Saul Bellow, Nobel laureate and dean of Jewish-American fiction, passed away on Tuesday, April 5. He was 89. Bellow, in such novels as Herzog, The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson the Rain King, Mr. Sammler’s Planet and, more recently, Ravelstein, examined the persistent anxieties of modern life with a romantic depth and a relentless, if bittersweet, sense of humor.
James Atlas, author of the unauthorized biography Bellow, characterized the novelist as “a difficult uncle” and recalled a man who was “very engaging, very lively, at times rather tart and intolerant. He was never dull.
“If you take the long view and assemble the syllabus of American literature of the last two centuries, he’ll occupy a very high place,” Mr. Atlas continued. He ranked Bellow with such masters as Hemingway and Melville.
But Mr. Atlas also noted that Bellow’s work and the distinctly Jewish-American literary tradition he represented-along with Philip Roth and Bernard Malamud-had recently been overshadowed by new American voices (Ha Jin, Jhumpa Lahiri) bearing their own immigrant backgrounds. Bellow himself would have agreed, Mr. Atlas noted. “He said to me once, ‘I had no idea our moment would be so brief.’”
In a mottled gray-brown unitard and a three-pronged crown adorned with shells from Fire Island, King Neptune delicately sipped champagne through a bendy straw. It pays to dress, apparently at the Downtown Arts Club’s First Annual Beaux Arts Ball. The king’s aquatic attire earned him access to the V.I.P. dinner prior to the ball. Sadly, his waist-long curly gray beard and mustache prevented him from partaking in the meal, which one V.I.P. in a leopard pillbox hat likened to “one of those meals you get on a train in Japan.” V.I.P.’s munched their bento boxes mere steps away from the art students who were sweating over handmade floats. The climax of the Downtown Arts Club’s Beaux Arts Ball was a competition between students from F.I.T., S.V.A., Pratt, N.Y. Academy of Art and the New York Studio School. Each group of six fledgling artists built movable meditations on the theme of beauty in the hope of winning a weeklong trip to Paris.
The two-year-old Downtown Arts Club, so dedicated to the promotion of downtown arts and culture that they threw their ball at the Manhattan Center on 34th Street, is a “real community of artists and sailors,” said Lita Talarico, co-chair of the M.F.A. design program at S.V.A.
“Sailors? Here? I had no idea,” said a silver-haired gallery owner surveying the crowd, which ranged from tuxedoed gents to art students in sunglasses to the obligatory man in a kilt. Think yachts-not the white-suited Fleet Week cuties in midtown. It turns out that the Downtown Arts Club has more interest in water than watercolors; it’s the land-bound baby of the Manhattan Sailing Club.
Architect Joe Serrins came for the “free drinks, naked students and older people in tuxedos.” So far he’d glimpsed his fill of black ties, but nary an ounce of bare flesh. Mr. Serrins used his old art-school ID (which he produced as evidence) to procure deeply discounted $10 tickets to the otherwise dear affair. The long-haired 18-year-old hippie photographed on the ID bore no resemblance to the shorn 30-year-old dandy in the hound’s-tooth suit holding it. But then again, he confessed, “I don’t even know what the Downtown Arts Club is.”
At midnight, the floats sailed down the ramp from the stage to the judges’ feet. F.I.T.’s entry, replete with a billowing white sheet and doves hanging from a silver-haired mannequin, was trailed by a gaggle of lovelies who strutted to “Free Your Mind” by En Vogue. The next float featured cracked mirrors and bulky sculptures to the accompaniment of tantric music. “Are they from DeVry?” one on-looker asked The Transom.
The crowd went wild for the S.V.A. entry, which featured cancan girls and automated puppets lip-synching to Cabaret. We found it a tad disconcerting to hear the voice of Natasha Richardson coming out of a feathery mechanized ball with moving human lips. The participants from N.Y. Academy of Art watched in horror from the wings with the knowledge that they were to follow this act. They persevered with a re-enactment of Ovid’s Pygmalion and Galatea. Catching a glimpse of the white-powdered student body portraying the statue Galatea, Mr. Serrins’ desires for the evening were fulfilled: “Finally, some naked people!” A woman from ArtReview remarked, “That’s the best one, the most interesting and conceptual-with the potential to be a total disaster.” Galatea was also a big hit with the sailors.
The winners were announced by Commodore Michael Fortenbaugh of the Manhattan Sailing Club: Six S.V.A. students will be setting sail for Paris this summer.
“If this was American Idol, we all could have voted,” a departing attendee grumbled. “The Beaux Arts Ball is definitely not a populist movement.” And with that we bid the Downtown Arts Club adieu and headed, well, downtown.
