Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fighting the Winter Doldrums with a visit to NYC

Late January saw a return to Manhattan for a whirlwind visit. The 16th saw a long-overdue reunion with Christiana Killian when we attended a luncheon at the University Club and heard a farewell address from Philippe de Montebello, the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He’s a very gracious and accomplished man. He’s diplomatic to the point of rendering his remarks a little dull, but then he didn’t get where he is by saying things like “I hate Vermeer.” What he has done with the Met is incredible and it is, in his estimation, an institution that maybe has 2 or 3 peers in the entire world in terms of combined breadth and depth of its collection.

The next evening saw a torrential rainstorm, a very enjoyable dinner with my BFF Alexandra Murray and the charming Mary Claire Delaney, and then an evening of much-needed laughter at Spamalot. (Apparently Clay Aiken is going to join the cast soon—as Sir Robin, perhaps?—but we were not treated to his performance.) As Mary Claire observed, there’s something great about hearing a Broadway actress really belt out a tune. I was also surprised by how (I believe) short the actors all were. At the end of the play, the Holy Grail is found under seat A101, and the fellow who was seated there towered over everyone when he went up on stage to claim his prize. I wonder what it is that attracts shorter people to theater?

Friday was the annual Robert Burns Night dinner at the University Club, so the fabulous Sarah Burley and I put together a table that included Sarah’s charming sister, Alice, and my dear friends Eugenie Harrsion née Roussel, Erika and Mike Halford (who have just bought a new apartment, happily still in my neighborhood!), and many others. I never like to pass up an opportunity to wear my kilt, and it was fun to see so many others sporting the traditional apparel of Scotland. The meal, haggis included, was excellent, and there was even a well-intentioned but problematically executed attempt at cadeleigh dancing. And much Scotch was consumed, both at the Club and then at Bill’s Gay Nineties afterwards. In the “God loves fools and drunkards” category, I left my Bonnie Prince Charlie tuxedo jacket at our last port of call, and Mike Halford was good enough to drop it off with my doorman.

Amazingly, I was able to peel myself off my sofa (where I had passed out, still in my kilt) and share a nice meal with my cousins, Brian and Lanchi Klingborg, and then the afternoon was spent at the Winter Antiques Fair, where, as usual, the most appealing items were in the Hill-Stone booth (more on that below). That evening was dinner at Compass—in my opinion, one of the only viable (and pre-Lincoln Center) dining options on the West Side. (Jean-Georges doesn’t count, because that’s in a class by itself.) Emily Webb was my dinner companion, and then we headed to the Philharmonic to hear Leif Ove Andsnes play Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, and it was astounding. The music flowed from his fingers like a ripple of liquid silver, and he played so well with the orchestra, too—just an outstanding performer. The rest of the concert—a piece by Scriabin and a Liszt symphonic poem (which the program notes described as sensual and yearning, and I found it neither) was a little disappointing. But Emily and I repaired to P.J. Clarke’s afterwards and had an enjoyable chat to end the evening.

Sunday was a visit to St. Thomas’ (with an adequate sermon and beautiful music) and then birthday brunch with Jeannette Anderson at the University Club (where some old dude proceeded to have a long cell phone conversation, and no one did anything). But we had a very nice chat about what we hope 2008 has in store; I still think I need to live my life in a more thoughtful manner rather than just reacting to the enormous array of stimuli that are present in my daily existence. Then I met up with Jonathans Funke and Leaf at the Morgan Library for the Irving Penn photography exhibit. Honestly, portrait photographs don’t really steep my tea. I like some of Richard Avedon’s work, but other than that I don’t find them anywhere near as deep and revelatory as some people seem to. But a fantastic exchange happened. We were standing in front of the photo of Norman Mailer and I confessed that I had never read any of his work, and Leaf admitted rather sheepishly that he had read almost all of it but did not think much of it, and when I asked him what he didn’t like he proceeded to discuss Mailer’s work in a perfectly conversational tone. After about 90 seconds of this, a really dweeby, uptight man whipped around and whined, “You know, there are some people who really admire Mailer’s work and do not need to have you standing in a public place and giving a lecture nobody wants to hear. OK? Can you just not do that anymore?” The three of us looked at each other in shocked bemusement, both because Leaf had not been foisting his (as usual, erudite) views on others, and second because this fellow seemed like the last person on Earth who would be a Mailer fan. I said (sorta) under my breath, “Wasn’t it Voltaire who said, ‘I disagree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?’” Leaf rejoined, quick as lightning, “He also said, ‘To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.’” Without missing a beat, Funke looked at me and said, “You get one Voltaire point for content, and Leaf gets one for placement.” I love my friends.

I returned to the Armory and purchased a marvelous Old Master drawing by Oppenord: Charon Ferrying Souls across the River Styx. The outer edges or frame (not the wooden housing) of the drawing is the gaping maw of Hell, opening up to receive the boat of souls, while others wait their turn crowded in a Classical temple. If you have any interest in collecting drawings, visit the learned and reputable Alan Stone and Lesley Hill from whom I bought this and several other works. They are trustworthy, they have a wide range of offerings, an eye for the unusual and interesting, and they’re delightful to boot. I left the world of 17th-Century art and headed downtown to watch the playoff game. I tell you, if you want a good time, watch the NY Giants win in overtime at an Irish sports bar. Impossible not to get swept up in the excitement. It was a fun jaunt and I was a little sorry to leave for California the next morning.

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