Friday, February 26, 2010

Reggie's Rules of Social Reciprocity, Part I: Why Reggie Throws A Party

My recent posting of “Reggie’s Rules for Popular Party Guests” was one of the most commented-on pieces I’ve written since I started this blog, and some of my commenters’ feelings ran rather hot on what I had to say.  That’s a good thing, I think, because as I wrote in my inaugural post, one of my goals is to engage you, Dear Reader.  Not for the sport of it, certainly, but because the back and forth can be both interesting and knowledge-enhancing – at least for yours truly.

The Cocktail Party
painted by John Koch, 1956
The New York Historical Society

Two of the commenters on my "Popular Party Guests" posting asked me to share what I believe a host should reasonably expect in return from a guest who has been the beneficiary (sometimes more than once) of a host’s entertainment.  They said, and I paraphrase here, "I have had numerous parties over the years where I have repeatedly invited certain guests who have never invited me to one of their parties, much less had me over for a drink.  Is it reasonable for me to expect that such a guest should return my hospitality in some form?"  This is an excellent subject for discussion, I think, and something that Boy and I have bandied about from time to time, both between ourselves and with our most intimate party-giving friends.  It’s useful to compare notes on these matters.

But before I launch into what I believe are Reggie’s Rules for Social Reciprocity, I think it might be helpful for me first to share what motivates me, as a host, to throw parties and entertain guests.  In other words, Why Reggie Throws A Party:
  1. I’m a “party person” – I like attending parties and I have a good time at them;
  2. I love opening up my house and sharing it with people I like;
  3. I enjoy throwing a party – the organization, the planning, and the execution of it – I have fun doing it;
  4. I like puttin’ on the dawg – bringing out the silver, china, crystal, and linens, and decorating the house;
  5. I take pleasure in giving my friends a good time, feeding them well, providing them with tasty drinks, and making them feel appreciated; in other words, entertaining them;
  6. I am happy seeing my friends enjoying themselves, and being the catalyst for it;
  7. I have the space, stuff, and means to be able to do it, and I enjoy using it and sharing it;
  8. I’m good at it, it comes easily to me; and
  9. It increases the likelihood of my being invited to my guests’ parties in the future.
Did you notice the first and last motivating factors?  I like attending parties, whether my own or other’s, because they are fun!  While throwing a party fulfills my desire to entertain, it also improves the odds that I will be asked to attend parties thrown by those I've entertained, particularly if they've enjoyed attending one of my parties.  Do note the ranking, Dear Reader, as the hope for a return invite sits all the way at the bottom of the list.  But it’s there for a good reason: it’s true!

Remember the old sayings “Give a little, get a little” and “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”?  Well, they apply to entertaining, too.

Don’t get me wrong: a guest is under absolutely no obligation, moral or otherwise, to reciprocate a host’s hospitality if they don’t choose to, particularly if they decide they don’t care for their host all that much.  But, if the guest likes the person who has entertained them, and they wish to maintain a social relationship with them over time, including being asked back to future parties, then the guest must reciprocate the hospitality.  The form of such hospitality is incidental; the obligation is not.

So, to answer my commenters' question: Yes, a host should reasonably expect a well-mannered guest to reciprocate their hospitality at some point, assuming that both host and guest wish to maintain an ongoing social relationship.  Failure to issue a reciprocal invitation, particularly when the guest has been the recipient of the host's hospitality more than once, is a lapse of manners on the part of the guest.  At that point it is then up to the host to decide whether he wishes to maintain the social relationship with said guest by issuing further invitations, out of the goodness of his heart, or to drop them and concentrate his hospitality on other, in some cases more deserving, guests.

But well before a guest is under any obligation to reciprocate their host's hopitality they must first have acknowledged and thanked the host for the hospitality they have enjoyed.  This appears as Rule 14 in "Reggie's Rules for Popular Party Guests" and is also the first rule of "Reggie's Rules for Social Reciprocity."

Rule 1: Within 48 hours of attending a party, guests must contact their hosts and thank them.

