A hopeful lesson in human activity, irony and all

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Dusk in Manhattan. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019. Not as chilly yesterday with temps in the upper 40s, after a night of cold, heavy rains. 

This part of the autumn social season is beginning to quiet down (alas, alack, and all that. i.e., thank God), as we all approach the Thanksgiving holiday. At the beginning of the next month it fires up again. 

Since I was a kid, I’ve always thought of Thanksgiving in shades of brown in color, and the Christmas holidays as red, green, sparkling lights and evergreen. And pristine snow (up in New England). Mother Nature having tucked away the green outdoors, plus the turkey, the dressing, the pumpkin pie. Both holidays reflected for this boy, goodness, abundance and brighter days ahead, commonly known as Hope.

All of this followed by the Christmas tree: a glow in the dark living room, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive as I slept. Fantasy, yes; but good for the boy’s spirit in the long run. I find in getting older that the boy’s spirit is his savior.

The matter of these particular holidays has been obscured over time and in 20th century marketing in our civilization. But underlying traditions are as necessary as light and water. The world is too much with us, as William Wordsworth wrote in a different time and sensibility. That “too much” has taken on new elements which we won’t go into for the sake of all of us in this Diary.

Guests seated for dinner at the 2019 Hadrian Awards Gala.

Thinking about it, I was reminded of a Tuesday at the end of last month, when friends and supporters of World Monuments Fund gathered at the Rainbow Room for the 2019 Hadrian Gala where they honored two leaders in the field of cultural heritage: Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan, and HRH Princess Dana Firas.

The evening began with cocktails and then dinner where guests were treated to a special introduction to the 25 sites of the 2020 World Monuments Watch by WMF’s new CEO, Bénédicte de Montlaur. There are 25 sites that are on this year’s 2020 Watch. All over the world. “Monuments” is a loose cover for a great variety of humanity – in other words, our predecessors, of whom we came.

Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan, recipient of the 2019 Hadrian Award.

Tim McClimon, President of the American Express Foundation, founding sponsor of the Watch, was also on hand to speak to the important role the program plays in safeguarding the world’s treasures. Bénédicte de Montlaur, WMF’s new CEO and Mr. McClimon then presented Lisa Ackerman, WMF’s former COO and interim CEO, with a special token of appreciation for her 12 years of contributions to the organization.

Before we had our main course, we were shown on the big screen above the podium, the 25 sites on the current Watch list. Of the 25, there are villages, sculpted monuments, bridges, palaces, farmhouses, sacred valleys of the Incas, temples, and many other creations of humankind on this planet. These are our history as human beings on this Earth.

Benedicte de Montlaur listens as Tim McClimon speaks on behalf of the American Express Foundation.

Later in the evening, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy took the stage to introduce his close friend, recipient of the 2019 Hadrian Award. Among his many accomplishments in partnership with his wife Daphne as he pointed out in his acceptance speech, Dr. Kaplan is past President and Chairman of the 92nd Street Y, founder and Chairman of the leading field conservation organization Panthera, and founder of The Leiden Collection – the largest private collection of Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age. Since 2017 Dr. Kaplan has served as Chairman of the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), a Franco-Emirati initiative that funds preventive, emergency response, and restoration programs for endangered cultural property around the world.

Bernard-Henri Lévy introducing his close friend, Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan.

Then Lorna B. Goodman, Chair of WMF, next took the stage to introduce HRH Princess Dana Firas, recipient of the 2019 Watch Award. The Princess is a global advocate for heritage protection, and for preservation as a foundation for development, responsible tourism, political identity and participation. She serves as President of Petra National Trust, Jordan’s national institution for the protection and preservation of national cultural heritage – with a focus on the World Heritage Site of Petra. World Monuments Fund and Petra National Trust are currently partners on a project providing stonemasonry conservation skills to Syrian refugees and Jordanians.

Lorna B. Goodman, Chair of WMF, took the stage to introduce HRH Princess Dana Firas.
HRH Princess Dana Firas, recipient of the 2019 Watch Award.
Honoress Dr. HRH Princess Dana Firas and Thomas S. Kaplan.

It was an evening of talk, speeches some, but otherwise a sense of the reverence and respect for life, irony et al. It was in a beautiful room 66 stories above the city with NO view that night because of rain and a fog layer that visually blocked the view as if the windows were covered with curtains on the exterior. We were sitting in a monument, an American monument close to a century in concept and construction. It has a place in the history of 20th century New York. But it exists in a city that is constantly razing and re-building. It was a bright night, however, leaving you something to think about.

Helen Little, Daisy Soros, David Patrick Columbia, and Mary McFadden.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Lorna Goodman, and Anthony Thompson.

Rockefeller Center which began abuilding in the late 20s, early 1930s remains an extraordinary visual experience. It turned power into a sense of style, a 20th century American heritage and is historically located in the era known as the Great Depression. It’s beautifully maintained, and being inside 30 Rock as it is referred to never fails to liberate and arouse awe when when passing through.

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