Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Moving into Thanksgiving week

Looking east towards the Empire State Building from the West Side Highway. 3:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015. Colder in New York as we move into Thanksgiving week. Overcoat time. Yesterday was only the second time I needed an overcoat when I went out for lunch.

I went to luncheon at Tiffany’s, not to be confused with Mr. Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the novel, whereas this was a public relations event Tiffany-style. And style it is. They have this lunch every year at this time. It’s held in what was the executive dining room which has been refurbished in blue paneling. The room was also set up with these “snow-covered” trees that look even whiter against the Tiffany blue.
I took a photo of the table and the settings because this is Tiffany too. And whether the patterns and styles are your taste or not, it’s just beautiful china and crystal and silver. Holly Golightly would have loved it. So would a lot of other people.

The annual luncheon is a gesture of thanks to the jewelry and accessory editors, as well as the journalists and chroniclers along the way. And that’s all it is. No hard sell (soft, yes yes yes), no putting you to sleep with speeches. Just a greeting from the new president of Tiffany Frederic Cumenal. Martha (Stewart) was there. Jim Reginato from Vanity Fair was there. And Amy Fine Collins.
I sat next to Amy Larocca who is the fashion editor of New York Magazine and Maria Dunenas Jacobs who is the accessories editor of Elle.  On the other side of her was Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, who was next to Derek Blasberg, Vanity Fair’s  “Man on the Street.”

The menu was started with a Butternut Squash Soup followed by a main course of Sea Bass and carrots, followed by a chocolate dessert, along with wines (red or white) and champagne. I can’t drink midday; makes me want to nap.
Last night Katherine Bryan, Sharon Hoge and Alex Hitz hosted a drinks party to celebrate Carolyne Roehm’s new book “At Home in the Garden.” And what a garden. The hosts and the author drew a big crowd and lots of conversation. It went on and on past the appointed limit hour of 8 p.m. By 9 people were still talking and for those who hadn’t left there suddenly appeared a great buffet spread on the dining room table. Soon the living room was full of friends and acquaintances with dinner plates on their laps and conversation flowing. The last of us exited a little after ten. A good night was had by all in Katherine Bryan’s comfortable apartment.
One of last night's hosts, Katherine Bryan, with the author/gardener. Photo: Nina Griscom. A popular guest, Maury Hopson, with Nancy Collins. Maury worked for years for Kenneth, the famous hairstylist. Most of the women in the room, including Ms. Collins, worked with Maury on fashion shoots or on their own hair.
Carolyne Roehm peeking out from behind her new book. Click to order.
The lady in her garden in Connecticut.
Another part of the garden ...
Meanwhile on Sunday, in another part of town on, JH had an authentic only-in-New York taxi ride. In JH's own words: Hailed a taxi today and noticed the driver was a little more energetic and animated than most. As I was talking to him, a mother haphazardly wheeled her baby carriage into oncoming traffic (which should be considered child endangerment), and because he happened to see her, he was able to avoid her. It turns out he's an actor by day and a taxi driver on Sundays (where he drives an 18-hour shift) to earn a little extra cash when he's not working. I asked him how old he was. 74. I was impressed and asked him why he looked so young. "I dye my hair!" he eagerly told me.
S. Michael Bellomo was his name and you mighta even heard of him. He's been cast in some pretty well known movies such as Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding (2004), Cop Land (1997) and Redemption (1995). He also played Les Moonves on The Late Show with David Letterman on seven occassions. Mr. Bellomo is available for work, so give the man a call (917-566-4077)! Did I mention he trained under Milton Katselas, Stella Adler, William Esper, and Uta Hagen and that he's an excellent marksman?
We’re running another one of those fascinating obituaries from the Telegraph  of London. This was about a woman whom most of us have never heard of – Alix d’Unienville – who died recently at 97. During the World War II Mlle. D’Unienville was a courier with the French Free Resistance. Her story is of a brave, courageous and clever woman who outsmarted the Nazis and survived. It’s like reading a movie.
Alix d’Unienville, who has died aged 97, served as a courier for the Special Operations Executive and the Free French resistance in wartime Paris.

D’Unienville was regarded by her SOE instructors as an ideal go-between because “she is discreet and inconspicuous – the last person to be suspected”. Operating under the codename “Myrtil” – all the codenames of her group were taken from the plays of Molière – she survived for three months, flitting from rendezvous to rendezvous passing on orders and money to resistance commanders.

Alix d’Unienville.
On June 6 1944, D-Day, elated at having heard moments earlier that the allies had landed, she rushed to a “meet” with another resistance operator, Tristan, opposite the Sèvres-Babylone Métro station. As she waited, apparently trying to decide which ball of wool she should buy from a hawker outside a store, two men walked past. When a voice inside her said “Gestapo”, she pushed it to one side, too elated by the news of the allied landings.

But when Tristan and another colleague arrived, she barely had time to whisper excitedly “The allies have landed…” before a voice behind her demanded that she produce her identity papers.

The two men had returned. They were not from the Gestapo but from the Sicherheitsdienst, the Nazi intelligence service. A car pulled up alongside them and they were all bundled inside. They were initially taken to the SD’s notorious headquarters on the Avenue Foch, where they were interrogated.

