Thursday, January 29, 2015

Functioning normally

Looking south across the Great Lawn in Central Park. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Sunny, cold day, yesterday in New York. The City was again functioning normally with the snow on the curbsides beginning to turn to slush. 

Went to lunch at Eli Zabar’s E.A.T. with a friend on Madison and 80th Street. Eli is the younger of the Zabar brothers, and has staked out the Upper East Side with this restaurant as well as another restaurant surrounded by a much larger specialty food emporium three blocks to the east on Third Avenue and 80th Street.

E.A.T. for those of who don’t know it, is a combo-deli, bakery and restaurant, more along the lines of a “luncheonette.” Prices in this neighborhood, the gold and platinum properties of the Upper East Side, are in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood. For example, my lunch partner and I both had Grilled Ham & Cheese sandwiches at $22. Per. The soups are 12 bucks. The sandwiches start at $18 (Focaccia, Egg Salad, Chopped Liver, etc.) The menu has lots enticing things for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can understand why the place is often jammed with regulars.
Eli Zabar's E.A.T. on Madison Avenue between 80th and 81st. The dining room window is on the right, the deli/bakery on the left.
The atmosphere is clean, efficient and casual. It’s been around for decades and is always full at mealtimes. I know this not because I’m a frequent customer but because I pass by often enough and the big glass windows gives you a good view of the interior (and the customers). Neighborhood clientele and anyone else who happens to be in the area and knows that the menu doesn’t disappoint. The service is friendly as a deluxe diner should be.

The food is good. And ample, but not overly. That was a large Grilled Ham and Cheese. With a slice of tomat. My lunch partner just had the Grilled Cheese, no ham, no tomat. Plus a small bottle of Pellegrino and two cappuccinos: Total: 55 bucks with tax, plus tip. Whatever that sounds like, one block up, right on the corner of 82nd and Madison is an authentic coffee shop luncheonette (sans the deli, the wines, the caviar), just a block east of the Metropolitan Museum and the price is comparable. I had lunch there with an old friend of Los Angeles about six months ago. She had a salad, I had a Grilled Ham and Cheese (and tomat), a Pellegrino and capucino. About the same as E.A.T., 54 bucks. The Golden Mile.
Walking by, you might see your neighbor or some famous face.
My friend and I always talk about the state of things (people) as we see it from our separate vantage points. My friend is a professional therapist and we are both observers of our environment. People; nothing is more compelling conversation. Or literature.

Click to order “Parisians; An Adventure History of Paris.'
I was telling her about the book that I have just read: “Parisians; An Adventure History of Paris” by Graham Robb, an American who lives now in London but is a natural historian of Paris and of France (he’s also written a book called “The Discovery of France”).

I’m not a Francophile although I have a long running interest in the political history of France in 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. I’m not enough of an adventurer to travel there often and learn more about living there, although this book evokes those thoughts and responses. It is as if you are on an adventure through the history and with characters of these times, as if you are in the room, by their side. Everyone is very real. Warts and all. Genius and fools; honorable and otherwise, or both.

Each chapter is about a moment, a time, an era, beginning with the 1770s. The author reconstructs moments and environments with individuals famous to all of us – Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Baron Haussmann, Napoleon III, Emile Zola, Dreyfus, Proust right up to World War I and World War II and Hitler and DeGaulle and Francois Mitterand, as well as the leaps into discovery of the last century and a half. What is unique about it, as a historian’s report, is that Mr. Robb is able to bring these characters and incidents to a reality, as if you are in the room. The upshot is that you see your own world in relationship to theirs, How History Repeats Itself because of the sameness of the human condition and its psyche.
Clockwise from top left: Portrait of Marie Antoinette in the year before her guillotining; made at the Tuilleries Palace. In the portrait you can see the damage made on the canvas by a blow from a revolutionary's pike in the lower part of the work. The Queen was 37. It was said that she had lost her beauty. The portrait was never finished, painted by Alexander Kucharsky; now hangs in the Palace of Versailles.

