Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reggie's Rules for Dining in Better Restaurants, Part II

Oh, la!  I realize that it has been almost five months since I published my first installment of Reggie's Rules for Dining in Better Restaurants.  Today's essay is the second, and final, installment in the series.

The art of presentation is a defining feature
for many restaurants of the better sort

The focus of these rules (and the rules I share with you in general, Dear Reader) is to provide advice and guidance to people who would like to be thought of as courteous, mannerly, and discreet by those observing them—either for the first time, or repeatedly.  In other words, to stand in stark and pleasing contrast to the tedious, loud-mouthed, ill-mannered boors one encounters with increasing frequency these days, and who are a noxious intrusion on the lives of well-behaved people who have the misfortune to be within earshot of said cretins.

While I covered the majority of my rules for dining in better restaurants in the first installment of this series, here are the remainder of the rules I was not able to cover beforehand:

10.  Don't bring young children with you to dinner in a restaurant for grown-ups

While there are very few of the city's better restaurants where well-behaved children under the age of twelve are not welcomed during the day, it is not appropriate to bring them to dinner in better restaurants where the primary clientele is comprised of cocktail-imbibing grown-ups, out for the evening.  If you can't bear to leave your children at home with their nanny or babysitter, then either take them to a different restaurant that is suitable for families, or stay at home with them and eat with them there.

It is best to leave small children at home when out for dinner
at grown-up restaurants such as this

Don't get me wrong, Reggie adores children, and believes that it is more than acceptable to take them out to eat in restaurants—but only to ones where it is appropriate to do so, and only when the child is old-enough, well-trained enough, and well-behaved enough to be able to handle the experience without having a meltdown or making a scene.

11.  If you have a petulant or wailing child with you, either deal with it or leave the restaurant with it

Too many of us have withstood the misery of sitting in a restaurant where a parent (or parents) of children allow their little darlings to kick up an unsupervised ruckus.  This is not acceptable.  If your child is misbehaving in a restaurant (or any other public place for that matter), then it is your responsibility to either quiet it down or take it outside with you if you cannot.

12.  Refrain from speaking on cellphones

Don't make calls from or answer your cellphone when sitting at a table in a restaurant.  It is rude to your table-mates, and irritating to those sitting nearby who are not interested in listening to you make plans or discuss your personal life with someone on the other end of the line.  If you feel you absolutely must use your cellphone, then excuse yourself from the table and go someplace else where you will not disturb anyone.

13.  Be discreet when texting or emailing

While Reggie believes one should refrain from using PDAs to check email or for texting while sitting at a table in a restaurant, sometimes it is unavoidable.  Under such circumstances, however, he advises that you hold the device on your lap under the edge of the table and out of view, so that others around you aren't made glaringly aware of it.

In closing, I offer you a quote from the website of La Grenouille, one of New York's very best restaurants, and a place where I have been most fortunate to have dined with pleasure numerous times over the years.  In fact, I reviewed it earlier, here.
"Out of consideration for your fellow diners we ask you to refrain from using cell phones or other devices, and that children under 12 be left in the care of a loving babysitter."
I couldn't have said it any better myself.

Photographs courtesy of LIFE Images

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reggie Out & About: Hermes Mallea Book Signing

Last night Boy and I had the pleasure of attending a book signing party held in honor of Hermes Mallea, in celebration of the publication of his beautifully written and lavishly illustrated Great Houses of Havana: A Century of Cuban Style, published by the Monacelli Press.

The announcement in the window of Rural Residence

The book signing was held at Rural Residence, a treasure trove of a store in Hudson, New York, which was the subject of a post that I did last year at this time.  Timothy Dunleavy, the owner/proprietor of Rural Residence, hosts book signings there from time to time, most recently for Hermes Mallea's Great Houses of Havana.  Another party for the book was recently held in New York at the 1st Dibs Gallery, and was featured on New York Social Diary, where yours truly is a sometime contributor.