Either be telephone, email, or mailed note.  Failure to acknowledge the hospitality with a simple post-party "thank you" can be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as meaning the guest either didn't care for the entertainment or couldn't be bothered to acknowledge his host's generosity.  It is a disincentive for the host to issue a return invitation to such guest when there are other, more gracious guests who charmingly express their appreciation.

Rule 2:  If guests wish to maintain a social relationship with those that have entertained them, then they must reciprocate the hospitality in some form, to the extent that their means and circumstances allow it.

Failure to do so sends a signal to the host, whether intended or not, that the guest does not care to promote an onging social relationship with the host.  It also, and quite reasonably, leads many a host to conclude that there are others who are more worthy of their future hospitality. 

These two rules of social recoprocity are the foundation for building and sustaining a social relationship amongst civilized, social people.  Social relationships are, by definition, two-way streets, as are all true relationships. Without reciprocity of some kind, social (and other) relationships eventually wither and die. What once had the opportunity to blossom into a sustained social relationship instead finds itself lumbering down a one-way street leading to a lonely nowhere.

Of course there are exceptions to these rules, as there are for any.  But they are exceptions, and I shall discuss them in the second part of my examination of this subject, to follow shortly.  I will also share my views about what I believe constitutes appropriate and suitably enjoyable reciprocal entertainment, which I think may surprise one or more of my readers.

Next week: Part II: Myth vs. Reality

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Pompey Chronicles, Part II: Naming the Pug

In Part I of this series, published February 16th, I described how we found our most-beloved pug.  Today's essay discusses how we decided on his name.

Once Boy and I selected the Scamp as the pug we would be bringing home with us in a month’s time, our next task was to name him.  We wanted it to be perfect -- clever, playful, and appropriate for a pug.

Boy's inspiration
photo by Boy Fenwick

We never considered "Pugsly" or "Winston" for a moment, since they are much overused as names for the breed.  We liked "Bamboo," but thought it might be a better name for a second pug, if we were to get one.  After much debate, Boy decided his first choice was “Duncan”-- as in Duncan Phyfe, the Federal-era cabinetmaker (we have some furniture at Darlington that is attributed to his workshop).  I, on the other hand, in what I now recognize as a complete loss of sanity and taste, settled on "Skippy" as my top pick, inspired both by the mischievous, early-20th-century comic strip character of that name and the peanut butter brand found in virtually every American pantry in the 1960s.

My inspiration
photo by Boy Fenwick

We also canvassed others for their opinons.  I come from a family where the women are dog-obsessed, with a tendency to find themselves all too easily owning too many of them, anywhere from two or three at the low end, up to five or six when things get really out of hand.  I am closest to my dog-owning and dog-loving eldest sister, Camilla (known as “Sister”), and I speak with her regularly, usually once a week or so.  Sister has a good sense of humor.  I asked her for her input as to what we should name the pug; she thought about it for a while and suggested “Donut”.  We both got a good laugh out of that, and agreed that it was actually a rather good name for a pug.

Sister's choice
photo by Boy Fenwick

Several days later I shared these three options with my dog-owning mother, a woman of decided views who was still alive at the time but in declining health.  She didn’t approve of any of them.

“None of those names are any good.  They have no dignity!  You need to name your dog with a name that conveys a sense of dignity, and which is a good calling name, too.  I’ll think about it and get back to you with a good, sound name.”  She then hung up the phone.

One of the many books we consulted

A week later I got a message at my office that my mother had called.  This was extremely unusual.  She rarely called me, never more than once or twice a year, and only at home.  I couldn’t remember her ever calling me at work.  So I quickly called her back.

“I’ve got it!” she said excitedly.

“Got what?” I responded.

“His name! The dog’s name!”

“What have you come up with?” I asked.

“Pompey!  That’s his name.  It has dignity, it is appropriate for the breed, and it’s a good calling name, too.”

Pompey the Great in middle age
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
Copenhagen, Denmark

Pompey, also known as “Pompey the Great” as I learned, was the name of a highly revered Roman nobleman and military hero who lived during the reign of Julius Caesar.  Pompey was considered to be one of the greatest military heroes in all of Roman history and was the subject of a biography by Plutarch.  I thought it was a marvelous name, and quite clever, too.

