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1. Fran Lebowitz and Gay Talese, very good sports about letting me interrupt their conversation. 2. Sarah Lassek and Sarah Hassan, friends, avid readers and self-proclaimed nerds
Last night was The Paris Review’s 2011 Spring Revel and I have to say: God bless George Plimpton. Perhaps invoking God is in bad taste, but I can’t help myself. Because of Plimpton — and the legendary Paris Review that he stewarded through five decades of publication — I spent last evening at Cipriani Midtown in what I can honestly say was one of the top three most pleasant evenings I’ve ever enjoyed on this earth.
1. A.S Hamrah, Editor of the N+1 Film Review and Linda Ong, president of Truth Consulting — my photogenic and fabulous fellow Table 2 guests 2. John R. (Rick) MacArthur, president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine with artist and designer Renee Khatami, also fellow Table 2 guests.
In my last review, a write-up of the launch of the Paris Review’s Spring Issue, I was appreciative but perhaps a little catty. I likened the magazine to “the other half” and “the perfect girl with nary a hair out of place.” Well, I have changed my opinion. The Paris Review is not like the perfect girl. It is without gender; it is perfection, or at least it was last night. If that sounds overly laudatory…I don’t care. I never claimed to be an unbiased journalist, incapable of having my opinions bought. They can be bought, and the price is prosciutto and mozzarella appetizers, fish and polenta main courses, coffee with fruity sorbets for dessert served in a chocolate bowl and lots and lots of champagne. I kid, but really, it was lovely. Lovely is the perfect word for such an evening.
Besides the terribly lovely people that were seated next to me at Table Two (see pictures), the evening’s program was stacked with heavyweights. First to take the stage was Fran Lebowitz, on hand to present the Terry Southern Prize for Humor. Honoree Elif Batuman was not present to accept her award, to which Lebowitz quipped, “The only explanation for [Batuman]’s absence is that she is was uninformed I would be presenting…if that’s not the reason, then she’s certainly ungrateful.” Lebowitz claimed that while she was a seasoned presenter, having presented in one stretch the National Book Award, the CFDA award, the GQ Man of the Year Award and the Glamour Woman of the Year award, she herself had not picked up an award since ninth grade.
1. 2011 Spring Revel.
Next was Ann Beattie, whose “Art of Fiction” interview is featured The Paris Review’s Spring Issue and who was on hand to present The Plimpton Prize for Fiction to April Ayers Lawson. Lawson’s story, titled Virgin, was featured in this year’s Fall issue and marked her national debut.
And then there was Robert Redford. Still looking ever-so All-American, still ruggedly handsome, Redford can carry a room, and last night he mesmerized the audience with recollections of his acquaintance with writer James Salter (Light Years, A Sport and a Pastime). Redford and Salter worked together on the film Downhill Racer in the late 1960s and it was during the pre-production of that film that they became friendly. According to Redford, Salter said one of two things that impressed him most about being an artist. Salter said, “You know when you hold a leaf up to the sunlight and you can see its veins? When I look at that, I see the veins, not the leaf.”
It is that kind of “between the lines” storytelling that Salter is famous for, and for that and his distinguished career, Redford was on hand to honor him with the Hadada prize. What the heck is a “hadada?” It’s a bird, an African Ibis to be exact. According the theplimptonproject.com, a website dedicated to all things George Plimpton, the hadada was Plimpton’s favorite bird because either a) “hadada” was so much fun to say or b) because the hadada, when disturbed, flies away honking wildly and shitting.
I love this explanation. Honking wildly and shitting. Sounds like a regular Friday night. But seriously, I must stop speaking scatologically in these entries. It is in poor taste. That being said, with the Paris Review crowd, I think I can get away with it. The nice thing about this Paris Review event was that while it was beautiful, it was not stuffy. It was cozy, comfortable, and inspiring. It felt, I’d imagine, like an evening at the Algonquin Round Table felt like. And in that spirit, I quote Dorothy Parker, who says, “A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.” Truer words have never been spoken.
–Cassie Hay is a regular contributor to Electric Dish.