Monday, February 24, 2014

Terra Firma

Looking towards the Empire State Building from 5th Avenue and 28th Street. 2:00 PM. Photo: Jeffrey Hirsch.
Monday, February 24,  2014. Warmer over the weekend, up into the low 50s. A brief heavy rain on Friday, then sunny and mild Saturday and Sunday, no rain, no snow, no ice. That was a bit of a relief for everybody. Now the weatherman’s saying back to business: cold coming our way again.
The snow melting ...
The neighborhood. There was a piece in Saturday’s New York Post by Julia Marsh about two people I’ve been seeing around the town for the last decade or maybe two but never knew. I never met either individual. I would see them at parties, at events, openings, at the opera. We’d probably nodded hello to one another in acknowledgement but there was otherwise never a word between us, let alone a conversation, that would have led to some kind of acquaintanceship. It’s not unusual in this great city to frequently see people you never quite meet, not unlike a familiar face in your neighborhood, a neighbor, you’ve seen forever but never talked to.

Baroness W. Langer von Langendorff.
One of the two is someone I’ve written about HERE. She is the Baroness W. Langer von Langendorff, who has been a fixture in the tonier environs of Manhattan for many a day, long before I ever stepped on the terra firma with my byline. I’ve never seen her in the light of day although she lights up the night with her flaming tresses and her baubles – always tastefully displayed – and reminding one of a real life diva. The baroness’ fashion choices reflect another age and another era when women of fashion and (independent) means wore a lot of that stuff all the time.

However, when I wrote that profile, never knowing her, under those circumstances, I wrote what I had “heard” and what I had observed. Even in New York, the baroness makes a spectacular entrance and presence.  I re-read the piece just to see how it had held up. It has. Read it and see what I mean. However, Saturday’s article in the Post casts a somewhat different light – or is it a shadow – on the lady.

The other character in this unfolding drama, according to the Post, is Shail Upadhya. Mr. Upadhya was also a man whose presence was immediately noticeable in any crowd. He dressed for all occasions in his own style. He loved colorful suits that often looked like he’d had them made up strictly for himself. I’d see him everywhere. He didn’t seem to be socializing so much as standing about and around. I’d wonder what the pleasure of the company was for him. I often concluded he liked dressing up for parties and milling about. To each his own; it is New York after all.

Shail Upadhya.
Shail Upadhya and Karen Bass.
From the Post article, I learned that he was a longtime companion of a real estate broker named Karen Bass. He had been her boyfriend for 30 years.  Ms. Bass died two years ago, and she left her friend a small fortune of several millions in real estate. According to the Post, she stated in her will: “My dearest Shail…I have always loved you and I will watch over you always.”

Evidently Mr. Upadhya took his friend’s death very badly. Friends said that his health went downhill after that and this past January, he died at age 79. I should add that Mr. Upadhya was a very youthful looking 79. He was a slender man, not big, small but wiry and moved around energetically. He had been a disarmament expert at the United Nations. He then began a career as a “fashion designer.” This was news to me but then I didn’t know the man. I’ve never thought about what a disarmaments expert from the UN would look like but “fashion designer” is credible considering.

Evidently after he died, much  of  Mr. Upadhya’s multi-million dollar estate was left in the hands of the baroness von Langerdorff, and not to his relatives -- half-siblings back in Nepal. The relatives believe that the baroness -- who had befriended Mr. Upadhya at some time unknown to me -- had “coerced” him to sign over his properties to her. The baroness was known for her great and not so subtle charm. A friend of the late Ms. Bass, Joy Marks was quoted in the Post as saying “he was so ill, he was like putty in her (van Langendorff’s) hands.”   

The Upadhya’s half-siblings believe the baroness used “force, flattery, and threats” to persuade their brother to disinherit them. The baroness is, from what one can conclude, a very wealthy woman. Her late husband, the baron, was an Austrian fragrance tycoon who created, or at least owned the rights to White Shoulders, a very popular fragrance among young women in the 60s and 70s. The baroness was also known for having cultivated relationships with other prominent and wealthy businessmen of that era now past, and was respected and admired by some for her shrewdness when it came to investments.

I don’t know how the Upadhya relatives will prove the case as the baroness has often had properties that were regarded as good investments which she personally made. No doubt she knew more about such things than the late Mr. Upadhya who really was a more fanciful individual when he was away from disarmament matters.

But then, it’s all conjecture as to what really happened, who really knew, and who could prove it? Just like the neighbors that you’ve always seen driving in or out of their driveway, but never really got to know or to even say hello to ...

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