Marvin Shanken, His Cave and Lots of Stories

The publisher’s Manhattan office arguably doubles as his personal man cave

Publisher Marvin Shanken at the offices of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator in New York.
Publisher Marvin Shanken at the offices of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator in New York. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Somebody told me that Marvin Shanken invented the man cave. I didn’t take that literally. I doubt anyone invented the man cave any more than somebody did the stone cave.

But Mr. Shanken, chairman of M. Shanken Communications, publisher of the magazines Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado and Whiskey Advocate, has arguably done as much as anyone to coach those who are serious about stocking their own caves on how to do so with excellent smoke and drink.

More to the point, Shanken Publications’ new offices at 1 Worldwide Plaza on West 50th Street—they were on Park Avenue South for the previous 28 years—arguably doubles as his personal man cave. There is even a cigar testing room, with a special ventilation system, behind an unmarked door off the building’s lobby.

“Very few people in the company have seen the room,” Mr. Shanken said when we met in his office recently. “It’s not a social place—only senior editors of Cigar Aficionado.”

That depends on your definition of social.

I remarked that Mr. Shanken’s office with its spectacular views from Central Park to the Hudson River (though he keeps the shades half drawn—“I’m working most of the time,” he shrugged), celebrity photographs and memorabilia, reminded me of Donald Trump’s office in Trump Tower.

Mr. Shanken, 72 years old, dismissed the comparison, while noting that he received a phone call from the presidential candidate—apparently during a free moment while neither campaigning nor bashing his Republican rivals—to thank him for a story in the October issue of “Cigar Aficionado” about The Donald’s golf-course empire.

“There’s a difference,” Mr. Shanken said. “Very few people are in this office,” meaning visitors. “These are pictures of my friends, people I’ve grown up with and done things with.”

Again, I suppose that depends on your definition of friends.

Thousands of bottles of wine are stored for tasting and review at the offices of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator in New York.
Thousands of bottles of wine are stored for tasting and review at the offices of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator in New York.

There do appear to be pictures of buddies, his wife Hazel, a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, and even pets—“That’s my daughter’s dog, a mini Goldendoodle,” the publisher stated affectionately of his daughter Jessica, a vice president with his company, and her dog Lionel.

But there are also images of Mr. Shanken with, among others, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton—“surprise guests” at the annual $2,795-a-head marketing seminar he holds for wine-and-spirits executives—and the entire cast of “The Sopranos.”

Among the more arresting images is one of a beaming Mr. Shanken bookended by convicted financier Michael Milken and former New York City Mayor and U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani.

“He put him in jail and I brought the two of them together,” Mr. Shanken boasted.

The company’s conference room, where Mr. Shanken’s longtime personal chef serves lunch, displays important humidors, including one that Fidel Castro gave him when he interviewed the Cuban president for Cigar Aficionado in 1994. The dozens of Cohibas that came with the box remain untouched.

There is another cigar container that comedian Milton Berle gave to President John F. Kennedy and that Mr. Shanken famously paid $574,500 for at Sotheby’s in 1996. That probably turned out to be a bargain, considering all the free publicity it garnered.

There is also a world-class collection of Belle Époque posters by artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

We visited the wine-tasting room where editors were hard at work, so to speak, blind testing recently arrived vintages; between 18,000 and 20,000 bottles a year.

Cuban cigars line the inside of a humidor Fidel Castro gave to Marvin Shanken.
Cuban cigars line the inside of a humidor Fidel Castro gave to Marvin Shanken.  PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL   

“Why do you think I got in this business?” Mr. Shanken said, referring to his love of fermented grapes. “I didn’t know anything about writing.”

From there it was down 33 floors to the cigar room. Unlike the wine-tasting facility that, with its bare concrete floors, exuded a science-lab aesthetic, the cigar area was a classic man cave with easy chairs and a widescreen TV.

A bunch of Cigar Aficionado editors were sorting cigars for the publication’s 20th annual Big Smoke event in Las Vegas.

“The idea was I’d have a place to go to smoke and watch golf on TV,” Mr. Shanken said, settling into a club chair with a cigar.

There was also a bottle of 18-year-old single malt floating around somewhere. But it was made clear that nothing stronger than water crosses the lips of editors while cigars are being rated.

New York City’s Department Stores Unveil Their Holiday Windows

In annual ritual, festivities and pageantry mark the displays’ debut

The unveiling of Bloomingdale’s 2015 holiday windows.ENLARGE
The unveiling of Bloomingdale’s 2015 holiday windows. PHOTO: BILLY FARRELL/BFA

Since I haven’t seen the holiday windows yet at Barneys—or for that matter Bergdorf, Saks, Lord & Taylor or Macy’s, I can’t say which are my favorites.

I typically wait until after Thanksgiving to focus on this all-important seasonal ritual.

Notice that I didn’t say best windows. Because if anything boils down to personal taste, it’s holiday-season pageantry. Those who fancy themselves creative types might prefer the inventiveness of “Chillin’ Out,” the theme of Barneys’ ice carvings, to the more traditional “A Few of Our Favorite Things” approach of Lord & Taylor.

