February 18, 2009
Hotel Carter crowned 'Dirtiest hotel in the U.S.' for second straight year
Carter wears smudged crown as USA's 'dirtiest hotel'
"You're not going to be impressed," warns desk clerk Steve Nuñez, handing over the key to Room 807 and a $128 receipt for a night's stay at New York's Hotel Carter. "Most people don't spend much time in their rooms."
With good reason: For the third time in four years, TripAdvisor.com crowned the former Times Square tenement the USA's dirtiest hotel, based on reviewers' cleanliness rankings.
Roaches, rats, black mold and stains of dubious origin figure prominently in the nearly 800 critiques of the 700-room hotel on West 43rd Street. Its website boasts that rooms were "designed with the budget traveler in mind."
"The bathroom made me want to vomit," one TripAdvisor commenter notes. "DON'T LOOK UNDER THE BED!" another cautions. (Apparently, used tissues aren't the only risk. In 2007, a hotel housekeeper discovered a woman's body stuffed into a trash bag under the mattress; she had been murdered by the previous night's paying guest.)
Preparing for a stay in such circumstances requires planning. Silk sleeping bag liner to help thwart bed bugs? Check. Bottled water and towel brought from home? Check. Pajamas? Uh, no. At the Hotel Carter, where reports of vermin and questionable characters are legion, it's probably best to sleep in your clothes in case a quick exit is required.
The lobby scene on a Wednesday night doesn't inspire much confidence: Other than a bored bellhop snacking on Cheez-Its, the only sign of life is a thumping soundtrack wafting from the strip club next door. Across from a vase of fresh red gladiolus and carnations, two large trash barrels stand below missing ceiling tiles and dangling wires.
Yet by Third World budget travel standards, Hotel Carter's Room 807 wouldn't raise many eyebrows. True, the phone doesn't work, there's no bedside lamp, and two of the three door locks are broken. The only way to regulate the sauna-like heat is via a grime-streaked window that opens onto a fire escape, and polyester curtains hide corner dust bunnies the size of tumbleweeds.
Still, the sheets are white, the mattress — its box spring still sheathed in plastic — is unblemished, and there's no body (or tissues) beneath the bed. Though the sink leaks and spews brown water, the bathroom shower and floor look clean. An unexpected touch: The end of the toilet paper roll is folded into a neat little triangle, à la Hyatt or Hilton.
For Scotland residents and first-time New York visitors Craig Duncan and Jason Shaw, who paid about $570 for a week's stay, the Hotel Carter fulfills its promises … mostly.
They did switch rooms after waiting in vain for hot water and waking up to hear a "scrabbling sound" in their luggage. And yes, says Shaw, "there were a couple of stains on the wall."
But compared with his worst hotel — a Bangkok dive that had pigeons nesting in the A/C unit — "it's actually not that bad."
Then again, Shaw's Thailand fleabag cost $1 a night. And with an imploding economy sending Manhattan occupancy levels into a nosedive, bargains are plentiful at more reputable lodgings. The same night the Hotel Carter was charging a walk-up rate of $109 plus tax (just reduced to $89), the hip Pod Hotel in Midtown quoted $99 for a shared-bath single (promotional rates start at $79 a night). And Betterbidding.com showed a winning Priceline bid of $105, plus tax and fees, for the four-star Grand Hyatt.
Meanwhile, manager Erwin Lumanglas challenges his hotel's dodgy rep as the country's dirtiest. Yes, he admits, "if you stayed in a Marriott and came to the Carter, you're going to think this is a dump." But recent upgrades, including new mattresses, are making a difference. And who knows? "Maybe next year," he says, "we won't be number one."
Here's TripAdvisor.com's 2009 Dirtiest Hotels list.
Here's a link to last year's bookofjoe post chronicling Hotel Carter's ascension to the heights of Bizarro World hospitality greatness.
"Press the Scramble square to scramble the Cube and then, with a simple swipe of your finger, slide the lights on the TouchCube just like the original 3x3 Cube! Swipe across three lights on any side to move that row to any of the other touch-sensitive sides, or swipe in an L shape to turn the top face. The TouchCube also includes a motion-detecting accelerometer, so your fingers won't move the lights on the other sides by mistake while you're trying to solve it."
Coming this fall.
NationsCourts.com — 'Case Filings Library'
Now armchair types who've never been closer to a courtroom than their remote control takes them on "CSI" can put themselves on equal footing with big-time mouthpieces in Gotham and its ilk.
