Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sugar and Spice

Manhattan skyline from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. 5:15 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, February 15, 2018. Sunny and mild, yesterday in New York. Ash Wednesday. With steady rains coming in after 10 PM.

Wednesday I had a longstanding lunch date with a friend in from out of town at Michael’s which was alive with conversation, chatter, laughter and coming and going. Among the guests were Bernard Schwartz; Patricia Sellers with Elizabeth Weymouth; Jill Brooke, Roger Friedman; Steven Stolman with Scott Sanders, Emilia Saint-Amand; Chuck Pfeifer; Stan and Sydney Shuman; Tracey Jackson; Joan Gelman, Beverly Camhe; Gillian Tett (of the FT); The McDonnells, father and son, Ed and Paul; Gary Zarr; Dr. Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Andy Bergman; Barry Frey, Susan Blond; Courtney Tuttle; Bonnie Strauss; Aaron Hill and Susan Fales-Hill; Andrew Stein; Anita Simon; Esther Newberg; Holly Morrow with Tom Strauss; Bonnie Fuller with Gerry Byrne and guests; Liz Kaplow; John Frankenheimer; Diane Clehane with her daughter Madeleine who’s off from school this week.

People sometimes ask why I go to Michael’s so often (less often than it would appear, however). It’s habit. I like the ambience, the space, the food, the service and as a habit it feels comfortable. Part of it is the need to get out in a crowd. I spend a lot of time by myself, at my desk, and getting out is always stimulating. Michael’s ultimate allure is because it’s a hub of activity, personalities and the clatter of human voices. Believe it or not, that’s very stimulating for this aspiring writer. Yesterday, several people came by the table to talk to me or my lunchmate, adding some sugar and spice to the talk.
Meanwhile, Tuesday night at the new La Goulue, Alex Hitz had a little post-birthday (2/10) dinner with Nikki Haskell, DPC, Marin Hopper, and Max Wardrop. La Goulue was jammed and it felt a little like the old days up on Madison Avenue. The interior is the same (they saved it for this) and the camaraderie and chatter was identical, too; everyone having a good time, good dinners.
I had no other commitments for the day so it was otherwise a leisurely evening being at home. The latest New York Review of Books arrived in the mail. That always lifts my spirits (and mental energy) because very often those pages provide something to learn, something I never knew, didn’t know, wouldn’t even have wanted to know. Until I did. There was a piece by Christopher Benfey on John Hay, a review of four books recently published on his life.

Lincoln and his secretaries John Nicolay (l.) and John Hay (r.). Courtesy of The Gilder Lehrman Collection, New York
John Hay, if you don’t know, was one of Abraham Lincoln’s private secretaries and was present at the foot of the President’s bed when he took his last breath. He later served as Secretary of State under McKinley (who was also assassinated) and then Theodore Roosevelt, and also served as Ambassador to the Court of St. James.

He counted among his friends Mark Twain, as well as Henry James, Henry Adams (the two built houses next door to each other across from the White House, the land of which is now occupied by the Hay-Adams Hotel), and Roosevelt. George Kennan, the American diplomat and Ambassador to Russia mid-20th century wrote characterizing, “... the America I know and love and owe allegiance to” was “the America of ... John Hay and Henry Adams and Theodore Roosevelt.”

I’d heard of John Hay but knew nothing about him except that he’d worked for Lincoln and his daughter married Payne Whitney making him the grandfather of John Hay (Jock) Whitney who was a prominent New Yorker, film producer, venture capitalist, newspaper publisher, bon vivant and gentleman. Knowing something about the makeup of Jock Whitney’s life and family, as it is with anyone I’m learning about, I’m always deeply curious about the lives and ways.

John Hay by John Singer Sargent.
A boy from the Midwest, born in 1838 in Salem, Indiana, son of a “bookish” physician, he was reared at home and grew up in an environment pioneering and fresh from the War of Independence only fifty years before. He went to Brown when he was fifteen, and afterwards worked in his uncle’s law office, next door to the office of Abraham Lincoln. That chance proximity occurred as Lincoln was entering politics and before long he was recruited by one of Lincoln’s lawyers to help out.

The NYRB article opens with an accompanying portrait of Hay, painted by John Singer Sargent. It was painted in the winter of 1903 when Hay was 64. Described as “Hay at 64, a slight man prone to obscure ailments, looks pensive, his right hand held tentatively aloft and a rebellious strand of hair straying across his creased forehead.” Sargent was also at the same time painting the man across the way in the White House: “While the youthful Roosevelt is depicted as a commanding presence, as though holding the diminished world in his firm grip.”
Just as I was finishing the John Hay review, I heard sirens outside my terrace door. I went out to have a look. Two ambulances, then a fire truck, then two police cars.  Naturally I stood and looked as if the drama that led to this would be revealed momentarily.
That’s absurd of course but nevertheless the presence of those vehicles, lights and sirens provided the hook. Knowing of course that I would probably never know why, that possibly, probably it was like many of these house calls that occur in this neighborhood of several thousand people -- possibly someone who needed to get to the hospital, or possibly someone who had recovered by the time they arrived. Considering all this while getting this photo of the scene, I reminded myself why I love living in New York; it’s happening all the time, and all around.

Elsewhere ... down in Palm Beach, last Saturday, Diana Quasha who is Chairman of the American Friends of the Victoria and Albert Museum, hosted a lively drinks party at her home to toast Nicholas Coleridge CBE, the Chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Guests included Jill and David Gilmour, Howard Cox, Billy and Lucia Guinness, Tom Quick and Michael Donnell, Cynthia and Michael Gibbons, Hope Alswang, Jane Ylvisaker, and Sir Christopher and Lady Lewinton.
Moya Carey, V&A Curator, Diana Quasha, Chairman of the American Friends of the V&A, Nicholas Coleridge, Chairman of the V&A, Jane Lawson, Director of Development, V&A, and Diana Seaton, Executive Director, AFV&A
The American Friends of the V&A is an independent non-profit based in New York that works to build awareness and visibility in the US of the V&A, the world’s leading museum of art and design.

The AFV&A promotes the touring exhibitions of the V&A and holds lectures and events highlighting treasures and talent from the museum. Then, this past Monday, February 12th, V&A curator Moya Carey presented a fascinating lecture on Persian Art in Victorian London at the Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach. 
Jillian Gilmour, Lady Lewinton, Sir Christopher Lewinton, Billy Guinness, Lucia Guinness, Nicholas Coleridge, and David Gilmour
Future events include the V and A ’s blockbuster exhibition, David Bowie Is, opening at the Brooklyn Museum on March 2nd. Additionally, the AFV&A is offering a trip for its members from June 11-14th with special access to private collections, studios and historical homes in and around London.

For more information on these events or the American Friends of the V&A, visit or call 203-536-4328.
Tom Rutherfoord, Jeannie Rutherfoord, and Nicholas Coleridge
Hope Alswang, Director of the Norton Museum of Art, and Anne Pasternak, Director of the Brooklyn Museum
Lady Sharon Sondes and Susie Elson, Chairman of the Society of the Four Arts Beth Rudin DeWoody and Anne Pasternak
Jane Ylvisaker and Jane Lawson
Geoffrey Thomas and Kathrine Palmer Lady Sharon Sondes, Geoffrey Thomas, and Diana Quasha
Jillian Gilmour, Lucia Guinness, and Diana Quasha
Lady Lewinton and Sir Christopher Lewinton Blanche and Gordon McCoun

Photographs by Annie Watt (AFV&A)

Contact DPC here.