However, I did have the opportunity to partake of the excitement at the unveiling of the Bloomingdale’s windows on Wednesday evening.

The festivities began with a performance by Sara Bareilles. As much as I like Sara Bareilles, who was singing songs she wrote for the coming Broadway musical “Waitress,” I didn’t last long. I gave up standing at concerts around 1980.

So I decided to get a jump on my holiday shopping, at least holiday window-shopping, by ducking into Bloomingdale’s. Where I made the hardly original observation that I don’t think I’ve ever visited the store where things were in the same place from one trip to the next.

I made a mental note to take this up with Bloomingdale’s executives, should I run into any at the holiday-window unveiling. That appeared to be getting under way—as signified by Santa’s helpers handing out candy canes in the lobby of the department store and the strains of an approaching marching band, its musicians dressed like toy soldiers.

Musicians dressed as toy soldiers at the unveiling of the holiday windows at Bloomingdale’s.ENLARGE
Musicians dressed as toy soldiers at the unveiling of the holiday windows at Bloomingdale’s. PHOTO: BILLY FARRELL/BFA.COM

The windows were designed by Jeff Leatham, artistic director of the Four Seasons hotel George V in Paris. Mr. Leatham also came recommended by Jane Krakowski, of “30 Rock” fame, who wasn’t on the program. She had just dropped by.

“I’m just friends with Jeff,” Ms. Krakowski explained. “I didn’t realize it was going to be such pageantry.”

The crowds on Lexington Avenue were so deep—who knew there would be such enthusiasm for the holidays, even before Turkey Day—that I was blocked from seeing the moment of unveiling from where I was standing.

However, John Klimkowski, Bloomingdale’s operating vice president national director visuals, gave me a guided tour once things had quieted down slightly.

The windows featured legions of red roses—Mr. Leatham’s credits include florist—and lots of faceted mirrored surfaces. Whatever their competitors inspiration, I doubt anybody is going to out-glam Bloomingdale’s this holiday season.

I also loved that a couple of the windows pumped scent, such as peppermint, into the air, lending the festivities a Sensurround thrill.

However, one window particularly spoke to me. It featured a sparkling golden Boston terrier popping out of a box. The five senses is this year’s theme and that particular window tackled sight: a child, or at least a video representation of one, peered excitedly through a keyhole just as my brothers and I did Christmas morning 1963, when Santa had brought us our Boston terrier puppy, Skippy.

I got my opportunity to complain about Bloomingdale’s ever-changing landscape when I was introduced to Jack Hruska, executive vice president of creative services.


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Mr. Hruska was unapologetic. “It’s retail,” he explained. “You have to be competitive, keep things fresh.”

I recalled when Bloomingdale’s fluffy house-brand sock came in a rainbow of colors, not that one has anything to do with the other. Mr. Hruska, who has been with the department store for 23 years, remembered them, too.

These days, his sock drawer is monochromatic. “Now I just try to buy the exact same pair of black socks,” he confessed, as if there’s nothing wrong with a world devoid of socks of eye-popping distinction. (Imagine if the theme of Bloomingdale’s holiday windows was the color black.)

“Now people generally don’t wear socks,” he went on. “Generally guys don’t wear socks any more.”

I could have shared my thoughts on that preposterous trend, but didn’t want to sully the fledgling holiday spirit.

Listening vs. Liquor: How to Survive the Holiday

Mediator Kenneth Feinberg suggests empathy, but Ralph Gardner is on the side of responsible inebriation

Kenneth Feinberg, mediator for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, discussed empathetic listening recently on WNYC’s health-oriented podcast, ‘Only Human.’
Kenneth Feinberg, mediator for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, discussed empathetic listening recently on WNYC’s health-oriented podcast, ‘Only Human.’ PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WNYC’s health-oriented podcast, “Only Human,” just finished broadcasting what was promoted as a weeklong “boot camp” to help listeners enhance their hearing, listening, empathy and memory skills ahead of the Thanksgiving festivities.

“I kind of think of Thanksgiving as the Olympics of listening,” explained Mary Harris, the program’s host.

I believe Ms. Harris was referring to the self-restraint it takes to bite your tongue while friends and relatives you might see once a year make your turkey and mashed potatoes marginally less appetizing by spouting off-the-wall opinions on everything from politics to your personal choices regarding a career and a mate.

“For some people it’s a little bit tense,” Ms. Harris observed.

So the show interviewed a group of experts on how to keep your blood pressure in check and make the most out of the holiday.

The personalities included September 11th Victim Compensation Fund mediator Kenneth Feinberg, talking about empathetic listening. Author and memory champion Joshua Foer about tricks for remembering the names of people you mingle with at holiday parties. And Okieriete (Oak) Onaodowan, who plays James Madison in Broadway’s “Hamilton,” on studying fellow guests’ body language.

If I’d been asked for lineup suggestions, I might have added a wine and spirits expert. Through trial and error I’ve discovered if you’re responsibly inebriated, people’s ignorant comments tend to slide off your back.

Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Mr. Feinberg’s opinion of my 80-proof holiday strategy when we met at a Midtown law office last week.

The precocity of the hour probably had something to do with it. It was 7:45 a.m. and the only fluids on my mind were orange juice and coffee.

“What I’ve learned in my work is that listening is a real virtue,” Mr. Feinberg confided. “When you’re dealing in a very emotional situation with strangers or family, empathy is, ironically, best expressed through silence.”

Among his other assignments have been as the administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, and he was retained by General Motors to assist in their faulty ignition switch recall response.

“Be careful what you say,” he went on. “A good listener can express more empathy and understanding and sensitivity than somebody who attempts, in good faith, to articulate that empathy.”

I couldn’t agree more. My grandfather, a shy, quiet person but nonetheless a successful businessman, used to say that you learn a lot more from listening than talking.

The problem is—and I’m not proud of it—that I prefer to talk than listen. I enjoy being the center of attention.

And I got the feeling, from having watched Mr. Feinberg in action over the years, that he’s no wallflower either.

He didn’t deny it.

“I share your pro-active personality,” he confessed. “I’ve learned, however, through discipline and experience over the last 15 years that listening and more passivity can be an important value in how you deal with emotional recipients of communication. It’s a learned skill. And contrary to my ordinary personality.”

Fortunately, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays don’t typically occur in the shadow of tragedy. Fun is, or certainly ought to be, the guiding ethos. Sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows isn’t a serious dish.

I was curious about Mr. Feinberg’s Thanksgiving plans. “About 10 people,” he reported. “On Martha’s Vineyard. My wife will, as she has for the last 40 years, cook.”

Is he ever required to exercise the interpersonal skills honed over the course of his storied career to settle family squabbles? “My wife resolves most family disputes,” he admitted. “As she once told me, ‘You can mediate a family dispute as long as when you’re through you side with me.”

“Give me a dispute any day between two public companies,” the attorney went on. “If I try to mediate one of their disputes, what they say is, ‘Dad, mind your own business.’ They are not shy about not seeking my professional help.”

Better than mediation, arbitration or any other resolution strategy, I’ve found that conflict avoidance works wonders over the holidays. And for that matter during the other 11 months of the year, too.

When things look like they might be heading in an unpleasant direction, simply refill your glass and offer up another toast.

Laptops Are Lifeline for Foster Children

Program provides free computers and teaches digital literacy to help foster children keep up

Raquel Rendon has benefited from New York Foundling’s technology program for foster children.
Raquel Rendon has benefited from New York Foundling’s technology program for foster children.                       PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

A recent study by Common Sense Media found that teenagers spend an astonishing nine hours a day with digital technology. If you do the math, and assuming adolescents require at least occasional sleep, that leaves little time for anything else.

But there are also children who have the opposite problem: extremely limited access to technology, or even a computer at home to do their school work.

“About half of our kids said they regularly write their term papers on their smartphones,” said Bethany Lampland, chief operating officer of The New York Foundling, one of the city’s oldest child welfare agencies. “That’s the only access they have to a computer.”

Foster child Raquel Rendon was one of them.

“My whole senior year revolved around my phone,” she said of her school work.

But Ms. Rendon, 19 years old, fully entered the digital age only in September through a program started by The New York Foundling. It teaches digital literacy to both children and their foster parents.

Best of all, the kids get a brand new, free Dell laptop. In exchange, they must participate in three classes that teach them things most kids consider second nature by the time they reach Ms. Rendon’s age—basic computer skills.

There are already enough disadvantages stacked against them. This is one way we can bridge the gap between those who have access to the Internet and those who don’t.

—Bethany Lampland of The New York Foundling

To understand what a big deal this is, you first have to understand the hardship many of these children have faced in their lives. Ms. Rendon was removed from her biological parents’s home by the Administration for Children’s Services when she was 15. “I ended up having to break inside my own home, take a bag of clothes and run to the ACS,” she remembered.

Since her removal, Ms. Rendon has lived with several different foster families, which Ms. Lampland said isn’t unusual. But she seems finally to have found a foster home where she feels a member of the family.

“I call her my mom,” Ms. Rendon said of her current foster mom, with whom she’s taking the digital literacy course. “We have a really good connection. It’s the one stable foster home I can say I enjoy.”

Targeting the caregivers as well as the children is a vital aspect of the program, not only because it helps create a bond between parent and child but also because it helps avoid the barriers that might arise if only one of them has computer skills.

“As a parent you have to be involved with your child,” said Daryn Eato,a foster parent enrolled in the program. “You have to be in the loop, and not just to make sure he’s not doing anything wrong. To know the terminology they’re using. It helps me with that.”

Ms. Rendon appeared surprisingly well-adjusted and happy. But she said she suffers from Post-traumatic stress disorder. “I have a hard time forming attachments and keeping them,” she said.

She added that she engaged in self-destructive behavior such as burning, cutting and scratching herself. “Anything to make me feel pain as a release.”

Nonetheless, she graduated from the Karafin School, a private school for children with learning and emotional disabilities in Mount Kisco, N.Y. “I got the top SAT scores in my class,” she said.