The “Magical: A Fashion Gala to Benefit Israel” was more than half over last Wednesday night by the time we made it to the bar at Avalon, the church turned nightclub on 20th Street in the Flatiron district.
And honestly, what better place to gather a few hundred Jews for a silent auction and a kosher nosh than in the nave of a Gothic cathedral? “What’s cool is, this is not really a Jewish event,” said Keren Simon, one of the members of the Israel Humanitarian Foundation’s young leadership committee, which helped organize the benefit. “Everyone’s here to support Israel. That’s such an important cause-it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from.”
Agreeing wholeheartedly and abandoning our fight for a cocktail, The Transom set about schmoozing with partygoers, hoping to relive our Hebrew-school days and revel in the crowd’s mutually assured Zionism. The first person we met was Kristen Cosmi, a Hawaiian who was walking around the party showing off a feathery handbag. Ms. Cosmi was one of the models in the fashion show, the main attraction of the evening. We asked for her thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I’m gonna stay pretty neutral on that,” she told us. “All I’ll say is, any cause that helps women and children is a good thing.” Hmm! She’s more diplomatic than Hillary Clinton-who was listed as an honorary co-chair of the event but was nowhere to be found that night-and certainly better poised in a pair of stilettos. Any interest in politics? “No,” she demurred, flouncing off to demonstrate her purse.
We tried others-only the best or most curiously dressed in the crowd-but each turned out to be far more equivocating than we’d hoped. Elisabeta Stoilova, a Bulgarian and a fashion-design major at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, said Israel “seems like a pretty cool country.” Cara Roberts, a model and former intern for ABC News, gave a complicated theory on the geopolitics of the Middle East, concluding: “It’s a conflict that goes back to biblical times. It’s just a matter of how you deal with it continually.” She was modeling a business suit mysteriously covered in nautical-looking ropes. (“What’s this about?” The Transom asked. “I wish I knew,” she answered). Her companion, Dafne Rotolo, strutted around in a viciously ugly coat with cuffs and collar made of plywood. Her thoughts on the situation? Pointing to Ms. Roberts, she declared, “What she said.” Skipping the man mysteriously davening in the corner, we put away a few roast-beef sandwich triangles and headed into the V.I.P. tent backstage, where the other models were donning dresses donated by such fashion heavyweights as Isaac Mizrahi and … Lithuanian designer Josef Statkus? No matter. The crowd was warm. The food was dry. Mayor Bloomberg had sent his regards via photocopied letter in the press packet. Satisfied with the evening, we picked up our swag bag-containing such inoffensive delights as a shampoo and conditioner sample for “curly, frizzy and relaxed hair”-bade farewell to the models and to our fellow frizzy-haired tribesmen and headed home.
The Politics of Dancing
Trying to unseat Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum is becoming something of a local sport these days. While elected Democrats in New York often face only a token challenge, Ms. Gotbaum now has three men running against her: civil-liberties lawyer Norman Siegel, Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benjamin and now Andrew Rasiej, who may not be a household name but is well known to veterans of the city’s nightlife scene and to aficionados of Internet politics.
Mr. Rasiej, an earnest 46-year-old, may still be best known around Union Square, however, for creating the nightclub Irving Plaza and, with it, the city’s Nightlife Association. The association continues to battle City Hall on issues like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s smoking ban and the archaic cabaret laws that forbid dancing in bars. And last summer, Mr. Rasiej attracted some attention for his efforts to get Bruce Springsteen, an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, to perform at Giants Stadium on Sept. 1, during the Republican National Convention.
The Transom Also Hears …
… that the universe didn’t explode the other night, despite the collision of several high-profile egos. Lindsay Lohan finally ran into ex-boyfriend Wilmer Valderrama at Suede, the Chelsea lounge, after their near-miss encounter several weeks ago, when Ms. Lohan veered away from the space after hearing that he was there. On Saturday, April 2, Ms. Lohan was already at the club when her former amour showed up and the duo, and their respective groups, proceeded to engage in that traditional teenage ritual dramatized in countless music videos: the dance-off. “They were trying to show off in front of each other-she was dancing in one corner and he was in the other corner,” says our source. “They’d glance at each other and look away-it was very high school.” Later in the evening, Ms. Lohan ran into another nemesis, accident-prone publicist Lizzie Grubman, who was caught on film phoning in an item about Ms. Lohan to the gossips at the New York Post’s Page Six. But rest easy: In the end there was no catfight, and the felines slinked away to their respective corners for the rest of the night. Whew!