Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bed and Board

For the past few weeks I have been staying in hotels of varying quality, which has proven interesting. The perks, of course, include an endless supply of fresh towels and a perpetually made—as if by magic—bed to return to each evening. As I am traveling on a budget, however, I suspect that the number of peculiarities I encounter are greater than those experienced by travelers of means.

My hotel in Padua, for example, seemed to have been decorated by an inspired coalition of nuns and the superintendents of a nearby psychiatric hospital. It was an enormous building with long corridors illuminated by flickering florescent lights and flanked by windows across which were drawn curtains made of an extraordinarily unappealing turquoise fabric that somehow managed to appear simultaneously filthy and overly sanitary. The fabric was of particular interest, because the woman who worked the night desk wore a swatch of it tied tightly around her neck, prompting me to imagine a Juniper Tree-like scenario (in which removing the fabric would cause her head to fall off). While my initial assumption was that this turquoise talisman was somehow part of the place’s uniform, but nobody on the premises wore anything like it.

The clinical and monastic sterility of this first place (that I unfortunately neglected to photograph) was in sharp contrast to my next accommodations located in the heart of Piazza San Carlo in Turin. Despite its central location, this one was difficult to find, as it is discretely housed on the fifth floor of an otherwise non-hotel-like building. Naturally, the elevator was broken on the day of my arrival.

At the top of the stairs there was still no sign, but I just tried all the knobs until one finally yielded, revealing a a cross-eyed desk clerk who kindly ushered me down a dark corridor clogged with an array of 18th and 19th cent. furniture in various states of disrepair, until she jangled the keys in one lock and showed me my room. Whereas the first place was sparse and clean, this place was opulent and dirty. By which I mean that all of the furniture was undoubtedly centuries old and haunted. The two beds in the room had terrifying, tall headboards with metal details resembling funeral wreaths above. The most haunted piece was the hulking wardrobe, which, when I finally managed to pry the door open, released an unmistakably 19th century odor. It looked as though it had been unused for decades, and contained nothing save for a thick coat of dust and a snarl of ancient wire hangers. For lights, there were two dramatically out of place $5 ikea lamps, as well as a chandelier with two functioning bulbs.

It was not only the ghostly qualities of the furniture that led me to speculate that the place was haunted. While I was there, I never once spied another guest. In fact, the majority of the time, the whole place was abandoned. The front desk was unstaffed nine times out of ten, and when there was someone there, it was a boy of about 8, who was very preoccupied with his computer games to the point that when I asked him if I could quickly print something he made quite a fuss. So the place seemed totally empty, yet every night at midnight (and I am not making this up) it came alive with noise. People stomping around and shouting in the halls, a woman carrying on and an old man coughing. By sunrise, these people were all gone.

When searching for lodging prior to my trip, I was struck by the tone of the reviews. The places in my price range all either earned a review of “terrible,” or “tolerable for a night or two,” but in people’s assessments, they pointed to things like quality of service and cleanliness. Very few sites, in fact, have dedicated spaces where reviewers can note whether a place seems convent-like, or full of paranormal activity, both features that I’d now consider pretty handy when deciding where to stay.


Jill said...

I love this post. I'm now wondering if you've enjoyed any sleep on your travels?

plumpdumpling said...

Double wonderful!

I liked this so much I had to read it out loud to Kamran. He said, "MEREDITH wrote that?" I think he meant it as a compliment and not that he really thought you were semi-retarded.

la_sale_bete said...

Jill - Thanks! For the past few days, I've been at a comfortable place, sleeping very well. Rest assured...(pun intended).

Katie - haha. Let's hope it was a compliment, and not that he previously thought I was incapable of written communication...Some day I hope to read some legal document K. has written and loudly exclaim "KAMRAN wrote that!?" Then I will ask him to explain it to me.