She’s attending Hunter College starting next spring.

Her achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that only 20% of foster children who graduate high school attend college and just 2% to 9% earn a bachelor’s degree, according to the The New York Foundling.

The child welfare agency hopes to reduce those odds not only with its digital literacy program—it also includes four years of free Wi-Fi for each family of a child who participates—but also with a career program to help foster children get tech jobs.

Less than half of them are employed within four years after they’re out of foster care, according to the agency.

“When they don’t have these computer skills they fall further and further behind,” Ms. Lampland explained. “There are already enough disadvantages stacked against them. This is one way we can bridge the gap between those who have access to the Internet and those who don’t.”

Manuel Torres, a 14-year-old enrolled in the program, recalls taking his computer home for the first time on the subway.

“I kept it close to me,” he remembered.

“You did the same thing I did,” Ms. Rendon said. “I kept it between my legs. I was territorial.”

For NY1 Lovers, a Whole New Venue

At the 92nd Street Y, ‘Pat & Jamie’s New York’

NY1’s Pat Kiernan and Jamie Stelter with Tertulia chef Seamus Mullen.
NY1’s Pat Kiernan and Jamie Stelter with Tertulia chef Seamus Mullen. PHOTO: ROB LOMBARDI/92Y

To some, NY1 is like the wallpaper in their apartment: always there, if seldom acknowledged or appreciated. Indeed, a few might consider paint a more apt metaphor: NY1’s programming like watching the stuff dry.

But for the rest of us, at least those lucky enough to subscribe to Time-Warner Cable (I never thought I’d utter lucky and Time-Warner Cable in the same breath) NY1 is nothing short of daily sustenance.

From Pat Kiernan’s “In The Papers” in the a.m. to Errol Louis’s “Inside City Hall” at night, it’s like a security blanket—no, a king-size duvet filled with 100% goose down—that we know we can always count on for the latest news and weather.

If you think this sounds like small potatoes, you haven’t tried finding news on TV lately. Turn to CNN and you’re as likely to get Anthony Bourdain sampling fish-noodle soup in Myanmar as you are the latest headlines.

For those who can’t get enough of NY1, or just want to see their local heroes in person, the 92nd Street Y is hosting “Pat & Jamie’s New York,” a series starring Mr. Kiernan and Jamie Stelter, NY1’s Emmy-nominated traffic anchor.

Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay on the first installment of ‘Pat & Jamie’s New York.’ That’s a shark suit.ENLARGE
Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay on the first installment of ‘Pat & Jamie’s New York.’ That’s a shark suit. PHOTO: JOYCE CULVER/92Y

The duo interview NY-centric personalities. The first show, in late October, featured “Late Show WithDavid Letterman” announcer Alan Kalter,WSJ sports columnistJason Gay and “Girls” starAlex Karpovsky. They also engage in lively banter, tackling controversial topics such as pedestrians who block the sidewalk while texting, and whether the Second Avenue subway will ever be completed.

They gave me a sample of their shtick—though I believe it was more a spontaneously outburst of the sort of passion New Yorkers are prone to when attacking some perceived injustice—when we gathered last week at Tertulia, a restaurant in Greenwich Village. Tertulia’s chef, Seamus Mullen, will be featured in the show’s second installment on Thursday night.

“More and more cabdrivers don’t have any idea where they’re going,” Ms. Stelter complained.

This isn’t an entirely novel observation. I believe I first noticed the phenomenon in approximately 1980, but technology has definitely added a painful new twist.

“They’re relying 100% on GPS,” said Mr. Kiernan. In the old days, “you’d rattle off how you wanted to get to the East Side and they’d go, ‘OK.’”

“I used to be able to get in a cab and do what I have to do,” Ms. Stelter went on. “Now I feel I have to pay such close attention and guide them more.”

Ms. Stelter and Mr. Kiernan with TV announcer Alan Kalter.ENLARGE
Ms. Stelter and Mr. Kiernan with TV announcer Alan Kalter. PHOTO: JOYCE CULVER/92Y

They were also in the Village to tape a segment for the show, something to do with cycling in the city and Citi Bike. I was unclear whether they consider it a happy “green” alternative to cabs, buses and mass transit; a new form of urban Russian roulette as riders weave in and out of traffic; or a combination of the two.

Which happens to be my point of view, and one for which I drew unfortunate validation as a Citi Bike rider suffered an accident before our eyes on Sixth Avenue. It happened while Mr. Kiernan was preparing to ride his own Citi Bike up and down Washington Place so that his crew could gather B-roll for the show.

None of us saw exactly what happened. But we heard what sounded like a crash and then the fallen bike and the rider standing over it, seemingly dazed.

“I just slipped,” he told us as he docked the bike at the station and started to walk away. “To be honest, I don’t know what happened.”

Mr. Kiernan said, “Now I’m going to take my bike out without a helmet.”

Ms. Stelter added, “Holy —-. We’re doing a segment and we’re going to watch somebody die.”

Fortunately, the victim seemed fine, though he had raised his pant leg to examine a scratch before departing.

