A few lucky dogs had their day at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom on Sept. 22. Some of New York’s “most glamorous pet lovers,” including Oscar and Annette de la Renta, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Sharon Bush, Daisy Soros, Jean Doumanian, Nan Kempner, some Vanderbilts, Phipps, Boardmans and a Topsy, sauntered into the “Top Dog Gala” and helped raise $800,000 for the Animal Medical Center, also known as the “Mayo Clinic for Animals.”
The ladies were all dolled up and bejeweled. The men wore tuxedos—nice ones. No one seemed to be the slightest bit put out about having to shell out a grand or two for dinner and do-it-yourself sundaes, and all to help out some rejected critters and varmints.
“I am a dog,” said learning specialist Helen Bellas of Park Avenue and East Hampton. “I am a dog and if you want to be friends with me, if you pat me and feed me and you’re happy to see me, that’s all I need. I’m a poodle that hasn’t been cut, a fluffy poodle. I experience extreme pleasure at seeing new people. Wagging my tail. I want food all the time. People are complex, dogs are simple. If I want to be a dog it means I have very few thoughts. But I’m not really a dog—I’d like to be a dog.”
She was asked what she envies about the lives of her two poodles, Emily and Alice, who both have four-poster beds which are exact copies of their owner’s. And they have two hairdressers, one of whom they share with Aerin Lauder’s dog.
“They can’t wait to see me and they wait for me all day in their four-poster beds,” Ms. Bellas said. “I would like to know that I was always going to sleep in a special spot and curl up next to somebody and know that I’m welcome. And then I’d wait until the person I loved came in, and then I’d get some extra food. I’d go to the bathroom in the right spot. I’d get some extra treats and then I’d get to lick the person. A lot of licking!”
Ms. Bellas said there really wasn’t a downside to having dogs. What about their short life spans?
“Oh no, no, you get a puppy a start again,” she said. “It’s like getting remarried. Because you know you get tired of being married after a while, you get to try again.
David Patrick Columbia appeared. The social diarist and editor of Quest magazine has two shih tzus waiting for him at home every evening.
“The thing I think is interesting about owning a dog is dogs can teach you a lot about love and patience and tenderness,” he said. “I talk all the time in dog talk. I have a special dog voice. This is my dog voice! It’s a high-pitched voice. And actually what happens is I’ll talk to my dog and I’ll say something and they’ll say, ‘Oh, David, you’re full of shit!’ They actually look at me as a ridiculous person who really needs to get it together, but they love me anyway.”
At 8 p.m. the lights flashed on and off a few times and the herd started slowly moving into the Grand Ballroom for the dinner dance. Mooooooo. Yap-yap-yap. Oink. Henry Kissinger looked like a friendly and wise old sea turtle.
“We’ve always had Labradors,” he said. “They’re very loyal, they’re very playful. I don’t know if they have the same traits I have. I’ve never had one that was interested in foreign policy, but I’m trying.”
Pepe Fanjul, the walrus-like sugar baron, has always had Labs too.
“I do a lot of shooting, basically, bird shooting, so they’re working dogs. I have several Labs in my house and then I have my kennels, then I have like two dozen pointers. So I have a lot of dogs and a dog trainer and everything. But Labs are very unique. I have one that travels with me all over the world. I think anybody would do anything for their pets.”
Emilia Fanjul likened her husband to a Labrador because he’s kind, loyal and likes to eat. “He’s lovable and likes to be stroked,” she said. “He’s a super shot. And he spots a bird that he shoots at a great distance—he knows exactly what he shoots and where it falls. His instincts are really good. And he found me at a very young age.”
Dogs, she continued, are “loyal,” “the best companions” and even better than people. “They never judge you,” she said. “They’re a hundred percent loyal, they’re always your friend. And when you’re lonely and when you’re down, the dog is always there. They put their head on your lap, they lick your face and never leave your side. And a dog, for anyone that’s lonely—I have three cats as well—but they’re your best, best companions and I think everyone should have one.”
“They die too young. But that’s O.K. God sends them all to heaven with us afterward. We’ll have them all up there with us.”
Shoshanna Lonstein, the co-chair of the junior committee, has two Maltese. “They’re very sweet and they love who they love and then they hate who they hate,” she said. “I let them be dogs, I let them play together and I enjoy the snuggling. And they’re just so cute! They’re like babies that never grow up and never speak and never spend money. The only thing I envy about dogs is the lack of worry. I love my dogs and a lot of people would say that their dogs are better than their husbands, but I can’t say that.”
Out of all the fanatic dog lovers present, none was more impressive than Jessica Stark, a 27-year-old publicist in a blue satin strapless dress, short in the front, long in the back.
“I have a sassy dog personality because I’m very playful and I like to run around the dog park,” said Ms. Stark, the proud owner of a seven-pound Chihuahua. “She’s an amazing little creature and actually the Animal Medical Center saved her life,” she said. “She’s not your typical Chihuahua. What I like about her is that she doesn’t conform? To normal Chihuahua mold? Instead of having pointed-up-in-the-air ears, she has very floppy ears. She’s a little bit off the beaten path. She really beats to her own drummer and she’s very independent.”