Stacks of books, ready for signing

The book signing party at Rural Residence for Mr. Mallea was a great success, full of friends and well-wishers, and so well attended that at times the crowd spilled out onto the sidewalk in front of the store.  People were buying books by the armload, and the author spent much of the evening sitting at a table busily writing inscriptions, hardly able to circulate around the room given the demands for his autograph.  Fortunately he didn't need to leave his chair as all were there to see him, one by one.

The author inscribing our copy of his book

Hermes Mallea and his partner in business and life, Carey Maloney, have a weekend house in the area and we see them out and about at the larger parties in the county.  They are charming and pleasant company.

I spent several hours this morning reading through and looking at the photographs in Great Houses of Havana.  I am impressed.  It stands head and shoulders above many of the decorating and architecture coffee table books that have been rolling off the printing presses in recent years.  It is a scholarly, well-researched, and beautifully illustrated tour of residential and civic architecture built in Havana in the one hundred years leading up to the Cuban Revolution.  Mr. Mallea writes articulately, thoughtfully, and knowledgeably (he is, by profession, an architect and a partner in M (Group), a design firm based in New York).

The party in full swing

Great Houses of Havana contains a lot of information, both written and visual, about the history of Cuban architecture, the island's pre-revolutionary culture, and the colorful and visionary people who built and inhabited the buildings showcased in the book.  Great Houses of Havana is richly illustrated with many contemporary and vintage photographs of the buildings and their interiors, and their occupants (including one of Mrs. Earl T. Smith, the wife of the former U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, and who was the subject of an earlier post of mine).  Many of the once-private houses featured in the book are today public museums or serve as ambassadorial residences, and appear to be well cared for—in some cases exceptionally so.

Dear Reader, I encourage you to consider getting a copy of Great Houses of Havana, as it is a worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in architecture, design, cultural history, and the fascinating island of Cuba.  That would certainly describe me, and I suspect it would also be an apt description of many of the people who read this blog.

You can learn more about the book and its author at

Please note: Reggie has received nothing in return for making this recommendation, nor does he expect to. He is recommending Great Houses of Havana solely for its merits and for the pleasure of his readers, which is why he writes this blog in the first place.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Reggie's Thanksgiving Tradition

Every year, at Thanksgiving, while sitting at the celebratory meal with family and friends, I follow a tradition where I suggest that each person at the table shares what it is he or she is most thankful for.  I know that some people find this hokey, and it does at times make people uncomfortable.  But I press on, and I encourage everyone to participate, because I find that what people have to say they are thankful for is fascinating, in many cases enlightening, and oftentimes food for thought and later reflection.  It is also a window into the souls and lives of those who are willing to do so, as most people are, I find.  Regardless of how tough a year someone may have had, there is usually something they can be genuinely thankful for.

A sheaf of wheat decorating our dining room
for Thanksgiving at Darlington House

Pausing during the hurly-burly of the meal to listen to and reflect upon what those of us who are sitting there are thankful for makes the gathering more memorable, in my view, and hearkens back to the very reason we find ourselves at the table in the first place: to give thanks.

The colors and patterns that one sets one's
Thanksgiving table with can be subdued . . .

Sometimes the answers given are short and sweet, and other times can be surprisingly emotional and sad, if not wrenching.  Whether sweet or sad, however, I believe the process of listening to what others say they are thankful for, and then volunteering what oneself is also thankful for, makes the observance of Thanksgiving a more enriching experience for many of us.

. . . or rich and exhuberant—whatever
strikes one's fancy or mood

This year, as I do most years, I expect to say that I am most thankful for my health, for my sanity, and for the deeply rewarding and ever-evolving marriage I have with my wonderful spouse, Boy Fenwick.  There are other things that I am thankful for, too, but these are the ones that sit at the top of my list this Thanksgiving Day.

Tell me, Dear Reader, what are you thankful for?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Lifelong Love Affair with Gucci Loafers

I don't remember when I got my first pair of Gucci loafers.  I know that it was when I was at prep school in the mid-1970s, at Saint Grottlesex, either during my junior or my senior year.  But I can't exactly pinpoint the date.  It's been so long that I just don't remember.

