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Liz Neumark Headshot

The Week That Almost Wasn't

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It was a week ushered in with the proposition that it is not a question of IF, but rather, WHEN. We collectively took a deep breath, followed by a sigh of relief and then, in a flash, it was a typical first week in New York in the month of May. The calendar could not have been fuller - Hollywood, Wall Street, Food, Media, Non Profits - a city in full swing, having skirted disaster, instead celebrating life, toasting accomplishments and living fully in the glorious moment.

They call it the Oscars of the food industry, the James Beard Foundation Awards, an annual event where foodies mingle to select and salute their own. Categories of culinary accomplishment include Best New Restaurant (Marea, NYC); Outstanding Chef (Tom Colicchio, NY); Outstanding Pastry Chef (Nicole Plue, CA); Outstanding Restaurateur (Keith McNally); Rising Star Chef of the Year (Timothy Hollingsworth, CA), to list but a few. And awards for restaurant design and graphics; books (in several categories); broadcast media (home of the evening's lead emcee Alton Brown - which goes to show that knowing everything about food is not enough to make you palatable); and journalism, where my dear friend and brilliant food writer Rachel Wharton, writing for Edible Brooklyn, was selected as the winner for several Food-Related Columns. Bravo!

Famine, during the 3 hours awards ceremony followed by a feast where about 30 restaurants are tapped to set up tasting tables, at which the other zillion restaurant people forage for several hours. Lots of great drinks too. It is a love fest for food and foodies. What can I say - in the context of world peace, maybe it is an important gathering; no one was hungry, everyone enjoyed being together, there was a nod to sustainability and local foods, and the after parties were good business for the other restaurant folks who didn't take the night off.

Cross-town, the fabulous and infamous Costume Institute Ball was getting underway at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The entry tent took a day to erect and could have housed a small museum. I looked at the dresses on line, OMG, one is more amazing than the next. No overlap on these 2 event guest lists, even though we food people have our own royalty and culinary superstars Food and fashion - what a match.

Tuesday night, another evening with dozens of parties all over town, found Great Performances at the Time 100 at Frederick P. Rose Hall, the home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. It is a celebration of the 100 most influential people - in the world. The list includes the very famous whose faces sell magazines - (Oprah Winfrey, Robert Pattinson, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Conan, Elton John, Ashton Kutcher, Sandra Bullock) as well as the significant players on the world's true stage leaders and 'heros' who you might not recognize -(Salam Fayyad, Valentin Abe, Tristan Lecomte, Kim Yu-Na and more), and the recognizable VIP's (Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Michael Pollan). Then my very short list of people I am mortified to think of as influential, notably, Sarah Palin and Ben Stiller. Really. (Though I do love him for toasting his wonderful mother as the most influential person in his life.) I had made room in my heart for Sarah Palin - after all, she was my guest. How nice to see her chatting with Betty White. But then she began her folksy toast to 'everyday average Americans; guys in the band, folks serving our food.' Really Ms. Palin, is that the best you can do? Please don't toast the waiters.

The room belonged to Bill Clinton who talked about the modern world being unequal, unstable and unsustainable: Unequal because of poverty; unstable as a result of the financial crisis; and unsustainable because of the threat of climate change and our energy dependency. And Elizabeth Warren who toasted her grandmother who had travelled westward as a 13yr old in the Oklahoma land rush, and who lived through the economic downturns of 1893. 1907, 1929 yet lived to see the rebirth of the middle class each time until her death in l970 at the age of 94. This legendary source of inspiration guides the woman who is charged with protecting us during our time of economic darkness. And Valentile Abe, whose simple formula - teaching a man to fish - allows a father to feed his family, educate his children and restores dignity while breaking the cycle of poverty in Haiti.

I heard Bill Clinton speak again on Thursday night at MoMA as Jon Tisch celebrated his new book Citizen You, which highlights the good deeds of New Yorkers who decided it was time to dedicate their lives to giving back to their neighbors in need of help. How does Mr. Clinton stay optimistic? By seeing all this good change trying to influence the status quo. The Mayor also toasted Jon Tisch for dispelling questions about the city's future.

I heard the Mayor the previous evening as he was awarded The Spirit of the City Award at the Cathedral of St John the Divine. He spoke to the spirit of New Yorkers "who will not be intimidated by those who hate our city." He also assured the Pakistani and Muslim community that NYC gives everyone opportunity regardless of their religion.

Looking back on the week - not bad hearing Bill Clinton twice, the Mayor twice and being inspired by their vision. Not bad listening to Andy Samberg and Prince perform and being enriched by their creativity. Not bad having night after night to watch the best of our city gather for the purpose of making the world a better place.

Had the car bomb succeeded, what would the week have been like? Would we all have stayed in doors, our events cancelled and our fragile economic rebirth abruptly ended? Had dozens or hundreds of lives been lost, how could life go on as usual?

I have painted myself into a corner. I don't know the answer and am torn between a desire to take a page from the Middle East, where life continues without skipping a beat, (is that only because they are so accustomed to this destructive cycle) and the knowledge that our fear and lack of experience means life will come to an abrupt halt. In either case, looking back on the events of the week that was, there is such a range of experiences that contribute to our growth as a culture. Some seem self-indulgent and less meaningful while others clearly help define the future.

I suspect that in due time we will see how the event calendar - a barometer of our culture - will weather the challenges ahead.