Wednesday, March 21, 2007

about hotels

Hotels are very strange places.

1. I have a friend who can't stay at hotels. The idea that other people slept in that bed the night before, and others still will sleep there tomorrow night, gives her goose skin. And people come into the room while you're not there and mess with your sheets! How obscene! She would rather sleep in a mountain lodge, or stay with the grandma of the neighbour of friends of friends (curfew time: 8.30pm). But hotels? No no no ya habibi pas de question!

2. Hotel rooms are to normal bedrooms what porn is to sex. A supposedly perefected, exaggerated, hyper-real version that is as far from the real thing as you can get. The hotel rooms you find from Hong Kong to Madrid are all the same: the bedside lamp, the small desk, the marbled bathroom, the four towels, the airconditioner, and of course - the television (the same movies, again dubbed in a language you do not speak). As if someone, probably in the US, probably in the 1950s, tried to come up with the universal notion of a home for one night, and then applied it meticulously to creat a model as a-personal as possible. In a friend's house, such room would seem cold and lifeless. But in a hotel one pays money to stay there.

Yet hotels work. Sometimes there is comfort to find in alienation. Sometimes, strangeness can provide some solace. Uniformity, brought to its perverse extreme, has some character - but then, perhaps only for two nights.

3. Hotels are always a reference to somewhere else. The wallpaper of north American lakes in a shabby hostel near Rome's train station; the fake Eastern splendour of King David's hotel in Jerusalem; the fading Colonial pretense of Raj hotels in an Indian hill station; and of course, the names of foreign lands and places. In Paris you stay Hotel Venezia, in Venice in Hotel Londres, in London in the Savoy, and in Vienna at the Alhambra . Always a promise, and never a fullfilment, the names suggest that your journey cannot be finished, at least not here, in the Hotel Austria, beneath the splendid Alhambra of Granada.

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