Heartbreaking Geniuses

When transatlantic friends Zadie Smith and Dave Eggers appeared together for The New Yorker Festival at the New York Quarterly

When transatlantic friends Zadie Smith and Dave Eggers appeared together for The New Yorker Festival at the New York Quarterly Meeting House in Stuyvesant Square last Friday, the air was buzzing with anticipation. Both best-selling authors published their first books before 30 and made serious money soon after: Mr. Eggers got a reported $2 million for the film rights to his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius , and an adaptation of Ms. Smith’s White Teeth is currently airing on Britain’s Channel Four. Also, they both appear to be suffering from an intriguing celebrity-itis.

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a rel="nofollow noreferer" href="http://observermedia.com/terms">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

The sold-out event drew a crowd so large that it circled around the Quaker school building in the hot rain. Facial hair and shrunken T-shirts were much in evidence, and-a pleasant surprise for a Manhattan literary event these days-the crowd was decidedly multi-culti, with young Indian men, trendy African-American couples and several Asians.

Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace, who’d read at the Meeting House earlier in the evening, stuck around to support the kids. Mr. Franzen, wearing a white shirt and big hairdo, eagerly directed people to their pews at the front. He later joined Mr. Wallace, who was wearing his signature white bandanna around his head like a bandage.

Mr. Eggers kicked off with a short story about a boy named Hollis. “It’s got a surprise ending,” he promised. Five minutes later, something had happened to Hollis, but all you could hear at the back was the indistinct cadence of Mr. Eggers’ sing-song voice, which lulled more than one listener to sleep in the sweltering hall. “It was so hot in there, it was a two-bandanna reading,” Mr. Wallace said later.

Next up was Ms. Smith, a head or two taller than her American friend. She bellowed like a schoolmistress in assembly. Her 20-minute reading consisted of a passage from her new novel about Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their passion for the arts and sciences. She seemed to intend it as a kind of moral fable. By the time she was through, the audience was restless. There was a lot of watch-checking.

Then Mr. Eggers came back on, and everyone sat up straighter. He read a long passage from his novel You Shall Know Our Velocity , swaying and reverting to the sing-song voice. Fewer people nodded off this time. Ms. Smith returned next, promising to read only nine more pages. However, hopes of relief were dashed when they turned out be about an old man dying of kidney failure.

Asked by an audience member what the most surprising aspect of her success had been, Ms. Smith said, “I expected it to be this Ivy League world, but they just care about my hair and shoes.”

At the book signing after the reading, Ms. Smith was asked what she and Mr. Eggers have in common. “We both have difficult hair,” she answered as she grimly signed copies of White Teeth and her brand-new novel, The Autograph Man . According to her publicist, now that Ms. Smith is a graduate fellow at Radcliffe, “she’s not doing any additional media.” The publicist turned to a colleague and added in a low voice, “She should just talk to them; they’re going to write about her anyway.”

-Shazia Ahmad

Hannibal and the Hams

Sir Anthony Hopkins had a knee-slapping good time at the premiere of his new movie, Red Dragon , on Monday, Sept. 30. Seated 20 rows from the front of the Ziegfeld Theater with a brunette date, Mr. Hopkins’ face cracked in self-appreciative glee every time his once-horrifying, now drag-queeny character, Hannibal Lecter, appeared on screen.

Mr. Hopkins’ role is small in Red Dragon , Brett Ratner’s remake of the Silence of the Lambs predecessor, Manhunter . But Dr. Lecter’s well-worn schtick-snapping his teeth in people’s faces, sipping Chianti, talking in a hissy Southern accent-provides campy relief from the bloody broken mirrors and burning bodies that populate the rest of the film.

Alas, no one provided relief from Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, who witnesses said roared up to the Ziegfeld in a “bangin’ Ferrari” and jumped out with a swish, leaving the car to be removed by someone else. Once inside, Mr. Combs cut the press line to pose for pictures and then stole the seats of Red Dragon director Brett Ratner’s family.

Mr. Combs was mercifully a no-show at the relaxed after-party at Grand Central Terminal, where there was no V.I.P. section, stars mingled with their fans, and the air smelled like the parking lot at a Dead show.

Guests included Mr. Hopkins and his co-stars Edward Norton (with his girlfriend, Frida star Salma Hayek), Harvey Keitel (with his wife, Daphna Kastner) and Ralph Fiennes (with his girlfriend, actress Francesca Annis), as well as Universal executives Stacy Snider, Ron Meyer and Barry Diller.

