Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The stories going around ...

Upper facade of the Met. 1:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015. Bright, breezy, sunny day most of yesterday in New York. Went out without an overcoat and a cap, quite comfortably.

It was St. Patrick’s Day which in New York means stay away from Fifth Avenue and mid-town. Which is what we did; I was having lunch with a friend. The traffic down the FDR and across 61st Street was exceptionally light, thankfully.

My cabdriver was foreign (I could tell by his accent). As son of a Brooklyn-born Irishman, although I grew up in a Puritan New England town, I was well aware of the “traditions” of the day, and had observed them, if not practiced them all my life. I explained to my driver that the Irish when they first came to America in the 19th century were the lowlife in the burgeoning city, at the very bottom of the social ladder after the African-Americans. Because of that there was trouble between them because the blacks were getting the jobs that these particular whites were not considered for. (Neither side was getting any favors from their “employers.”)
View into Central Park from Central Park South. 3:30 PM.
The cabdriver found this very interesting because he knew almost nothing about the history of the country he’d become part of.  I asked him where he was from. He said he was Russian. How long had he been here? Since 1995. Where in Russia? Uzbekistan.

“So are you what they call Uzbek?” (I learned this from another cabdriver).

“No, I’m Jewish,” he replied.

He had the conversation of an intelligent man so I asked him: “What do you think of Putin?”

He said, “Have you heard of Stalin?” Yes. “Worse,” he replied, “Mafia.”

432 Park Avenue a-building at 56th Street and Park, from the northeast corner of 61st and Park, yesterday at 12:45 PM.
A rendering of Rafael Viñoly's condominium tower at 432 Park Avenue. From the New York Review of Books.
It was at that moment we arrived at my destination. 61st Street and Park Avenue.

When I got out of the cab on the northeast corner of 61st and Park, the first thing I was drawn to was the building going up on 56th and Park, number 432, which will be the highest residential structure in the Western Hemisphere (for the time being).

Designed by Rafael Viñoly, it is very controversial. Its presence has a visceral quality that invites controversy. There is a sense about it of an intruder in the neighborhood. A bully. Yet ultimately vulnerable by its excessive yet slim height and Mother Nature’s whims.

One of the stories going around these days about this socio-architectural phenomenon of sky-high skyscraper towers is that these very rich hedge fund guys all want to live on the highest floors in the highest buildings in the city. It has become a status symbol. I wonder if it’s simply a subconscious appetite for risk that appears to be missing from today’s financial markets.

I don’t know if that notion is true or just something someone made up, but it sounds plausible: bigger-bigger-more-more-more bigger. It’s these times of ours. There is an article in the latest New York Review of Books by Martin Filler called “New York: Conspicuous Construction.” It’s about the current phenomenon of these very tall buildings with their multi-, even centi-million dollar prices. I personally would feel very uncomfortable about being way up there in these slender buildings, so I am not a good judge.

Mr. Filler points out there are several of these buildings in the planning. Part of the phenomenon of this kind of architecture is the potential buyer. Right now a large percentage of the customers are foreign citizens who are acquiring these pieces of real estate as a way transferring their financial assets out of their countries, whatever they might be. China, Russia, the UK, are given as examples. The need is not so much habitation as it is financial security. In other words, many don’t use them as domiciles but rather as financial assets. The US, and much of that includes New York, is seen as a safe haven.

I’m reminded of a moment years ago at a dinner party in Los Angeles when I was talking with an architect who’d just transferred his business to L.A. I asked him why. He told me his offices were on the 15th floor of a particular skyscraper in SF. “Someday,” he said: “when the big one comes, I could be airmail!” He wasn’t kidding. I was reminded of the fact that Manhattan has a famous fault that runs across the island from 14th Street in the east to 34th or more in the west.