“Don’t shoot me going the wrong way,” Mr. Kiernan joked to the crew, while doing just that down Washington Place. “I’ll have no moral authority.”

Thursday’s other guest is actor Nick Sandow, who plays Joe Caputo in the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black”.

But anything can happen. During the last show, on the day before Halloween though without warning his hosts, the Journal’s Mr. Gay walked onstage in a shark costume.

“It worked,” Ms. Stelter acknowledged. “He was the highlight of the show.”

Mariel Hemingway, Back in ‘Manhattan’

On a recent visit, the actress recalls a poignant moment making the Woody Allen film

Mariel Hemingway in New York last week.

When Mariel Hemingway visited the city last week to receive an award from the Hope for Depression Research Foundation for her mental-health advocacy work, she recalled living here in the late ’70s while she filmed Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.”

Ms. Hemingway, who grew up in Ketchum, Idaho, and lives in Malibu, Calif., these days, received a best-supporting-actress nomination for the 1979 movie.

“I lived in my grandfather’s apartment on 67th and Madison in a really ugly robin’s-egg blue building,” she recalled. “Do you remember it?”

Actually, I do. It was on 65th Street. And like many white-brick apartment buildings of that era, it received a face-lift, the distinctive if aesthetically suspect blue brick, replaced by red brick, I suppose to help resale values. “But they had the penthouse apartment, which was extraordinary,” Ms. Hemingway added. “And they had Miros and Picassos on the walls.”

Most recall Ms. Hemingway’s grandfather Ernest, author of “The Sun Also Rises” and other works, who committed suicide a few months before her birth in 1961.

“My step-grandmother Mary lived way in the back,” the actor went on. “She never came out, just lived in her part of the apartment. There were two apartments. So we stayed in the other apartment.”

That would be journalist Mary Walsh Hemingway, Ernest’s fourth wife.

“We” referred to Mariel and her mother Byra, who joined her in New York.

“So I would come home and say, ‘I have this kissing scene. What do I do?” Ms. Hemingway remembered. “Because I’d never kissed anybody.”

In “Manhattan” Mr. Allen plays a twice-divorced 42-year-old comedy writer who dates 17-year-old Tracy, played by Ms. Hemingway, a student at the Dalton School.

In some ways, she seems little changed. She still has the great cheekbones, the easy laugh, and that reedy voice that projects both innocence and fortitude.

“I was 16 when I made the movie; it came out when I was 18. And my mother said, ‘We don’t talk about things like that.’ So I proceeded to go into the bathroom and kiss my arm. And look in the mirror to make sure it was looking okay.”

As I mentioned, Ms. Hemingway was in the city for a good cause. She’s become an advocate for raising awareness of depression and reducing the stigma of the disease. She’s also lived in the shadow of mental illness her entire life.

Generations of her family suffered from depression and addiction, and her older sister Margaux, a supermodel who appeared on the cover of Time magazine, committed suicide, the seventh member of her extended family to do so.

Mariel also tells the tragic story of her family, and her efforts to surmount it, in the 2013 documentary “Running From Crazy.”

But I wanted to know how that kissing scene with Mr. Allen turned out.

“It was in the Hansom cab going around the park,” she explained. “I was so nervous.”

She said she asked the black-and-white film’s legendary cinematographer, Gordon Willis, “This isn’t going to take very long, right?”

“When they said, ‘Cut,’ and I ran up to Gordy and I said, ‘We don’t have to do that again, do we?”

They didn’t.

“And it wasn’t because it was horrible,” she added, meaning kissing her co-star. “It was just because I was so nervous, so scared that I’d look like I didn’t know what I was doing. Which was pretty much my childhood. I didn’t know what I was doing. And tried to look like I knew what I was doing.”

In the Lincoln Navigator on the way to the Hope for Depression lunch, Ms. Hemingway admitted that she was looking forward to trading her heels for flip flops later that afternoon and visiting her daughter, Dree Hemingway Crisman, a 27-year-old fashion model and actor who lives in the city.

When she received her award at the event from Audrey Gruss, the founder and chair of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, which funds neuroscience research into the disease, Ms. Hemingway told the audience of her own quest to find answers to her family’s struggles with mental illness.

“So that I wouldn’t have to pass on to my daughters the fear they were going to be crazy,” she said, becoming emotional. “You don’t want to give that to your children.”

Speaking only for herself, she said eventually had an epiphany: “Deep down inside you have the answers to the problems haunting you. You’re the only one who knows you as well as you.”

Affections Run Deep for City of Light

Ralph Gardner Jr. reflects on what Paris means to him after terror attacks

Employee Oscar Castillo draws a tribute to Paris on the door of the Brooklyn French restaurant Bar Tabac the day after the terrorist attack.
Employee Oscar Castillo draws a tribute to Paris on the door of the Brooklyn French restaurant Bar Tabac the day after the terrorist attack. PHOTO: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

When I heard about the attacks in Paris—it was on NPR around 5 p.m. on Friday and the killing was still unfolding—I was reluctant to break the news to my wife.

I was less concerned about her reaction than my own. I was afraid I might have trouble maintaining my composure.

