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The Tale of Two Ladies: Mary Tetrault and Adele Bloch-Bauer


The year is 1988. The receptionist in the Manhattan office where I worked was an interesting woman. Mary Tetrault, a widow, retired, a former ladies fashion designer in New York's Garment Center, a French Canadian Catholic who spoke perfect Yiddish. She lived in a doorman building on Fifth Avenue in the East 60s across from Central Park, near Temple Emanuel. Mary did not need the money but worked to keep from being bored. One day I casually said to her that if she ever needed someone to watch her apartment while she was away, my wife, Lenore and I, were available. To my surprise Mary exclaimed, "What are you doing the week between Christmas and New Year's? " Then Mary asked to interview Lenore before she gave us the key to the front door. Lenore passed inspection with flying colors. Mary had plans to visit her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren in Memphis, Tennessee. Surprise number two, her son-law was Jewish. Incidentally, Mary also had a son married to a Jewish woman.

A word about the Tetrault family. There are lots of Tetraults in Montreal, Canada. It is a large clan. One Philip Tetrault, a well known poet and a schizophrenic, was a friend of Leonard Cohen. You can see the two of them on youtube and they are mentioned in Sylvie Simmons biography about the life of Leonard Cohen, "I'm Your Man".

Back to the apartment. It was like a museum with lovely artwork and furniture which Mary bought in Paris and Milan in her previous life as a fashion designer. I asked her if we could invite some of our close friends over to celebrate New Year's Eve. Mary said yes and even offered to prepare snacks and provide wine. One of the couples we invited was Judy and Ray, our machatunim. Their daughter had an apartment in the West 60s and they would be living there the same week we were in town. We four machatunim lived it up. A friend helped by giving me his business credit card, but I had to get it back to him by noon on Monday, which I did, at the last minute. Ray could not stop talking about one restaurant in particular where dinner was served on Rosenthal China, David K's. David introduced Szechuan Chinese cooking to New York. The restaurant was elegant and the prices were outrageous. It was frequented by well known personalities such as Danny Kaye, Henry Kissinger and Isaac Stern, but is no longer in existence. Another interesting spot we took a look at was the Seagram Buildings Four Seasons restaurant. We did not have reservations but the Maitre d' told us to check our coats and then we could look around. We wound up having dinner at the adjacent Grill Room.

We joined the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, went to the Jewish Museum ( the former Felix Warburg House ), The Guggenheim ( designed by Frank Lloyd Wright ), and Ronald Lauder's Neue Galerie which featured German and Austrian, mostly Jewish, what the Nazis called Degenerate Art. But the real gem is Gustav Klimt's Woman In Gold, a portrait of Austrian Adele Bloch-Bauer, wife of a Jewish banker. The story about the painting is documented in a 2012 book by journalist Anne-Marie O'Connor. It is about the hurdles Maria Altman went through to get the painting back from Austria. Maria was Adele's husband's niece, who fled to America. The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The attorney for Maria was E. Randol Schoenberg, the grandson of composer Arnold Schoenberg. The story was also made into a movie. Lenore and I went to a lecture about the book. I did not buy it but I did get the lecturer's business card with a picture of the painting on the back of it. Maria wound up selling the painting for a record breaking $135 million to Ronald Lauder.

Then New Year's Eve and a black-tie dinner at the Metropolitan Opera House Grand Circle. The performance that night was Aida. It was glorious. Dinner over, we all walked to our Box Seats next to the Grand Circle. The opera ended fifteen minutes before midnight. We had to get back to Mary's apartment before our guests arrived. That meant getting across Central Park before the revellers, carrying torches and dressed in Roman togas, ran through the park blocking the way. We hailed a taxi but it was too late to get across. All of our friends were late as well. Finally we all made it. What a wonderful week.

Thank you Mary.

One more thing about Mary. Lenore and I were planning a trip to Paris. Mary was immensely helpful, telling us where to stay, where to eat, and what to see. Back in the days when she was in Paris for Fashion Week, she would stay at the Ritz, which her business paid for. She said we could not afford that. Instead she suggested we stay around the corner from the Ritz at the Hotel de Calais, a B&B on the Rue De Calais. It was well located, on the Right Bank, the kind of hotel that caters to ordinary Europeans and the occasional American, like us.



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Wednesday, 17 July 2024

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