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  1. Wealth
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March 1, 2008

Vicky Ward

By Spear's

New York at the start of a year is a place of hope.

New York at the start of a year is a place of hope. People return from holidays to ski resorts or the Caribbean with tans, looking lean from exercise. New Yorkers traditionally only like to travel four to five hours away (thanks to the two-week school break, no one wants a killer journey), which means no matter how secluded you think your holiday spot is, it is guaranteed to be Park Avenue moved to the sea.

We went to a tiny, eighteen-room hotel in Mexico, whose name I’m not going to reveal: I might want to go back! I’d heard about this hotel, the former home of an Italian countess, from a friend, and it had not received any major magazine coverage so I’d hoped we’d be safe. I was wrong. The first evening as we sat down to dinner, who did I spot but my friend, fashion designer Liz Lange, with her family.

The very next day, Marshall Cogan – the textiles magnate who tried to buy Sotheby’s in the 1980s but was, he told me, ‘rejected by the Queen for being Jewish and not from the establishment’ – introduced himself. He was staying there and was accompanied by about twelve of his family members.

Then appeared Joni Evans, the literary agent and former head of Random House. (She subsequently told me that she’d seen me in my black and white bikini, sitting on the beach, manuscripts piled up underneath my straw tent, and thought to herself, ‘That used to be me.’)

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Now I know why the super-rich like the privacy of their boats, although even in the boating world there is an invasive code of behaviour, which I learned last summer while the fortunate guest of a generous friend whose vessel stopped at Capri. When you drop anchor, if you recognise a boat, you have to invite the owner over for a drink – or worse, a macrobiotic lunch, so disgusting you can’t eat it. (I don’t know how Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow have survived all these years.)

Back to New York and the new year. There have been sumptuous birthday parties, as well as movie screenings as the frenzied campaign to get Academy voters to vote for the Oscars enters its final stages. ‘Harvey Weinstein learned how to do this from Bill Clinton,’ one of Weinstein’s minions told me as she feverishly canvassed on her BlackBerry. She had to contact 800 voters the night before the Golden Globes, to make sure they’d seen – and liked – one of Weinstein’s films.

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There may be a recession on, but this only seems to generate a frisson of frenzied behaviour. People want to be busy – or at least to be seen to be busy. There is also a genuine excitement at the uncertainty of this upcoming election. The new dinner party game is to fill out ballots on who you’ll vote for. I’ve now had dinner with several confirmed Republicans who are suddenly thinking of voting for Barack Obama (I only know they’re Republican because they’ve told me in secret: no one in New York who is a Republican broadcasts this fact unless their name is Henry – either Kissinger or Kravis).
But Obama signifies something new, and the idea of something new is what America is desperate for right now.

The desire for newness includes, incidentally, wives, property, jobs. There are new restaurants, new designers, new authors (The New York Times Magazine devoted six pages to a new 38-year-old writer from Las Vegas, Charles Bock, whose first novel comes out this week). All the town’s smartest hotels are being given makeovers; The Plaza, The Mark, The Carlyle.

I went to dinner at The Plaza’s ballroom only to find myself on the red carpet behind the Olsen twins. I thought to myself that they must be desperate for attention, deliberately wearing bright, shiny clothes, at odds with the black and white dress code. If I’d known then what tragedy would befall Heath Ledger mere days later, and that Mary-Kate Olsen would call her security people rather than the police when the actor was found unconscious, I almost certainly wouldn’t have smiled at them.

Instead I’d have given her a warning, just like the New York Post is now doing: New York is the town that can tear you down as fast as it builds you up. Ask real estate developer Harry Macklowe, CEO of Macklowe Properties and owner of a dozen midtown Manhattan buildings – he’s currently way overleveraged; ask Tiffany’s CEO Michael Kowalski how his shares are doing (they just fell 12 per cent). If they were honest they would tell you the truth: that New York is founded on easy come, easy go…

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