Yet more about pugs

When I told Boy what my mother had come up with he agreed that Pompey was, in fact, an ideal name for our pug.  It had a nice, almost musical, sound to it; it rolled off the tongue easily; and it ended on an up-note.  It also, as my mother said, had dignity -- unlike our other choices.  Furthermore, we thought that naming him Pompey as she suggested would be a fitting tribute to her, and would give her pleasure at a time in her life when there wasn’t all that much left for her to be happy about.  Besides, and not to get too morbid here, we felt that naming him Pompey would be a pleasing link with her after she died, which, as it turns out, she did relatively soon thereafter.

And that’s how Pompey got his name.

Next week: For the Love of Pompey

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reggie Recommends: Little Me

There are a number of books that appear with some frequency on the lifestyle blogs that I follow.  I Married Adventure was a sensation last year for its zebra-print cover; the inadvertently hilarious camp classic My Way of Life by Joan Crawford is quoted regularly; The House In My Head by Dorothy Rogers is often referred to; and Decorating Is Fun! by Dorothy Draper makes an appearance from time to time.

But there is one book I haven't seen on the blogs that I think merits consideration, and which I am recommending to my readers as deserving a place in the pantheon of amusing and clever books of interest to those in the lifestyle blogosphere.  It is Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television Belle Poitrine, as told to Patrick Dennis.

As many readers of this blog well know, Patrick Dennis is best known as the author of Auntie Mame, the hilarious book turned into Broadway play, Hollywood motion picture, Broadway musical, and Hollywood musical.  Little Me may not be as well known, but is well worth adding to your library.  It is readily available through and other used-book websites.

Here's what the book jacket says:

"Now it can be told!  Here, at last, is the penetrating, soul-baring story which audiences the world over have waited for -- the revealing memoirs of that great star of stage, screen and television, lovely Belle Poitrine, as indiscretely confided to Patrick Dennis.
   "Pulling no punches, sparing no trivial detail, this gracious lady tells the dramatic story of her own turbulent life from its humble beginnings in sleepy little Venezuela, Illinois, to absolute stardom and sole ownership of mighty Metronome -- Hollywood's greatest studio.

Queen of the Metronome studio

"Then down, down, down to the very sewer main of depravity and finally, onward and upward to health, wealth, and peace of soul through her own beautiful philosophy of life.  (Skeptics please note Chapter XX, 'I Find God In Southhampton.')
   "In 21 thrilling chapters Miss Poitrine modestly relates her rise in the wonderful world of show business from ten-cent burlesque (America's commedia dell' arte) to the very pinnacle of stardom.

Down and out

"What reader does not tingle at the mere memory of such unforgettable celluloid epics as The Broadway Barcarole of 1930, Papaya's Paradise, Tarzan's Other Wife, Jesus Wept and Caw Girl?  Our beautiful Belle was in them all.
   "Who cannot remember such fabulous stars as Letch Feeley, Helen Highwater, Dudley du Pont, Magdalena Montezuma, Carstairs Bagley, Lyons Maine and Mae Retch?  All of these great names -- and a host of others -- people the Poitrine pages.

Entertaining "Yalies" at the Taft Hotel

"Here, too, are the men in Belle's life -- heroic, ill-starred Fred Poitrine; Cedric, Tenth Earl of Baughdie, who could give a woman anything but love; dashing Letch Feeley, the handsome star who had too much too soon; sinister George Musgrove; distinguished A. K. Frobisher; Morris Buchsbaum, the "starmaker," and an army of dashing beaux.
   "The glamorous settings -- historic Baughdie House, the Court of St. James's, Casa Torquemada in fabled Beverly Hills, New York, Southhampton, Paris, London, Rome, Venice -- all come vividly to life in this truly astonishing book.

Secure at last

"And, of course, it's all the sheerest nonsense ever put to paper -- a deadpan parody of the typical star's typical autobiography written with one part idiocy, one part euphemism, one part malarkey and ten parts sheer ego plus 150 (count 'em) photographs by Cris Alexander.
   "And it may even mark a milestone in publishing history as the book that discouraged all other actresses from writing their memoirs.  At any rate, we hope so."

