The Sky Lobby of the Mandarin Oriental New York hotel on the 35th floor of the AOL Time Warner building faces north and east-away from the past-and as the clock approached 8 p.m. on Sept. 15, dozens of guests pressed themselves against the floor-to-ceiling windows in preparation for the big bang that would schedule the new beginning of the fall social season: a pyrotechnic “light cycle” by the artist Cai Guo-Qiang that was supposed to encircle the park with computer-coordinated fireworks and celebrate the 150th anniversary of Central Park as revelers at 150 dinners situated at homes, hotels and clubs around the park watched together.
The lights were dimmed in the sleek space, save for the red and gold votive candles that flickered in the lobby and the adjacent dining room. A soft rain streaked the windows and the orange neon “Biography” sign blared from across the way as the taxis and town cars silently snaked their way around Columbus Circle at street level.
Among those at the windows were a large contingent of AOL Time Warner employees, including New Line co-chairmen Robert Shaye and Michael Lynne, HBO executive vice president Richard Plepler and his wife, Lisa; Secondhand Lions co-stars Michael Caine and Robert Duvall and their wives; Sopranos creator David Chase and his wife, Denis; Sopranos co-star Edie Falco and her beau, Stanley Tucci; and NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol and his actress wife, Susan St. James. CNNfn anchor David Haffenreffer took in the curved marble expanse of the hotel’s front-desk area and the views with his wife, Lara Spencer, the new host of PBS’s A ntiques Roadshow, and said: “This is much better than 5 Penn Plaza,” where his network’s offices are currently located. “Down there, it’s homeless people and prostitutes. Up here, it’s a much better neighborhood. ”
Elf star Will Ferrell looked out into the darkness and kissed the ear of his auctioneer wife, Viveca Paulin. The New York Post ‘s Cindy Adams took notes, and another Sopranos actress, Lorraine Bracco, caused a stir with her date, Billy Siegel, the son of Chris Craft’s Herb Siegel.
At the sounds of the first booms, the crowd drew closer to the windows, and then exclamations rippled through the room-not because the fireworks were so spectacular, but because, like some leftover dailies from 2001: A Space Odyssey , they were being eclipsed by the monolithic Trump International Hotel across the street. (The rain didn’t help either.) A few seconds later, a second set of explosions erupted farther north and this time it looked like the Mayflower Hotel was in the way.
Once more in New York, real estate had dominated the proceedings and not necessarily in a good way. According to one partygoer, Stephen Ross, one of the AOL Time Warner building’s developers, who was a host of the dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, looked visibly upset and went from window to window hoping to get an unobstructed view. But mostly the guests began to make wisecracks as they headed back to the bar or to their dinner tables. “It must have been spectacular,” said Mr. Ferrell to his wife as if what he had seen was most definitely not.
“That was brilliant,” said Ms. Adams in a voice that would have corroded the chrome off a car bumper.
“It’s a disaster,” said Mr. Tucci in his best Groucho Marx voice. “Never again. I’m putting my foot down.”
Like so many nights over the past year and a half, great expectations had given way to a lesser reality, and yet no one seemed all that disappointed. Indeed, a jaunty, friendly spirit seemed to pervade the Sky Lobby. Perhaps because having watched the construction of the AOL Time Warner building proceed in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and one of the worst economic downturns in the city’s history-one that clobbered the building’s namesake-many of the guests felt like, up there on the 35th floor, looking out over the emerald expanse of Central Park, the future had finally arrived. And there was also the feeling that for the first time in a long time, a large group of people-2,300 at the $10,000 a table dinners, 10,000 to watch the fireworks on the Great Lawn, not to mention dozens of the city’s chefs, restaurateurs, designers and hotels-had come together over a single night over a matter that was not related to the tragedy of Sept. 11.
Eleanora Kennedy and Norma Dana, the co-chairs of the event had worked with other members of the Central Park Conservancy for a year and a half to put together this night for what Mrs. Kennedy told The Transom was a celebration of “the single most democratic institution in New York” and “a sanctuary” for the city. And preserving the beauty of the park-more than $1.6 million was netted from the dinners-proved to be a powerful incentive for participants, even if they were entertaining old friends.
