New York is the Paris of America—Nina Munteanu
Toulouse and I began our New York experience with Manhattan and Morgans Hotel. I’d booked us there for an incredible deal—rooms typically go for $600+/night (I won’t tell you what I got mine for! LOL!)
Morgans Hotel is often described as the first boutique-hotel. Designed by Andrée Putnam in 1983, the hotel flaunts a retro-contemporary-modernism that truly defies definition. I was first struck by the lobby’s elegant “3-D” design carpet, and the Spartan somewhat oriental-style furniture and reception desk. Andrée Putnam’s avant-garde style provides travelers with a “retro-contemporary/faux-industrial” visual and tactile experience.
My room celebrated a harmony of minimalist luxury and comfort (the grey/black checked blanket and soft Paris sheets were a delicious treat) that extended to everything from metal clock and Ipod player at my bedside to the designer chair by Robert Mallet-Stevens and lamp by Felix Aublet and Mariano Fortuny. A black and white photograph of flower pistils hung on the wall. It was only when Toulouse discovered the bathroom—the most elaborate example of avant-garde artistic expression and practical utility—that I realized I’d entered Putnam’s world of French subversive design. I recognized the influence of Sainte Germaine de Pres (where she lived for some time) in its sophisticated and daring simplicity; something only Parisians seem to understand. Says Putnam, “To not dare is to have already lost. We should seek out ambitious, even unrealistic projects…because things only happen when we dream.”
While Putnam insisted that her renowned black and white checkerboard ceramic tile pattern of the bathroom was simply the fortuitous result of a tight budget, others have pondered on the irony of her legendary use of black and white as the unconscious revenge of the abandoned keyboard (she rejected her mother’s imposed choice for a career as a pianist, after many years of studying music.)
Morgans Hotel lies in the heart of Manhattan, on Madison Avenue with a view of the Empire State Building and blocks away from New York icons like Saks Fifth Avenue, Grand Central Station, Times Square, Broadway and 42nd Street, Rockerfeller Centre, Radio City & Carnegie Hall, The United Nations, and Avenue of the Americas—where every agent and editor I ever wanted to meet conducts his or her business.
As I walked the streets I’d seen on TV and the movies since I was five, I realized that I’d parachuted into the very heart of America’s artistic centre. This was the literary capital of North America. Where Ray Bradbury came over sixty years ago to sell his first short story collection. Where countless writers and other artists made their important debut.
New York bustles with an intense mercurial energy. New Yorkers are a multi-cultural melting pot of genuine, forthright people on the move. You need to move to keep up. They bluntly let you know if you’re being stupid and lose patience with you if you lack the confidence and direction that they have come to accept as a given in this city of the self-made man and woman. But, if you earn their respect by demonstrating genuine motivation and intent, they will go to great lengths to help you. I loved their clean honesty and straightforwardness. You get what you see in New York. And what you see is pretty grand.
Toulouse and I entered the Empire State Building, whose tiered Egyptian-like Art Deco structure reminded me of Fritz Lang’s“Metropololis”. Towering 1,250 feet, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in North America when it was built in 1931 and is now again the tallest building in NYC. The spire at the top of the building was designed as a mooring mast for dirigibles (anyone remember the cool scene in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow?)
We wandered the streets, rather aimlessly—catching sites wherever we turned. Toulouse lured me into the Hard Rock Café located in the heart of Times Square. As I talked with the cool staff, Toulouse wandered off, as usual, looking for a free ride into the dining area with two girls who thought he was cute. I had to bribe the girls with a pin to get him back!
New York serves up like a delicious feast with too many desserts. There was so much to take in, I knew I would just have to come back another time. For all I did and saw in those few days I was there, I missed, among other things: the salute to Isreal parade on May 31st in Central Park; Prince Harry’s charity polo game on Governors Island; and President Obama’s visit (although, thanks to Toulouse, I did meet some of his security network!)
On that day we’d wandered over to the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue to see the exhibit “Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation”. After taking some pictures outside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I entered to find a stately interior complete with art deco-style receptionist (with sculpted hair). At some point while attending the exhibit, I realized that Toulouse was not with me. I burst out of the building and collided into a mass of New York’s finest in blue, loitering by the library. They were serving as security for Obama’s cavalcade. A quick glance revealed that Toulouse was not where I’d left him. Why did I think he would be? I finally found him among the men and women in blue; he’d befriended Officer Montalvo, a smart cop with a penchant for small animals.
Yes, New York suited Toulouse.
Tribute to Andrée Putnam:
Andrée Putnam had been a student of aesthetics since childhood when she gutted her bedroom of everything but her bed. Putnam drew from her roots in Paris, melding French eccentric elegance with North American utility; she created architectural and interior designs that flowed with fluid precision. Her style was new and based on “discipline, harmony, fantasy, contrasts and surprise” according to Stéphane Gerschel in his book, “Putman Style”. Avant-garde in her day, her designs endure as a monument of elegant comfort, transcending ephemeral trends with timeless creative boldness. Besides The Morgans Hotel, examples of her designs include the Concorde, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, the Villa Turque, the Lagerfeld Gallery, Yves Saint Laurent boutiques, the Guggenheim Museum—just to name a few of her many accomplishments.
Designer Francois Russo said of Putnam, “I remember Andrée’s smile, like a sign telling you at each new meeting that anything is possible, that the moment was unique like a window opening onto a new kind of chemistry; a promise of happiness…She uncovers your forgotten memories, and makes you see what until that moment had been highly improbable.”
“To not dare is to have already lost. We should seek out ambitious, even unrealistic projects…because things only happen when we dream.”—Andrée Putnam
Photos by Nina Munteanu:
1. Lobby of Morgans Hotel
2. Bathroom of Morgans Hotel
3. Empire State Building
4. Times Square
5. Hard Rock Cafe, Times Square
6. Bryant Park and the Grill
7. Officer Montalvo & Toulouse
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.