Gunter keeps one more memento from that era hidden behind a lamp: a photo of Rudolf Nureyev, naked and lissome. “One night at the baths, I was lying on my little cot, trying to be as alluring as possible—actually, I was dozing,” Gunter says, a lotus-eating grin spreading across his face. “And when I woke up, someone was caressing me. I looked up, and it was Rudolf Nureyev. That Tatar face, and the body as taut—bnnng!—as a violin string. I got ahold of myself, figuratively speaking, and thought: Okay. Don’t say a thing. And then I reached for him and he closed the door.”
The Ansonia is known for its uncommonly thick walls, which allow Gunter to listen to his Carlos Gardel records at concert volume whenever he pleases. “I shut the world out,” he says. He purchased his phonograph—a 1909 Victor Talking Machine with a quarter-sawn oak escutcheon and horn—from a collector for $4,000 last year. “True analog,” Gunter says, winding until the tension in the spring is just right. A new needle goes in every time. There are soft, medium, loud, siren, and generic needles, with each kind changing the output.
Because of its oval shape, Gunter’s parlor functions like an opera house; there are certain coordinates—a corner of the sofa, to the left of an armchair—where sound enlarges and warms. “I love to get my buzz on in the evening and play my antique records. I can play them for hours and wander around the apartment. I carry my drink around—put it down there, pick it up here, lose it, find it. Lose it. Find it. I do this until I’m quite buzzed, and then I know it’s time to eat.”
Dinner is eaten alone, often, but Gunter’s collection of portraits are a certain kind of company. The faces are chaperones and emissaries: Isis, Serket, Hathor, Kim Novak, an owl, a deceased boyfriend, Tutankhamen, Tutankhamen with a mustache, and, with greater frequency than any other face, a nineteenth-century Spanish mezzo-soprano named Maria Malibran. Gunter furls and unfurls his hands when he thinks about the opera star. She came to him as a ghost, he says, in 1985, about 150 years after she died in Manchester. Gunter was startled. “Why did you come?” he asked.
“I like the music here,” said Malibran.
She visited a few more times to say hello or to evaluate Gunter’s records, including one by Cecilia Bartoli (Ghost, 2007: “She sounds like a chicken”). A few years ago, he bought a copy of Malibran’s death mask, which he stores beneath a stack of DVDs. “Like any sculpture, so much depends upon the light,” he says, lifting the lid from the mask. “Sometimes it looks like a loaf of bread.”
The death mask is one of several micro-tombs tucked within the megatomb of the apartment. Another is a jar of Saharan sand and ancient scarabs that sits atop a bookshelf. (Gunter’s Egypt thing originates, like a lot of Egypt things, in the Met’s blockbuster King Tut show of the late seventies.) The jar is where Gunter keeps his most precious souvenirs, including a small lightbulb. In 2007, when the building was covered in scaffolding, a squirrel found its way onto Gunter’s terrace. The two became friends, and Gunter named the squirrel Bandit. “I would crawl out the window and put three peanuts on top of the fence each day,” he recalls. “One day, I saw Bandit out on the fence, and it looked like he was blowing bubbles. He had this bubble coming out of his mouth.”