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Goodbye, Mr. Big

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Galotti’s house sits at the edge of a dirt road—a modest 1847 farmhouse in the spare rural New England version of the Federal style, with green shutters and a green tin roof. Set amid rolling pastures between two wooded ridges, it presents a postcard-worthy vista from a distance, though it’s definitely not ready for its close-up in House and Garden. The interior testifies to decades of benign neglect, with its sloping floors and peeling wallpaper. The kitchen is a time capsule from 1962. The kind of place, in short, that any self-respecting New York banker would have gutted. Galotti plans to proceed slowly, and to do as much of the work as he can by himself. And he seems more interested in building a chicken coop and fencing some of the pasture first. In the meantime, the views of the pasture and the hills out the back should more than compensate for the wallpaper.

We took a walk up the back hill in search of the property line and eventually found ourselves lost for some twenty minutes in the deep woods below the ridge. “Don’t worry,” Galotti said, “I’ve got a Swiss Army knife with me.” He pulled it out of his pocket to show me. “Of course, it’s sterling silver, from Tiffany’s.” He finds this detail as amusing as I do.

After finding our way back to the house, we drove into Woodstock for lunch. If the drive from the airport to Galotti’s house showed me the bait-shop-tractor-dealer side of Vermont, the road to Woodstock suggests a more manicured vision—one in which a Tiffany’s Swiss Army knife wouldn’t be out of place. The Pomfret School, which Abigail will attend, looks almost as if it could be a ski lodge, while Woodstock, with its nineteenth-century Rockefeller mansions and its town green, could have been designed by Ralph Lauren. The F.H. Gillingham & Sons general store has a big selection of gourmet salad dressings as well as some very-hard-to-find wines from France and California.

Two weeks ago, while Galotti was unpacking in Vermont, Salman Rushdie married model-actress Padma Lakshmi in a soaring white loft high above the Hudson River in Chelsea. It was one of those brilliantly lit New York moments, the kind of gathering we all dream of attending before we come here—the bride’s and groom’s families, in Indian garb, mingling with a “Page Six” dream cast of guests that included Iman, Diane Von Furstenberg, Steve Martin, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, Bernard-Henri Lévy and wife Arielle Dombasle, as well as writers Paul Auster, Michael Cunningham, and Peter Carey. It was, I couldn’t help thinking, precisely the kind of gathering that would have once included Ron Galotti, who seems to have counted himself as a friend of the bride and was present when the couple first met at the Talk launch party in 1999. If things had gone differently, I thought, if Talk had prospered . . . His former partner Tina Brown was among the first people I spotted, talking with Christopher Hitchens. I made my way over and told Tina I was writing a piece about Galotti and his big change of life. After professing her love for him, she cocked a skeptical eyebrow and asked, “How long do you give him?”

We found ourselves lost in the deep woods. ‘‘Don’t worry,’’ said Galotti. ‘‘I’ve got a Swiss Army knife with me. It’s from Tiffany’s.’’

It’s a question that implies a value system—a faith shared by most of the highly accomplished and celebrated New Yorkers at the wedding, whose very presence at this event certified their citizenship in a realm that they believe is more vital and more real than any other possible world. It is, in part, the faith that John Updike once nailed with his comment that real New Yorkers believe that anyone living anywhere else must, in some sense, be kidding—although it’s catholic enough to include as honorary communicants those from other parts of the world (Los Angeles and London, for instance) who get written about in the gossip columns and the business pages. It has a distinct Calvinist element—the belief of the elect in their own worthiness and in New York as the ultimate meritocracy. For its most devout adherents, Galotti’s story conjures up the secret fear of banishment and excommunication. It may also represent an even deeper fear—the nagging suspicion that our faith is an illusion.

That’s the way Galotti seems to interpret his decision to leave the city. “It’s all on loan,” he says of his pre-Vermont corporate identity. “I used to actually think I was the publisher of Vanity Fair.”

It’s probably wise to remember that he’s a great salesman, and that in espousing the virtues of the bucolic life, he may be selling the product line that fate has, to some extent, dumped on him. If the call that day last fall had been about a promotion—the presidency of Condé Nast, say—the story of Ron Galotti’s excellent adventure would presumably be very different.

But unlike some of the true believers and urban animals among us, the boy who raised chickens and got married on the banks of the Roaring Fork River may have a shot at finding peace and fulfillment in the rolling hills of North Pomfret. I have no doubt that he believes in his new venture, that he sees himself as embracing destiny rather than succumbing to it. I think both Ron Galottis are real, and that his biggest challenge in the years ahead will be to integrate them, or to kill off Mr. Big. Sitting with him in the backyard in Vermont, watching him smoke a cigar, I also couldn’t help imagining that he might finally be taking the time to heal. “There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about Nicholas,” he said that day. “But I wasn’t smart enough or affluent enough back then to get therapy.”

I’ll be rooting for him up there, even as I pursue my own gritty destiny down here in the Town Without Pity. Not that I’d be entirely surprised to see him installed in the Grill Room at The Four Seasons, or in some other spot that we have all agreed to regard as the dead center of the civilized world, about five years from now.


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