Looking back to look forward

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Looking in the rear view mirror. 3:20 PM. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024. 33 degrees at this hour of the night before, and obviously cold out, but the weatherman says it’s going up to the 40s by this morning, and up to 50 by the day after tomorrow (Thurs); and rain and cloudiness following us through the week. So they say. And as my mother would say when she didn’t believe a word: we shall see. It’s not a terrible cold, and fortunately the interiors are still nice and warm.

Peter Rogers, with two of his favorite people, both dearly departed, Liz Smith and Ann Richards. Photo: JH.

Today is the birthday of my esteemed friend Peter Rogers. I don’t know which one this is. 90 or 91. It doesn’t matter. He’s still the same. He now lives in New Orleans which he liked as a kid from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It was his idea of the Bigtown. Then he moved there from New York quite a few years  ago — 10, 12. He was a real New Yorker, a major advertising guru — “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good,” “what becomes a legend most” — and a good friend and generous one, too.

But he loves New Orleans and has lots of friends and leads an active life there. He doesn’t have a Southern accent incidentally. But he always has a birthday, and today’s is just another one of them. I’m sure he’ll have a cake. He takes the cake by nature. Happy Birthday Mr. Peter!

My esteemed partner JH who created this site with me, as it turned out, is also the man with a natural eye for beauty. He doesn’t have a word for it. I call it a gift. But he designed the site from the first day, and he keeps that design fresh. And easy on your eye and senses. He takes the basics and refreshes them with style; a natural sense of color.

Yesterday, he was looking through our archives for something. As he looked further into our past (almost 20 years ago), he pulled some excerpts (words and images) which perfectly capture the ever changing world of NYSD and its inhabitants … Life goes on; Comme ci, comme ça … 

10/22/03 — We were on our way to the Plaza where Casita Maria was holding its annual gala, Fiesta 2003. Casita Maria is New York’s oldest settlement house serving the Hispanic communities of the South Bronx and East Harlem. This year’s honorees were Juan Pablo Molyneux, the internationally renowned interior designer, the world-famous talk show host Cristina Saralegui, and Daisy (Mrs. Paul) Soros.

Honorees Cristina Saralegui and Daisy Soros.

Leaving the Plaza we ran into Liz Smith who was attending so that she could present Daisy Soros with her medal. Liz was a recipient last year.

I’ve known Liz Smith personally for a few years now and I’ve been a fan of hers almost as long as she’s been writing a column in a New York newspaper. Last year she turned 80 which is a marvel because she’s one of the most youthful girls around town and I am not exaggerating. However, every time I see her come round a corner or turn up at one of these galas we’re covering, I’m again astounded at the sight of her. And that is the word: because for whatever it sounds like, this beat is a demanding one and requires stamina the likes of which most people I know, no matter their age, do not possess. Liz does and what’s more when she’s not covering the beat, she’s beating the drums, emceeing and organizing so many of these events for so many worthwhile projects in the city.

And here’s Liz Smith, thanks to JH and the Digital, with Mary Hilliard, another New Yorker approaching legendary status, with her camera (for the last several years she’s been under contract with Vogue to cover these nights). I hadn’t seen Mary around in the past few weeks and it turned out it was because she was in Bhutan trekking.

Liz Smith and Mary Hilliard.

Same night: From the Plaza it was over to the World Trump Tower, that black glass 90 story tower that Donald Trump built a few years ago across from the United Nations.

Gigi, Harry, and Tessa Benson.

Esquire magazine and Harry Abrams Publishers were giving a party for Harry Benson and his latest book, Once There Was A Way, about traveling with the Beatles on their first American tours in the mid-1960s. Harry has photographed the world in the past half century. 

The World Trump Tower has, among other things, the world’s fastest elevators. For example: The party was in one of the grand 90th floor apartments (which are on the market for millions). The elevator ride to the 90th floor takes something like less than 60 seconds. And, with natural exception of the ear-popping, it’s so smooth and comfortable you barely know you’re moving.

It has a south, east and west view of the world as far as the eye can see. Some of the great buildings, like Rockefeller Center, the Empire State, the Citicorp, the older towers in the Madison Square (the lower 20s) are very dramatically lit and often with colors. From an aerial view they are like large islands of concrete and light of a constellation twinkling all around in the vast darkness surrounding us. Down along the East River Drive you see the endlessly undulating streaks, white and red lights of the thousands of cars moving along the edge of the river. Farther down island you see the necklaces, pearly white lights of the Brooklyn Bridge. 120 years ago that was the highest view in all of New York.

The dynamic view from the 90th floor of the World Trump Tower.

