The Swans of Fifth Avenue

THE BOOK: 413Jo9GzA2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

This is the second book I have listened to, and since the first was not a great success, imagine my surprise when I picked up my “book” on hold at the library and was handed a box of CD’s. When the librarian assured me that I didn’t need an MP3 player to listen, I decided to give it a try again on an ancient Sony Walkman. What has become clear to me is how much I miss when I experience a book auditorially. Flipping back through the pages of a book is easy. For me, it’s much harder to replay passages on a device. So right off the bat, I experienced difficulty number one. At first, I hated the tone of both narrators, a man and a woman. As you might imagine, listening to an imitation of Truman Capote’s voice could get old very quickly, and it did. But once I settled into the narrative, the voices bothered me less and less, and consequently difficulty number two was overcome, when I got sucked into the story.

The lives of Capote’s beautiful swans was central to the story. I believe the nickname “swans”comes from the French word soigné, meaning elegantly dressed, well-groomed. They included, Babe Paley, wife of Bill, founder of CBS; Slim Keith, married first to Howard Hawks of Hollywood fame later to Leland Hayward; Gloria Guinness; Marella Agnelli; CZ Guest; and others. They are a catty bunch, except for Babe, who is kind, stylish and tremendously insecure, despite being named Time magazine’s second best dressed woman in the world after Wallis Simpson in 1941. Truman is the biggest cat of the bunch, and all but CZ Guest confided their secrets to him. In Benjamin’s view, Babe and Truman were soulmates who truly loved each other, making his betrayal by publishing the story “La Cote Basque 1965” in Esquire in November 1975 truly heinous and hateful. Truman’s response (I’m still hearing that awful narrator’s voice in my head) was something like, “Aren’t they all stupid? I mean, they know I’m a writer, right? And I write what I know.” The betrayal was truly staggering, or at least it was to me. It reminded me of The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, although that one pales to this one. I felt so sad for all of the swans, but especially Babe, who lost everything that had brought peace and comfort in her life. Once you get over their enormous wealth, style, manners and social stature, they’re just like anyone else, looking for love and beauty in a world where one can be very lonely and alone.

On another note, I resolved to read only one newly released (2016) book per month, and since this was published in January and is my first this year, I’m on track. Yay, me!


This was a tough one. Obviously, beauty in this context could mean clothes, jewels, vehicles, penthouses, money, and so on. None of that touches the central theme of this story: that what makes life worth living is having someone love you for you, and for no other reason. In that spirit, I offering the following:

On Friendship
Kahlil Gibran
Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.


Here are “our” swans on January 11, 2016. Haven’t named them like we named the ducks, but they are always a welcome sight.


It was obvious to me that the food had to be from La Cote Basque, the now defunct restaurant in the title of Capote’s Esquire article. I found a menu online with “Tarte a L’Oignon Alsacienne,” translated roughly, ‘Onion tart in the Alsatian style.’ So it’s basically a quiche.

A mustard-coated tart shell, filled with sweet braised onions and topped with thyme and olives. Perfect for brunch. Note: In a pinch you can use a store-bought, pre-made pie crust.

Tart Shell
1 stick cold unsalted butter
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold water
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, whisked
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
5-6 thyme sprigs
6-8 Niçoise olives

Tart Shell Cut butter into small chunks and put it into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the s-shaped chopping blade. Add flour, and salt. Pulse about 10 times. Then add the water and pulse about 10 more times or until the texture resembles cornmeal. Pour the mixture onto a clean surface and, using the heal of your hand, press it little by little, until the butter and flour are incorporated. Gather it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disc. Cover with wax paper and refrigerate for 15 minutes, to firm it up a bit. Generously dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour to prevent sticking. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it into a 13-inch circle. Line a 9 or 10-inch tart pan with the dough, trimming off the excess. Make several pricks in the bottom with a fork and refrigerate for 2 hours. (It can also be frozen until you’re ready to use it)
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Cover the tart shell with foil and fill the bottom with dried beans. Bake it in the middle of your oven for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil and bake for another 5-10 minutes. You want the bottom to dry without coloring.
Tart Preheat the oven to 425ºF. In a large dutch oven or heavy pot combine olive oil, sliced onions, salt and ¼ cup of water. Heat the mixture until it starts to sizzle, then turn the heat down to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon onions into a medium bowl and set aside to cool. Pour off liquid that has accumulated around the onions and combine eggs with onions. Spread mustard over the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell, using a pastry brush. Spread the onion mixture on top. Make a pretty pattern on top with the thyme sprigs and olives. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Serve at room temperature, cut into wedges.







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