Talking with Bel Kaufman

Photo by Joan Roth

Often during lunchtime, at the unbelievably delicious Italian restaurant Centolire, Bel Kaufman can be found regaling guests with stories. On May 11th, 2012, elegant friends gathered at the Madison Avenue eatery to celebrate her 101 birthday. “When I turned 100,” she told us, “Everyone called to say “oh how wonderful. G-d bless you. Oh, are you really 100. Can I make a party? There were parties and honoring events galore. Everywhere I went, people wished me a Mazel Tov, and on and on. Now, when I tell people I am 101 – they say, Oh, really.”

At lunch, Bel went around the table telling each one what she thought of us. For those seated nearby, she shouted, so they could hear her. Of course, I had brought my little camera with me and could not resist snapping this powerful moment – filled with the love, joy and exuberance with which Bel always lived life.

She says, the photograph reminds her that she is an anomaly. “I am not the average 101-year-old woman. Few live to be this old in as good as shape as I am,” she says.

Weeks later, Bel and I met for our own private lunch. This time at Demarchelier, another Bel French favorite. With Centolire closing and Demarchelier sold to new owners, Bel surpasses us all, exclaims the maître d’.

Bel’s wearing an unmistakable pair of oversized multicolored Pucci sunglasses, recently found in her drawer, “They’re older than I am,” she quips. I compliment her, saying she looks great, “If I don’t look good at 101, when will I look good?” she answers back with
effervescent charm and humor.