When The Transom asked Katherine Price Mondadori why she had opened her Hampshire House apartment to a group that included record moguls Clive Davis and Ahmet Ertegun, his designer wife, Mica, 66 restaurateur Phil Suarez and his wife Lucy, where a dinner of tripe, seafood salad, figs and gelato was overseen by Da Silvano owner Silvano Marchetto, she pointed out her window and said: “Look out that window. Where are you going to find something like that?”
There in Ms. Mondadori’s art-laden home and the unfinished AOL Time Warner building-“Welcome to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel-still under construction,” chirped the beautiful Asian greeter stationed at the elevator bank on the still gritty ground floor-and elsewhere around Central Park, you couldn’t help but wonder if New York was ready to face the future. After all, Michael Ragusa, the last of the 343 Sept. 11 firemen to be memorialized had only been laid to rest seven days earlier. And so on this drizzly September night, The Transom repeatedly posed that question: Had the city began to finally look forward or was it still working to recover from the trauma of two years ago.
Perhaps the most heartily optimistic was Mr. Caine: “It’s amazing, really amazing,” he said as he stood in a group with his wife Shakira, Mr. Duvall, Mr. Lynne and Mr. Ferrell. New Yorkers, he said, are “different people now…they have a confidence now because they know they can take anything. It’s a whole new spirit here,” he added. “I’ve been coming here for 40 years, and I’m very impressed.”
Mr. Duvall gave us a less varnished answer: “I couldn’t gauge that,” he said in his drill sergeant’s voice. “I’m sure they’ve adjusted. That’s the word I’d use.”
Those who live here full time tended to be cautiously positive. “I feel optimistic, but at the same time it feels like what happened two years ago in some ways happened yesterday. It’s still very fresh,” said Mr. Haffenreffer.
“But I do think the city is moving forward,” interjected his wife, Ms. Spencer. “Downtown is thriving again. It’s fun to go out down there. It’s not in your face as much as it was. And that of course is natural. I definitely feel like we’ll never get over it, but I do feel like we’re moving forward.”
Ms. Falco agreed. “Looking forward,” she said. “The city-you really can’t knock it down. It regenerates very quickly and just goes in a different direction. It’s like those vacuums that bump into the wall and they just turn around and go in a different direction.” Ms. Falco turned to Mr. Tucci, who was sporting a serious five o’clock shadow. “It’s a vacuum, don’t you think, Stanley?”
As Mr. Tucci began to answer, Ms. Falco let out a staccato laugh and poked Mr. Tucci in the stomach. “I don’t need you!” she said.
“I was thinking exactly the same thing,” Mr. Tucci said. “I’ve always thought of the city as a sort of self-propelled vacuum. Especially from the sky. When I see it from a plane.”
When the fireworks finished, the lights came back on and the guests began to move into an adjoining room where six tables had been set up on the gray, orange and pink floral patterned carpet. The red votives flickered. Large bunches of what looked like rhododendron leaves rose up from the centers of some tables.
On the periphery stood Stephen Ross, immaculately coifed and wearing a pale green Ferragamo tie. Was he cursing Mr. Trump and his building for coming between him and fireworks this night in his new building?
“Well, I mean, I think you really would have seen it if the weather had been better,” he said. “And Donald Trump had nothing to do with that building. He just happened to have his name on it.” Mr. Ross smiled. “It’s hard to tell on a night like tonight, but when you look right here, you’re not affected at all by Donald Trump.”
Mr. Ross said that New York is “still recovering, but I think everybody is looking forward and” he motioned around him, “this is what this is all about. As I walked in here as an owner I became very critical because we aren’t complete. And I had all that anxiety of opening up something and seeing all the imperfections. And at the same time knowing we’re nearing completion, I’m very excited about it.”
Mr. Ross went off to find his table and his partner in the AOL Time Warner building, developer William Mack approached.
“This is an icon of the future,” Mr. Mack said. “I think this is a symbol that, in spite of all the problems we’ve had in the world, is going to be a huge success.” A lone jazz guitar could be heard in the room. “This building radiates the optimism and the success of New York.”
About 10 minutes later, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the crowd: “If you think about New York City, there are people building great buildings for the first time in a long time.” He brought up the building rising on the old Alexander’s site where his company’s future headquarters would be based. Hearst, he said, “is doing a spectacular building,” and the New York Times new office space would soon get off the ground.
“The future really is at work and people sense that,” said the mayor, as a green mist slowly rose from the park.
