“Am I boring you yet?” Paz de la Huerta cooed into the microphone, her inflection such that it could have been whispered in bed. She was reading an excerpt of the new Lydia Davis translation of Madame Bovary at last night’s Playboy party at a makeshift tea room set up under the austere metal buttresses of the High Line. Much to her dismay, however, the din of the crowd had risen.
“Yes!” cried a few people standing nearby, perplexed as to why a reading would interrupt the usual routine of music, schmoozing and liquor.
“Well,” she sighed. “I’ll try to make it more interesting. Maybe I’ll start stripping for you.”
Coming from Paz, this was far from an empty threat. Star of the new HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” the stunning actress, model, and embodiment of sex was brought in to justify calling this sub-High Line gathering a “literary salon,” and Flaubert’s deflowering of the stodgy 19th-century novel goes well with Paz’s proclivity to shed clothing. If you saw the pilot of HBO’s Atlantic City nostalgia spectacle, you saw all of Paz de la Huerta.
The House of Waris Tea Room is a pop-up space that jewelry designer and occasional Wes Anderson troupe member Waris Aluwalia has opened for a ten-day period, to display his documented affection for the brewed leaf. The drink of choice last night, however, was a bit on the stronger side: scores of bottles of Belvedere vodka were dumped into glasses, mixed with juice or tonic and affixed with Playboy bunny stirrers. In the back, there was a VIP tent lined inside with overstuffed cotton-lined beds and bottles of champagne.
As is to be expected when Playboy-approved fiction meets Waris’ downtown cache, the crowd was a mix of writers and the usual subjects. Byrdie Bell danced to Nate Lowman’s DJ stylings, novelist Jonathan Ames chatted up screenwriter Paul Haggis, Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. swung by, et cetera.
But have the luminaries of this set actually read the book of the evening?
“I read Madame Bovary 20 years ago and I loved it because it was about somebody who was unhappy and was a romantic,” Ames told The Observer. He was wearing a pageboy cap and nursing one of the complimentary drinks.
“Paz is the perfect Madame Bovary,” Haggis chimed in.
Waris said he could only level one real criticism against such an event. “Next time we’re gonna make sure there’s bunnies,” he told us. “I said to Playboy, ‘I’m not doing anything without bunnies. Bring me the bunnies!’”
We caught up with Paz after she finished reading, and she was in the middle of a footwear emergency — one of her shoes was malfunctioning, and she put her hands on The Observer‘s shoulders to balance as an assistant took it off.
We wanted to find out more about why she was twisting her legs together and pressing her palms to her chest as she read the more suggestive passages.
“I hope I got across the sexuality,” she said, clawing beneath the frilled plumes of her tiny dress’s one strap.
Then Paz de la Huerta asked us for a light, and somehow convinced us to give her a cigarette as well.