We spent a lovely week in Paris exactly this time last year, the weather unseasonably pleasant, as I understand it also was Friday night.

But my relationship with Paris well predates that. With only modest poetic license I can argue the city runs through my veins.

My parents met there in the late ’40s, and my first visit occurred when I was 8 years old. We stayed at a small hotel off the Champs-Élysées called the Gallia whose restaurant served the best coffee ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

We’d go for pony rides in the Jardin des Champs-Élysées, between the Rond-point and Place de la Concorde, and once or twice to the Jardin d’Acclimatation, an amusement park in the Bois de Boulogne.

Paris served as the point of departure for a hitchhiking trip that my cousin George and I took the summer I graduated from high school in 1971. We traveled to the North Cape at the top of Norway and back again.

To this day, my 91-year-old aunt Lily, who lives in Paris, reminds me of my alarm when, as a “new hippie” as she described me, I met George at her apartment (me with my pristine backpack) and he announced we’d be attending a rock concert in the suburbs that evening.

When I asked, jet-lagged, where we’d spend my first night in Paris, he said matter-of-factly, according to Lily again, “Wherever we sit, we sleep.”

Fortunately, it was raining so hard that we checked into a hotel instead.

I have fonder memories of celebrating my younger daughter Gracie’s seventh birthday in Paris, with a superb mocha cake at the Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées. And chasing her down the tree-lined boulevard as she sped off on the brand new Razor scooter we’d secreted in the overhead luggage bin on the plane and surprised her with at her party.

I turned on the TV in the living room to follow the attacks—for once the “breaking news” boasted on the screen was actually breaking—and continued to do so live on my phone’s CNN app as I took a bath. Still having not told Debbie, who was in our bedroom reading.

When I returned to the living room she joined me, but I hardly said a word. The images and words on the screen spoke for themselves.

It occurred to me—as the news from the soccer match at the Stade de France, the restaurant shootings, and the still-developing hostage situation at the Bataclan theater arrived—that as horrific as the situation in Paris seemed to be, 9/11 had been much worse.

So why was this event so shocking?

Does the memory of everything, even the collapse of the Twin Towers and the death of thousands, fade over time?

I don’t think that’s what it was. I visited Ground Zero a week after the attacks. And what most struck me was that the destruction—the 110-story skyscrapers reduced to smoldering rubble, the surrounding buildings with huge holes gouged by the falling debris—was of a scale typically associated with natural disasters.

Yet it had been accomplished by human planning. People had made a decision that chaos was more attractive than order, death than life.

New York City is a monument to ambition. But Paris, perhaps more than any other city I’ve visited, is a rolling celebration of life.

The architecture is routinely beautiful. The generosity of its boulevards suggest that something other than maximizing real estate values was at work in their planning. The city isn’t divided, but united, by a river with beautiful bridges to linger over.

And best of all, the outdoor cafes serve as testimony that what matters most is air and light, food and drink, and perhaps socializing and people-watching above all else.

The terrorists attacked what it means most to be human in the most human of cities.

Little Italy’s Revered Photographer

Talking cameras and the next 15 years of exhibits with 91-year-old photographer Dom Quartuccio

Dom Quartucci, whose photography is currently on view at the Italian American Museum, in his studio in Astoria, Queens.
Dom Quartucci, whose photography is currently on view at the Italian American Museum, in his studio in Astoria, Queens. PHOTO: ANDREW LAMBERSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“I’m going to tell you a little about this camera,” Dom Quartuccio said. “This is the period when I went to high school.”

Mr. Quartuccio is a 91-year-old commercial photographer whose work is on display at the Italian American Museum on Mulberry Street through Nov. 29. He developed a love for photography while a student at Straubenmuller Textile High School in Chelsea in the early 1940s.

But Mr. Quartuccio wasn’t talking about one of his cameras. He was admiring a Kodak with a bellows that I’d brought along to his studio on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria. I picked mine up at a garage sale during the 1960s and it was ancient then.

I was aware that the photographer owned several of similar vintage.

Mine still worked when I was a teenager—using 616 film that produced large negatives—even though most of my pictures came out blurry.

Unlike the Instamatic cameras of that era, I felt as if I were engaged in the creative process—a junior Ansel Adams—even if I had no idea what I was doing.

The columnist’s vintage Kodak cameraENLARGE

“You put it on 15 feet and it would be pretty good with most pictures,” Mr. Quartuccio remembered. “When you want to take landscapes just put in on infinity.”

If only I’d known that secret back then. I eventually discovered it on my own, but only after months of trial and error. And major disappointment every time I picked up my prints at the camera store.

“This was a great lens,” he went on. “The same lens I had in high school.”

Mayor Fiorello La Guardia presented Mr. Quartuccio with an award for his photography as a high-school student in 1942. He went on to a career with clients that included Eastern Airlines, Reader’s Digest, Ford, Seiko watches, the Sony Corporation of America and Union Carbide.

Many of the photographs in the exhibit at the Italian American Museum are of Little Italy, where Mr. Quartuccio grew up, in the 1930s and 1940s, and events such as St. Ciro’s Feast. It was held on Elizabeth Street.

