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“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing-after they’ve tried everything else.” Such are the words of arguably the greatest man of the last century, Sir Winston Churchill, and they are indeed invariably true. Much changing of the guard at present; the White House new occupants and a new dog. Archrivals have been mending fences with new appointments whilst former players ride into the sunset.

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice included, among her swansongs, a private recital of Braham’s piano quintet Op.34. before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. One supposes Mrs. Clinton will have to brush up her scales.

Is it just I who is astounded by the casino atmosphere of the money world? Bernie Madoff propagating a $50 billion fraud; these figures are just incomprehensible and the behavior sociopathic. Is jail time really sufficient for these heinous white collar crimes? The fallout continues…

Closer to the equator, the seemingly jinxed six-acre Palm Beach estate, recently offloaded by Donald Trump for $95 million to Russian Dmitry Rybolovlev, is due for yet another incarnation. The oligarch is considering razing the 80,000-square-foot house, which has a history of very little joy. The original house was built in 1917 and later acquired by Charles Wrightsman of Standard Oil. Later, Leslie Wexner of Limited Brands held the deed, and, to the horror of the community, he promptly tore down the Mundy edifice. Miffed when the town fathers objected to his vision, he put the land back on the block. Gosman built the current spread, which brought him nothing but anguish including bankruptcy and a wife currently facing a jail sentence. Potent feng shui is clearly in order.

Dwight Schar has to hold a real estate record, as he recently took out a $63 million mortgage on the South Ocean Boulevard estate he purchased from Ron Perelman. We hope he negotiated a good interest rate. Even at six percent, he would be facing $450,000 a month for the next 30 years.

One munificent bright spot of optimism on the island was David Koch’s 30-minute fantasia firework display (synchronized to music) at the Coconut’s party on New Year’s Eve. Thank God there are still a few billionaires around not afraid to share their spoils, even if his family’s fortune has just been eclipsed by the Cargill dynasty.

Following the housing crises comes the auction house collapse (if not collapse, a serious pruning). Very few players are coming up trumps. The guarantees have poisoned the water for Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Billionaire Henry Kravis and his wife Marie-Josée are still ahead of the money game even after their Degas pastel sold for less than the Sotheby’s estimate…that has got to hurt. Of course, there always are exceptions, when a painting by Kazimir Malevich brings a record price of $60 million in an otherwise morgue-like sales room. Obviously, there is still some wind left in the sails.

Putting on a good face and casting out the gloom, t’was the Season, and dinners and parties abounded. Real estate lions Alice Mason and Larry Kaiser each gave their annual soirees. Kaiser hosted in the stunning St. Regis ballroom, entertaining 300 of his international chums. Amongst the melee were Dewi Sukarno, John and Susan Gutfreund, and Eva O’Neil, with Alex Donner heating up the dance floor. Mason held court in her beautiful art-filled apartment. Guests included Woody Allen and Soon-Yi (whom I sat beside at dinner), Amy Fine Collins, Aileen Mehle, Barbara Walters, and the ever-urbane David Patrick Columbia, who gave a heartwarming toast.

Gillian Fuller held a chic dinner in honor of Parker Ladd and Arnold Scaasi; apparently, his pumpkin broke down, forcing him to arrive two hours late. Naturally, he was forgiven. Let’s not forget, he designed Fuller’s wedding gown of yesteryear when she married the Duke of Marlborough’s son, Lord Charles Spencer-Churchill.

Peggy Siegel hosted a fun Sunday Brunch reintroducing the Oak Bar at The Plaza. Tory Burch, Christine and Steven Schwarzman, and Hamish Bowles were amongst the families and friends in attendance.
My associate Roric Tobin covered Alicia Keys’ big night, the Black Ball, which raised more than $2.4 million for children in Africa. As he tells it, the highlight was Queen Latifah and Justin Timberlake getting into a spirited bidding war, which resulted in each spending an additional $100,000 of their small change.

Asprey and St. George’s Society held a reception for Cherie Blair. One forgets how bright she is: a QC no less and fun to chat with. She was heading back a couple of hours later on British Airways…such amazing energy.

From a former first lady to a current one: all lunchtime conversation froze as Mrs. Sarkozy, Carla Bruni, entered Amaranth; she is a knockout beauty. Silence being an anomaly in our jaded Manhattan society.

At this year’s reopening of La Grenouille, on the famed red velvet banquettes, I found myself alongside the likes of Saul Steinberg, the comeback kid, and his beautiful wife Gayfryd. Seated at the center table: Henry and Nancy Kissinger and Annette de la Renta, proof that proprietor extraordinaire Charles Masson reigns.

Christmas for me, as usual, was spent in Gloucestershire. Then for the New Year, I was horribly spoiled (the largesse of generous clients) with the loan of one of the most beautiful villas in St. Martin-having designed the interior, I felt right at home. From the spectacular terrace (the length of a New York City block) I spied, among the armada of megayachts heading to and from St. Barths, Paul Allen’s immense Octopus in all its splendour.

That was the year that was, and we have absolutely no idea where ’09 is taking us. Churchill, half-American himself, had the right fighting spirit: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I am personally not ready to fall on a sword, and, after all, America is the “home of the brave.” Let’s keep going…

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