Tuesday, June 27, 2006

ghost hotel

Okay, so it's not exactly "The Shining," but things are a little creepy here in our now-almost-vacant Plymouth Hotel. The Plymouth and the Ansonia are the residence halls of the New World Symphony, two stately old art deco hotels that have been slightly modified to house an orchestra of twenty-somethings.

Summer is the off-season for the orchestra though, so most of us are scattered all over the globe. The orchestra very kindly keeps the hotels open all summer, and the few of us here all seem to be doing laundry in preparation for going somewhere else. It's hard to keep track of everyone's festivals and family plans, so I find many conversations sounding something like this:
Friendly horn player: Hey Matt, how's it going? Good to see you!

Me: It's great to see you too! How was Ita- er, um Colora- no, I mean, um...

FHP: Oh, I just got back from Japan. But I'm leaving for San Francisco next week.

Me: Oh yeah, that's right. How was that?

FHP: Pretty good - hey, by the way, could I borrow some laundry detergent?
Other than the whirring of the air conditioning and the thumping of the laundry machines, the halls are eerily silent. You'll hear a trumpet call or a violin arpeggio every once in a while, or maybe someone will turn on a World Cup game and the disembodied roar of thousands of Europeans will seep into the lobby. Mostly these sounds just provide a reminder of what a strange and empty place the Plymouth has been lately.

There are nice things about staying in a ghost hotel - those of us who are around have more reason to keep each other company, make an effort to find and interact with one another. Last night I watched the first part of the PBS New York documentary by Ric Burns - a fascinating project, done in 1999, that points out how exceptional a place NYC has always been, and how complex and ambivalent its relations with the rest of the country and the world. It's narrated by a parade of historians, politicians and longtime New Yorkers, and the great variety of perspectives and stories illustrate some of the magical multiplicities of that city.

Taken in the long view, the city of New York emerges as a character in American history whose role has always been to tempt, provoke, rethink and inspire. It has attracted the greediest, the most ambitious, as well as the most imaginative and creative elements of society - it's startling to see just how Alexander Hamilton, Dewitt Clinton, and other early New Yorkers visualized the future and shaped the city in that image.

The documentary also reminded me how all the friction, argument, tensions and conflicts of city life can lead to great change, innovation and growth. As a city person, the peace and quiet of an empty building feels strangely threatening - much better to have a bit of noise and chaos!

No comments: