Tuesday, February 28, 2017


If you watched Downton Abbey, then you know that many of the great British estates were saved from the auction block and the lords who owned them were saved from bankruptcy by fortuitous marriages to American heiresses. Not just any old American heiresses, but the cream of the crop. Daughter of William K. Vanderbilt, Consuelo Vanderbilt, married Charles Churchill to become the Duchess of Marlboro, and her friend, Jeanette (Jennie) Jerome, married Charles' younger brother Lord Randolph Churchill.

Lady Randolph Churchill née Jeanette Jerome (aka Jennie) was born in Brooklyn, more precisely, at 426 Henry Street. There's a plaque commemorating her birth there, although that was not her family's home. The mythology is that her uncle lived at Henry Street and the Jerome's were visiting when Clara Jerome went into labor. The Jerome's, at that time lived nearby in a brick row house at 8 Amity Street which has been renumbered as 197 Amity Street. It's bit confusing, and there is also some confusion as to the spelling of her name - Jenny or Jennie?

Jennie's father, Leonard Jerome, lost and made several fortunes in his career and must have been between fortunes at the time of Jennie was born. He became a speculator in railroads and whatnot with Cornelius Vanderbilt and became rich again so that a few years after Jennie's birth, Jerome moved his wife and daughters to a house in Manhattan at the corner of 26th St. and Madison Avenue. It was a very big house. The breakfast room could hold 70 people. My. That house was torn down in 1967, lasting over 100 years. [William K. Vanderbilt had a similarly-sized house at the corner of 5th Avenue and 51st Street]

Jerome loved horses and partnered with the Commodore's son, William K. Vanderbilt (Consuelo's father), to start the American Jockey Club, the Coney Island Jockey Club, and build a racetrack in Brooklyn. The Sheepshead Bay Race Track is now disappeared into real estateville although Jerome Street in still runs between 16th St. and 22nd St. Jerome and August Belmont also built a race track in the Bronx where they held the first Belmont Stakes in 1867 (Belmont Stakes is now held at Belmont Park on Long Island).

Jerome was lavishly generous with his wife and daughters and encouraged them to enjoy life, something Jennie would take to heart. Along with her mother and sisters, Jennie spent summers in France, which is where Jennie met Lord Randolph Churchill. The story is that they got engaged three days after they met, but the dowry settlement took months to a negotiate because Randolph's mother disliked Jennie and wasn't about to sell her son into marriage for a pittance. As soon as the dowry contract was signed, Randolph and Jennie married quietly, and their son Winston Churchill was born prematurely 7 months later.

After the Lord Randolph Churchill's had two children, Randolph became ill (it isn't proven, but claimed that he died of syphilis - could have been a brain tumor). Jennie began to take after her philandering father. She had affairs with the German Kaiser, the future king of England and other powerful men who woud later help further Winston's career.

After Randolph died, forty-one year old Jennie remained in England and married George Cornwallis-West, a man 20 years younger than she. They divorced and a few years later, she married Montagu Phippen Porch, a civil servant 23 years younger than she.

Her young husband was in Africa when Jennie had a fall that broke her anke. She was wearing high heeled shoes and slipped on the stairs at a friend's home. The break was tremendous and the ankle gangrened. Jennie's leg was amputated above the knee, apparently not in a skilled manner, because shortly after the surgery an artery in her thigh hemorrhaged and she died in 1821 at 67 years of age.

Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill was buried in the Churchill family plot in Oxforshire.

[Leonard Jerome, by the way, was interred at Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.]

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


There are paper hearts and candy hearts and all sorts of other hearts in the store windows and multitudes of flowers in buckets set on the sidewalks outside the bodegas and grocery stores. Bakery windows display heart-shaped cakes and all sorts of creamy desserts. Manicure salons grab your attention with heart-shaped balloons tied to their metal stands propped on the sidewalk advertising specials. Restaurants hire people to hand out flyers with their Valentine's dinner menus printed on them. There is no way to forget Valentine's Day in New York.

And, it's like New Year's Eve, you feel left out if you don't have a date. Buying yourself a heart-shaped box of candy isn't going to make up for that. And you can buy yourself flowers any old day. For me and some of my friends, the best way to feel pampered is to have high tea at an elegant establishment. And there is no more elegant establishment for that than Lady Mendl's Tea Room.

Lady Mendl's is inside the INN located at 56 Irving Place right in the midst of the Irving Place Historical District in Manhattan, just a block away from Union Square. Irving Place is lined with row houses built in the mid-19th Century that are designated by New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and are saved from real estate developers. Already, you feel like you are stepping back in time as you leave the glass and steel City behind for Edith Wharton's era.

The Inn is a combination of two row houses creating one hotel. From the sidewalk, you climb the stone stairs and enter the lobby through a tall, heavy mahogany door. The tea salon is off the lobby to the left. This is the front parlor of a house and has windows looking onto Irving Place. The front parlor flows into a back parlor through pocket doors. The windows in the back room overlook a small garden. The oak floors, that creak in places, are covered in Persian carpets.

I was at Lady Mendl's on a misty, winter day with my friend Christine who was visiting from Texas. The fireplace was lit and we sat looking onto the wet street and watched the cars and people passing by without hearing them at all. We could hear the fire crackling, the clink of porcelain china and glass, and people in soft conversation around us. Tables are laid with floor-length white cloths. Silverware and glasses gleam and shimmers with the candlelight on each table. There are flowers on the table at Lady Mendl's every day, not just February 14.

