Hilton tales #2

One of the regular characters I met at the Hilton was the  mentalist Chan Canasta. In those 1972 I had never heard of him. In fact my magical husband Martin knew him well and even published the original 2 volume book on the 'Remarkable Man' in the 90s.  If only I had known how talented and interesting he was but when he asked me to have a drink with him, I declined as I considered him a lecherous old man. Had it been now, decades later I would have accepted and no doubt been fascinated, especially as he was Jewish Polish - my heritage too. Martin told me that his trick was to note peoples' living room decor, especially the colours, announcing he had the perfect painting in the same colours. Then he would go and paint the painting in their colours and always sell it to his victims. Apparently he was an excellent artist!

Chan used the Hilton as his 'office' and so I would watch him from my desk as he hung around the lobby mainly alone. He would glance over and smile. I would pretend to be busy doing nothing special - watching and waiting for prospective clients until the clock struck 20.00.

One of my more amusing encounters was with a big Texan who worked in oil called Ralph X 111. A man at that time I suppose in his late 30s who was lonely and needed a sympathetic listener. I will always remember the 111 on his visiting card. So American. I had never met a 111 before or since. Ralph asked me to book him a weekend package not more than a 2 hour flight away from London. It was a Friday afternoon and I knew that a small package company called Time Off specialised in short haul flights to cities such as Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. I called and discovered the chartered flights were available but not their contracted hotels as there appeared to be conferences on that particular weekend in all the major cities.  Ralph was most upset and seemed to be 'lost' and at a loose end alone in London.  His partner of several years had married someone else because he refused to marry her.  Now he realised he loved her but it was too late.

'Where would you advise me to go?' He asked me, the travel guru.
'Venice.' I replied in a single word.
'Will you come with me as you speak Italian?'
'No, of course not. I don't know you.'
Not taking 'no' for an answer he continued.
'Come tomorrow with your toothbrush and passport.' He proposed walking over to the British Airways concession desk to inquire about flight times. Back he came.
'There's a flight at noon. See you tomorrow at 9.00 with your passport, toothbrush and nightdress.'

It was winter, grey and foggy in London. I thought about it overnight and for a laugh put my toothbrush, panties and passport into my large shoulder bag. I told my flatmate Brazilian Barbara Costa his name and that I would be in Venice. It would have to be a platonic weekend with 2 bedrooms!

I arrived promptly at 9.00 and Ralph bought the tickets on the spot.  There was no Booking.com in those days or Last Minute.com either, only the tourist office at the destination airport.  In the taxi I announced my boundaries to which he replied, 'We'll see about that!'

Ralph wanted an Italian speaking Mama for the weekend in Venice. He bought one! He was delightful company and we even posed in a traditional known restaurant with celebrity photos framed on the wall, gorging on pasta and had our tourist photo taken. I chose all the dishes. He even gave me pocket money to buy trinkets. We had 2 adjoining bedrooms but had to share toothpaste in a joint bathroom you could lock from the inside. I recall on Monday I had to take a day off work because Venice airport was shut down as fog had descended. All the flights had been cancelled and so we had to be transferred by coach to Trieste. Ralph and I got back finally in the early evening and had dinner at the Hilton of course.

A delightful weekend, never to be repeated, with a complete stranger. A big tall man with a big heart and a wide brimmed typical Texan hat!

Written in the Casa de los Bates, Motril, Spain 10/2/17.


Wikipedia - Chan Canasta
The Independent - Chan Canasta obituary
Chan Canasta - A Remarkable Man by David Britland  Volumes 1 and 2 -  originally commissioned and published by my late husband Martin Breese and sold on to Lybrary.com
The book test - You Tube

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