150 Central Park South
“I’ve lived in New York City for 138 years. I love this city! I have the best city!” said Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun, buddy of Bobby Short and the Rolling Stones, sitting with a glass of white wine and a wooden cane in the apartment of lawyer Michael Kennedy and his wife Eleanora Kennedy, overlooking Central Park. Mr. Ertegun adjusted the polka-dotted handkerchief in his pocket. “I’ve known the Kennedys from long ago, since before Jackie married John.”
Wrong Kennedys, sir.
“Oh, these Kennedys?” Mr. Ertegun said, “I just met them tonight.” These Kennedys were hosting the evening’s cocktails in their Central Park South home, with a porcini risotto and duck dinner to follow, catered by Le Cirque. At the vernal-themed dinner table, set for 11, an assortment of green flowers accented the plates, which were bordered in a leaf pattern.
The apartment was a mélange of family homeliness and city sleek-elegant black-and-white sofas accented with occasional tiger-print patterns, and a single brown pillow embroidered with the word “family.” Candles everywhere. The windowsills held books that nodded to the host couple’s favorite points geographical: Hamptons Bohemia , One Thousand New York Buildings , Central Park . On the walls was a framed portrait of a younger, brunette Mrs. Kennedy with her beaming daughter.
Now a blonde, the hostess was wearing a long beaded, black Armani dress which she said her husband selected for her at Bergdorf over the weekend. “But it’s not too décolleté?” she asked. Mrs. Kennedy was one of the chairwomen of the evening’s events, which she said raised over $1.6 million.
“My co-chair and I wanted to do something that combined all the different elements of the park. We wanted to highlight it, embrace it. We wanted to include all four sides,” she said. “It’s a great healer, isn’t it? We’re taking care of the park because the park takes care of us.”
“It’s the most democratic, classless institution we have. Everybody loves the park and everyone gets the chance to use it,” said Mr. Kennedy. He said that this was the fourth address they’ve had on the green rectangle, and that he enjoys walking his cocker-spaniel-and-poodle mix, Capo, in the park, and often seeks comfort there when the city is too much to handle.
“We’re determined to get 9/11 behind us,” he said. “We know life is fundamentally a mystery. We’re all vulnerable and there really is no true security, although we try hard and our government tries hard.”
60 Minutes ‘ Steve Kroft, who was there with his wife, writer Jennet Conant, looked way down at the ground 23 stories below. “I think there’s an excellent chance that more bad things are going to happen,” he said, when asked if the city has recovered. “I’m really actually kind of surprised that they haven’t happened already.”
Then John Loring, design director of Tiffany and Company, changed the room’s mood.
“I’m a good American!” he said. “Whatever our government is, it’s my government, right or wrong! Whoever our President is, whether its Mr. Clinton or Mr. Bush, he’s my President and he’s right! Right?”
Sigourney Weaver entered the room. She was very much the movie star, turning every head. “Celebration is very healing,” she said, adding that she grew up playing by the Mother Goose sculpture in the park near the east 70’s. Mrs. Kennedy kissed her on both cheeks and complimented her on her green floral-print Prada skirt. Ms. Weaver shrugged. “I was thinking ‘Park,'” she said.
“I heard that you were tall, and you’d be taller than me and I’d be intimidated,” Mr. Loring said to Ms. Weaver, who is 5-foot-11. “So go on, intimidate me. Or do you only do that sort of thing in your movies?”
Before Mrs. Weaver had a moment to consider the question, Mr. Loring was asked to give a time check. “It’s 18 minutes to eight!” he said, consulting a 1981 unisex Tiffany steel diver’s watch with a rubber band.
“I designed it myself,” he said.
Mrs. Kennedy ordered the lights turned out throughout the apartment, and the fireworks show began. Designer Arnold Scaasi, wearing a red-white-and-blue-striped tie with a matching shirt, hunkered down beside his partner, Parker Ladd, who had on a flag-patterned Jesus-fish lapel pin. Suddenly, bright crimson flares shot up, followed by slow bursts of white, which filled the overcast sky. Someone’s cell phone rang.
“Look! ‘The Ring of Light!’ ‘The Ring of Light!'” Ms. Kennedy yelled.
“It’s like Iraq,” said Mr. Ertegun.
