Mitch Joel WARNING... LONG RANT! It takes a lot for me to both get angry and publish about it. Canada’s…
Sam Totah: Plus ça change..the 700th tribute
February 16, 2011
Dear Diana and David,
The year is now 2011, you have just moved out of the house – 33 Rosemount Avenue, Westmount, Quebec, still in Canada (!) and I just reviewed what I had written some fifteen years ago about your Wednesday Nights Salon on the occasion of the 700th anniversary. Now, you have passed your 1500th anniversary of your unforgettable “plus ca change plus c’est la même chose” soirées with some slight changes, but the spirit is still the same ! Hope you would like the following to …my tribute to the 700th
August 2, 1995
The anniversary date is always a good opportunity to look back and view the events from a different point of view i.e. in hindsight. When David and Dianastarted these unique soirées –long, long long time, almost 14 years, ago — their first special guest was Dr. Carl Beigie – the US-made Economist who was residing then with the Nicholson family — in Canada. 14 years multiplied by 365 days is a long time in anyone’s calendar. But it seems that David is breathing the same air he was breathing almost a decade and a half ago. The air that David breathes is “the success of the soirées, the exchange of information, the discussion, the arguments, the video output during the soirées, the video input during the off-hours, the faxes to the guests, the telephone calls to the special guests, and on and on and on… “Indeed very few of us realize what goes on behind the scenes and for that matter in the specially designed studio basement of the Nicholsons until that special Wednesday arrives on our agenda.
Then we have to rush for that “bottle” from the Government controlled Liquor Store, where the staff have become friendlier in recent years. I don’t know why. Maybe there is some kind of privatization or competition in the air!
Back to the Nicholsons –theirs by contrast is a private initiative– not government supported and yet it has survived for 14 years. Chapeau. Hats off.
All in all — the Nicholsons’ soirées are very special–”don’t leave home without it”
I do want to mention– in a special way– the name of Diana– the hostess, the other partner in this private enterprise of the Nicholsons. She plays a different role. In fact, while David is the official spokesman of the agenda and the official moderator of the production known to all attendees as the “Wednesday Night out chez les Nicholson”, Diana is in fact the unofficial moderator. She is the one that senses the pulse and depth of the discussion and at times brings the discussions tangentially to virtual reality.
I am writing on the Nicholsons’ soirées the way I see in the dim light when I enter that well known house in Westmount. Yes, in Westmount, but not necessarily for Westmounters. The guests come from all over the world. If my memory serves me well, dignitaries that walked in through the doors have included the Managing Director of the IMF, well known diplomats, ambassadors, consuls, politicians – including the ex-Premier of the Province, professionals from all walks of life– specially lawyers and investment executives, and multiple choice of others…. from A to Z. The point is that indeed these soirées attract “by-invitation-only” people from all countries and professions. The common denominator is that someone knows either David or Diana or one of their guests. Anyhow– an interesting mix of people and topics and wine is what makes up these evenings– officially from 8:00p.m. to midnight.
The first hour on each side of the spectrum is for the very brave. In fact, from eight to nine p.m. there is some socializing– one greets each other and the hosts, and people try to figure out both what you do and how you happen to be in the same spot that same evening!
The shallowness of these casual discussions is very much in contrast with what is to come after David gives his famous signal on the huge bell right above the bar. That signals that the drinking period will be sitting instead of standing. Seriously– that is when guests are channeled to an adjacent room and then those sitting round the large rectangular table and others taking the back seats better distinguish the triage of “who is who”. Noblesse oblige– everyone finds his little niche in the atmosphere of silence among attendees and blasting videos contouring the three sides of the elegant room–signaling indeed the tumultuous discussions are yet to commence.
That is when real action begins. Both politicians and diplomats are relaxed when the famous motto off the record is reiterated officially. Then there is spring in the air– and everyone wants to talk more than just sit back and listen to the wisdom freely expounded. This is not exactly it! One realizes that it is very difficult to assemble images on the spoken words alone. Something I am trying to do, right at this moment. In resumé to visualize what exactly transpires on the scene at the Nicholsons’ Wednesday soirées you have to be there in person. “Point finale”. All hearsay can give you a clue to what some people call comme les soirées intellectuelles du XIXième siècle en Europe!.
That’s it!–you never know what to expect from the hosts and for that matter from the guests. What appears on the surface to be a simple subject of discussion is more complex when people of all walks of life present different points of view. I witnessed discussions on the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and came out of these soirées, perplexed by what I learned to be the other person’s point of view. There will be at times a feeling of déjà-vu and other times you will be filled with so much new information that you can hardly wait for the next New York Times Sunday edition to re-educate yourself.