After the United States bloodied and humbled Mexican troops in the 1846 war, our Southern neighbor was forced to give up vast territories, which now comprise California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. Under duress, they paid a heavy price, and they never forgot.
Now, in a way, Mexico is exacting its revenge. Many of their talented young aristocrats have settled in New York–a veritable colony of jeunesse doree–and they are setting the pace in fashion, in art, in music and in nightlife. The vacuum being created by certain American millenials who are overindulged, overprivileged and over entitled is being filled by Latin American millenials, particularly from Mexico, who are ambitious, disciplined, imaginative, hard-working, hard-partying, and, often quite good-looking. Perhaps, in fact, the most beautiful women in the world.
New York is a city of ever-evolving ethnicities, and this new generation of golden Latin immigrants is taking over top-tier Manhattan. They have a thirst for success that will not be denied, and the resources and clout to back it up.
The Latinos are, if one thinks about it, winning the Culture War. The tide of their hegemony is profound and irreversible. It won’t soon change, so you might as well lie back and enjoy it. Sip a mescal and greet the future of New York.
Last week brought more evidence of this phenomenon. There was a magnificent concert and dinner at Carnegie Hall. A few days later, a vernissage at the Burden Mansion was a paradigm of soft-spoken chic. Tout le beau monde was there, and so was Orb. That is our job, the sacrifice we make for you, our beloved readers. Here is the story.
The concert was in Zankel Hall, deep in the bowels of Carnegie Hall, two long escalator rides down. It was organized by the dynamic pianist, Jorge Viladoms, 28, to benefit his foundation, Crescendo con la Musica, which offers children in poor rural provinces of Mexico the opportunity to acquire a musical instrument and training in its use.
Viladoms invited the British/Norwegian Charlie Siem, also 28, to participate. Siem plays a violin from 1735 made by Guarneri del Gesu that was previously owned by Yehudi Menuhin. He doesn’t just play it, he brings it alive. He bestrode the stage like a master of the universe and performed like one. Every note ached with yearning, every gesture was sublime. With the sensitivity of Viladoms at the piano, their synchronicity was uplifting and revelatory. Remember their names.
There was also a French dancer on the stage, Herve Moreau, twirling around from time to time to choreography by Benjamin Millepied. Some liked it; for me it was an unwelcome distraction.
Afterwards, there was a dinner on the 10th floor, a recently built socializing space at Carnegie, with a small band and a good blues singer. It was my privilege to be seated next to Sandra Fuentes-Berain, who for the past year or so has been Consul General of Mexico in New York. Before that, this remarkable woman was Mexico’s ambassador to Paris and to Brussels and to Ottawa and to The Hague and to the EU. She gets around, and obviously her French is not mauvais.
Mrs. Fuentes is knowledgeable about the minutiae of American politics and converses thereon with gusto. She understands U.S. culture: her two kids went to Brown. As consul general, she oversees 1.2 million people of Mexican descent in the metropolitan area and she is their mother hen. Her big concern is immigration reform–she recently shared a flight to Mexico with Chris Christie and he assured her the Republican Congress will address the issue responsibly. She just gut-renovated the official residence, a townhouse on East 72d, and she loves to entertain. We shall be hearing more from Senora Fuentes.
Also lighting up the dinner were Viladoms’s girlfriend,Valentina Collu, to whom he made a heartfelt and touching toast; and Jana Pasquel, from the prominent Mexican family, whose wedding to Adam Shapiro a few years ago was a two-week affair, alternating between her father’s palacio in Mexico City and her mother’s estate in Acapulco, the famous De Portanova residence.
For several years, Jana has been CEO of Munnu Gem Palace, the East 74th street outpost of the prestigious and venerable jewelry firm in Jaipur. At Jana’s table was her boss, Siddharth Kasliwal, a scion of the family dynasty who is one of the most eligible bachelors around town. [There is another jeweler with Gem Palace affiliation, called Sanjay Kasliwal, independent and competitive, run by Sidddarth’s first cousin Samir, just two blocks up Madison. It’s a fascinating story we’ll get to soon.]
I also saw the illustrious philanthropist Mary Sharp Cronson; Ben and Mercedes Rodriguez-Cubenas, he of the Rockefeller Foundation; Dr. Olivia Flatto, all in black with emeralds hanging from her ears that would stop traffic on Fifth Avenue; man-about-town Michel Heredia; p.r. whiz Gabriel Rivera-Barraza, who masterfully orchestrated the event, in perpetual motion; and Letitia Presutti, in a strapless green frock with voluptuous décolleté. Letty is Mexico’s answer to Anita Ekberg. These days Mexico has an answer to everything.
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Burden Mansion Invaded By Mexican Immigrants
One of the most interesting young men around town for the last few years–everyone who knows him thinks this–has been Alexis Zambrano. He is a multi-talented, multi-tasking artiste-cum-entrepreneur who is always well-mannered, well-groomed and well-dressed. Impeccably so, to the point of obsessively so.
Alexis–he’s 27 but has the sensibility of someone twice his age–is calculatedly, even painstakingly old-fashioned, adopting the mien and persona of a 19th-century Parisian boulevardier. (What’s the matter with kids today?).
For 300 years, the Zambranos have been one of the powerful industrial families of Monterey, the sophisticated colonial metropolis in the north of Mexico. They have always been refined and affluent (think Cemex, a global leader in building materials) but they are refreshingly free of pretension and self-importance. That’s what we like about Old Money.
Alexis is full of ideas (he absorbs bios and social history) and full of energy. He is a co-founder of InSitu, which helps introduce fledgling artists to young collectors and older patrons.
Now he himself has begun painting, and his paintings are whimsical but visionary and intellectually challenging. Earlier this week, he showed his latest crop. They are large canvases depicting in meticulous detail sumptuous salons that display artworks composing his idealization of a fantasy collection. They are clever and commercial. No dilettante, he.