Mr. Ertegun said that as a child he would be forced “by my mother to watch them. In France or Switzerland. She’d point to the fireworks and say, ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ but I thought they were rather repetitious. And the landscapes, we’d be driving in the mountains and my mother would make the chauffeur stop so the children could go look at the view. And I’d say, ‘How long do I have to do this for? I want to get back in the car.’ I prefer manmade things. Fireworks, they resemble nature too much. They …. ”
Mr. Ertegun stopped mid-sentence and pointed to a man who was entering the room anew.
“That wop,” he said, gesturing to the bushy-browed gent, Mario Durso, an Italian senator from Rome and a good friend of Katherine Price Mondadori, who was hosting a party at another apartment on the floor. He was standing next to Jean Kennedy Smith, the former Ambassador to Ireland, who was cradling Paul Krugman’s new book.
“Hey, you. You are late. Hello? You!” Mr. Ertegun shouted. “You are too late.”
Mr. Durso smiled affably and took Mr. Ertegun’s hand.
“No, I was just in the apartment next door. I saw everything,” Mr. Durso said.
“Well, it’s not the same thing,” Mr. Ertegun barked. “You missed it here. Over there, it wasn’t the same.”
-Anna Jane Grossman
1 Central Park West
At 6:30 p.m. outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower at 1 Central Park West, all was calm and orderly. Pretty publicists in their traditional tight black pants and cocktail dresses stood in line at the three entrances to the hotel directing traffic to each of the five 150th Anniversary of Central Park dinners in the building.
At the southern entrance, the well-heeled Young Associates filed in to Jean-Georges to meet their hostesses, Aerin Lauder Zinterhoffer, Heather Mnuchin and Samantha Topping. It was muggy outside, and young socialites combed their hair down and adjusted their dresses clinging to their skin. As guests circulated through the immaculate white-walled restaurant, uttering platitudes about the park, Jean Georges Vongerichten scurried from the kitchen to the bar tables directing waiters carrying colorful plates of shrimp and sushi. Cocktails were running like clockwork.
Ms. Zinterhoffer wore a black-and-white-patterned button-down shirt and black pants. She leaned against the bar talking to a friend and watched the doorway. “I think it’s very important for people to understand the importance of the park, because we do live in the city and not everyone has a backyard and I think its very important for us to respect the park and take care of it. And so we’re having fireworks because I think it’s just a celebration, because fireworks are always associated with a celebration.”
In the back room of the restaurant, guests wearing mostly black lounged around the tables waiting for the call to head upstairs to the roof to watch the fireworks. A silent auction had begun. Designer Elie Tahari, in a black suede shirt and jeans was talking to his wife Rory near the auction tables when at 7:15 p.m. a loudspeaker instructed guests to go to the roof. As publicists and doormen frantically tried to tell the guests where to go, all the people who were attending all the parties in the building crowded into one line for the three elevators to the roof.
Mr. Tahari wasn’t going to wait. He led his wife to the back of the apartment building through the service elevator, and Dr. Samantha Boardman, her date and Alexandra Lind followed suit, huddling in the freight elevator between waiters pushing room-service carts and carrying trays.
On the way up, Mr. Tahari waxed poetic about the pleasures of living in Central Park.
“I owe a lot to Central Park,” he said. “When I came to New York about 30 years ago, I didn’t have a place to stay and I didn’t know anybody, and I slept in Central Park for a few weeks.” Then he turned to his wife. “All I think of Central Park is you,” he said.
“When we were first dating,” said Mrs. Tahari, “we were on the phone and were each living on Central Park and he said, ‘I miss you,’ and I said, ‘I miss you too,’ and he said, ‘I think if we got a flashlight and went to the windows and flickered it we could see each other,’ and we could.”
“That’s romantic,” said Mr. Tahari.
Upstairs, the Taharis gazed across the terrace, and Dr. Boardman joined Ms. Lind, Samantha Topping and some young socialites by the railing. Suddenly the rain started pouring down. There was a resounding female chorus of “Aaahhh!” and guests started rushing toward the stairs. A few black umbrellas popped up, but within minutes there was a line back to the stairwell down to the elevators. The waiters rushed for cover for their mini chicken salads. Ms. Topping, her blond hair matted and mascara running, barreled through a service exit to get back to Jean-Georges. Ms. Lind followed her, and soon countless other Manolos could be heard clomping down the service stairs.
