Black and White and Snow All Over

My take on the big Christie's ball, plus news from Aspen, and a perfect hors d'oeuvre.

April 3, 2006, 12:00 AM EDT

People let their hair down at Christie's Black and White ball.

My brainy friend Ron, despite toiling near the top of the magazine world, no longer employs the term journalist. “There really is no such thing anymore. They're just content providers,” he explained to me over dinner. He's being facetious, of course, but he reads the papers and gets angry just like you and me.

He offered this opinion as we compared notes on the ample and glowing coverage bestowed upon the recent Black and White ball (B&WB, for short) staged by Christie’s, which this writer attended, and about which he has much to say. (Oh dear.)

Despite posturing, this column gets few marks for journalisticintegrity. (We're actually comfortable being attributed with originalB&WB-thrower Truman Capote's assessment of Jack Kerouac's On the Road“It's just typing.") But one first-year CJS (yep, that's Columbia Journalism School) trick we do love to turn here is offering full disclosure. Here goes: I actually had fun. (Surprise!)

In fact, it was a complete blast. The shindig thrown at art-and-belongings reseller Christie’s was the best party I've attended inyears. People let their hair down (with the exception of AIDSfund-raiser Judy Peabody,who, despite her high, high, hair is down, down-to-earth). And that isthe missing element upon which New York’slong-carried-but-not-so-currently-deserved world champion party towncrown rests.

Examples of extreme fun:

1. Cornering and asking Dominick Dunne about his last Vanity Fair column's idea-reincarnation that there's more to the death of columnist Dorothy Kilgallen (the gossipeuse who got the only press interview with JFK conspiracy-theorist fixation Jack Ruby).I won't print his fascinating response—the poor guy has been throughthat wringer enough, don't you think? I didn't ask his permission, butDominick, if you read this, I'm sending my signed copy of David Scheim's Contract on America to you—can I get it back?

2. Chatting up original and repeat B&WB bandleader Peter Duchin,seemingly mid-song, and finding him still boyishly and exuberantlythrilled to be driving the music at a big swinging party. After theparty I readthat a DJ replaced him later on in the evening, and when he was visiblyupset a public relations woman told him, “Well, Peter, you can't playall night.” (Daily News columnist Ben Widdicombe didn’t name her; the evening's spokesperson was Harriet Weintraub.)I have to wonder, why wasn't this worked out before? I didn't seem tonotice enough bright young things desperate for disco to warrantremoving a legend from the stage, but maybe they came thronging inafter I left.

3. Watching attractive socialite Lauren DuPont shift gears between exulting over the sales success of her new jewelry line at Barneys New York and lamenting the Daily News
that the exact same store had her home address on display at the nearby Mrs. John L. Strong stationer outpost.

(Update: A. The pricey jewelry is very attractive. B. The revered UpperEast Side paper- product printer goofed big time when they firstpublicly defended their customer trust betrayal by implying thatdisplaying clients’ letterhead was standard operating procedure. Notonly is it a no-no to reveal a client’s personal info like address andphone number; it is also, in the rarefied ether of Mrs. John L. Strong,horrendously wrong to reveal the color, placement, leading, and kerningof a client’s admittedly limited choice of motifs decoratifs, i.e.bumblebee, pineapple, etc. Ms. DuPont, when asked on the record, wouldonly confirm that she “was disappointed.")

4. Wearing a mask and for a few fleeting moments not caring about whois who, and what not to say, and perhaps even worse, putting on devil'shorns now and then for a trial comment.

A masked ball can be a hoot. Face it.

It might have been even more fun if more people knew (much lessfollowed) the standard rules of a masked ball, which to myunderstanding (learned in New Orleans one year) includes the followingbasics:

1. No removal of masks until midnight or some other designated witching hour.

2. No one allowed in without a mask (basic black with elastic stringand those two funny metal ends are perfectly acceptable, and theyshould be available at the door).

3. No outing yourself or others with every handshake. Guessing is of course allowed but need not be acknowledged.

In Venice I don't know what they do, but my limited knowledge is revealed on National Public Radio, who interviewed me.

Inarguably, the event came off.

But no one, at least in the media I'm exposed to, seemed to pick up onthe ironies at hand, which include (but are not limited to):

1. The first event was a private, personal affair and this was acommercial effort, thus signifying the replacement in our culture ofsociety by commerce.

2. The original host, newly reanimated author and pop culture oddityTruman Capote, despite (or perhaps because of) the evening's success,suffered one of history's most public and humiliating social downfalls.

