Moveable feast

Contentville's pseudonymous book-party columnist gives the inside dish on book parties for Edmund White's "Loss Within Loss," Amitav Ghosh's "The Glass Palace," Danny Moynihan's "Boogie-Woogie," and a reading by Emmanuel Carrhre, author of the French best-seller "The Adversary."

By Katharine Garden
Published April 2, 2001 10:53PM (EDT)

"Hello," the young man said, introducing himself. He was handsome, guilelessly pleasant, fresh-faced and polite. He looked kind of like Tommy Bradford -- Willie Aames's character from "Eight is Enough" -- just back from climbing Mount Rainier. "I was a hustler," he told me, and flashed a grin as if he'd just revealed a taste for snowboarding. His name was Mack Friedman, and he said he was at work on a book called "Strapped for Cash," about American hustler culture. He had come to the party from Pittsburgh, where he is a Community Prevention Specialist for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. Mack formed part of the dizzying crush of attractive, accomplished men who gathered at John Berendt's faultless Upper West Side townhouse on February 1 to celebrate the publication of "Loss Within Loss," a book of essays commemorating filmmakers, architects, composers, artists, writer, and others who have died of AIDS -- men who, as Edmund White writes in the book's first essay, "go on existing in a medium undefined by time."

Up and down five staircases, scores of guests dallied, mixing with the authors of the book's essays: Brad Gooch (on filmmaker Howard Brookner), J.D. McClatchy (on poet James Merrill), Berendt (on landscape architect Bruce Kelly, creator of Central Park's "Strawberry Fields"), White (who edited the collection), and many others, including University of Wisconsin Press editor Raphael Kadushin (who acquired the book) and the bubbly young "Hornito" author Mike Albo, who soon drew a rapt klatsch around him. For the most part, the men self-denyingly resisted the no-cost-spared hors d'oeuvres, leaving the few women present, such as Charlotte Abbott from Publishers Weekly, a canapi bonanza -- potato-dill blini with sour cream and caviar, veal dumplings, seared tuna on basil toasts and tortilla-wrapped tips of beef satay.

The evening's de rigueur entertainment was a hajj to Berendt's rooftop -- past minimalist bedrooms with slate-gray walls and pots of narcissi, a terrace, red-glazed-wood-paneled bathrooms, another terrac, and a well-equipped exercise room, all the way to an I.M. Pei-like atrium, where glass panes shielded a potted orange tree and where doors opened onto still another terrace. At the front of the terrace, the haunting statue from Berendt's best-seller, "Midnight in the Garden of Good Evil," held court, lit by a votive candle. En route, guests paused to compliment designer Robert Beard (who orchestrated the house's design), and to make introductions. "I'm an art dealer," a fortyish man in a daring, citron-colored jacket told a younger man who looked like an extra from "Baywatch." "I'm an artist!" the younger man declared, delighted. Next to the statue, serious-looking television and documentary people milled: a producer from "The Today Show" who had taught film to one of the men in the book who died and a film crew from the sporadically appearing Channel Thirteen program "In the Life." The mood of the party was of tribute, celebration, and brotherhood -- proof that Berendt's reflection on Bruce Kelly, which appears in "Loss Within Loss" (and which cites a plaque on a bench near "Strawberry Fields"), applies to many others as well: "If you seek his work, look around you."

The always-engaging, understated,and agreeable Amitav Ghosh was celebrated in early February for his new book, "The Glass Palace," in the Chelsea home of his agent Barney Karpfinger. It was an amiable evening, thrown not for buzz, but simply to mark the release of what everyone held to be an excellent book, Ghosh's fourth. Good feeling for Ghosh rippled through the crowd -- an eclectic, distinguished bunch with as many passports among them as the typical M15 bus at 42nd Street and 1st Avenue. As they nibbled miniature latkes, endive fronds laden with chopped beets and curried chicken satay, guests discussed Ghosh's inventiveness (he set "Glass Palace," a sprawling saga, in a fictitious India). Shashi Tharoor, who currently runs, on an interim basis, the United Nations Department of Public Information and is the author of "India: From Midnight to the Millennium," discussed his upcoming novel "Riot," which Ghosh read before it went to the presses, and chatted as well with writer Geoffrey O'Brien and Abigail Asher, a partner in Guggenheim Asher Associates, an art advisory business. The New York Times's Somini Sengupta appeared as well, down from Albany, and the Asia Society's Linden Chubin discussed the U.S. visit of Chinese Nobelist Gao Xingjian. Deborah Baker, Ghosh's wife and author of "In Extremis," the recent much-praised biography of the poet Laura Riding, mingled among the well-wishers.

The reading of "The Adversary," which was held in late February on the night of the real blizzard (i.e. not the fake blizzard in March), turned out to be a decorous, earnest, Middlebury College-style affair. The Housing Works Cafi always feels like it could be a few hundred miles north -- a cozy coffee house-library in some small New England college town -- and on February 22, with the wind wailing and earnest Francophiles pushing through the doors, their snow-crusted cartables (well, Jansports) slung over their shoulders, the diorama effect was total. Everyone sat, quiet and attentive in little chairs, listening respectfully and sipping lattes as the author Emmanuel Carrhre, (dark, serious, a natural cini-smolderer) explained how his book "The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception" (Metropolitan Books) had come about, and read a longish selection in subtly French-roasted English.