From the website:
|NationsCourts.com closely follows activity in the federal and state courts, offering
online directories of judges and clerks of court and reporting on new litigation
through our Case
Filings Library and Case Filings Alert services. Our Customized
Case Tracking offers case filing coverage to suit your
individual needs. These services are
intended for attorneys and all those interested in court
documents and the wealth of information they provide. |
"These services are intended for attorneys and all those interested in court documents and the wealth of information they provide" (my italics).
That means anyone with a valid credit card can sign up and dig as deep as they want.
As Louis Brandeis wrote, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
Titanic Barbie — Limited Edition
From the website:
Barbie® Titanic™ Doll
2007 marked the 10th anniversary of the biggest blockbuster motion picture of all time, "Titanic."
This exquisite vinyl doll captures all of the elegance of the film's heroine, Rose DeWitt Bukater.
Dressed in a stunning recreation of her character's crimson gown accented with a beautiful black lace overlay, she's a vision in red as her fiery curls frame her delicate features, creating a glamorous collectible to be treasured by film and doll fans alike.
'Martha Washington was hot'
The headline above is from the first sentence of Brigid Schulte's revisionist February 2, 2009 Washington Post front page story about the first First Lady.
More: "We always see Martha with a withered face in her old age. But she was quite a beautiful woman in her younger years."
Up top, a painting by Michael Deas of what forensic anthropologists believe Martha Washington looked like in her 20s.
James Peale's 1796 miniature watercolor portrait, which her grandchildren called "a striking likeness."
The Post article follows.
Fresh Look at Martha Washington: Less First Frump, More Foxy Lady
This just in: Martha Washington was hot. Or at least hotter than we thought.
Our image of the mother of our country, vague and insubstantial as it is, is drawn from portraits painted after her death showing a frumpy, dumpy, plump old lady, a fussy jumble of needlework in her lap, wearing what could pass for a shower cap with pink sponge rollers rolled too tight underneath.
But today, 250 years after Martha and George tied the knot, a handful of historians are seeking to revamp the former first lady's fusty image, using the few surviving records of things she wrote, asking forensic anthropologists to do a computerized age-regression portrait of her in her mid-20s and, perhaps most importantly, displaying for the first time in decades the avant-garde deep purple silk high heels studded with silver sequins that she wore on her wedding day.
Take that, Sally Fairfax.
History is about to be revised.
"We always see Martha with a withered face in her old age. But she was quite a beautiful woman in her younger years, and Washington loved her deeply," said Edward Lengel, senior editor at the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia. "What's happening now is revisionist. But I think it's a whole lot closer to the reality of what she was."
Contrary to popular opinion, even among some historians who should know better, Martha was not fat when she married George. Yes, she liked to read the Bible, but she devoured gothic romance novels, too. She capably ran the five plantations left to her when her first husband died, bargaining with London merchants for the best tobacco prices. And unknown to most, while George was courting her she had another suitor, a Virginia planter with much greater wealth and stature. In a little-known letter, Charles Carter wrote to his brother about what a beauty she was and how he hoped to "arouse a flame in her breast."
"He was clearly sexually excited by her," said Patricia Brady, a historian who wrote the first revisionist biography of Martha a few years ago. "When Martha decided to marry George, she didn't marry him just to be a kind stepfather to her two children. He was a hunk, and I think she decided to make herself happy. People are just starting to see her as a real person."
The fact that so little is known about Martha and that she has been cast throughout American history as First Frump is, in part, her fault. In the days after George Washington died, she, as was the custom of well-known people of her time, burned all their correspondence. So we know George wrote two youthful love letters bursting with yearning and passion to Sally Fairfax, even though she was the wife of his good friend. We have a really bad poem he wrote as a teen to a young Virginia beauty ("Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun . . . "). We have no idea what he wrote to Martha.
But each generation of Americans, Lengel and other historians say, has played its part in solidifying Martha's stodgy image, transforming her into an icon of demure Victorian perfection in the 19th century and, in the antiheroic 20th century, the mousy, fat, rich widow that dashing and virile Washington married only for money.
Emily Shapiro, a curator at Mount Vernon, wandered through the museum on a recent day, pointing to the most famous images of Martha. All of them are, as one historian describes it, of the double-chinned Old Mother Hubbard variety. To Shapiro, the white-haired images, painted shortly after both George and Martha had died, served to foster a sense of legitimacy for the fledgling country. "The country was still so young," she said. "I think it was reassuring to see its leaders as older, distinguished, stately and gray-haired people."