Ms. Stark said she and her dog are best friends.
“She’s a much cooler personality than anyone I know,” she said. “She has the perfect mix of the type of person I aspire to be. She’s very intelligent. She’s charismatic. She’s laid back. She’s mellow. She’s loving. She’s very sexy. She really loves wearing her hot-pink Lycra with white polka-dotted dress.”
She dresses up her dog?
“All the time. She has a bikini, of course. She also has a gorgeous shearling coat for the winter. Sun dresses. Cashmere sweaters—don’t you have more than 30 outfits? So should your dog! Lucy has worn diapers before.”
Ms. Lonstein appeared and told her friend to “be careful.”
So when do the diapers get put on?
“Occasionally,” said Ms. Stark. “She’s only worn them at one time. She’s my baby. She’s still a puppy. I love my dog more than anything. She’s my best friend. She’s just an amazing creature and I am so blessed to have her in my life.”
What happens when Ms. Stark comes home to Lucy?
“We have a total love fest together. We hug and we cuddle and she’s just amazing—she licks me. And we hug! She’s an amazing creature. I always look forward to Lucy coming. I always look forward to seeing Lucy.”
What happens when Lucy sees her?
“She goes crazy!”
Bill Boils Over
For a man on the verge of a heart attack, Bill Clinton looked pretty healthy, gliding around the Louis XVI room of the St. Regis Hotel on Aug. 23. “He’s so slim,” whispered a flaxen-haired young woman, looking up from the medium-rare steak in the center of her plate, as the former President shook hands at an intimate reception in honor of the DVD release of Harry Thomason’s documentary The Hunting of the President.
And Mr. Clinton was in fighting form during his comments, biting his bottom lip while attacking the Republicans for treating their opponents like “subhumans” and dispensing advice to Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry. Asked by a guest about the increasing polarization of the populace during this election, he went straight after the man in the White House. “That’s what Bush does … he gets other people to do the dirty work, like this Swift boat commander, whatever, so I’m glad that Kerry’s fighting [back] …. I think it’s appalling what they’re doing …. But the most important thing is not what I did or they did 35 years ago, but what they did in the last four years and what we’re going to do in the next four years …. And there’s a reason they want to do this stuff. Because they don’t want you to be thinking about the differences that we have on the economy, national security, education health care …. ”
Linking his Whitewater nemeses and the Swift boat veterans’ bank-rollers, Mr. Clinton still seems to agree with his wife’s famed description of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Jabbing his finger, he explained, “On the weekend before I left office, a reporter for one of these weekly newsmagazines called Terry McAuliffe and said, ‘Well, we tried for nine years to get Bill Clinton and we didn’t do it, but at least we bankrupted him. His reputation is tattered, $10 million in debt, we want every Democrat who ever tries to defeat us to see that.’ Witness the ads against Kerry.”
In praising The Hunting of the President, Mr. Clinton had a few dismissive words for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. ” … I like Fahrenheit 9/11, but while I think it was completely accurate factually, I think it over-connected the dots—I don’t think the Saudi government had anything to do with 9/11. Bin Laden wants to overthrow it, the Saudi government. For an ardent Democrat I’m glad to have it out there and it makes a very, very important point, but one thing that needs to be studiously avoided is letting the conclusions outrace the facts, and more or less let the facts speak for themselves.”
Coalition of the Swilling
“I don’t think there are any concrete benefits. We’ve lost a life already, and it’s cost us a great deal of money,” said Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the president of Latvia, as her bodyguard munched canapés and two Secret Service agents kept watch. She had just completed a speech at Columbia’s Low Memorial Library on Sept. 23. “But we feel in that sense that we are participants in collective defense. This was a chance to stand by the United States.”
The Latvian President, a neat 66-year-old former émigré—she spent much of her life teaching psychology in Montreal, and speaks lightly accented English and perfect French—was talking about Latvia’s contribution to the American effort in Iraq. Her country has sent 133 soldiers, which is, as she is quick to point out, as large, per capita, as the American commitment. At this United Nations General Assembly, though, there were no special treats or parties for the coalition’s dwindling number of members in mini-fleets of black cars.
The Latvian President’s threat level is, one of her aides said, “minimal,” and so it was a motorcade of just four cars that swept down Broadway from Columbia. The destination was a small reception at the Riverside Drive apartment of George Schwab, a ruddy man in late middle age of Latvian birth and Mitteleuropean demeanor, who has a large collection of photographs of himself with the luminaries of the realist school of foreign policy. Soon, Ms. Vike-Freiberga was posing for a photo between the towering former Fed chairman Paul Volcker and the diminutive dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“I’m honorary chairman of George’s National Foreign Committee—what is it called?” Mr. Volcker said a few minutes later, ducking a chandelier and referring to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, of which he is honorary vice chairman. Mr. Schwab is president of the discreet little think tank, which is patronized by the likes of George Kennan and Henry Kissinger. Mr. Volker is also chairman of the commission looking into alleged Iraqi bribes to United Nations officials and other influential Westerners through the oil-for-food program.