Downstairs, the crowd looked like it had survived another blackout. Nevertheless, the guests seemed to show the same energized relief that showed up during New York crises. Mr. Vongerichten said, “In the 70’s and early 80’s there was more violence in New York. There is always something in New York. In 10 years there might be something else. People have to eat no matter what happens. For the blackout we did a barbecue on the terrace.” He added, “If nothing happened, it’s still a battle in New York.”
Nearby, a young girl in a metallic silver dress ran her hand through her wet hair, shook the drops off her dress, and cried, “We made it!”
120 Central Park South
“What is going on with Ben-Lo or Bennifer or whatever-are they really over or this a stunt?” said Brenda Johnson, a Republican party fund-raiser, dressed in a blue-and-white-polka-dotted Escada pantsuit. She had a sparkling American flag pin over her right breast.
She was one of the first to arrive at the party being thrown by entertainment lawyer Bert Fields and his wife, the art consultant Barbara Guggenheim, in their 12th-floor apartment on Central Park South.
Ms. Johnson and her husband, Targus C.E.O. J. Howard Johnson, had just arrived back from a California fund-raising event for gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. Aside from their shared hope that Mr. Affleck and Ms. Lopez are officially over-Mr. Johnson joked that Mr. Affleck had “taken a look at the infidelity clause in the pre-nup and realized he could never do it!”-the couple was most excited about Mr. Schwarzenegger’s campaign.
At 7:30, Mr. Fields turned off the apartment lights and everyone gathered at the open windows. As rain fell, the Baums and the Johnsons, who have grown children, told Ms. Kalia, who has a 10-month-old, how hard it is to get children to country houses on the weekends once they become teens, and Ms. Johnson said that the independent film Thirteen should be mandatory viewing for all parents.
Ms. Baum, a realtor at Corcoran, said, “It’s amazing that after 9/11 everyone said that prices would drop …. But look, the park has never looked better. The city has never been safer. Everyone said, ‘Who will buy space in the AOL Time Warner building?’ And three weeks ago there was the biggest real-estate deal in history.” Ms. Baum was referring to the $45 million purchase of space by Mexican financier David Martinez.
At 7:45, Mr. Fields was convinced that the fireworks were not happening.
“Barbara, let’s turn the light on!” he said. Just as he said it, the scary first round of explosives were fired off.
Mr. Fields, who has represented DreamWorks SKG partner Jeffrey Katzenberg in his suit against Disney, and HBO in its action against Sopranos star James Gandolfini cooked the main course, chicken fajitas. Mr. Fields had roasted the poultry and cooked it up with more peppers and onions. On the table, which was set with white linen, silver and crystal provided by Hermès, were pico de gallo and jalepeños de escabeche, and he said, “for New Yorkers, sour cream.”
As the food was served, Mr. Fields lifted his glass.
“To this wonderful city,” he said, “which is just filled with riches we couldn’t imagine.”
Mr. Fields invited Mr. Jackson to talk about Central Park.
“It’s not the oldest park,” said Mr. Jackson in a Tennessee drawl. “And it’s not the biggest park …. It’s probably not even the most beautiful park,” he said. “And when it was built it wasn’t central at all.
“Those are all knocks on Central Park,” he said. “But forget ‘em all. Because this is the most important public urban space in the world ….
“No city that had any pride, any concern about the future, could not have a park. They looked at New York and saw that they could lay out 843 acres, everyone loves it, it pays for itself-and so all around the country, you build parks. The influence of Central Park was unmatched by any public space anywhere.”
Just as if they were in his classroom in Morningside Heights, guests began to raise their hands and ask questions-one about Mr. Jackson’s Southern accent and how long it took him to become a true New Yorker.
Mr. Jackson laughed. He said that in New Orleans and St. Louis, it can take generations to fit in, “no matter how much money you have.” Mr. Fields joked that “It takes one day to become an Angeleno.”
But, said Mr. Jackson, “the great thing about New York is that at the end of the day in New York, it is all about money and greed. And what that means is that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here or where you’re from. We are a city of aspiration.”
1 West 81st Street
“Look at the lights-red, white and green!” said Joan Steinberg, gesturing to the south window of the Beresford on Central Park West. Ms. Steinberg, a trustee of the Central Park Conservancy, was looking at the evening traffic flowing along the park. “It looks like Christmas!” she declared.
Ms. Steinberg and a dozen other guests were gathered at the home of Bruce and Susan Waterfall, principals at investment company Morgens Waterfall Vintiadis and Company, who co-hosted the affair with Rick and Candace Beinecke, an investor and lawyer, respectively.
