Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Chelsea Hotel

When we stayed in New York a few years ago, we made sure that we were booked into the famous Chelsea Hotel - at least, I tried to make sure, but since they didn't respond to faxes and never sent any confirmation, walking up to the desk in the lobby was disconcerting after the 8 hour flight and taxi from Kennedy Airport.

The other disconcerting thing about waiting to see if we did have a suite there, whilst the manager rooted about in a huge ledger, was the pool of blood on the floor right in front of the desk. I never did find out how it got there.

Eventually the man on the desk said, "Oh, you're the guy who sent the fax, right?" We were in.

The lobby of the Chelsea is littered with sculptures given by famous artists who have stayed there at one point or another, but I noticed that one of them - a man sprawled out on a Chesterfield armchair, dressed in Bermuda shorts and sleeping soundly - looked particularly life-like. Closer inspection revealed that he was a real, sleeping, middle-aged man, and not a sculpture at all. He was in that chair, asleep, when we arrived on the first day, still there when we came back from a restaurant at midnight, and in the same position the next morning, when we went down for breakfast. In fact, he was in that chair for the entire five days and nights that we stayed, and I never saw anyone check to see if he was still alive. Since he never lost his choleric, ruddy complexion, I guess that he was a permanent resident. A very tired resident.

I say that we 'went down for breakfast', but - despite a couple of lengthy searches, we never found the breakfast room, and ate at a diner across the road. When we asked where the restaurant was on the first morning, we were told it was on the ground floor in the basement, so we pressed the appropriate button in the lift. When the doors opened, we found ourselves in a cramped laundry room, so we got back into the lift and pressed the button just above the lowest one. When the doors opened again, we were back in the lobby, so we made this short trip a few more times until I decided to forget the lift and search for breakfast using the staircase. As I descended the stairs, I could hear the chinking of crockery, and a babble of muted conversation. I could even - tantalisingly - smell coffee. When I reached the end of the stairs, I found myself in the same laundry room, so I gave up after a few more attempts at finding secret doorways on the stairwell, and we found the cheap diner over the road, not being able to cope with the situation first thing in the morning.

The Chelsea is (or was) part permanent residential, and part guest, so the gloomy corridors were always full of the smell of steaming cabbage, etc. as the residents cooked their meals at all times of the day and night. They also play music and watch TV at all times too, so I guess we were not on the same floor that Bob Dylan stays on, when in Town. Our room looked out onto the street, and we could lie in bed, watching the top of the Empire State building gently changing colour at night, and listening to the sirens of police cars and fire engines down below.

The rest of the time, we just wandered around Manhattan, soaking up the vibes which I am sure you are familiar with, and which don't need description. We saw a dust cart over-turn on a busy intersection. Since N.Y. dustcarts are about twice the size of London ones, this was quite a sight. The Trump Tower - solid gold and as crass as the owner. Egrets in Central Park. A little piece of Egypt, rebuilt in the museum. A tiny wooden shack uprooted from Sicily, plonked onto the street and surrounded by towering sky-scrapers - home to a quaint Italian restaurant. Vast department stores, packed with Clinique cosmetics at about half the UK prices.

I heard last year that the Chelsea was going to have a make-over. Although it probably desperately needed one, I hope they didn't sanitise the life out of it. Did you know that the Chelsea was the first place that the survivors of the Titanic were taken, once they were fished out of the freezing water? It must have seemed like heaven.


  1. Photo courtesy of Leonard Cohen.

  2. Wasted and wounded and it ain't what the moon did, I got what I paid for now. See you tomorrow, hey Frank, can I borrow a couple of bucks from you?

  3. I would lend you $2 Mise, but I'm brassic right now. And my name's Tom. (who wrote the above? was it a famous resident?)

  4. re: Photo. His singing was pretty dire also.

  5. Precisely my thoughts, Cro. Have you heard the Arthur Smith renditions of Cohen's songs? Actually better than Cohen's, who seems to have given up altogether, and now just growls into the mike with female backing vocals on every track. Someone broke into his piggy-bank whilst he was pretending to be a Japanese monk, so he's had to go back on tour when he really ought to be at home, dying.

  6. Don't know of Arthur Smith, but on the basis of 'it couldn't be worse than the original', I shall look him up on Spotify!

    p.s. re: The eyebrows. I agree.

  7. The eyebrows make you wonder, don't they.....? Doesn't wear well, though - look at Dennis Healy.

    I wonder why those little Japanese girls haven't dyed their eyebrows....