30 August, 2006

reunited in the Hamptons, aka The Glamorous Life

Whew, where to begin? I think that so much has been happening, I'll start with today and work backwards. I've been saving some nice pictures from past weeks in a couple of draft posts, and I'll definitely make a stab at catching up. As you can see from the above, it's getting harder and harder to winnow down the pictures, trying to encapsulate our summer. I'll have to make some decisions "strategetically," as Avery would say. My favorite word of the summer. In the meantime...

We just pulled in from picking up Avery in Manhattan. Why was our only child in the city without us, you ask? Well, it all started at the Hampton Classic, over the weekend.

The Classic, as you may know, is the apogee of the Northeastern American horse world. Set in glorious Southampton, truly the most sophisticated and glamorous place I've ever been, it brings together all the best riders of all ages. Back in the years when Avery went to a horse show practically every weekend, it was not so crucial to happiness as we know it. But this year, of course, it was the ONLY show. And she's been training twice a week all summer just to be ready. Joey, her insane but genius trainer, has raised his mellifluous voice more than once in the question that typifies his style: "NO NO NO! Girls, what has Avery just done that is the WORST thing you can ever do on a pony?" Wisely, the girls treat this as the rhetorical question it is, and wait patiently, in silence, for Joey to point out whatever infraction has caught his eye at that particular moment and has earned the moniker "worst thing." Sure enough two minutes later, the Bronx air rings with the shouted words, "NO NO NO! Girls, what has Gabby just done that is the WORST thing..." And on and on throughout the summer. The pictures shown here do not do his mercurial temper justice!

So after our last dinner at Jill and Joel's house, on Friday night (mmm, that parmesan-baked chicken and tomato-basil risotto was divine, thank you Joel), we got up Saturday morning and headed to the Bridgeport, Connecticut side of an hour-ish ferry ride to Long Island. What a trip! The rain that was to play such a crucial and unpleasant role in our weekend was gearing up yet again, but for the duration of the ride we were able to sit outside, enjoy the sea air, and listen to me saying really stupid things about the geographical location of various pieces of land and water. I really have NO sense of direction. We landed and drove the winding way along the coast, passing through the stunning towns of Water Mill (est. 1644, I was impressed) and Southampton to arrive at Avery's friend Tess's house. Honestly, even accustomed to beautiful towns in Connecticut, and the English countryside, it was amazing, and intimidating a bit, to see on either side of the road huge expanses of meticulously maintained and landscaped shrubs, hedges and lawns, all embracing vast estates of stone or shingle houses, some dating back probably to the turn of the century or before, when the great tycoons of New York spent their summers on Long Island. Somewhere was Christie Brinkley's famed estate, and who knows who else. We arrived at Tess's house earlier than expected and Francesca, her mother, was out grocery shopping for the 30 or so people she had madly invited to dinner that evening! Sounds like something I would do. But what I would not do is accomplish all my shopping at Citarella, the peerless food shop I've visited on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but never dared to patronize. Now they've opened a shop in Southampton, and I fear, nay shudder to think what this dinner for 30 set Francesca and her husband Matt back. Twelve pounds of filet mignon! Ten pounds of shrimp! To say nothing of foie gras, roasted vegetables, dozens of figs to slow-bake in organic honey... Amazing! So extravagant, so generous.

The house itself was gorgeous. A sort of Mies Van der Rohe-inspired low stone building, perfectly landscaped with exotic plants. Everything pristine, matching, new, all the softest, thickest, shiniest and most glamorous of its kind. Here's the item that, for me, encapsulated the entire extravagant, stylish and perfect atmosphere (I'm sorry I didn't take a picture but that would have seemed very odd!): in a glass-fronted double-doored cupboard in the front foyer, there were row upon row of perfectly rolled, enormously thick bath sheets. Half the cupboard was filled with white, half with a trendy acid green. All just waiting to be used to towel off after a quick dip in the sybaritic waters of the in-ground pool, or the ocean a short walk away. Mentally I contrasted this with my skimpy pile of striped affairs, none of them matching or particularly thick, stuffed into an L.L. Bean canvas bag to drag off to the pool in Southbury! Somehow I didn't mind the image: the life out in the Hamptons is too perfect to be real. Or am I just telling myself that so I don't feel like a big fat loser? Which reminds me, John has been obsessed all summer with applying this epithet to drivers who dare to occupy "his" lane. To emphasise his words, he places the forefinger and thumb of his right hand against his forehead, a big fat "L." The sad thing is, Avery and I laugh every time.