The iconic, classic Gucci loafer

Gucci loafers.  I'm referring to the classic, old-fashioned, pre-Tom-Ford-era ones, with snaffle-bits, favored by slippery-slope investment bankers, louche Euro-trash, and the denizens of Kennedy-era Southampton and Palm Beach and their social and stylistic offspring.  Footwear fashions may come and go, but the classic Gucci loafer remains essentially unchanged for more than half a century, and rightly so, because it is a highly profitable mainstay of the firm's footwear empire.  Leaders at Gucci blessedly know not to kill the golden goose of the House of Gucci.  They might play with it, as they do, by offering variations on it, but they haven't yet killed the original.  And I hope they never do, at least during my lifetime, as I plan on wearing the classic Gucci loafer to my grave . . .

Gucci loafers have been a staple of my footwear wardrobe ever since I first slipped my feet into a pair as a teenager, my fevered heart pounding with anticipation that, yes, my dream of owning a pair was finally coming true.  I had coveted Gucci loafers for long enough that when it came time for me to actually try on a pair to buy I felt like Cinderella confronted with the glass slipper brought 'round after the ball.  I knew they were meant to be mine.

A 1970s preppy hottie, wearing Gucci loafers
Photograph courtesy of Google Images

I had to put up a fight to get them, though.  Neither of my parents wore Gucci loafers when I was growing up, and they disapproved of them.  My parents were far too conservative to wear such shoes, and considered them flashy, shockingly expensive, and downright frivolous, given who wore them—people of suspect morals and spendthrift ways.

People just like me, as it turned out.

I first became aware of Gucci loafers when I went away to boarding school.  It was there, at Saint Grottlesex, that I encountered them on the feet of the fast-living, unnervingly sophisticated, more-than-worldly, Manhattan-raised offspring of families with boldfaced names, limitless resources, and house accounts (remember those?) in stores stocked with expensive European-made goods.  Remember, this was back in the 1970s, long before every major city in America became over-retailed with specialty stores and shopping malls clogged with purveyors of luxury goods, all to be had with just a Visa card and a credit line.  In those days it was hard to find a store in America outside of Manhattan that stocked Gucci loafers.

The flagship Gucci store in Manhattan, before it moved to the Trump Tower
Photograph courtesy of Google Images

My schoolmates at Saint Grottlesex who wore Gucci loafers (a relatively small minority of the school's population, I admit) seemed impossibly glamorous and sophisticated to me, and I wanted to be like them.  And that meant I needed to ratchet up my wardrobe in order to fit in with them.  I needed a pair of Gucci loafers.

Douglas Fairnbanks, Jr., wearing Gucci loafers
Photograph courtesy of Google Images

"You want what?!" I remember MD asking me when I told her I wanted a pair of Guccis, instead of the much more reasonable and mundane Bass Weejuns she was prepared to buy me to take back to boarding school for the fall semester of my junior year.  Except that we didn't call it "Junior Year" at Saint Grottlesex; we called it the "Fifth Form," in the traditions of the English public schools that Saint Grottlesex (and others like it) followed.

"Are you crazy?!" she said. "Have you any idea how much those ridiculous shoes cost?!  Forget it!"

Brand-new and begging to be worn . . .

At the time I didn't know how much Gucci loafers cost, except that they were expensive (they had to be, considering those I knew who wore them).  But I was determined to own a pair, despite my mother's objections and her unwillingness to foot the bill.  I don't know whether it was then or within the next year, but I somehow scraped together enough money to buy myself a pair—black leather ones with brushed brass snaffle-bits.  I was beside myself with excitement when I brought the shoebox home, the forbidden treasure nestled inside, wrapped in tissue paper.  And when I slipped them on my feet, alone in my bedroom, I felt flushed with pleasure, but nervous, too, knowing that I had done something rash and extravagant and that my parents would disapprove when they discovered what I had done.

