Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Gulian Crommelin Verplanck, clubman, congressman, man of letters -- photo by Matthew Brady.

To the Century Club for a book launch party for L.J. Davis’ A Meaningful Life last night. Wasn’t sure I’d get past the door, being pretty un-clubbable.... This area of Midtown Inner Borough is crazy clubby, with Penn, Princeton, Harvard, and the triple galleon-fronted New York Yacht Club, among others, within a dense couple of blocks of each other. No wonder I’m hardly ever in those savage precincts. The Century is housed in a McKim, Mead & White building, nicely done with Roman brick on the second floor and above, a simple mosaic floor on the landing giving a good first impression. Stanford White was one of the illustrious member before Henry K. Thaw whacked him.

In a rousing show of good sportsmanship, and the goad of a lawsuit, the Centurians first let women become members in 1989. (1989? Yes, 1989. ) Most of the space was off limits to non-members, although a mob-suited Frenchman who seemed to be captaining the waiters gave personal tours to a couple of women who were both sure he had some etchings in his garret he want to show them. There is rumored to be some real art on the walls (Asher Durand and Winslow Homer were members, and the place was an important locus of the Hudson River school), but I only saw a couple of portraits. The party was held in a room decorated with the uninspiring work of 20th century fellows who were clearly members. Getting a glass of plonk, my eyes were struck by a heavily medaled portrait of the Shah of Iran from 1967. The freakin’ Shah of Iran! King of Kings and Light of the Aryans (not those Aryans), Reigner of Terror, and son of a bitch (but, as they used to say, “our son of a bitch”). You just don’t run into portraits of ol’ Reza much anymore. I’m sort of surprised the picture’s not kept hidden away in the attic. I was later told that he was hanging, so to speak, next to George Plimpton’s father, who had a much larger portrait. Meanwhile, a recumbent nude, portrait of the artist’s wife, which I found myself in front of for most of the night through no plan of my own, elicited this from a passerby, “that looks like a Modigliani pose, but that’s definitely no Modigliani.”

I talked to a mezzo soprano and a translator. I met some of the people responsible for New York Review Books, an endlessly fascinating series. I said "no thank you" to mini pigs-in-blankets many times to old school waiters uniformly uniformed and bristling with eyebrows. I found more fans of bees. I said thank you to the editor who invited me.

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