Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The enchantment and disillusion of hotels

Whether it's my 1950s childhood (privations at home, glamour at the cinema, where hotels had white marble stairs, fountains in the foyer, and happy outcomes for the pretty ladies), or entrenched adult neediness, I find my hopes often rise when booking into an hotel. It's totally unreasonable....

This time, I seem to reckon with my inner childish self, this time the room will be superb. The waiters will - without being asked - bring me what I need or want. The shower will not have a slippery exit and the breakfast will be crumbless. Or, things like that.

Each time, though, I find I am overwhelmed with petty thoughts of dislike - the d├ęcor, the arrangement of tables, the plastic flowers, the slight hint of old smoke in the corridors, the long haul from the car park to the bedroom, the lack of space to open suitcases, the horrendous sounds which emanate from the cheap wall-mounted tellies.   If, by some strange chance, we book into a more expensive hotel than usual, or one with more stars, my disgruntlement actually increases. I don't like the expensive curtains, the pile carpet, the unctuousness of the staff. 

No, the way forward is the budget hotel. It may be that things are highly economised, but it's BY DESIGN - and consequently things work rather well. I am not asked to pay for things I don't use or would never have chosen.  The bathing arrangements are stripped down to bare necessities and are a pleasure to use.  My inner protestant is appeased.

There are some basics which I find I need - not to share a bathroom, for instance. And it's great to have black or wholemeal bread in some form at breakfast, and some sort of muesli without sugar.... More hair-shirt stuff, maybe.  Perhaps I am finally overcoming the fantasy-nightmare of my childhood. I do not need that glamour.  It wasn't real, after all.  In a world where I know so many people have so little, I can find my anxieties in guilt about being able to travel like this, rather than disgruntlement at the poor provision of the hotel. 

One weird experience last night was half-watching that film about three little Aboriginal girls who walked across the Australian desert to escape their kidnapping and enslavement by the British who were 'looking after' them.  It was totally overdubbed into perfect precise French, the very sound of which was so totally inappropriate and unconnected.... so that when the children found friendly native female help, that assistance came via a voice with a Parisian certitude - female but precise, and positive.   A dreadful misfit.  As modern DIY tourists wandering round Europe, we are just as badly misfitted - but a whole industry exists to comfort us, reassure us that we are doing ok, that we are safe. We pay for it, but it's not a fair bargain. I still know the reality is different.  So, perhaps I am still trapped in that childhood fantasy. Somewhere, somewhere the white marble and the foyer fountains are waiting for me. 

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