The book arose from a gruesome news story -- a French doctor who had been living a double life for two decades murdered his entire family, then set his house on fire to hide the evidence. Much of the book's drama revolves around how badly the crime frightened Carrhre's young children.

The book has taken France by storm and was just the thing to hold an audience's attention on a dark and snow-stormy night. Afterwards, Alan Furst, the popular spy novelist, looking puckish and professorial, read from his sultry new history-spiced thriller "Kingdom of Shadows" (Random House), set in pre-WWII Hungary and Paris. Before reading an excerpt, he humorously explained the genesis of his title.

Furst loves crossword puzzles, particularly the British cryptic-puzzles with clues that go something like: "Mad goat reaching Independence, gives do (4,5)," and the answer is "Toga Party" and nobody knows why. A while ago, he began to do the London Times puzzle every day, which appears in our authentic homegrown publication, The New York Post. During his daily reading, Furst's eyes began to drift over to the tarot column, and he became obsessed with the evil character ascribed to the King of Swords. His new book grew out of his imagination of this dark figure's nefarious drives and where they might lead him and others. When he called his agent to suggest the title King of Swords, his agent responded, "Oh god, not the tarot..."

There's only one thing to say about a party like the one Larry Gagosian, Nell Campbell and Thomas Dunne threw at the Gagosian Gallery at the tail end of February for "Boogie-Woogie," Brit artist Danny Moynihan's hilarious satire of the New York art scene: Zowie! Against the cheerily hideous backdrop of David Salle's wall-sized pastoral canvases -- a Day-Glo streamside tableau painted Thousand Island orange and pickle-relish green -- the beautiful people looked only more beautiful (not that they needed a foil).

New mother and Victoria's Secret model Frederique van der Wal, clad in a snug, zebra-patterned knitted jacket, attracted flashbulbs as she clustered with a bevy of ceiling-scraping blondes like Amy Sacco -- owner of Lot 61 -- who threw the after-party, while photographers dislocated their shoulders charging at Irina Pantaeva and Anh Duong. A dozen or so male guests seemed to have thought they were coming to a Jude Law lookalike contest, which invigorated the gathering no end. But several others contributed their own distinctive whiff of ilan, among them Jean-Marc Houmard, co-doyen of hip restaurants Indochine and Bond Street; the poet John Ashbery; and art-world fixture Anthony Haden-Guest. Among the hot young artists who gathered to toast "Boogie-Woogie" were the broodingly handsome Chilean artist Sebastian Gross-Ossa, who has a show opening the Williamsburg, Brooklyn gallery Farrell/Pollack last month, and the rosy-cheeked and Kewpie-coiffed Sean Mellyn -- fresh from the snowbound new art Armory show at Piers 88 and 90, and recently returned from New Mexico. He does indeed look like somebody who would make the teasing, kiddie-porn sight-gag art he is infamous for. Mellyn chatted with his friend Rachel Feinstein, a luscious, translucent-complected artist who has known Moynihan since she was at Columbia University and he was an artist in Manhattan. She looks as if Man Ray should have snapped her on a Cunard voyage. Time's passage being irrevocable and all that, she instead makes do with occasional flattering portraits in Vogue. Speaking of which, Vogue-connected girl-about-town Plum Sykes percolated nearby, as did hostess Nell Campbell, who held up the other end of the Man Ray glam standard as she mingled. To add to the mix, a lively barmaid kept spirits high by serving wine wearing pigtails and fuchsia-feathered parakeet tap pants.

Unusual for a book party, only a few pockets of traditional publishing-types interlarded the gathering -- notably Tom Shone of Talk magazine (part of the Jude Law Lookalike Contingent) and literary agent Elyse Cheney, who came out looking good in the ongoing public literary feud (read: tantrum) currently in progress between her temperamental ex-client, Dave Eggers -- editor of McSweeney's and author of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" -- and beleaguered New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick. Still, the most riveting creature in the room was neither strictly publishing nor strictly art-world; she was Moynihan's splendid, Wagnerian wife, Katrine Boorman -- daughter of "Hope and Glory" director John Boorman and ex-wife of Sir Terence Conran's son, Tom (for what it's worth Danny Moynihan is the son of the late royal portraitist, Rodrigo Moynihan). Dramatically dressed in a long rose taffeta gown with opulent dicolletage and crystal beading, hair divided into two thick blond braids twined with pink and peach satin ribbons, head topped in a 19th-century bejewelled and crushed silver skullcap with dangly silver things tinkling at the sides (think "Excalibur"), Katrine radiated confidence and joie de vivre. Greeting a stream of well-wishers, she raved about her husband's book -- which has delighted the couple by becoming a succhs d'estime as well as a succhs de scandale, and has been bought by Hollywood for a film -- and discussed such things as her recent jaunt in Naples, where she performed in a Stravinsky opera (in a non-singing role) with Isabella Rossellini and Girard Depardieu. "Danny and I have a little boy called Kit, six months old," she said thoughtfully, as another admirer approached. "I hope he's going to grow up to be a good bank clerk!" As Tom Robbins wrote in "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues": that must be where the boogie stops and the woogie begins.

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Reprinted with the permission of Contentville.

Katharine Garden

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