Thursday, May 19, 2005

I Remember You Well in the Chelsea Hotel

I've always romanticized the Chelsea Hotel (it's actually named "The Hotel Chelsea," but who calls it that?). From the list of artists who've stayed or lived there (Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, William S. Burroughs, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Dee Dee Ramone, infamously Sid Vicious, and---a hero of mine---Brendan Behan, to name but a few), to the sadly soulful lyrics of the Leonard Cohen song Chelsea Hotel No. 2:

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
you were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
but for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music."

this 23rd Street landmark has captured my imagination and stood as a symbol of what attracted me most to New York City: bohemia. Built in 1884, by George M. Smith and designed by architects Hubert, Pirsson & Co, it reportedly stood as the tallest building in New York until 1902. Like few other locations in the world, if its walls could talk...I'd eagerly listen.

The New York Times Home section has a lovely story today about a family living there and why:

The hotel, on West 23rd Street, may be a good place to meet artists and eccentrics, but it is hardly viewed as a family setting. Yet Sally Singer, the fashion news editor at Vogue magazine, and her husband, Joseph O'Neill, an Irish novelist and lawyer, are raising their three sons in an eighth-floor suite that deftly mixes glamour and domesticity.

[...]For the O'Neill boys, ages 2 to 5, the hotel is a funky version of Eloise's Plaza. They race their tricycles down the hallway past cross-dressers and aging rockers. As their father said, to them Halloween is almost indistinguishable from any other day.

When Ms. Singer, 40, was growing up in Oakland, Calif., in the 1970's, she pored over Vogue and Interview magazines, dreaming about dancing at Andy Warhol's Factory and meeting Truman Capote. "I was so annoyed that my parents weren't invited to the Black and White Ball," she said, referring to Capote's famous party at the Plaza Hotel. "So this is where I should live, the Chelsea hotel," she said.

[...]Ms. Singer said she considers the hotel "a small village" of neighborly acquaintances and a gathering place for the couple's friends.

Ms. Singer cooks frequently - she made a Christmas feast last year for 20 - or they order in from El Quijote, the Spanish restaurant on the ground floor.

"Some people leave because of the mice, some people leave because of the roaches, and some people leave because of the people in the elevator," Mr. O'Neill said.

But he and his family plan to stay.

I envy the O'Neill chilren in one respect. Like Ms. Singer, I had longed for that sort of access to artists and writers when I was a child. I consider it an incredible gift to raise your children in the city, giving them a leg up in exposure to and appreciation of the arts and progressive ideas. I know that concept horrifies many parents, but we're not all cut out for the white picket fences and manicured lawns of suburbia. Some of us thrive in the insane chaos of too much information, and yearn to understand and see for ourselves what other people are like...what they know, what they dream of, what they can teach us.

I'll never forget what my Mom said when I called to tell her I was moving to New York City. (She has lived her entire life within a 20 mile radius of where she was born in Ohio; by this time, I had already lived in London, Milan, Oporto, Annecy, and Washington DC.) My Mom and I are different in that way. She likes her home, I love to travel. When I called to say I was relocating to Gotham, she paused just a moment and then said "My, you are having an interesting life, aren't you?" I cherish that observation. I felt like, at that point, she saw me in a new light, she saw me better.

I hope I'll continue to have an interesting life. And if I can't die falling off the side of a mountain in a train wreck in India (long story), I'll settle for passing away quietly, my "Bambino" by my side, listening to Leonard Cohen, in a small room in the Chelsea Hotel (more images here).


Anonymous crionna said...

So, do you think there are are any Secret Wall Tatoos there? Imagine who may have done them if there are...

5/19/2005 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon said...

I've only been once to the Chelsea Hotel, but as that one time involved four people in a bathtub, it's earned a high position in the places of my imagination.

5/21/2005 09:13:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

love the concept of the Secret Wall Tattoos, crionna...wish the drawing was a little more interesting, but...

you know I'm gonna be looking each time I stay in a hotel now, though.

5/23/2005 08:55:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home