I highly recommend this immensely entertaining, laugh-out-loud parody, which is a delight from beginning to end.  In addition to being amusingly written, it is chock-full of hilarious photographs of Miss Poitrine in all her glory that add to the pleasure of reading this very funny pseudo-autobiography.

All images taken from Little Me, The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television Belle Poitrine, as told to Patrick Dennis.  Published by E. B. Dutton and Company, Inc., in 1961.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Sister Parish Story

A lot has been written over the years about the formidable Mrs. Henry Parish, II, better known as “Sister," the founder of the impossibly smart, now defunct, Parish-Hadley Associates decorating firm.

Mrs. Parish, as photographed for Architectural Digest

I've always had a passing interest in Mrs. Parish, not only because of her accomplishments and the lore surrounding her, which is considerable, but because she and my eldest sister Camilla both share the same nickname of "Sister."  As a small child my brother Frecky had a hard time pronouncing "Camilla" and instead called her the more easily pronounced "Sister," which stuck -- at least within our immediate family.  Outside the family Camilla is universally known by her given name, thank you very much.

The only interaction I had with Mrs. Parish occurred many years ago (well, how could it not?) one evening in Anne Rosenzweig's "Arcadia," an intimate restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan considered at the time to be a jewel of culinary and decorative pleasure.  I was there that night as the guest of my dear friend George Pinckney, a debonair southerner, who generously took me there to celebrate my birthday, so this was a special treat and not a throw away, happenstance occurrence.

During dinner I had the eerie sensation that someone was talking about me, so I turned around to scan the half-empty room (it was July), and caught the gimlet eye of "Sister" Parish who was sitting in a banquette with of all people, "Slim" Lady Keith.  Given that I caught her with her mouth open, obviously making a derogatory comment about me or my companion, or the both of us, her mouth went slack as she aborted what she was saying.  While I had never met Mrs. Parish, I had in fact only recently met Lady Keith when invited to her apartment one afternoon for "tea" (that was what it was billed as -- the only thing tea-like was the color of the brown liquor served).

With that as fortification, I got up from my table and walked over to theirs.  Both looked up at me coolly but somewhat apprehensively as I approached them, a glimmer of "I've been caught, now what?" on their faces.  When I arrived I addressed Lady Keith, and reminded her that I had enjoyed spending an afternoon as her guest and what a lovely time I had and how pleased I was to see her this evening and hoped she was well?  She, with some relief, pretended to remember (she did a credible job of it, I recall) and turned and introduced me to her dining companion.

I smiled as our eyes met and said that it was a pleasure to meet the venerated Mrs. Parish, particularly on an evening such as this, my birthday, and how lucky I was to be my friend's guest in celebration of my milestone, for these were strange and exotic environs for a lad such as I to find myself in, and I hoped that her evening would provide her with but a fraction of the pleasure mine was giving me?

She looked at me with a mixture of hauteur and scorn, obviously putting on a show, and responded with a "Harumph!" and a dismissive "Yes, you may go now."  This prompted me to burst out laughing at her rudeness, which clearly unnerved her, and I turned and walked back to my table, smiling with the self-satisfied pleasure that I had, in fact, caught and then busted that tough old turkey.


For more on Lady Keith, see my December 20th posting "My Slim Keith Story"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Pompey Chronicles, Part I: The Pursuit of the Pug

In honor of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, taking place February 15-16 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, I am posting the first of a four-part series "The Pompey Chronicles".  For those of you who haven't been following this blog, Pompey is the name of our most-adored pug dog.  He is the subject of this series, which I shall be posting over the next several weeks.  I hope you like it.

Shortly after Boy and I acquired Darlington House we found ourselves longing to own a dog.  While it was acknowledged that I could have only limited responsibilities in raising such a charge, given my commitments at the Investment Bank, Boy had recently left the corporate world and was in a position to spend time raising a puppy.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor and pugs, 1954
photographer unknown

I grew up in a house where the standard poodle was the house dog.  Not the hairdo ones you see on television at the shows, all pompoms, shaved skin, and exposed genitalia.  Our poodles had what is known as a “kennel cut”, a cut akin to the “wash-and-wear” or “drip-dry” clothes of the 1960s whose chief attraction was their ease of maintenance.  I liked the poodles that I lived with as a boy well enough, they were smart and gay, but I never really cottoned on to them as my breed of choice.  Boy grew up with cocker spaniels and had the same regard for that breed as I do for poodles.  Nice enough, but what other options were out there for us?

