Friday, September 7, 2018

The lessons therein

Waiting out the heat in Central Park. 3:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, September 7, 2018. It was a horribly hot day, yesterday in New York; but even more humid. Of course we are all addicted to air conditioning for that simple reason. The air had a heaviness to it, the kind that feels like it’s dirty even though you can’t see it.

Livin’ in the city. I had a business lunch at Michael’s with Peg Breen and Joan Morgan from the Landmarks Conservancy discussing the upcoming annual “Living Landmarks” dinner which will take place at the Plaza on November 1st. The first thought that came to my head was that it would be cooler on that date.
DPC and Peg Breen at last November's New York Landmarks Conservancy’s “Living Landmarks” dinner at which I was among the honored (I’m still beyond flattered, considering the company I was keeping!)
It was a pleasant lunch but the heat outside was looming. Afterwards I went over to Seventh and 55th to take the Q back to 83rd and Second Ave. It’s a much shorter trip than by cab (7 or 8 minutes from station to station – followed by a three block walk to my apartment Vs. a 20-30 minute cab ride from midtown on any weekday and a $20 fare). 

The wait underground was especially grueling. The air felt noxious and even heavier. The good news was the train arrived within five minutes and was bright, light and cool inside. And quick. Seven minutes later I was at 83rd Street.

The forecast was more of this heat until late today when the rain might come. However, by the time I got to my apartment, yesterday afternoon, those tall dramatic clouds that have been an important feature of this Summer’s weather, were moving in from the south and west. By four p.m. a lot of them had taken on that light charcoal grey quality. It looked like rain.
20 minutes of rain and voila! ... the temp had dropped into the 70s.
Around 5:30 p.m. the Sun was totally blocked by these imperious masses moving in. It looked like rain even though it wasn’t in the forecast. By 6:30 it was assured: the light turned dark, and a powerful breeze rustled the trees. By 7 there were strong winds and rain in torrents. This went on for about twenty minutes. And when it stopped, and the clouds began to clear, the temp had dropped into the 70s and left the humidity behind. Relief!

Aside from other activities such a labor, it was a quiet day. Thinking about the Diary as I do as the day draws near, I told JH I really didn’t have anything more to report except the obvious. He suggested he find another piece from our archives that would be interesting (and maybe fun) for you, dear reader. Tuesday’s piece by Michael Grace filled that bill. For today, JH came up with another piece by Mr. Grace – this one on the history of Corsair IV, the fourth private yacht of the same name commissioned by J. Pierpont Morgan and his son J.P. Jr.

I’d read it when we first published it several years ago, although I’d forgotten about. A couple of years ago I happened to read and write about a memoir called “As It Was,” by Robert Pennoyer, a grandson of J.P. Jr., and great-grandson of the most powerful American banker of the Gilded Age and the first decade of the 20th century.

Pennoyer’s life as a child and scion of the great American banking fortune — there were more than several offspring of JP I, in total — was one that would have been regarded by any American working family as unimaginable luxury and abundance (more than plenty of money). For that’s what it was. The estate where he grew up on Long Island sounded like a dream life for any kid from anywhere, from toddler to teenager.

What impressed me most in the book was that, in that era (the first half of the 20th century), all children, no matter their socio-economic situation, were reared with the same rules, lessons and what were lightly called manners. In other words, it was democratic. Mr. Pennoyer and I, though at very different ends of the economic spectrum, learned the same ultimate rules of humanity co-habitating: respect and self-respect. From that we derived our sense of “equality” as a people.

Now, equality aside, to get back to the Messrs Morgan pere et fils, as the French would say, sitting on those fantastic mega-yachts they commissioned for themselves, we also see the ascent and descent of an entire era, a culture in natural transition; history. The first time I read Michael Grace’s piece I was intrigued and fascinated — a magnificent ship made for a a monarch. This second read, years later, I see it as that — in its time; but the lesson as allegory. The magnificent sailing ship nevertheless revives those dreams. And why not.

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