Thursday, July 16, 2015

An ordinary mid-July day

Driving along the West Side Highway. 8:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, July 16, 2015. Yesterday was sometimes sunny, sometimes overcast, with thunderstorms forecast by mid-afternoon. And temperatures in the 80s and the humidity helping it along. An ordinary mid-July day in New York where midtown was a madhouse of traffic (with roadwork taking up two lanes of Fifth between 56th and 55th.)

Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but like all traffic obstacles anywhere, it doesn’t take much to slow down highly trafficked roads. Given any choice, I would rather have been aboard this beauty whose passing I caught on camera on the East River on one of those sunny moments. The motor yacht’s name which you can barely see on the side is “My Marilyn” in what looks like somebody’s penmanship.
Meanwhile back on terra firma at 83rd and East End, it was dog days. And even the dogs needed some cool water to drink. This guy – the dogwalker – used a plastic bag to hold the water, with an opening that allowed him to squirt it onto the canines’ tongues. They appreciated it.
So I got out of my taxi on 59th Street Fifth where they are refurbishing Grand Army Plaza around the statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Nowadays I’d guess most people don’t know who William Tecumseh Sherman is, or was. Except maybe some people from way down South. And even then they’ve probably forgotten. I’m still caught up in Amanda Foreman’s compelling and encyclopedic account of the Civil War in her “A World On Fire.” So I know who William Tecumseh Sherman was. And why. Actually I knew from way back in Freshman history, and also “Gone With The Wind” (the movie). Although Ms. Foreman’s work is like reading an epic film.
William Tecumseh Sherman Statue, Grand Army Plaza, 1903.
I took a quick break to pore over the Chips Channon Diaries (“The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon”) that run between 1934 and 1958, when he died at age 61. This too had an I-was-there war commentary. In Channon’s case, it is the Second World War. He was a social gadfly so he got around as few ever do, and he really knew  a lot of the figures now of history, in his entries. It was a completely different world in London, still self-regarded as far superior to New York.

Chips Channon, by Howard Coster, 1930. © National Portrait Gallery, London
No, you didn’t read this here before. I’m adding to the work that still intrigues me. Channon was a Chicago-born expat, heir to a small American fortune. But his search for his character compelled him to fake, and then take, the role of Englishman. However, whether he was aware of it or not, he couldn’t lose his Americanism. The boy who became an MP, married a Guinness, knew all the statesman and royals of the day, really had American pioneer journalist blood in his veins. So his jottings, even when arch, have a ring of truth to them.

The British among the higher ranks never imagined that Hitler would turn out to be the monster that he was. There were more than a few who had an inkling, but they could be shouted down by those who admired the business of it all. Including a lot of Americans; same reason. Never until he started dropping bombs on them night after night did they get the picture. Instead they, like much of the rest of the world of finance and politics, were impressed with his ability to re-generate Germany after the First World War, after its grave defeat by the Allies. A state-of-the-art genius. Channon’s description of the ’36 Olympics, and seeing Hitler in the Coliseum portrays that, and then, later on as a guest of Goering at a great reception that had a whiff of France in 1792 about it. Yet he was impressed. The bombs would move his head around fast.

Then there are his quick snapshot portraits of the social world of the post-Edwardians, of the power center, of the aristocrats, some still living in almost shocking splendor at the end of empire — which they were not aware of even in the slightest — are mesmerizing observations of men and power.
Rudolf Hess, president of IOC count Henri de Baillet-Latour, and Adolf Hitler at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Winter Olympics.
For example: Entry written about a moment in the House of Commons where Channon was an MP:

2 July, 1951. I watched Winston (Churchill) today, with his hand to his ear, listening to a fellow MP in the Division Lobby. He has this trick of pretending to be deafer than he is, when he wants to shed a bore, or protect himself from importunities.

25 April, the following year:

Winston was yesterday given the Garter by the Queen at Windsor. What a romantic picture – the aged Prime Minister kneeling at the feet of the young Queen: like Melbourne and Queen Victoria. What a scene, one day, for a painted window or fresco.
And the following 8 May 1952:

The England I wooed and won and love still, is dying; thus I am determined to enjoy what remains to me of it and of life here: the few declining years, the few rapidly diminishing thousands of pounds; if I survive the collapse of the country or of my person fortune, I shall slip off to some remote part of sun-lit California to die – on my American income, so far untouched, or rather unimpaired. — “The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon”

Back to yesterday and my lunch at Michael’s with Brooke Hayward who had come in from Litchfield County, and Alex Hitz who had come in from London where he attended the Hilton-Rothschild wedding.
DPC, Brooke Hayward, and Alex Hitz at Michael's.
Alex told us the wedding was beautiful and an exciting experience amidst the settings that were extraordinary. The pre-wedding dinner was held the night before at Spencer House on St. James’s Place, built in the mid-18th century for the first Earl Spencer, an ancestor of Princess Diana. Its current owner is Diana’s brother Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer (who lives a good part of life in Pacific Palisades). And then the wedding and dinner the following day was at Kensington Palace.
The State dining room at Spencer House.
In the other good news department, Brooke told me her daughter Marin Hopper’s new shop for her Hayward handbags collection at 70th and Lex is getting all kinds of international attention. And the other day a famous ballplayer visited and left with $24,000 for two handbags for his wife.

Michael’s was busy as it always is on Wednesday. There’s an extra clatter in the air, a lot of conversation and a sense that a lot of it is intentional and serious. For example, I saw Elliot Spitzer in a lunch confab with several other men, hosted by Peter Brown at Table One. I have no idea what they were talking about but there issues on the table. That you could see at a glance. That is typical of Michael’s.

Diane Clehane with David Ellis.
Around the room: Amjad Attallah, English Bureau Chief of the Americas for Al-Jazeera; Lisa Linden with David Ellis, who was being interviewed by Diane Clehane for mediabistro.com; Maria Kaplowitz; David Sanford of the WSJ with his boss Jason Anders; Gus Wenner, son of Jann, head of digital at Rolling Stone; Nancy Cardone of Marie Claire; Jared Gross of Pimco; Tim Landi; Marshall Cogan, a former owner of  “21” with Stephen Swid his business partner; Adam Emmerich; Rich Gelfond, CEO of IMAX; Matt Holt; Bobby LeBlanc; Patrick Murphy with his documentarian sister Mary Murphy; Euan Rellie; Henry Schleiff of the Discovery Channel with Ed Adler; Andrew Stein; David Arnold, Publisher of the Robb Report; Elizabeth Belfer with Clelia Zacharias; Alexandre Chemla;
Michael Kassan; Tracey Jackson; Gerald Joseph; Nick Rubinstein; Vicky Ward, author and Vanity Fair contributor.