“He lived on Elizabeth Street, which was the Sicilian street,” explained Dr. Joseph Scelsa, the Italian American museum’s president and CEO, when I visited the show. “Mulberry was the Neapolitan street.”

The film director Martin Scorsese also grew up on Elizabeth Street.

He captures the essence of what it is to be an Italian-American in the middle part of the 20th Century.

—Dr. Joseph Scelsa, president and CEO of the Italian American Museum

“Today, when you have the Feast of San Gennaro, it’s not necessarily the people who live here,” Dr. Scelsa said as we examined a photograph by Mr. Quartuccio of the buoyant crowds at St. Ciro’s Feast. “But this was people coming out of their homes and participating just like they do in the small towns of Italy.”

He added that Mr. Quartuccio deserves to be appreciated not just for his career but also as a product of a neighborhood that is fading into history. “He captures the essence of what it is to be an Italian-American in the middle part of the 20th Century.”

I discovered that the photographer and I had something in common, beyond a reverence for antiquated camera equipment. We don’t throw anything away.

“I have 25,000 color slides, all Kodak, going back to 1945,” Mr. Quartuccio boasted.

And they’re meticulously labeled and stored in file cabinets. Indeed, his studio, which contains a dark room and posters on the walls of his work for clients such as Panasonic, doubles as a shrine to his career.

An advertising print from Mr. Quartucci’s studioENLARGE
An advertising print from Mr. Quartucci’s studio PHOTO: ANDREW LAMBERSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

He attributes his longevity to preserving his legacy. “I come in here every day like a workday,” Mr. Quartuccio said. “That’s why I’m here today.”

He dreams of a museum devoted to his work and says he has ideas for shows into the year 2030. “I have three exhibitions ready to go. I have at least 15 years of exhibitions. It’s got to be in my will.”

Mr. Quartuccio has no children. “Two things bother me,” he confided. “When I’m gone everything is going to be thrown in a dumpster. I’ve put so much effort into my life. So much passion. I need someone like Donald Trump to get it done.”

But Dom Quartuccio has been luckier than most. “I saw 37 countries not once, but 10 times,” on photography assignments, he told me. “I’ll never retire. Unless I’m gone.”

Write to Ralph Gardner Jr. at

The Pleasures of the Big Screen

‘Spectre,’ among other cinematic fantasies, just isn’t same on a laptop

The latest Bond flick, ‘Spectre.’

If I’ve been glowing lately, the flattering autumnal light is only part of it. It’s also the residual effect of seeing the latest James Bond movie, “Spectre,” last week.

I’m no more likely than the next guy to relate to 007. Which is to say completely—as he vanquishes evil in one breath and beautiful women in the next, all in the name of truth, justice and the Anglo-American way.

Though that conceit has become more challenging to maintain as the years go on. And only partly because I’m aging out of the secret-agent demographic.

It’s more that the special-effects situations Bond finds himself in—the car chases and their collateral damage to urban infrastructure, the nuclear missiles he manages either to duck or defuse, and the brain trauma he has to be suffering as he gets tossed around by sadistic henchmen, all without noticeable effect on his ability to deliver a bon mot—demand that one stretch credulity well beyond the breaking point.

No, the reason I feel fondly toward the flick several days later is because of the magic of the movies when viewed on a large screen in a full house—in this case the IMAX at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13. And in the middle of New York City. That’s important, too.

If only because it makes me recollect the circumstances—when, where and with whom—of movies I’ve seen in the past. Some of them even made a lasting impression, though few starring James Bond, which seem to blend into one another, especially lately.

I’d be lying if I denied that attending a screening and managing to circumvent the $21.59 cost, plus the $2 “convenience fee,” didn’t also contribute to my sense of well-being.

I recently attended a discussion about the state of the movie industry at the FilmColumbia Festival in the Hudson Valley, where the panelists—led by Peter Biskind, the journalist, film historian and the festival’s organizer—lamented that millennials are watching movies on their computers rather than going to movie houses.

Part of the pleasure of “Spectre” in IMAX is that you feel at the center of the action. Perhaps too much so.

Not the same on a PC.

You’re present in a way you never are when you control the experience on your computer or TV, knowing you can pause the image whenever you want to get a snack, take a phone call or go to the bathroom.

No matter how stimulating a film, there’s no way it can hijack the senses on a 13-inch screen the way it does in a movie house, where it seems to envelope you (even though, through the walls, you might hear the rumble of zombie tanks in the adjoining theater.)

The first Bond film, and perhaps the first grown-up film, I saw was “Goldfinger” in 1964 at a movie house in Times Square. I went with my babysitter and her boyfriend. And since the showing was sold out, we were forced to sit separately. Or maybe they planned it that way, because it was obviously easier to be amorous without me in the next seat.

But I remember feeling like an honorary adult as I watched Bond dispatch villains behind the wheel of fully equipped Aston Martin, even if I didn’t completely connect the cause of Jill Masterson’s death to “skin suffocation” from being covered head to toe in gold paint.