Princess Ekaterina Golitsyna and Pug
painted by Louis Michel van Loo, 1759
Pushkin Museum, Moscow

So we cast our nets about to see what kind of dog we wanted.  We talked about it with friends and family and read books that matched dog and owners’ temperaments, and rapidly narrowed our search to a few breeds.  Our dog needed to be compact in size, since it would travel with us by car to and from Darlington House and Manhattan each weekend; it shouldn’t require a lot of exercise; and it shouldn’t be a breed that was engineered for a profession that required endless digging, fetching, or herding.  While Boy thought a soft-coated Wheaton would be ideal, I preferred a pug.

Family group with Queen Victoria and one of her pugs,
Balmoral, 1887; photographer unknown
The Royal Collection Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

I had developed a fondness for pugs over the years.  Not only did I like the way they look – compact in size, but cobby and solidly built – but I was also attracted to their playful personalities.  Their close association with English and European royal houses was another plus.  Besides, they were originally bred to be companion dogs, so they need almost no exercise and are hardwired to want to be with their masters at all times, ideally snuggled up next to them or – even better yet – in their laps.

Self Portrait: The Painter and His Pug
painted by William Hogarth, 1745
National Portrait Gallery, London

I thought it best to take matters in my own hands and started the search to find a pug.  It was in the nascent days of the Internet, but I started my search there and came across the website of the Pug Club of Greater New York, Inc.,  Scrolling through that site I came across the name and telephone number of the club’s secretary.  I called the number one day and was surprised when a woman answered the phone who admitted to being that official.

Weenie and Eloise, as drawn by Hilary Knight
for Kay Thompson's Eloise, published by Simon and Schuster

After I introduced myself to her I said that I had found her name on the club’s site and was calling her because I was interested in acquiring a pug.  "Do you have any recommendations?" I asked.  She responded, “Well good luck.  None of the girls will have anything to do with any of the boys so no one’s having a litter that I know of.”  After I persisted, she suggested that I call a breeder in Connecticut who might know of a litter.  I did so, and after several false starts located a breeder in northern Massachusetts where they had a litter with three male puppies that had not yet been spoken for.

Boy holding the tiny four-week-old "Scamp"
photo by Reggie Darling

Boy and I drove up that weekend to see the puppies.  They were very young, only around four weeks old, and as tiny as kittens.  Even at that tender age they had distinct characters.  The first was handsome and regal, larger than the other two; we called him the Lion.  The second was even more handsome, beautiful really, but just kind of sat there; we called him the Ken Doll.  The third was smaller than the rest, about three-fifths scale, and had a bubbly, curious demeanor; we called him the Scamp.  Needless to say, Boy bonded with the Scamp, so the Scamp was the one we chose.  Not quite as perfectly formed as his brothers, who the breeder described as having serious show-dog champion potential, the Scamp was considered to be a fine pet-quality dog. The breeder was happy for us to have him once he reached eight weeks, so long as we promised never to breed him.

George Selwyn and Pug
painted by Joshua Reynolds, 1766
Tate Gallery, London

And that’s how our most-beloved pug came into our lives.

Next week: Naming the Pug

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dinner and a Show at the Café Carlyle

After our miserable experience attending A Little Night Music on Broadway, about which I wrote in “The Theatuh, the Theatuh . . .” and posted January 12th, I vowed to be more selective in the entertainment venues I frequent. A number of the readers who commented on that post suggested that I consider attending performances at the Metropolitan Opera or Carnegie Hall, where the experience can be counted on as being far more pleasant than the one I had at the Walter Kerr Theater where my Broadway night was, in my view, more akin to being assaulted on a crowded carnival midway than what I expected of a legitimate theater on the Great White Way.

