ponsonby wrote about the evils of plutocracy:

The manipulating of interests, the juggling of the money market, the mania for speculation, the creation of false money standards, the international syndicates of financial adventures to which governments have become a prey, the control of the press, the ostentatious benevolence of millionaires, and the brutalizing effect of the pursuit of wealth.  The Decline of the Aristocracy, published a century ago in 1912.

Lord Ponsonby is most frequently quoted and best remembered for something he wrote in a book called “Falsehood in Wartime: Propaganda Lies of the First World War” in 1928:

“When war is declared, truth is its first casualty.”

The things we learn from picking up a book.
One more thing. Last Thursday night I went to run an errand and found a parking place on 80th Street and Lexington Avenue. There were raindrops on the windshield and having forgotten my umbrella, I decided to wait till it subsided (a long wait, it turned out).

Sitting there waiting as it started to really rain, I noticed a group of (mainly) young women exercising in the storefront across the avenue. We ran the picture I took – first of them exercising and second of the torrential rain that blocked out any view even thirty feet away and lighted. The name of the storefront, as you can see, was the fhitting room. It’s obviously an exercise class. At first glance I thought it was a yoga class. It’s also a new business in that neighborhood.
Fhtting room the first time I saw it last Thursday night waiting to escape the rain.
Yesterday morning I got an email from a woman named Rebecca Horn, a Senior Account Exec at BrandLink Communications. She’d seen the picture I took of the fhitting room  in the rain, and this is what she told me:

I saw on your site that someone had posted a picture of The Fhitting Room, which is a fitness studio that I represent.  Please find information below and attached.  I wanted to know if anyone from New York Social Diary was interested in attending a class.

The Fhitting Room is a High Intensity Training (HIT) fitness studio, which recently opened at 1166 Lexington Avenue. Their signature "FHIX" (Functional High Intensity Mix) of exercise moves integrates five essential building blocks of fitness to deliver optimal results. Aside from taking place in a beautiful, highly stylized, brand-new space, the benefit of The Fhitting Room is that class sizes are intimate, with a maximum of 12 participants, providing a more personalized experience for clients and allowing instructors to focus on each participant equally.
Last night about 4:30. They were working it.
So now we know. High Intensity Training Fitness studio. “FHIX it now.”

Watching them yesterday – they were really working  (phew!), I thought to myself: “how could that be bad for you?” Then I got out of the car and went on my errand.
When I returned twenty minutes later, there was a woman, probably in her early forties, walking in the roadway at the red light, moving from car to car, holding a large empty plastic cup. She was asking -- with a very pained, desperate expression on her face – for money. For anything.

She didn’t notice me in my car and passed me by. She looked like she could have been someone who lived in this Upper East Side neighborhood of middle and (mainly) upper income (and very rich – Madonna, for example, lives right around the corner). She was thin and haggard, troubled, and hadn’t bothered to pull herself together – although she looked like the kind of woman who did. When not one responded she buried her face in her hands for a minute and then trudged on down the avenue. It looked as if no one  was responding.

This can get to me. New York is hard rock when your pockets are empty. Like that boat on the river, it just passes you by. I think part of it is it frightens people (‘there but for the grace of God go I”).

I’m always left wondering “why” when I see this. I mean “why” in the sense of what were the circumstances that led to this, to going out on the street asking strangers for money (help). Whatever you think about it, there are more and more young, often women of (at least formerly) solvent circumstances sitting on the pavement leaning against a building with a sign asking.

In my neighborhood there are more young (late 20s/early 30s and older) Hispanic women collecting bottles and cans for money. Friday afternoons, often till late at night. When I see them on the street in the nighttime (often close to midnight), I give them a twenty. Yes, I can use the twenty, definitely; but then I think of how many bottles and cans they have to collect to fix those enormous balloon like plastic bag, I think how much more valuable that twenty will be. Who it will feed, keep warm, shelter.

Many of them are young mothers. Mouths to feed. All of them, I’ve noticed, are well turned out, neatly dressed, neatly groomed. Not like that desperate young woman I saw on Lexington Avenue at 5:45 in the afternoon.  But they are desperate too; and they are doing something too. I suggest whenever we can, we give. Something. Desperate means food. Always. I know there are those to whom it means something else; but mainly it means food and shelter. Without that we’re all nothing.

Contact DPC here.