Mr. Filler, the author of this piece has some more realistic ideas about the phenomenon of these very tall buildings. There are several more in the planning. Will many more buyers be individuals from other countries moving their funds in whatever way to this country? And will they make this great city an impossibility to the millions of us who live here, work here and prosper here? And if so, will it still be the New York that has attracted the world for the past two centuries?
A rendering of the condominium towers planned or under construction, also from Martin Filler's "New York: Conspicuous Construction" in this week's New York Review of Books.
For Lunch. I went down to meet a friend at the Bar & Grille in the Regency Hotel on 61st Street. It was the first time I’d been in the hotel since it was refurbished (completed last autumn). The restaurant where we lunched used to be a barroom, rather nice with tables and chairs. Beyond that was the restaurant where the Regency business breakfasts occur.

If you don’t know what I am referring to: the breakfast at the Regency is a local power breakfast, a now longtime tradition where the big boys have their eggs and porridge (and whatever) amongst each other to start out their day.
Andrew, Jonathan and James Tisch at the reopening of the Loews Regency Hotel last year.
Every town has one of these, no matter where it is. In New York there is more than one – each catering to a different industry or business. The Regency breakfasts have long been the home of the “power breakfast,” where the city’s high mucky-mucks meet, greet and maybe even decide. These are the guys (and some of the girls) who are up with the dawn and making deals and running their businesses par excellence, breaking bread among their brethren. It’s neighborhood, at the end of the day, that’s what it is. 

Since Jon Tisch did over the hotel, the restaurant rooms are wider, broader, sleeker, more comfortable and more varied. There’s even a sidewalk café on 61st for when the weather is nice. And the breakfast room is still there. I have no idea what kind of business it has because I was there five hours later. I would be surprised if it weren’t still what it always was: the go-to place of the town’s mogul and their aspirants. And their lawyers. Old habits never really die.

The Grille room is light and airy and has very good acoustics so that you can hear everything at your table and no one at the next table can hear you. This is important because New York is a town where everyone has one ear open for outsider info. And when the right people get together no one can resist passing on the latest news.
Breakfast at the Regency.
Just to remind. If you didn’t read John Foreman’s Big Old House piece on yesterday’s Diary, do go back and give it a look. It is fabulous. The house he wrote about this week is Ardrossan, a Horace Trumbauer designed estate in Philadelphia for the Montgomery family on the Mainline. The house was built a century ago and it is still standing in its original, well-kept condition, and it is grand.

I was especially interested because of the lady whose photo is featured in the piece: Hope Scott. Hope was the daughter of the couple by the name of Montgomery, who built the house. She grew up there and lived on the property all her life. Her persona and its legend was portrayed in a famous American play “The Philadelphia Story” by Philip Barry. Katharine Hepburn who starred in it on Broadway, gave a jump-start to her foundering career at the time by buying the screen rights to the play. She starred in the film with Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. Her character was based on Hope Scott.
Ardrossan, according to John, "was, and amazingly still is, the apotheosis of the grand American country estate with a British accent. "
I had the great, good and amusing fortune to have met Hope Scott in the early 90s when I first came back from California. We met through our mutual friend Gloria Etting who also lived in Philadelphia. I’d never heard of her before although I was told about the Hepburn role and Hope just before we met.

Hope Montgomery Scott in her father's ballroom beneath a portrait of herself by Augustus John.
Hope Scott in her 80s on Opening Day of the Devon Horse Show and County Fair.
She was in her mid-eighties then. A small, wiry, very energetic, little bit of a thing, a lady who was curious and kind and loved talking about all the people she knew and the fun they had. And indeed, they did have fun; that was a rare lifestyle. Including the connubial fun. Hope was a horsewoman from early childhood. She was also a party girl when it came time for the party, because she loved to dance and to entertain her friends. But mainly she was a girl, even in her mid-eighties with a crackerjack personality that was warm, yet brittle and endearing.

She lived to 90 but had an accident with her horse one day and that was that. She exited quickly. Although I knew her only briefly, she immediately struck up a friendship, through letters and occasional meetings. She was a very active, busy individual but friendships and new people always interested her.

The photos in John Foreman’s piece capture the spirit of the lady. In both archival pictures you see the spirit of the woman, just happy to be there. She remained that girl to the last day.