The entry to the Carlyle Hotel, photo courtesy of same

While I plan on checking out the city’s more refined venues, when it comes to seeking out entertainment I am, at heart, more a fan of the American Songbook than of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Don’t misunderstand me: I adore classical music (or, as some say, “serious music”), and my radio dial is always tuned to the classical stations in both the city and the country. But when it comes to attending a live performance my tastes run to the more quotidian – I would much rather attend an evening of Dawn Upshaw singing popular standards than of her performing classical song cycles (which I have, by the way, and memorably so).

When I moved to New York after college I fell in with a rather louche set that would frequently wind up an evening at some of the city’s seedier piano bars, drunkenly shouting along to songs, much to the exasperation of the put-upon songster/piano players and other patrons. When such evenings became less than appealing to me (almost immediately) I pulled back, not just from the piano bars, but also from that crowd, since most of them appeared to be on a bullet train to a stint in rehab, and I didn’t want to join them there. But I quickly learned that what I liked about performances in such intimate spaces was entirely out of my budget when transferred to the city’s more upscale rooms, such as the Algonquin’s Oak Room or the Café Carlyle. The cost of dinner and a show at one of these uptown hotels was punishing on my junior banker’s income, and, besides, the patrons in such places were generally at least as old as my parents, if not my grandparents. It was all rather too grownup for my age or wallet. Fortunately I soon found other, more affordable and age-appropriate pursuits . . . but that’s a subject for another post.

This album got a lot of play in my house growing up

Anyway, fast-forward to this past October when Boy and I found ourselves at the Café Carlyle, where we met up with friends for dinner and a show featuring the very talented husband-and-wife team of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey. I had not been to the Café Carlyle for several decades, when I was last taken there to see the legendary Bobby Short, but I decided to book a table there when I learned that the Pizzarelli/Molaskeys would be settled in for a run of performances ahead of the holidays. I am a big fan of their radio show, “Radio Deluxe,” broadcast on public radio stations, supposedly from their living room “high atop Lexington Avenue on the fashionable Upper East Side.” In the show they play an eclectic mix of recordings of American standards (and not-so-standards), interspersed with clever patter, and feature interesting guests drawn from the world of music and entertainment. The couple is immensely talented and amusing (they describe themselves as “the von Trapps on martinis”), and I make a point of listening to “Radio Deluxe” whenever I am at Darlington on Saturday afternoons.

John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey perform at the Cafe Carlyle
photo by Julieta Cervantes of the New York Times

When I learned they would be appearing in a run at the Café Carlyle I immediately decided to book a table, and roped several like-minded friends into joining us. We all had a lovely time that evening, and the Pizzarelli/Molaskeys put on a swinging, highly entertaining show. While an evening at the Café Carlyle doesn’t come cheaply (the Carlyle is, after all, one of the most expensive hotels in the world), the all-in cost per person for dinner, drinks, and the cover to see the show came in at less than the per-ticket price Boy and I subsequently paid to see A Little Night Music. There is absolutely no contest in my mind as to which was the better value.

Recently I learned that the very talented Christine Ebersole, star of Broadway, television, motion pictures, and the long-playing LP, was scheduled for a run at the Café Carlyle this February, so I immediately grabbed the phone and booked a table. Several years ago we were enchanted by Ms. Ebersole’s performance in the Broadway musical Grey Gardens, where she brought down the house (and won her second Tony) with her mesmerizing performance as both Big and Little Edie Beale. The New York Times gave her show at the Café a glowing review, describing her as “a goddess formed…in screwball heaven.”

We arrived at the Café Carlyle this past Thursday looking forward to another wonderful evening in its comfortable, swank room, and were welcomed by its gracious manager, Tony Skrelja, who led us to a table just a few feet from the stage. One of the pleasures of the Café, aside from its intimacy (it seats only 70 for dinner), is walls decorated with lovely murals of pretty girls, musicians, and harlequins painted in high Gigi-style (with more than a smattering of Picasso) in the late 1940s by the French artist Andre Vertes. The murals have recently been restored and cleaned and are attractively up-lighted so that the room has a flattering glow. The small lamp-shade-covered candles on each table help, too. Everyone looks marvelous under these conditions!

