“Did you know there’s a guy named Nacho here?” Kathy Griffin asked The Observer.
We were on Governors Island for the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic, the fourth annual polo match that takes place in New York City. The crowd, a smattering of socialites (Lauren Santo Domingo in white, tiny once again three months after giving birth), actresses (Naomi Watts and Julianna Margulies), designers (Donna Karan and Catherine Malandrino) and a ubiquitous reality TV show star from somewhere (Whitney Port), turned out in their finest glad rags to cheer on a sport that few people can play and even fewer can afford.
In the sea of people in gaudy hats and pastel colors, Ms. Griffin was wearing black. She had on Crocs. We told her we did, in fact, know there was a guy named Nacho here: Nacho Figueras, the cherubic poster boy for the sport, who, as the entire crowd of growingly intoxicated spectators seemed to unite in a chorus of alliterative voices to proclaim, is trying to “bring polo to the people.”
“Do you think he knows he’s named after an appetizer?” Ms. Griffin said.
Mr. Figueras, aside from playing the afternoon match, was in high demand. The Observer followed protocol and stood in line behind camera crews, journalists and publicists with headsets to ask him a question, but he kept getting pulled away to have his picture taken while kissing a baby or shaking an old person’s hand. Finally, we cornered him as he walked out of a fancy Porta-potty slightly removed from the chaos. So how does one make the sport of kings mainstream?
“Hopefully you’ll be a witness of it,” he said. “It was a dream of mine to bring polo back to New York in the way it was in the 20’s, when 30,000 people would go to games and polo was in people’s minds. It’s this drive that I have inside me. I can’t explain it.” As for the polo match, the crowd—mellow from drinking Champagne in the afternoon sun—watched the field passively as the horses stomped quickly around.
Inside the V.I.P. tent, which was restricted to people who spent up to $50,000 for a seat at a lunch table and an eight-ounce steak, Hugh Jackman, the event’s M.C., wearing a slim-fitting beige suit, was welcoming his guests.
“Let’s get this party started!” he said. Then he went into a bizarre stand-up routine filled with one stinker after another.
“Polo was first played here 100 years ago, or as 100 years is called in show business: 40!” The audience continued talking over him. “This is kind of like being at home; nobody listens to me! I feel very comfortable here.”
The crowd quieted down as he began talking about charity—the day benefited Ms. Karan’s organization, Hope Help & Rebuild Haiti. Marc Jacobs, in an expectedly tasteful black suit, was chatting with his old boyfriend Lorenzo Martone. “I think it’s so surreal,” Mr. Jacobs said, scanning the room. “Polo, it evokes to people that they need to put on their summer clothes and don the hat and flowy dress. I guess people watch too many movies.”
Across the room, Wyclef Jean, wearing a slim gray suit and white tennis shoes, was talking to a few admirers while next to him Paul Haggis, the Academy Award-winning director of Crash, sat alone and stared sternly off into the distance. He looked out of place. The Observer sat with him and asked if he would talk about the New Yorker article about Mr. Haggis’s defection from the Church of Scientology.
“You can ask,” he said, slapping The Observer’s knee, “I won’t necessarily answer. The only difference is a lot of people aren’t speaking to me or working with me. We’ll see. My children lost friends, but I think they realize those weren’t really friends. Now when you look for my name, the first thing that comes up is ‘Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology.’”
“It sort of trumps the Academy Award then?”
“I don’t know about that.”
A few very attentive waiters were pouring out Champagne and rosé faster than the crowd could drink it and everyone grew steadily more…um,refreshed. Mr. Jean went to the center of the room and announced: “Excuse me, my name is Wyclef and I was born in Haiti but I grew up in Brooklyn.” He continued: “If you don’t know who I am, you need to Google me. So I’m gonna entertain you for free, but you gotta give something. How many of you know what freestyling is?” There were a few woots from the lunch crowd, but for the most part their countenances looked as empty as when Mr. Jackman was telling jokes. Mr. Jean began freestyling: “Veuve Cliquot/Wyclef Jean, I play a little polo/June 5th 2011/my father was a reverend/Wyclef, I take the course/I come from Haiti and I know how to ride a horse.”
This went on for some time.
Mr. Jean then demanded the D.J. play Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie.” Almost on cue, Ms. Karan—who looked a little ridiculous in an enormous hat that drooped down to the small of her back—emerged, grabbing Mr. Jean from behind and running her hands up his torso, rubbing her body against the singer’s. Mr. Jackman entered the circle that had formed around the two, with his daughter resting on his shoulders, both smiling as they danced to Mr. Jean singing along to his own song.
Meanwhile, the Veuve Clicquot-sponsored team lost the game. —Michael H. Miller