Chelsea Clinton, with boyfriend Ian Klaus, eschewed the private cars which ferried V.I.P.’s from the Ziegfeld to Grand Central, opting instead to ride the chartered buses with the riffraff.

Actress Rebecca Gayheart made an impression on the masses as well. Dressed in a shimmery peach dress with gaps in unfortunate places, Ms. Gayheart was essentially topless from many angles. At the after-party, Ms. Gayheart and a gaggle of her girlfriends took over the handicapped stall in the ladies’ room for nearly half an hour, laughing and throwing their wraps over the door. Ms. Gayheart emerged once to wash what she called her “slimy” hands and to flash the rest of the bathroom line before returning to the stall.

-Rebecca Traister

Feet and Ass

“I’ve got 200 fuckin’ cousins here,” said Sopranos actor Joe (“Joey Pants”) Pantoliano on Saturday night, in the middle of the GQ Lounge fête thrown for him by co-stars Edie Falco and James Gandolfini in honor of his new memoir from Dutton, Who’s Sorry Now: The Story of a Stand-Up Guy .

Mr. Pantoliano, in a cream cashmere hat, cream tie and glasses, had his hands full. Neither of his hosts were at the party-Ms. Falco had guests in town and a performance of Frankie and Johnny on Broadway, while Mr. Gandolfini was not expected to put in an appearance until the wee hours.

Even without Tony and Carmela, Mr. Pantoliano had lots of admirers thronging the Lounge . Sopranos star Jamie-Lynn Sigler kicked back on plush pillows, while the director (and former Observer columnist) Peter Bogdanovich chatted with actors Jennifer Tilly and Matt Dillon, former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, and Riverkeeper Robert Kennedy Jr. Actor Robert Wuhl was also there.

But the GQ Lounge was mostly overrun with hundreds of Pantoliano relatives, who had driven in for the night from the great state of New Jersey.

Bespectacled cousin Peter was talking about the time Mr. Pantoliano’s mother took him with her to the bookies and slapped him across the face. But cousin Roseanne cut in to recall the time that she and “Joseph” were baby-sitting his little sister and called the police on an imaginary burglar. She also recounted the story about the time her mother interrupted Mr. Pantoliano’s stage debut-as a streaking patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest -by standing up in the middle of the theater and yelling, “You son of a bitch! Put your goddamn clothes back on!”

Aunt Annette-Mr. Pantoliano’s mother’s cousin-leaned over and allowed as how “Joey was a real mama’s boy.”

A few feet away, Mark Abba, another of Mr. Pantoliano’s cousins, said “You know what I just told Matt Dillon? I told him he smelled like feet and ass. Because he did!”


Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Just three weeks away from her incarceration at the Suffolk County Jail for hitting 16 people outside the Conscience Point nightclub last summer, publicist Lizzie Grubman is living it up.

“It was such a late night last night,” Ms. Grubman said to a male friend inside the Terra Mare café on 65th Street and Madison Avenue, where she was nursing her wounds at 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27.

As a girlfriend yapped on a cell phone, Ms. Grubman offered her male companion a cookie, explaining that she’d “already had two … and a double espresso.” For good measure, Ms. Grubman ordered a second double espresso.

When Ms. Grubman’s friend finally got off her cell phone, she ordered herself some more java and moaned, “We were at Lotus forever and then went to Bungalow 8 after that.”

Whatever the ravages of the previous night, the slim Ms. Grubman looked tan and chipper in dark blue jeans and a long-sleeved black T-shirt.

“Hey, do you want to go to Armani?” asked her friend. “I have to pick up a dress.”

Ms. Grubman said she had to wait for another pal before accompanying her friend down Madison. As for what was on tap for later, Ms. Grubman’s male friend suggested “Chow”-before deciding that he didn’t want to pay “like $800.”

But Ms. Grubman, apparently untroubled by the bevy of multimillion-dollar lawsuits filed against her, insisted, “I’ll pay. Come on. I got it.”

-Alexandra Wolfe

Achtung, Nader!

On the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 30, at Michael Jordan’s The Steakhouse high above Grand Central Terminal, guests including former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and novelist Kurt Vonnegut gnawed on rare steak and listened to “Health Report: American Business and the Economy,” a testy panel discussion on the American economy hosted by the newsmagazine The Week .

Harold Evans, The Week ‘s consulting editor, moderated the panel, which consisted of former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman, UBS America chairman Donald Marron and Peter Peterson, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

U2 front man Bono and 2000 Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader phoned in to address questions to the panel. Their voices were piped in above the din of the train station on four loudspeakers.

“Who is Bone- no?” whispered Heather Cohane, founder of Quest magazine, to The Transom, before sending her steak back to be cooked some more.

