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Along the Avenue

Ron Forman, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and Pat Denechaud at the Woodrow Wilson Awards.

Decorator Mary Ferry Bigelow at the “Refrigerator Art” benefit for the International School of Louisiana.

Pam Halter with Prissy Sutton, a new Men of Fashion Hall of Fame member, at “Prix d’Elegance.”

There are any number of awards and honors doled out throughout the year. All for good purposes to good people and, goodness knows, inspirational to those of us raised with a sense of duty to this place we love.
To tend a garden and steward a historic home may merit being tapped for any of a dozen or more fund-raisers and home tours. But the granddaddy of them all is the New Orleans Spring Fiesta Association, which 69 years ago kicked off a program including concerts, operas, art exhibits, pageants, home and gardens tours, and costumes. The tourists and locals love it too. Still do … Milling around in the French Quarter were the Blandas, the Bauses and the Marionos, while the Lees and the Beals were spotted in the Garden District. (Events happened in both parts of town, as well as Uptown.) It was a perfectly delightful alternative or addendum to Jazz Fest.
In most places the gals have the fashion clout. Ever since the Men of Fashion conceived “Prix d’Elegance,” it’s a gents’ event, and in 2005 they picked the New Orleans Ballet Association to be the beneficiary. More than 500 people went in for ogling, catcalls and whistles when honorees (who are chosen for their sartorial side as well as community activism) Tiffany Adler, Seletha Nagin, Hans Liljeberg, Dr. Mark Kappelman, Russell Klein, Dr. Jay LaCour, Barbara Motley and others marched down the Hilton Hotel’s runway. Hall of Fame honors went to Jeff Chouest Jr. (who with Mimi Bowen put on the fashion show) and Prissy Sutton, whose son Jack Sutton was also a “Man of Fashion.”
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution bestows a very prestigious and serious honor every year having nothing to do with fashion. President Woodrow Wilson established the center in lieu of a library, as he wanted a living, evolving center with a commitment to public discourse, scholarship and the creation of ideas to examine long-term implications of issues confronting society.
This year, with some lobbying—perhaps from Lindy Boggs or Pat Denechaud, or both—two outstanding civic leaders were honored with the Woodrow Wilson Award: Ron Forman and Boysie Bollinger. They join previous award winners Ted Turner (Time Warner), John T. Chambers (Cisco Systems), David Koch (Koch Industries), Dr. Denton Cooley, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Betty Ford, Frank O. Gehry, Paul A. Volcker, and a heady group of international movers and thinkers.
The dinner, held April 14 at the Fairmont Hotel, brought out Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Sandy and Margie Villere, former Gov. Pete Wilson of California, Phyllis Taylor, Carol Hulgus, Jose Berrios, Richard Light and Mayor Ray Nagin. One of the night’s parting gifts was a copy of the “Wilson Quarterly,” a thought-provoking publication like “The Economist.”
At the end of March, scribes gathered for the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. But a spontaneous meeting on Magazine Street of writer Julia Reed, New York Times associate editor RW (Johnny) Apple, his wife Betsey, and Walter Issacson and his wife was a joyous thing. Native son Issacson is president of the Aspen Institute, and he’s held top jobs at Time magazine and CNN; authored books on Ben Franklin and Henry Kissinger; and is working on a book about Albert Einstein. They all converged at Beaucoup Books, where Apple had been doing a reading and signing of his book, Apple’s America. Apple writes lovingly of New Orleans. Famed for gastronomic pursuits, his 70th birthday party in Paris was chronicled in April’s Gourmet magazine. I once assigned Apple to follow the River Tweed for a story for the sake of fashion. Reminding him of this, he squinted and barked, “*+#@! It was cold and the food was lousy!” Then he graciously penned, “For Diane, who got wise and left the Big Apple for the Big Easy.”
Cool art by artists of great renown, others aspiring, were auctioned at “Refrigerator Art,” a benefit for the International School of Louisiana on April 17. The fridges, which looked a lot more like wine cellers to me, were taken over by none other than Robert Tannen, Byron Levy, Andy Au and Jennifer Purdum, Tony Green, Julie and Rob Wallace, and Gen Sansome. I came away with some other art, but nothing as grand as a Tannen or Green fridge!
No fridge, but hoping for ice … the kind to wear, about a half carat. All I have to do is wear heels to Loa, a very cool bar where nice gals meet after work or parties for fancy cocktails like Mamma Mia, Flowers, Very Berry and such. On June 18, July 23 and August 20 any girl in heels who buys a drink between 5 p.m. and midnight could be the winner of a gift diamond from Robert Normann and Loa. All the well-shod have to do—in addition to buying a drink—is to fill in the blanks on the customized napkin and it acts as a raffle ticket. More drinks, more chances. The winner is chosen when the clock strikes midnight. Well, that’s not hard, and I’d sure give Bobby Normann a big kiss if I got one.
School is out and not a moment too soon … No offense, but with all the festivals, fairs, reunions, special events and graduations, who is ready for a vacation? Still, you have to hand it to some people, like a certain birthday boy who hit 40 and decided to host a prom! Everyone came in clothes from the period. It’s just too bad the Valencia, the original setting for the party, didn’t cooperate.
Fabulous school parties? Newman went Hawaiian; McGhee’s had the Garden District rocking ‘til the stroke of midnight; and St. George’s went “Under the Sea” … well, not really, but it was at the home of the David Monteleones.
And on an end note, here are the real-estate rumors du jour: Buzz Harper neither confirms nor denies actor Nicolas Cage’s interest in his Prytania Street chapel-turned-mansion. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is packing and moving. Are actor John Goodman and family moving to the Garden District? A very funny actress of TV and film has definitely purchased a historic home in the Lower Garden District. And local realtor Ruthie Frierson is not hanging up her shingle anytime soon. •

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