Francesca and Matt, along with assorted cousins and Avery's beloved Tess, sauntered in and we were reunited. Francesca is one of my favorite barn mothers, with whom I have spent countless hours sitting by a jumping ring watching our daughters go round and round, supplying endless bottles of water for the parched riders, dishing about our compatriots, whose pony is doing what, how everyone is doing in school, what insane thing Joey has done or said lately. Every once in awhile our conversation is interrupted to make sure that someone's child's fall hasn't broken any important bones. Then it's back to gossip. Francesca is a psychoanalyst, which makes conversation very entertaining. So we all sat around with dozens of panini from the Blue Duck Bakery Cafe in Southampton, ham and gruyere, tomato and mozzarella, BLTs with basil. And corn chowder (but not, I must admit, as good as mine; however I know pride goeth before a fall), and lunchtime cocktails of our new favorite Ruby Red Absolut vodka mixed with fizzy pink lemonade. I know, it sounds repulsive and too pink for words, but it's yummy. After lunch, the serious business of preparing dinner for 30 consumed us. Francesca's housekeeper Elizabeth (for whom I would seriously sacrifice a lot, what an amazing help in the kitchen) toiled with us as we formed crabcakes, mixed pasta with the fresh pesto I brought, watched Francesca roll the meat in a rub of her own invention (caraway and lemon were predominant) and tolerated a lot of comments from the peanut gallery of John and Matt about "working the meat." They're so mature.

Then there was spinach salad with the carmelized figs, and shrimp marinated in a hoisin-based sauce, to throw on the grill after the filets were done. All this was accomplished under the completely strict and Mistress-of-her-Domain specificity of Francesca herself. Very quickly we all realized that any invitations to do things to our own standards ("Of course, Kristen, chop that however you like, it's entirely up to you,") very inefficiently masked the fact that all would be done EXACTLY as Fran wanted! One pot of boiling water to accommodate a huge amount of pasta met with her disapprobation and she enlisted John's opinion as "the real Italian here," until the dish was remedied. All this amidst threats to "simply throw it all away and start over," a manifestly impractical aim since the vegetables had roasted all day!

Avery and Tess alternately played chess with the life-size pieces on the in-ground flagstone chessboard, jumped courses on the set of jumps set up on the lawn, jumped on the trampoline, or swam in the pool. Finally guests started arriving and it was all my favorite barn people! Oriana's mother, who is Carolina Herrera's daughter, and Florencia, Sophia's mother, Gabby's mom Camille, the Olympic water skier, and Ali's parents, who are both psychotherapists and never averse to a little free advice, which I love. Plus of course the crowning glory of Joey and Christine, looking glamorous and full of dramatic tales of the opening moments of the Classic, which might or might not have been as important as Joey's disapproval of the way Alexa's mother arranged the flowers at the tent! The talk turned to how training has been all summer, with Joey dispensing lavish praise and hilariously exaggerated stories of mistakes made, falls survived, ponies with brain surgery who are at spas getting massaged every hour. I simply sat back and was thrilled to be with them all, back with people I have missed all year, imagining having been part of it all while we were in London. How far away they all seemed. And how funny, stylish, full of glamor they all are. Through it all ran Francesca's little white dog, Buda, whose presence reduces the brilliant and ascerbic Harvard graduate to phrases like, "Who's mama's little peachy fluffy little bundle, then, my darling Buda? Who's a clever girl, you little beauty?" She stopped once in horror and said, "My God, Buda has turned me into Joey talking to the girls!" One of my favorite sounds: Joey's voice booming across the jumping ring, "Is that my gorgeous AVERY I see? Sweetheart, you are BEAUTIFUL!"