A Trebek-ian Mr. Evans pleaded with Mr. Nader to phrase his comments in the form of a question, and directed the loquacious former Presidential candidate to “be quick” when he began to hold forth on the “corporate crime wave.”

At a table near the podium, Mr. Evans’ wife, Tina Brown, assumed her trademark slouchy position-legs crossed, nose up, brow furrowed-as Bono bantered with Mr. Peterson about America’s responsibilities toward poorer countries.

“Bono really knows his stuff,” marveled Caroline Graham, Ms. Brown’s former West Coast editor at The New Yorker and Talk .

” Bone- no is the U2 man?” asked a befuddled Ms. Cohane.

Then Mr. Nader jumped in again, without introducing himself. Mr. Evans snapped, “How am I supposed to know who this is? You’re a disembodied voice!”

“[Harry] is a very good moderator, because he has a low boredom threshold,” Ms. Brown told The Transom. “He always cuts me off.”

-Anna Jane Grossman

Sir *Hic*

At the Sunday, Sept. 29, premiere for The Man from Elysian Fields , gregarious director George Hickenlooper was joined by the film’s stars, Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and former ER actress Julianna Margulies.

At the after-party at Metronome, Mr. Hickenlooper told the story of how Mr. Jagger wound up in his movie after Dustin Hoffman and Jeremy Irons turned down the role of the sexually fading pimp. Mr. Hickenlooper said that both actors felt they were “getting older and are a little insecure about it.”

“From the very beginning, I wanted to go to Mick Jagger,” said Mr. Hickenlooper. But Mr. Jagger took his time in getting back to him about the gig. “Ten days from shooting, I get a call from Mick at around 4 a.m. London [time].”

Mr. Hickenlooper imitated Mr. Jagger’s British accent as he recalled him saying, “Roight, roight, really like the script. I’ve had a few too many Heinekens, so I have to get to bed.” Mr. Hickenlooper said that Mr. Jagger asked him to fly to Venice to discuss the film.

“I land at this beautiful 14th-century villa with Renaissance paintings everywhere. I climb this grand staircase, and the door opens. Mick Jagger is standing there and asks, ‘Would you like a Heineken?'”

And the drinking didn’t stop there. According to Mr. Hickenlooper, “after we’d settled things, we went over to Harry’s Bar. Let me tell you, walking somewhere with Mick is a Biblical experience. It’s like walking with Moses.”

If Moses were a big Heineken guy.

-Noelle Hancock

Two Wild and Crazy Guys

“Everybody seems to be here,” British pop artist Peter Blake said, surveying the scene at Cheim & Read gallery in Chelsea on Sept. 24. Mr. Blake, in a dark green corduroy suit and long white goatee, was sandwiched near the entrance of the gallery, which was showing works by French painter Claude Viallat.

The party, which celebrated the 15th anniversary of the British magazine Modern Painters and the publication of its fall issue, was hosted by novelist Paul Auster and his wife, Siri Hustvedt; artist Peter Beard and his wife, Najmaj; and Modern Painters editor Karen Wright . The rest of the eclectic crowd included Harper’s Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey, film director Paul Morrissey, poet John Ashbery, and actor and modern-art lover Steve Martin, who was blurbed as saying that Modern Painters gave him “a warm feeling in an unlikely place.”

“It’s a bit like being a voyeur at a cast call for a certain L.A. director’s view of what an opening might be like,” mused artist Caio Fonseca.

A grumpy Mr. Auster declined to talk to The Transom, but the amiable Mr. Ashbery volunteered that he’d be setting off the next morning on the Queen Elizabeth 2 , because he was afraid to fly.

Mr. Blake was back in New York to prepare his first show in decades, which will open Nov. 16 at Paul Morris. “For 40 years I declined to show here, and suddenly I decided it was time,” Mr. Blake said. “I was in a couple of shows here in the early 60’s and was reviewed very unpleasantly.”

The sidewalk outside the gallery was a party all its own. Mr. Beard, dressed in snappy black, was leaning against a wall and talking to two attractive women. Mr. Morrissey, plopped against a nearby parked car, surveyed the scene and dispensed wry remarks.

“I didn’t understand the art,” he said about the Viallats. He then cracked, “He doesn’t do bedspreads? There was a company named Marimekko-it reminds me of that.”

Soon, Messrs. Beard and Morrissey were surrounded by women, including Mr. Beard’s curvy makeup artist, Brigitta. They discussed going to Downtown Cipriani-“Cip’s,” as Mr. Beard called it. Mr. Morrissey weighed the plan with Mr. Beard. They looked like artsy Rat Packers.