3. The raison d'etre of this gathering was the wholesale selling off of the former contents of the Plaza Hoteland its conversion into condos, signifying (to this bystander at least)a Manhattan debacle on a par with (okay below, but close) the tearingdown of the former Penn Station.

I didn't see a soul touring the galleries of mixed provenancefurnishings that were up for grabs (although even from far away theIvana-era gilding was unmistakable), yet the papers report that thenext day's sale was a winner, so it goes to show what I know, which isnothing.

If You Build It They Will Come

That chestnut is being floated once again, this time by real estatedevelopers and the like in Aspen, Colorado, where the big news is theplanned massive expansion of nearby (and relatively sleepy) SnowmassVillage. The Aspen Valley ran out of room about ten years ago, unlessyou have the money and political clout to carve your own road into amountainside like, say, Don Johnson did.

(Interestingly enough just last week The Aspen Timesreported that Johnson had defaulted on his mountaintop mortgage,apparently not for the first time, and that his deadbeat status wasnothing new to locals—he once even stiffed a local grocer until publicpressure forced the issue and the bill was paid. Johnson's publicist Eliot Mintz was quoted as saying everything would be just fine. Isn't he Paris Hilton's publicist, too?)

Anyway, apparently no longer content to play second fiddle to Aspen'snumber one ski slope, Ajax, Snowmass has begun a massive build-up thatincludes a bunch of new roads and retail stores and buildings (and whathave you). Never mind that Snowmass was where you went to hide from theglitz and commercialism of Aspen, or that existing Snowmass Villagestores and restaurants seemed plenty quiet the third week of March, theheight of spring skiing season with tons of snow on the ground. Onwardand upward.

Going to Aspen is like going to the Hamptons, which means, more and more, like not leaving Manhattan at all. Nobu and Chanelare there and (new to this visitor) rush hour commuter traffic, not tomention a lack of accommodations and middle/lower income housing forwaiters and housekeepers. Of course Aspen is now filled with immigrantlaborers that can't speak English (and who apparently don't object tosharing a studio efficiency for $10,000 a month with six othercompatriots), as opposed to college kids and ski bums. I figured thisout by reading a note in my hotel room, which discouraged guests fromtrying to actually speak to the housecleaning staff. , It recommendedfilling out a form and then bringing it to the front desk where itcould be translated and conveyed. My primitive analysis found thissystem to be 50 percent effective.

I suggested to everyone I met (well, to one real estate guy, who Ioverheard bragging about the planned conversion of upper floors of thelocal landmarks Crystal Palace and the attached Isis Theatreinto “more good retail space") that plenty of good New York hotelfurniture was up for grabs. The ubiquitous luxury hotel condo projecthas landed here, too, of course, handled by Hyatt, and advertised in The New York Times Magazine, which should tell you who and where the market is.

So I'm super pleased to report that despite the endless homogenizationvia branding happening to this once mining/renegade town, the two bestrestaurants in town are still the single establishment venues Ajax Tavern and Piñons. To the best of my knowledge neither has a branch in Las Vegas and that is a good thing.

What One Wants and What One Gets Just Never Seem to Overlap Enough, Dontcha Think?

This truism occurred to me at the not-so-recent Self/VH1 Most Wanted Bodies event, which took place at the nightclub Stereo.In a vast space writ large with video screens, gobos, and aninteractive gaming station (mais bien sur), this viewing partycelebrated the fifth annual (who knew?) poll/magazine story/televisionspecial/joint branding effort. This year you'll be relieved if notsurprised to know Beyoncé won for best curves. Thescreens flashed and throbbed too rapidly for me to fully absorb thenames of other wanted and winning bodies, but all appeared to be firmand healthy, as they should.

But since the body I least wanted was the one I arrived in, I tried totake it easy on the hors d'oeuvres. So when a tray of tiny, tiny cherrytomatoes wafted by I figured, “Aw, what the heck?” and had one. Asimple affair really, a hollowed out red sphere, a dab of sour cream,cubed yellow pepper for color and crunch, and a reminder that everyparty offering need not have a skewer or a dipping station or someother multi-media attraction. Kudos to Match Catering for offering up an old-fashioned, unshowy, and nonfattening number in this high-tech and high-paced society.

Now if only Eloise would return to the Plaza, all could be right in the world.

Posted 04.03.06

Photos: Patrick McMullan (Hart, Griscom)

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