“The allegation that they’re all crooks is overdone, I think,” he said.
Then he posed for a photograph with the head of the president’s Chancery, Martins Bondars, a neatly dressed, athletic man with a George W. Bush signature tie clip. At 6-foot-6, Mr. Bondars is one inch shorter than the former Fed chief, which helps explain why the young Latvian was so much better at dodging the chandeliers.
Suddenly, Mr. Schwab swept past with Mr. Baryshnikov in tow: “Let me show you the Renoirs.”
This surprisingly star-studded little party—Elie Wiesel also popped in—was only one of the highlights of Ms. Vike-Freiberga’s week.
Earlier at a U.N. reception, there was a lovely encounter with the new French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, who seems not to hold this coalition-of-the-willing stuff against the Eastern Europeans the way Jacques Chirac—”a personal friend of mine and a perfect gentleman,” Ms. Vike-Freiberga said of Mr. Chirac—apparently does. “Monsieur Barnier and his wife were very nice,” the Latvian President said. “He said as soon as he is able to get this hostage crisis resolved, he will come to Latvia.”
Bloomberg’s Carnival Ride
With new floors being stacked atop Larry Silverstein’s 7 World Trade Center casting a vertical shadow over Ground Zero, and Goldman Sachs soon to begin construction of a trapezoidal 40-story, 2-million-square-foot tower designed by Pei Cobb Freed, the architectural arms race among Manhattan’s biggest corporations is reaching a fervid pace. Not to be outdone by CNN, which moved into the $1.7 billion Time Warner Center in June, Bloomberg LP, the media goliath founded by the Mayor, plans to up the ante when it debuts its 1.3-million-square-foot headquarters in January.
Early next year, according to a Bloomberg spokesperson, the firm will begin relocating employees—-now spread across six buildings and 37 floors—into its new headquarters sheathed in aqua-marine-hued glass that now rises above 731 Lexington Avenue at 58th Street, on the site of the former Alexander’s department store. Bloomberg will occupy nearly 700,000 square feet inside the massive complex with a sinuous atrium designed by Cesar Pelli, but perhaps the most striking feature will be New York’s first-ever spiral escalator. The escalator was designed by Mitsubishi and installed by the Koenig Corporation. It swoops between the fifth and sixth floors, where the Bloomberg broadcast studios will be located. When the building’s interior is finished this winter, buzzing Bloomberg employees will be whisked between floors on the Jetsons-esque moving staircase.
And while Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times’ newly installed architecture critic, misspoke in a recent piece when he said Goldman Sachs would place a residential development atop its new offices near Battery Park, Bloomberg’s headquarters will have no shortage of luxury apartments upstairs. Much like the glitzy condos perched atop CNN’s Time Warner Center offices, One Beacon Court, the residential tower stretching some 800 feet above the Bloomberg headquarters, features apartments ranging in price from $2.1 million to $26 million, and now counts NBC anchor Brian Williams and R&B songstress Beyoncé Knowles as tenants. Unfortunately for Mr. Williams and Ms. Knowles, the apartments don’t have spiral escalators.
The Transom Also Hears That …
The Self Center, Self magazine’s luxury spa and fitness center in the West Village on a quaint, tree-lined block of Morton Street, is still getting its neighbors bent out of shape. Following on the heels of its grand opening on Sept. 15, the spa reportedly ignored the pleas of its fellow block neighbors, infuriating some with its cavalier attitude toward early-morning noise—its daily “power yoga” lessons start as early as 6 a.m. in the building’s interior courtyard, which is surrounded by neighboring buildings with windows opening onto it—and improper trash disposal.
Nearby resident Judy Seigel, a photographer who has lived on the block since 1957, said the building has long been a source of frustration, constantly being used for movie and television shoots that block the streets with equipment and trucks that spew exhaust into her ground-floor apartment. Ms. Seigel, who lives directly across the street from the Self Center, accused the magazine and the Morton Street Block Association of corruption, saying that a $5,000 donation by the magazine to the block association before the center’s opening was unethical, if not illegal.
When reached by The Transom at his home, Morton Street Block Association president Albert Bennett called Ms. Seigel’s allegations of the $5,000 “bribe” as “outrageous, that’s the only word for it.” He said that production companies that use Morton Street for filming—with its brownstones and narrow, tree-lined streets on the pre-grid street layout, Morton Street makes a particularly “New York” location—frequently contribute funds to the association, which is used for Morton Street beautification projects, most recently for the planting and care of the numerous tree pits that line the street as well as the installation of four new bishop’s-crook lampposts. He said that the magazine had been very cooperative with the block association, and all of the block association’s concerns have been addressed. Mr. Bennett later called The Transom to clarify the issue: “Would the block association have agreed not to protest the [Self] Center without the offer of the $5,000? The answer is yes. All the information I’ve received and that I’ve passed on to the block association had convinced us that any protests of the contract signed by [building owner] Mary Kaplan and the center would be unwarranted.” Mr. Bennett added that the $5,000 had been pledged by Self magazine, but that the block association had not yet received the funds.