Tuesday, February 18, 2014. It was a sunny day, yesterday in New York. Cold, but … it’s winter. Hard getting around in places, but it was a national holiday and so many offices were closed, as well as schools, so it was quieter. Another snowstorm is predicted at the time of this writing (midnight).
People are complaining about it all the time now. They’ve had enough. I, who was looking forward to lots of snow, and loved it when it came, have joined the aforementioned.
Well, it’s another month until it’s official Spring, and we may not see a speck of it until then (or after). Although now I’m concentrating on the light. On December 21, it was dark at 4:45 PM. Now it’s light until almost six and in a little more than three weeks it’s Daylight Savings Time!! Looking forward.
New York Fashion Week has come and gone (remember?) and now the social calendar is about to come to life again. One of the annual events now on the calendar is the PEN American Center Authors’ Evenings which are occurring in a number of private homes through March 11th. I counted a total of 32 of these dinners on the schedule.
It’s a literary evening in that authors are guests of honor, and they talk about his or her work with the guests. The list of authors is often distinguished and widely varied from Jonathan Ames and Daniel Bergner’s “You Were Never Really Here; What Do Women Want?” to “Lawrence In Arabia” by Scott Anderson to Billy Collins’ “Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems” toLinda Fairstein’s latest mystery “Death Angel,” to Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court” to James Salter’s“All That Is” and two dozen more.
It was also a fundraising event for PEN American Center The ticket can run into the four figures. You get dinner, a cocktail reception and the author talking (and eventually everybody talking) about the book or the story or the incident or the inspiration. They can be very lively evenings depending on the subject and the emotional response to it. Revenue from the evenings supports PEN’s mission to defend free expression around the world and to celebrate the literary achievements such freedoms make possible.
Last Wednesday night, for example, Jackie and Rod Drake and Jeanette Watson and Alex Sanger co-hosted an evening billed as “an Intimate Discussion on the American Experience” with authors Deborah Solomonwho recently published a biography of artist Norman Rockwell, “American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell”; and Elizabeth Strout, author of “The Burgess Boys,” the story of a New England family split by tragedy and the competing values of money, family, success, and home. Cocktails and conversation (including everybody) with a distinguished art critic/biographer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.
Last night I attended a dinner for twenty-four, given by Diahn and Tom McGrath including Betty Medsger, author of the recently published “The Burglary; the Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI.” The story of the book broke on the front page of the New York Times the first week in January. The burglary was a break-in of an FBI office in Media (talk about ironies), Pennsylvania that occurred on March 8, 1971. It was a turbulent time in America because of the growing public opposition to the Viet Nam War.
The War was on everyone’s mind, no matter their age, and the streets and the campuses across the country experienced thousands of protests against. In Philadelphia, it was concluded by a group of people against the war that the FBI was involved in more than investigating crimes, but also spying on people they suspected of opposing government policy. Their targets ranged from the Ku Klux Klan to the Black Panthers and a lot of people in between. This group of individuals in Philadelphia decided to have a look at the FBI’s activities from inside their files.
They broke into the agency’s little office in Media, PA on the night of a big fight betweenMuhammad Ali and Joe Frazier – a brutal 15 rounder watched by millions of people all over America and the rest of the world. The burglars thought no one would be paying attention to anything else that night. They were right. The break had all the earmarks of a very amateur affair: a lock pick and crowbar and they were soon in the files, and removing all of them.
The break-in was barely publicized. It was not revealed that the burglars came away with all kinds of secrets about spying and dirty tricks operations against a lot of Americans including African-Americans as a group.
The burglars, after making their discoveries, sent the stolen files to the The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and to two members of Congress, Sen. George McGovern and Rep. Parren Mitchell.The LA Times kept it from the reporter to whom it was sent (Jack Nelson, a frequent critic of the Viet Nam War and the government’s policies). A recipients, except the Washington Post, gave the files to the FBI. The reporter who received the information at the Washington Post was the author we met last night at the McGraths’, Betty Medsger. Katherine Graham, the paper’s publisher decided to go with the material and publish the files. Medsger told us how she got the story, as a young journalist at the Washington Post, receiving the materials and the public outcry at the time — demands that the FBI be investigated, and how the book got to be written after meeting two of the eight burglars many years later.
It’s an extraordinary story a quiet spoken mystery thriller, about the America that we grew up on. Almost two generations have been born since the war ended. They have no idea of the turbulence we were living in. It was a decade of revolution, of the so-called Liberations, of the Civil Rights Movement, of hippiedom, the drug culture, the rock music culture and Watergate — which brought down a Presidency.
David Frost conducted an exclusive hour interview with Richard Nixon after he resigned the Presidency. At the end of the interview, he asked Mr. Nixon what he believed was the real cause of the whole Watergate affair of surveillance and break-ins and government lying, etc. Mr. Nixon replied: “Viet Nam.” He defined it succinctly with those words, as well as acknowledging the dilemma his country was in.
Betty Medsger’s “The Burglary” is about those Americans who love and loved their country at that time, and how they committed themselves to its democratic ideals. Those burglars went public with their identities and their story forty years later.
After dinner, at table Tom McGrath asked her if she’d tell us how it all came about. And as it often is at the McGrath’s table, conversation ensued across and the length of the table. It’s more than just a dinner, or a literary evening: it’s everyone getting outside themselves into the world we are living in, and it’s very stimulating, exciting, and even controversial at times. A great evening.
PEN American Center is an association of 3,500 American writers working to bring down barriers to free expression worldwide. They now have associates in 78 countries working to help writers who are under attack or imprisoned for their works that annoy the powers that be.
Meanwhile, on a much lighter note in a kind of paradise (that also has not been overlooked in the past by trials and turbulence of human society), last Saturday night at the Round Hill Club, Montego Bay, Jamaica, they held their annual Sugar Cane Ball, a black tie affair that brought visitors (and frequent residents) from all over the world.
Ralph, Ricky, Lauren and David, Dylan and Paul, Andrew Lauren arrived at Round Hill in Montego Bay, Jamaica only minutes before the black tie Ball at the famous resort. The weather in New York, and a broken fuel line on Ralph’s plane caused the delay.
But that night under a big Caribbean moon, on the beach at Round Hill, several hundred dined on lobster, chicken, chocolate dessert and champagne at this year’s Black and White-themed Mask Ball after Truman Capote’s famous Ball at The Plaza Hotel in New York in 1966.
More than $250,000 was raised for the Hanover Charities. Among the guests and villa owners from all over the world were: HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who was staying with Caroline St. George at her villa; Prince Michael’s cousin, Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia; Lord Charles Spencer Churchill and Sarah Goodbody. Ricky and Thomas Lloyd from Washington, D.C. (he is Bunny Mellon’s grandson); Nazee and Roddy Klotz (Partner of Brown Brothers Harriman in New York, and Chairman of Round Hill); Katrin Casserly, Daisy Soros, Jennifer Flanagan; Kay Pick from Beverly Hills; Jim Mitchell; Nan Brenninkmeyer; Nicole Dormeuill; Countess Gabrielle Hahn, from Germany, Philip Geier, Fahad, Azima, Adam and Mahnaz Bartos, Mary Jane and Glenn Creamer from Newport, Jamaican Ambassador, Brenda La Grange Johnson, Alexis Gregory from New York;Nigel Pemberton; Andrew Gordon; Julie and Hans Utsch; Edward and Patricia Falkenberg; Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney; Ned Brown; US Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzer and her husband Bryan Trauber; Ashley Leeds-Harland, Melissa Matheson, former wife of Harrison Ford; Michele Rollins; and Round Hill Vice Chairman, Vanessa Noel.