I had dinner at Hope’s house – which is on the property of Ardrossan – only once. There were eight of us at table. It was informal. Hope had a cook whom she prized, a woman who had been with her for decades. One detail which intrigued me was the table napkins. When unfolded they were enormous. Large enough to be a small tablecloth. They were obviously a fine linen, almost silky and with initials embroidered in the center. They were so fresh they looked new. I asked our hostess where these “napkins” came from. She explained they were her grandmother’s, bought on her honeymoon in Paris in 1865! Astounding; they looked so perfect. But that was because they, like everything at Ardrossan had been well cared for, including its tenants.

After the dinner, Hope asked me if I would go into the kitchen and introduce myself to the cook to tell her how much I liked dinner. That was most important, above all.

Thomas Campbell welcomes guests.
Asia Week New York, the Asian art extravaganza, which blew into town over the weekend, hosted an elegant reception at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum opened its spectacular Asian art galleries to more than 600 international collectors, curators, gallery owners, and scholars who are in New York for the non-stop 9-day extravaganza of exhibitions, auctions, and museum shows. 

The Met opened all of its Asian art galleries so that guests could avail themselves of the curatorial tours through the breath-taking exhibitions which include: The Art of the Chinese Album; Painting with Threads: Chinese Tapestry and Embroidery, 12th – 19th Century; Sumptuous: East Asian Lacquer, 14th-20th Century; Sacred Traditions of the Himalayas; Celebration of the Year of the Ram; Inventing Korea: 100 Years of Collecting at the Met; Discovering Japanese Art: American Collectors and the Met; and the reinstallation of the Galleries for Nepal and Tibet.

Forty-two of the top Asian art specialists representing Belgium, England, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Switzerland, and the U.S. -- have set up shop all over town offering an astonishing array of the rarest and finest examples of porcelain, jewelry, paintings, ceramics, sculpture, bronzes, prints, photographs, and jades from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia.  This combined with the 25 auctions, numerous museum shows and cultural events makes it apparent why Asia Week New York has become such an important destination for the international art set.
Jeff Olson, Margi Gristina, Christina Prescott-Walker, Joan Mirviss, Michael Hughes, Erik Thomsen, Carol Conover, Lark Mason, and Katherine Martin.
Among those seen at the Met recpetion:  Tom Campbell, Mike and Vera Hearn, Carol Conover, Oscar Tang and Agnes Hsu, Michael Cherney, Mansheng Wang, Mary Ann Rogers, Gisèle Croës,   Peggy and Richard Danziger, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Blumenfeld, Mr and Mrs. Michael Cohen, Richard Pegg, John Carpenter, Donald and Shelley Rubin, Mary Wallach, Joan Mirviss, Jiyoung Koo, Catherine and Louis Burger, James Lally,  Bernard and Christine Jeanquier, Chantal and Rene de Laigue, Diane Dubler, John Bigelow Taylor,  Dr. and Mrs. Ronald Crystal, Alka and Suneet Kapoor, John Carpenter, Beatrice Chang, Mary and Selby Kiffer, Carlo Cristi, Katherine Martin, Rene Scholten, Karen  and Leon Wender, Kathleen Doyle, Keum Ja Kang, Joe Scheier-Dolberg, Erik and Cornelia Thomsen,  Xiangzhou Tai, Ann and Gilbert Kinney, Jane Portal,  Dr. Young Yang Chung, Francesca Galloway, Henry Howard-Sneyd, Christina Prescott-Walker, Margi Gristina, John Guy, Yukiko Kubo.
Christophe Olivro, Sven Van den Broeck, Tapa Tibble, Christina Deeny, Kevin Brooke, Sally Baughen, John Reed, Fred Varnier, Jessica Rizzolo, Mark Swinton, Karime Buraye, Marco Franck, and Hideo Morito.
Also: Anu Ghosh-Mazumdar, Mee-Seen Loong, Xian Fang, Bruce MacLaren, Jeff Olson, Christophe Olivro, Sven Van den Broeck, Tapa Tibble, Christina Deeny, Kevin Brooke, Sally Baughen, John Reed, Fred Varnier, Jessica Rizzolo, Mark Swinton, Vaipanya Kongkwanyuen, Karime Buraye, Marco Franck, Hideo Morito Edward Wilkinson, Claire and Michael Chu,   Michael and Lisa Hughes,  Helen Dennis, Eric Zetterquist, Nana Onishi, Soyoung Lee, Denise Leidy, Oliver Forge,  Brendan Lynch,   Prahlad Bubbar, Thomas Pritzker, David Pritzker, John Weber, Elinor Pearlstein, Kurt Gitter, Ashley Hill, Louis Webre,  Marley Rabstenek, Sue Ollemans, Walter Arader,  Nicholas Grindley, Mr. and Mr. Norman Indictor, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Zimmermann, Michael Feng.
Harry Chung, Mary Latimer-Chung, Izzy Mason, Erica Mason, Lark Mason III, and Lark Mason.
Even more: Michael McCormick, Diane Schafer, Mr. and Mrs. Halsey North, Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Cohen, Patricia Tang, Ann Ziff, Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Feinberg, Karsten Tietz, Giuseppe Piva, Navin Kumar, Shalini Ganendra, Marina Killery, Carole Davenport, Erik Schiess,  Dr. Alvin Friedman Kien, Tu Qiang,  Andrew and Daphna  Kahane, Christophe Hioco, Shawn Ghassemi, Hiroshi Yanagi, Nayef Homsi, Robert Levine, Vijay Anand, Leonardo and Tomaso Vigorelli,  David Joralemon,  Howard Wei, Ed Nagel, Thomas Bachmann, Gabriel Eckenstein, John Guy, Joe Earle, Erica and Lark Mason, Wendy Moonan and Duncan Darrow, Conor Mahony,  Alice Chin,  Shawn Eichman, Edmond and Julie Lewis, Vyna St. Phard,  Shao Wang, Carlton Rochell and Kathleen Kalista, Noémie Bonnet, Margaret Tao, and Marilyn White.

