Having searched for and found the perfect house, our anonymous Englishwoman waits for the day she can move out of hotel limbo and into her own new home...
There it stood, on one of the wider, brighter but busier streets of Park Slope, Brooklyn. A five-story brick build with two identical arched front doors painted pillar box red. An eternal gas lantern was guarding a neglected front yard. The symmetry was pleasing but I could not imagine the internal configuration.
We entered the left hand door into a space so unexpectedly vast that I imagined it must be communal. There was a grand piano tucked into the far corner and water dripping from the ceiling above a window seat in the recessed Bay. Upstairs, the two rear bedrooms had mattresses on the floor with heaps of books forming islands around them; the master bedroom was preserved in a Miss Haversham like state. Not in my wildest dreams had I expected such a delight. The rest, which included a large kitchen, basement laundry, dining room, back yard, roof terrace and a plethora of wonderful closets with panelled doors and original glass knob handles, did not disappoint. This house left much to the imagination but the bone structure was flawless. It had been well constructed and laid out and most of all loved. I could easily see that we would love it too.
My husband came to see it later that evening albeit by torchlight as, fabulously, the house only had ceiling lights in the kitchen and bathroom. We would need lamps galore and our English ones would need to be promptly rewired. My house to-do and to-buy lists had started!
It was those flickering images that carried me through the remaining six weeks we had to endure living in our hotel quarters. The wait for the move was dictated by the plenitude of renovations needed on our new home and, of course, the fact that our belongings were still crossing the ocean and once they arrived would then have to clear customs. I would count the days until the 1st March.
In the interim our young boy had readily adopted the hotel as home. There he reigned supreme much like the fictional Eloise in the nearby Plaza Hotel. In fact, were The Plaza not closed for refurbishment it would have lent itself well for some indoor capers. We contented ourselves instead with one of the few pay-as-you-go play spaces in Manhattan. Each and every morning we would head downtown to Tribeca and while away a few hours at Sydney's. A far cry from the playgroups held in the various Church Halls of South East London, but nevertheless a space with toys and safe hiding places. Mothers were very thin on the ground, though non-identical twins playing under the sleepy eye of a babysitter were plentiful.
It was here that I had my first experience of the vast cultural and linguistic gap that existed between my new compatriots and me: filling in the registration form and disclaimer for the playground seemed very outlandish to me, I was used to putting £1.00 in the collection box and helping myself to a cup of tea and a custard cream while my boy played. Though it seemed to the young woman behind the desk that it was we who hailed from a bygone era as she enquired whether we were Amish! It may have been my accent or the fact that my son was dressed in clothes from Rachel Riley with not a logo or synthetic fibre in sight. I could not tell which.
If it snowed we would trudge round the corner to MoMA. Here there was plenty of room to run, but this play space had the potential to be as nerve-wracking as it was culturally fulfilling for me. My first sighting of Picasso's Les Demoiselles D'Avignon was at great pace running after my little child. All I could afford this renowned canvas was a quick glance of recognition. After several laps the boy finally came to rest at the foot of the dynamic sculpture by the Futurist Umberto Boccioni. The child had truly met his match.
With house hunting behind us I was able to reinstate that glorious part of the day - the lunchtime nap. I would spend this time enjoying the two items of colour we had in our grey-adorned and heavy dark wood fitted apartment. The first was my needlepoint, a woven basket brimming with flowers on a pale aqua background; the threads alone cheered me up. The second, the only picture book I had brought with us (bar the stash of children's ones), a book on Charleston, the Bloomsbury house. I spent my lunch break happily in our bedroom, which only then did I realise was filled with sun (weather permitting) between those hours.
Of an afternoon we might chance a trip to the park but it was terrifyingly cold. The little boy was more than content with riding in the lifts and visiting all the communal facilities the hotel had to offer. The gymnasium on the 46th floor had a water fountain, the computer room in the basement had plenty of buttons to press and then there was endless fun chasing around the lobby.
By evening the bar would come to life with a guitarist and business people staying in the hotel would return. Here I would sit waiting for adult company (in the form of my husband) to enjoy a glass of wine with. Our son, still bounding with energy, would race around only stopping to blow out the tea lights on the low tables, much to the bewilderment of the staff who were perpetually doing the rounds relighting them.
