Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Close to home

Looking south along Park Avenue. 10:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, December 12, 2017. Sunny and in the low 40s, yesterday in New York. More Christmas trees beginning to show in apartment windows along the streets and avenues, as well as the Santa decorations.

This week and next seem to be the perfect time for Christmas or Holiday parties in clubs, offices, as well as individuals who gather their friends, colleagues, family and neighbors for just a get-together (with the holiday theme). These are almost always “fun” parties because nothing is expected except maybe some good drinks or champagne if you’re lucky. And people tend to be friendlier and have a chance to just enjoy each other’s company for as long as they wish (or until the party’s over) at this time of year.

Last night in the Great Hall of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, they held their annual Member and Patron Holiday Soirée. Festive cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, gallery chats, art-making, and live music by Evan Sherman Entourage featuring Joy Brown was rounded out by the lighting of The Met Christmas tree and cookie decorating with Executive Pastry Chef Randy Eastman. Membership has its privileges. Go join!
Scenes from the Met's holiday party ...
Also, last night over at the Pierre, American Friends of the Open University of Israel  held its 2017 gala celebration honoring the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Meir Lau and Barbara and Donald Tober.

NYSD readers have seen the Tobers’ pictures on these pages many times for they are very active in New York social life and New York philanthropy. They are one of the driving forces behind the Museum of Arts and Design, and daily share in the life in New York, be it dancing parties, theatre events, charity galas or dining out with friends.

Naomi Hass-Perlman, Bernice Schwartz, and Marion N. Waxman, served as the Gala Co-Chairs.
Honorees Barbara and Donald Tober.
American Friends of the Open University of Israel (OUI) is a national, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to raising awareness of the Open University of Israel and to providing financial support to help OUI achieve its mission of expanding access to higher education to all segments of Israeli society.

46,000 students are currently studying at the OUI, more than at any of the other seven universities in Israel. OUI students include young adults who need to work fulltime, soldiers on active duty, gifted high school students, professionals seeking higher degrees, ultra-Orthodox Haredi men and women, as well as Druze, Christians, and Muslim Arabs.
Donald and Barbara Tober, Ingeborg Rennert, Marion N. Waxman, and Naomi Hass-Perlman
Close to home. This past Sunday Night Joan Hardy Clark, who is a neighbor of mine, hosted such a party, which has long been an annual occasion for Joan.  Just lots of friends, including neighbors, such as I. It began at 6 and ran until 9:30.

Joan always has a magician who performs for those of us who marvel at such “genius.” This guy was really good at doing “tricks” with coins and cards. His sleeves were rolled up so you could see nothing was escaping to or from his cuffs, and he made things happen that to this moment in memory seem at least psychic if not complete magic.

The view from Joan's library on the 13th floor of her Gracie Square apartment, overlooking Carl Schurz Park, and across the East River to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and Queens.
Halfway into the evening there was caroling accompanied by Shayne Doty on the piano. This was well organized with a printed list of lyrics for those of us who don’t know the words. “Little Star of Bethlehem,” “White Christmas,” “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” “Jingle Bells,” and a couple others along those lines. Just about everybody joined in. I think. I know I did (and that’s all I could hear).

After the songfest, Calvin Trillin read a poem from the New Yorker, “Christmas in Qatar.” Before he started reading he reminded us that the country’s name is often said to be properly pronounced Cutter, but under the circumstances, he was going to use the commonly spoken “Kuh-TAR” for the same of the rhyming line. All very amusing, as you can imagine if you read Trillin and know his wit. Then, after his reading, Susan Cheever, another neighbor, read parts from Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

I was not familiar with the poem which is best described in Wikipedia as “Christmas from the viewpoint of a young boy, portraying a nostalgic and simpler time.” I would say that for many if not all of us in the room who grew up celebrating Christmas, Dylan Thomas’ reminiscence touches that chord within us.

Then, last Thursday night, I went to another dinner in the neighborhood, five blocks north, at the northern border of Carl Schurz Park, at Gracie Mansion. It was a dinner for the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, and it was a fund-raiser hosted by the Mayor de Blasio and the First Lady Chirlane McCray, and honoring Dick Parsons. Mr. Parsons has had a brilliant business career as Chairman of Citigroup, and then later CEO and Chair of Time-Warner is now a Senior Advisor of Providence Equity Partners LLC. He also has availed himself as a senior White House aide under President Gerald Ford, and as counsel to Nelson Rockefeller.
The table.
I recall having once been in Gracie Mansion when Mr. Guiliani was mayor. I think it was a wedding although I can’t recall who were married. Mayor Guiliani performed the ceremony. It took place not in the main house but in the dining room that was built next to the main house called the Susan E. Wagner Wing. That includes a ballroom and two smaller reception rooms.

