Friday, May 13, 2022. Yesterday was a bright, sunny day with temps touching the low 70s. A beautiful Spring day that does wonders for your attitude (after all those very cool, even cold, windy and grey days we’ve been having so far this season.
Wednesday I was invited to lunch at Il Storico, the restaurant in the New-York Historical Society on 170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way (West 77th Street).
I’d been invited by Shayne Doty who’s the museum’s Chief Strategy Officer, to join him and Louise Mirrer, the President of N-YHS and Agnes Tang who is Chairman of the Board. Their mission was to kindly make me aware of the institution and how much it has advanced and changed over the past decade that Ms. Mirrer has been in office.
I confess that I hadn’t visited the museum in years. Typical of my daily schedule, believe it or not. Since my visit it has been re-designed and is anticipating a new addition designed by Robert A. M. Stern, the distinguished architect/educator and author whose more recent work includes 15 Central Park West, the tower at 220 Central Park South, 520 Park Avenue South, as well as a couple of residential buildings in my neighborhood. Besides being very productive as a designer, he was Dean of the Yale School of Architecture from 1998 to 2016.
The American history museum was founded in 1804 by DeWitt Clinton and John Pintard. Clinton was a man with great natural foresight. He had a long political career as Mayor of New York, Governor of the State of New York as well as Senator. He is credited with the development of the Erie Canal which opened up American industry; as well as having a hand in the development of the New York City streets plan that is still with us today. America was a very young country, less than three decades from our separation from England. The Historical Society began at the beginning.
Another addition since the administration of Ms. Mirrer is the restaurant which is very popular for both lunch and dinner (at which I’m told it is always full up). Even more impressive is the N-YHS’s Academy for American Democracy, a program that buses in (at the museum’s expense) students from the city schools to address a “fact-based, non-partisan initiative designed to address critical knowledge gaps in the teaching and learning of American history – with an emphasis on the evolution of American democracy.
Our educational programs on our history are almost non-existent today. Students and teachers spend four days learning about the original concept of democracy in ancient Greece, comparing it with the system of government that we adopted in the Founding of our country.
At the lunch I talked about my reading Tina Brown’s new book The Palace Papers which is an excellent book about the British Royal Family today. It’s a major current biography, character by character and their relationships with each other (members of their family); and the world out there which is always watching (looking for gossip, headlines and family personal issues). Ms. Brown’s version is almost encyclopedic in terms of their lives (and loves too) and is thoroughly satisfying.
It was also at lunch that I learned that she will be the honored guest at the N-YHS’s annual Strawberry Festival luncheon which will be held there on Monday, May 23rd. For further information and tickets, contact Barbi Zakin Events at 212-744-0799 or: firstname.lastname@example.org
Back to the calendar. Last Thursday, a week, The Versailles/Giverny Foundation hosted its annual New York City fundraiser in a splendid private venue.
The evening is always in the presence of Royal or Imperial Highnesses, along with The Valley Forge Military Academy Cadets who escort ladies on their own and add panache with their red plumed caps, trumpets and drummers.
The Foundation’s President, Barbara de Portago, grew up in the left wing of the Château de Versailles with her mother Florence and stepfather, the legendary Conservateur par excellence Gerald Van der Kemp, during its initial restoration which occurred from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Barbara inherited her parents’ fundraising savoir faire; whence the evening’s invited Royal or Imperial Highnesses. I’ve attended a number of these dinners. What has always impressed me about the guests with their “royal” backgrounds is their very strong sense of history of the countries which their family’s reigned over, and how many of them remain devoted to working toward the well-being and the good of their citizens.
This years guests were Their Royal Highnesses, The Prince and Princess Louis Alphonse of Bourbon, Duke and Duchess of Anjou, who flew in from Madrid to speak in tandem for fifteen minutes at the dinner.
The Prince through his mother, Maria del Carmen-Bordiu, is the great-grandson of General Francisco Franco of Spain. Through his father he descends from Louis XIV of France, through Louis grandson, Philip V of Spain.
Recognized as Legitimist Pretender to the French throne the Prince is styled as Louis XX, Duke of Anjou.
The Princess, Marie Marguerite, is Venezuelan, a lithe tall beauty of stunning elegance and an accomplished show jumping equestrienne. They have four children, three of whom were born here in New York.
The Foundation which is based since inception in New York City continues restorations at Versailles such as the Bedchamber of Louis XVI and the museum of outdoor statuary that is the Parc. The originals once restored are housed in the Château while their perfect poured replicas grace the gardens.
There are also projects, French in origin, that catch Barbara’s eye like the recently restored French Reception Room and Bedroom of Madame Jumel in the 1765 Morris Jumel Mansion built on the highest point of New York City. It is from there that General George Washington commanded his first victory on September 16th, 1776 of The Battle of Harlem Heights.
At Giverny — which was also restored by Barbara’a late parents — the Foundation continues the restoration and upkeep of Claude Monet’s furniture, the greenhouses, his First Studio, and also underwrites the year round Volunteer Gardening Program and International Artists in Residence Program.
Photographs by Jay Brady