Iron man

Out there. They say it isn't safe.

São Paulo.

The Hyatt Regency, São Paulo, is apparently one of the best hotels in the city. I was informed on arrival that some of the rooms have pools in them. ‘Pools of what?’ I wondered.

The view from my room shows the Ponto Estrada, engulfed by swarms of slowly crawling traffic. As with most of the luxury hotels I’ve stayed in recently, outside the Hyatt it is dangerous. Street denizens fight in the margins between the struggle to live and the tendency to crime. I’ve been told it’s not safe to go “out there”.

Meanwhile, inside, I’m experiencing a classic first-world challenge —that of the freshly ironed shirt. Here’s a short list of things that can sour my impression of your hotel.

  1. Charging for wifi.
  2. Light switches and electric curtains that require 15 minutes of clicking before satisfaction is gained.
  3. A room facing a lift.
  4. No iron in the room.
  5. Vacuum-packed soap that is impossible to open with wet hands.

Number 4 has many frustrating permutations.

It is essential to the perpetually hungover to wear immaculate clothes. Best is to turn up on day one looking slightly run down and then gradually improve your clothes every day. This somehow invades the consciousness of colleagues and no matter how hard you’ve tried to poison yourself, each day you seem fresher and more alert. This dupes bosses and infuriates peers who were at the same bar as you the night before. It’s a marvellously subtle and effective psychological weapon, but it specifically requires an immaculately ironed shirt.

No iron in the room means an hour’s less sleep in the morning. Sleep is routinely frittered away at the bar, only to be desperately clung to once back in the bedroom, and cutting an hour out can be impactful. I have a dividing line of four hours’ sleep. On one side of this line, I am fully functional for long enough to appear to be listening in meetings before returning to the bar to do it all again. On the wrong side of the four-hour line, I am prone to irritability, mild hallucinations, uncontrolled swearing in the middle of formal dialogue and, occasionally, shitting myself.

No iron means I have to wake up an hour early, call Housekeeping, whatever the fuck that is, and then wait the statutory half-hour it takes for them to concede that they’d forgotten before trying a bit harder. You can’t do anything useful like shower during this initial period because they are absolutely guaranteed to knock and not be heard, or claim to have knocked and not have been heard, if you do anything other than sit quietly waiting.

Having an iron in your room, or having one brought by a sullen housekeeping helot, does not mean your problems are over. The hotel occasionally provides you with a lilliputian iron that would take three strokes to cover a postage stamp. Just as often, the ironing board is no larger than your bended knee—although I strongly advise you not to use your bended knee. This does not work.

In the Hotel Splendido in Portfofino there was no board at all. I had to use the marble table with a serviette draped over it. Except for the lack of an ironing board, the Splendido is a fine hotel, by the way. I recommend the Pasta Liguria with a glass of Prosecco on the balcony. But for Christ’s sake, make sure you’re not paying.

The act of ironing, in itself, is something I have come to terms with. In fact, so long as the equipment is extant and not ant-size, it is almost enjoyable; there is a soothing quality that the hangover responds to. The situation has one last cruel trick for the traveller, however, when some mysterious burning black plastic deposits bind onto your shirt.

This, the worst of hotel iron-crimes, elicits swearing and acts of petty vandalism on my part. My shirts, as you’d expect, are astonishingly expensive. The same price, I’d imagine, as paying Scarlett Johanssen (or a very good lookalike) to have sex with Kenny G for an hour.

The deposits are somehow chemically bonded by the heat to the most visible parts of the shirt—collar; breast pocket; cuff—in a manner more permanent than a tattoo. I don’t know where these black particles come from. They are not visible on the iron’s surface. I can’t imagine what someone must have been doing with the iron to create this phenomenon.

I have found no alternative to this ritual. Many have given me advice or repeated old wives’ tales about “non-iron” shirts (cheap, ugly and don’t work in suitcases), how to pack a pre-ironed shirt (doesn’t work at all) and other such superstitions. The evasions also seem to be against the spirit, if not the rules, of the game.

In the Nobo, in Stockholm (recommend jam jar cocktails in the Gold Bar, followed by an evening in the nearby Riche) there was no iron in the room and I explored an alternative technique suggested by a colleague. You may have heard this one. I took out my shirt from the case, hung it on a coat-hanger in the bathroom and then put the shower on full heat and closed the door.

The results of this little experiment were not entirely satisfactory. I forgot about it and went out for eight hours, returning extremely drunk to a hotel room that had become like something from a Vietnam War (film) flashback. The walls were dripping with artificial dew, the was air humid and lung-searingly hot. I immediately called reception and complained. This is the only form of defence when you’ve committed a crime in a hotel and if done correctly, you can end up with an upgrade instead of eviction, a fine and a police interview.

Back in Sao Paulo and ironing complete, I wander down to reception to meet my driver. Tonight is a Gaucho bar with scorched rib cages revolving around fire pits, charnel dancers flirting with the abyss. Each of us has a laminated card, red on one side, green on the other. Green means your plate is constantly filled with a multitude of different cuts of meat, but there isn’t enough attention being paid to the booze for my liking. I turn my card red and lean into the waiter: “Don’t make me sober … you wouldn’t like me when I’m sober”.

After this, the Caipirinha flows like the Amazon, the hours of the evening are swept away by their current and my colleagues stop pretending to be professionals and become sloppy and funny and human—such sweetness and elevation, but for such a short time. A flicker of the children who thought it was funny to play like this, so sadly lost when they forgot it was a game.

The next morning my fractured, whimpering head is masked by a fixed, broad smile reinforced by an immaculately ironed shirt that cows and wounds my colleagues as they reflect on their own brokenness. I sit with a confident flourish and, once they have looked away, start picking at the burnt black specks on my cuff.

The Lost Tycoon (São Paulo, June 2015)

lost-tycoon-profileThe Lost Tycoon is a melancholy international businessman, drunkard and sod.