I battled with my household duties of which, to my amazement and distress, I was no longer in charge. Our quarters were cleaned on a daily basis, hotel style: quick vacuums, a change of sheets and towels and a wipe around the obvious surfaces. This would suffice for the guest staying for a night or two but we were in residence. Much as I tried to explain to housekeeping that we did not need new sheets every single day nor even new towels but that a thorough clean would be time better spent my cries fell on deaf ears. The kitchen floor needed a proper mopping, the stove top cleaning and the fridge wiping. Eventually they explained that they were unable to clean where food was being kept. As we had the mess expected of a two year old I wondered whether they might supply me with cleaning utensils so I could deal with spills and crumbs myself. I was told I was not allowed and had to call housekeeping each time. Consequently they were overrun.
The laundry also tested my sanity. This I split into white and coloured washes to reduce the possibility of ruined clothes and took it around the block to a laundry service who in-turn would deliver it back to us folded neatly and compressed in brown paper bags. How easy it should have been. However our clothes were shrinking. Of course our little boy could have been growing out of his clothes but I was certainly not gaining any weight. It seemed most likely that our clothes, both white and colours, were being boiled and quite literally reduced. Then they were put in the dryer and roasted. In addition socks started coming back single. I was becoming very possessive over our clothing as this was literally all we had of our own.
It also had dawned on me that not only had our clothes been generally ruined but that they were not even clean. Food, notably on my son's clothes, would still be encrusted in the fabric. On smelling them I realised that no or very little detergent was being used as they smelled of nothing at all. I think that particular cleaner was relieved when I took my business elsewhere. At the new place I immediately requested that they use a cleaning product on the clothes even if we incurred an added cost. Walking past the original laundry towards the end of our stay I was flagged down by the woman owner waving one of my son's Argyll socks. I greeted the sock like an old friend - it was a happy reunion.
These were lonely days, and as a result the laundry and cleaning rather overwhelmed my mind. I could count my acquaintances on one hand. It always rather broke up the day when maintenance was called to dislodge a toy stuck between one of the over sized pieces of furniture, or to remove an unsafe object from our apartment. Our son had been carrying out his own thorough inspection of our living quarters and discovered two large mirrors propped up against the walls but not fixed in place, the dishwasher that had never been screwed into the unit, and a door to a balcony which could be easily opened, to name but a few. The maintenance men were bemused to oblige. The dishwasher was promptly fixed in place and a padlock put on the door but we lost the two mirrors. I was glad that we never needed the air conditioning as an entire packet of plastic coins had been dropped down the slatted lids. I am sure we left quite a legacy.
The only other person we spoke to on a near daily basis, but never saw, was the man who responded to the alarm button in the lift. Thankfully we were always all right; the button was just at the perfect height for a two year old. I came to rather enjoy the exchange and in hindsight I am just glad we never reached the point of cry wolf.
Our other near daily excursion was to do the food shopping. We were accompanied by a brightly coloured wooden pull-along snail purchased from the MoMA shop. The snail did a wonderful job of both slowing the small boy down and holding back the four lanes of traffic on Avenue of the Americas.
Initially I did our grocery shopping at Klein's, a Tardis like supermarket a short walk from our hotel. Prices were high but there was ample to choose from. Faced with unrecognisable packaging and no sell by dates I was flummoxed. I did not have the peace and quiet to study the lists of ingredients and soon realised that there was not much to tickle our taste buds. The fresh produce was good and I was delighted to chance upon a new fruit, which although apple-shaped supposedly tasted like a grape. What joy as my son relished both of these things and would like it for sure. He approved it to my happiness as he had eaten poorly since our move. On later trying a piece myself I found the taste totally synthetic. Reading the packaging properly it seemed that the Grapple was in fact an apple injected with fake grape flavours.
I gave up grappling with Klein's and turned to Fresh Direct, an online food home delivery service which was pricey but worth every Cent at that point in our lives. It also meant I had good reason to escape to the computer room of an evening and there is nothing like receiving a parcel even if you ordered it yourself!
Then, finally, not a day too soon, came the day when we piled into two yellow taxis for that trip over Brooklyn Bridge armed with my one prize purchase an alabaster table lamp found on another sub-zero day whiled away at an antiques market. We had seen a great deal while living a life in limbo but I was beyond happy to close the chapter.
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