As Good As Vietnam Gets
Falling in Love at the Metropole Hanoi
It was a quiet night in early March, and I was halfway through my set in the Club Bar of one of Vietnam’s luxury hotels when a middle-aged man parted company from a woman at one of the cocktail tables. He came up close as I finished a number by Edith Piaf and he waved for me to listen to a secret. “I can’t help falling in love with you,” he said.
My eyes jumped to the woman at his table, who had obviously been his companion.
“Can you sing that song?” he asked. For a moment, I wondered if anyone had caught the surprise in my eyes. I guessed not, and I knew the song. I sang it for this man, and this woman, who were married 31 years ago this night, and who’d danced to this song at their wedding all those years ago. For the last chorus, he came to the stage and sang with me, for his wife. Tears were coming down their cheeks, and mine, too.
This is what it’s been like to sing at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi for the past three months, six nights a week from 8:45 till past midnight. There was the night a party of Russians requested My Way, and then moved all the tables so they could dance. There was Christmas when I shared the joy of the holiday season with dozens of families. On New Year’s Eve hundreds of people gathered around the courtyard pool, and we counted down the final seconds. And then there was one day recently when I noticed all kinds of security in the hotel.
“Is it for me?” I asked the food and beverage manager. “Yes,” he told me. But when I stood at the elevator, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair rushed by with his detail, I understood that what Madonna needs when she sings is not necessarily what I need when I sing. Not yet, anyway!
I’ve lived in the hotel, in the Opera Wing, in a fantastic room with a window on one of the most storied courtyards in all Asia. I watch the guests come and go, becoming gradually familiar to me for three nights, four nights, five, and then poof, they vanish. There’s certain sadness that attends work in a hotel, because you always have to say goodbye.
All my life, I’ve been drawn to other eras, to the Jazz Age, to the decades dominated by Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker, to burlesque, to the cabaret, to Broadway. Living in Thailand so many years, I worked very hard to create the ambiance of that era in the places I sang, but here at the Metropole, every time I step on stage, it’s like stepping into a time capsule. Maybe it’s the immaculate white paint of the hotel’s exterior, and the complementary green shutters, the Metropole Wing’s grand wooden stairway, the lamplit corridors and the lobby with display cases full of memorabilia that dates back to 1901. Being inside the hotel is like wandering around inside an old poem that rhymes.
I’ll sing my last night here on April 1. I’ll turn 30 years old in the middle of my last set. And there’s a song, I’ll probably sing that night. You know the one. Elvis Presley sang it all those years ago.
Photo by John Baillie-Hamilton