Autumn in New York means a return to elegance and time-honored traditions; and having tea in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel is one of my most cherished and delicious traditions.
Every autumn, when I was a little girl, my Mother’s Aunt Annie and I would take the train from Philadelphia to Manhattan.
First on the agenda was a stroll through Central Park to admire the beautiful fall colors.
Around every corner was something to delight the eye, while the crunch of fallen leaves under my black mary janes was sweet music to my ears.
But the best was yet to come!!
At 4:00 pm, precisely, we would meet Annie’s Sister, Emily, for tea in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel.
Aunt Emily, a tall, elegant woman, considered to be handsome rather than pretty, worked in the men’s fashion industry. She would arrive in a perfectly-tailored, pearl grey suit with a flamboyant scarf anchored to her lapel by a big, jeweled brooch.
Emily chain-smoked, drank Manhattans and had absolutely no tolerance for a man in an ill-fitting suit.
“Look at that man over there,” she’d sniff, waving her cigarette in his direction. “His tailor should be put in front of a firing squad and shot at dawn.”
As I sipped my tea and drank in the beauty of my surroundings, I always expected the elusive Eloise to jump out from behind one of the huge potted palms.
Although she springs entirely from the imaginations of Kay Thompson, who created her, and Hilary Knight, who illustrated her, Eloise is arguably the Plaza’s most famous resident.
Eloise is a six-year-old girl who lives in the “room on the tippy-top floor” of the Plaza Hotel with her Nanny, a pug dog named Weenie, and a turtle named Skipperdee.
The irreverent Eloise taught generations of little girls how to be adorably naughty in oh-so-genteel surroundings and get away with it.
Her portrait hangs in the Palm Court, and the table underneath is the Court’s most coveted table, especially dear to the hearts of well-dressed little girls everywhere, her biggest fans.
While Eloise was my special friend in New York, I, also, had a very special friend in Paris; and I spent hours fantasizing about bringing the two of them together for tea at the Plaza.
Darling, red-haired Madeline, the smallest in her class, lives in a boarding school in Paris run by the nuns.
We had much in common, and I adored her and her dog, Genevieve, who rescued Madeline after she had fallen into the Seine River.
Madeline loves to travel, so I was sure I could persuade her to visit Eloise and me in New York.
After all, there was plenty of room in Eloise’s room at the “tippy-top floor” of the Plaza for Madeline and Genevieve to stay, and everyone would have a grand old time getting to know one another.
Eloise, Madeline and I would sit down together for tea in the Palm Court. I, of course, would act as translator.
What fun we would have!
By the time the last pastries were consumed, I knew Madeline would have invited Eloise and me to join her for hot chocolate and macarons at Angélina’s in Paris.
What adventures we would have!
I couldn’t wait to introduce my Goddaughter, Kyra, to my two special friends, Eloise and Madeline.
To my delight, she was enchanted by them both, particularly Madeline, my very special friend.
When she was six years old, I took Kyra to her first tea at the Plaza, and she insisted on wearing a hat that looked just like Madeline’s.
We sat under Eloise’s portrait.
I find it difficult to believe that my little Kyra will soon be starting law school. I have barely noticed the years slip by.
Last week, I got this e-mail from her: “Dear Aunt M-T, I miss our teas. Could we please have tea at the Plaza soon? Maybe you could ask Eloise and Madeline to join us. What fun we would have!"