Even Kirstie Alley, who is living in an apartment next door, makes an appearance. She crawls on to her fire escape with a cigarette, making sure that the paparazzi below get a shot of her book, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. An African-American pap takes a few pictures, because there’s nothing else going on, but then she starts yelling about her privacy being invaded, except she yells at the wrong black pap. “The other black guy is darker than me, and bald, and shorter, Ms. Alley,” shouts the other pap. “I’m not the same black guy.” He shakes his head. But we all look alike, right?”
For Sinclair and Strauss-Kahn, the incident’s overtones of racism, sexism, and class warfare are a particularly surreal nightmare, since they have spent so much of their lives decrying inequality. Sinclair has said that ever since she was a young girl, “I didn’t want to be an heiress. I wanted to earn my own way.” In 1958, at the age of 10, she “found her vocation” when she began to follow reports of a French military victory in Algeria and vowed to become a journalist. The seminal French Socialist Pierre Mendès France was her idol, and she was aware of the need for the wealthy to support the lower classes. “I am privileged, it’s true, but are we not allowed to be of the left simply because we have money?” she has said. “I find the thought of joining the UMP [Union for a Popular Movement, a Gaullist party founded by then–French president Jacques Chirac in 2002] simply to defend one’s own wealth unbearable.”
Sinclair is the granddaughter of Paul Rosenberg, one of the most important French dealers of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art. (Sinclair, who has written more than three dozen books, is currently researching one about his life.) His gallery, in the Boétie quarter of Paris, where most of the Jewish art dealers sold their wares before the Nazi occupation, was the first established dealer of Picasso, whom he met when Picasso was on his honeymoon with his first wife, the Russian dancer Olga Koklova. The artist made many portraits of Rosenberg’s family, beginning with Portrait of Madame Paul Rosenberg and Her Daughter, in which his wife holds Sinclair’s mother, Micheline, in her white nightgown, on a straight-backed Louis XIII chair (in a letter, Rosenberg told Picasso that Micheline’s chubby form made the painting “Roundist,” not “Cubist”).
From the first, the Strauss-Kahns saw the maid’s accusations as a political crisis.
When the Nazis began to gain power, it soon became clear that Rosenberg’s dream—that he and his descendants would create a dynasty of ever-more-powerful art dealers—was in a great deal of peril. According to Hector Feliciano’s The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World’s Greatest Works of Art, he moved many of his paintings, though he kept Picasso’s portraits of his family because he couldn’t bear to part with them. Rosenberg eventually escaped to America across the Spanish border, though his son Alexandre was seized there by French officials because he was of age for the draft; over 400 paintings in his collection, which were to be shipped to the U.S. by a goyische assistant, were taken by the Nazis (the informant was a rival dealer, who took a 10 percent commission). His beautiful home and gallery were turned into a French branch of the infamous Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question.
Luck turned in 1944, though, when Alexandre, now a lieutenant, happened to receive orders to commandeer a train bound for Germany with hundreds of paintings on it, many of which belonged to his father. With some, though not all, of his collection repatriated, Rosenberg opened a gallery in midtown and then on East 79th Street. Micheline married a cosmetics executive, another French Jew who fled the country for New York during the war (in the U.S., he changed his name from Schwartz to Sinclair). But everyone pined for the mother country, and a few years after Anne was born, the family moved back to France.
“I was a very lucky girl in there—my life was perfect,” Sinclair has said. “If I was lonely, I devoured Dumas or Proust, and as a young adult Zweig or Albert Cohen, or listened to La Traviata and Faust.” New York receded into memories. “New York is for me a city about which I have very moving thoughts,” she has written. “I remember arriving from France after several days crossing the Atlantic onboard the Queen Mary, after a short stopover in Ireland, in the mists of the Hudson: the most beautiful of journeys.”
Sinclair’s childhood as an “overprotected only daughter,” so sheltered and stable, stands in contrast to Strauss-Kahn’s, where infidelity was part of the family fabric. According to Michel Taubmann’s biography The True Story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Strauss-Kahn grew up with his maternal grandfather living upstairs, decades after his wife, fed up with his straying ways, had left him. Things were even more complicated on the paternal side of his family, where a family secret explains the provenance of the hyphenate Strauss-Kahn: When Strauss-Kahn’s paternal grandfather Gaston Strauss fell ill and died, his wife married his cousin, Marius Kahn. “My father couldn’t bring himself to think of Marius as his father—he thought of him as a big brother,” Strauss-Kahn has said. “As revenge, I guess, I have always seen him as his grandfather.” In fact, his father dropped the “Kahn” from his name later in life and never bestowed it upon Strauss-Kahn, who took it in his twenties. “In my youth, I was called Strauss, like my father,” he has said. “But starting in the seventies, I changed to Strauss-Kahn. It was a way of demonstrating my attachment to my grandfather and also affirming my Jewish identity, which had been awakened by the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War.”