Photo courtsey of the Carlyle Hotel

One of the sideways pleasure of going someplace like the Café Carlyle is seeing who else is there. That night, our counterparts ran the gamut from elderly couples, who barely spoke to one other, to young couples with stars in their eyes; there were several tables of giddy bachelors having a lovely time, and there was a smattering of show-people of a “certain age” (Regis and Joy Philbin were at one table and Leslie Uggams and her husband at another). Plus there were the various types one sees in expensive hotels the world over: designer-label-smothered Russians; conservatively dressed Asians; and expensively-attired, shady looking people of indeterminate origin. The Café has a dress code (men must wear jackets), and everyone was dressed up for a swell night out.

Detail of the Vertes murals, image courtesy of the Carlyle Hotel

Ms. Ebersole’s performance that evening was a delight. She is a lovely woman of delicate beauty. She wore a retro—and elegant—taffeta and velvet cocktail dress, and her luxuriant blonde mane was pulled up, revealing sparkling diamond chandelier earrings. She is a skilled vocal chameleon with a phenomenal range and pitch-perfect voice. She trilled, she wailed, she growled, she moaned, she was happy, she was sad – in short, she was glorious! She was backed by a marvelous quartet led by John Oddo, that supported her with finesse. In between songs she shared amusing anecdotes, all delivered with a charming self-deprecating sense of humor, about life in show business and at home in suburban Maplewood, New Jersey, where she lives with three rambunctious teenagers and a loving husband. The room adored her and demanded she hit the stage for an encore, and she was more than happy to oblige. After the show I introduced myself to Ms. Ebersole and told her how much I enjoyed her performance. She couldn’t have been nicer.

A view towards the bar, featuring the recent addition of Bobby Short to the murals
Photo courtesy of the Carlyle Hotel

So here I am, all these years later, back again at the Café Carlyle. And yes, I am old enough to be the father of that boy who was scared away, way back when. But I can tell you, it’s a lot of fun to go there now and comfortably fit in with the place and the crowd. Now that I think of it, I've had such a grand time my last two visits at the Café Carlyle that I just might become something of a regular there – that is, if I haven’t started to become one already . . .

Christine Ebersole will be appearing nightly at the Café Carlyle through February 20th. More can be found out about her on her website:

More can be found out about John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey at their websites:, and

The Café Carlyle
The Carlyle Hotel
Madison Avenue at 76th Street
New York, New York
(212) 744-1600

Please note: Reggie has received nothing from the Cafe Carlyle in return for this review. He is sharing it with his readers solely out of the kindness of his heart, and expects nothing in return for it, except his readers' pleasure.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blinded, Shuttered, and Green

Darlington House was built in the early 19th century before the advent of electric lighting, HVAC systems, indoor plumbing, screens or storm windows, and assorted other modern conveniences that today most of us take for granted.  The house had no such conveniences for more than a century until they were first installed in 1931, when the Proctors bought it.  One of the pleasures we have had as owners (stewards, really) of the house has been learning how its occupants lived before there were such conveniences.  We have studied how they kept warm during the winter and cool in the summer, lighted their rooms, bathed, laundered, and made it all work.  It has been fascinating to understand how people of the early 19th century coped with their domestic challenges and to comprehend the genius with which they did so, considering the obstacles they faced.

Broadway, New York City
Watercolor attributed to Nicolino Calyo, 1840-1844
Museum of the City of New York

One of the best sources I know for learning about how people in pre-industrial America faced domestic life is the absorbing, well-written, and profusely illustrated book At Home: The American Family 1750-1870 by Elizabeth Donaghy Garrett.  I have spent many hours pouring over its 304 information-packed pages, and I encourage anyone who is interested in American domestic material culture to add it to their library.  Reading At Home helps put in perspective how fortunate we are to live in today's world of today's conveniences, no longer hostage to the time- and effort-consuming tasks of our forebears.