Another developmental leap I owe to the movies occurred in 1969, when I attended a weekend screening of “Easy Rider” with Douglas Tishman, a high-school classmate.

Emerging from the movie—I believe it was at the Beekman Theater on 67th Street and Second Avenue—I felt euphoric, perhaps for the first time a card-carrying member of my own generation. In 95 minutes I’d gone from being an innocent high school nerd to a knowing hippie.

I suspect the experience wouldn’t have been the same if I’d exited onto a parking lot in a suburban multiplex. It was New York City. The lights, crowds and traffic—the very future—seemed to burn more brightly.

How to Ace an Interview—Even With an 800-Pound Gorilla in the Room

The Fortune Society’s Successful Transition course helps prepare ex-convicts for the job market

Danel Sprinkle practices his handshake with volunteer executive Betty Rauch at the Handshake and Smile workshop during the Fortune Society’s two-week Fortune Society’s Successful Transition course.
Danel Sprinkle practices his handshake with volunteer executive Betty Rauch at the Handshake and Smile workshop during the Fortune Society’s two-week Fortune Society’s Successful Transition course. PHOTO: ADRIENNE GRUNWALD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Acing a job interview is no easy feat. It’s even more challenging if you’re fresh out of prison. Incarceration may teach a person certain skills, but poise probably isn’t foremost among them.

However, a program at the Fortune Society, which since 1967 has been helping people re-enter the community after they’re released from prison and jail, seeks to remedy that situation.

The society’s two-week Successful Transition course, which started in 2014, teaches formerly incarcerated men and women the fundamentals of making a good first impression—from the way they enter an interviewer’s office, shake hands and establish eye contact to how to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room: explaining their crimes and how they are now worthy of trust and responsibility.

“I didn’t know how to present myself, how to dress, how to answer the tough question that comes with a conviction,” said Knowledge Nevels, a participant who told me he was recently released from federal prison in West Virginia after doing 11 years for possession of a controlled substance.

Those lessons can go a long way.

“People come here and say I don’t want to go back to jail,” explainedStanley Richards, the Fortune Society’s senior vice president of programs. “But that vision of hope gets dashed so quickly because of the collateral consequences of conviction. They get rejected, and dealing with that rejection leads to hopelessness. They believe nothing is going to change.”

People come here and say I don’t want to go back to jail. But that vision of hope gets dashed so quickly because of the collateral consequences of conviction.

—Stanley Richards, the Fortune Society’s Senior Vice President of Programs

Mr. Richards said that of 700 people who took the program last year, 450 were placed in jobs, among them in building maintenance, construction and the food industry. “We have hundreds of employers willing to interview people.”

Volunteers conduct the training, lending their know-how about the ways of the business world. They are mostly retired female professionals—including financial industry executives, lawyers and college professors 50 and older. Many are members of a national women’s nonprofit called the Transition Network.

I started the afternoon by auditing Karen Merson’s “Trait Tree” class, where students list three personality traits that make them uniquely themselves. It’s an exercise designed to boost self-esteem.

Roxroy Taylor, one of the participants, volunteered to go first. “I’m compassionate,” he said. “I’m driven. I’m honest. ”

Ms. Merson, an organizational consultant who taught at the New School, paid particular attention to his last descriptor. “What’s the biggest fear people have?”

“Not trustworthy,” somebody said.

“Every time you walk into an interview,” projecting a sense of integrity “should be first and foremost on your mind,” Ms. Merson said. “If we don’t give that impression, what’s the employer going to think?”

From there it was on to the classroom of Betty Rauch, a marketing-and-communications consultant who helped create the Successful Transition program and is chairwoman of the Fortune Society board. There, she critiqued students as they knocked and entered the room, as if on an actual job interview.

“Good afternoon,” one of the students said. “I’m here for the maintenance position.”

“Why were you looking at the ground?” Ms. Rauch demanded.

“It’s still the butterflies,” the man confessed.

“When you’re standing outside, take a deep breath,” Ms. Rauch instructed him. “It’s been known to work. It relaxes the muscles in your chest. It makes you voice more resonant.”

In the third part of the program, Fortune clients sat for one-on-one interviews with executives who examined their résumés and grilled them about their job experiences.

Susan Nieder Acunto, a real-estate company owner, examined the résumé of a man who had been sentenced to 12 years for a burglary conviction.

“What skills did you learn in prison?” she asked.

“Dry wall.”

“What else can you do for me? What if I have a broken window?”

At the next table Kathy Krall, a former Prudential Financial vice president who is president of a staffing firm, was coaching a Fortune Society client with a DUI conviction about how to answer the hardest question of all.

“You need to address the DUI, but I need you to go very quickly into the background you have” in plumbing, she instructed him. “I’m going to write this down. I want it to come right off your tongue.”

As she watched the interviews, Ms. Rauch said of the volunteers, “There were people who felt they were not prepared to schlep on the subway to Queens and—let’s be real—work with convicted felons.”

But those feelings quickly changed, she added. “There’s a beautiful feeling here.”

She identified it as hope. “These volunteers are saying you matter. Not a word is spoken. But it’s expressed from their behavior doing this.”