“Oh, we’re partners in crime,” Mr. Beard said. “We have to stick together.”

-Elisabeth Franck

Blahnik Panic

“They’re having a ball ,” said Nell’s owner and Rocky Horror Picture Show star Nell Campbell, nursing a pink cocktail. A calm Ms. Campbell was standing near the escalators at Bergdorf Goodman, describing the frenzied scene in the department store’s brand-new second-floor shoe salon.

On the evening of Sept. 25, the store was mobbed by throngs of New York women and their generous husbands, all shopping to benefit the New Museum of Contemporary Art. The evening, co-chaired by Ms. Campbell, Anne McNally and Carlos Mota, was dubbed “Art + Sole” and billed as a night where “innovative art meets the serious shoe fetish.”

The event showcased limited-edition shoes created by designers and artists. Manolo Blahnik collaborated with Damien Hirst to create a short stiletto boot, specked with Mr. Hirst’s trademark spots, for $1,200, while Adelle Lutz and Walter Steiger dreamed up a $995 brown suede boot with its own ponytail.

“I knew it would be competitive to get shoes, but I didn’t think it would be competitive to get a salesperson ,” sighed socialite Helen Lee Shifter. Ms. Shifter, who was wearing her favorite shoes-baby-blue crocodile Manolo sandals-spotted the Hirst stiletto. “Jane Holzer should buy these; she has that painting,” she said, before asking to try them on.

Social powerhouse Marjorie Gubelmann, dressed in black and diamonds, stomped by and asked a friend if the shoes were “like a kajillion dollars?” Nearby, Style.com editor Candy Pratts Price charged right into the crowd while Studio Museum curator Thelma Golden escaped the mob.

“I bought something for a friend, Eileen Norton. She’s one of my trustees,” said Ms. Golden, who was carrying a shopping bag.

Ms. Golden said that she was willing to do personal shopping for her trustees if that’s what it took. Actually, Ms. Golden seemed to enjoy shopping. A lot.

” Hellooo ! There are like four million pairs of fabulous shoes that we all need, right here, right now,” she said. “Totally. Totally. I’m trying not to go back over there-there’s a beautiful Helmut Lang black suede shoe with a rubber-band slingback. Have to have it. Have to.”

Ms. Golden turned to talk to another guest, but The Transom could have sworn that her next move was toward the Lang showcase.


Silverstein’s Flexible

Larry Silverstein, the real-estate mogul who controlled the 99-year lease on the World Trade Center when the towers fell Sept. 11, doesn’t mind if his landlord, the Port Authority, compensates him with space off the site, a spokesman has told The Transom.

The city has been looking for ways to reduce the amount of office space built on the site so there will be room for a memorial, as well as open space, a partially restored street grid, a massive transit hub, and even cultural and residential development.

But the Port Authority has said it’s hemmed in by its requirement to rebuild all or most of the 11.5 million square feet of office space that used to occupy the six World Trade Center buildings it owned before Sept. 11.

Shortly after the attacks, Mr. Silverstein proclaimed his “responsibility” to rebuild the Twin Towers. Since then, he has engaged the firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to work up designs for office buildings on the site that would make room for the memorial and other public amenities.

Recent talks between the state agency chartered to rebuild the site and the Port Authority have centered on ways the city can compensate the Port Authority for handing over all or part of the 16-acre site.

One possible plan had the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation purchasing the Deutsche Bank building directly south of the World Trade Center site. The building has been infested with a dangerous mold since being abandoned on Sept. 11.

“The bank is a question mark-obviously a big question mark,” said LMDC spokeswoman Nancy Poderycki. “The building is uninhabitable right now.” But Mr. Silverstein seems undaunted.

“If the Port [Authority] and the LMDC decide that it is in the best interests of the city to move some of the space off the site, then that’s fine with us,” Silverstein spokesman Gerald McKelvey told The Transom.

Sources close to the talks said that other possibilities were also being considered to further reduce the burden, but that this was the most promising option. Experts told The Transom that if the Deutsche Bank building is torn down, future buildings on its site could provide as much as two million square feet of office space.

But Deutsche Bank spokeswoman Rohini Pragasam said that Deutsche Bank had still not made any decision about what to do with its building-one of the last places where human remains from the fallout of the World Trade Center implosion were found by recovery workers.

Ms. Pragasam explained that structural engineers were still looking at the building to determine whether the mold problem was so extreme that it would be more cost-effective to tear the building down or to clean it up and renovate.

-Tom McGeveran

Heartbreaking Geniuses