One of the things that repeatedly strikes me about how pre-industrial Americans coped with their day-to-day lives is that many of their solutions fit squarely within today's definition of living "green."  They, of course, had miniscule carbon footprints compared with ours today, despite the fact that they burned wood, and later coal, as their primary fuel.  They disposed of nothing unless it was irreparably broken or worn out, re-using and re-purposing as much as possible.  They were thrifty, which was considered a virtue.  But what really impresses me is the cleverness with which they maximized the efficiency of the solutions to their domestic challenges.

South Parlor of Abraham Russell, New Bedford, Massachusetts
Watercolor by Joseph Shoemaker Russell, 1848
Old Dartmouth Historical Society, New Bedford

It was not until I came to inhabit Darlington that I fully appreciated the ingenuity and versatility of venetian blinds and exterior shutters.  I had lived with venetian blinds over the years, and liked them, but it was only after we installed them in our dining room at Darlington that I came to comprehend what a technological marvel they must have been when introduced (and that they remain today).  I always appreciated that exterior shutters added to the visual attractiveness of many houses, but I did not at all understand that they are, in fact, a superb solution to the problems of light control, security, and ventilation when used for their original purpose (and when they are operable, as opposed to screw-on).

View from the House of Henry Briscoe Thomas
Unknown artist, c. 1841
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

While the windows in Darlington's dining room did not have blinds when we bought the house, it was clear that the window surrounds in the room were built to accommodate venetian blinds, a view confirmed by the architectural historian whom we have worked with since we began restoring the house.  We reinstated blinds in the dining room's windows, and ordered historically accurate, period-appropriate wooden ones from Devenco, a firm that specializes in custom-made blinds (plus interior and exterior shutters) for historic buildings.  They work perfectly, are handsome, and are pleasing to use.

Mrs. A. W. Smith's Parlor, Broad and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia
Watercolor by Joseph Shoemaker Russell, 1853
Private collection

Darlington was built with exterior, operable slatted shutters at its windows (known in the era as "Venetian" shutters), which were remarkably still hanging when we bought the house, almost 180 years after it was built.  However, the shutters were decaying and degraded, and we had to replace them.  We had them reproduced, line for line, and had them re-hung with the original wrought-iron hardware that I removed from the original shutters and reconditioned (a job that took me the better part of one winter's weekends to complete).  The "new-old" shutters operate smoothly, and we use them as they were originally intended: to regulate light and for security.  We love the way they look, and we appreciate them for being such efficient and elegant pieces of machinery.  They are painted, as are the interior blinds in the dining room, in a handsome grass-green color taken from period paintings of buildings built in America in the early part of the 19th-century.  Boy developed the color and had it custom-mixed in Benjamin Moore paint.

Here's what Ms. Garrett writes in At Home about shutters:

"First advertised in American newspapers in the mid-1700s, slatted shutters had become universal by the mid-1800s, for they protected household furnishings from the effect of sunlight; they discouraged the free entry of flies and mosquitoes; they screened out the dust and sand that blew about the streets; they enhanced privacy; and they promoted summer comfort."

We use our shutters at Darlington House.  During the summer we often close them for days at a time, both to reduce our energy consumption and also because the light that comes through the slats is wonderfully pleasant; I'm convinced that the rooms even appear cooler.  During storms we often close all of the shutters on the house to protect the windows from blowing debris, and we also close them when we are away for weeks at a time.  I love the way the house looks with all of its shutters closed, the place all battened down.  It is curious how many comments we get from neighbors (and strangers, for that matter), as many of them have never seen a house whose shutters are used as they were intended.

Reggie closing a shutter at Darlington House

Moving inside the house, into the dining room, here is a photo montage of a number of the arrangements available when windows are dressed with venetian blinds and exterior shutters:

Venetian blinds are a highly efficient means of controlling light and privacy in one's rooms.  Just as we use our shutters, we also use our blinds to regulate light in our dining room, and also for effect.  Unlike roller blinds, they allow one to see out the window when drawn, so it is possible to have full privacy but still have a sense of the outdoors.  There are many options for how one configures the blinds, depending on how much privacy or light is desired.  And on top of that, they are exceedingly handsome, neat, and plain.

Watercolors and drawings from At Home: The American Family 1750-1870, by Elizabeth Donaghy Garrett, Henry N. Abrams publisher 1990;
All photographs by Boy Fenwick
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