Once again,  Aman is the Presenting Sponsor, for Asia Week New York.  Asia Week New York ends on Saturday, March 21  www.asiaweekny.com
Thomaso Vigorelli, Sanjay Kapoor, and Gerolamo Vigorelli.
Tonia Hsu and Jiyoung Koo.
Martina Reiwald and Dr. Robert Bigler.
Duncan Darrow and Wendy Moonan.
Alka and Suneet Kapoor. Shalini Ganendra.
Nayef Homsi and Jeff Natal.
James Lally, Carol Conover, and Oscar Tang.
Yuichi Tazawa, Michael Summer, Julia Meech, and Peter Yeoh.
Lewis and Catherine Burger. Clarissa and James Godfrey.
Pokuba Yasokichi, Nana Onishi, and Shawn Ghassemi.
Gisèle Croës and Stephanie Stokes.
Eric Zetterquist and Dongshan Zhang. Dr. and Mrs. Ronald Crystal.
Oscar Tang and Agnes Hsu-Tang.
Elizabeth Whitehouse and Sue Ollemans.
Bernard Jeanquier, Christine Jeanquier, Chantal de Laigue, and Rene de Laigue.
Setsuko, Yukiko Kubo,  Erik Thomsen, and Cornelia Thomsen.
Henry Howard-Sneyd and Janet Yoon. Andrew and Daphna Kahane.
John Bigelow Taylor, Dianne Dubler, Oscar Tang, and Mary Ann Rogers.
Gursharan Sidhu, Dr. Young Yang Chung, and Mike Hearn.
Ashley Hill, Marley Rabstenek, and Louis Webre.
Lark Mason, Mary Kiffer, and Selby Kiffer.
Carol Conover and Mike Hearn. Michael Chu and Yukiko Kubo.
Kathleen Doyle, Debottam Bose, and Ashley Hill.
Dick Danziger, Carol Conover, and Joe Scheier-Dolberg.
Marilyn White, Margaret Tao, and Noemie Bonnet.

Photos by Annie Watt and Jenna Bascom (Asia Week NY)

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