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A note for the New Year

Champagne, Campari, Lillet, doughnuts, caviar, herring-salads, crackers, paper plates, ham, rack of lamb, cheese puffs, cigars. Hannah Arendt loved to throw New Year’s Eve parties.

Each year, Arendt and her husband, Heinrich Blücher, would invite twenty or so of their friends (their tribe) to apartment 12A at 370 Riverside Drive. In an essay on Arendt and friendship, Kathleen B. Jones sumptuously describes their home:

From Arendt’s desk, one could look over Riverside Park and the Hudson River to the edge of New Jersey. In the living room, where Arendt received visitors with her characteristic combination of archness and wit, womanly guile and cultivated erudition, stood a high-backed sofa covered in a dismal green vinyl, worn and patched, but serviceable. Scattered across from the sofa was an assortment of armchairs and in front of it, a coffee table, on which she would serve glasses of champagne from her well stocked supplies to closer friends on social occasions. The dining room, whose main table was covered in books, papers, and journals, served primarily as a library.

It’s not difficult to imagine such affairs, the drinking, conversation and nourishment. Arendt’s home was the four walls that shielded her from the glare of public life. It was where she found the solitude necessary to think and write, and where she opened to private life; it was her salon.

This year has been a kind of masterclass in home-making, in refining our dwelling machines to encompass private, public, and social life. My kitchen became a studio, my living room became a lecture hall, and each day after I closed my computer I was returned to the space of solitude I so value in this chaotic world. The quiet of the woods, the work of the garden, and long walks to the Hudson called my senses to attention and gave my eyes rest.

I would usually be getting on a plane right now, heading for Paris and Heidelberg, but my winter break plan is a bit more humble this year. I’ve culled a stack of sixteen books and stocked the firewood so I can take time to enjoy the snow and read. 

I hope your tribe finds you wherever you are this year, and that 2021 brings good health. Thank you so much for your generous support these past few months. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you in our monthly meetings, through your emails and letters. I’ll be back the second week of January with a letter about Hannah Arendt, Socrates, and friendship. Until then, Happy New Year!

— S