mercredi 27 mai 2009

Hard Times

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Is it just me or do most people tend to get stuck in the lower regions of Manhattan when they visit New York? I always think I'll get up North and usually am lucky if I get to the north end of Central Park! There is so much to see on every street corner, in every nook and cranny. But this time, we went not once but twice north of the magical line of thinking. On Saturday we went to see the Yankees beat the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth at the New Yankee Stadium, although we did not technically see the victory. We left at the top of the ninth, thinking it would rain any second and confident that the Phillies would hang on to win 4-2. In fact, they lost 5-4. What a finish!
But we preferred to leave early and walk a bit. It never did rain on Saturday, so we got off the subway just south of Central Park and walked south for about 40 blocks, through Chelsea.
On Tuesday, our friend Peter actually picked us up at our apartment in Greenwich Village and drove us up north to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. You can't miss it: it's next to the famous Bronx Zoo and across the road from Fordham University. It seems that many people do miss it, however, and that's too bad. It is 250 acres of heaven for lovers of fauna and flora. We saw birds, including several catbirds, and a wild rabbit, which dove into a hedge as we approached the conservatory. Peter knew the curator of the conifers, and stopped to chat with him at one point during our tour. He seems to know everyone.
We left the Bronx, NY City and indeed the great state of New York, venturing into Connecticut, Greenwich and Stamford. I did not see any for sale signs, but these towns have been "hard hit" by the rupture created in the economy as FIRE (financial, insurance and real estate) gives way to ICE (information, communications, entertainment). Come to think of it, however, these communities probably have their share of ICE million- and billion-aires too.
In fact, one of Greenwich's most prominent denizens is Walter Noel, who ran the Fairfield Greenwich Group. When Bernie Madoff was first arrested and his Ponzi scheme exposed, Noel and his family were portrayed as innocent victims who had been wiped out by this unscrupulous man they had trusted. Noel has five daughters, all of them married to financiers from around the world who are associated with Fairfield. I guess that's the downside of having everyone in the fam dependent on the same source of income. Noel's group fed more than 7 billion dollars collected from various investors into the Madoff fund, and must have reaped huge benefits from it for many years. It is hard now to believe that these financiers were not savvy enough to question the plausibility of the consistently and excessively high returns regardless of how the rest of the market was performing. I mean, wouldn't you wonder just a little bit?
This initial portrayal of the Noel family as innocent victims has evolved, however. A civil complaint was recently filed against Fairfield by the Massachusetts Secretary of State, and I found this on a society gossip blog:

While most of Walter Noel’s clients are left penniless trying to find ways to put food on their table, some members of the Noel family are still living like its still 2006. Marisa Noel Brown, daughter of disgraced hedge funder Walter Noel, was enjoying a lavish evening of entertainment at her Greenwich, Connecticut home.
According to sources who were at the party Saturday night, about 50 close friends of the Brown’s sipped on what some called the most expensive champagne in the world, Perrier-Jouet, which was sold to about 100 people around the world last year for close to $7,000 a bottle. Another source at the party said that Walter and his wife Monica were also at the party laughing and having a good old time.
“How can these people celebrate when most of the old man’s clients lost everything,” you ask. I do not know, maybe they are using it all up before they lose it all like most of us.

Daily Intel duly notes that the Noel family is having to scale back a bit to cope with these hard times. In years past they have summered at their "7,000-square-foot house in Lake Agawam, an exclusive enclave in Southampton". But this unfortunate Madoff business has meant that their assets are frozen as they face the fraud charges mentioned above. That will put a chill on the best of summer plans. According to Daily Intel, the Southampton property will have to be let to the highest bidder. For just 350,000 dollars you can have the place -- which features ten bedrooms, nine-and-a-half baths, six fireplaces, and a heated pool -- for the whole month of July. If you prefer to vacation in August, be ready to fork over an additional 25,000 bucks.
It may be a short and pleasant journey from the Bronx to Greenwich, CN, but believe me they are worlds apart.

Meet the Noels: Walter, Monica, and their five fabulous daughters