The completion of Roberto Bolaño's The Third Reich, predominantly set in the fictional Del Mar hotel in an unnamed Costa Brava resort town, prompted me to turn to an old favourite from university days, Joseph Roth's Hotel Savoy.
Roth's Lodz-based establishment belongs to the golden age of hotels, the half century bisected by the year 1900. Whatever their star class, these are surely always the most evocative places to spend a night.
Hotels make for such potent locations for dramatic action because they have an inner life which can be made to erupt onto the smooth outer surface of the guest experience in both expected and unexpected ways.
One of the most striking passages in Udo's diary in Bolaño's novel occurs on the morning of September 17. The stranded German boardgame champion reports a "session" with chambermaid Clarita — in much the same way he might have reported the matutinal consumption of a croissant — before going on to recount in far greater detail, events which other people (with the possible exception of Dominique Strauss-Kahn) might have meditated on somewhat less fixedly than say, sex with a member of the hotel staff.
The regulated experience will always have its fissures. For example, the all-inclusive Paradisus Rio de Oro in Holguín province was a carefully controlled exercise in insulation. Of the guests attending the wedding of my nephew back in November I was the only one who had traversed the island to reach the resort, and so perhaps the only one who had seen enough of the Cuba outside of it to seriously question why there did not appear to be a single individual of predominantly African descent on the permanent staff. Officially at least, 10% of the population are black and the proportion is higher in the east. In the end I concluded that this anomaly was probably less the result of overtly negative action in the hiring policy, than that of a possibly less malignant exercise in cultural stage management.
On the day I checked out of the Rio de Oro I asked the (blonde) Cuban lady at the concierge if she could order me a car to take me to the bus station in Holguín. She did, but not before asking if she could tag along too. It became clear during the course of the hour-long journey that the man of her life lived in the provincial capital and given that regular non-commercial traffic along Cuba's highways is almost non-existent, most people rely on cadging rides to get around. When I first loaded my bags in the taxi I thought she had decided not to tag along after all, but I had forgotten that the hotel's staff were only permitted to enter or exit the resort from their own door close to the main gate, and this was where she was waiting to clamber into the back.
I enjoyed my stay at this exceptional hotel, but it would not be a stretch to intuit something vaguely sinsister in the well-trained, English-reciting chirpiness of its hirelings, especially if one were to go on to ponder its potential affinities with say, one of Michael Crichton's hyper-resorts gone bad. (Westworld, Jurassic Park etc.)
Hotels of a certain age carry an extra strata of mystery in their history, the layer at which the an author can suggest a commixture of inner life with inner demons. One always gets a frisson of the sort of post-monitions Kubrick exploited so effectively at the end of The Shining on encountering an internal corridor livened up with fading black and white images encapsulating scenes within and without the hotel from a bygone era — as V and I discovered at the Posada la Anjana in Puente Viesgo.