Even though I took no end of heat from MD for squandering what little money I had on a pair of shoes I could ill afford, I was thrilled to have them.  I felt as if I'd crossed over to the other side, to where the fast and exotic kids from New York at Saint Grottlesex lived and played.  I no longer felt like a suburban hick, staring through the window at the fun happening inside.  I was inside.  Well, sort of—at least I now had the same shoes as those inside wore . . .

The Gucci store in Florence, in the 1950s
Photograph courtesy of Google Images

And I've been happily wearing Gucci loafers ever since, thank you.  In fact, I'm wearing a pair of them right now, as I write this essay for you, Dear Reader.

The classic Gucci loafer is deliciously comfortable and marvelous looking in a sporty, horsey way, and pretty much "goes" with anything, in my view.  I wear them with suits, with khakis, with jeans, and with shorts.  I draw the line with black tie, though, but I didn't used to when I was younger, before I owned embroidered velvet slippers, or Belgians, or kidskin dancing pumps to go with my evening wear.  But that's another story for another evening, I suppose.

I wear Gucci loafers everywhere: to the office, while walking the dog, out to eat in the city, or knocking about in the country on a summer weekend's afternoon.  I wear them so often that I sometimes absentmindedly find myself wearing them while engaged in impromptu outdoor weekend chores or projects—hopefully (but not always) beat-up old ones, and not a fresh pair, just brought home from the store.  In cool weather I wear Gucci loafers with socks, but in warm weather I mostly wear them sockless—that is, assuming my ankles have the barest blush of a tan, a requirement to carry the sockless look off, in my view.

A mess of our worn-out Gucci loafers

Between the two of us, Boy and I own dozens and dozens of pairs of Gucci loafers in various stages of wear.  It is almost embarrassing.  Part of the reason we have so many pairs, though, is because we haven't gotten rid of our worn-out ones when we've bought fresh ones to replace them.  Boy has a number of what he calls "Gardening Guccis" that he keeps at Darlington, shoes that are so worn and scuffed that they really aren't suitable to wear off the property, but which are wonderfully comfortable and admirably suited to wearing while—well—gardening or doing painting projects.

Boy's mud-caked Gardening Guccis

In addition to his collection of classic Gucci loafers, Boy also has a number of pairs of what he calls his "Ghetto Guccis," as they were clearly designed to appeal to the Hip Hop set and are much fun to wear at parties.

A party favorite in three different colors of leather!

Me?  I stick with the old-fashioned, tried-and-true, classic Gucci loafers with the snaffle-bits, in either brown or black leather.  Sometmes I might get a pair with red and green ribbon beneath the bits, or I'll try some sleek driving shoes; more recently I bought a pair with bamboo "bits" instead of metal snaffle-bits.

The classic, with a twist

I even have a couple of pairs from the 1990s that were so of-the-moment when I bought them as to be unwearable today.  They languish in my closets, unworn.  Most of the Gucci loafers I own, though, are the classic style that looks good on the feet of anyone from a fourteen-year-old boy (should he be so lucky), out goofing around with friends, to an eighty-year-old codger out for a swell lunch with a scrumptious niece or granddaughter.

The look, the dog, the loafer . . .

In short, I love me my Gucci loafers.  And I'll never stop wearing them, either.

Tell me, when did you get your first pair of Gucci loafers?

All photographs, except where noted, by Boy Fenwick

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reggie's Three Minute Rule

One of the rules that I follow on a daily basis is what I call "Reggie's Three Minute Rule."

Every weekday morning before I leave for the office I go through our apartment straightening it up a little bit, here and there.  I walk into a room, pause, look around to see if anything is amiss, and I take care of it if time allows.  I devote no more than a few minutes to doing this task, and sometimes less.  By this point in the morning I've already made our bed and tidied up the kitchen and the bathroom, so the "big" stuff has already been taken care of.  My focus here is on doing one or two extra little bits of tidying that I can accomplish quickly before walking out the door.  It could include picking up an empty coffee mug left sitting on the chest of drawers in our bedroom, or plumping the squashed pillows on the sofa, or putting yesterday's shoes away in the closet.

