Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hotel glee/Hotel lit

En route to Edmonton we have a conversation about the simple things that make us happy in hotel rooms (places reps spend a lot of time in). Apart from a need for a certain standard of cleanliness and a comfortable bed, it's the little things that matter (and incidentally do not have any direct relationship to the cost of the room). Such as a window that opens, even if you're on the tenth floor (even better if I can hear a forlorn night train whistle in the distance). A good reading lamp is essential - bonus marks if it's on a swivel. There must be hooks on the back of the bathroom door. A decent latte needs to be no further than two blocks away, and toast must be available on the room service menu (even if I never order it, I need to know I can - it's a comfort thing). Our hotel in Calgary was trying just a bit too hard to be trendy. Our more modest one in Edmonton has quirky rooms with strange wall angles and everything I've listed above. Our complimentary soap and shampoo even lists fresh ginger, white tea and nutmeg as ingredients and smells wonderful. We're all very happy.

But even though my suitcase is loaded with more reading material than I'll ever plough through on this trip, I do get homesick for my personal library. I've been thinking about my favourite hotel literature and wondering if those fictional rooms meet any of my criteria (or suggest some essential ones of their own) but I can't pad my way to my shelves and check. I do know that someday I want to check into a hotel room that is as decadently pink as the cover of Ali Smith's fabulous Hotel World (just as one utterly luxuriates in the complete originality and beauty of Smith's use of language in this novel).

The photograph was taken by Sophie Calle, a French photographer/performance artist that I really admire for being the ultimate professional narcissist. In one of her projects she took a job as a chambermaid in a Venice hotel in order to photograph the objects (and the state in which they were left) of the rooms' occupants. She then created these huge installations consisting of a pair of horizontal frames, one hung on top of the other to approximate the shape of a queen sized bed. The top frame was dominated by a colour photograph of the headboard, placed on top of text which described the objects in the room, and which was arranged graphically below into three columns. This resembled a top sheet pulled over the patchwork "quilt" she then created using black and white photographs of the objects in the bottom frame. You can see examples of this exhibition (a room full of these wonderful "made" beds) in a collection of her work called Did You See Me? or read the descriptions of her project more fully in her book, L'Hotel.

I love the intellectual playfulness of her work. In one example, she describes three objects on a bedside table - a copy of Time, an International Herald Tribune and Somerset Maugham's novel The Moon and Sixpence, open to page 198. When one finds a copy of the book and turns to page 198, one gets a description of a woman lying in bed smoking cigarettes. In the accompanying photograph of the bedside table, the newspaper and magazine are there, but instead of the novel is an ashtray full of discarded butts. How fun and cheeky is that? You can read more about her work here.

No comments: