Nothing ever happens in New York, or at least nothing when compared to Edinburgh, London, or Paris; this is my perpetual complaint. But when it rains, it pours, and so it was last night. Not only was it press day, the busiest day of the month-long cycle of creating each issue of The New Criterion, but then the evening beheld both “A Festive Evening Celebrating the Mission of the von Hildebrand Project” at the University Club and “The Reception and Dinner to Present the Medal for Heraldic Achievement” at the Racquet & Tennis Club. The simultaneous events were organized by the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project and the Committee on Heraldry of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, respectively.
A rarely-assembled fun crowd was promised at the von Hildebrand event, but nor was the presentation of the G&B’s medal a common occurrence (there have been only three awarded to date) so I simply resolved that I would do my best to attend both. First to the University Club, where I arrived bang on the dot of 6:30 after an excruciating half-hour cab ride from the office down on 20th Street. I arrived just as Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis was leaving, having herself put in a brief appearance, but I did manage to say hello. Her Serene Highness inquired as to the origin of a liturgical difference between the traditional Mass said at St. Agnes on 43rd Street (where I serve every Sunday) and those back in her native Germany, which, being completely liturgically unaware as I am and simply doing whatever the superb Master of Ceremonies Dino Marcantonio tells me, I was disgracefully unable to give an appropriate response but assured the Princess I would make inquiries myself.
In the distance I saw a tall, striking figure and instantly thought to myself Who is that man? I’m certain I know him from somewhere…. Alas, it was only much later in the evening as I got hold of a program listing the “distinguished guests” that I saw his name and it finally clicked: it was none other than Declan Ganley, the leader of Libertas, the pro-European anti-Lisbon group that was instrumental in convincing the Irish people to vote down the nefarious Lisbon Treaty. Mr. Ganley is the man who saved Europe… for now. No one for a moment believes that the Lisbon Treaty is dead, and it is a near certainty that the Brussels institutions will simply enact its components without the required unanimous authorization from member states. That’s the European Union for you!
I was dressed for dinner at the “business attire” von Hildebrand event, but luckily I wasn’t the only one in black tie as I soon came across Bruce Patterson FRHSC. Formerly Saguenay Herald, Bruce was recently elevated to Herault Saint-Laurent in the Canadian Heraldic Authority, the only governmental college of arms in the New World. Bruce, like me, was just popping in on his way to the G&B dinner.
Then I finally ran into Stephen Klimczuk, who knows half the people in the New World and all the people in the Old. Stephen has more feathers in his cap than we can keep track of, but among them is that he drafted the press release for the visit to the Austrian Republic of Archduke Carl Ludwig (the late brother of Crown Prince Otto) irrespective of the government’s long-standing ban on members of the family entering Austria. (While the Crown Prince Otto has not lived in Austria since he accompanied his father into exile in 1918, he has been granted Austrian citizenship in addition being a citizen of Germany, Croatia, and Hungary; which, incidentally, is as many passports as Stephen has).
Stephen introduced me to Lord Nicholas Windsor, whose wedding at the Vatican was two whole years ago now, and Count John-Maximilian de Salis, a recent Cambridge grad (and descendant of Sir Francis Drake) who has picked a somewhat inopportune time to start work at a Manhattan hedge fund but who remains spirited nonetheless.
But the time! I had to run to the heraldic dinner, pausing only to offer a brief greeting to Fr. Rutler on his arrival, and dashing two blocks over and one block down to the Racquet & Tennis Club on Park Avenue. The R&T is a Renaissance palazzo with a balcony so grand it would make il Duce blush. Among my fellow diners were Gary Dycus of the American Friends of the Georgian Group, and the Rev. Guy Selvester OSB (“Cassock Pursuivant”), who recently gave up the world of blogging in the face of his numerous other responsibilities; pastoral, educational, and heraldic.
