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Style & Culture | NEW YORK, N.Y. / GERALDINE BAUM

Fall, the whirlwind season

September 22, 2003|GERALDINE BAUM

This was blur week. A blur of parties, a blur of bold faces trying to be seen, a blur of lesser lights trying to do business, a blur of taxis and town cars streaming up and down Park Avenue. Not to mention the chauffeur in front of the Four Seasons restaurant grabbing a quick hot dog before darting with his client to the next event. It was all a blur.

The prime cocktail hours, 6:30 to 8:30, were so crowded with events last week that it was impossible to get a baby-sitter. Liz Smith, of all people, was forced to stay home Tuesday night with her godson so his mother could swing by the book party for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Four Seasons.

"It's just a horror these nights," said Smith, 80, caught lunching without makeup midweek in Midtown. "Getting around New York is even harder than in L.A., and if you trust taking a taxi, there are certain hours you'll just be left standing there."

There hadn't been a party "to speak of" in Manhattan since June, the gossip columnist confirmed. But after Labor Day everybody "to speak of" had returned from summer retreats to a stack of invitations being held out by the doormen.

But that first week was too soon for a party.

The second week was also risky. Returning aristocrats apparently need time to calculate how to respond to invitations, and after they decide which parties to attend, they map out a strategy for where to go and how long to stay.

Now there is also a Sept. 11 problem. Near the anniversary of a mass murder no one wants to be seen at, say, the "Tribute to Park Avenue Blondes," a fashion show held this year on Sept. 15.

So Week 3 it would be -- the kickoff of New York's fall social season. Whether it was Norman Mailer's 80th birthday or the opening of the New York Philharmonic, there were all sorts of reasons to go out if you felt hearty, fashionable or in a charitable mood. Or if you wanted to bump into a mogul "by chance" before a deal went down.

Monday night was designated as the official moment for the swells to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Central Park. (The peons have been at it since spring at free events every weekend.) There were designer fireworks over the park and $1,000-a-head parties at 150 apartments that have views. The money went to the conservancy that helps maintain Manhattan's masterpiece. Too bad about the rain, though. It thrashed the city so hard the fireworks were called off after four minutes.

By Tuesday night, the skies had cleared and the publishing houses were in high gear, having released dozens of new books from their fall lists. And for every book of significance there, of course, had to be a proper party.

Carol Fitzgerald, who runs the influential Internet site, dashed to three parties, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg's at Gracie Mansion for the 25th annual "New York Is Book Country" festival. She wasn't planning to attend the festival's gala Thursday night because of a conflict with her children's back-to-school night. But that was postponed by the threat of storms. "Now I can go to the gala with no guilt."

Time Warner books chief Larry Kirschbaum and George Plimpton raced from Gracie Mansion to the Four Seasons for the Albright event. One hopes they filled up on pigs-in-a-blanket at the mayor's, who, despite his billions, has a working-man's palate, because there were too few trays of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto at the A-list event.

In fact, food is irrelevant when it comes to the meta layers of what is really happening in these rooms -- like the glut of network news division presidents conferring in a corner with heads of Fortune 500 companies.

This party was put together by Albright's publisher Miramax Books' Jonathan Burnham, Miramax President Harvey Weinstein and Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, which bought rights to excerpt the book. While each man presided over a different area of the room, Albright, small only in stature, was left to make her way alone amid the heavyweight guests who ran right into her when they entered. There was no toast.

Literary agent Joni Evans, in an elegant beige knit suit, insisted that all the women were better dressed than she: "Look at them! They all went home and changed. Look at Tina! She knew what she was doing tonight!"

All that could be discerned of Tina Brown across the room was her spiffy blond hair, a new 'do, no doubt, for her new life as a CNBC talk show hostess. Her spaghetti-strapped shoulder was jammed against Dominic Dunne's pinstripes, which seemed to line up with Barbara Walters' smile following Pete Peterson, Ted Sorensen and Henry Kravis out the door. They all seemed to move as if gliding through a minuet -- a kiss, a remark, on to the next party.

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