Monday, March 16, 2020. Yesterday was a beautiful day in New York, with temps in the mid-50s. Cool but bright sunny with people out walking. The Promenade along the river was really populated with neighbors from near and far out for a stroll with friends, partners, parents, children, infants, runners, kids on scooters; lots of dogs and friends. There was a feeling in the air of liberation from the stress and fear that abounds now.
Good news. I took these three photos at the Citymeals dinner at Restaurant Daniel last Sunday night. And we’ve already written about the event, and even Tobers. But I just downloaded on my computer yesterday and had forgotten about them.
The birthday boy is Donald Tober, officially 89 last Sunday (the 8th), and the lady is his wife of more than 40 years, Barbara. They’re a very visible couple in the New York that gets around and often generates good feelings and good works among the community. You’ve probably read all this about them before on these pages.
They’re one of the most interesting marriages I’m aware of because they’re such a team! And yet at the same time they are very individual. Quick story I learned from Donald at his bday dinner. Both he and Barbarea had been married before. When they met, he was in the process of divorcing his wife and was now living the life of a single man.
One day he was invited to a cocktail party given by some well-known person (I forget) here in town. It wasn’t all that stimulating but Donald was determined to get used to his new position in life. At some point he noticed a piano, and so he sat down to play (he’s been playing the keys all his life).
He was turning out a Cole Porter tune when a young woman appeared sat down on the bench next to him. She told him she loved show tunes and that she loved to sing. So he says to her: okay, if you can sing it, I can play it. And so it was, and has been ever since.
Meanwhile back at the turmoil. Every day the point gets sharper, driven home with new predictions, warnings, and growing numbers of cases. “Weird” is the word one of my neighbors remarked as we were getting in the elevator which now has a hand cleaning dispenser installed by the door. Isolate is the message. Out of self-protection.
Yet just outside the door Spring is here already. Saturday I noticed the pears were about to blossom on the sunnier locations. And the bushes in the park are flowering and sprouting fresh leaves a shade greener. And the weather, especially last Friday, has been beautiful — like Mother Nature at her kindest and most serene all around us. It seemed distinctly ironic, compared to the news, specifically the information being dispensed in the media. Fear is the package being delivered.
Last week I ran into my friend Bruce at Sette Mezzo who told me he was reading a book that he couldn’t put down and knew I would like. He and I often talk about what we’ve been reading. It is a new book by Erik Larson who wrote In the Garden of the Beasts about an American ambassador in Hitler’s Germany. It was a true tale, a record of human behavior and horror that’s not fiction.
I’d told Bruce that I’ve been reading “Twilight of the Belle Epoque; the Paris of Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Renault, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein and Their Friends through the Great War.” And not finished. And didn’t know when or even if I would get to it.
The new book is called The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, And Defiance During the Blitz. Last Friday Bruce thoughtfully sent me a copy. I love books the way some people love money. It is a kind of greed (but the best kind). It has a handsome cover, and a curious title. I couldn’t resist opening and seeing what the “saga” would be.
Small print, 500 pages. I read Mr. Larson’s list of titles. All compelling stuff. So I read the first page just out of curiosity as to what it was about. I was aware of Churchill’s “greatness” and wit and talents although his “legend”ish reputation did not spell “great” to me.
So I read the first page. That was last Friday night too late to get into a tome. Although the first page led me to the second and the third. And when I got up Saturday morning and it was sitting there on my desk already opened, I continued.
I’m a slow reader, and I don’t sit for hours at length reading. Although it is now Sunday night as I write this and I have read the first 250 pages of this extraordinary history, and I will return to it right after I finish this Diary.
Erik Larson is an historian whose writing style reminds me of John O’Hara. He’s telling us a true story of human behavior among the powerful and how it is a major part of our lives. He is also like a great film director (with great editor) who moves the action along and keeps you wanting to see what’s going to happen.
But what is most affecting to me at this moment is that the The Splendid and the Vile mirrors the emotional stress that has been created by this pandemic we are now in the throes of — Man’s inhumanity to Man. Churchill was definitely a hero.