‘Tis the Season of Giving (and taking)

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Lined up on Lexington. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, December 15, 2020.  Nine more Shopping Days til Christmas. The weather in New York yesterday was sunny and in the upper 30s, low 40s. We’ve been anticipating a BIG storm starting tonight and heaping into tomorrow. That remains to be seen as I write this on Tuesday night. The temps are foreast to be in the mid-20s too. 

Like wintah, baby! Get out your snowshoes and heavy storm coats. Or stay inside. One hopes there is an “inside” for everybody, if you know what I mean. One of the upshots of the past nine months of this pandemic has been living in a near state of panic over what-next?

Snowstorms are basically nostalgia for New Yorkers who’ve lived here long enough to remember snowy winters where it accumulated over the months, melted, accumulated more, and at its best the city was lightened and whitened as background for us passing fancy. But that was back in the ’60s and ‘70s (and before).  In the last two decades we’ve been seeing a slow but certain warming overall.

The Big Social News Is … The Mayor and/or the Governor have closed the interiors of New York City restaurants again. (You can always drive out to Great Neck or up to Westchester if you want to go out to eat.) 

Many of those restaurants have built serving shelters outside in front of their businesses.  I don’t know what else you’d call them other than maybe “pitching tents.” They’ve added roofs and walls and lights and heaters. At great expense, I should add, to try to save their business. Although the interiors have had some customers — people who are afraid to be inside any place where there are other people nearby (socially distanced of course) — they prefer the great outdoors, even bundling up for it.

Yesterday I was told that the City will request the restaurateurs disassemble and remove their temp eating spaces if there is a heavy snow — such as the one that’s forecast for tonight. This is anticipating the snowplows cleaning it up. There’s No Business Like Snow Business for our politicians, who of course don’t have to worry about their business closing and being out of a job. That will be the end of standard social life in the city.

I read the other day that about a million New Yorkers have lost their jobs, many, maybe almost all of which won’t be returning because most of the businesses that employed them were small —  2 to maybe 12 employees including all the little Mom and Pop stores. Not to mention the restaurant business and the hotel business. Can they survive? Yes, if their owners are rich enough to bear the losses. No, if they’re not. Which all translates to millions more of us without jobs to support ourselves and our children.

These are problems that must be solved to avoid what history has demonstrated over and over again, total collapse, all acquiesced by us, thanks to fear of this virus.

This is a deeply unpleasant, even disturbing subject — to put it as lightly as possible. I’ve avoided getting into it because I cannot change the direction of our politicians and those who possess positions of leadership in our community. I can only hope and pray that we are getting closer to returning to normal public activity, for the good of all of us. And I’ll look for other things to regard and report and tell you about.

Oatsie, circa 1940.

Such as, in the meantime. Last week I wrote about Oatsie Charles, the Newport and Washington, D.C. social empress who died last year having lived to the ripe old age of 99. Great social empresses are latent journalists, always acquiring information that may have escaped Oatsie was never old, nor was, it seems, the world she lived in. Her life had the flavor of a John O’Hara character with a little Noel Coward and Cole Porter thrown into the mix.  

Since her passing, her estate has been dispensing many of her assets belonging to her heirs. Louis Bofferding is selling an antique desk set made by Tiffany that was part of Oatsie’s estate. We forget or are not old enough to remember when desk sets were as familiar as iPads because people wrote out their messages.

I’m telling you all this because there was one other particular item that caught my interest in Louis’ sale collection. And that was:

Framed silhouettes of William and Charles Livingston, 1838. Paper cut outs in the original giltwood frame. 20 ½” 24 ½” (framed). Provenance: Pierre Le-Tan, Paris; John Armbruster, Brussels; Frederick W. Hughes, New York $8,000

The things you learn (if you didn’t already know). In the late 18th century, snipping someone’s profile from paper with scissors, and mounting the result to a contrasting sheet, was a popular diversion among the European elite.  They were called silhouettes, after Etienne de Silhouette, a finance minister of King Louis XV 

In 1829, a Frenchman named August Edouart calling himself a “silhouettist,” snipped his way down the eastern seaboard of a newly established United States. Silhouettes are often unsigned because that would mar the perfection of the silhouette. But the fancy sitters — Charles and William Livingston — members, presumably, of the Hudson Valley Livingstons, adds a certain cachet.

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