The goal is to make where we live a more welcoming and serene environment for when we return to it at the end of a busy and oftentimes stressful day.  That way we can focus on unwinding and preparing for the evening, rather than taking care of the niggling little tasks left behind for us to "do later."  In my view, spending just a few extra minutes taking care of these tasks at the beginning of the day, versus later, is time well spent, and well worth the minimal effort required.

And that, Dear Reader, is why I follow this "rule."

Tell me, do you also follow such a rule?

Image courtesy of

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Autumn Weekend at Darlington

It was a lovely weekend in the Hudson River Valley this past weekend.  Not too cold, and not too warm.  A perfectly sublime late-autumn stretch of days, really.

The trees held on to their leaves later than usual this year.  By this past weekend, however, most of the remaining leaves had begun to drop.  I suspect that the rest of the leaves will have fallen by this coming weekend, when we return to Darlington House after a busy week of work in Manhattan.

The farmers' market in the nearby town was bursting with the final bounty of the season.  Boy picked up this ornamental kale there on Saturday from Cedar Farm, a local wholesaler of cut flowers who is one of the salwarts of the market.

He made a lovely, simple arrangement of it for our dining room, where it decorated the table during a dinner we had with our friends Jasper Lambert and Francesca Montmore, who were visiting us for the weekend.

The arrangement looked particularly good with the amethyst colored glasses and green feather edge creamware plates that Boy chose for the table.

Outside, one of our maples still held on to its leaves, one of the last on our property to do so.

Our scarlet oak was in full color, and will be one of the sole trees on our property to hold on to its leaves throughout the winter, a characteristic of oaks.

The leaves on our elm tree had turned a beguiling yellow, tinged with brown.  They had mostly dropped by the time we left on Sunday.

The allee of crab apples on our property was loaded with red fruit, wating to be harvested by the birds who will denude the trees over the next several weeks.

This year was a particularly good one for our boxood, which remained a gorgeous, healthy green.  We protect the boxwoods at Darlington from being damaged during the snowy season by having them wrapped in burlap.

The remaining herbs in the pots on our terrace were on their last legs, with the tenderer ones already having been dug up and their pots stored away until next year.  One of the last holdouts as winter approaches was this hardy sage.

Along with rosemary, which continues to thrive.  We bring our pots of rosemary indoors for the winter, but we're waiting to do so until we've had several more hard frosts, so they go fully dormant.

On the way back to the city on Sunday afternoon I pulled the car over to the side of the road so that Boy could take this picture of the sunset on his iPhone.  It was a fitting cap off to a glorious late autumn weekend.

Photographs by Boy Fwnwick

Sunday, November 13, 2011

L'esprit de l'escalier

Yesterday, Boy found Pompey sitting on the stairs, lost in thought . . .

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Reggie's Rules for Calling Someone on the Telephone

The other evening I attended a large cocktail party where I ran into a former colleague, JL.  I like JL and enjoy speaking with him whenever I have the pleasure of seeing him, which is at least several times a year.

A reasonable reaction upon answering the telephone
and being confronted by a rude caller

We fell into a conversation that eventually turned to the topic of the sorry state of manners in today's world, and our shared belief that telephone manners, in particular, had reached a new low.  As an example, JL recounted a telephone conversation he had at home one recent evening:

Telephone:  Ring-ring-ring

JL:  Hello?

Caller:  Is Bobby there?

JL:  May I ask who's calling, please?

Caller:  Peter

JL:  Peter who?

Caller:  Peter Porterhouse

JL:  Oh, hello Peter, this is Bobby's father.  How are you?

Caller:  Okay

JL:  I'm sorry, but Bobby isn't available right now.  May I take a message for him?

Caller:  No, I'll try him later.

JL:  Okay, thanks Peter.  Nice speaking with you.