06/11/04 —  JH and the Digital and I landed in Paris late Wednesday morning, flown over, along with many volunteers, through the generous auspices of American Airlines, as guests of the American Friends of Versailles for their five-day (or six, depending on one’s arrival) Grand Finale Benefit Celebration of the opening of the magnificent Trois Fontaines Bosquet at Versailles.

Late Thursday afternoon about six-fifteen, we drove from Paris out to the chateau at Versailles for a concert and black tie dinner with Barbara de Portago, who is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. van der Kemp, and who had grown up in the chateau.

Guests of the American Friends of Versailles in the courtyard of the chateau after dinner en route to the gardens for the midnight performance of the famed Republican Guard. 11:50 PM.

Barbara filled in some details of the place and life there for this curious one. For example: in the days of the ancien régime, the courtyard was cobbled with wood rather than stone because the wood absorbed the sounds of the wheels and the horses’ hooves and made everything quieter for the Sun King and his courtiers. Another: in those days the fancy lead decoration of the windows and dormers were gilded so that they shone almost blindingly on a sunny day reflecting the house of the Sun King.

Barbara de Portago, Florence van der Kemp, Audrey Gruss, and Susan Gutfreund.

03/08/06 — Last night in the Ballroom of the St. Regis Roof the Russian National Orchestra held its 15th Anniversary Gala honoring the former Microsoft Chief Architect Charles Simonyi. Honorary Chairmen were Sophia Loren and Martha Stewart.

Now that was an interesting combination just to see. Why? Well, Martha is always interesting to see in public, even more interesting since her trials and tribulation because she remains steadfastly Martha, although I would say more at ease with herself. She looks very good and, I learned last night – although I’m probably one of the last to know – the honoree Mr. Simonyi is a “very close friend” of Martha, and has been for quite some time now.

Charles Simonyi and Martha Stewart.

Then Sophia Loren is fascinating to see because she has such a regal presence at all times. The mere sight of her evokes for me some of her great screen performances — such as Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow where, opposite Marcello Mastroianni, she played three different types of women (or maybe one type in three different socio-economic situations) so memorably I still have some of the scenes in my mind’s eye decades later.

Charles Simonyi was seated between Sophia Loren and Martha — a veritable triumvirate of powerful personalities and all quite different from each other. They looked very comfortable together if more than a bit distracted by others visiting them at the table as well as photographers (such as yours truly) seeking shots of them together and individually.

Sophia Loren with her son Carlo Ponti Jr., was made Associate Conductor of the RNO in 2000.

The spirit of innovation and freshness was palpable in the St. Regis Roof ballroom last night — a very successful evening in many ways. In this world of constantly escalating turmoil and human hardship created by clashing and fatally nonsensical opinions of rightness, it’s no small beauty to see people supporting the making of beautiful music, a powerful juxtaposition to the itinerant and obfuscating madness that infiltrates our daily lives. It’s a measure of hope, albeit at times a small one.

05/05/06 — Up on the edge of Central Park, in the Sherry-Netherland, Doubles, the private club, was celebrating its 30 anniversary with several hundred of its members dining and dancing to the music of Peter Duchin and his orchestra along with the vocals of the great Roberta Fabiano. I was there too.

Candace Beinecke, Dan Lufkin, and Wendy Carduner at Doubles’ 30th anniversary celebration.

Same night: Dinner at Swifty’s. I caught Pauline Pitt in conversation with Ralph Rucci and Paul Podlucky. Ralph Rucci has been designing for some time but in the last few years, especially the last couple of years, his public profile has emerged along with the recognition of his ability to articulate a contemporary chic and elegance.

Paul Podlucky, Pauline Pitt, and Ralph Rucci.

Paul Podlucky is one of those famous New York celebrities famous to the famous. And the well-fixed and fashionable. Paul’s a hairstylist. Last I heard (about a year ago), he works out of his modest East Side apartment. However, he’s got a big big time clientele and from the sound of the prices to these male ears, I don’t know why he doesn’t also have his own private jet. For all I know he does. He might live in a modest apartment but he owns the whole block. I’m making this up but only maybe.

When I see Ralph Rucci’s clothes in the windows of Bergdorf, I always think of those women, many of whom are now only known as Truman Capote’s “swans” — those girls who had mastered the classic style and imbued it with their enormous discipline and personifications of self-confidence (no matter the truth). Rucci’s done that.

Women who wear his clothes look like they have perfect taste. And understated. Although some girls like to look overstated.

And why not?

Speaking of women who have perfect taste, on my way out I also ran into Mai Harrison, Joan Schnitzer Levy, and Mariana Kaufman who were dining in the front room at Swifty’s.

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