The Committee on Heraldry of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society is chaired by the ever-capable John Shannon. Mr. Shannon, who is Executive Director & Almoner of St. George’s Society of New York and President of the College of Arms Foundation, revivified the Committee on Heraldry after it had practically fallen into abeyance. The CoH is now one of the most vibrant parts of the G&B, for which Mr. Shannon no doubt deserves our appreciation. (As, I feel worth mentioning, does his fellow committee member Maria Dering, who always serves with such a heartening & unfeigned cheerfulness of demeanor).
While on the subject of appreciation, the dinner was held to award the Medal for Heraldic Achievement to Robert D. Watt LVO FRHSC. Mr. Watt was the first person to hold the office of Chief Herald of Canada, and presided over the body for the nineteen years from 1988 to 2007. After receiving the award from William P. Johns, the President of the G&B, Mr. Watt gave an exceptionally thoughtful and synapse-stimulating speech ruminating on Canadian and American heraldry, on the foundation of the Authority, and of its operation since then.
One of Mr. Watt’s more amusing tales was of his journey to Iqaluit in Canada’s Arctic north to meet with Inuit elders and representatives to decide the armorial bearings and official emblems of the new territory of Nunavut. Those assembled met in a small, low, poorly-ventilated room in the settlement, and threw together and drew various designs with magic markers. They deliberated for so long that the fumes from the markers made them all simultaneously feel unwell, and they were forced to open the door to the outside temperature of -20° F, though only for a mere fifteen seconds. The design they eventually agreed upon features the rather handsome crest of an igloo surmount by a crown signifying, Mr. Watt said, the ability of the people of Nunavut to live together peacefully under the authority of the Crown.
Mr. Watt related the experience of the Canadian Heraldic Authority in using heraldry to allow Canadians of aboriginal, Asian, and other origins to be integrated into the pre-existing European tradition of heraldry. Numerous elements from the many exotic locales from which Canadians originate are now incorporated into these arms and have been an essential part of forging a uniquely Canadian tradition of heraldry out of the original European framework. It was vitally important, Mr. Watt particularly emphasized, to provide citizens with a grounding in tradition to act as an anchor in these ever-changing and almost revolutionary times. Heraldry, he argued, is an excellent opportunity for doing just that.
Following the dinner, I had the privilege of meeting the Honourable Peter Andrew Stewart Milliken MP, Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons. Like so many Canadians, Mr. Milliken is actually of good American stock: his ancestors were on the very last ship to leave New York on that sad November day in 1783, when our great city lost the King’s protection and was handed over to the republican forces. After the U.S. Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act punishing foreign nationals (many of them Canadian) who did business in Cuba, Mr. Milliken teamed up with his fellow Liberal MP John Godfrey to propose a Canadian reaction. The Godfrey-Milliken Bill — officially called the American Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Loyalty) Act in response to the official name of Helms-Burton: the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act — called for the descendants of the United Empire Loyalists to be allowed to reclaim land and property illegally confiscated by the American government during and after the Revolution, and would have banned from entering Canada those corporate officers and shareholders in companies possessing property confiscated from Loyalists. Godfrey-Milliken, alas, failed to pass when presented to Parliament.
Then, once done chatting with the Speaker, I hightailed it back to the University Club to catch up with the remnants of the von Hildebrand event. I met Andreas Widmer, a former Swiss Guard who is now busy promoting enterprise-based solutions to poverty worldwide, before stumbling upon my good friend Andrew Litschi, currently of Yale Divinity School, who introduced me to his fellow “Eli”, the eccentrically-named Brownwen McShea, and to Anna Halpine of the World Youth Alliance. Litschi and I combined with Justin Shubow of Commentary to pay a visit to the darkened library of the University Club, the finest library in all of New York and indeed in all the New World. Finally, close to 11:00, the conscientious attendants of the University Club encouraged our egress and the gathered faithful duly dispersed, carrying their good cheer onwards, elsewhere, into the night and beyond.
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