Caller:  Yeah

JL:  Goodbye Peter


JL was particularly irritated by this exchange because he knew Peter Porterhouse, one of his son's friends and a regular visitor at JL's house.  We both agreed that Peter was a boor, but since he was still relatively young—a teenager—we agreed that it wasn't necessarily his fault but rather that of his parents, who raised him to be an ill-mannered oaf, without (for starters) instilling in him basic good telephone manners.

I then related a telephone conversation I had one recent weekend afternoon, where the caller was even ruder:

Telephone:  Ring-ring-ring

RD:  Hello?

Caller:  Who is this?

RD:  Excuse me?

Caller:  Who is this?

RD:  What do you mean, "Who is this?" Who's calling, please?

Caller:  [pause] . . . uh . . . this is Sandra

RD:  Sandra who?  Who are you calling?

Caller:  Where's Mike?

RD:  I believe you have the wrong number.


Even though this was obviously a wrong number, I found this call particularly annoying because the caller who initiated the call did so by asking me who I was, rather than identifying herself to me first, and then hung up on me when I informed her that she had dialed the wrong number, without any acknowledgment or apology.

Dear Reader, I share these two conversations with you as prime examples of callers who clearly did not appreciate, or had not been properly trained in, the rudimentary rules required when initiating a telephone call.

In my view, these rules are:

Rule Number 1:  When making a telephone call you must always begin the call by identifying yourself to the person who answers the phone.  Unless you recognize his/her voice and are on first-name basis with him/her and speak with him/her regularly, and are confident that he/she will immediately recognize who it is that is calling him/her, then you must identify yourself by stating your full name, including both your first and last names, such as "Hello, this is Reggie Darling.  I'm calling to speak with Emily Toplofty.  Is she there, please?"

Rule Number 2:  Never initiate a telephone conversation by asking, "Who is this?"  You may only seek to learn the identity of the person who has answered the telephone after you have identified yourself first.  The proper way to do so is to ask, "With whom am I speaking, please?"

Rule Number 3:  If you have dialed the wrong number, it is incumbent upon you to say, "Excuse me, I believe I've dialed the wrong number." You may thus politely terminate the phone call.

Rule Number 4:  When the person who has answered the telephone identifies herself to you as someone other than the person you are seeking to speak with, you must respond with a polite acknowledgement, such as "Oh, hello Mrs. Toplofty, I hope you are well."

Rule Number 5:  Always end a telephone conversation with some form of closing salutation, such as "Goodbye," or "Talk to you soon," or "Thank you."  Never simply hang up the telephone without closing out the conversation first.

In summary, I believe it is the responsibility of the person initiating a phone call to inform the person answering the telephone of their identity and the purpose for the call.  The caller should also be prepared to engage in a brief exchange of pleasantries, as a matter of courtesy, with the person on the other end of the line.  Finally, the caller should always conclude the call with some form of acknowledgement that the call has been completed by both the caller and the person with whom they have spoken.

These are the rules I follow when I call someone on the telephone, and I believe every other civilized person should too.  I'm heartened to know that I am not alone in believing this, given my former colleague JL's emphatic agreement.

Tell me, what do you think?

Photograph courtesy of LIFE Images

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Family Game

Every family has a favorite game.  Whether it be board, card, or psychological . . .

Our backgammon board, in play at Darlington House

In our family, at least as how I define it these days, it's backgammon.

I was taught to play backgammon when I was eleven by a cousin of my mother's, named Frances, who visited us in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1968, coincidentally during the race riots that gripped the city in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.   Not exactly a salubrious time for her to visit the Nation's Capitol, but it was a pleasant and noteworthy visit for young Reggie, nonetheless.

Cousin Frances lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was recently widowed, rich, and Republican, all of which she found more than agreeable.  She was probably in her early sixies at the time, and was visiting us while making a sentimental journey "up north" to see her Yankee relatives, driving a brand new Cadillac equipped with "all the bells and whistles" that she had bought especially for the trip.