While their captors were undoubtedly brutal, in particular with Tristan, they were less than efficient. All they found on Alix d’Unienville was her cyanide capsule and a Métro ticket. The capsule ought to have told them she had been sent from London but they never questioned her on it.

84 Avenue Foch, the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst in Paris.
The address of one of her contacts was written on the back of the ticket but her interrogator failed to notice it and when he turned away for a moment she managed to grab it, screw it into a ball and ask to go to the lavatory, where she swallowed it.
She was taken to Fresnes prison, where she feigned insanity in order to escape. But this only succeeded in getting her moved to the Gestapo prison, where conditions were even worse. As the allies closed on Paris, the prisoners were crowded into cattle trucks destined for concentration camps at Buchenwald and Ravensbruck, where a number of other SOE women died.

When the train was forced to stop by the allied bombing of a railway bridge over the Marne, however, the prisoners were forced off the train and made to walk across the road bridge. Alix d’Unienville considered jumping but it was far too high. Then, as they walked into the village of Méry-sur-Marne, the prisoners surged around a drinking fountain.

As the guards struggled to control them, she spotted an open door and slipped inside where the couple who owned the house looked at her in terror. Their fears were nothing to those of Alix d’Unienville, who later recalled that all she could hear was the pounding in her temples.

Just outside the door, German soldiers were barking orders to the prisoners and beating them with their rifles to bring them under control. If the couple cried out, she knew all would be lost.
Wehrmacht troops of the 30th Infantry Division marching passed 84 Avenue Foch in June 14 1940.
As the guards’ voices began to fade, the man ushered her upstairs where she waited anxiously, before deciding that she should borrow some clothes from the woman and walk out of the house and into the countryside, acting like one of the villagers.
Eventually, she found shelter with another woman in a large house where they listened to reports of the fighting on the BBC, watched the Germans leave and waited until they were liberated by US troops.

Alix d’Unienville was born to a wealthy French expatriate family on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius on May 8 1918. The family moved back to France when she was six and she was brought up in a chateau near Vannes in Brittany.

In 1940, after the fall of France, they made their way to England and Alix d’Unienville began working for the Free French forces of Charles de Gaulle at his headquarters in Carlton Gardens near Trafalgar Square.
Charles de Gaulle's headquarters in Carlton Gardens.
She was employed writing propaganda for leaflets to be dropped over France and aimed at persuading young men and women to join the Resistance. One day she was called in by the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action, the Free French secret service, and ordered to report to a secret British headquarters.

Walking out into the street, she realised that she had been so stunned by the orders that she had completely forgotten the address. Scared to go back in and risk being told she was not good enough for secret operations, she asked a taxi driver if he knew of a top secret British establishment where foreigners were sent. “A hush, hush office around here?” he said, clearly mystified. Unable to help, he asked a group of colleagues who were gathered at the rank waiting for fares.

There were roars of laughter, but he soon returned and took her straight to the “top secret” SOE headquarters in Baker Street.
SOE moved into this address on October 31, 1940 and eventually occupied many of the buildings in Baker Street.
She was commissioned as a flight-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and sent to the SOE training headquarters at Beaulieu in Hampshire, joining RF section, which worked with the Free French.

“Specialist instructors came to teach us how to make false keys, to break locks, break into properties, poison dogs, survive in hostile conditions, in thick forests, and to find our way without a compass,” she recalled. “I have often thought that if afterwards I had put these skills to work, my life would have been more amusing and profitable.”

She was also given weapons training, learning to turn quickly and fire a pistol in front of a large mirror, and finally parachute training, where her instructors were concerned that such a slim young woman would not be strong enough to control the chute in strong winds.

Once trained, she had to wait for the right weather and moon to jump into France. There were frequent false starts as flights were cancelled and they would go out on the town to drown their disappointment.

“We frequented the bars,” she recalled. “We sowed seeds of scandal in the dining rooms of solemn London hotels. Clients were indignant. Who had the right to frolic in war? Irresponsible youth.”

The Tuileries garden, 1944.
Finally, she was dropped into France in March 1944, carrying two million francs in a suitcase dangling below her, and began a life in the shadows based around a grocer’s shop on the Place de Passy.

The threat of arrest hung over her constantly. On one occasion, she realised she was being followed. She found a bench in the Tuileries garden and sat down. When the man she suspected sat down opposite her she knew for sure.

She walked off rapidly, trying to shake him off, ran down into the Métro and boarded a train, getting back off just as it was about to leave. But her pursuer was not fooled. It was with immense relief that she discovered that he merely wanted to ask her to go for a drink.

Alix d’Unienville never forgot that while she would survive to become first a war correspondent for US forces in south-east Asia, then one of the first air hostesses with Air France and finally an award-winning author, some of her colleagues were not so lucky.

“Many of my comrades were arrested, many are dead,” she said. “Of others I know nothing, and I never will know anything because I have forgotten their names. Only here and there floats a young face, a gesture, a word, a smile, an anecdote. All the rest have plunged into the shadows.”

At the end of the war, she was appointed MBE (military); in France she was appointed to the Légion d’honneur and awarded a Croix de Guerre.

Alix d’Unienville, born May 8 1918, died November 10 2015

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