She stopped before a darkened case displaying Martha's wedding shoes, which even she and Mount Vernon executive director James Rees describe as a little sassy and definitely "over the top" for the time. Because the shoes are so delicate, they are displayed for only a few months every 10 years or so. The sparkly buckles are gone. And the once royal purple has faded to a soft lavender. But even after all these years, it's clear that these were some shoes.
"They were the Manolo Blahniks of her time," said Brady, the historian and author. "So much false information was given out about the stupid cherry tree and the wooden teeth, it's put this sort of a layer of dullness over him, and of course, if he's dull, she has to be dull. Nobody imagines that they were in love and in pain and liked to dance, that what real people go through, they went through."
In the 20th century, attempts to restore George's humanity inevitably led to fabrications and exaggerations about his love life and his military adventures, Lengel said. Early efforts to humanize Martha in the popular mind painted her as crabby and difficult to get along with.
In 1958, the Sally Fairfax letters surfaced at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. "I profess myself a Votary to Love," Washington wrote Sally, confessing his love for her shortly before he was to marry Martha. The letters hit like a bombshell. A new narrative was born for the turbulent times, one of Washington marrying tired old Martha for convenience while pining for Sally. The defining books of the time took pains to portray Martha as a dull homebody and the second choice of history.
"Martha Washington was neither beautiful nor brilliant. She lacked artistic skill, except perhaps in fine needlework. The letters she wrote were an incoherent jumble of affection and gossip." That was James Flexner, the preeminent Washington scholar of the 1960s and '70s. He describes Washington's marriage to Martha as an "escape" from the burden of his passions for Sally. The 40-year union, he wrote, "began badly." Martha, he wrote disdainfully, was "diminutive and plump."
That sets off revisionist historians such as Brady. Although it is true that Martha had borne four children by the time she met Washington, only two of whom survived, she hadn't packed on the pounds yet.
Brady examined purchase orders and clothes inventories of the time. "Martha was very short. [About 5 feet.] But she was not dumpy. We know that because of the account books that she and her first husband kept. Everything they ordered from England refers to her tiny hands, her tiny feet, her small waist, her slim arms," Brady said. "When you were buying at a distance like that, you had to be honest. If you said you were slim and they sent you a small dress and you weighed 200 pounds, it would really be a waste of money."
It was Brady who took a miniature watercolor-on-ivory portrait of Martha in middle age, which her grandchildren said was a "striking likeness," to forensic anthropologists at the Louisiana State University Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services, or FACES, Labratory. These are the scientists who do age progressions to determine what kidnapped children might look like as adults. Brady asked whether they could do the same process in reverse: take a middle-aged Martha and, using her bone structure, figure out what she would have looked like as a 25-year-old about to marry the future father of the country.
Mount Vernon bought the portrait, and it hangs in its education center.
"I wanted to rescue her from old-ladyhood," Brady said.
In drawing a new portrait of their relationship, which perhaps might not have started in love, but grew into it, Brady relied heavily on the two letters from George that escaped Martha's fire. Both were written in the early days of the Revolutionary War. He addresses her as "My dearest." They are warm and filled with concern for her.
Lengel recently discovered a rare letter from Martha to George in 1777, where she calls him "My Love."
"There's enough circumstantial evidence really to show that they were very close," he said. "All these years, Martha has been an afterthought. It hasn't been until now that people have taken the time to see who she really was."
And the story that her purple wedding shoes have been trying to tell.
Martha Washington's wedding shoes (below)
will be on display through February 23 at Mount Vernon.
Löopa Gyrobowl — Spill-proof Holy Grail?
"Revolutionary spill-resistant technology
utilizes a weighted inner bowl that rotates 360 degrees,
keeping the dry snacks inside."
Why do discount passes for Philadelphia's trains and buses feature a picture of New York City?
Here's the story, from yesterday's Washington Post KidsPost.
No, Sir, You Really Are in Philadelphia
Anybody who bought a discount pass to ride Philadelphia's trains and buses might feel a little lost. Why? Because the ticket features a picture of New York City — not Philadelphia!
The passes were created to encourage people to ride the train to spring festivals in the city, but officials didn't notice that the wrong picture had been used. New passes are being designed.