For the vernissage, Alexis rented the James Burden Mansion on East 91st, the closest thing Manhattan has to a Roman palazzo, with 20-foot ceilings and more marble than the Vatican. Not long ago, it became part of the Convent of the Sacred Heart school, next door in the Otto Kahn Mansion, so Zambrano and his team had only a six-hour window, 5:00 to 11:00, to move in the artworks and the bar and musicians, throw the event, and then load the trucks. It was a miracle of clockwork scheduling and it was also a helluva party.
Alexis’s madre, Marisol, flew in with his brother Ivan, 18. Marisol is so youthful and attractive everyone thinks she is Alexis’s sister. I asked Ivan if he was helping host and he said, “I am the backbone”. Indeed he was.
It was thrilling to see Luisana Mendoza in town, up from Washington where her husband Lorenzo Roccia is a financial wizard and unofficial member of Obama’s brain trust. To my mind, Luisana is one of the smartest, coolest and most glamorous women in the world. She was an eminence at Vogue before she chucked it to raise some muchachos.
The Mendozas are perhaps the most venerated family in Venezuela, following generations of philanthropy and service to the less privileged. Like many others of high position and property, they have suffered greatly under the repressive socialist regimes of Chavez and Maduro, but haven’t lost their faith in the Venezuelan people and optimism for the future. As a family with longevity, they take the long view. Luisana’s sister Maria Luisa was also there, with Juana Domenzain, her partner in an art world start-up.
Other art-lovers mingling and tasting the Maestro Dobel Tequila included Ana Perez, a co-founder of InSitu; New York social figure Yolanda Santos, who was once married into the Zambrano family; futures trader Sue Chalom, who snapped up a painting; Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea, whose sculptures were showcased on Park Avenue not long ago; and Ali Cordero Casal, chairman of the Venezuelan American Endowment for the Arts. His daughter Valeria Cordero told me that some patriotic Venezuelans in New York and Miami are already quietly meeting to discuss plans for keeping the country safe and stable if and when the Maduro government implodes.
The Latin colony in New York loves this country, but they love their home countries more. Just as it should be, Gracias a Dios.
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Would You Like Caviar With Your Wendy Burger?
Caviar, like truffles, is an acquired taste–but once acquired, there’s no going back. The folks that like it like it a lot. Mention the word Osetra, they’re on the way. Yaz Hernandez had some fish eggs to spare, so the other day she invited a few pals to her Park Avenue pad.
Ah, Senora Hernandez–we knew her before she became the social presence she is today. One thing we like about Yaz is that her epidermis is thick as a rogue elephant’s (an asset in the satin jungle of which she is a denizen). Another is that she doesn’t get ruffled when we refer to her as “the Puerto Rican hamburger heiress”. (You wouldn’t mind either, if Wendy’s were sending you hefty checks every month. And a lot of those royalties go to the various charities she supports).
Yaz is married to Valentin Hernandez, the genial Citibank executive specializing in Latin American clients. His father was a Venezuelan ambassador and onetime head of OPEC. His son Valentin Jr. went to Philips Exeter and is now at Princeton–and he didn’t get there through affirmative minority preference. (We mention the son here because he wrote a fan letter to this magazine.)
Back to the caviarteria. There were several guests there we like to call “firecrackers” because they light up a room with their vitality and joie de vivre. Their breadth of knowledge, their idiosyncratic point of view, and their stream-of-consciousness chatter never fail to amuse.
One such guest, in fact the guest of honor, was Daisy Soros. This impressive lady was born in Hungary, as was her late husband Paul Soros, the powerful builder of seaports who was widely respected in New York before his death in 2013. They created a trust called the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, which provides grants to immigrants for graduate studies, and endowed it with $75 million. They also funded for many years the Midsummer Dancing thing that turns the plaza at Lincoln Center into an outdoor ballroom.
Mrs. Soros (“call me Daisy”) is bubbly as Brüt and alert as an eagle. Every morning she reads The Times, The Journal, The Post and the FT. She remembers what she read and expounds with authority. Just what we like. As guest of honor, the Osetra came her way frequently and she never waved it away: “Always put sour cream with the blini,” she advised.
Other charmers were Frederico Wasserman, the marathon-running investor who was at Le Rosey with Valentin; Sila Calderon, the sexy former governor of Puerto Rico; Carmen Ana Unanue, the philanthropist who is the matriarch of Goya Foods; Sana Sabbagh, the Middle Eastern heiress who is a trustee of Carnegie Hall; Met curator Carlos Picon; Jackie Weld Drake; Susan Gutfreund; Encarnita and Bob Quinlan; the gifted hostess of art salons Maria Estrany; and Raul Suarez, the razor-witted art dealer who is the toast of two continents because he is so entertaining.
Someone mentioned the Giacometti sculpture “Chariot” that sold at auction for 101 million smackers. What would be its intrinsic value in the real world, minus the hype, someone else wondered. “Maybe fifty thousand” was an educated guess by someone not in the Art World. The fact is, these days, where the sale price of art is concerned, there is no real world. The sky’s the limit.[By the way, Page Six reported this week that the buyer of “Chariot” was controversial investor Steve Cohen. It said he made the dramatic purchase “as a signal he is business as usual” after his hedge fund was fined $602 million by the SEC for insider trading. Perhaps. Someone else speculated to me they figure he paid that price because he had been persuaded he could make a profit on it. And maybe he can. It’s a Barnum & Bailey world.]
One more thing: Yaz’s guests were multi-tasking. According to foodrepublic.com, “Caviar is like Prozac. Historically, it was prescribed to alleviate depression”. Apparently, that is true. After leaving the building, I was skipping down Park Avenue.