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Posts Tagged ‘Upper East Side’

Being Seymour Glass

August 17, 2016 | by

Why I borrowed a name from Salinger.

An illustration of Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by Jonny Ruzzo, 2013.

Ask someone who Seymour Glass is and they’ll tell you he’s a Salinger character: the eldest of the precocious Glass family, a misanthrope who shoots himself on vacation in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” But if that someone works in the New York fashion industry—specifically, in the editorial departments of select glossies—their response might be, Didn’t he used to work here?

That’s me they’re thinking of. Read More »

The Sweet Smell of Success

March 31, 2016 | by

Perfume ad, ca. 1920.

It all started about a month ago. A close friend was celebrating a big birthday, and I planned to buy her a set of nice lotions and potions in a pricey scent I knew she loved. So I looked up the address of the shop, walked across the park, headed uptown, and entered its ritzy, expensively perfumed confines. The man standing inside didn’t look up.

“Hello,” I said.

He ignored me for an uncomfortably long moment, then looked up and said, “Did you want something?” Read More »

Remember to Authenticate Your Falcon, and Other News

February 22, 2016 | by

Humphrey Bogart with the elusive (and presumably genuine) Maltese Falcon.

  • Zadie Smith is thinking about The Polar Express 4–D Experience and Anomalisa and, of course, Schopenhauer: “One way of dealing with the boredom of our own needs might be to complicate them unnecessarily, so as always to have something new to desire. Human needs, Schopenhauer thought, are not in their essence complex. On the contrary, their ‘basis is very narrow: it consists of health, food, protection from heat and cold, and sexual gratification; or the lack of these things.’ Yet on this narrow strip we build the extraordinary edifice of pleasure and pain, of hope and disappointment! Not just salmon, but wild-caught Copper River Alaskan salmon almandine! And all to achieve exactly the same result in the end; health, food, covering, and so on … ”
  • Today in late authors and real-estate envy: turns out Harper Lee had a place on the Upper East Side all these years, and she paid less than a thousand bucks a month for it. Early in the morning, you could spot her not at Starbucks but at the local butcher’s: “She was a regular at Ottomanelli Bros. butcher shop on York Avenue, visiting twice a day, first at 7:30 A.M. for a cup of black coffee and a raisin scone, said co-owner Nicolas ‘Uncle Nic’ Ottomanelli. She would go back in the late afternoon for a chicken, a lamb chop ‘trimmed real neat’ or the first cut of Delmonico steak.”
  • Advice for biographers—if you want to earn the respect of your subject’s forebears, hide the dirty laundry. Henry James’s first biographer, Leon Edel, won the trust of the James estate in part because of his suspicious willingness to conceal aspects of the author’s sexuality: “Slowly, Edel became a trusted servant of the James estate as well as James’s biographer. He informed the family when a scholar he met at a conference expressed an interest in James’s homoerotic correspondence. He was assured by the Houghton Library that ‘she is certainly not going to see anything she’s not supposed to see.’ Edel’s job was to keep all insinuations about James’s sexuality at bay … Since Edel knew he would have to deal with James’s sexuality in his later volumes, he hoped that some other writer would spill the beans first so that it would, as he wrote, ‘relieve me of the onus of “breaking” the story.’ ”
  • Advice for crime writers—put girl in your book’s title, make a little money. “I have talked to other crime writers that have been urged by various professional people in their life to put the world girl in their title,” Megan Abbott told NPR. “It’s not necessarily an issue with the content of the book itself, but there’s this sort of shorthand that if it has girl in the title, then I know what to expect.”
  • Advice for movie-memorabilia collectors—if you’re going to shell out $4.1 million for the black statuette from The Maltese Falcon, make sure it’s the genuine article first. Ask Hank Risan, who owns two of them and has gone to great lengths to discover their provenance: “Mysteriously, there was an identical marking near the base on each of Risan’s Falcons. It appeared to be two numbers: a 7 with a crossbar and a 5, each followed by a period. Could it be a ‘7.5.,’ referring to the 1975 film? … Risan managed to make an appointment with Edward Baer, an assistant manager in the property department, who had been at the studio for thirty-seven years ... When they showed him one of Risan’s Falcons, Baer said it was nothing like those he had designed. Baer explained that he had made the 1975 Falcons from the original 1941 mold, which he had fished out of a Warner Bros. warehouse. But the mold had deteriorated, so after using it to make a single replica out of resin, he destroyed the mold, then used the resin Falcon to make a new mold. The replicas made from this mold were scrunched forward and a little lopsided—sad cousins of the original.”

When Nacre Was Lucre, and Other News

May 20, 2015 | by


An undated book from the mother-of-pearl craze.

  • On the cover of a 1598 book, The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, a historian claims to have found “the only demonstrably authentic portrait of Shakespeare made in his lifetime”; the editor of Country Life magazine is calling this “the literary discovery of the century.” The century, thankfully, is young.
  • Pause to remember the garish bookbinding trends of yesteryear: “For a few years in the nineteenth century … papier-mâché books adorned with mother-of-pearl were part of a gift book fad, wherein a decorative tome of sentimental or religious poetry was bestowed upon a loved one, often around the winter holidays. The text was usually secondary to the gaudy cover, which was decorated to the extreme.”
  • Is photography merely a matter of chance? “By the end of the nineteenth century, after Kodak has arrived … much of the role of chance migrates from the processing phase to the moment of exposure. That moment was always prone to chance—in the long exposures of early photography, a dog might wander in a street scene, or a young portrait subject might sneeze and blur the image. But with fast shutters and films, the so-called instantaneous photograph arrives, and chance takes on a new prominence in composition—to the point that even the word composition seems questionable.”
  • Everett Fox is translating the Hebrew Bible—a tricky effort, given that the original is rooted in a deeply aural tradition. “I heard it, too. Short vowels twinkled and long vowels streamed by with showy tails. Consonants held crisp and true. The overall effect was of a simultaneously dense and sprawling thing, layered and alive and capable of surprising you. Fox has dedicated his life to giving the Anglophone ear a hint of that Hebrew drama … [He] uses every poetic means at his disposal: phrase length, line break, puns.”
  • The glam SAHMs (stay-at-home moms, if you’re new to this) of the Upper East Side await wife bonuses from their husbands: “A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance—how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a ‘good’ school—the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks.”

The Late, Great Theodora Keogh

August 22, 2011 | by

Theodora Keogh in Paris, 1948. Copyright Karl Bissinger.

For the last fifteen or sixteen years I’ve been making portraits of people (in rich, resonant, analog sound) with an old cassette recorder: spoken-word portraits.

In my library in Paris are hundreds of magnetic tapes stacked in their fragile, transparent cases. Each tape carries the specific testimony of a single person who has lent time, presence, and a few vibrantly unreliable anecdotes to my experiments in biography.

Like Ortega y Gasset’s definition of culture—culture is what remains after you’d forgotten everything you’ve ever read—these tapes are an archive of minds and memories reduced to their absolute essences. Every one of them is worth a thousand photographs to me.

Which is why I’m kicking myself that I never recorded the voice of my wonderful friend, the late, great Theodora Roosevelt Keogh. Read More »