Magazine article The New Yorker

Midtown Shuffle

Magazine article The New Yorker

Midtown Shuffle

Article excerpt


For observers of religious royalty, last week in New York was a bonanza. In town, for various reasons, were His Holiness, Pope Francis; Her Holiness, Beyonce, to perform in Central Park; and a group of people who like to "feel that they're the sun around which everyone orbits," as a representative of the Waldorf Astoria recently said, describing the heads of state who were visiting for the Seventieth General Assembly of the United Nations. The logistical challenges were numerous: clearing the streets for the Pope's Fiat, conducting Secret Service "sweeps," and figuring out where everyone was going to stay. Beyonce had her apartment, in Tribeca, and the Pope had a Vatican town house near Central Park, but housing the hundred and ninety-three U.N. delegations was another headache. There are only so many Presidential suites.

Further complicating matters, for the first time since the U.N.'s founding, in 1945, the American delegation had cancelled its reservation at the Waldorf. At issue was the hotel's new landlord, a Chinese insurance company with ties to the Communist Party, which bought the Waldorf for two billion dollars last October. The Americans moved a block away, to the New York Palace, best known as a frequent backdrop on "Gossip Girl." (The Catholic Church owns the land, which is across Madison Avenue from St. Patrick's.) The Palace has had its share of authoritarian owners--the Sultan of Brunei, Leona Helmsley--but is now run by a South Korean conglomerate. "Seoul is undoubtedly delighted with the shift," P. J. Crowley, a former Assistant Secretary of State, said.

The Americans' move set in motion a game of musical suites. The Indians, who typically stay at the Palace, switched to the Waldorf--perhaps in a show of intracontinental solidarity. Every Chinese leader since 1974 has stayed in the Waldorf, and Vladimir Putin was there, too. The Pakistanis were also in the hotel, which made for sensitive movements in elevator banks, though they were dining at the Palace on the day that Prime Minister Modi arrived.

"I'm surprised he's not staying at the Pierre," an Indian-American lawyer who was standing amid a crowd of supporters in the lobby said. He was alluding to the fact that the hotel is now owned by the Tata Group, an Indian company.

Despite the Americans' defection, the Waldorf was hosting more than twenty-five delegations--occupying three-quarters of its rooms. (Conveniently, it offers twenty-six "presidential-style" suites.) "This is our busiest time of year," Carlos Cabrera, who coordinates floral arrangements for the hotel, said on Friday, after sending a bouquet of hydrangeas and calla lilies to a Balkan leader's suite. …

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