Thursday, September 25, 2014

Seeing is Believing

Post-sunset sky above the Hudson. 6::00 PM. Photo: Jeff Hirsch.
Thursday, September 25, 2014. Another beautiful day in New York. I sometimes feel, when I write those words describing the weather – which I have done for much of the last two and a half months – that I am exaggerating. As a person who grew up in the Northeast, and who has lived in the metropolis called New York for most of my adult life. The weather in the Summer months of 2014 has been ideal, and has ironically reminded me of the wonderful Summer weather I experienced while living in Southern California.
Sunflower girl.
Yesterday, I was at lunch at Michael’s and was talking with Michael McCarty the owner about this past Summer in Los Angeles where I’d been told it was unseasonably hot and unusually humid. Michael has his initial Michael’s in Santa Monica, and his main residence has been in Malibu for the past 35 years. As I’d heard from some of my Southern California friends, he told me that the heat and humidity throughout the season was very bad and in some places almost unbearable. It finally broke about a week and a half ago. But this year the Northeast got that wonderful, temperate, pleasant weather that I experienced in California instead of what we’re used to. For Michael McCarty, it was good for business, however. Evening in Santa Monica, the crowds came to dine and drink on his terraces, just to escape the heat of the day.
Michael McCarty at his Malibu home when we visited him in 2005. Photo: JH.
It was Wednesday and Michael’s was bustling. Many of the familiar faces were there including James Chanos, the great hedge fund operator; Diane Clehane of MediaBistro who was hosting Monica Smith, Lisa Wells. I don’t know what they talked about but it was about (their) business. Moving along, the great Alice Mayhew of  Simon & Schuster and Jared Cohen of Google; Armando Ruiz. At table one, Mickey Ateyeh with guests Anne Moore and Adria De Haume; Tom Rogers of TIVO; Dr. Mitch Rosenthal, founder of Phoenix House was lunching at the corner table with Ray Kelly, former New York City Police Commissioner under Michael Bloomberg who is now well-occupied in the private security business; right across the aisle from them Nikki Haskell was lunching with Rikki Klieman, the legal eagle for CBS Morning whose husband Bill Bratton is the current New York City Police Commissioner (demonstrating, if nothing else, what a small world New York is – like, as I’ve written before: a small town. The ladies were joined by Eva Mohr, a major private residential real estate broker with Sotheby’s. At the table across from the ladies, the ex-officio Mayor of Michaels, Joe Armstrong, just back from Austin where he attended the opening of The Making of Gone With the Wind  at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin, was dining with his friend David Zinczenko, editor/publisher/ ABC anchor, restaurateur.

Moving around the room: Jim Cohen of Hudson News, Jonathan Estreich of Estreich & Co.; Wayne Kabak, mega-manager of  writers, television personalities, media personalities and actors; Fern Mallis the CFDA lady, the moving force behind the development of New York Fashion Week; Henry Schleiff, President and General Manager of the Discovery Channel; Andrew Stein with son Ben and friend; TV executive Jonathan Wald with CNN news anchor Bianna Golodryga; David Chung; Liz Wood in from DC, lunching with Nicole Klein; the irrepressible, famous photographer of the famous who has documented the last half century of media and celebrity life in Western Civilization (and still at it), Harry Benson with Vanity Fair editor David Friend; producer Beverly Camhe; political commentator David Brock; Michael Holtzman; director-producer Larry Spangler; another irrepressible, Star Jones.
Steve Millington took this photo of DPC and Alison Lurie.
There were many others and it was a noisy room, the energy level was New York high. I had the privilege of lunching with author Alison Lurie who has a new book out, just published: “The Language of Houses; How Buildings Speak Out To Us.”  I knew of Ms. Lurie because she wrote a book “The Nowhere City” published in 1965 about a contemporary couple living in Los Angeles dealing with the Zeitgeist of Southern California life (and vibes). It was, and remains an important observation of the culture of that part of the world. I have many friends of Southern California experiences who feel that way about the book. She’s written several books including the novel “Foreign Affairs” which won the Pulitzer in 1984.
In pointing out the nature of communication, Alison Lurie used the arrangement placed at the entrance of Michael's as an example. It communicates the kind of restaurant one enters. It says the food served is fresh and with lots of vegetables, and top of the line in quality. (That's Michael's Loreal Sherman who happened to notice my sudden photograph which I took as Alison was speaking).
One of the great things about my work is my opportunity to meet people such as Alison Lurie -- people who are bright, even genius, and knowledgeable and equipped with a talent to express it so that we may learn, or think. I had no idea what she might be like, or her age, or the way she looked. You can see her the picture that Steve Millington took of us. She was 88 this past September 3rd. I mention that because I knew she was older than I just by her comportment, her assuredness and her natural humility, but I was surprised to learn (from Google) that she was fifteen years older than I. I was surprised because she has a contemporary sensibility. I am old enough now to know that age does provide a certain wisdom and to the lucky ones a great certain wisdom. You know more. You’ve had more experience, more time to learn more. If you’re paying attention. I have a feeling that Alison Lurie has quite a bit of it.
Then, Alison Lurie pointed out, the next thing a customer sees is the bar and all its libations welcoming.
Meanwhile at our table, there's my Barbara Bush (orange juice and iced tea), a taste of the pinot noir that Michael McCarty produces at his home vineyard in Malibu.
She has written 11 novels and a book of short stories. She’s written two memoirs as well as “The Language of Clothes,” (published in 1981) considering what we communicate about ourselves in the way we dress.

Click to order "The Language of Houses."
Her new book “The Language of Houses” considers what our houses communicate about us. She’d been asked to write the book right after the success of her “Clothes” book. But she soon realized it would take a great deal of her time to research. So instead she decided not to bother, although she did take notes about the subject. Over the years, the notes accumulated and there came a moment when she could see a book in what she’d gathered. And so it was.

She pointed out to me that the subject is broader than the individual house. It was about all kinds of buildings, even restaurants. Michael’s, for example, communicated to anyone who entered the space. She pointed out the signs that were obvious on entry, which I demonstrate in the photos above.

I mentioned the populist minimalist décor favored by many whose domiciles you see in the shelter magazines. I told her how I often look at those photos and say out loud to myself: “who lives here?” or “Where do they live?” She replied that the clues were in the spaces where people actually spend their time. The clues to enhance all of us are in “The Language of Houses.”

Last night I found this piece about Alison Lurie in The Guardian four years ago about “dress” and how she’s communicated it at this stage of her life.
After lunch I had an appointment on 52nd Street near Madison Avenue. Waiting on the southwest corner of 52nd for the light to change, I couldn't resist this -- St. Patrick's under scaffolding. It reminded me of a remark a cabbie made to me one day: "Do you believe in reincarnation?" he asked. "Why do you ask?" "Because," he replied, "if it's true, I wanna come back as an owner of a scaffolding business in Manhattan." This is a mega-scaffold.
Also under refurbishment on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue is the Cartier mansion built by Morton Plant and sold to Cartier for a million-dollar pearl necklace.
Standing between Cartier and the Olympic Tower (built by Aristotle Onassis) is the last standing mansion owned by the Vanderbilt family on a street predominantly occupied by several members of the large Vanderbilt family. Morton Plant's sale of his mansion to Cartier for use as a commercial establishment was the beginning of the end of that part of the avenue as a residential street. Soon the Vanderbilt mansion (now Versace) would become a retail establishment.

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