Monday, August 29, 2016

Quiet in the Last of Summer week

Park Avenue. 3:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, August 29, 2016.  A warm, sunny weekend in New York with some humidity but not enough to spoil the weekend. This will be what is probably the quietest week of the year in the city as it is the last hurrah of the summer vacation time ending with the three day holiday weekend. After that it’s back to business and back to school.

DPC and Sassy Johnson.
I spent the evenings of the weekend dining with friends – with Sassy Johnson and her fiancé Steve Wells on Friday. Sassy, who back in the glory days of American fashion was the manager of the couture department of Halston when he was at his zenith, is in the midst of editing her memories of those crazy, hazy, glamorous and glorious (and rich and wild) days which saw the rise and terrible fall of one of America’s greatest fashion designers.

 Then on Saturday night I dined with the Ford sisters, Charlotte and Anne who have one of the greatest sister relationships I’ve ever been privy too, leading very separate lives yet very close. Charlotte has just returned from her annual summer sojourn to Sun Valley, Idaho where she has a house and where the weather was beautiful – sunny and not too warm in the day, and cooler at night.

And Anne has just returned from her annual six-week sojourn to the isle of Capri where it sounds like she could stay for six months if she lived in an ideal world. The women grew up with their parents in summers in Southampton, and later both had houses and spent a good deal of their summers there when their children were growing up. No more. And no miss-it also.
Charlotte and Anne in 1965.
Me, I spent my free time reading, and reading and reading. Besides books, mainly histories and biographies, I am a news junkie, sort of ... financial and political. I now read almost entirely online which gives one a great variety of national and international media as well as web sites of individuals. I read to learn – which of course is the advantage of reading – not to confirm long held opinions. I don’t watch television news, and read very little mainstream reportage which is often seriously lacking in providing insight – rather than an editorial opinion – for the reader.

One of the advantages to me of reading on line is that most sites carry a comments section which gives us the additional opportunity to get a sense of what other people are thinking, and which people are thinking “what.” Everyone’s opinion is genuine in terms of who they are, where they come from, educated or not, and what they are thinking, not to mention what they have learned in their life experience. There are differences that cause great disagreement and when it comes to political matters, one seriously decisive factor of course is economic, i.e. financial and social.

A big topic these days of digital is “hacking.” In a way, it’s almost funny -- How people spend their lives spying on other people. Although I love information, I don’t traffic in it. I have the curiosity perhaps, but not the political motivation of a spy (now often referred to as “intelligence.”) Really. The pursuit of it, which our society is practically drowning in, reminds me of Balzac. I came to Balzac later in life, and even accidentally. Like Trollope; same there.

What compels my curiosity in the reading is how Nothing Changes with us over time. Or rather: We, us people, haven’t changed much, if at all, since way back when/then. Secrets are a big part of the porridge and secrets breed the corrupt in us and vice versa. 

Baron Acton.
In Balzac they are almost all corrupt, and many of them move around in disguises of one kind or another. They are loathed and reviled and not trusted, but one had to be on the lookout because they were dangerous. Dopes with power, employed by others who are also often dopes with power. Not always of course but as Baron Acton famously wrote (or said): "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Notice, he said “almost” not “all” – a space for the optimistic.

The world is still full of untold numbers of them all over the world playing the same games in many of the same ways that Balzac’s characters did, except that the details have grown more voluminous and therefore complex thanks to digital. What is different about it today? We, the human race, are now poised to eliminate ourselves, meaning all life forms on the planet. And men and women even discuss the possibility apparently completely unaware of, or uninterested in the effect it would have on life, especially human life.

The other great issue of these topics today is Debt. Debt is something that controls people’s lives, and threatens or robs their sense of freedom as much as anything could. I know because I grew up in that house. Debt makes life entirely about one thing: money. But nowadays it is also a delusion in reverse: it is the credit card. We live in a society that has come to believe it can have anything it wants anytime, just hand ‘em a card. So there is no real (in terms of need) wanting. There is no sacrificing. Credit cards came into mass use after the Second World War when there was a shortage of everything but money. It came with the word “convenience,” which became a by-word in my (post-War) generation.
All of these matters that claim my attention are, to me, normal activities of the civilized Man (that being both genders). In my ongoing pursuit of learning about it all, I found this quote in a book of writings of Jacques Barzun, the French born American historian who taught at Columbia University and died at the great age of 105 four years ago:

“The ambitious man flatters himself that, in the splendid situation to which he advances, he will have so many means of commanding the respect and admiration of mankind, and will be enabled to act with such superior propriety and grace, that the lustre of his future conduct will entirely cover, or efface, the foulness of the steps by which he arrived at that elevation.” — Adam Smith, “Theory of Moral Sentiment.”
Jacques Barzun.
Now, aside from my reading and what others are thinking, I thought I’d close with some information which demonstrates why this city of New York is such a great city all year round.

This past Friday, August 26th, the Metropolitan Opera launched its 2016 Summer HD Festival – 11 continuous nights of free, outdoor movie screenings of operas on the Lincoln Center Plaza. The series is presenting 10 past performances from the company’s acclaimed Live in HD series of movie theater transmissions, featuring leading Met stars in a varied selection of operas by Bizet, Donizetti, Lehár, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, and Verdi.
The Metropolitan Opera's 2015 Summer HD Festival on Lincoln Center Plaza.
Each evening more than 3,100 seats on the plaza will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, as well as additional space for overflow crowds. No tickets are required, and there are no rain dates. The full schedule for the rest of the festival is: tonight, Monday, August 29, 8:00 PM: OTELLO starring Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona and Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role; Tuesday, August 30, 8:00 PM: LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez; Wednesday, August 31, 8:00 PM: LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR with Natalie Dessay and Joseph Calleja; Thursday, September 1, 7:45 PM: LA CENERENTOLA; September 2, 8:00 PM: CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA/PAGLIACCI featuring Eva-Maria Westbroek, Patricia Racette, Marcelo Álvarez, and George Gagnidze;  September 3, 8:00 PM: THE MERRY WIDOW starring Renée Fleming, Kelli O’Hara, and Nathan Gunn; Sunday, September 4, 8:00 PM: TURANDOT starring Nina Stemme as the title character; Monday, September 5, 8:00 PM: LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES starring Diana Damrau as the priestess Leïla with Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien as Nadir and Zurga.
Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona and Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role of Verdi's Otello.
The Summer HD Festival is generously supported by The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. 

The Met: Live in HD series is made possible by a generous grant from its founding sponsor, The Neubauer Family Foundation.  Global sponsorship of The Met: Live in HD is also provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Monday, August 29, 8:00 PM: OTELLO
Tuesday, August 30, 8:00 PM: LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT
Wednesday, August 31, 8:00 PM: LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
Thursday, September 1, 7:45 PM: LA CENERENTOLA
Saturday, September 3, 8:00 PM: THE MERRY WIDOW
Sunday, September 4, 8:00 PM: TURANDOT
Monday, September 5, 8:00 PM: LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES

Contact DPC here.