The whole place seemed to be twinkling: two “event environment” specialists had arranged 150 candles around the apartment and in rows upon the large, 22-seat dinner table, which was draped in two shades of green cloth, decked with sprigs of a rare upstate flower called cleome and surrounded by emerald-tinted wall sconces; it looked like an homage to the lush fields of Central Park itself. Ms. Waterfall was twinkling herself, in large, floral-shaped diamond earrings and a string of fulsome pearls.
“After 9/11, our whole family went into the park with candles and walked with people we didn’t even know,” she said. “I get up every morning and that’s my Zen. Even during the blackout, it served as a magnet to attract people. I think it’s very soothing to people. It was very comforting. That’s something me and my children will never forget.”
“I think the city has snapped back to normal surprisingly fast,” said Byron Wien, a managing director for Morgan Stanley. “Faster than any other city would have. I think the city has economic problems. Sept. 11 didn’t help, but you can’t blame New York’s problems on Sept. 11.
“I know Bloomberg’s approval ratings are very low,” he added, “but I think he has done a good job.”
Brian Ross, ABC News’ chief investigative correspondent and the man who recently smuggled a package of non-radioactive uranium into New York from Jakarta, Indonesia, causing a firestorm with American security officials, was at dinner. Mr. Ross said he could live comfortably in New York City with what he knew.
“I hear a lot about Al Qaeda and the threats and so on,” he said. “I think they’ve done a remarkable job of stepping up security. They haven’t killed off Al Qaeda, but the threat domestically is less than it was.
“Personally,” Mr. Ross said, “I live here with my wife and son and we haven’t moved out and I don’t plan on moving out. I hope he raises his children here. I don’t feel pessimistic about it.” But, he added with a shrug, “I think it would be easy enough to have another serious attack or a nuclear attack-it could be devastating.”
At that moment, Clifford Grodd, the president of men’s clothier Paul Stuart, realized exactly to whom he was talking.
“Oh, you’re the guy!” Mr. Grodd exclaimed to the room: “He’s radioactive!” Mr. Grodd was sporting a purple kerchief in his breast pocket, which seemed to blossom like a flower.
Finally, fireworks began to crackle. Guests scurried into the dining room to get a view. “Oh!” said one guest. “Cluster bombs!”
112 Central Park South
At 6:30 p.m., upper-crusty guests from fine old families began arriving in the Intercontinental Hotel’s presidential suite, 23 floors above the park. An old-timer was playing guitar. The bartender was busy.
For the most part, it was a crowd of about 25 New Yorkers, older, dressy, black-tie. But there were nearly as many Germans-the guests of co-hostess Honore Wamsler, on the board of the Botanical Gardens and founder of the garden club in Bavaria.
The Germans blended in so well you could barely tell anyone apart until they opened their mouths. Topics of conversation included hurricanes, fashion, opera, plastic surgery, Michael Eisner, shopping, rare plants, Hillary, Mayor Bloomberg, and Cuba.
The other hostess, Norma Dana, one of the founders of the women’s committee for the Central Park Conservancy, had on a American Indian broach on her black dress; she’s part Chickasaw.
Ms. Dana was optimistic about the city. “I think it’s stronger than ever because we realize how incredible we are individually and also as one big family,” she said. “It’s every nationality in the world here and we’ve all pulled together in a way that no one would have dreamed.”
Does she ever feel a bad vibe?
“That could happen anywhere in the world,” she said. “My husband walked across the street and he was killed. You never know what’s going to happen in life. So if you’re not optimistic you miss out on a lot in life. You have to believe everything is going to be perfect.”
Ms. Dana gazed out onto the Park.
“I see nothing but magic,” she said. “I see that bridge behind it. I see the lights atop the towers in the background. Everything is a light pointing to prosperity and greatness and power . Power, power, power.”
Soon, there were fireworks and then it was time for dinner. An elderly German lady stepped out onto the terrace. Her name was Eva Marie Auebbert and she said she was a grandmother originally from Prussia, but who now lives in Bavaria.
She said something about her “love affair” with New York and described the city as “young,” “always anxious,” “naughty,” and “old and tired but young again always.”
“It’s restless. No, it’s not naughty, what’s the right word? They are asking for things without thinking about it. All those economic questions, you see.”
