The Naked City

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The action outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: JH.

Monday, October 19, 2020. Sometimes sunny, mostly cloudy weekend in New York. And on the chilly side from the mid-50s to the mid-60s midday. It was the kind of weekend where it’s easy just to stay home. Although … the restaurants out in the streets are doing a lot of business during the day but especially at night. All kinds, all types, all ages for the profoundly natural need to be around others when you’re living in New York. Or any major city.

People are also dining inside now although there are less tables for social distancing, and there are also still a lot of people who are afraid they’ll “catch-it” inside. Nevertheless they all love being out and about and in the presence of others. Social life changes naturally also with the generations. Social behavior has changed dramatically in the past half century. The cell phone has had a profound effect on our entire society.

However, I’ve spent the last several days reading material that I’ve been “saving” to read, such as pieces in old issues of the New York Review of Books and the social genius Sir Isaiah Berlin. Reading about him and his opinions can actually set your mind at ease. For awhile anyway.

Also among my reading were old pages of personal Journals as well as earlier editions of the Diary. From time to time I’d run a “blind item” about members of the Upper Sets and their forays (and relays). Yesterday I came upon one such item in a column published in the late ’90s. I can’t remember the names of the characters in this one, nor do I even remember the story. It wasn’t a “scandalous” item but rather civilized and human. What caught my interest was the “behavior” all around. They were nice to each other, and respectful of memories. The mother had been led into temptation. A woman in temptation, as shrewd and natural as a man. And the power of the money.

From a Diary in 1998. The Naked City. He came to this country about ten years ago, a kid in his early 20s from a good middle class family in a South American city. He was a Latin beauty; that coal-black hair and thick dark eyebrows, sparkling dark eyes. He got a job with a top international decorator. He had taste and zest and those looks that are always a helpful marketing device. 

He was also a charmer who loved people, loved a good time, loved beauty and loved luxury. A connoisseur of pleasure. Then he met a man almost three times his age. A gentleman, refined, genteel and cultured with an ample generations-old fortune. The older man was beguiled; the younger man was beguiling. He moved into the older man’s Upper East Side lavish apartment full of major art and antiques. The younger man quickly cultivated a  taste for the good life on a grand scale. He filled the apartment with friends at chic cocktail parties and fashionable dinners.  

The couple traveled. There was an elegant country house, an exquisite Paris apartment, and often filled with an entourage of handsome young men and beautiful young women. International types; foreign  accents, Vuitton luggage, diamond-studded Rolex watches. Even the young man’s mother often made use of the Paris apartment and/or accompanied them on their trips around the world. 

He was “a mischievous one,” as someone called him, who loved to stir the pot with the same friends he doted over and showered his patron’s generosity on. While his older friend really cared about him and he really cared about his older friend, he nevertheless frequently had his own party times. 

After several years together, the older man was concerned about his young friend’s financial future.  There were European bank accounts in the young man’s mother’s name in case the patron should suddenly pass away. Finally as another measure of insurance, the patron married the young man’s mother, assuring that in any emergency, his charge would be protected. There was real estate to shelter pretty little heads, and stocks and bonds to keep the inevitable wolves from the doorstep. 

Then fate took the helm. The bright-eyed Latin lover got sick. Then very sick. Then deathly ill. In a matter of months he was dead. All the lights went out in his patron’s houses. Gone were the entertainments, the fetes, the constant re-building and decorating and traveling, all that joie de vivre. Mort. 

All that was left was the memories… and the mother, now the wife. And wanting. Wanting the Paris apartment, the house here, the bank account there, the rights that come to married partners without pre-nuptial agreements. Although the marriage was never consummated, now comes the divorce.

“Society in any era,” so wrote Louis Auchincloss, “is made up largely of persons who are willing to live and let live.” We could add “design and sell’ to that today.

On another note of Social Life in New York, on Tuesday, October 20th at 6 p.m., Steve Eichner and Gabriel Sanchez are hosting a Virtual Book Launch Party to celebrate their new photography book “In the Limelight” with virtual travel back to the ‘90s.

I’ve seen the book. It’s a treasure and will take you back to that (last of) wild party time in New York. It’s sensational, and beyond artful into another state of being. And Steve, the working man’s photographer, has captured it with his camera and his eye for the future which is now the past. A fabulous book.

Click here to attend the virtual launch party.

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