The young Lieutenant Bonaparte, the young man in a hurry in his first days living in Paris as an officer, ambitious and intensely driven.

Georges-Eugene Haussman, the Baron Haussman, the man who renovated Paris, having been instructed by Napoleon III to bring air and light to the center of the city. Many neighborhoods and houses were demolished to create the great boulevards, including the house in which Haussman was born.

Portrait of Madame Zola, Alexandrine, the wife of Emile Zola, pastel by Edouard Manet. Robb's chapter on the life and fate of Mme. Zola is rich in its Balzacian ironies. Manet captured its effect on her in this portrait.
The author engages your imagination to grasp the individual’s self, the personality, wisdom, and foolhardiness. He also conveys situations that evoke your own psychological understanding not just of the individual characters but of The Way We Are. The chapter on Mme. Zola is Balzac as non-fiction.  (Robb has also written a biography of the author, as well as one of Rimbaud, and Victor Hugo.) The chapter on Napoleon in his youth when first in Paris reveals a young ambitious man highly vulnerable like many others to the hedonistic pleasures of the city, but otherwise driven.
Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler, and Arno Breker on the terrace of the Palais de Chaillot on the 23rd of June 1940. This was the day that Hitler spent the day from dawn till dusk inspecting the city of his dreams and fantasies. His reverence and knowledge of it was that of a fan, a devotee of its glorious architecture and design. This tour assured the safety of Paris for Hitler wanted to preserve out deep admiration. It was his fantasy to use what he learned seeing it up close, that Speer would then design a Berlin that would be many times grander and greater, but inspired by Paris. It was at that moment in his life when Hitler what psychotically engaged in the deluded notion of elevating himself to a godlike military character for the ages like Napoleon whose life he had also studied. Taking the tour of Paris with him in this book is an education on many levels.
Charles de Gaulle returning from his forced exile to London. De Gaulle lives in memory as a great leader but the controversy over his leadership and grasping of it at that moment in the War left him with many enemies and a life often threatened.
His chapter on the transcendent mysteries of the architecture of Notre Dame is wondrously transmuted into the history of alchemy and its relationship to our nuclear age. Every chapter seems to spring into a reality as if it were just an hour away, as if you knew what it was like to Be. There. Now.

I left my friend anxious to read the book and grasp its revelations not only about these characters of modern history, but what it reveals about all of us, right now at this moment in our own history.
Robb's chapter on Notre Dame, its architecture and sculptural decoration, and what its mysteries and riddles are --- for none of the figures are duplicated or alike -- have been studied deeply by scientists throughout lifetimes. The objective was to learn the secrets revealed about the past and the future. The discoveries in these figures and designs bring us closer to the universe we're still exploring.
Catching up; out on the other Coast, in LA last Thursday night our friends at Doyle New York hosted a launch party of their new Beverly Hills office at the Peninsula. Doyle’s Chairman and CEO Kathleen Doyle, and the firm’s new Director of California Operations Nan Summerfield, greeted more than 300 guests including Gwyneth Paltrow and celebrity interior designers Mary McDonald, Nathan Turner, David Netto and Hutton Wilkinson. Also joining in the festivities were Kimm and Alessandro Uzielli, Diane Deshong, Lionel Ephraim, Jeffrey Herr, Greg Rivera, Andy Milonakis and contemporary artists Gregory Siff, Bert Rodriguez and David Cook.
Nan Summerfield, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kathleen Doyle.
Ruth Wilkinson, Hutton Wilkinson, and Nina O'Hern.
Ruth and Lionel Ephraim.
Renee Hurewitz, Laura Doyle, and Chuck Hurewitz.
Nathan Turner and Mary McDonald.
Marian Miller, Lars Stensland, Sondra Ott, and Susan Porter.
KimmUzielli with David and Liz Netto.
Jeffrey Herr and Christopher Molinar. Marni Galef.
Kenneth McKenna, Kathleen Doyle, and Markus Canter.
Carrie Doyle and Gregg Renfrew.
Cristie St. James and Rafael de Marchena-Huyke.

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