"C" is for cappuccino, the Carlyle's silver, and the Charites' deft touch.
On Thursday night, reliable sources told me that a potentially catastrophic hurricane was headed directly for the city and likely to make impact with land in my waterfront neighborhood, that the windows on my high floor could shatter under the expected winds, and that a wave of saltwater might flood the streets and destroy the power grid. So, being the sensible sort, I decided to check into the Carlyle (flood zones A, B, and C, ended just short of midtown, and so the Upper East Side near Central Park looked to be well out of harm's way). I know where to go, the best hotel, easy enough, but what do you take with you when you're not sure when, or if, you might return? My mother was born and raised in New Orleans, and I lived there for a year at age 18, so even though her advice was always, laughingly, to "shut the shutters and have a party," we know better now how it can end.
I took my jewelry, the sparkliest if not the best bits, an ivory one-shoulder dress, a cinnabar silk gown, another pair of heels, a jumpsuit and daydresses; my laptop and a couple of books. Wearing a drop-waist dress and a cloche, I wheeled my wordly possessions, packed in a suitcase I'd bought this spring in London, after years of never checking anything, out and into a waiting cab. I ran through worst-case scenarios, and decided that come Monday, I could just continue on to my father's place upstate and live off the land; on a ninety-foot cliff overlooking Cayuga Lake, nothing in the world seems more impenetrable.
I checked into the hotel and unpacked to the tune of my iPod playlist "A Casa," which plays my favorites –– Artie Shaw, Kitty Kallen, Jackie Paris, Carmen McRae –– of the '20s, '30s, '40s and very early '50s for about a week. My sister arrived later in the evening. She had protested leaving our apartment, because she just wanted to relax at home and possibly wait it out, at least while it was still only a suggestion that "Zone A" might be under mandatory evacuation. "I'm afraid that's not going to be a choice for us," I replied. We were too maudlin to do anything festive that evening, so we ordered room service, from a menu that includes caviar for $165 per ounce, and Krug, for more. That night, I had the first good night's sleep that I've had in six or seven months. I also started to comprehend how some of the raging-est scenes unfolded in hidden nightclubs during Prohibition and the Blitz, or nowadays in heavily fortified diplomatic bars called things like "The Duck and Cover." It's about the respite, and the fact that everything in the world, is, in some way, reacting to its opposite.
Saturday morning, we went for brunch at Sant Ambroeus, across the street, and one of my long-time favorites in the city. When I was thinking of where to move most recently, I studied a map of the uptown location and considered walking distance. With everything pre-emptively closed, the neighborhood felt like Paris on a Sunday when I first visited ten years ago. The Carlyle was a bastion of calm, an oasis of service, luxury and fantasy that is impossible to overdo in retrospect. From the elevator operators to the black marble floor, no detail is overlooked. This was precisely the sort of place I would put my faith in, in the absence of all else.
We stopped in a corner market while my sister, a Virgo to her core, lectured me about survival skills. "I have plenty, darling," I said. "Look where I called, and we were here (early Friday afternoon) before anyone else even figured it out." Still, in a nod to her Yankee pragmatism, I bought some vichyssoise, always served cold, some champagne grapes, and a bottle of Acqua Panna. I had only an hour or so earlier opened what I thought was another linen closet, only to discover it led to a stocked kitchen.
We met a woman in the elevator, from Battery Park City, who besides her English bulldog, had another dog, two children, a husband and a nanny in tow. Saturday night, dinner in the Carlyle restaurant was filled with blithe regulars and faux-cheery exiles. By eleven or so, as the stormed raged outside, I sat at a table in Bemelman's, drinking a Dark & Stormy, as the jazz trio played a startlingly mournful version of "Moon River," upon my request.
Sunday I spent entirely lounging in bed, watching My Man Godfrey while eating the afore-mentioned vichyssoise and drinking Diet Coke in a glass bottle (found while foraging in the kitchen), a scathing social satire that crackles with chemistry made all the more intriguing by the fact that the lead couple was once married, then divorced three years prior to filming, and that William Holden only agreed to take the role if Carole Lombard were cast opposite. I read Mrs. Dalloway, and visualized her morning walk, almost to the step my roundabout Mayfair loop when I'm there. With Harper's Bazaar, I wondered if Wallis Simpson is having a moment, and gave up when I lost perspective; she is always having a moment in my world. Then, the Blue Angel came on. I enjoyed the vast differences between the sexes, even on a sartorial basis. From Vogue, I copied down an observation that Alex Katz made of Rosamond Bernier: "It's in the way she looks, the way she lives, the way she talks. She's never settle for anything pedestrian." Reading it made me feel minutely less alone.
I also saw a number of features I'd like to emulate: Lutron dimmers on a sleek central remote control (something like Claridge's button panel for 'waiter," "maid,' and "valet"), corresponding to "Welcome," "Goodnight," "Entry," plus different living areas; wallpapered closets that automatically light when you open them (the secret, as I understand it, is sophisticated illumination, as well as unobtrusive service). Lots of white and mirrors, Syrie Maugham-style, if you're really doing Deco right.
By dinner, the worst of the storm was over, having hit New York's urban core in a frightening but not too disastrous way (although seeing news footage of the rising river lapping the benches a block from my house was jarring beyond belief; luckily, it receded). All I wanted was a stiff gin martini and an order of the little burgers at Bar Pleiades, at the caddycorner. They had a buffet menu on, and we roughed it with a spread that included duck confit, choucroute, paella and shepherd's pie. I satisfied my newfound taste for rum with a glass of planter's punch. Or two.
This morning, my sister left for her office as the city buzzed merrily back to business. I had a full day of meetings, and had to rush downtown, but not before making a call to room service. And taking a moment to give thanks for ample blessings, again.
Over the weekend, I received yet another reader letter requesting that I write a novel. Why come? I like recording the facts of my life at Lux Lotus, made more titillating by the admission that what appears here is maybe .01% of it. And, with that, goodnight.