Guests choose from a multitude of teas on the menu. Each patron gets a full pot of their own tea, but taste-testing each others choice is encouraged. High tea begins with a salad and moves on to quartered sandwiches, tea cakes, and of course, scones with clotted cream and fruit.

There is no rush. It's like you're visiting a friend and perhaps should leave a calling card when you leave.   

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


I was always trying to meet new people and try new things and that's how I got myself involved in a "volunteer" group. I found the notice and called Brianna. We talked for a while about what she intended to get going and I agreed to meet with the startup group in a community center gymnasium in Bath Beach.

photo by Dave Golland

Bath Beach is a small Brooklyn neighborhood between Bay Ridge and Gravesend on the water. It's one of the first African American neighborhoods in New York - freed slaves were given a parcel of land here in the mid-19th century. Nowadays, it's small row houses and apartment building.

Although it was about five miles from where I was living and I could probably have driven there in 10 or 15 minutes. Instead, I took two trains to get there, and in the evening when the trains are running slower, it took about an hour.

I guess there were about a dozen women who were interested in somehow contributing to the community. At that first meeting we just talked and arranged to meet at Brianna's apartment after that and she would cook for everyone. The next meeting there were only six women, which was good because Brianna's apartment was about 300 square feet. We didn't get anything accomplished as to setting up a goal for the group, but the food was great, and Brianna had found a volunteering job in Manhattan which I offered to fill. That's how I met Jeet.

Jeet was a middle aged doctor, an Indian from the Brahma class, who had lost his eyesight in a car accident. He needed someone to read for him. Read his mail, magazine articles he was interested, advertising flyers from the grocery store, etc. I went into Manhattan, and on that first Saturday morning, we met in a downstairs meeting room in the apartment building where he lived. After about three Saturdays, he invited me to come up to his apartment to read to him there.

It got to be really fun because he made tea with boiled milk (instead of water) and we started watching Indian movies on TV. These were movies about the Indian gods and goddesses and their battles and machinations. Jeet knew them by heart and he explained the relationships of all the people and the deities. After a while, we started going out to run errands. Jeet was prolific on his computer, which not only had a keyboard, but used voice command and he liked to get the latest gadgets.

Jeet was starting an online health food business with a partner, and eventually he started breaking our commitment time to work on that, and I faded out of his life as an assistant. But I learned a lot from being around him. First of all, that there is no excuse not to move forward. He never seemed depressed.

I continued to attend Brianna's group for the few months they met. The group just didn't gel on a goal and it fell apartment and we lost touch. She helped me learn that there is always a place to love.

Meantime, the big day is coming and I remind myself that there are lots of ways to be a Valentine. Just a smile will do it.    

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Lovers of Teruel

February, being a month of love, I begin with a story that happened at Barbès, a music and arts venue located near the corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue in Park Slope. Barbès runs the full length of the ground floor of a converted brownstone house - so it's long and thin. There a bar running half the length of the front room as well as tables and chairs. An archway/door leads into the back part where the musicians perform and there are chairs in rows. There is live jazz/world music every night at Barbès. You can check their calendar here:

http://www.barbesbrooklyn.com/calendar.html ).

Early in the evening on some nights, before the musicians set up, there are (or were, I haven't been in a while) other types of artistic presentations which I think are arranged by the hosts of those events. The night I am writing about, I was there with a friend to listen to his friend, an author, reading from her newly-published book.

After the reading and Q&A, my friend Sergio and I went into the front section of Barbès and were lucky enough to get a table. We ordered something to drink and were talking and looking around at the people. That's when I spotted a couple across the room standing at the wall.

They were about the same height. She was in heels and he was about an inch taller than her - maybe 5'7". Both of them were blond - dusky blond and 28 years old, maybe. His hair was short and wavy. Hers was curled and shoulder length. I presumed, rightly or wrongly, from his tan work boots that he worked in construction. He certainly seemed to have strength. She wore a dress, a dark red wraparound dress. It wasn't seductive, not low cut or too tight, just very feminine. Her shoes were black, with thick heels, not spiky. He wore a t-shirt, jacket, and jeans. None of this matters.

He reminded me of a humble farmer, confused by women, and loving this one.  A man so in love that I couldn't stop watching him. How did I know? I'm not sure I can explain. It was his body language. His one arm holding a beer bottle, but not in front of his body to defend himself, but rather, straight out from his elbow. His other arm hung at his side - no hand in his pocket. His chest was open, his heart available to her. He didn't shuffle his feet nervously. And he never took his eyes away from her. She so obviously knew he was smitten and that may have given her confidence because she was animated and did most of the talking, none of which I could hear. But she wasn't playing with him. I could see by the way she looked away every once in a while for a millisecond, that she just didn't know what to do about this man who looked at her so intently.

Then something happened to break my heart.

She took his empty beer bottle and walked away to get them another drink. And then, he looked at the floor. Yes, in a room full of distraction, pretty women, conversations, the sound of the music that had begun playing, he looked at the floor. Waiting. Waiting for her to return. And when she did, he didn't smile, he just looked at her again. The sun had gone away behind a cloud and now it was back and he turned his face toward it.