But it was clear that she, too, was optimistic about America. ” Ja, ja, ” she said. “But you must take care. You see, with this little boy Bush-he must stop it now…I think in comparison with Clinton he is maybe a bit naïve, you see? We are very old in Europe. Thousands of years of history! We are very tired in some ways.”
She went on to criticize the war on terror and warned of a second Vietnam. “You can’t find the terrorism in this way,” she said. “You will never kill it.”
She pinpointed what she saw as another problem. “All those Jewish people here,” she said. “They have got a financial power. I’m sorry, I’m not a racist. No. But it’s a matter of fact. The financial power of the Israelis. It’s a real problem… I dare to say it because I’m a German, with the Holocaust. But a lot of Jewish people…”
She went on and confessed that it was “terrible” that her people once “hated” the Jewish people for their financial power.
“You are American? And you love your country?”
Time to get a drink!
“Don’t laugh about me,” she said.
36 Central Park South
For a party that almost didn’t happen, whose busy hosts nearly forgot to invite the guests, plan the menu, and reserve the venue, the intimate gathering Monday night on the 44th floor of the Park Lane Hotel turned out to be quite a festive affair. With champagne glasses in hand, the invited guests-philanthropists Dorothy and Lewis Cullman, former union leader Victor Gotbaum, and other members of New York’s old civic guard-offered toast after toast to Central Park. They reminisced about their first trips through its meadows, shared favorite wandering spots, and enjoyed an evening that nearly wasn’t.
“I almost forgot about it,” said party host Betsy Gotbaum, the public advocate.. “Since I was Parks Commissioner, I care an enormous about Central Park. But it’s hard to organize a big event when you’re in a crazy job situation.”
Ditto her co-host Erica Jong, who flew back from Rome, where she had been promoting her latest novel, Sappho’s Leap . “You have to understand, my daughter is getting married Nov. 1. She’s inviting 300 people to the wedding, so I can’t even cope,” said Ms. Jong, with a throaty chuckle and toss of blond hair.
So the Central Park Conservancy hopped to the rescue, providing the room with the view, which neither woman had in her own apartment, the seven-course meal. “For all the work Erica and I did on this party,” said Ms. Gotbaum, gesturing to the hotel suite with its gold-swirl wallpaper, elegantly laid table, and two grand windows opening wide onto Central Park, “we got away with murder.”
Shortly after 8:00 p.m., when the fireworks had fizzled to black, Ms. Jong raised a glass: “This is a toast to Central Park,” she said, “where I grew up, where I pretended I was an Indian maiden and tried to squint and pretend the buildings weren’t there,” she said. “It was the place where I played when I was a little girl, it’s the place I walk through now and exercise in. I love this park. Every part of Central Park has a memory for me. Every part of Central Park is a part of my life. And I want to toast all the people who love Central Park.”
106 Central Park South
“I love the park,” said rapper Wyclef Jean, gazing at the blanket of Central Park treetops from the 20th floor of Trump Palace.
“I’ve got the park in my new song.” It’s not everyday you see one of the most successful hip-hop artists waxing sentimental over the arboreous. Marketing guru Stephen Adler had invited friends to his home in Trump’s gold and marble complex to watch the fireworks over a $1000-a-plate Cantonese dinner. The rapper was one of the first to arrive and now gazed at the panoramic view in between sips of champagne.
“Lemme see if I can remember the lyrics,” Wyclef struggled to block out the smooth jazz playing in the background. “Bu-dum-ba-dum-bu,” He murmured under his breath. “Okay, here it is:
“I say the Million Man March/that was a start/now I need a million more to meet at Central Park. Yeah, that’s it…You know, I used to see Tony Bennett drawing in the park.” The singer? “Oh yeah, he’s actually a great artist. Eric Clapton would be around there playing sometimes, too, and I’d listen. A lot of those straight up musicians will go there, the old school ones who keep it real.”
Mr. Jean went back to staring out the window, looking incongruous in his green Celtics jacket and blue jeans amongst the legion of dark suits and tuxes. “This here is a throwback jersey. You know who was playin’ when this was around? This is from when Byrd was playing, man, this throwback is from 1983.” He twisted the enormous triangular diamond on his ring finger, a ‘pyramid ring’ designed by Jacob the Jeweler, known in the rap world as the ‘King of Bling.’
“You know how long it takes to build a pyramid? It takes a lifetime. So this ring is here to remind me that I have so much more to do.”