The next day it all came unglued! Glamor was replaced with torrential freezing downpours, glossy manicured lawns with sucking mud, the Prada and Issey Miyake of the night before with soaked Levis and Blunny boots, foie gras with damp tasteless hamburgers from a scary trailer. But Avery won fourth in "walk trot," a huge achievement considering her absence from the barn all year, and the incredible competition of 28 other riders. Good on you, Avery. And her divine Ladybug. So all was worth the effort.

Back home via the Gap where we bought all new clothes since we were freezing and had packed badly! The girls retired to Tess's room, with a darling white trundle bed, many heaped Moroccan cushions, huge blown-up photos of Tess at a horse show. We grownups snacked on more foie gras and flatbread, and contemplated what to do for dinner. Talking to Francesca is a classic example of what John calls "shiny object syndrome." She can be completely focused on some really significant topic, but then a metaphorical shiny object crosses her mental field of vision, and it's completely off onto another topic altogether. "Should we just order in bad pizza? or there's also bad Chinese we could pick up in town. Who's Mommy's best Buda, come here darling, and Matt, when did you say you had to leave for New Haven? Why don't you teach Nick to play Risk, I know I know how, but you two should learn it together, consider it a challenge. John, could you order me boots like yours online? I am really afraid of the computer, or we could go out to the sort of dumpy Italian place in town? Did somebody pour me a drink?" Completely entertaining. Finally she and I went out to get Chinese, and on the way home ran into a party that had been shut down by the police and causing huge traffic problems as everyone tried to leave at the same time, totally flummoxing the inadequate parking valets that had been hired to take care of the cars. In the torrential rain! Francesca simply began backing up, to the noted dismay of the drivers behind her. "Does that idiot see me backing up? Does he contemplate that I will in fact run over his sorry butt if he doesn't move? Did you get fried rice, Kristen? I said, I'm BACKING UP!"

Totally cosy to cuddle up in the luxurious whatever-threadcount sheets, the bed piled with every possible comfort in shades of gold and barley, and sip some of the Busnel Calvados I brought, in view of the weather. I always forget, during the summers, that there's nothing on a cold, rainy night like a warm glass of Calvados.

Before bed we decided on a completely spur-of-the-moment plan: Avery would stay with the Jacobsons while we came back to the farm (foregoing our planned trip to see the Sadoffs in Fire Island, since Alyssa answered the phone "Hurricane Sadoff, would you like a rain check?"). So proud of Avery to be able to stay with people she really has just gotten to know, in such a cool place, and behave so nicely that they want her to stay. So in the morning we headed off back to Connecticut, talking sixteen to the dozen all the way about the fascinating people, the fabulous food, the lifestyle we had a brief and enticing glimpse of. The perfection! Then we walked in the door of Red Gate Farm and sighed. It's cluttered, nothing matches, the kitchen always smells like the fireplace, there are bowls full of fruit and vegetables all over the counter and piles of library books, doll clothes and laundry to put away. But it's also home.

So we picked Avery up at 39th and 3rd Avenue (let me tell you, after a half-hour's stroll killing time I can report that there is nothing to recommend that intersection, so cross it off your list for your next trip to the city), she having traveled on the Hamptons Jitney with Tess's babysitter for the handoff. Many stories of adventure and mayhem at the Classic, as well as reports on meals eaten ("I know you want to know about the food, Mommy, so I'll get it over with"), toys acquired, Buda's iniquities including chewing on Avery and her belongings during the night ("it's very disconcerting to be in the middle of a dream, and then something is pulling on your arm, literally pulling you out of your dream!"). Thank you, Francesca and Matt. For everything.

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