The two buildings were originally connected by the kitchen so that moving from the main house to the ballroom meant going through the kitchen. This went on for a couple of mayoralty terms but has since been altered with a more practical corridor connecting the two. I learned all this in conversation with the First Lady whom I had never met before and who, contrary to the impression I had of her from media, is an elegant and charming woman at ease in conversation.
The Christmas tree in the main parlor of Gracie Mansion where the cockttail reception was held. A Christmas tree of books created in one of the reception rooms of the Wagner wing.
This year is the 75th anniversary of Gracie Mansion as the Mayor’s House which was first occupied in 1942 by Fiorello LaGuardia who had succeeded Jimmy Walker. In 1945 when there was a newspaper strike, Mayor LaGuardia read the funny papers every Sunday on the radio; and as you might imagine, it was a bg hit and he was a very popular mayor with the people. Mayor Walker was also very popular, although for quite contrary reasons, but nevertheless with the common touch.

Joan Kaplan Davidson, one of the preeminent philanthropists in the city came up with the idea of the Conservancy when Ed Koch moved into Gracie Mansion. It was very much in need of repair and restoration. The house was built in 1799 by Archibald Gracie as a country house five miles and about two hours by horse and carriage from the city.  It is one of the few wooden dwellings of that age in the city.
The original Guest book from June 17, 1942 when Fiorello LaGuardia was Mayor, and the first to move in and live there with Mrs. LaGuardia.
A closeup of the page. The top signature appears to be George II of Greece. But judging from those attending, it was a matter that included members of the national government as well as local politicos.
The Conservancy is a private, not-for-profit corporation established to preserve, maintain, enhance, and enliven Gracie Mansion. It was organized and first headed by Mrs. Davidson in 1981. Aside from the work and restoration, the new Conservancy use of the house for tours and exhibitions also mainly took over much of the house that previous mayors had “lived” in.

The last family to have the run of the entire house were the Wagners. Today the de Blasios have the run the house on those hours that it is closed to the public, but they mainly reside in four rooms on the second floor which someone in the Conservancy described to me as “snug.” When I met the First Lady the other night, I asked her if she were comfortable in the smaller space, and if she minded. She said she was comfortable and felt this was the People’s house and should be enjoyed by them. Also both de Blasio son who is at Yale, and daughter who now has her own apartment, are no longer living much with their parents, so there is a little more space for the couple.
Leslie Uggams and Chirlane McCray. Photo credit: Ed Reed, Office of the Mayor
Mayor de Blasio and Richard Parsons. Photo credit: Ed Reed
Lauren Ridloff. Photo credit: Ed Reed
The evening began with some words of welcome from the First Lady who then introduced a poetry recitation by actress Lauren Ridloff in sign language. Ms. Ridloff will be starring in the revival of “Children of  Lesser God” coming up on Broadway. After dinner there were remarks by Leslie Uggams (who is on the Apollo Theater board) of which Dick Parsons is chair, Raymond McGuire, who is a colleague of Richard Parsons, and the Mayor who presented the award to Mr. Parsons. 

I was seated next to Margo Catsimatidis with whom I have had a more than 20-year relationship that is the New York version of neighborhood. Mrs. Catsimatidis and I have “known” each other only from frequent, copious attendance at parties and galas and sightings in restaurants. But have never, until last Thursday night, had a conversation of any kind. Nevertheless perhaps because of that fact, we both made up for it at dinner where after all that familiarity and no talking, we learned we both are very loquacious, and became like old friends — the kind you make traveling the same pathways day after day, year in year out. The Gracie Mansion Conservancy dinner had that same warm quality of neighborliness to it, from the Mayor and the First Lady on down, we were all New Yorkers, all neighbors in this extraordinary city.
The approach to Gracie Mansion from the foot of the driveway on East End Avenue.
Walking back to my apartment, I got this shot of the Christmas tree on the 86th Street plaza of Carl Schurz Park.

Contact DPC here.