The counters neatly stacked in a row, having
been successfully removed from the board
during a game

Frances was a jolly sort, who loved telling stories and reminiscing, and was quick to laugh, and I adored her.  She'd loved her departed husband, and missed him dreadfully, but she said she also felt liberated to be on her own again and in charge of her own life and daily schedule after many years of attending to her dear, albeit increasingly infirm, husband's every whim, beck and call.  "I loved him, for sure I did, honey, but now I'm on my own and 'free at last, free at least!'" she'd merrily cry in her lovely southern drawl.  "Now, let's have some fun!"

Frances arrived at our house in Washington several days before the riots began, and was just settling in for an extended visit when all Hell broke loose, and the next thing we knew the inner city neighborhoods were on fire, curfews had been established, schools and public buildings were closed, and members of the National Guard were posted on street corners in the city's terrified white neighborhoods.  It was all very exciting.

A convenient "cheat sheet" for the board's proper set up
provided to members of our city club's backgammon set

We were mostly confined to our house during Frances' visit, both day and night, and had to entertain ourselves.  Watching television was much too grim, given its coverage of the carnage gripping the nation and the limited number of channels available at the time.  Frances loved games, and I remember spending hours on end during her visit playing rounds of gin rummy, double solitaire, and hearts with her and various members of the Darling family.  But I was her primary partner in such activities as I had more patience for, and a greater affinity for, such activities than most of the others in our household.  At one point, having exhausted every card game in her arsenal, Frances asked me if I liked to play backgammon, and if so would I please bring out the board and play it with her.  She was astonished to learn that not only did I not know how to play backgammon, but that we didn't even own such a board.

"That's not right!" she declared. "Every young man worth his social salt should know how to play backgammon!  Come on, darlin', I'll buy you one as a present, and teach you."  Within several hours, and despite the fact that finding an open store that sold such games during the riots was not without challenges, I became the proud owner of a new and expensive backgammon board, a gift from my dear Cousin Frances.

I've been a devotee ever since.

My backgammon skills took off when I went to prep school several years later and joined the school's backgammon club where I fell in with a fast and louche set of Manhattan-raised kids that made me feel like the proverbial country cousin, down from the farm.  But it was a great learning ground for developing my skills, and I came to appreciate the game (and also play it) with a whole new perspective.  My skills were further honed at Yale where I spent many evenings playing backgammon and drinking and carousing with other like-minded afficianadoes, and where I learned the joys—and dangers—of playing it for money.  Fortunately, I (mostly) came out ahead, which was a good thing since I was on a strict (and meager) allowance while an undergraduate there.

Our backgammon board, closed after a game's play

After college I stopped playing backgammon regularly, until I met Boy and we bought Darlington House, where we took to playing the game as a pleasant way to pass the time during our leisure hours.  We play backgammon regularly during the week, too, at our city club which has an active backgammon culture, and where games tables are scattered about the clubhouse to promote such activity.  We recently treated ourselves to a new and luxurious backgammon set from T. Anthony on Park Avenue, as shown in the pictures here in this story.  It is beyond luxe, all leather and pigskin, and is a decided improvement over the perfectly good but not as aesthetically pleasing set that we got a dozen or so years ago from Scully & Scully (also on Park Avenue), which we now bring out only when we have backgammon tourneys during weekend houseparties at Darlington House.

So, what is it about backgammon that keeps me coming back for more?  It is a game that combines skill and luck, but not so much skill as to be daunting or so much luck as to be dispiriting, and where the tables can turn deliciously and unexpectedly at the roll of the dice.  It is aesthetically satsifying and fun to play, particularly when one is lubricated by a tumbler or two of spirits, and it also has a certain tone—it is a game traditionally favored by and found in the homes and the clubs of the upper classes, as opposed to such baser games as canasta or parchesi.  Not surprisingly, good backgammon boards can be rather expensive.  One feels most comfortable and cosy when playing said game when shod in Belgian shoes or velvet slippers, preferably with red pitchfork-weilding devils or one's monogram embroidered upon them.  In short, it is game that is right up Reggie's alley.

Tell me, what is your house game?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick
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